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Andrea JuberaMay 8, 2000
The mysterious phenomenon of UFO sightings seems worthy of serious scientific research. This is due to theories found within the field of ufology, past reported sightings, and credible information given out by the government. Ufologists should also be aware of past examples that have been successful from the astronomical community.
Bernard Haisch is an astrophysicist, scientific editor of the Astrophysical Journal, and editor of the Journal of Scientific Exploration. The Journal of Scientific Exploration (JSE), which Bernard edits, is a peer reviewed research journal in which scholarly investigations on phenomena not part of the currently accepted scientific paradigms may be published. UFO’s fall in this category, or more to the point, UFO’s certainly settle outside the realm of mainstream science (William Dudley).
Bernard himself is not a UFO researcher, but, as an editor of an unconventional journal, he has been exposed to enough data and met enough serious investigators to become supportive of the need to carefully study whatever this phenomenon, or perhaps phenomena, may be. His profession is that of an astronomer and by most criteria, apart from editing JSE, he is an insider in the scientific mainstream: author of research papers, principal investigator on NASA projects, associate editor of a leading journal in astrophysics (William Dudley).
The field of astronomy is supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in government research funding every year, billions if one keeps track of such major missions as the Hubble Space Telescope. For the January 1996 meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Antonio, the head of NASA, Daniel Goldin, flew down from Washington just to address the astronomers.
Goldin made it clear that NASA’s job is not to support astronomers. Nor is NASA’s job to employ engineers and astronauts to keep the shuttle flying. NASA’s job, said Goldin, is to serve the American people. He mentioned a talk he had given in Bozeman, Montana and the excitement that the Hubble pictures elicited there among the ordinary men and women of Montana, far removed from NASA centers. The fact that the announcement at the same astronomical society meeting of the discovery of two new planets orbiting the stars 70 Virginis and 47 Ursae Majoris made the front pages of major newspapers underscores this point. People want to know about the universe. And people especially want to know whether there are other worlds capable of sustaining life.
The search for the origins of life and for other planetary systems is now a cornerstone objective for NASA. Goldin discussed visionary plans to image other solar systems using huge space-based interferometers in the new millenium (Dudley). He challenged the astronomers to find ways to photograph clouds and mountains on earth-like planets in other solar systems, which must be one of the most scientifically ambitious statements ever made by a head of NASA. This, in his view, is what the American people want from NASA; and Bernard has no doubt that he is correct is his assessment.
Bernard now models a good lesson for ufology. If various public opinion polls are to be believed, there may be more Americans who believe there is something going on having to do with UFO’s than not. It even seems probable, though Bernard does not know this to be the case, that there are more people who “believe in” UFO’s than have heard about the Hubble. If that is the case, Goldin’s lesson for NASA would apply here too. If the American people truly want the UFO problem officially investigated, the government should do that by and by. That does not automatically mean NASA of course. Despite many appearances to the contrary, UFO’s may have nothing to do with our outer space as astronomers view the universe (William Dudley).
So how would one bring about government-sponsored research analogous to that of astronomy or the other sciences? As Goldin urged us to do on behalf of NASA’s research: write, call, visit your representatives and senators. NASA funds astronomical research because the American people want this; even if most of it is too private for public consumption, the highlights such as Hubble images and first extra-solar planets do make the newspapers and people read with interest about what their tax dollars are paying for.
But there is a second key ingredient that really needs to come first, and all the grassroots lobbying will come to naught until this second point that Goldin made to the astronomers is translated into action in the most extreme cases of ufology. Given a mandate to support such research, who decides what exactly will be done? Goldin reminded the astronomers that it is their responsibility to come up with NASA’s equal orders for the start of a new century. The community of astronomers must reach consensus on prioritizing projects, and he made it clear that those investigators whose projects may not make the cutoff, owing to fiscal limitations, are still obligated as members of the research community to support those that are selected. Community census and support of an agreed-upon plan, even by those who lost in the proposal competitions, is necessary. Without that, the money would eventually stop flowing (William Dudley).
There is a probable roadblock for ufology. There in Bernard’s view, is the principal reason civilian government money has never started flowing, or even trickling. There are many possible factors in this ranging from sincere and professionally motivated difference of opinion, to lack of understanding of scientific methods, focus on personal aggrandizement rather than objectivity, paranoia, etc. To be fair to the principals of objectivity and comprehensiveness one must also acknowledge the possibility that the disarray of ufology may be partially driven by official or semi-official disinformation, or even, taking the view of the respected researcher Jaques Vallee, by the UFO phenomenon itself (Dudley).
But even if those darker possibilities were true, it would still be possible to press ahead if a leadership and a position could be agreed upon, at least a dependent one, a provisional one to get started, one that can be reevaluated after things get going. Someone has a better chance at arriving at a destination even if they drive the car in the wrong direction and has to turn around, that even if no one is ever selected to start the car and pull out of the driveway.
Bernard states he has no desire to become a ufology leader, nor is he here to recommend to you in who such leadership should be vested. His message is simple but down-to-earth even in today’s budget climate because it is meeting a demonstrable request of the American public and has the professional structure, status and behavior to effectively translate that command into funded programs.
The public mood is in fact more and more open to new ideas and is certainly happily interested in the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe, including the possibility of evidence for such right here under our noses. It is thinkable that this could be turned into a public mandate for government-sponsored UFO research. But that can only happen if ufologists can somehow follow the successful example of the astronomical community (William Dudley).
This is difficult. Ph.D’s are not conferred by respected institutions as they are in astrophysics. But there are things that can be done to start the process. Genuinely scholarly papers can be written, which the Journal of Scientific Exploration would consider, for example. Note that Bernard is not trying to solicit papers; the Journal is highly selective and turns down more articles than are accepted. Journal articles are one way to interest mainstream scientists. In fact, eliciting the interest of mainstream scientists is a key factor in raising the level of UFO respectability. This is extremely difficult in the present environment of confusion, but this could change.
A 1977 poll of American astronomers, published in JSE, showed the following. Out of 2611 questionnaires 1356 were returned. In response to whether the UFO problem deserved further study the replies were: 23% certainly, 30% probably, 27% possibly, 17% probably not, 3% certainly not. Interestingly, there was a positive correlation between the amount of reading done on the subject and the opinion that further study was in order. Professional researchers would be likely to lose interest if there was complete lack of credible data. This shows a surprisingly high level of potential interest that could be brought into the open if a proper professional structure could be provided. Scientists value their reputations, and perceived danger of contaminating one’s hard reputation by association with a shameful activity is a major obstacle (Dudley).
There is also a kind of non-linear downward spiral. Scientists are both very busy and put off by the appearance of much of ufology. Given the proper environment this could presumably be turned into a favorable upward non-linearity: Given “evidence of evidence,” credibly seriously presented, the interest of scientists can be irritated, which would presumably lead to the “discovery” by scientists that there is evidence (William Dudley).
Two other obstacles are irrationality and paranoid claims. People cannot avoid the possibility that , as Vallee argues, the element of irrationality may be the actual key and purpose of the phenomenon so as to force a change in human consciousness (Dudley). This would not be welcome news for the apparently large patronage of nuts-and-bolts saucer enthusiasts, nor probably for those who take all abduction reports at face value. And this would be very difficult for science to deal with because it is at first glance a frontal assault on science itself. But consider the coming of quantum mechanics and relativity in the early 1900’s. Those were frontal assaults on the prevalent classical physics that must be looked like madness to many physicists of the day. We don’t read about them of course. The textbooks contain the Einstein’s and Planck’s and other geniuses who prevailed, not the army of “ordinary physicist” whose careers and worldviews looked to be shattered by what must have seemed irrational to them. But life went on and science even advanced (William Dudley).
Scientists are also certainly not used to the possibility that a phenomenon under investigation may be subject to covert manipulation. This may be the greatest obstacle because of the small possibility that there may be some truth to it. It is not so hard to imagine that there may be a great deal of classified information, but that would not by itself imply any greater comprehension concerning the nature of the phenomenon by those holding-and withholding-the data. The Journal of Scientific Exploration is publishing formerly classified information concerning multi-million dollar remote viewing (ESP) programs funded by the CIA and other intelligence agencies over the past 20 years. Projects that were highly secret a decade or two ago are now a matter of public record. This proves that no matter how “top secret” something is, eventually the public will find out about it.
This demonstrates two things directly analogous to the UFO situation: yes, there really were classified ESP programs as claimed; but no, the vaunted government agencies were not able to come to deeper conclusions regarding the nature of that phenomenon than was then or is now publicly available. (The two public reports-by Jessica Utts and by Ray Hyman-on this 20-year effort disagree on the strength of the evidence for remote viewing. The view of the three leading figures in this program, Harold Puthoff, Russel Targ and Edwin May, with all of whom Bernard has had in-depth discussions, is that there were astonishing successes in a fraction of the cases. Unfortunately there was no way to distinguish in advance what would be signal from what would be noise, hence the program could not achieve its required operational intelligence potential.) (William Dudley).
Only in the unlikely circumstance that the most paranoid vision of government conspiracy with non-earthly intelligence’s should prove to be true would the existence of classified programs interfere a successful, open, funded research program, or by turning it into a fake to further cover “the top secret truth.” In any case, nothing would be gained by letting suspicions of this kind stop the attempt to verify an open research program. Indeed, such efforts would perhaps point to valuable indicators of conflict, if there were.
It seems from Bernard’s unique advantage point as both scientist and editor of JSE that substantial evidence exists of “something going on.” But in the real world of competition and politics and entrenched positions that by itself will not move the UFO disputes off square one. Evidence needs to be properly analyzed and then properly presented using techniques and venues as close as possible to those of mainstream science. The difference in the evidence appears to be confusing enough without layers of unproven theory and conspiracy. Somehow out of organization of evidence there could originate not the truth-that is too much-but there could arise a consensus on simply what to do next, who could plan it, who would execute it, how would money be spent in a responsible, accountable, way if made available. The outcome would not be “the answer” but simply and sufficiently the input for the next logical follow-on. If such a scientifically aligned process could be started, scientists could be attracted; grassroots political lobbying could then point to realistic funding opportunities that a representative or senator would want to vote for and praise at the next election as his or her contribution to the proper needs and wishes of the public.
Even if the UFO phenomenon should turn out to be deeper than we imagine, even should it prove to rise above science as we know it, the scientific approach is the only feasible way in the real, political, economic, technological world we live in to give us some chance to control our dealings with this phenomenon, rather than letting the phenomenon entirely control us?if it might be. Is it too much to think that the government could be using UFO’s as a decoy for something else they’re hiding? Approaching this scientifically, this research could also prove to be a hoax. Only time will tell us what the truth really is.
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