30 April 2014


Timothy Pennington. Science, Skeptics and UFOs: A Reluctant Scientist Explores the World of UFOs. Dog Ear Publishing, 2013

Timothy Pennington portrays himself as a 'reluctant scientist', and like many such people proudly parades his PhD on the cover of his, I imagine, largely self-published book. His degree is in chemistry and his main career was of an industrial chemist, which is not perhaps the most relevant.
In reality he is one of many people who have had anomalous personal experiences and, in search of an explanation, have adopted a standardised belief system.

The experiences of himself and his family, which make up about the first quarter of the book, are interesting and perhaps typical of the rather odd things that seem to happen around rural areas (or perhaps anywhere not swamped by artificial light), but, contrary to Pennington’s own beliefs do not look as though they are the products of some unitary phenomenon. They mainly involve anomalous lights and in past times might have been ascribed to ghosts, the actions of witches or the local fairies.

The belief system that he has embraced is that of the standard American ETH ufology; all explanations that do not involve exotic non-human intelligences are debunking, the usual doctrine of the inerrancy of eye-witness testimony, along with belief in Roswell, alien abductions and the tales told by Tim Good. His scientific heroes are Stanton Friedman, Bruce “Friend of Mr Ed” Maccabee and even Jim Deardorf, whom he appears not to realise is a disciple of the crackpot contactee Billy Meier.

Of course he does not like European psycho-social ufology, though there is not the slightest evidence that he knows anything about it, hence his ridiculous view that psycho-social ufology argues that all UFO witnesses are nutcases. There is no evidence whatsoever that he has ever read Allan Hendry’s UFO Handbook.

Contrary to Pennington there is no real evidence that Jung became convinced that any UFOs were extra-terrestrial spaceships, rather he seems to have been agnostic as to their physical nature, if any, though privately he may have thought they were some kind of parapsychological phenomenon. Few would agree with his perception of Carl Sagan as an elitist, indeed Sagan was often criticised by his peers for being too much of a science populariser.

The book is also marred by sort of anti-intellectual populism which appeals to certain audiences, perhaps the sort of people who cheered William Jennings Bryan in his later fundamentalist years.

There are more detailed critiques of the earth lights explanation, and of Ronald Siegel’s explanation of an abduction case. I am not competent to comment on the latter. Of course all grand explanations of UFO experiences are wrong, because there is no such thing as the UFO phenomenon. UFO reports are generated by many different things. His main complaint about earth lights really is that they don’t involve exotic non-human intelligences. -- Peter Rogerson.


  1. > His scientific heroes are Stanton Friedman, Bruce “Friend of Mr Ed” Maccabee and even Jim Deardorf

    Gaa! Perhaps "scientific" should have been put in quotes!

    > There are more detailed critiques of...Ronald Siegel’s explanation of an abduction case. I am not competent to comment on the latter.

    I have pulled out my well-thumbed copy of Fire in the Brain and can attest that Siegel probably got it right. As an expert in hallucination, Dr. Siegel was able to conduct a thorough investigation, which included clinical and lab tests for possible optical, neurological, and blood problems (he had access to UCLA medical facilities). He also drew on a wide knowledge of the neurological literature. Siegel then interviewed the only witness, who was able to confirm his theory. It's somewhat complicated, but involves the subject driving 30 straight hours with his son helping out, being sensitive to light, staring into a sunset, then falling directly to sleep. (The son confirmed the seven hours of missing time were actually seven hours the pair spent sleeping in the car.)

    Despite this being his first abduction case, Siegel seems to have conducted more scientific work than any other abduction investigator on record.

  2. Anonymous18.1.15

    Is Rogerson jealous that he doesn't have a PhD...I think so.

    1. Though Pennington is a scientist with a PhD, he had to self-publish his claims and critiques. Not even the paranormal publishers such as New Page or Anomalist Press took him on.

      Think about that.