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Location: Mothership -> Ufo -> Updates -> 1996 -> Dec -> UFOs and Mainstream Science

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UFOs and Mainstream Science

From: "Steven J. Powell" <>
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 1996 20:40:49 -0500
Fwd Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996 02:21:29 -0500
Subject: UFOs and Mainstream Science

UF0's and Mainstream Science

by Bernhard Haisch, Ph. D.

[Bernhard Haisch is the Managing Editor of the Journal of Scientific
Exploration, P.O. Box 5848, Stanford, CA 94309. E-mail:

(Mutual UFO Network UFO Journal, Number 335, March 1996, Copyright 1996
by the Mutual UFO Network, 103 Oldtowne Rd., Sequin, Texas 78155,
published monthly with a membership/subscription rate of $25/yr.)


'The Journal of Scientific Exploration' (JSE), which I edit, 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 fall outside the realm of mainstream science. Is there any
possibility of changing this situation? The purpose of this essay is to
present some ideas along these lines to the community of UFO
investigators and supporters.

By way of introduction I am not myself a UFO researcher, but as editor
of this unconventional journal I have 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.
My profession is that of astronomer and by most criteria, apart from
editing JSE, I am an insider in the scientific mainstream: author of
research papers, principle investigator on NASA projects, associate
editor of a leading journal in astrophysics.

The field of astronomy is supported by hundreds of millions of dollars
in government research funding every year, billions if one tallies such
major missions as the Hubble Space Telescope. For the recent meeting of
the American Astronomical Society in San Antonio, the head of NASA,
Daniel Goldin, flew down from Washington just to address us astronomers.
Is there any chance that even a fraction of such support and
respectability could ever come to ufology?

At the moment, no, not a chance. But as I was listening to Mr. Goldin
speaking it occurred to me that some of the points he was making might
be worth passing on.

Goldin made it clear that NASA's job is not to support astronomers
(although it does that pretty abundantly, a situation I greatly
appreciate!). 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 and the
excitement that the Hubble pictures elicited there among the ordinary
men and women of Montana, far removed from NASA centers. People want to
know about the universe. And people especially want to know whether
there are other worlds capable of sustaining life. 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.

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 millennium. He challenged us 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 I have no doubt that he is correct
in his assessment. I pose to you that there is a lesson here 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 I do not know this to be
the case, that there are more people who "believe in" UFO's than have
heard about 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 will do that by and by. That
does not automatically mean NASA of course. Many appearances to the
contrary, UFO's may have nothing to do with outer space as astronomers
view the universe.

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. Constituencies count. No doubt about it. NASA funds
astronomical research because the American people want this; even if
most of it is too esoteric 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

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 us astronomers is translated into action in
the wilds of ufology. Given a mandate to support such research, who
decides what exactly will be done. Goldin reminded us astronomers that
it is our responsibility to come up with NASA's marching 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 of
us 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 consensus and support of an agreed-
upon plan, even by those who lost in the proposal competitions, is
essential. Without that, the money would eventually stop flowing.

And there is the roadblock for ufology. There, in my view, is the
principal reason civilian government money has never started flowing, or
even trickling. The field is as far from consensus as it could be. 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 principles 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
Jacques Vallee, by the UFO phenomenon itself.

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 tentative one, a provisional one to get started, one
that can be re-evaluated after things get going. One has a better chance
of arriving at a destination even if one drives the car in the wrong
direction and has to turn around, than if no one is ever selected to
start the car and pull out the driveway!

Lest I leave the wrong impression, this is not a solicitation for
anyone's vote for this astronomer to lead the charge. I have no desire
to become a ufology leader, nor am I here to recommend to you in whom
such leadership should be vested. My message is a simple but absolutely
realistic one as evidenced by Mr. Goldin`s address. Astronomy is doing
reasonably well even in today's budget climate because it is meeting a
demonstrable desire of the American public and has the professional
structure, stature and behavior to effectively translate that mandate
into funded programs.

The public climate is in fact more and more receptive to new
ideas and is certainly keenly 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 conceivable 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.

This is difficult. Ph. D.'s in ufology 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 I am 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 disarray, 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% percent 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 were a 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 more than anything, and the perceived
danger of tainting one's hard won reputation by association with a
disreputable activity is a major obstacle.

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. As a result
most scientists never look at UFO evidence, which leads to their
conclusion that there is no evidence. Given the proper environment this
could presumably be turned into a favorable upward non-linearity: Given
"evidence of evidence," credibly, soberly presented, the interest of
scientists can be piqued, which would presumably lead to the "discovery"
by scientists that there is evidence.

Two other obstacles are irrationality and paranoid claims. One 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. This would not be welcome news
for the apparently large constituency of nuts-and-bolts saucer
enthusiasts, nor presumably 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 advent of quantum mechanics and relativity in the early
1900's. These were frontal assaults on the prevailing classical physics
that must have looked like madness to many physicists of the day. We do
not read about them of course. The textbooks discuss the Einsteins and
Plancks and other geniuses who prevailed, not the army of "ordinary
physicists" whose careers and world-views looked to be shattered by what
must have seemed irrational to them. But life went on and science even

Scientists are also certainly not used to the possibility that a
phenomenon under investigation may be subject to clandestine
manipulation. This may be the greatest obstacle because of the, in my
view, small possibility that there may be some truth to it. It is not
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. n 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 Utts and by 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, Puthoff,
Targ and May, with all of whom I have 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.)

Only in the unlikely circumstance that the most paranoid vision of
government conspiracy with non-earthly intelligences should prove to be
true would the existence of classified programs obstruct a successful,
open, funded research initiative-either by blocking outright the
establishment of an open research program, or by turning it into a sham
to further cover "the top secret truth." In any case, nothing would be
gained by letting suspicions of this sort stop the attempt to establish
an open research program. Indeed, such efforts would perhaps point to
valuable indicators of opposition, if such there were.

It seems from my unique vantage 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 debate 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
disparity of the evidence appears to be confusing enough without layers
of unproven theory and conspiracy. Somehow out of organization of
evidence there could arise not the truth - that is too much - but there
could arise a consensus on simply what to do next, who would 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 merely and sufficiently the input for the next logical
follow-on. If such a scientifically-oriented process could be started,
scientists could be attracted: grassroots political lobbying could then
point to realistic funding opportunities that a representative or
senator would be willing to vote for and tout at the next election as
his or her contribution to the legitimate needs and wishes of the

Even if the UFO phenomenon should turn out to be deeper than we imagine,
even should it prove to transcend 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 such it is.

Quo vadis, ufology?


Thanks, take care.

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