2 November 2012


David Clarke. The UFO Files: The Inside Story of Real-Life Sightings. 2nd edition Bloomsbury/National Archives. 2012

With the last tranche of the Ministry of Defence UFO files now put on line, David Clarke’s survey of some of the more interesting material in those files, originally published by The National Archives in 2009 and reviewed HERE has now been expanded and reissued.
The new edition, like the first, provides a reasoned examination of UFO reports, avoiding the extravagancies of believers, and the total dismissal of skeptics. This gives the most easily available sober accounts of tales such as Cosford or Rendlesham, which have been heavily promoted on the other side of the Atlantic. He manages to show in the latter case virtually all the most mysterious elements in the story come from the fertile imagination (whether conscious or unconscious, who can say) of Jim Penniston.

The main addition to this book, from the first edition, is the description of the closure of the Ministry of Defence’s ‘UFO desk’, and their withdrawal from any general interest in investigating or collating UFO reports. In 2009 an RAF officer – named, ironically, Mantell – recommended to the Minister of Defence that “we should seek to reduce very significantly the UFO task which is consuming increasing resources but produces no valuable defence output”.

It seems that a major concern of MOD officials when closing down their systems for processing UFO reports was to avoid giving the impression that there was any sort of ‘cover-up’ involved in the decision. For instance they deliberately did not consult any other government before making the decision, because “this would become public when the relevant UFO files are released and would be viewed by ‘ufologists’ as evidence of international collaboration and conspiracy”.

Nevertheless, the ‘UFO Desk’ was cleared, the remaining files delivered to the National Archives and the ‘UFO Hotline’ closed down, despite fears that the closure would “attract negative comment from ‘ufologists’ [who] may individually or as a group, mount a vociferous but short-lived campaign to reinstate the UFO hotline”. In this at least they were wrong, as most British ufologists had already realised that government-sponsored UFO investigation had had its day.

It has perhaps symbolic that the UFO files end with the millennium, though the subject still haunts the Internet, for both it and the milieu it flourished in, that of the small duplicated or printed magazine, have essentially ended. Though there are the occasional genuinely puzzling stories, such as the Alderney light, which might hint at uncatalogued natural phenomena, they are drowned out by endless accounts of Chinese lanterns, added to the usual misperceptions.

For anyone starting to take an interest in the subject who, in these cash strapped times, can only afford to buy one book on ufology, this is it. Highly recommended to everyone else. – Peter Rogerson


Phil said...

The Alderney light???

Magonia said...

Read all about it:


Terry the Censor said...

In 2010, David Clarke unsubscribed from UFO Updates because he was sick of being attacked for daring to speak about UFO reports in terms of psychology and folklore. Some of the gentlemen there, apparently writing under the influence of rabies, couldn't contain their euphoria, denouncing Clarke as a propagandist and government shill (you know, the standard definition of "well-informed skeptic").


The believers speculated that the government gave the files to a folklorist as a way of smearing the reports as tall tales. None of the gentlemen noted that Dr. Clarke is a professor of journalism, a field long-noted for contributing to historical knowledge by getting at government archives.

Unknown said...

I don't see "attacked" in those posts.

You want to turn a football match into a myth is fine, but the game took place, the ball is scuffed, the players played, and people witnessed it. The tone of those posts sound like a group fed up with a point of view that was too limited on Clarke's part.

From what I read I think it's a fair question to ask why a journalist/folklorist is the one put in place as the figurehead discussing an immense and global physical phenomenon. I don't dismiss the folklore connection but I also don't want it as the spear point of my discussion. The UFO issue is physical--explore that first with "support" from human psychology and folklore. Discovering the mountain gorilla wasn't done by a journalist. Solving a modern day murder isn't about studying Jack the Ripper.

Ufology, science, and the media have done a horrendous job of analyzing reports from the science of tomorrow and today. An example is the ridiculous "too far to travel" statement we keep getting from some skeptics in science who apparently think man's 100 years of flight also applies to species millions of years older in our universe, and these same skeptics also have no concept of "bases" "colonies" and "hotels" that we use to eliminate or comfort our own travel. We don't fly to the Bahamas every day for vacation, or work overseas without long term residences, or plan to fly to Mars every 6 months without a base. Yet, according to skeptical thought the ufo occupants are too dumb to understand this "base" concept, or to have had the time to invent forms of propulsion that we don't know yet. Ridiculous!

The media approaches ufos like a 12 year old's book report with few inspired questions or knowledge of science...but lots of story telling about the characters. How do they fly without making sonic booms at such incredible speeds and so low to the ground? How do they turn so sharp? How did they do this in the 1950s? Who flew over Washington DC in 1952...more than once?!! It's an amazing lack of interest from the "journalists" on this that makes them circumspect when they try to claim their rightful place as the people's champion on ufos.

And of course the ufologists who latch on to every insider rumor or conspiracy to sell books or convention tickets do little good for the situation either. Of course science's lack of honest interest has left the subject to be picked up by those that either honestly see there is an amazing phenomenon there, or by those that see an easy way to make a few bucks by spouting nonsense to those that need an answer.

My long posts is to state that this is not about David Clarke, this is about everyone failing. My question is why? Who wants us to fall into ego battles that go nowhere? The 1960s seems to be the time when this split began. I don't buy into it. I choose neither side and I don't ignore/believe either science or good ufologists, since all sides have failed.

David Clarke may have good points, but what good is it if he fails to move the game forward? To walk away in a huff by not convincing fundamentalists to become secularists is hardly a mark of living in reality. Go into the lion's den and expect to get mauled, if you don't bring some meat to the table.

Magonia said...

"From what I read I think it's a fair question to ask why a journalist/folklorist is the one put in place as the figurehead discussing an immense and global physical phenomenon."

Mainly because is is a ufologist who has been studying the phenomemon and doing direct investigations for forty years.

Dave Clarke said...

The question 'why a journalist/folklorist is the one put in place as the figurehead' demonstrates the writer hasn't troubled themselves to read the book that is the subject of this review!
If he/she had done so they would be aware that no one put me in that position - I got there through sheer hard work at the coal face, digging in the archives and forcing the hand of the MoD through a Freedom of Information campaign.
As for the gobbledygook about not moving the 'game forward' and bringing meat to the table, The UFO Files - which again is the subject of this review - is the meat, brought to the table after 20 years of hard graft. Perhaps 'unknown' might like to taste it first?
And finally, with regards to my departure from the UFO Updates list. It never ceases to amuse me as to why my exit from a redundant and pointless newsgroup should create such a furore. I served my time in the lion's den (I was an active subscriber from 1999-2007 as the archives demonstrate) and have been mauled plenty of times before. But I've moved on and see no point in wasting valuable time and energy on attempting to engage rationally with members of closed UFO cult. There comes a point where you stop banging your head against the wall and find more productive things to do.

Terry the Censor said...


> I don't see "attacked" in those posts.

You don't see the posters using circular reasoning to argue that Clarke was "compromised," that the fix was in, by the very fact he succeeded in getting the files? You don't see Clarke being implicated in a conspiracy to deceive the public with a disinformation programme?

Or do you think that is praise?

> An example is the ridiculous "too far to travel" statement we keep getting from some skeptics in science

Allow me to dispel your ignorance. This was the position of J. Allen Hynek himself. See this interview in the February 1985 issue of Omni, pages 108 and 109. It was published only a year before he died, so I assume it represents his mature thought on the subject.


Don't get your information from partisans and advocates. They will deceive you. You must look for yourself.

> To walk away in a huff by not convincing fundamentalists to become secularists is hardly a mark of living in reality

You miss the point. UFO proponents bitch and complain ceaselessly about government secrecy, academic indifference and media blackouts. So what did the believers do in this case, when we had a massive government file release instigated by an academic and well-covered by news outlets on both sides of the Atlantic? They belittled the event and smeared the messenger.

The file release contradicted the proponents' paranoid narrative in every way, so they attacked and denied it until they re-wrote reality to fit their liking.

I wish Dr. Clarke had stayed at Updates (I told him so in an email at the time) but I understand why he left. Simply put, a lot of believers claim to be interested in facts, disclosure, research, but turns out it's not true! They were fibbing the whole time!

Why should he require someone to put up with that?

Anonymous said...

CLARKE said that the Rendall Forrest was a lighthouse because the major describing the UFO didnt mention the lighthouse at the same time. to be honest if I was witnessing a UFO I wouldnt be giving a monkeys about a lighthouse I was familiar with . DR Clarke is a shill ...period