Saturday, September 29, 2012

Revisiting Project Blue Book & Edward Ruppelt

From the movie, "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" 1956
I've been rereading The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt from 1955.

Ruppelt was the first guy in charge of Project Blue Book, the military organization assigned to collect and investigate UFO reports in the early 50s. He also was quite familiar with Project Grudge, which came before Blue Book in the late 40s.

After 57 years, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects is still a good read, although the reports get a little redundant after awhile. Ruppelt wrote in a very direct and often blunt, common-sense sort of manner, and he seemed to hold the line between debunkery and true belief really well.

His method at the time was to try to explain each sighting some other way, and if that turned out to be impossible, to classify it as 'unknown'.

That strikes me as good practice.

Anyway, a few things stand out about this book after all these years, and I thought I'd just note them here, because they're kind of unexpected.

  • Ruppelt never even mentions Roswell. Today, most people have the impression that Roswell was the grandaddy of all UFO reports, the mother of the myth, the beginning of a grand conspiracy. And yet, even though Roswell happened in 1947, you wouldn't know it even happened at all from reading this book from 1955. 
  • Ruppelt DOES talk about the Maury Island Incident a.k.a. the 'Roswell before Roswell'. Just before Roswell, a weird incident took place near Tacoma, Washington at Maury Island, involving the supposed sighting a several UFOs by some men on a small fishing boat. One of the UFOs was having trouble and supposedly leaked molten metal that burnt one of the fisherman's sons. This incident has been almost completely forgotten. It is significan't because 1) the writer gathering facts about the story was Kevin Arnold (although Ruppelt doesn't name him in 1955 out of courtesy) and this incident took place BEFORE Arnold's famous first sighting of 'flying saucers', 2) the whole thing was hoaxed by a guy who was almost certainly CIA, and last but not least 3) the plane carrying the supposed melted saucer bits (it was just slag) crashed, killing both of the investigators aboard. 
  • Most of the 1950s UFOs are anomalous lights in the night sky. Unless you read Ruppelt's book you don't get a sense of how dramatically UFO sightings have changed in just 50-odd years. Although a few sightings recounted in this text took place in the daytime and involved silver-grey craft, most were just lights in the night sky that moved oddly and sometimes showed up on radar. A few pilots saw UFOs close up, but even these mostly only saw a glowing red flash, not a craft. 
  • It is obvious that a sizable number of high-placed military officials took UFOs dead-seriously, and that most of them felt they were interplanetary. The official attitude of the US government today (if indeed there is one) has gone quite cynical, yet you do get the sense reading this Blue Book text that a sizable number of generals wanted serious research done out of the public eye. Ruppelt never says this outright, but he talks about this internal disagreement fairly openly. 
  • About 25% of the very excellent sightings by military and civilian pilots and other experts remain unsolved to this day.  When people talk about UFOs today, usually in a sarcastic or ridiculing manner, they sometimes point out that only a small percentage of sightings are true unknowns. This is just inaccurate. The correct figure is closer to a fourth of all sightings, which is nothing to sneeze at, considering that even back then people were discouraged from reporting anything. Ruppelt estimated that in 1955 only about one in ten sightings was ever reported, and the number is almost certainly lower today. (The US government no longer even accepts UFO reports.)
I'm astonished that in 1955 the first head of Project Blue Book doesn't even mention Roswell, but by 1987 Phillip Corso, a known intelligence operative for the US, is writing about how he collected alien technology from the crash and sent it to Bell Laboratories to be reverse engineered. This is an obvious and bald-faced lie that can be easily dispelled with a little research into Bell Labs and the technologies Corso claimed came from aliens, so why did he write that crap?

Clearly at some point US intelligence thought that hyping UFOs and feeding the UFO community disinformation provided some kind of useful cover for something or the other.

The question is, what?

UFO conspiracy theorists would say that this was done to cover up the truth about UFOs.

I personally think it was done for more generic reasons--to distract the public from nuclear weapons testing and other weapons programs; to cover up test flights of experimental military aircraft; to practice 'psy-ops' on a small sector of the US public to see what works; and so forth.

It's kind of like that movie formula where a cynical horror writer who doesn't believe in ghosts makes up a bunch of stories about them and gets rich, only to up discover he lives in an actual haunted house and has no idea of how to handle it.

It's like that, only with spaceships and aliens and the US government.

Anyway, I strongly recommend reading original texts from the early days of UFOs if you can find them.

It'll get yer brain whirring.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Weird Stuff That Has Happened to Me While Writing about UFOs

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons
Jacques Vallee has said on many occasions that if you investigate UFO phenomena in a serious way, the phenomena (and ordinary people) will start to mess with you.

This was his point in Messengers of Deception, one of his last books on UFO phenomena.

When Vallee wrote this book, he was thoroughly frustrated and disgusted with both the UFO community AND the scientific community, and who can blame him?

Things have only gone downhill since.

I am hardly a top researcher of anything, let alone UFOs, but I take anomalous phenomena seriously and have been calling for rigorous, serious investigation of the same for several decades, the last decade online.

Has anyone (or anything) messed with me during that time?

Without being paranoid, I'd say the answer is a qualified yes.

  1. Back in the late seventies, when I first began to take the topic seriously (and had had experiences of my own), I was engaged to a man who wanted to work for the FBI. At the time we lived in northern Indiana, and I worked in a factory that made camera bags. I also attended university part-time. After my fiancee applied to the bureau for the fourth time, he actually received a positive response and we prepared to move to DC. During the preparatory phase I was visited by a man who identified himself as an FBI agent no less than three different times, once at my job. The only question I was ever asked was whether or not my fiancee was a communist. I was never shown any ID or given any names. My fiancee found this weird because only one agent was assigned to our city, and these people were not him. Men in Black? Probably not, but then again...
  2. Fast forward to DC, circa 1979. DH was working as a translator for the FBI. I began to receive odd phone calls, not unlike those described by John A. Keel in The Mothman Chronicles: static-y, weird electronic sounds with background noise that sometimes sounded like hissing voices. These continued into the mid-eighties, even after I left my FBI husband and remarried. One week, I received a call from Budd Hopkins, whom I'd written after reading one of his books. That week, my phone pretty much went crazy with these bizarre calls. 
  3. Since writing this blog, I've had some unpleasant encounters while attempting to discuss UFOs online. One person actively harassed me, telling me that I had had no UFO experiences but was rather part of a dark, nasty CIA experiment in mind control. Another person began to relentlessly email me after I'd posted something about blown stems in crop circles, explaining to me that this was bogus and assuring me that he knew all about it and had researched it for years. Finally I said, fine, OK, just to get off it. But really, radiation and plant anomalies HAVE been found in some crop circles, and this has been confirmed by university labs, not just ufologists. 
  4. I have received numerous emails and messages attempting to discredit major UFO investigators. Their degrees are bogus, they've done this, they are not who they say they are, they have done that, etc. Very annoying. 
  5. Most recently I received a graduate paper about UFOs and alien abduction experiences from a man I do not know who prefaced this act of 'reaching out' with the caveat that he knew 'lots of people don't like me very much and aren't happy with my theories' but he would tolerate them because of my psychology background. I got repeat emails asking what I thought of his paper, but when I'd reply and ask him questions, I never got answers.
Some of this--a lot of it actually--can be chalked up to the fact that this topic attracts a wide range of unusual people (some would say 'cranks'), and to the fact that anytime anyone writes anything online, SOMEONE will step up and tell that person what a jerk he or she is. That's just the internets (it's a series of tubes, I hear...)

But part of it is a little disturbing and  contains mild, veiled threats that don't scare me much but are, how can I say this? Creepy. Yucky. Suspect.

So even though Leslie Kean, in her recent book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, says that the US might not be so much hiding things as just mystified by what's happening, I do think Vallee is right that the deeper you dive into this stuff, the weirder it gets.

My personal belief is that part of that is our government, and part of it is the phenomena itself.

Happily, I see signs of a turnaround, Kean's excellent book being one of those signs.

In future posts I'll list other reliable resources and ideas on how serious study of the data available could yield serious insights and prompt a search for more data.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pushing Back on the UFO ET Push Back

Courtesy Markusram @ Flickr Creative Commons
I confess I was one of the people who was very quick to discard the extraterrestrial hypothesis regarding the origin of UFO sightings.

I didn't buy all of the stock reasons supporting the push back, but because I have a background in myth, magic, and psychology,  I could clearly see that certain mythic structures and symbols were a major part of the phenomena.

I leaned toward Jacques Vallee's conclusion that UFOs are likely 1) real and worthy of serious study, but 2) not of extraterrestrial origin.

I've been rethinking that bias lately, mostly as a result of reading Leslie Kean's excellent book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record.

Toward the end of Kean's book, two political scientists from Ohio State University take a look at the reasons usually given off-the-cuff for the impossibility of the ET hypothesis. Their aim was to shoot these objections down as rational statements and then discover why the taboo against taking UFOs seriously is so strong, both in the scientific community and the US government.

I was persuaded both by Kean's book and the political scientist's paper that it is way too soon to bury the ET hypothesis.

Here is their deconstruction of the deconstruction (with a few addendums of my own):

  • If UFOs Are Extraterrestrial, They Would Have Landed on the White House Lawn. But would they, really? If we are doing military reconnaissance in or on territory occupied by an enemy or potential enemy, do we march up to the leader of that nation first to let him or her know we are doing that? Of course not. Another reason ETs might not seek out our leaders is that they may have a policy of noninterference with societies they visit. Last but not least, in a very famous UFO flap that took place over Washington DC in 1952, multiple UFOs were seen over the White House and reported by residents, tracked by radar,  and confirmed by pilots. So alarmed was President Harry Truman by the strange event, that he ordered the Air Force to pursue and shoot them down. Later, the mass sightings were chalked off to a 'temperature inversion,' a weather phenomenon causing false blips on radar. To this day the explanation rings false to amateurs and professional aviators.
  • We Already Know That We Are Alone in the Universe. This not-very-scientific statement used to be more persuasive, back in the days before the Drake equation and the discovery of numerous habitable planets in nearby solar systems. Today, with the Mars probes still collecting data, we aren't even sure we are alone in our own solar system.
  • Even if ETs exist, They couldn't possibly Get Here.  This one is based on the assertion that technological limits make traversing the great distances involved in intergalactic space travel impossible. Yet the more we understand about particle physics and the strangeness of the concept of time, the less persuasive this claim becomes. If we have discovered all this in the space of 50 some years, how much more might an alien civilization discover over the course of 3,000 or 30,000 years? We know that wormholes exist and time travel might be possible. Alien technology might make intergalactic or inter-dimensional travel not only possible, but routine. 
  • If ETs Were Already Here, We Would Know. This is the Bigfoot habeus corpus threshold, AKA 'show me a body and I'll believe it'. When it comes to UFOs, this statement assumes we can look for and find UFOs if we try, then catch and bring one out in public to prove they exist. But visitors to this planet might well have the technology needed to evade observation, should they wish to remain hidden. Our own military has such technology, so why wouldn't alien visitors have the same capacity? Also, we aren't even looking for them anyway. Other nations are responsibly recording chance sightings for future study, but the US is actively pushing back on even taking UFOs seriously. 

All of these 'reasons' are irrational. We have nothing resembling enough data to come to any of these conclusions scientifically. The best we can say is that we don't know, and we aren't trying to know. Until we try to know, until we fully investigate the phenomena scientifically, all we can do is maintain an agnostic stance.

What really persuaded me that the ET hypothesis might not be as dead as I'd previously thought, however, was that, after reading Kean's book, a lot of things I was already thinking about UFOs kind of fell into place without negating or contradicting that hypothesis.

In other words, it is possible to combine the ET and the mythic hypotheses into one.

I don't know that anyone has done that yet.

So maybe I will.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Political Roots of the UFO Taboo

CGI courtesy Markusram at Flicker Creative Commons
I just finished reading Leslie Kean's excellent and flawlessly researched UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. If you haven't read it, go buy or borrow it right now and dive in.

I promise that afterward you will never see this topic the same way again.

Kean concludes her examination of the hard evidence for the existence of UFOs with a discussion of the UFO taboo and why it is so strong, especially in the United States.

In 2008, Dr. Alexander Wendt, a political science professor at the Ohio State University, published a paper with co-author Dr. Raymond Duvall in the leading scholarly journal Political Science. 

The paper, Sovereignty and the UFO,  examines the cultural resistance to taking UFOs seriously and concludes that the problem is not scientific, but rather political.

The authors start out by noting that, "The proper application of science demands that at present we be agnostic about whether or not UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin, neither believing nor rejecting this," and yet a virulent taboo on even studying the phenomenon prevents serious study.

This is especially puzzling, the authors say, given the fact that we have multiple credible sightings over a period of at least 70 years, that many of these sightings involve multiple witnesses of high credibility, that contrary to 'common knowledge' we have physical evidence and lab-tested photographs, and we also have confirmation by credible university science labs that physical effects on plants and people have resulted from close contact.

You would think that this would be an exciting opportunity for scientific investigation and that finding out what UFOs are would be a necessary security task for modern nations.

Yet science won't touch the topic with a ten foot pole, and the US government actively discourages serious investigation of the phenomena.

Other countries no longer take the 'debunking' approach favored by the US. France, Chile, Belgium, and Britain have all had recent major sightings by citizenry and the military, and all have taken these sightings seriously, applied modern scientific analysis to whatever evidence could be gathered, and all continue to urge the US to put aside its secrecy and bad attitude.

All of these nations, and others, have set up agencies to collect data and seriously study the phenomenon. It is only the US that refuses to participate.

Wendt and Duvall conclude that the UFO taboo is built on three distinct political threats inherent in taking the phenomena seriously. Not all of these attitudes are conscious. In fact, mostly, these threats lurk just below the threshold of consciousness, but are still very real:

  1. The physical threat. The possibility that UFOs are indeed unknown, poorly understood, physical manifestations of something represents a powerful physical threat. If UFOs turn out to be extraterrestrial, then we can't know if they are friendly or are just doing reconnaissance work before they come and exterminate us. 

  2. The threat to national sovereignty. Governments may also be reacting to the threat that, were UFOs to be confirmed to be extraterrestrial, there could be a huge public push for a world government to strengthen our position--a move that most national leaders would want no part of, especially the US, which enjoys (for the time being) a spot as world leader. 

  3. The threat to human sovereignty. Possibly most threatening of all is the revelation that human beings are not the smartest creatures in the universe. Right now we take this for granted, so much so that we barely are even aware of it. This anthropomorphism (human centered view of the world) is a modern orientation. Prehistoric and ancient cultures often did not share it, recognizing instead that nature is more powerful. Today, this human-centered view of reality is so important to our culture it almost defines our culture. If we are not the smartest creatures how can we lay claim to the right to govern? 
These three fears result in a cultural and political reaction to UFO phenomena that is much the same as denial at the personal level. A certain circular logic persist in the face of steadily accumulating evidence: UFO phenomena can't be true, therefore UFO phenomena are not true.

In future posts I'll take a look at how Wendt and Duvall deconstruct the impossibility of the ET hypothesis. Clearly, the reasoning used to shoot they hypothesis down is faulty if not ridiculous, and yet this approach persists.

I'll also take a look at some of the weirder experiences I've had while blogging about UFOs that illustrate the tenacity of the political taboo.

I am not anybody.  I'm nobody, blogging.

And yet I have had my unpleasant 'stop it' encounters from total strangers.

Finally, the very existence of a serious paper in a prominent academic journal gives lie to the claim that UFOs are unworthy of serious study. Many, many highly educated people disagree and are willing to say so. And for every person willing to take that chance, there a likely ten that aren't.

It's a career killer, to go out on that limb.

But it's past time for it to happen, and it is happening, with or without the cooperation of the US government.