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.