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John Harney


There are several reasons why the scientific community refuses to treat UFO reports very seriously and a discussion of them could prove enlightening. We could begin by asking a question: When reports of strange aerial phenomena first attracted wide public attention in the USA in 1947, why where the most detailed and best-witnessed of these reports not simply subjected to critical analysis in an attempt to explain them?

From a scientific perspective the answer is fairly clear. Even when reports came from sources generally considered reliable it was difficult to pass them on to the appropriate experts for analysis as it was difficult to decide who might be competent to assess them. If most reports are thought to be generated by delusions or misperceptions, then they should obviously be investigated by psychologists. If they are thought to be unconventional or foreign aircraft, then aviation and defence experts should be consulted.

In the USA in 1947 the reports of flying saucers that could not be explained as misinterpretations of aircraft, balloons or natural phenomena were thought by some to be secret aircraft being tested. Very few people believed that they were alien spacecraft. Some of the reports were undoubtedly generated by secret military experiments. In the Mantell case of 1948, the US Air Force was unable to identify the object that Mantell was chasing in his aircraft, so resorted to guesswork. It was eventually discovered that the object was almost certainly a large balloon carrying scientific instruments. The Skyhook balloon project was run by the Navy. As it was classified secret, they had not told the Air Force.

In the early 1950s, serious attempts to investigate the UFO phenomenon were bedevilled by the activities of the contactees, such as George Adamski, Daniel Fry and Truman Bethurum. Few of those who presented themselves as serious researchers or writers on UFOs, such as Donald Keyhoe, took their stories seriously, but their activities tended to discourage scientists from taking an active interest in the subject.

The main difficulty seems to be that ufologists did not know exactly what they were supposed to be studying. A collection of UFO reports would require many different skills and different types of scientific expertise to explain them, including meteorology, astronomy, atmospheric optics, aviation technology and psychology. Scientists who did become involved either tried to explain all reports with reference to their special knowledge, or got hopelessly out of their depth because the phenomenon proved to be far more complex than they had imagined.

There were many sceptics among the scientists but, unfortunately, very few of them knew much about UFO reports and their complexity. Those who tended to dismiss the reports as nonsense when questioned by the news media, had an irritating habit either of picking on cases that were easily explained or of ignoring inconvenient facts in discussing more difficult cases.

A further problem arose when ufologists began to evolve unconventional theories or models to explain particular UFO reports or UFOs in general. In America, some became emotionally committed to the contactee cult, whereas others, such as Keyhoe, with support from some senior Air Force officers, regarded them as probably being alien spacecraft. However, they refused to consider reports of UFOs landing and their crews being seen, in order to avoid being tarred with the contactee brush.

We can thus trace back the American predilection for preferring one kind of UFO to another, based on preconceived theory rather than evidence and testimony, to the activities of Keyhoe and Project Blue Book investigators.

Blue Book had Dr J. Allen Hynek as its scientific consultant for over 20 years. As an astronomer, he was easily able to explain reports generated by misinterpretations of stars, planets and meteors, but not those generated by sightings of experimental aircraft or unusual atmospheric phenomena, or those generated by optical illusions and hallucinations, which often involved other persons present at these incidents by a process of hysterical contagion.

Hynek began as a sceptic but eventually became a believer, taking an occult approach to the subject. As a physical scientist, he tended to take reports at face value and thus tended to assign those he could not explain in physical terms to the realm of the paranormal. Another scientist, Dr Jacques Vallee, began by attempting scientific and statistical analyses of the UFO data, but gradually became more concerned with the bizarre and subjective aspects of the subject when he found that although some reports resisted easy explanations in physical terms, they did not seem to make sense when interpreted as visitors from other planets. This change in his approach led to the publication of Passport to Magonia, (1) which compared modern UFO reports with traditional fairy lore and demonology.

Nuts-and-bolts ufologists were even less pleased with the researches of John Keel when he published a detailed account of his investigations of the weird phenomena associated with UFO sightings. (2) His speculations were unscientific and incoherent, but his actual reports were the fruits of considerable field work. Those who attempted to follow up his investigations were horrified to find that they were told similar stories by UFO witnesses.

The result of all this was not that ufology split into supporters of the nuts-and-bolts extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) and paranormalists, but that readers of Vallee and Keel refused to take their writings at face value and used them to evolve the theory that ufology was a modern myth whose details could be attributed to various social and psychological causes. As Jerome Clark put it: "In Passport to Magonia the groundwork for the psychosocial hypothesis was laid." (3) The paranormalists tended to be marginalised in any attempts at serious discussion of the topic, being despised by ETHers and proponents of the psychosocial hypothesis (PSH) alike.

When stories of UFO abductions gradually became more prominent, a split appeared in the ranks of the ETHers. Those who were physical scientists tended to attribute these to psychological causes, in agreement with the PSHers, whereas others were inclined to take them at face value and gradually evolved the fantastic theory that the aliens were using humans in a programme to produce human-alien hybrids. The nuts-and-bolts ETHers, however, could not accept this because many of the claims of the abduction enthusiasts ignored the basic laws of physics and biology. They were not sceptical about the idea of UFOs crewed by aliens, though, and they were keen to discover any physical evidence to support the ETH.

The Roswell Incident was a gift to the nuts-and-bolts people. Here was evidence that the saucers were physical devices which, like earthly aircraft and spacecraft, could sometimes go wrong and crash. As the Roswell obsession developed, at the same time the UFO abduction researchers were honing their theories. Perhaps the two most influential of them are Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs. Neither is a scientist; Hopkins is an artist and Jacobs is an historian. Both men came to the conclusion that abductions were taking place on a grand scale and they were merely irritated by more numerate ufologists who calculated that such operations were not a practical possibility, even if the saucers and their crews really existed.

Physical scientists, together with others having a modicum of common sense, also took issue with the abductionists' assertions that the Greys could get into abductees' houses without opening doors or windows and without being seen by independent witnesses, or recorded by security cameras or other equipment. Hopkins and his friends wave all such objections aside. The Greys have the power of "selective invisibility" which enables them to choose who will or will not see them. They also seem untroubled by the biological absurdity of the notion of human-alien hybrids. After all, is not this a familiar theme in many Star Trek episodes? If humans can mate with Vulcans and Romulans can mate with Klingons and produce offspring, why not humans and Greys? In the world of the abduction researcher there seems to be little distinction between science and science fiction.

One would have thought that the activities of Hopkins and company would draw nothing but contempt and derision from the world at large, but this does not seem to happen to the extent that one would expect. Here we come to one of the more serious aspects of the whole business - the credulity of many people who are sufficiently intelligent and well educated to know better. These people are easily taken in by the apparent sincerity of the abductees and the emotions they display when questioned by abduction researchers about their experiences.

Abduction researchers have managed to create a big impression by using the technique of hypnotic regression. They claim, contrary to the best evidence, that this, when used correctly, can reveal the truth about their subjects' past experiences. Untold harm has been done by the use of this technique by psychiatrists, and by persons with no formal qualifications, in producing stories of Satanic ritual abuse. Families have been broken up and persons sentenced to long prison terms because police, lawyers, judges and jurors have taken these fantastic tales at face value. This has happened in spite of the absurd details and the lack of any physical evidence to support them.

As the inevitable reaction set in against these injustices, many of the hypnotists have become involved in expensive lawsuits, as victims attempt to obtain compensation. UFO abduction hypnotists feel that they are on safer ground, though. The persons accused of wrongdoing are not parents or teachers, but the Greys who remain safely out of reach of the law. However, many alleged abductees have complained that, although they have had strange experiences and perhaps have seen UFOs, they do not really believe that they have been abducted. It is surely only a matter of time before one of them sues an abduction enthusiast. The results could be interesting.

Meanwhile, the abduction obsession makes the study of unusual aerial phenomena extremely unattractive to physical scientists and gifted amateur investigators. But this is not the only reason why few scientists get involved with ufology. Most scientific research is carried out because governments and private companies provide the necessary funds to pay for it. Ufology must be a spare-time pursuit and available resources are very limited. Well-witnessed, detailed reports for which fairly obvious explanations are not apparent, occur rarely and unpredictably. Some reports, which at first seem promisingly mysterious, attract media attention and the waters become so muddied by liars and fantasists who want to get in on the act that it becomes almost impossible to establish the truth about the alleged incident. A good example of this is the Varginha case of January 1996.

The principal barrier to the objective investigation of UFO reports is the ETH. The ETH can be stated in a beguilingly simple and seemingly reasonable form by saying that there are a very few unexplained reports for which this would seem to be an explanation worth considering. Few ufologists are aware of the temptation and the trap. If you think that the ETH might - just might - be true, then there comes a point in your investigation in which you stop working on a case and say that you have considered every possibility and that the ETH is the only one left. Therefore further investigation would be a waste of time.

Fellow ufologists are very impressed; you are congratulated on your hard work and are favourably compared with carping critics superglued to armchairs. Then what happens? You and your fellow ETHers build up a collection of inexplicable reports which should eventually accumulate so that a disbelieving world will finally be convinced that the ETs are here. Then along come the dreaded Sceptics and the Debunkers. They want to investigate your investigations to see if they are as meticulous and objective as you say they are. They look for hidden agendas and the concealment and distortion of negative evidence. Some of them even get out of their armchairs and cause you no end of trouble.

As the ETH is taken most seriously in the USA, this is where it has developed in its most extravagant form. As ufologists have no convincing proof of the ETH after more than 50 years, then there must be reasons for this situation. One of the favourite explanations is that the evidence is systematically concealed by government agencies. This notion has inspired numerous books, some of them written by people who are manifestly insane. These do nothing to entice the scientific community to take the UFO phenomenon seriously.

The belief that physical proof of extraterrestrial spaceships is kept secret is hopelessly irrational. Most ETHers cannot see this, so it is necessary, even if boring to some, to say why this is so and to keep on saying it as loudly and clearly as possible.

It is certainly true that governments and their agencies can keep secrets. But what many fail to realise is that these secrets concern matters controlled by governments. For example, if it is decided to construct and test a new type of weapon, then the government department responsible for it can decide where it is to be constructed and tested, and who shall have access to information about it. No persons will be informed about any aspect of the project unless they need to know. If defence journalists suspect that something unusual is going on, there will be cover stories ready for them to lead them away from the truth.

However, those who believe in government cover-ups of UFO evidence never seem willing to say how any government could preserve secrecy about something over which it has absolutely no control. UFOs can appear anywhere, at any time. Yet, against all logic, many ufologists still believe that an alien spacecraft crashed near Roswell in 1947 and that it and its occupants are still kept, under heavy guard, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Less credulous ufologists have pointed out repeatedly that, although the crash of a secret prototype of a US Air Force plane could be hushed up almost indefinitely, it would be extremely dangerous to attempt to do this in the case of the crash of an alien spacecraft. What would happen if the crash were followed by a similar incident in another country? And what if this incident were witnessed by thousands? Is it likely that the saucers are so designed that, in the event of mechanical failure they are programmed to crash within easy reach of US Air Force recovery teams?

The Roswell enthusiasts are unwilling to address themselves to such awkward questions. They either ignore them or attempt to preserve the myth by devising ingenious, paranoid fantasies. One of these is the story that the aliens are in league with the US government and that there is mutual co-operation in the effort to conceal their activities from the public. Another is that the US Air Force is so efficient and powerful that it can retrieve crashed UFOs quickly from any part of the world and persuade various governments to assist it in preserving secrecy by means of censorship and disinformation.

The problem with this sort of nonsense is that it distracts attention from the UFO reports themselves. Paranoid conspiracy theories get us nowhere, whereas the PSH if used fairly and carefully can enable us to take account of the effects of psychological factors and popular culture on the reporting and investigation of mysterious aerial phenomena. Those reports which still remain mysterious after these factors have been taken into account are the ones most worthy of further investigation.

On the other hand, ETH proponents are not interested in puzzling reports, they are interested only in those which seem to them to point to the ETH as a possible explanation. They do not want to see such cases highlighted and subjected to intensive critical examination because a convincing explanation of one might be capable of being applied to most of the others, leaving them with no evidence to support their hypothesis.

For example, ETHers rightly lay great stress on reports involving multiple independent witnesses but there are in fact very few of these. In a number of cases allegedly involving multiple witnesses the careful reader will notice that the story is told to investigators by only one or two witnesses and that investigators mysteriously fail to interview any of the others. A notorious example of this is the Trindade Isle sighting of 16 January 1958. Pictures were taken from the deck of a Brazilian navy vessel. Sceptics pointed out that the photographer was known for his trick photographs and said they were obvious fakes. Believers insisted, and still insist, that up to 100 witnesses saw the UFO. Unfortunately, journalists and others who boarded the ship to interview crew members were apparently unable to obtain statements from any of them confirming that they had actually seen the UFO. ETHers are sure there are such statements but somehow don't seem able to locate them, or that no one has yet got around to translating them into English, or whatever. However, they feel sure that there must have been all these witnesses, because that's what Coral Lorenzen said in her book, Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space. (4)

It is understandable that ETHers should complain about sceptics who insist, a priori, that the ETH is nonsense and suppress and distort evidence in order to come up with conventional explanations for UFO reports, but they also resent open-minded researchers who actually dare to apply scientific and technical knowledge to their investigations. Such an approach, practised by Allan Hendry and reported in The UFO Handbook, (5) resulted in conventional solutions to all but a few of the cases he was able to investigate. Inevitably, some of the most puzzling cases had only one witness each, so not much weight could be given to them.

Although some of the more intellectually honest ETHers have praised Hendry's work, many of them hate his guts for whittling away at the evidence so that there are very few reports which cannot be explained by competent investigators. Hendry also managed to conduct his investigations without the usual paranoid rantings about government agencies concealing evidence, silencing witnesses and giving false information to news media. He just investigated the cases, without any tantrums or histrionics. Most ufologists who are fairly new to the subject have probably never heard of Hendry. This is because his objective approach is not likely to excite the crowds of believers who attend UFO conferences.

This brings us to another reason why scientists despise ufologists - ufology as show business. There have been notorious examples of this in recent years, some of them spin-offs from the Roswell circus, such as the Santilli "alien autopsy" film. And then there's the long-running MJ-12 saga, which might be called the thinking man's UFO entertainment.

Alien abduction was a favourite theme of science fiction films long before it became an obsession of certain ufologists. As a result of this, many producers of radio or television entertainment seem to see abductees as fair game. Recently, Jenny Randles was phoned by a TV company in London, asking her for the phone numbers of "robust witnesses who could stand up to being grilled in a fun way". She told the caller that " . . . abductions were a serious issue that needed proper assessment not the kind of farcical, fluffy chat show intended." (6)

Randles is certainly correct in her attitude. Holding up abductees to ridicule is no more likely to throw any light on the matter than the touting of absurd theories about selectively invisible aliens gliding through bedroom walls.

What is needed to entice physical scientists to take an interest in the study of UFO reports is a supply of genuinely puzzling cases, with multiple witnesses. These would also attract qualified psychologists, who could give advice about the limitations of human perception and memory and how these should be taken into account in the evaluation of sightings.

One somewhat neglected source of interesting UFO reports is the Hudson Valley area, to the north of New York City. A new edition of a book on these sightings has recently been published. (7) It summarises a collection of over 7,000 reports from the area covering the period from 1982 to 1995. After sightings of stars, planets and aircraft had been weeded out, there were many multi-witness reports of large flying objects with coloured lights, seen at low altitudes. The authors say that, because of the large number of reports, they lacked the resources to investigate more than a small proportion of them. However, as the reports are so numerous and the mysterious objects were continuing to be observed in recent years, there is plenty of material to work on for anyone who is keen to devise a sensible theory to account for them. It is possible, of course, that the Hudson Valley sightings can be explained without recourse to speculation about alien spacecraft or unknown natural phenomena, but only careful, scientifically informed and unbiased investigation can uncover the truth. Perhaps some resources could be diverted from Roswell, MJ-12 and all that nonsense?

Finally, what is to be done? Is ufology to continue as a form of popular entertainment, or is it possible to investigate and present cases in such a way that professional physicists and psychologists will be prepared to take them seriously? There are some hopeful signs. Three British glossy, news-stand UFO magazines, Alien Encounters, Sightings and UFO Reality, have recently gone down the plughole, a fate they truly deserved for their general fatuity, empty-headed speculations and paranoid conspiracy-mongering. It was also pleasing to note that when the recent Sturrock Report was published, it was not only Philip Klass who noticed that the ufologists who presented UFO evidence to the panel of experts suppressed any negative findings or negative evidence about the cases they submitted. We now know not to trust these characters in future. In Britain, some influential ufologists are no longer prepared to tolerate the practice of unscrupulous people who allow unqualified persons to hypnotise alleged abductees, and they are making plans to do something about it.

The best way ahead is undoubtedly to develop the psychosocial hypothesis, but it must be applied with care. There is much that remains to be discovered about human perception and memory, and the workings of the brain. There is also much remaining to be discovered about natural phenomena which are rare or difficult to observe and record. PSHers must be careful not to discard evidence that does not seem to suit their preconceptions. There is little to be said for the ETH, though. While seeming superficially reasonable, it leads researchers inevitably to distort the evidence to accommodate it and frustration at its failure to deliver convincing proof leads to the unedifying paranoid fantasies and cover-up conspiracy theories that we have been subjected to for so many years.


1. Vallee, Jacques. Passport to Magonia, London, Neville Spearman, 1970

2. Keel, John A. Operation Trojan Horse, London, Souvenir Press, 1971

3. Clark, Jerome. The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial, Detroit, Visible Ink Press, 1998, 495

4. Lorenzen, Coral. Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space, New York, Signet, 1966, 168

5. Hendry, Allan. The UFO Handbook, London, Sphere Books, 1980

6. Northern UFO News, No. 180, October 1998, 8

7. Hynek, J. Allen, Imbrogno, Philip J. and Pratt, Bob. Night Siege, St. Paul, Minnesota, Llewellyn Publications, second edition, 1998


A plea for the adoption of scientific methods and criteria in UFOlogy

from Royston Paynter

In my limited dealings with some proponents of the ET hypothesis (the notion that some UFOs are alien space ships) I have been dismayed by a lack of understanding of, and lack of respect for, the scientific method. It is particularly astonishing to find counter-scientific attitudes present among the so-called "field investigators" of MUFON, ostensibly the premier organization in North American UFOlogy.

The one axe I have to grind about UFOlogy is this: that it should adopt properly scientific methods and criteria of proof. It is my belief that UFOlogy has gone precisely nowhere in the 50 years since Kenneth Arnold took his fateful flight past Mount Rainier because it has developed a counter-scientific culture.

What is science?

Science is not what you find in the text books and encyclopedias - that is knowledge, the product of science. Science is a METHOD for the acquisition of knowledge. The main difference between the scientific method and other procedures for generating knowledge (such as "channeling") is that science says that


The scientific method has a set procedure for going about this. It can be summarized in a series of steps:

1) Observation
2) Deduction of a hypothesis
3) Formulation of a theory
4) Testing of the theory
5) Adoption of the theory or back to (2) if it fails the test

Let us discuss the steps individually.

(1) A series of observations is made and a phenomenon noted. An obvious case in point are the claims made of the observation of unidentified flying objects. To the observer, the UFO is the phenomenon, but to the investigator, who is not present during the direct observation of the UFO, the real phenomenon is the claim itself. What gives rise to these claims?

(2) A mechanism for the phenomenon is postulated. In the case of the claims of UFOs, one might hypothesize that they arise because the claimants have witnessed an alien space ship (the ET hypothesis.) One might also hypothesize that a given claim arose because of the misapprehension of a mundane phenomenon, such as an airplane or a meteor. Another hypothesis that springs to mind is that the claimant simply imagined that he saw something.

(3) The most crucial step in the scientific method is the formation of a theory. A theory is a falsifiable hypothesis. That is to say, we must couch our idea in such a way that if it is wrong, it will be possible to show that it is wrong. Suppose my hypothesis is that a given UFO report arose from a misidentification of Venus. This would imply that Venus would have had to have been in the part of the sky in question at the time of the claimed observation, something I can check from astronomical tables. If Venus was not there, then my theory is obviously wrong.

It is with this step, the formulation of a falsifiable theory, that the ET hypothesis has the most trouble, in my opinion. It is generally postulated that although aliens are visiting the Earth, no evidence of their presence can ever be found, because of a world-wide conspiracy. That is to say, a world visited by aliens looks identical to one not being visited by aliens. Clearly, in this form, the ET hypothesis constitutes a non-falsifiable hypothesis, and is inconsistent with the scientific method.

(4) The theory must be put to the test. We must design an experiment or define a set of observations that we will take as proof that our theory is wrong. For example, we might say that we would expect to find some demonstrably alien artefact left behind as a result of all the alien visits, and crashes of flying saucers. If we cannot find anything, then we must be prepared to go on to the next step

(5) in which we admit that there is no evidence that our theory is correct, and go back to the drawing board.

The meaning of "proof"

There are theories that can be easily proved if they are true. For example, if I theorize that there are pixies at the bottom of my garden, I can prove my theory by clearly defining what I mean by "pixie" and then simply capturing one at the bottom of my garden. But most theories are more subtle and cannot really be "proved" in such a definitive manner.

For example, the theory of gravity, that all objects, when dropped, fall "down". We could spend our entire lives dropping objects and even if every one falls "down", can we ever be really certain that EVERY object will ALWAYS fall down? No, but we can eventually get to the point where we feel very confident that they will, and we say that the theory is "proved" to all intents and purposes.

But if it can never really be proved, is the theory of gravity a proper theory in the scientific sense? Well, yes, because it is falsifiable. We know what would prove it wrong - to drop something that falls "up".

This is the crucial point about theories - even if we can never really prove them right with metaphysical certitude, we have to be able to prove them wrong if they are wrong. I submit that the ET hypothesis, combined with a conspiracy theory, is a non-falsifiable hypothesis, because it does not admit to any criteria by which it could be proved wrong.

Worse, any evidence that it is wrong is simply incorporated into the conspiracy "theory" as "dis-information". In effect, any evidence at all, one way or the other, is interpreted in such a way as to confirm the prejudice that aliens are visiting the Earth under the protection of a global cover-up. As an example one could point to the MJ-12 documents, which although discredited, have been incorporated into the "cover-up" scenario as an example of government dis-information.

Another important point I want to make about "proof" is that science says that you have to prove what you claim. UFOlogy, in my experience, tends to claim one thing and try to prove another.

For example, let us take the claim that aliens are mutilating cattle. It is not enough to prove that cattle are being mutilated. It is not enough to argue that the mutilations could not have been accomplished by buzzards. It is not even enough to try to prove that the incisions were made by lasers. It has to be proved that aliens are doing it.

Another popular claim is of the observation of alien space ships. Again it is not enough to prove that the UFO was not a plane. It is not enough to show that it accelerated at 100g. It is not enough to argue that it was "not one of ours." What has to be proved is that the object was (1) a space ship and (2) alien. I reject the notion that these two conclusions are somehow inevitable consequences of the other facts claimed.

There are other examples of UFOlogists claiming one thing and proving another. With respect to the Cydonia "Face on Mars" it has been proved to my satisfaction that the hill looks like a face. However, it is claimed that only aliens could have made it (and, furthermore, aliens that evolved independently on Mars to look just like us). But to me, "looks like a face" does not mean "built by aliens". If I see a cloud in the sky that looks like a face must I conclude that aliens made it? Proof of alien manufacture, surely, can only be forthcoming in high-resolution imaging of the feature - if it is seen to be constructed from quarried blocks of stone then I shall be convinced.

With respect to the "alien autopsy" film, there has been much discussion about the curly telephone chord, the date of manufacture of the celluloid, and so on. These discussions may be useful in proving the film to be a hoax, but what the "believers" need to show is that the thing on the table is an alien life form. Surely, only something like DNA analysis would be unambiguous proof of that claim.

UFOlogy has to prove WHAT IT CLAIMS.

Science and UFOs

So what is to be done? What if aliens really are visiting the Earth under the protection of an air-tight global cover-up? Well then, I am afraid that we are screwed. There is nothing we can do to study the phenomenon and so I suggest we get on with our lives.

But suppose somebody (such as an "abductee") manages to recover what he claims to be a genuine alien artefact? How should science be brought to bear?

We have to prove what we claim - that the thing was made by aliens. I have a proposal to make:

A materials analysis by means of high-resolution (time-of-flight) secondary ion mass spectrometry. I think that if it is discovered that the isotope ratios for each element in the object are sufficiently different from terrestrial norms, then we will have to consider the possibility that the material from which the object is made originates from an alien star system.

If aliens really are visiting the Earth (or if they have done so in the past as others have claimed) then it ought not be too difficult to prove it. Any demonstrably alien artefact would do, such as an alien, an alien space ship, even an alien ash tray - provided that the artefact is analyzed in accordance with the scientific method and the results subjected to the rigors of scientific proof.

Frequently offered criticisms of science

Again, in my dealings with proponents of the ET hypothesis, I have been offered a limited set of arguments against the application of the scientific method in UFOlogy:

Scientists think they know everything

Then why do they bother going to work in the morning? Science is a method for the discovery of new knowledge, and if somebody thought that he knew everything, why would he bother to do science? Of course scientists do not think that they know everything - and that is why they do science - to discover new stuff.

Science does not know everything

Agreed, but that does not mean that what science does know is WRONG. In fact, as I explained above, science advances by trying to prove itself wrong, and so that knowledge that has been around for any length of time is most probably RIGHT.

Science changes all the time

IMHO the history of scientific knowledge boils down to the acquisition of better and better data, and so it is natural that theories need to be modified or abandoned altogether in order to explain the newer and more precise data as it is acquired. However, those of us that have had to struggle through trigonometry are studying knowledge first derived by the classical greeks more than 2,000 years ago. And yet, this knowledge is just as right today as it was then.

The same goes for the science of statics. The knowlege acquired by the ancient greeks about how bodies at rest behave (such as the displacement of volume - Eureka and all that) is still as good today as it ever was, and there is no indication that it is, or ever will be, wrong. Of course, there are still intriguing holes in scientific knowledge, including the question of the existence of extraterrestrial life, but this does not mean that what we already know about the way the universe works is necessarily wrong. And IMHO the proper way to fill those gaps in what we know is by the application of the scientific method.

The scientific method can be fooled by a conspiracy

The argument here is that if aliens are visiting the Earth and covering it up in a way that cannot be detected by scientific means, then science is of no use in the investigation of the UFO phenomenon.

I am not sure that this is necessarily the case even given the predicates of the objection. It so happens that science is of enormous benefit to those investigating phenomena caused by parties with a deep interest in covering up their activities, for example spies and criminals.

But it seems to me that explaining the complete lack of scientific evidence for alien visitations by such a conspiracy is a display of a determination to believe at all costs. A rule of thumb in science is to prefer the simplest explanation that accounts for all of the data - a principle known as Occam’s Razor. What we mean by "simple" here is that we look for the explanation which introduces the least number of new variables or phenomena. Now, if we have to explain the total absence of properly scientific evidence that aliens are visiting the Earth, it seems to me that the simplest explanation for the lack of evidence is that ALIENS ARE NOT VISITING THE EARTH, not that there is some kind of elaborate international conspiracy.

Three fatal mistakes

It may not be perfect, but the scientific method is the best yet found for acquiring a working knowledge of physical reality. The fruits of the scientific method are all around us - you are reading these words because of the application of the scientific method to problems such as electromagnetism and semiconductor physics.

The scientific method works roughly like this:

(a) Observation of a quantifiable phenomenon

(b) Proposal of a hypothesis to account for the data acquired

(c) Formulation of a theory

(d) Testing of the theory

(e) Application of the theory if confirmed, return to (a) or (b) if not.

If more than one hypothesis accounts for all of the available data, a priciple known as "Occam's Razor" is invoked. We prefer the hypothesis that introduces the least number of new or unknown variables. We introduce only those new or unknown variables demanded by the data - we don't "multiply (the number of) variables unneccessarily".

We test the theory by formulating the appropriate null hypothesis, which we attempt to falsify. If we can find data that force us to reject the null hypothesis, our theory is in good shape.

A glance at the arguments advanced by many proponents of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) for UFOs shows three major violations of the abovementioned principles which, I believe, have resulted in the total lack of progress of UFOlogy over the past 50 years.

(1) "The ETH is the most parsimonious explanation for UFOs". The argument advanced here is that the simplest explanation for the available data on UFOs is that they are alien space ships. However, as far as I am aware, there is nothing in the data that justifies the inclusion of extraterrestrials. As far as I know, no UFO has been reliably observed arriving from, and returning to, deep space in a controlled, non-ballistic manner. As far as I know, no UFO fragment has been shown to have a composition or microstructure indicative of an extraterrestrial origin. There is nothing extraterrestrial in the data, and therefore, the inclusion of extraterrestrials in a hypothesis intended to explain UFOs is "multiplying variables unnecessarily" - a violation of Occam's Razor.

(2) "There is no reason to expect physical evidence of alien visitations". This is asserted on the basis of a cover-up, or of a prejudice (opinion formed in the absence of evidence) about alien visitations. What it does is to eliminate the possibility of testing the ETH by the falsification of the null hypothesis. With this addendum, the ETH predicts that no physical evidence will be found, a prediction identical to that of the null hypothesis (that aliens are not visiting the Earth). "Good" scientific theories are those that predict something different than the prediction of the null hypothesis, and so this modification of the ETH makes it a "bad" theory, of no use to the scientific method.

(3) "What else can it be?" Once every prosaic explanation has been eliminated, this argument goes, the only possibility left is an alien space ship. But this Conan-Doyle style of reasoning ("once you have eliminated the possible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth") is entirely fallacious, because, it requires that we be aware of all the possibilities - that we have a perfect knowledge of the universe.

40 Questions for Scientists Who Care About Truth

1. What are the implications of physicists’ realization that "space-time" is not a void, but is rather an ocean-like medium of energy?

2. Are scientists and journalists aware of new, broadly-published, peer-reviewed theories of the nature of gravitation and inertia meeting every experimental test of general relativity, yet in principle allowing super-luminal motion of gravity-propelled spacecraft without time-dilation?

3. If scientific papers speculating on time travel, worm holes, and ‘many universes’ are greeted by the press with respectful wonder and awe, why are scientific papers speculating on notions far less exotic – propulsion systems not requiring that we shoot matter out of a nozzle – greeted with skeptical disdain, especially when no empirical data exist to support the former, while much exists to support the latter?

4. Are scientists and journalists aware that much of the research staff on a pivotal government-funded study of UFO evidence – the Condon Committee – resigned or were fired when they challenged its director’s intention to report a pre-ordained conclusion that all UFO sightings can be explained in mundane terms?

5. Are scientists and journalists aware that the chief scientific consultant in the Air Force's Blue Book study of UFOs later characterized the project as a publicity maneuver to mollify the public, himself convinced by the evidence he saw that genuine, unexplained aerospatial phenomena are in our midst?

6. Are you aware that reports of these two government-funded, now-discredited studies – the Condon Committee and Project Blue Book – are the primary reasons why most scientists and journalists have dismissed UFO evidence as pseudoscience?

7. Are scientists and journalists aware that hundreds of thoroughly credentialed pilots and military officers have officially documented sightings of structured craft demonstrating motions possible only through gravitational propulsion, and that some of these sightings are accompanied by radar records?

8. Are scientists and journalists aware that hundreds of thousands of similar sightings have been made by people around the world, dating back thousands of years?

9. Why have
U.S. intelligence agencies refused an official request by the Federation of American Scientists to release their budgets for the years 1947 through 1970?

10. Is there anything unusual about the fact that the National Security Council, the CIA, and the Air Force were all established in 1947?

11. Why were administrative and communications records from the Roswell Army Air Force Base covering the period 1945-1949 destroyed without explanation?

12. Why did defense contractors' ubiquitous predictions in the 1950s of the emergence of gravitational propulsion systems suddenly go quiet?

13. Why did the National Security Agency and partner organizations secretly begin tapping land-line phone conversations world-wide by the 1950s, expanding the capability in recent decades to include most satellite communications?

14. Why did President Eisenhower, in his nationally televised farewell address, bluntly warn his fellow citizens of the “potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power”, sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex?

15. Are scientists and journalists aware that, on
November 12, 1963, President Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum 271 directing NASA to begin preparations for a joint space program with the Soviet Union

16. Are scientists and journalists aware that among thousands of pages of allegedly-authentic leaked classified documents relating to UFOs is a purported memorandum from President Kennedy, also dated
November 12, 1963
, directing the intelligence community to begin sharing classified UFO files with NASA in preparation for a joint US-USSR space program?

17. Are scientists and journalists aware that perhaps history’s most quoted and respected debunker of UFO sightings, Harvard astronomer Dr. Donald Menzel, was in fact a consultant with Top Secret Ultra clearance to the National Security Agency?

18. Why did President Reagan mention the hypothetical scenario of an extraterrestrial presence around Earth in several of his most important speeches, including to the United Nations?

19. May there be a deeper reason explaining why President Bush is so adamant about fielding a new defense shield against ‘21st century threats from rogue objects in the air and space’?

20. Why has President Bush ordered that presidential papers following the Carter administration may be concealed from our democracy forever?

21. When the vast majority of
advanced physics research has been funded by the military-industrial complex, what discoveries may have been concealed long ago under the premise of National Security?

22. Are you aware that former leading officials of the French Air Force and Space Agency published a report in the summer of 2000 stating their appraisal that some UFOs are likely spacecraft of extraterrestrial origin, and that the
probably has come into possession of extraterrestrial craft?

23. Are you aware that prominent
physicists have begun to come out in support of the likelihood that some fraction of UFO sightings do indeed identify spacecraft of extraterrestrial origin?

24. Are you aware that the Aerospace Editor for Jane’s Defense Weekly – among the world’s most respected defense analysis journals – publicly released the following conclusion after ten years of research: the U.S. military has likely been experimenting with gravitational propulsion systems for many decades?

25. If the music industry can align all powers in its possession to obliterate Napster’s liberation of songs, what might vastly larger interests have done with energy and propulsion technology that would liberate electricity and transportation… and global politics?

26. How might human civilization have (d)evolved if Faraday’s discovery of the principle of induction was made not in the public domain, but in a secured facility, deemed a “national security threat” by virtue of its power to revolutionize steam locomotion and oil-based lighting infrastructure, and kept secret for half a century?

27. If there is a world-changing secret buried within our
National Security State
, which dynastic interests most likely govern it today?

28. If the massive National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office were kept entirely secret for decades, is it possible that other large, classified programs remain largely unknown to Congress and the public?

29. Are you aware of the lengths to which the military-industrial-intelligence community could go to prevent revelation of world-changing knowledge, if such knowledge would thoroughly challenge its power structure, and if there are indeed severe risks of misuse of resulting technology?

30. Do you believe that the revelation of past contact with extraterrestrial life forms could profoundly transform our world for the better, giving us all an inspiring, unifying perspective of the grandeur of the Cosmos from which we spring, and pointing to new technologies that could dramatically reduce humanity’s environmental footprint on Nature?

31. For how long will scientists and journalists continue to be happy with spoon-fed denials by officials of any significance to the following documented quotes?

”Before we could do any more, the Army, after conferring with [
] officials, ordered the investigation stopped.”
- Renowned physicist Dr. Paul Santorini, on UFOs over
in 1946

”The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious.”
– General Nathan Twining, September 23, 1947, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1955-1958

”Army intelligence has recently said that the matter of ‘Unidentified Aircraft’ or ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,’ otherwise known as ‘Flying Discs,’ ‘Flying Saucers,’ and “Balls of Fire,’ is considered top secret by intelligence officers of both the Army and Air Forces.”
- 1949 FBI memo on UFOs

”In view of the wide interest within the Agency … outside knowledge of Agency interest in Flying Saucers carries the risk of making the problem even more serious in the public mind than it already is.”
- CIA memo, 1952

”I am convinced that these objects do exist and that they are not manufactured by any nation on Earth.”
– Air Chief Marshall Lord Dowding, Commander-in-Chief, Royal Air Force Command, London Sunday Dispatch, July 11, 1954

”Reliable reports indicate there are objects coming into our atmosphere at very high speeds and controlled by thinking intelligences.”
- Navy Admiral Delmar Fahrney, public statement, 1957

”The trick would be to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study, but to the scientific community would present the image of a group of nonbelievers trying their best to be objective but having an almost zero expectation of finding a saucer.”
- Robert Low, University of Colorado senior administrator, former intelligence officer, and assistant director of the Condon Committee, in a confidential 1966 memo suggesting the approach of the Condon UFO study

”My study of past official Air Force investigations (Project Blue Book) leads me to describe them as completely superficial… Officially released ‘explanations’ of important UFO sightings have been almost absurdly erroneous.”
– Dr. James McDonald, speech to American Meteorological Society, 1966

”When the team was ten miles from the landing site, static disrupted radio contact with them. Five to eight minutes later the glow diminished, and the UFO took off. Another UFO was visually sighted and confirmed by radar.”
- Classified report by an Air Force Strike Team at Minot AFB, 1966

”Unknown objects are operating under intelligent control... It is imperative that we learn where UFOs come from and what their purpose is... Behind the scenes high ranking military officers are soberly concerned about UFOs. But through official secrecy and ridicule, many citizens are led to believe the unknown flying objects are nonsense.”
– Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, first Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, public statements in 1960

”I had the evidence that a crash did happen… I ask [you] this, were you there with me? Did you have the clearances? They can’t answer these questions. They simply criticize with no evidence.”
– Colonel Philip Corso, former head of the Foreign Technology Desk, United States Army Research and Development and National Security Advisor, Eisenhower Administration, on video in 1998 shortly before his death

”Because of the developments of science, all countries on Earth will have to unite to survive and to make a common front against attack by people from other planets. The politics of the future will be cosmic, or interplanetary.”
– General Douglas Macarthur, October 8, 1955, New York Times

”Congressional investigations … are still being held on the problem of unidentified flying objects and the problem is one in which there is quite a bit of interest… Since most of the material presented to the Committees is classified, the hearings are never printed.”
- Congressman William H. Ayres, 1958

”I've talked with people of stature – of military and government credentials and position – and heard their stories, and their desire to tell their stories openly to the public. And that got my attention very, very rapidly... the first hand experiences of these credible witnesses, now in advanced years and anxious to tell their story. We can't deny that, and the evidence points to the fact that
was a real incident, and that indeed an alien craft did crash, and that material was recovered from that crash site.”
-Dr. Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, from a taped interview in 1998.

”[I am] disturbed by the way in which the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment… [It has] become a government all of its own and all secret. They don’t have to account to anybody.”
- President Harry S. Truman, Washington Post, December 22, 1963

”Maximum security exists concerning the subject of UFOs.”
– Allen Dulles, 1955, Director of Central Intelligence and later member of the Warren Commission

32. Will the community of scientists – stewards of humanity’s wisdom, knowledge, history and future – look away in denial of overwhelming evidence that the Cold War’s capitalist-military-intelligence complex has managed the epochal process of CONTACT for at least a half-century under cover?

33. How properly could such a singular process have been conducted, deprived for at least five decades of the diverse wisdom, knowledge and perspective of millions of philosophers, cosmologists, physicists, chemists, biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, engineers, ethicists, historians, journalists, artists and scholars of religion?

34. If a vital truth of our very Nature has been concealed from us, may that in part explain humanity’s continuing struggles with religious, political, economic, technological, and psychological adolescence – consequences of the lingering imposition of a flat-earth worldview?

35. If governments were to grant relief of security oaths relating to information on UFOs, call for witnesses to step forward and see no witnesses forthcoming, then wouldn’t the question of government cover-up be put to rest succinctly?

36. If, on the other hand, governments were to refuse to offer relief of security oaths relating to information on UFOs or refuse to call for witnesses to step forward, then what may we conclude?

37. When will we band together, demanding relief of security oaths for those with first-hand knowledge to testify in open hearings before the United States Congress and the people of Earth?

38. Do we or do we not have both the right and need to learn the truth of our Nature?

The social paradigm of the second millennium is hurtling us into what scientists now call the Sixth Great Extinction of life on Earth. Forests are disappearing. Fisheries are becoming depleted. Oceans and lakes are being flooded with wastes. Aquifers are emptying. Weather patterns are shifting. Human numbers continue to climb. Earth’s biosphere cannot sustain the existing footprint of civilization, with billions still in abject poverty. And as of 2001, capitalism is programmed to lift the developing world into U.S.-style patterns of consumption using the 20th century’s platform of technologies, and more than one billion people in
have just officially joined this program.

Yet human beings everywhere are asking, “Is this what life is supposed to be about?”

Our worst challenges require our best solutions. I do not believe that most people are aware of the relevance of the UFO question to the solutions humanity needs in order to survive and thrive upon our precious, blue-green, Cosmic coral reef.

This leads me to ask two final questions.

Leaders, scientists and journalists, I ask you:

Is “Know Thyself” to be limited by the rule of secret councils of the capitalist-military-intelligence complex?

Have you read Rich Dolan’s masterpiece of journalism: UFOs and the
National Security State

A renewal of life on Earth and an inspiring future for all the world’s children await minds and hearts of science to stir from a long slumber.

Joseph P. Firmage
November 22, 2001

”I believe no other problem within your jurisdiction is of comparable scientific and national importance. These are strong words, and I intend them to be…

”I now regard the [extraterrestrial hypothesis] as the one most likely to prove correct.”

- Dr. James McDonald, testimony to the United States Congress, 1968; this brilliant, courageous, world-renowned scientist apparently committed suicide three years later.