Originally published as ‘The Pelican Writes …’ in Magonia 77, March 2002
The Pelican notes, with illconcealed glee, that America’s ETH ufologists have recently become more agitated and paranoid than usual, having become aware of an insidious threat to their noble cause.
A film based on John Keel’s book The Mothman Prophecies has just been released and this has naturally drawn attention to his writings, and the contempt he has expressed for the good old American nuts-and-bolts ETH. It was Keel’s book Operation Trojan Horse, together with Vallee’s Passport to Magonia, which was one of the chief inspirations for the development of the psychosocial hypothesis (PSH). Of course, neither author intended this, but some readers found these books useful as a basis for developing it.
Why, you might ask, should they be bothered by this? Where is the threat? Well, it’s all rather complicated of course, but The Pelican will attempt to elucidate. There are three distinct approaches to interpreting UFO ~ reports and UFO lore, which are:
- The extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH), which considers that some UFO sightings constitute evidence of visitation by beings from other planets.
- The PSH, which regards the UFO as a modem myth, maintained by the subjective experiences of individuals and their social interaction with one another.
- The notion of the UFO as essentially an occult phenomenon, which cannot be explained or described using conventional scientific methods.
Approach No. 3 is not taken very seriously by supporters of the ETH or the PSH. For supporters of the PSH. it confirms their view of the UFO as essentially subjective, rather than some real physical phenomenon “out there”. Believers in the ETH see it as a serious obstacle to their claims being taken seriously by the scientific community. This is because it is very popular, and helps to contribute to the circus-like atmosphere of many UFO conferences, and the crazy and incoherent ideas expressed in many UFO journals, some of which started out with the good intention of presenting the evidence and arguments in a rational, objective manner.
Popular occultism and pseudoscience have been the ruination of many well-intentioned UFO organisations having a policy of membership open to all who are willing to pay the subscriptions. Sooner or later they are taken over by cranky and credulous people. One has only to look at BUFORA in Britain_ or MUFON in the USA. for examples.
Where does John Keel come in to this, you might ask. The answer is that Keel exposed the essential weakness of the ETH by drawing attention to the fact that UFO witnesses did not simply describe seeing strange craft or strange lights in the sky; he published the strange stories which the witnesses told him about visits from the Men in Black, and their incredibly odd behaviour, and all manner of other implausible details.
Most of the ETH enthusiasts carefully edit these inconvenient details out of their reports, no doubt in order to give them an aura of scientific respectability. They attempt to discount Keel’s findings by accusing him of being thoroughly unscientific and irrational. A good example of this is the following paragraph from a recent posting on UFO UpDates by Jerome Clark:
“If you think demons are responsible for UFO and other anomalous phenomena, or that this is at least a respectable, arguable hypothesis. then John Keel is your man. If you think science and reason are more likely than demonology to get to the bottom of the mystery someday, then Keel is just another of the colorful eccentrics – maybe, very roughly speaking, a kind of latterdav George Hunt Williamson – who have wandered through saucer culture over the decades.”
Of course. this is the impression of Keel you will get if you take his writings literally. ETH ufologists are very fond of taking things literally, especially if they are the things they want to hear. They do not want people to ignore Keel’s rather incoherent, but admittedly entertaining occult speculations and concentrate on his accounts of the stories told to him by UFO witnesses. This is because other investigators have been told very similar stories and. unlike certain ETH ufologists they have not suppressed them because they do not fit in with the notion of nuts-and-bolts alien spacecraft. Jenny Randles, for example, was told many similar stories when gathering material for a book about the Men in Black.
The ETH crowd, though, insist that we should ignore the subjective stuff and concentrate on physical evidence and multiwitness sightings. Yet when they are asked for specific details of such cases which seem to strongly support the ETH they get very cagey. They admit that most UFO reports are capable of other explanations, and that some of them are illusions or hoaxes. So what are these genuine reports they get so excited about?
If anyone mentions Roswell, The Pelican will descend on him from a great height!