23 April 2024


Lochlainn Seabrook, Mysterious Invaders: Twelve Famous 20th-Century Scientists Confront the UFO Phenomenon, Sea Raven Press, 2024.

On 29 July 1968, the US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Astronautics, held a symposium on UFOs. It was instigated by Congressman and NICAP member J. Edward Roush, and he introduced the session by saying this was to be an assessment of the UFO problem by six experts, to enable better judgements about future avenues of research.
The chairman of the committee, George P. Miller was quick to point out that they were not here to criticise the Air Force’s UFO investigations, instead they were here to look at the matter from different perspectives and viewpoints.

The six experts were Dr J. Allen Hynek, Dr James E. McDonald, Carl Sagan, Robert L. Hall, Dr James A. Harder and Robert M. L. Baker Jr. All of them were generally in favour of conducting further UFO research. And note, there is not a sceptic in the house. Out of them McDonald gave the longest and most impressive case for future research.

After two years of intense study McDonald notes that civilian UFO groups have amassed impressive amounts of reports from people who are not tainted by “religiosity and cultism.” By that I presume he means the contactees of that period like George Adamski. He is, however, impressed by the credibility and reliability of witness testimony by people who had little prior interest in UFOs.

He details significant cases that involve multiple witnesses, pilots, urban sightings, sightings by astronomers and meteorologists, those that have been wrongly explained as balloons, radar and photographic cases, plus evidence of UFOs causing cars to stop and physical injuries.

From his study he believes the “scientific community has been seriously misinformed for twenty years about the potential importance of UFOs.” He states that after interviewing witnesses and reviewing the data there are eight principal hypotheses to explain them, from hoaxes to “spaceships bringing messengers of terrestrial salvation and occult truth.” After eliminating mundane explanations and the contactees, it is his contention that “UFOs are entirely real” and that he strongly leans to the idea that they are of an extraterrestrial origin.

With hindsight we have found that even credible witnesses, especially pilots, can mistakenly see 'flying saucers', and that car stoppage cases have, well stopped! Reports of physical injuries are often as flimsy as other physical evidence. Like UFO supporters of today he concludes that “...what is urgently needed is a far more rigorous scientific investigation of the full spectrum of UFO phenomena.” 

That stress on urgently is still heard today, nearly sixty years on, and we still get that call for more intensive and better investigations. This demonstrates what we have got now, and had back then was not strong enough evidence to prove his conclusion that they are real, and UFOs are as frustratingly elusive from the gaze of scientific and rational eyes as the Loch Ness monster or Mothman. Today, we at least should have a greater sense of urgency to track down UAPs due to the threat from advanced foreign technology rather than ET UAPs.

The proceedings of the Symposium are followed by six papers by scientists who were invited to submit them but not present at the hearings, but were included in the record of the hearings. There is a fiery disposition from notorious sceptic Donald H. Menzel, who is characteristically huffy about not being invited to actually attend the symposium.

Menzel points out that believers are too eager to reach a decision and are always keen to find authority figures to support their views. Today, that applies to the veneration of ex-MoD, ex-CIA and veteran pilots who greedily indulge the UFO fantasies of believers.

Menzel details the many possible mundane (and not so mundane) explanations for these sightings that are what he calls a “modern myth.” He details how optical phenomena, like autokinesis, can cause illusions of swarming objects or moving lights. Layers of warm and dry air are offered as explanations for unusual radar returns and he notes that the USAF has neglected the study of mass hallucination and the role of "hundreds of known hoaxes."

Acknowledging that there are plenty of little understood atmospheric phenomena he thinks they should be studied for their own sake rather than “under the cloak of UFOs.” Yes, he is a party pooper but he at least provides a different perspective that the symposium allegedly wanted.

This book provides an excellent insight into 'expert' opinions about UFOs in a period when the space race to the Moon was at its height, which are largely supportive of the ETH, based on witness testimony of things seen in the sky, and they encourage further research.

Significantly only one person (psychologist Leo Sprinkle), makes a positive case for close encounters involving occupants or telepathy, and the 'crazy' end of the spectrum of UFO belief. This and other paranormal aspects of the phenomena have since filtered into mainstream ufology, mainly through the belief in alien abductions and the goings on at Skinwalker Ranch.

Today, anyone who is sceptical, even mildly sceptical, still gets shot down, but nowadays on social media. The believers have widened their interests to embrace contactee-like experiences and stories, whilst the sceptics have continued to pursue the psychosociological approach that does not require the need to prove UFOs exist in physical reality or not.

Linda Powell in her book Against the Odds notes that this symposium was hastily organised and that the Air Force told the committee not to criticise their UFO investigations or their ongoing University of Colorado UFO Project. She adds that the six-hour-long hearing had only a handful of congressmen in attendance and attracted little media interest, “despite the sober and meticulous statements given by the participants.”

Mysterious Invaders is a fitting tribute to the symposium, with biographies of the participants, references, notes, an impressive index, and not a whistle-blower in sight.
  • Nigel Watson

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