30 April 2019


Jan H. Landsberg. UFOs Unmasked. CreateSpace, 2018.

I have to start by saying I am very much in two minds about this book. It is an extremely impressive work of research, the book comprising in total over 650 pages, of which over 100 are detailed sources, references and indexes. 

In her introduction Jan Landsberg looks at explanations that have been offered for the UFO mystery, and soon comes across the numerous problems that arise when the phenomenon is seen in extraterrestrial ‘nuts and bolts’ terms, but at the same time she is unwilling to dismiss the testimony of the huge number of sincere reports of remarkable UFO related experiences. There is little in this argument that I would disagree with.

Ruling out the ETH from further consideration at this point, the author asks if there are any common characteristics to UFO incidents as reported which when analysed might reveal clues to a potential terrestrial origin, and very quickly adopts the atmospheric plasma, ‘earthlights’ or electromagnetic radiation theory.

Now this is a theory which has a substantial history in ufology, and was promoted by Paul Devereux in the 1970s and ‘80s as the ‘Earthlights’ theory. He investigated contemporary and historical reports of anomalous light phenomena in specific localities, linking them to light phenomena caused by naturally occurring geological faults.

The ufologist Albert Budden broadened the range of stimuli which caused these anomalies to include most manifestations of electro-magnetic energy, and added the claim, originally made by Michael Persinger, that such plasma phenomena had a direct effect of the human brain and could be responsible for the alleged contact and abduction experiences reported by many UFO percipients. Budden broadened this further to include a wide range of anomalous experiences such as hauntings and poltergeists.

Landsberg’s theory takes in a wider range of potential electromagnetic stimuli than Devereux, and supports the idea that these phenomena probably have a direct effect on the human brain, but does not cover as wide a range of alleged phenomena as Budden’s theory.

The bulk of the book (500 pages) comprises detailed summaries and commentaries on many hundred UFO reports. It is something like a wider ranging and more detailed version of INTCAT, with many of the entries consisting of extensive accounts of incidents, often with maps, and further commentary by the author. The sources are well referenced

The individual chapters examine cases which demonstrate characteristics such as UFOs producing physical effects such as ground markings and their effect on living organisms, including crop circles and bodily injuries to individuals. Further chapters look at entity, contact and abduction reports, as well as a series of chapters looking at ‘famous cases’ from Europe, the USA and other regions around the world.

Many of the entries are accompanied by detailed maps of the location of the report, and these are used to support the author’s claims that the phenomena has an electromagnetic cause. High voltage power lines and railway tracks are noted as of particular importance. The concentration on railway lines is detailed, and also include light-rail and tram lines – this is the only UFO-related book I have come across with photographs of early twentieth century street-cars!

The first thing that struck me when reading these accounts is that it seemed to make little or no difference whether the associated rail line was electric, steam or diesel powered. I know that the lines connected to some UK reports were definitely not electric, and at the time of the report were probably operated by steam locomotives. Landsberg seems to get around this by assuming that just the metal rails themselves are capable of conducting enough electromagnetic energy from a distant source, into the atmosphere, to produce the effects claimed by the percipients.


There are so many questions raised by this form of geographical correlation as a way of analysing UFO reports, which goes back at least as far as Aime Michel’s ‘orthoteny’ theory, first promulgated following the great French UFO wave of 1954/5. Michel suggested that UFO sighting tended to concentrate along straight lines corresponding to global Great Circles. This inspired mystically inclined English ufologists like Duncan Wedd, Jimmy Goddard and John Michell to develop ideas relating UFO sightings and contacts to leys, ‘earth-energies’ and landscape features. Similarly there is the world-wide energy grid proposed by the new Zealand airline pilot and ufologist Bruce Cathie.

Unlike these earlier theorists, Ms Landsberg’s ‘energy grid’ does have a physical reality which can be shown on the many maps which accompany the cases described in this book, but the problem remains of demonstrating that two separate phenomena – UFOs and the sources of electricity – are clearly related, and even if they are is that relationship a matter of cause and effect.

Amongst the earliest cases collected here are those from the 1897 American airship wave. Many of these were reported by railway workers and telegraph operators, to the extent that some ufologists have proposed that the whole wave was a hoax dreamed up bored telegraphists to while away the empty nights! More likely is the explanation that such people are most likely to be out and about in many of the remote places where the airships – whatever they may have been, and I refuse to rule out actual airships! – were sighted. On the basis that a tree that falls where no-one can hear it makes no sound, an airship or UFO that no-one sees never appears in a catalogue of sightings.

Eventually we reached a situation where almost any UFO report can be located within a few hundred yards of some electrical source. Even in remote areas of the American West, UFO reports are most likely to come from drivers on country roads, and as the maps in this volume demonstrate, these are also the routes taken by high-voltage electric supply lines. When we get to reports from the more densely populated areas of the US and Europe, it would be difficult to find a location which was not close to some electrical installation. The only correlation one can draw from this is that the majority of people live in locations which have some sort of electrical supply, which is hardly QED.

Having said all that, I am unwilling to completely rule out the possibility of some UFOs being the result of electrical interference in the environment. The ‘plasma’ theory, although controversial and lacking a clear theoretical backing, is by no means ridiculous and was put forward in a report by a senior military figure commissioned by the British Ministry of Defence. Phenomena like St Elmo’s fire offer an indication of the sorts of processes that might be involved, and although Persinger’s experiments and findings have been challenged, it is again not impossible that some such phenomena may have a direct influence of the human brain and nervous system.

There may well be some cases in the hundreds described her which provide evidence indicative of such a phenomenon, but they are overwhelmed by cases where the electromagnetic link is weak to non-existent.

One of the great fallacies of UFO research is that there is one overarching explanation for the remnant of reports that remain unexplained after careful analysis, and I think that is where this study goes wrong, by presenting electromagnetic phenomena as an overall explanation for that remnant. And indeed for many reports that have already been explained by other researchers. The Betty and Barney Hill case, for example, does not need the presence of one power line in the course of the Hill’s long journey to explain an event which is already adequately analysed in terms of visual misinterpretation and psychosocial factors.

I am sorry I have not been able to be more positive about this book, as it represents a massive amount of research, and taken as simply a catalogue of UFO reports, has value. But I feel the thread that holds them together is as slender and as attenuated as the many power lines that stretch across vast areas of landscape. – John Rimmer

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