In MUFOB volume 6, number 4, April 1974 (the last before the Great Hiatus) American ufologist Ronald Westrum responded to Peter Rogerson’s suggestions for ‘New Direction in UFO Research’ which appeared in the June 1972 issues.
RON WESTRUM WRITES:
This is a very late response indeed to MUFOB 5:2, which contains a number of proposals for UFO research by Peter Rogerson, who was kind enough to send me a copy. My only criticism of the proposals is that they seem ambivalent about social control of UFO research: on the one hand, almost dictatorial policies are proposed for the “channelling” of such research, and on the other hand, steps are proposed which would remove two sources of social control: editorial opinion in journals and corporate opinions of UFO organisations. Perhaps Peter has not given enough thought to how the channelling he would like to see is to take place.
The creation of a purely scientific UFO journal, staffed by and contributed to by natural scientists with doctoral training, would exempt at least three-quarters of the people now making contributions to UFO journals and would doubtless exclude such marginally scientific types as Peter and myself.
But my real purpose is to suggest that while many of these proposals are good as far as they go, they do not go far enough. I would like to seen:
1) as a minimum, the creation of a real-time communication system, at least on a national scale, whose sole purpose is to report on UFO happenings. Teams of investigators could be dispatched to the scenes of Type I cases much sooner.
2) the use of the United States’ “close look” satellites for surveillance of areas identified by step 1. Anyone who does not understand what a close look satellite can do should acquire Adelphi Paper No. 88 (Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Arms Control, by Ted Greenwood) from the Institute for Strategic Studies.
3) Use of the United States’ various radar surveillance systems, particularly those in NORAD, to keep track of UFO trajectories. At one timer J Allen Hynek proposed a special sub-routine for the NORAD computers for this purpose but, as far as I know, his suggestion has not been acted upon.
4) creation of special air-mobile sensor vehicles, which would have TV, “fast” cameras, infra-red, acoustic and other sensors. Those sensors would be flown in to within twenty miles of Type I areas, but would arrive at the scene under their own propulsion. They would possess a capability of orienting themselves very quickly to ‘sense’, through their various modalities, the UFO itself or residual ionisation, etc, in the air. A special air-mobile team of investigators would then go over ‘the terrain. I believe that the usefulness of UFO leavings decreases logarithmically with the passage of time.
English critics will point out, I am sure, that these suggestions illustrate the typical “Yankee” love of technology. But I nonetheless feel that good sensor data is worth a dozen of even the best eyewitness accounts.
PETER ROGERSON REPLIES
First I would like to thank Dr Ronald Westrum for his interest in my research proposals; while there have been a few private comments on them, his is the first published response.
I will reply to Ron’s points in turn:
1) I don’t really think my proposals can be called dictatorial, as they were clearly labelled as “suggestions for discussion”. We had hoped that others would have been encouraged to come forward and present their alternative priorities; perhaps Ron’s letter will elicit some response.
2) As regards journals the following comments of Carl Grove’s may be of interest:
“The chief difference between UFO and ‘scientific’ magazines at the moment, apart from the obvious difference in technical level, probably lies in the role of the editor. The editor of a journal receives manuscripts and passes them to specialised consultants for examination; they either recommend acceptance or changes which might make the papers more acceptable. Once the author makes these changes, the paper is printed without accompanying editorial comment. UFO editors seem to feel that no paper is complete without their added footnotes or comments”. (Private correspondence)
I agree with Ron that we shouldn’t limit study of the UFO problem to the community of physical scientists, perhaps the ‘scholarly’ community would have been a better description. Of course I did add ‘research workers’ to cover those without formal academic qualifications. I will admit that, now, I would place far less stress on scientific qualifications than I did in early 1972. On the other hand there are many, like Ron himself, whose work is not published in UFO journals, while at the same tine these journals are often filled with very poor material, the absence of which would be no loss to anybody.
3) Frankly, like my colleague John Rimmer, I doubt very much the general value of bureaucratic UFO groups. I hope Ron will agree with me that in such a controversial field, we should not organise groups whose sole purpose is to proselytise in favour of one or other UFO theory. The Society for Psychical Research has owed its long existence and respectability precisely to such a policy of not enforcing some dictatorial party line on its members. Nothing can be accomplished by organisations such as BUFORA, which apparently now seeks to limit its membership to “believers” in the ET theory.
4) Now I will comment on Ron’s own proposals. My main objection to them is that they are very impractical. Ron must know that the introduction of such techniques would require a budget which would dwarf that of the ill-fated Condon enquiry, and that they could be organised only by official agencies. Even if, by some unlikely chance, some official agency did reappear to replace Blue Book, it is extremely difficult to see how it could justify such a massive expenditure to Congress or any other authorising body.
5) Even if cash were available, I do not think it would be a correct procedure to undertake such a massive,, expensive, and probably fruitless operation, unless there was some pressing need, or such a wealth of scientific paydirt that practically any expense would be justified. At the moment evidence of this need, or of any certain benefit, is not to hand.
6) Ron’s proposals, I fear, suffer from the same critical defect as virtually all other UFO investigation schemes, both official and private; that is, they assume the answers before they start asking the questions. There can be little doubt that Condon, with the majority of his team, had decided, well before their enquiry had begun, that UFO reports were just misidentifications of everyday phenomena and that the purpose of the enquiry was to “prove” this predetermined conclusion.
Similarly most civilian UFO investigation societies seek to ‘prove’, often by the most curious mental gynnastics, that UFO reports are generated by spaceships of some variety. Believers and sceptics alike clearly are seeking only to reinforce their pre-existing prejudices, and have few ideas on how an impartial investigation could be conducted. Ron, it would seem, has assumed that the UFO phenomena are capable of being studied by such tactics. This is premature. There is much preliminary work to be done before we can make make assumptions along these lines.
7) I accept the point that lies behind Ron’s concern for instrumentalised data, and the doubtfulness of eyewitness testimony. It is for that reason that my research proposals avoid such dubious matters as compiling identikits of UFO shapes, and concentrate on those aspects of reports (primarily temporal and spatial distribution) which can be isolated from the specific eyewitness details. I would also be prepared to support low cost instrumental studies in alleged flap areas. It is perhaps in these alleged flap areas that real-time studies could be undertaken with profit; such studies should be undertaken by multi-disciplinary teams and would at least provide much valuable sociological information.
8) In general, though, I do not believe that the UFO problem can be taken in isolation and subjected to a series of impressive-sounding technological gimmicks. There are good reasons, I feel, for treating UFO phenomena along with other ostensible spontaneous anomalistic phenomena. All these ‘events’ present similar problems to the would-be investigator – the transitory nature of the alleged phenomena, the absence of unambiguous hard data, eyewitness accounts as the only real source of information, the apparent violation of existing scientific and philosophical paradigms? the atmosphere of superstition and fantastic speculation surrounding the reports.
Under these circumstances I feel that a multi-disciplinary nstudy of the scientific and philosophical implications of such alleged phenomena would be of greater value than the, probably fruitless, expenditure of vast sums of money.