Make Ufology History
‘The Pelican’

Originally published as ‘The Pelican Writes…’ in Magonia 89, August 2005.

In his previous column The Pelican discussed the falseness of ufology as a supposed subject for scientific investigation. Now he feels it is time to propose what to do about it. What is needed is a suitable slogan for the project and The Pelican has unashamedly borrowed an idea from the recent campaign to tackle poverty in Africa. Thus the rallying cry for all who want to launch a concerted attack on the false science of ufology is: Make Ufology History. This is a bit snappier than Andy Roberts’s slogan: Tough on ufology, tough on the causes of ufology.

How will the destruction of ufology be achieved by The Pelican, together with his horde of acolytes, sycophants, hero-worshippers and hangers-on? The answer is fairly simple. The social and psychological treatment of UFO reports should be pursued, but attempts must be made to discourage psychologists from over-simplifying the problem. A notable example of this is the tendency of those investigating persons claiming to have been abducted by aliens to assume that all of these experiences happen as a result of sleep disturbances, even though a large proportion of such cases are said to involve people who were out walking or even driving cars at the onset of their experiences. Failure to study the literature on the subject resulting in failure to be aware of its complexities only serves to bring their work into eventual disrepute and to encourage those who prefer some of the wilder interpretations of such experiences.

Another important task is to attempt to destroy the credibility of those ufologists who do not deserve it. These are usually those of the American nuts-and-bolts school, the people who believe that UFOs are extraterrestrial but prefer not to say so outright. Most of these people seem perfectly rational in their approach so long as one does not look too closely at their work, and so long as one ignores their regrettable tendency, which The Pelican has previously noted, to give credence to certain notorious hoaxes as being sightings of genuine UFOs. These ufologists seek to maintain their credibility by attacking those who are obviously charlatans or are mentally unhinged, making themselves look eminently respectable by contrast. What they have in common is the belief that behind all the misperceptions, lies, fantasies and nonsense, there lurks the genuine or ‘true’ UFO, just waiting to be discovered and its exotic nature proved beyond doubt, this being the fantasy which keeps them going.

In Britain, a small number of ufologists, most notably Andy Roberts, David Clarke and Jenny Randles have wrecked some of the schemes of ufological mystery-mongers by investigating and explaining certain high-profile UFO cases, thus so far frustrating their efforts to establish a ‘British Roswell’.

This brings The Pelican to the next task, which is to make it clear to the news media and the makers of documentaries that the great majority of the more prominent ufologists are basically not amateur scientists but entertainers. Their aim is not to discover the true facts concerning UFO reports and UFO witnesses, but to court media exposure and popularity by telling people what they obviously want to hear about UFOs – that they are real, and that the reason why this is not generally recognised is that governments have concealed The Truth from the public for nearly 60 years. This brings us to the next task.

This is one falsehood of ufology that needs to be exposed for the nonsense it is. In fact this will be surprisingly difficult as the persistence of such an utterly absurd belief is a mystery in itself. It can only be an indication of the power of the will-to-believe in UFOs. It is a belief strongly held not only by the lumpenproletariat of ufology but also by many of the more intelligent and highly educated. Of course, not all are sincere. The ufological entertainers, mentioned above, have incorporated it as part of their acts. When anyone asks why we don’t have any crashed UFOs or aliens available for public display they are told that they are all locked away at heavily guarded government establishments.

The government secrecy angle is particularly hilarious in American ufology, where the US government is accused of
concealing the evidence, silencing witnesses and confiscating every last piece of crashed UFO before it can be subjected to independent laboratory testing. In pursuing these fantasies American ufologists rarely pause to consider that every other nation would be either willing or able to pursue this policy. The maintenance of the government secrecy fantasy requires that, if at all possible, UFO crashes should take place only on US territory, otherwise it can get a bit complicated. In the case of the notorious Varginha, Brazil, incident in which a UFO is said to have crashed and its occupants captured, someone added extra details to the story saying that the aliens had been flown out of Brazil on a US Air Force plane, thus removing the vital evidence to a place where the blanket of secrecy could be safely maintained.

American ufologist Royce J. Myers has a web site containing a ‘Hall of Shame’ which gives details of ufologists who have incurred his disapproval. Some of these characters would be on almost anyone’s lists. They are the usual frauds, hoaxers and fantasists, but others, such as Phil Klass and Dr Jill Tarter are there simply because they don’t believe in pursuing the holy grail of the ‘True UFO’. The Pelican’s Hall of Shame would be a much longer list and would include all but a very few ufologists, and The Pelican would not be short of cogent reasons for including them. However, he is inhibited by the prospect of attracting the unwelcome and expensive attentions of m’learned friends.

Readers are invited to join The Pelican to put ufological studies into their rightful place as a branch of modern folklore and Make Ufology History.

Declassing the Classics.
‘The Pelican’

This article was first published as ‘The Pelican Writes…’ in Magonia 98, September 2008.

As devoted readers of this column will know, The Pelican has long since solved the UFO so-called “mystery”. There are two separate but related fields of study which may be described as ufology, but very few people pursue them. One kind of study uses the physical sciences to investigate UFO reports to try to discover the physical stimuli which produce them. For example, a ‘strange’ light in the sky reported by a number of witnesses might be identified as the planet Venus. The other kind uses the social sciences and involves psychologists, sociologists and folklorists in the study of ufologists and UFO groups, and their beliefs and motivations.

Both kinds of study, if carried out with appropriate scientific or academic rigour, incur the condemnation of UFO enthusiasts, including those who like to consider themselves to be Serious Ufologists.

Certain cases become known as ‘classics’, sometimes because there were multiple independent witnesses, and sometimes because Serious Ufologists, with impressive scientific or technical credentials, investigated them and solemnly pronounced them to be inexplicable.

An interesting multiple witness event which quickly became a classic took place in Arizona on 13 March 1997. This was in two parts: first, a formation of lights which was seen over Prescott at about 8.15 p.m., over Phoenix at 8.30 and over Tucson at 8.45; then at about 10 p.m. a string of lights appeared southwest of Phoenix, slowly sank down and disappeared.

Because many ufologists rejected possible explanations offered, this attained “classic” status, although it was eventually conceded by some Serious Ufologists, after intensive investigation and much agonising, that the second phase of the sightings was caused by flares dropped from aircraft. Sceptical ufologist Tim Printy noted: “Richard Motzer, of MUFON, had determined … that the lights were flares and said so in the MUFON Journal. He drew a lot of criticism for this and was called, of course, a ‘debunker’ and a secret member of skeptical organizations. Even after the identification of the planes involved, Motzer was still vilified by other investigators when he should have been praised for his good work.” (1)

As for the first phase of the sightings, some Serious Ufologists proclaimed that the V-shaped formation of lights was an enormous triangular UFO. However, Tony Ortega, a journalist who actually investigated the sightings, identified the lights as aircraft flying in formation. He wrote an article in which he criticised the treatment of the case by NBC in a programme titled ’10 Close Encounters Caught on Tape’. (2) In the article, Ortega said that he had interviewed a young man who had seen the V-formation from his backyard and trained his Dobsonian telescope on it, which revealed it to be a formation of aircraft.

He wrote: “When the young man, Mitch Stanley, tried to contact a city councilwoman making noise about the event, as well as a couple of UFO flim-flam men working the local scene he was rebuffed. I was the first reporter to talk to him, and, as a telescope builder myself, I made a thorough examination of his instrument and his knowledge of it.”

Some Serious Ufologists dismissed this explanation, saying that a formation of aircraft could not appear as a solid object, as described by some of the witnesses. Others took the simpler course of just ignoring it.

Does this mean that there was a highflying formation of aircraft observed by Mitch Stanley, who somehow failed to notice the V-shaped UFO, or that he was lying about what he claimed to have seen through the telescope? It seems that having reluctantly agreed to flares as the explanation for the first set of sightings, Serious Ufologists were determined to hang on to the idea of the second set as sightings of a True UFO. Seeing a Classic case being completely junked was just too much to bear. Think of the comfort and joy it would bring to the skeptibunkers and noisy negativists!

Of course, the Serious Ufologists’ error here is to entertain the notion that some UFO reports are sightings of alien craft and that their task is to recognise these and add them to the list of unexplained cases. The notion that the true explanations for sightings that remain unidentified after being investigated by Serious Ufologists is that they are alien craft, is what makes ufology a pseudoscience. The truth, of course, is that there are numerous true explanations and, in some cases such as the Berwyn Mountain incident, three or more true explanations. It is absurd to suppose, for example, that the cause of the RB47 incident will be the same as that of Socorro.

It is not just the nuts-and-bolts ETH Serious Ufologists who are rather flaky, but also those who seek more subtle explanations. As The Pelican has noted in one of his previous columns, all but a very few ufologists do not have a purely objective approach to the subject. And, of course, they usually get away with their dodgy hypotheses and tall stories.

One notable example is ‘respected’ scientist and ufologist Jacques VallĂ©e. The Pelican has noticed that he has several times told a little anecdote about his early work at Paris observatory, tracking satellites. In one interview he claims that he and his colleagues “started tracking objects that were not satellites, were fairly elusive, and so we decided that we would pay attention to those objects even though they were not on the schedule of normal satellites.”

He then goes on to allege that: “And one night we got eleven data points on one of these objects–it was very bright. It was also retrograde. This was at a time when there was no rocket powerful enough to launch a retrograde satellite, a satellite that goes around opposite to the rotation of the earth, which takes a lot more energy than the direct direction. And the man in charge of the project confiscated the tape and erased it the next morning.”

Now this claim raises some questions. The first is the obvious one asked by the interviewer: “Why did he destroy it?” Vallee replied that it was “fear of ridicule”. But, The Pelican’s percipient readers will ask: If these objects could be tracked by the Paris observatory, then surely they could also be tracked by other observatories and, as the one in question was described by Vallee as being of first magnitude and as bright as Sirius, it could also easily have been tracked by amateur astronomers?

Indeed, Vallee claimed that he later discovered that the same object had been tracked by other observatories and photographed by American tracking stations. Other questions which occur to The Pelican ar: how does a moron get appointed as the leader of a team of professional astronomers tracking satellites; why should anyone be afraid of ridicule if they have accurately recorded data, confirmed by a number of teams of professional observers, so that there is no doubt about its authenticity, and is there any truth in this anecdote, or is it just another ufological tall story?

The attentive reader will notice that there is something else about this anecdote which it shares with other amazing UFO stories which apparently demonstrate the truth of the ETH. It is, of course, the lack of technical detail, and the lack of any reference to where this may be obtained. It will be argued, inevitably, that this has been kept secret, despite the alleged mystery satellite’s being “as bright as Sirius” and having been tracked by several observatories.

Indeed, most of the Classic UFO cases are notably lacking in precise details, so that investigators have to make do with rough estimates. There are often multiple witnesses, but rarely multiple independent witnesses.

Some ufologists, then — Serious or otherwise — examine UFO abduction reports in the hope of gaining decisive evidence. These have the advantage that the relevant information is available to the enthusiastic amateur, and can not be kept secret like that obtained by government agencies with their radars and other remote-sensing devices. Many abductionists (abductologists?) ferociously attack the authors of papers which seek to explain abductions in psychological terms, notably as the effects of sleep paralysis, with the details being drawn from popular culture, together with the leading questions asked by the abduction enthusiasts. They object that many abductions take place while the subjects are awake. But couldn’t it be true that, in some cases, the abductees are not really awake when they have their experiences, but only think they are? The following account, which does not involve an alien abduction scenario, should give believers in alien abductions pause for thought:

“This was in Minnesota about 25 years ago. I got up from a nap one day and walked down to a McDonalds where I always went because all my friends hung out there. As I was standing in line to get my coffee I suddenly fell backwards for no apparent reason right onto the guy who was standing behind me. A second later I was lying on my back, back in my bed at home. But I was lying on top of the guy I had fallen onto at the McDonalds. He had my arms pinned and he was sniggering in my ear. I was pretty much paralyzed. There was someone else in the room, too. This guy paced back and forth slowly, not looking at me or the other guy, seeming to be waiting for something to happen. He looked depressed. The guy holding me down kept sniggering in my ear and seemed to be enjoying the fact I was paralyzed. I was completely terrified, to say the least, and couldn’t even struggle.

“This went on only a short time, though, maybe a quarter minute at most, and then they both suddenly evaporated. I was there alone lying on my bed. I could move now, but was completely upset and in shock about what had just happened. It had all been completely vivid in all detail: I could see, hear and feel them perfectly clearly while it was going on.

“I didn’t learn about the phenomenon of sleep paralysis until quite a few years later, and used to just think of the incident as some kind of nightmare. Anyway, I know why ‘abductees’ are loath to assume they are any kind of hallucination: they seem too vivid. We have the false preconception that hallucinations are supposed to be unrealistic somehow, have some dreamlike insubstantiality that gives them away as hallucinations, but they don’t. What was especially peculiar was the ‘set up’: the part where I hallucinated walking all the way to the McDonald’s when I was actually still at home in bed. I suppose I really wanted to go down there but got caught in some ‘interzone’ where my neurotransmitters hadn’t all shifted back into waking mode allowing me to hallucinate I was doing what I wanted to do. “Had it been two grey alien looking things instead of two humans, I’m sure I’d have been seriously considering that I’d been abducted by space aliens.” (3)

Most UFO incidents, whether abductions or strange things in the sky, are not what they seem. Hoaxes, often quite elaborate and well organised, are more common than American Serious Ufologists like to believe. The Pelican can reveal that the US government, and other governments, are not going to disclose the evidence that UFOs are interstellar spacecraft, either now or at any time in the foreseeable future, for the simple reason that they possess no such evidence. It’s true. Trust The Pelican and retain your sanity, and Make Ufology History.

Faulty Logic.
The Pelican

First published as ‘The Pelican Writes …” in Magonia 78, June 2002.

The Pelican thinks it is time to solve the problem of UFOs and ufology once and for all by explaining how the various controversies within it are caused mainly by faulty logic rather then by the difficulties in establishing the true facts of each case.

For example, there was a case in which there were three witnesses, two of them together in a car. One of these witnesses described a domed craft, with two entities visible inside the dome. This object disappeared behind trees as if it was landing, and was followed by other, similar craft appearing in the distance. She was very frightened by this sighting, according to the local police chief.

Many ufologists would accept such a report at face value, because there was more than one witness, and the witnesses appeared to be honest. However, this particular case soon unravelled when it was investigated by Kevin Randle. (1) When he interviewed the other main witness, he said that he saw no shape behind the lights and he thought that the pictures of domed craft and alien shapes drawn by the other witness were “ridiculous”. Thus there was obviously a conflict of testimony between the two main witnesses.

Randle dealt with this problem by going back to the original statements and descriptions and found that, on the night of the incident. both witnesses had merely described lights seen in the distance. Then one of the witnesses kept changing her story. Two days later she was talking about a domed disc, and a few days after that she was describing the alien shapes she claimed to have seen inside the dome.

Randle drove out to the area where the sighting had occurred and saw lights similar to those initially described by the witnesses. They were aircraft coming in to land at the local airport.

The point about this is that if it had not been competently investigated, it would have been recorded as a multi-witness sighting of a structured craft, with alien occupants. Randle does not accuse the woman who kept changing her story of lying; it was a case of confabulation. If the woman did not have available to her the idea of aliens thing around in domed saucers then she would not have had any basis for adding spurious details to her original sighting, and would probably have correctly interpreted the lights in the sky as aircraft.

This is where the psychosocial hypothesis is relevant to UFO reports. If someone sees something in the sky which seems to them to be unusual, or has some strange experience, then there exists a whole range of ufological myths which can be used to interpret such sightings and experiences. The details of UFO stories tend to vary depending on differences of language and culture. This is especially true of stories of alleged UFO entities. For example, many ufologists associate the chzspacabras with UFO activity, but only a few of them seem to realise that almost all of the people bothered by these unpleasant creatures happen to speak Spanish. The occupants of UFOs are more likely to be Nordics in Britain and Greys in North America. And so on.

Faulty logic is also applied in arguments as to whether UFO occupants have any objective existence. A noted exponent of twisted logic about them is Budd Hopkins. Hopkins insists that UFO abductions are physically real events, yet when Philip Klass asked him if he had informed the FBI about the abductions. he dismissed the question as “the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard in my life”. (2)

Hopkins apparently believes that one can prove the physical reality of UFO abductions by argument rather than evidence. In an article in which he attempts this he uses sexual abuse of children as an analogy. He argues that those who recall their own abduction experiences will accept their reality, whereas those who have not had such experiences will reject the idea that abductions are even possible. (3)

So what answer does Hopkins propose? Attempts to provide physical proof? No. He argues that Sigmund Freud was wrong to retract his belief that his patients problems were to a great extent the result of being sexually abused as children. He mentions a number of mental health professionals who have come to the conclusion that “childhood sexual molestation, seduction and abuse are rampant in the real world …” He makes no mention of how controversial this opinion is. or that it has led to innocent as well as guilty persons being accused and convicted of child abuse.

He attempts to link alleged child abuse with alleged UFO abductions like this: “Mason in particular claims that Freud’s theory that his patients were merely fantasising such childhood traumas in effect blames the victim and often deepens a sufferer’s problems. (In a parallel way, if UFO abductions are actually taking place as event-level occurrences. labelling them as fantasies is immensely destructive to those who suffer their after-effects.)”

So, you see. you must not deny the physical reality of abduction stories, because you might upset the abductees.

And what further powerful argument do we have from Hopkins to convince, if possible, even The Pelican that abductions must be real? He gives us some examples of abduction reports containing details which had not appeared in the UFO literature when the incidents took place. As they read on, though, attentive armchair ufologists indulging in literary criticism will become aware of his little trick. For instance, one witness reported an incident which occurred in April 1961, involving ‘missing time’. However. he didn’t tell Hopkins about it until 20 years later! Is it possible, the cynical old Pelican asks, that his story could have changed somewhat over the years? Does Hopkins consider this possibility> Of course not.

The Pelican hopes in future columns to continue to show how logic and the exposure of the tricks of the believers can clear away the atmosphere of spurious mvstery and lead us to a sane and balanced approach to the evaluation of UFO reports.

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NOTES

1. Randle. Kevin, UFOs on memory lane’, International UFO Reporter. Spring 2001, Volume 26 Number 1
2. Klass, Philip J. UFO Abductions. A Dangerous Game, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1988, chapter 16
3. Hopkins, Budd. ‘Abductions as physical events, UFO Brigantia. No. 10, November 1991.

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Reading John Keel.
The Pelican

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:

  1. The extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH), which considers that some UFO sightings constitute evidence of visitation by beings from other planets.
  2. The PSH, which regards the UFO as a modem myth, maintained by the subjective experiences of individuals and their social interaction with one another.
  3. 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!

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