19 September 2012


John Harney
One of the commonest complaints made by ufologists is that their work is not taken seriously by scientists even though they claim to use scientific methods in their investigations. This problem could be discussed at great length but I will illustrate the point I am trying to make by making a critical examination of a fairly typical issue of MUFON UFO Journal, a monthly magazine published by the Mutual UFO Network. 
The reason for picking on this journal is the statement which appears in each issue: "MUFON's mission is the scientific study of UFOs for the benefit of humanity". I have chosen the September 2012 issue and I have read through it to see if its editor and contributing writers are adopting an appropriately scientific approach.
The first indication that all is not well comes with the Director's Message by David MacDonald. It is mainly concerned with the announcement that MUFON has acquired many of the files compiled by Leonard Stringfield (1920-1994). He looked through a very small amount of this material and found accounts of beatings by Federal Marshals, FBI documents showing death threats and intimidation, "safe houses" set up by MUFON to protect Len from attack, and descriptions of how he was moved from hotel room to hotel room (to avoid the CIA, FBI, Federal Marshals, etc.) at more than one MUFON symposium.

It certainly looks as if some of this material could provide plenty of useful material for producers of slapstick comedy films, as it seems so delightfully absurd. However, MacDonald found it to be "enlightening, inspirational, vindicating and humbling ... and also frightening if not downright terrifying".
The files also contain "direct dictation of person-to-person telephone conversations between Len Stringfield and some of the most well known names in the world". Just imagine all those famous scientists, eminent religious leaders, presidents and prime ministers eagerly awaiting their calls from Stringfield to hear the latest crashed saucer stories. This material is to be made available to "serious researchers", but whether it will also be available to writers of farcical comedy is not stated. 
Although the editor, Roger Marsh, complains that there are not enough pages to cover all of the interesting cases the policy seems to be to include brief details of many cases, most of which hardly seem worth mentioning.
It is particularly amusing to note that the Journal contains a page giving details of when and where to look out for the bright stars and planets for each month, but MUFON's intrepid investigators don't seem to make any use of it. After all, they are ufologists, not astronomers. 
A report by Margie Kay, on the allegedly mysterious lights seen in Missouri, states: "These objects were witnessed by KCTV reporter Dave Jordan and two of the TV cameramen, myself, and approximately 15 people from a neighborhood in north Blue Springs on several nights in May, 2012. The events were covered heavily by KCTV 5, then picked up by CNN and aired nationally". There is no mention of astronomers, amateur or professional, being consulted. There is also no mention of whether there was good visibility, or whether the sky was clear or partly cloudy. If readers consult other sources about these strange lights, they will find that amateur astronomers and meteorologists have somehow failed to notice them. 
In another investigation, by Norman Gagnon, details are given of a small group of people who noticed a string of 10 orange lights silently ascending over a lake and disappearing into the clouds. This sighting is considered important enough to feature on the front page of the Journal, even though the obvious explanation is simply that they were fire balloons, and I would guess that they were possibly released during the celebration of a child's tenth birthday. 
Most of the other reports don't contain enough detail to be of interest, or they have only single witnesses, or no independent witnesses. 
Stanton Friedman's monthly article is better than usual, providing some interesting background information about some ufological characters. He is sceptical about the fellow who calls himself Chase Brandon, who claims to be an ex-CIA man who states that the Roswell crash really involved an alien craft, but is suspected of making up the story to plug his new science fiction novel. Friedman notes the odd fact that the producer of his 1979 DVD 'UFOs Are Real' was named Brandon Chase! 
Friedman is indeed a modest, self-effacing person. When he heard in 1973 that Robert Emenegger was making a TV documentary on UFOs he phoned him and asked him how he could make a UFO documentary without involving him. 
Robert Hastings has two pages to expound on his obsession with UFOs and nukes. He would probably be taken more seriously if he acknowledged that some of these reports are untrue or have been misinterpreted, and some have been satisfactorily explained. There are a few reliable but unexplained cases, but these usually involve such highly technical problems as interpreting radar images, and it requires a great deal of expertise to evaluate them. 
The basic difficulty with ufology is that it is a non-subject. By this I mean that a sighting of an unusual atmospheric optical or electrical phenomenon and a report of an alleged abduction by aliens are two quite different problems, as there is no causal connection between them. Most solved UFO cases have many different and unrelated causes. Some are sightings of real objects or phenomena and others are subjective experiences, such as dreams or hallucinations. Solving interesting UFO cases involves separating facts from lies and misperceptions, and ending up with a coherent account of what did or did not happen. MUFON, along with most other UFO organisations does not seem to be capable of this task.   |JH|


cda said...

I have never heard of any scientist taking Stringfield seriously. And for good reason. All his stories were anecdotal and the majority had neither sources nor names. Consequently nobody could ever properly investigate his tales. Each and every one was a dead end.

What more can the scientific community do in such cases?

I did once before read of the dotty story of him having to change appearance and hotel rooms several times at a UFO conference (the one where he first 'revealed' his crashed saucer yarns). What should any scientist do when confronted with such stories? It is, as you say, a scene fit for a comedy show, not a scientific investigation.

Tyler Kokjohn said...

When it comes to captivating the interest of scientists, the ‘non-subject’ of ufology faces another supreme challenge. Compared to other scientific endeavors it is severely impoverished. Investing time and energy in other fields will yield far richer scientific rewards at a much faster pace. Let’s do the math. A cancer researcher could spend an entire career in the field without finding the cure. But in those years the investigations would almost certainly produce useful data and results all along the way. For example, a particular type of cancer might be painstakingly characterized down to the molecular/genetic level to reveal potential targets for future therapeutic intervention. In contrast, a ufologist runs a substantial risk of investing years, perhaps decades, conducting investigations that end up producing nothing.

The poverty is pervasive, extending deep into the evidence itself. In other fields scientists are able to examine evidence directly and conduct controlled experiments. In ufology, a great deal of the data is suspect or flat out worthless. Mighty thin gruel compared to fields like molecular genetics now groaning under the weight of massive, digitized data sets. But the real difference is having something solid in hand to work with as opposed to grasping at mirages and uncorroborated stories.

Worst of all for ufology is the seeming impoverishment of ideas. The same, sometimes decades old, cases are trotted out again and again. The paucity of hard evidence explained by wishful thinking invoking ‘multi-dimensional craft,’ advanced technologies and conspiracies. Ufology is clearly going nowhere and mainstream scientists generally respond by going nowhere near it.

Edward Biebel said...

Mr. Harvey, Your snarky attitude does not help the UFO field, it only gives comfort to the skeptics who say much the same thing. They like you (and unfortunately a lot of ufologists) seem to be more willing to deal with personalities than with the evidence.
One example of your disregard for the evidence is you’re mocking of Stanton Friedman. Mr. Friedman is probably the foremost proponent that SOME UFOs are extraterrestrial. That is based on the evidence, not on wishful thinking. For anyone to make a documentary on UFOs without discuss the ETH or quoting Friedman would be like doing a history of science and not mentioning the controversy that surrounded Galileo!
It took J. Allen Hynek almost twenty years after being immersed in the evidence to realize that, yes, there was something to UFOs.
It is very easy to say that the scientific community should stay away from UFOs because the field is not lucrative and is controversial. It has always been that. That is why it has been left to the true believers, FANS and pseudo-scientists. Since when is the pursuit of knowledge or science dependent upon how lucrative it can be?
I also disagree with your assessment that nothing has been discovered. Quoting Bart D Ehrman, “The search for truth takes you where the evidence leads you, even if, at first, you don't want to go there.” The UFO field is strange indeed and preconceived notions should be left at the door. You can have theories, the scientific method (by not likely experiments in this short-lived phenomena), but as Friedman and others have said, there will be a 22nd, 23rd and 24th Century science. Great leaps in knowledge are made by doing things differently.
Vacuum tubes became transistors, then integrated circuits, then smaller and smaller chips. The next great leap will not be smaller chips but likely something revolutionary. It’s like the telephone. We went from cranks to dials to button AND THEN we cut the cord! (I know that cell phones are just radios, BUT WHAT A RADIO!)
Those who believe that spending time on UFOs is worthless are short sighted. Few scientists have actually thought about the implications of what technology might power interplanetary, interdimensional or what have you; craft. The few who have are working in garages somewhere. You do remember garages? Remember Mircrosoft, Hewlett-Packard, Facebook and Google?
Finally you malign MUFON for printing in its newsletter articles on all topics regarding UFOs. There is nothing more boring to me than reading or hearing about report after report of lights in the sky. Today we have the instant UFO report of a video on YouTube. It takes an investigator years of sacrificing time and effort to earn what; your opprobrium, because they want to read theories, speculation and inspiration while toiling in the fields with little or no recognition hoping for that one case that will prove UFOs. (Which I believe will never come except for Disclosure, which I also think will never come!)
I am unfamiliar with your credentials as a field investigator or researcher. How many YEARS have you investigated UFO cases IN THE FIELD? How much of the literature have YOU read? How many hours, days, weeks, months and years have you spend on the subject? It is easy to criticize from a distance or an armchair. The skeptics do it all the time. Or you can be like that astronomer in England who is an Earth Chauvinist who believes that if they were coming here they would want to talk to him, not some guy in rural America!
You unfortunately are part of the problem, not the solution. The UFO field needs more help, not criticism, even “constructive criticism. I and others have dedicated our lives, our honor and our fortune (or lack of it) to spending time investigating, researching and keeping current with the field. Their criticism I will listen to. Not someone who rehashes old snarky comments and deals in personalities and is (part) the problem!

Terry the Censor said...

> Mr. Friedman is probably the foremost proponent that SOME UFOs are extraterrestrial. That is based on the evidence, not on wishful thinking.

Nonsense. Friedman has been an advocate of the Marjorie Fish map for 40 years, saying it proves the Hill case. But when revised star charts invalidated the Fish map, Friedman said nothing, even though he's been directly asked about this point by (at least) Martin Shough, Kevin Randle and Robert Sheaffer since 2008.

For instance, here's Friedman's second non-response to a lashing administered by Martin Shough on the matter.


Robert Hastings said...

One of the very few scientists to have studied UFOs, the late atmospheric physicist Dr. James E. McDonald, said the following:

“From time to time in the history of science, situations have arisen in which a problem of ultimately enormous importance went begging for adequate attention simply because that problem appeared to involve phenomena so far outside the current bounds of scientific knowledge that it was not even regarded as a legitimate subject of serious scientific concern. That is precisely the situation in which the UFO problem now lies. One of the principal results of my own recent intensive study of the UFO enigma is this: I have become convinced that the scientific community, not only in this country but throughout the world, has been casually ignoring as nonsense a matter of extraordinary scientific importance.”

– Testimony before the U.S. Congress, July 29, 1968

“As a result of several trips to [the U.S. Air Force’s UFO] Project Blue Book, I’ve had an opportunity to examine quite carefully and in detail the types of reports that are made by Blue Book personnel...There are hundreds of good cases in the Air Force files that should have led to top-level scientific scrutiny of [UFOs] years ago, yet these cases have been swept under the rug in a most disturbing way by Project Blue Book investigators and their consults.”

–Tucson Daily Citizen, March 1, 1967

“My own present opinion, based on two years of careful study, is that UFOs are probably extraterrestrial devices engaged in something that might very tentatively be termed ‘surveillance.’”

– Testimony before U.S. Congress, July 29, 1968

Transcripts of Dr. McDonald’s written and oral testimony before Congress may be read here:


As I write in my book UFOs and Nukes, “While overwhelming empirical evidence is not yet available, at least in the public domain, to confirm an extraterrestrial origin for UFOs, it can at least be said that some as-yet unexplained mystery has been thrown in the faces of those who planned, and still plan, to use these terrifying weapons.”

My September 27, 2010 CNN-streamed press conference in Washington D.C., at which seven USAF veterans discussed UFO incursions at nuclear missile sites, may be viewed here:


The affidavits provided by those officers, relating to their experiences, may be read here:


The same link permits a review of a few declassified USAF and FBI documents relating to UFO activity at nuclear weapons facilities—laboratories, ICBM sites, storage depots—extending back to December 1948. Thousands more are available at the US National Archives and other document repositories; many of those have also been posted online.

Furthermore, declassified Soviet Ministry of Defense and KGB documents, as well as the testimony of Soviet Army veterans, confirm that UFO activity also occurred at nuclear missile and storage sites in the USSR during the Cold War era. An excellent summary of this information, written by journalist Antonio Huneeus, may be found here:


In conclusion, millions of oh-so-clever people worldwide will spend their lives posting stereotypical, biased, inaccurate commentary about UFOs; only a handful will actually research the subject before posting their views. I have no doubt which group carries more weight at this website.

NGagnon said...

Reply to your blog – mid way down pertaining my case# 41609, Smith Mountain Lake lights.
Well, the correct terminology of your “fire balloons” is actually called sky lanterns or Chinese lanterns. The witness in my investigation described them as bright orange, and they flew straight up vertically until she lost sight of them as they disappeared into the clouds. The light source within the objects did not flicker as to lit candles would produce in lanterns. Lanterns are fabricated with lightweight materials as to balsa or bamboo wood, rice or tissue paper, etc., and they are carried away by the heat of the “fuel cell” and also driven by the wind; in this case, the wind was from SSE at 7 miles per hour, enough force to have lanterns be pushed/travel left of the witnesses’ perspective from the dock. They stated that there were 10 of these lights that ascended straight up. These lights were seen over the lake but no boats or their passengers seen releasing these lanterns. No, I do not believe this was the results of a birthday party. N. Gagnon, MUFON FI

Terry the Censor said...

> These lights were seen over the lake but no boats or their passengers seen releasing these lanterns.

Why do you assume someone on the water released the lights?

> No, I do not believe this was the results of a birthday party.

Well, expand your mind. Some people report Smith Mountain Lake is a "beautiful lake for couples, children, family reunions, weddings.”