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 Vallée. 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.

Discussing New Directions.
Ron Westrum and Peter Rogerson

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.


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.


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.



Physical Evidence Related to UFO Reports.
John Harney

From Magonia 64, August 1998.

The recent report of a workshop on UFO reports, funded by Laurence S. Rockefeller and given administrative support by the Society for Scientific Exploration was, according to the New Scientist, “… funded by a little-known organisation which has published papers supporting such concepts as dowsing and reincarnation. What’s more, the panel included a physicist who ‘designs’ perpetual motion machines and an engineer who tries to move objects by concentrating hard.” (New Scientist, No. 2141, 4 July 1998)
This gives the impression that the findings of the panel are fit only for the sort of tabloids which bear headlines such as `World War II Aircraft Found on the Moon’ and ‘Space Aliens Turned My Son Into An Olive’. However, almost all of the ridicule which has appeared in the media consists of knee-jerk reactions from persons who have obviously not read the report and have no intention of doing so. The belief obviously subscribed to by such people is that those who waste their time studying UFO reports are, by definition, crazy.
This does not seem to be a very constructive or scientific approach, so let us have a look at the report itself. The purpose of the workshop was to consider physical evidence associated with UFO reports and it took the form of a number of UFO researchers presenting evidence to a panel of scientists. Considering that the panel was looking for good cases supported by physical evidence its members must have been disappointed with what was presented to them. It is admitted that the panel concluded that further analysis of the evidence presented at the workshop is unlikely to elucidate the cause or causes of the reports.
As I read the report I got two main impressions: nothing useful emerged from the presentations and discussions; and the ufologists presenting their data and findings seemed bent on blinding the panel with science, or pseudo-science (in this they appear to have succeeded).
Just because the panel members did not issue a report supporting the ETH or any other scientifically unorthodox explanation of UFO reports, it should not be thought that their deliberations were rigorously scientific. The ufologists obviously took advantage of the fact that the panel members had little time to examine their claims in depth.
One of the cases reviewed is the famous Coyne helicopter incident of 18 August 1973. Readers might wonder what the ufologists had to say about Philip Klass’s assertion that the helicopter crew was fooled by an Orionid meteor. The answer is – nothing. Maybe Klass’s explanation is incorrect, but it is so well known (to ufologists) that there seems to be little excuse for not mentioning it at all.
If you think I am being nitpicking about this, then you only have to look at the large amount of text devoted to the French government sponsored organisation SEPRA (formerly GEPAN). The panel members were so impressed by what they were told of this organisation’s work that they present them in their report as a shining example of what scientific UFO research ought to be.
The notorious Trans-en-Provence case is presented, as interpreted by GEPAN/SEPRA. The reader is referred to three papers by investigators who apparently believe the testimony of the only witness and apparently prefer to link the markings found at the site of the alleged encounter to the possible landing of a UFO. There is no consideration of the theory proposed by Michel Monnerie that the affair was a hoax that got out of hand, or of or of Eric Maillot’s detailed criticisms of the GEPAN/SEPRA investigation of the case. [1]
The panel members, as physical scientists, obviously tended to take much of the evidence at face value, whereas experienced ufologists are aware that many UFO incidents just did not happen in the manner described by witnesses and investigators. They obviously underestimated the enormous bias caused by investigators’ preconceived ideas as to what UFOs are or are not.

The panel’s conclusions included such stunningly obvious ones as “The UFO problem is not a simple one, and it is unlikely that there is any simple universal answer” and “Studies should concentrate on cases which include as much independent physical evidence as possible and strong witness testimony”.

They also recommended that there should be formal regular contact between the UFO community and physical scientists. Many of the larger UFO organisations already have physical scientists, some of them very experienced and highly qualified, among their members. Formal contacts already exist between, for example, amateur and professional astronomers, and amateur and professional meteorologists. However, there are very few professional ufologists.
One of the main points picked up by the media was that the panel would like funds to be made available for UFO investigations, with the wonderful French SEPRA as the model of how to implement this suggestion. Whether it would be worth while to pay scientists to go around investigating UFO reports in the hope that data leading to the advancement of science might eventually be acquired, is a debatable question. (There is also the problem of the gullibility of many physical scientists when presented with evidence said to be connected with a UFO event.)
The panel members would have done better if they had heeded the advice given by Dr Condon, who wrote in his report to the US Air Force: “Although we conclude after nearly two years of intensive study that we do not see any fruitful lines of advance from the study of UFO reports, we believe that any scientist with adequate training and credentials who does come up with a clearly defined, specific proposal for study should be supported.” [2]

1. Maillot, Eric and Scornaux, Jacques. ‘Trans-en-Provence: Where science and belief go hand in hand’, in Evans and Stacy, (eds), UFOs 1947-1997, John Brown, London, 1997, 151-159.

2. Condon, Edward U. ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’, in Gillmor, Daniel S. (ed.), Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Bantam, 1969.


More Pieces For the Jigsaw. Hilary Evans

From Magonia 30, August 1988.

oxford-all-souls-collegePossibly the questions which UFOs pose are ultimately no different from those debated over port and cheese by professional academics at the High Table of All Souls


If there is one kind of article ufology could do with fewer of, it’s the kind where researchers sit back and meditate on what ufology is fundamentally about, debating whether it’s a science, defining its theoretical parameters, when they could be more profitably engaged tramping over muddy fields in search of traces or fault-lines, or taping statements from witnesses who’ve actually had experiences the investigators have never had and never will.

But inside every feet-on-the-ground empiricist there’s a head-in-the-clouds idealist looking for the chance to indulge in abstract speculation; and maybe, just once in a while, he should be heard from, if only in the interests of maintaining a healthy perspective.

For a while back there, I was at the centre of the cyclone, the still (well, actually not all that still) point of the turning world of ufology. From all round the world leading researchers were sending me their contributions to BUFORA’s 40-years-on symposium. if I didn’t get to see the subject steadily and see it whole at least I got as global a view as anyone is Likely to get. [4] I was impressed.

Above all by the dedication. A dedication inspired by the conviction felt by my contributors that what they are engaged in is more than a private obsession like train spotting or philately, but a study which could lead mankind to insights and knowledge. A dedication which provides the adrenaline for uncounted hours of work which would be unrewarding if it were not its own reward. A Ballester-Olmos picking every little nit in hundreds of Spanish landing cases: a Behrendt painstakingly working out the implications of witness reports for his UFO propulsion model: a Chalker laboriously sifting the dust of hundreds of trace cases in the hope of finding a few specks of gold – and all the rest of these wonderfully dedicated people.

It would have been enough to make me ashamed, were I not conscious of being similarly obsessed myself – in my case by a curiosity which will not be satisfied until I know what’s really happening to people like Siragusa, Strieber and their kind. Even if I’ve chosen a different hobby-horse from Ballester, Behrend or Chalker, I’m still riding on the same merry-go-round.

This sense of dedication has of course characterised ufologists ever since the whole thing began, two score years ago; you can feel it in the earliest pages of the BUFORA Journal, of the Merseyside UFO Bulletin, of the hundreds of ephemeral journals catalogued – himself displaying just the same kind of dedication – by Tom Lind.

It is this dedication which keeps us going, the Klasses no less than the Creightons, the Randles no more than the Campbells, even though all the evidence goes to show that the phenomenon is largely if not entirely mythicical. It’s the dedication which makes a researcher like Méheust, even when he has demonstrated how UFOs are related to science fiction on the one hand and to folklore on the other, continue to study the subject, recognising that those links add to rather than detract from its interest.

For others of us, it is the parallel with witchcraft which fascinates. It is now some centuries since witches were a living phenomenon, as UFO witnesses are a living phenomenon for us today: yet witchcraft is currently being studied more widely and more profoundly than ever. Why? Because we realise that the witchcraft phenomenon offers us unique insights into how people behave under certain conditions, and how other people respond to their behaviour.

So it may be with UFOs. Maybe it’s not so much what they are in themselves, or indeed whether they exist at all. Maybe it’s what they reveal about ourselves and the universe we inhabit. Possibly the questions which UFOs pose are ultimately no different from those debated over port and cheese by professional academics at the High Table of All Souls: what’s new is that thanks to UFOs they are being posed by retired engineers in the American Midwest, by librarians on Merseyside, by Ford executives in Spain, by computer analysts in Italy.

Between them, they and their kind have shown that UFOs are not only a mystery story which makes those which challenged Hercule Poirot hardly more devious than the difficulties surmounted by Noddy, but also a spiritual exercise as effectively purgative as any DIY course in spring-cleaning the psyche. It’s not possible to seriously study the phenomenon as it currently presents itself and not be brought against such consciousness raising brainteasers as What is Reality? What is Truth? What is the Ultimate Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?

Indeed, as much as the elusiveness and ambiguity of the phenomenon. It is the far-reachingness of its implications which may account for the reluctance of professional scientists to get involved. Scientists like finite answers which can at least be conceptualised. With UFOs there is no knowing where they will carry us. One thing is clear enough: the research of the old days is already out of date, and not simply because our standards have improved so much that the data our forerunners bequeathed us is virtually useless. We’re not just asking more questions, we are asking different questions. Even if it should turn out that UFO reports have a basis in reality, it is evident that it is a different kind of reality than the one we are used to in our daily lives.

Many are turned off the subject for precisely this reason. If you are a hard-headed person who has quite enough difficulty with old-fashioned consensus reality, parallel realities are something you need like a puncture on the motorway. And If UFOs were the only phenomenon threatening to upset our everyday thinking, we could be excused for dodging the issues they raise. But UFOs are not unique, in this or any other respect. We don’t have to go back to the witchcraft age for parallels is. Read for instance Graham McEwan’s study of mystery animals in here-and-now Britain: all the evidence is that many of our fellow citizens are having ongoing encounters with unreality – in the form of animals which quite simply defy reason just as disconcerting in their implications as our UFOs. [6] So how do we set about undisconcerting ourselves?

Our easiest course is to reject the evidence. Some of us have tried that: the trouble is the more we filter out the noise, the more bizarre is the signal we’re left with.

Next best: find explanations within the structure of our existing knowledge. Well, we’ve tried that too, but even hunting in the remotest crannies of William Corliss’s catalogues or unearthing the weirdest case histories of the psychologists’ textbooks, we can’t find precedents for everything that’s happening.

Another thing we’ve tried is to shunt the awkward material to one side and deal only with that which we feet capable of handling, like NICAP did with the contactees. Trouble is, you can’t draw hard and fast boundary lines. Even the simplest case involves a witness, and we have painfully learned that even the most plausible witness requires evaluation: which leads into the whole psychosocial scene.

Likewise, thousands of reports feature beams of light: we can’t dismiss the fact that anomalous beams of light have been a standard folklore item from way back, but again that leads us into a vast new territory, this time the wide, unmapped faerie-filled wilds of Magonia.

Up to a a point it’s a healthy instinct to keep things simple if we can. If every time someone reported a light in the sky we had to consider not simply the possibility of misidentification and misinterpretation, and the meteorological and astronomical implications, but also the psychological, parapsychological, cultural, mythological and any-other-logical parameters, we’d bog down in a morass of data knowing some, maybe most of it, is irrelevant.

But also knowing, from painful experience, that one man’s UFO is another man’s satellite, planet, advertising plane, hallucination, visiting space brother, you name it … Again, it’s like witchcraft. At the time, many highly intelligent minds grappled with the data that flooded in; they did what they could in the light of their belief systems, and the result was – as we now know – disastrous. Only now, thanks to the spadework of Charcot, Janet, Freud, can we start to comprehend the nature of what really happened during the witch mania. Indeed, many of us still have these lessons to learn, as witness the continued manifestations of ‘demon possession’ and ‘channelling’, not to mention the ongoing abduction craze.

We now know that witchcraft was a reality, but not the reality of the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum. In the same way, it is likely that the UFO phenomenon is a reality – but not the reality it seemed when Kenneth Arnold touched down at Yakima.

Thanks to Keel and Randles, Rimmer and Méheust, and many others, there’s not much chance that any of us will ever again take a UFO report at face value, not looking before or after. Even if it should turn out that there really are alien spacecraft at the back of the phenomenon, they have triggered a multi-dimensional response in us humans which will – like witchcraft – have lasting implications.

Knowing that UFOs are not what they seem to be, we incline to be suspicious of any attempt to demonstrate that they are anything at all

Unfortunately, one of the insidious effects of ambiguity is to discourage study. Knowing that UFOs are not what they seem to be, we incline to be suspicious of any attempt to demonstrate that they are anything at all. An understandable attitude, and up to a point admirable. Indeed we should be sceptical when a fellow researcher claims to have broken through the reality barrier.

But being sceptical shouldn’t lead to being negative. We UFO researchers pride ourselves on being so much more open minded than scientists in more conventional disciplines. Yet when a colleague comes along offering a brand-new fresh off the drawing-board insight into the process of the UFO experience, he is liable to spark off an almost hysterical reaction.

Lawson’s work, for example [5]. OK, so we’d all like to see more replication, independent confirmation of his finding. So some of us find his birth-trauma hypothesis hard to take. But our reservations shouldn’t blind us to the fact that while we’re standing here at the crossroads, wondering which way to turn, here’s someone offering to show us a new path. To refuse to even try his road just because he’s not wearing an AA uniform or because we can see potholes in its surface, or because it’s not headed in the direction we think it ought to be headed, is ridiculous.

Or take Rutledge [9]. OK, so his work suffers from shortcomings – but we all live with the fact that that’s something we must accept so long as UFO research is carried out by non-professional researchers, funded only by themselves and in their own time. Despite these disadvantages, Rutledge’s Project Identification remains the most comprehensive attempt at field investigation ever carried out: yet when did you ever see it given a serious hearing?

Perhaps because they are literally more ‘down to earth’, the various earthlight approaches of Perssinger [8], Devereux [2] et al have had a somewhat more positive reception. Critical comment by such as Rutkowski, Clark, Maugé and others has been sympathetic, even though this has not always been apparent to the leading exponents of the ideas. These latter have tended to display the tendency of theorists in all fields of research, to suppose that their ideas explain more than they do: but Devereux’s recent presentation of his work {at the BUFORA London Congress) showed that when presented in proper context, here are findings of very great potential. You’d think it would be impossible to read any serious discussion of UFOs without reference to the earthlights approach: in practice you’re far more likely to find it entirely ignored.

Or take something quite different: many researchers (I am one) would list among the studies they rate most highly the 1975 paperback The Unidentified, subtitled ‘notes towards solving he UFO mystery’. But other researchers are more hostile; and few more than Jerome Clark, which is somewhat surprising since he is one of its authors. I suspect he would like to burn every copy he could lay hands on – yet in this splendidly free-ranging study, two highly intelligent and well-informed researchers opened up new paths of speculation for us.

Lawson Lane, Rutledge Road, Persinger Path, Devereux Drive, Clark’n'Coleman Crescent – admitted, any of these could prove to be dead ends or false trails. But when the most obvious characteristic of UFO research is than none of us knows the way out of the maze, we can’t afford to be rejective of any suggestions.

I’m not talking of blind acceptance. We need to be sceptical, but in the true sense of the word: neither believing nor disbelieving, nor accepting nor rejecting, We need to be critical, but constructively critical, trying the various paths.

For example, in my recent study of encounters’, I tried matching Lawson’s Birth Trauma ideas against my speculative model. I found – and I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised to find that they fitted in remarkably neatly, providing a reassuring confirmation that my model was a viable one. For another: current abduction research focuses on the abduction experience as though it is necessarily part of the UFO phenomenon.

But suppose it is nothing of the sort, suppose – as the psychosocial crowd are saying – it should really be seen in the same light as witchcraft, past-life regression, channelling and other phenomena which are not generally taken into account in UFO research? We had confirmation that this is valid just the other day when Jim Oberg demonstrated, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Jose Inacio Alvaro’s 1978 abduction-with-sex encounter had been triggered by the Russian communications satellite Molniya 1-39 [7].

Where we are is sitting in front of a table onto which someone has spilled out the pieces of a jigsaw. The box has no picture on it, and we have no guarantee that in the end these pieces will form a picture – there’s the possibility that these are pieces from a dozen unrelated puzzles, all jumbled up together.

But one or two, pieces do seem to fit together, the edge pieces seem to promise some parameters. We are reassured by occasional familiar details, encouraged by consistencies in the colouring. For a dedicated puzzle-solver, it’s a game worth playing.


  1. CLARK, Jerome & COLEMAN, Loran. The Unidentified Warner 1975.
  2. DEVEREUX, Paul. Earthlights, Turnstone 1982.
  3. EVANS, Hilary; Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardlans, Aquarian 1987.
  4. EVANS, H. & SPENCER, J. (Eds. ). UFOs 1947-1987, Fortean Tomes/BUFORA 1987.
  5. LAWSON, Alvin. ‘The Birth Trauma Hypothesis’, Magonia 10, 1982.
  6. McEWAN, Graham J. Mystery animals of Great Britain and Ireland, Hale. 1987.
  7. OBERG, James. ‘UFO Update’ , Omni, August 1987.
  8. PERSINGER, Michael, in Haines, UFOs and the behavioural scientist, Scarecrow 1979.
  9. RUTLEDGE, Hartley. Project identification, Prentice Hall 1981.