The Limits of Science in UFO Research
August 6, 2002
by Richard M. Dolan
©2002 by Richard M. Dolan. All rights reserved.
Presented at the International MUFON Symposium
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Rochester, New York
July 6, 2002
Introduction and Outline
I’ve been studying UFOs for about seven years. Only two years ago, no one in this field knew who I was. So I haven’t been involved very long, at least by the standards of my fellow presenters, and indeed by many of you here today. Therefore, I want to thank the leadership at MUFON, in particular John Schuessler, for offering me the chance to speak here today. I consider it an honor to be here.
I’m interested in the theme for this year’s symposium, “Unity in Ufology: Connecting with the Scientific Community.” Since there is a lot of ground to cover, I want to give you an overview of what I intend to discuss.
1. First, I will question the meaning and value of the idea of unity in UFO research. I will point out that this is not always such a good thing, and ultimately not something I would personally desire.
2. Second, I will also question the emphasis placed by some people who want Ufology be more ‘scientific.’ This isn’t a call to lose all reason in our research, or to let the channeling process begin, but just to emphasize the limitations of our scientific methodology when it comes to making sense of UFOs. In particular, I will discuss how science in general is conducted in our society to show those limits. I will also question whether so-called scientific Ufology — organized especially within the halls of academia — has accomplished anything more substantial than the so-called amateurs.
3. Third, I will then review the national security implications of the UFO phenomenon. Partly this is to show that, while UFOs may pose challenge to science, it’s a more straightforward matter when we see it as a problem of intelligence, or counter-intelligence. That is, when we place UFOs in the context of the Cold War, and try to make sense of how the U.S. military responded to them. What we will see, beyond any question, is that the military recognized UFOs as real, and took this matter very seriously.
Within that context I will discuss why UFOs, especially in the early Cold War, were not the result of classified American technology. It wasn’t the U-2 spy plane, in other words, that caused UFO sightings.
4. Fourth, I will bring this discussion back to our present era and talk about why I think there probably IS a great deal of scientific research done pertaining to UFOs, but that it’s probably classified. I will then make my case for what some have disparaged as “the dark side” of Ufology. That is, understanding the conspiratorial nature of our society’s ‘power elite,’ and in particular the military/intelligence world that has intersected with UFOs for over 50 years.
5. Fifth, I will discuss the problems of trying to obtain disclosure about UFOs. Basically, the effort to pry out an admission about the reality and nature of UFOs from government officials, who are believed to have this information. I will discuss why I think current disclosure efforts will not succeed.
6. Sixth, I will present to you my personal — pet — theory of what I think is behind the UFO phenomenon. That is, trying to answer the question, ‘what are they?’ I will say that several researchers have read this part and given me mixed reviews. I offer it to you as a speculation, and don’t pretend that it’s the final word, or even my final word. I do maintain, though, that it has a good deal of explanatory power, and that some of you may find it useful.
I will conclude by reminding everyone, however, that what they are is less important than what they are doing, and what is our relationship to them. In my opinion, these should be the questions that any approach to ufology – whether scientific or not – should be taking.
Part One. The Meaning and Value of Unity in UFO Research
My first question is, what does ‘unity’ mean? Does it mean coming to some firm conclusions about the nature of UFOs, or does it just mean weeding out those conclusions you don’t like? Or those that seem less likely to help you establish legitimacy with what I sometimes call ‘official culture’?
And connecting with the scientific community. I’m not sure how I interpret this. I presume it means making the study of UFOs more amenable, somehow, to (shall we say) “regular” scientists. I’m guessing by adhering closely to the scientific method in investigating reports — both new and old — however one is to do such a thing with a topic as hard to nail down as UFOs.
Or perhaps connecting with the scientific community means reaching out to mainstream scientists in academia and elsewhere, and doing our best to present a rational case for the UFO evidence. Maybe something that will get this topic studied more formally within the university setting, where such a thing has almost never occurred.
Calls for unity and for reaching out to the scientific community reflect an understandable desire to establish UFO research as valid, first of all; and secondly, we might hope, to make some headway in establishing firm (or firmer?) conclusions about this phenomenon. Maybe even get official government recognition and disclosure of what it knows about UFOs. An end to secrecy.
I encourage such progress. I think we will all be better off if and when the American government decides to tell the public the truth about UFOs. The truth being, first of all, that they exist, that they are NOT merely classified military projects, or odd weather phenomenon. That they are technology, and they are not OUR technology. Indeed, I would be overjoyed if some other government would scoop the U.S. and reveal what it knows in a crystal clear, straightforward statement; something like: “yes, we have UFO reports which reveal these objects to be of technology that does not derive from our civilization.” Although, my strong feeling is that the public relations aspect of this is still America’s game. After all, there have been several pro-UFO statements from other national governments over the years, and they all seem to get brushed aside in this country.
So, anything that will help move us ahead toward legitimizing this topic within mainstream science is probably a good thing. Isn’t it?
I do have a certain fear about calls for unity, and calls for connecting with the scientific community. I fear that moving in such as direction could well make our field excessively conservative. There’s already a tendency among some UFO researchers to overcompensate because of the ‘far out’ nature of our topic. I think many people in this field are sensitive to being labeled as, well, kind of crazy.
I sometimes call this the Hitler Diary Syndrome. Many of you know what I am talking about. Back in the late 1980s the supposed diaries of Adolf Hitler surfaced. The papers looked pretty authentic, and several professors were impressed. One definitively pronounced it as genuine. And of course it wasn’t. When it comes to a controversial topic, it is best to err on the side of caution. But you can also go too far. When we deal with UFOs, I have become convinced that the reality is far more radical than we usually are.
With that in mind, I wonder, just how unified this field can ever become. Or how mainstream it can become. Or should become. And I wonder about the pros and cons of a closer connection with the world of science.
Among UFO researchers, I think it’s fair to say that most of us would like to see a public acknowledgment of the reality of UFOs. Other than that, I don’t see much unity among researchers and writers in this field. For over fifty years, UFO research has been anything but unified. For a little while there, during the mid- to late-1960s, the major groups and people did try to work together a bit while the Air Force sponsored the study of UFOs known as the Condon Committee. Other than that, I would say fragmentation and even dissension has been more characteristic of the field than unity, both in the early years and today. Or rather let me put that another way: that some very productive work has been done by small and fragmented groups or individuals, sometimes coordinating their efforts with other groups, sometimes not.
But the fragmentation is more than just physical. It’s conceptual. Researchers can’t agree on what what UFOs are, or in ranking the important criteria for analysis, or in assessing the coverup aspects, or in how to convey what we know to the wider public.
I don’t need to go through all this history. I think everyone here can recognize that, not only can we not get the dominant culture of our civilization to recognize UFOs, but that we have never been able to agree on the nature of the phenomenon. Is it aliens or not? If so, is it one group or many? Are they really abducting people? What was Roswell about? Are they from another planet, or the future, or another dimension, or intelligent machines, or biological, or good, or bad? Or is it just classified technology? Or just … the planet Venus? Is there a government conspiracy to hide the truth about UFOs? Or are our government people merely as flawed and bewildered by all this as the rest of us?
More than fifty years into the modern era of UFOs, we haven’t progressed at all toward reaching a consensus on these or any number of other equally important questions.
Part Two. Connecting with the World of Science
Is it because we haven’t been scientific enough? I doubt that. We can cut ourselves some slack by acknowledging just how difficult this topic is. As far as I can tell, this isn’t something that you can replicate in a laboratory under controlled conditions. We have a real phenomenon that evades study.
Several years ago, back in the mid-1990s, I stumbled across some thoughts on this topic by a lone, independent researcher, a person of science who wasn’t affiliated with any UFO groups. He was just writing some pieces and putting them out on the Internet for anyone to read. His articles were not peer reviewed; they were not attempts at quantitative or mathematical objectivity. They were just insightful reflections on the difficulties inherent in bringing traditional science to bear on the problem of UFOs.
That writer, Val German, has since become my friend. One point he made about this is that the scientific method demands repeatability of either observation or experiment. Science also makes certain assumptions, mainly which imply control on the part of the scientist, and that the phenomenon under study will perform in some way that is consistent or can be predicted. These are the assumptions. But what if UFOs are under the control of another intelligence – let us assume a more advanced intelligence – well, what then? If there is a non_human intelligence operating on the Earth you have to wonder whether “science,” as we practice it, can be of much help. What ‘proof’ of them would appear, except as these ‘others’ might desire? My good friend put it well in his piece:
“our concept of proof requires that there is a human agency able to determine with authority what is happening in the world. When our scientists are dealing with things like sulphur dioxide or chimpanzees that’s no problem. But if UFOs are the products of a superior technology then where is the authority to determine what is really going on?”
Indeed. This is not to disparage the importance of being scientific in analyzing UFOs. Quite the contrary, we must be as scientific and objective as we can be. But a strictly scientific model may not get us to the goal-line.
You see, it’s enough that this is a perplexing problem; more than enough that it seems to be the product of an advanced intelligence. Adding to this is the challenge that we are dealing with a national security issue of the highest order. So this vexing problem of science is further hampered by secrecy protocols, censorship, disinformation, and cultural manipulation by our own elites.
In this extremely important topic, it easy to become bewildered by the confusion. You can’t exactly major in ufology in the universities.
Of course, it might be nice if UFO research were conducted at the universities. But this is exactly the problem. For all intents and purposes, UFO research is forbidden in academia. Inside academia, there is nearly no one – at most a handful of people – who know something about this topic, and who are qualified to write about it. And you know how academia works: it’s an intellectual bureaucracy, and an established hierarchy. If you’re a young grad student with an interest in this topic, there is no way you can just break into it. You have to find someone to supervise your research and judge your dissertation. How on earth are you going to do that? Who among the faculty would be qualified to do it? In the ultra-conservative environment that characterizes the life of most professors, a social world rigidly bound by the quest for tenure (where you’d better keep your nose clean) and the need to publish, no matter how irrelevant or unnecessary one’s contribution may be, where faculty rivalries can make or break a person’s career, how is a young graduate student going to find five professors in his or her university to analyze a dissertation on … UFOs? And who will be the brave soul to be the advisor to such a student? And what student would be so foolhardy to dive in?
Well, actually, one of this week’s presenters did: that of course was David Jacobs. But this is clearly a very rare and difficult thing to do.
As a result, the professional academic world breeds a cycle of ignorance about UFOs. No one knows anything about it, and no one is qualified (or willing) to sponsor new research in the field. Therefore nothing gets done from within that world. Nearly all contributions to furthering our understanding of UFOs have come from outside that world.
I sometimes wonder, if UFO research were established in the universities, how would it be set up? My training is in history: I can certainly see the logic of studying UFOs within that discipline. But clearly it doesn’t stop there. Analysis of UFO data can take you into fields very far ranging indeed, from the liberal arts into the hardest of hard sciences. It would be interesting to speculate how Ufology would be structured within a university setting: would it be considered a subset of one of the established fields of study, or would it get it own department and funding?
I think the question is moot, since nothing like this seems apparent on the horizon. But it’s easy to see how broad the study of UFOs can be, and how difficult — indeed, impossible — achieving unity is. Impossible, that is, unless and until the entities responsible for UFOs decide to explain themselves to us. I haven’t been holding my breath for that. And besides, that in turn would assume that said entities would be telling us the truth, or would be giving us relatively complete information.
Not only is unity a pipe dream; frankly, it’s not even desirable. Most well established fields lack unity of some sort. Would you want the field of modern history to have “unity?” With everyone interpreting events the same way? Within the world of academic scholarship, mini-revolutions happen all the time. People never run out of things to argue about. Not long ago I was scrolling through some journals in French history. Scholars today still can’t agree on how to interpret something as central in French history as the Dreyfus Affair, which was a century ago. If you can’t get a consensus there, how could we do better with a topic that is infinitely more difficult and that’s still going on? Ufology could be established in every university, and it would still lack a consensus on what this all means. It would have more social legitimacy, of course, but I bet you we would not be further along in understanding what this is all about.
So striving for unity? No. Let’s not and say we did.
Let me be more specific about this. Would it be a good thing for peer review to become more widespread in ufology? I hear many people saying “yes, it would.” It is said that this would give a stronger scientific foundation to what we can know about UFOs, and would bring legitimacy to this field.
I’m not so sure about that. I don’t criticize all instances of peer review, but I question the utility of it in our field. First of all, I would want to know, who are the peers to do the reviewing? Ph.D.s? Well, some of the best work in this field have been done by people who don’t have Ph.D.s., nor other impressive academic credentials. There are a few peer reviewed journals in the field of UFO research. They are fine publications, but in no way can be considered representative of the broad, broad community of UFO research. I think they tend to be a bit conservative, as one might expect; at times I would even say tentative. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as that remains one voice amid a field of others. If that voice were to gain dominant authority, I would be concerned for the health of ufology.
Historically speaking, peer review has more to do with enforcing social control than maintaining intellectual standards. It developed during the last century as part of a broader trend of rationalizing and standardizing intellectual labor. Basic turning it into a commodity so that it would be of value to the new system of educational funding (the so-called Carnegie system of foundations) that emerged in the early 20th century.
In more than one discipline, peer review has at times held back progress. In my field of history, I am all too familiar with examples of conservative-dominated elites stifling discourse in the ranks. In practice, you find that scholarly verdicts reflected little more than the consensus of the dominant culture. This is not to say that peer review is a worse method than a free for all, unmoderated, public discussion. But I also don’t think it’s any better. Probably the ultimate peer reviewed body in this country is the Supreme Court of the United States: how many dreadfully wrong decisions has it issued in more than 200 years of history?
No peer review body is infallible. We can juggle statistics and pretend that we’re being objective and scientific. But that doesn’t make us any less susceptible to being wrong. Peer review does have the advantage, like all bureaucracies provide, of giving the illusion of objectivity and permanence. And, I should add, of maintaining stricter control over the ideas and the people in a given field.
I am getting closer to the core of my misgivings on this topic. I am very suspicious of attempts to turn Ufology into a science; to make it a study of precision or total objectivity. I support anything that brings detachment and objectivity to the field. But I become very wary of arguments that assume we can simply put this subject under the right microscope (or telescope) and “prove” or “disprove” the matter once and for all.
The Condon Committee Report, for instance. This was supposed to be the ultimate scientific analysis of UFOs. It was supposed to be detached, objective, academic – in short, the approach of the Condon Committee epitomized then, and continues to epitomize today, a peer reviewed, academic, scientific approach to understanding UFOs. And just how well did it do its job? Well, if you read through the report, you find a very spotty document. There are some good individual analyses, quite a few conclusions that don’t match the data, a lot of good cases that should have been analyzed and weren’t; many cases that were poor bets to begin with, as far as obtaining useful scientific data, and of course you find a director of the project who knew nothing about the topic, didn’t want to know anything about it, could never take it seriously, and who was bent from the beginning on a negative conclusion.
And yet, the Condon Committee Report was reviewed by the American Academy of Sciences and approved. Rather hastily. The entire process of generating this report, along with its conclusion, was deeply, deeply flawed. But it went through all the formal channels necessary to give the sanction of official science.
What does this mean? It means that an officially sanctioned process is not any more likely to get at the truth of UFOs than a process which lacks such official credibility. What it comes down to is the integrity of the people involved in that process, and, more basically, the questions they choose to ask.
A big part of the problem is simply in how science is done these days. Science, we were taught, is the foundation of intellectual freedom in the world. Like most people here, I grew up thinking of science as an independent search for truth, and as the destroyer of social and religious myths.
But how independent is science? In whose interest is it practiced today? This is no idle question, for gone are the days of scientists following their intellectual passions in a search for truth. About a year ago, James Lovelock, a pioneer in environmental science now in his eighties, had this to say about the state of contemporary science:
“Nearly all scientists are employed by some large organization, such as a governmental department, a university, or a multinational company. Only rarely are they free to express their science as a personal view. They may think that they are free, but in reality they are, nearly all of them, employees; they have traded freedom of thought for good working conditions, a steady income, tenure, and a pension.”
What he was saying, of course, is that science is an expensive business, and to do it you need sponsorship. I once laughed out loud when a sincere and interested reader of my book asked me who sponsored my research. But, he was a scientist.
Part Three. UFOs and National Security
Now, to restate the obvious: UFOs aren’t just an issue of science. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so simple. But of course it is a matter of national security. For more than fifty years, it has intersected with the world of intelligence. A topsy turvey world in which black can be white, up may be down, and truth at all times a valuable commodity never to be freely given to those on the outside.
What I have tried to do in my own approach is not to resolve the issue of UFOs directly. I looked at the ‘human side’ of the equation, mainly by studying it as a national security issue. Starting out with a limited knowledge of the field, I asked some basic questions.
Did the U.S. military ever treat UFOs as a legitimate phenomenon?
Answer, they sure did.
Did the military recognize that UFOs were actual artificial objects, or solely natural phenomena?
Answer: both, but definitely recognizing that actual objects were being seen.
Did the military itself encounter UFOs?
Answer: absolutely, in substantial numbers.
Did UFOs present special problems for the military?
Answer: yes again, by repeatedly invading sensitive airspace and by many attempted interceptions by our military personnel.
There are two other questions that I would like to spend a little bit more time with.
Is there evidence that UFOs in the 1940s and 1950s were of Soviet origin?
Is there evidence that those UFOs were American in origin?
Answer: (and let’s be crystal clear about this) NO.
I’d like to expand on both of these questions.
I want to take a few minutes to give an outline of this phenomenon, from the perspective of national security. I trust you wont mind a brief restatement of some well-known and obvious history. But, some things can be so obvious that they are invisible.
In 1946, a year before the flood of reports here in the states, Americans monitored “ghost rockets” over Europe. Two American generals conferred with the Swedes, and censorship of the Swedish press followed immediately. The Greek Army also investigated, according to Dr. Paul Santorini, one of the world’s leading scientists. The Greeks concluded the objects were not Soviet, nor were they missiles. Then, according to Santorini, the American military pressured them into silence.
The next year (1947), UFOs appeared over American skies in large numbers. Some incidents were serious, like the repeated violation of air space over the Oak Ridge Nuclear Facility. Oak Ridge housed some of the most sophisticated technology in the world. You didn’t simply fly over there. But something did, according to declassified documents. This went on for years. It was monitored by Army Intelligence, the FBI, and the Atomic Energy Commission. Here’s a report of one of these intrusions from July of 1953. It described a black object moving out of a high white cloud, seen for about five minutes. At times, the object appeared to be long and narrow, at other times round. Hhere’s a quote from the report:
“This object was extremely black in color, having an appearance of a deep black metal exterior with a fine gloss. It did not leave a vapor trail or were there any lights of shine noticed. No sound was heard. The object flew east at a tremendous speed for what appeared to be approximately three miles where it stopped. The object was then joined by two more of these same objects. A formation similar to a spread ‘V’ was formed and the objects, at a tremendous speed flew in an eastward direction.”
I’d like to ask a simple question: what does that? Now I don’t know about you, but I tell you one thing. If I were in charge of security at Oak Ridge, I’d sure want to know what was going on. Well, so did they. If you’re interested in reasons for secrecy about UFOs, start right there. And, it’s worth mentioning that similar violations occurred over sensitive places in Los Alamos, Hanford, and many military bases. All of this was classified, of course. Americans knew nothing about them at the time.
By the fall of 1947, General Nathan Twining, of Air Material Command, wrote his now-famous memo about UFOs. He discussed the possibility – based on the careful evaluation of military personnel – that “some of the objects are controlled.” Controlled by whom was the $64,000 question, and America’s national security establishment set out to answer it, and to obtain that answer far removed from the prying eyes of the public.
In 1949, an FBI memo stated that: “Army intelligence has recently said that the matter of ‘unidentified aircraft’ or ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ … is considered top secret by intelligence officers of both the Army and the Air Forces.”
In 1950, Robert Sarbacher, a physicist with the DOD Research & Development Board, privately told Canadian official Wilbert Smith that UFOs were “the most highly classified subject in the U.S. government.”
In 1951, after an extraordinary UFO encounter near Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, Air Force officer Edward Ruppelt attended a two-hour meeting chaired by General Charles Cabell, the Director of Air Force Intelligence (and later Deputy CIA Director). According to Ruppelt, the meeting was recorded, but the tape “was so hot that it was later destroyed. . . . to be conservative, it didn’t exactly follow the tone of the official Air Force releases.”
The CIA, meanwhile, had monitored the problem since at least 1948. After the crush of sightings in 1952, the Agency sponsored the Robertson Panel, which convened during the final weekend of the Truman presidency. The panel debunked UFOs, and its recommendations resulted in the gutting of Project Blue Book (already a public relations burden) and heightened surveillance of civilian UFO organizations.
I find it interesting that this panel debunked UFOs, just a month after the CIA’s Director of Scientific Intelligence H. Marshall Chadwell, wrote to CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith that:
“At this time, the reports of incidents convince us that there is something going on that must have immediate attention…. Sightings of unexplained objects at great altitudes and traveling at high speeds in the vicinity of major U.S. defense installations are of such nature that they are not attributable to natural phenomena or known types of aerial vehicles.”
Now, this was a carefully worded memo, and Chadwell wasn’t exactly saying that aliens were in the skies. However, the language in his memo did not rule such a thing out. It is true that a few months prior, he wrote another memo in which he indicated that the answer might be a naturalistic explanation on the fringes of science. Here, however, he made it very clear that UFOs were a real thing, and he wrote about them as artificial objects, not really as phenomena. He described them as “traveling at high speeds” near sensitive defense installations, implying (but not clearly stating) intent on their part. Certainly, he considered this problem to be one of great importance to national security.
So this was not a topic that ordinary citizens could just waltz into and get easy answers. The official answers coming to the public, as you would expect, were diametrically opposite in content and tone. The official word from the military, again and again, spoke of UFOs as misidentifications of known phenomenon, optical illusions, or hoaxes. But this is not how the classified world looked at the problem.
The “Classified Aircraft” Myth
Certainly, it would seem normal, in the context of the early cold war, for American analysts to ask whether the Soviet Union might be behind the “flying saucer” wave. This was a suspicion during the Ghost Rocket sightings of 1946. During late 1947 and into 1948, American intelligence studied whether there was any evidence that the Soviets, possibly with help from captured German scientists, might have developed a revolutionary type of aircraft. They decided the answer was no. Even if Soviets had done so, why (Americans wondered) fly them over all over America and Western Europe? From what base? So they counted the Soviets out very early on, although remember that the intelligence and military worlds are not monolithic. Into the early 1950s there were occasional speculations that the Soviets might be behind all this. But nothing was ever found to substantiate those speculations, not for the Ghost Rocket wave, not for after 1947.
But if not Soviet technology, then what of American technology? Could those early UFOs have been the result of some classified American project?
The answer is No. There is not a shred of historical documentation that points to this conclusion, nor any inference we can make based on what we know of the state of science and military technology of the 1940s and 1950s. Nor is there any evidence that this was the official conclusion of American analysts at Wright Patterson AFB or elsewhere within the military. Some speculation, sure. But never anything tangible to hang your hat on. There was no evidence then, nor any now, to support the conclusion that UFOs in the early cold war were the product of classified American technology.
I’m stressing this point because to this day there’s no shortage of supposed experts who claim that UFOs are nothing more than secret aircraft. I think this is now the dominant explanation for UFOs in the mainstream.
Probably the most representative and important of this thesis was offered in 1997 by the CIA’s official historian, Gerald K. Haines, who offered a breathtaking exercise in intellectual dishonesty. Haines actually said that UFO sightings of the early years was essentially people seeing the U-2 aircraft.
This is an aircraft that flew at 80,000 feet, straight as a string. A craft the main mission of which was flying over communist countries. To take Haines seriously, this basically implies that this secret high altitude aircraft was all over the U.S., and the world, on thousands and thousands of missions. If you haven’t read his article and you think I’m dumbing this down, go read his article. And yet, as weak and threadbare as his argument was, the national media reprinted his explanation with hardly any critical comments. I mean, in the first place, the simplest review of these UFO cases will show you that we’re always talking about objects at high altitudes moving in straight lines. We’re talking about low flying or hovering or even landed vehicles that behaved in ways that our aircraft – or any aircraft – are not supposed to behave. And keep in mind that the U-2 didn’t fly until 1955. That’s a full decade into the modern UFO era.
Think about it: by the end of World War Two, the world’s fastest aircraft was approaching speeds of about 600 mph. Some of the UFOs easily exceeded that. Some were measured at well over 1,000 mph. And then of course there’s the whole maneuverability issue. We did not have aircraft that could move like these things.
Therefore, I want to state this very carefully. By the late 1940s, America’s intelligence community had reason to think that there were artifacts in the skies that did not come from America, that did not come from Russia, nor Germany, nor any other country. These objects violated sensitive military air space, and did not appear to be natural phenomena. Was this of concern to the relevant military authorities? The answer is quite obvious: it certainly was, and of the highest order.
Concern about UFOs was not just limited to the early cold war years, either. Encounters between UFOs and the U.S. military – as well, of course, as militaries of many other nations – continued through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 1975, for instance, the U.S. northern border experienced an incredible wave of airspace violations over sensitive military installations. These have never been satisfactorily explained. Also, secrecy orders about UFOs remain in effect. The late Senator Barry Goldwater once stated that UFOs were still classified “above Top Secret.” This is a serious subject. As one of my Navy acquaintances recently said to me: “If I were to tell you what I knew about that subject, I could go to prison.”
Part Four. The Case for “The Dark Side"
The topic is classified and important. You can therefore expect that public funding and public support for it will be difficult to come by. Consider the following facts.
1. Since the Second World War, the U.S. military has been the biggest sponsor of scientific work.
2. The military and intelligence community has shown extreme levels of interest in the UFO phenomenon, and high levels of classification have enveloped the subject.
3. It would therefore seem logical that the military would sponsor classified – that is, secret – scientific work on this problem for many years.
4. In public, however, mainstream scientists offer little more than ridicule or scorn regarding UFOs.
But scientists, like everyone else, follow the money. If the cash is there, so are they; if not, forget about it. If, as I believe, the vast sponsorship of UFO research is classified, mainstream science will probably continue to leave it alone. Moreover, science today is so specialized, it’s unlikely that some maverick is going to stray into the uncharted seas of UFO research. The result is widespread ignorance by scientists of even the basics of the UFO phenomenon. At least, this is so within the non-classified, mainstream areas of research. In the classified world, things look differently.
I presume that any scientific or prestigious academic work done on UFOs probably bears only a minimal relationship to what is understood and researched in the classified world today. Again, I think it comes down to the money. I am guessing there is sufficient amounts in the classified world; I know there is precious little of it in the public domain. Most UFO researchers, myself included, have to scramble in order to pursue their work while making ends meet, often supporting families. Not the ideal way to investigate this problem.
“The Dark Side”
With all this in mind, I feel that by discussing UFOs strictly speaking as a scientific problem, we drain the blood from it. Such an approach can easily, and often does, leave aside “the essence of the living fact” (as Tolstoy once put it), and allow you to make an argument in such a way as to “shut out the possibility of that essence being discovered.”
The political context of UFOs is crucial to understand, and that – to the chagrin of some – means engaging in a bit of subterranean history. Looking for conspiracies, what some in this field have dismissed as “the dark side” of Ufology. If I do anything here today, it is to tell you that such a characterization is pernicious. Speaking for myself, I can say that I do not study conspiracies because it’s fun, or because I get a thrill out of it. I backed into this field in the early 1990s after having studied at some length American national security policy of the early cold war – that is, absent UFOs.
It’s a funny thing about those UFO researchers who want to blind themselves to the existence of such nasty things as coverups: when you look at any other area of America’s national security history, you find conspiracies and coverups. It is how they do business. This is how the world of intelligence works. Nothing is out in the open. Nothing is freely conceded. And when something is conceded, it’s best to remember this quote from former CIA Director Allen Dulles:
“the best way to keep a secret is to pretend to share it.” So don’t ever blindly assume that you’re getting the truth when you do get an admission of some sort (case-in-point: Gerald K. Haines).
Why is it that so many UFO researchers (at least in my opinion, there are many) who choose to ignore or disdain the coverup aspects of this phenomenon? There are all kinds of motives one can think of — and they’re probably all true. But there are people who seem to believe that our military is honestly telling us everything about UFOs, and that any misunderstandings in the past were due more to ‘foul up’ than ‘coverup.’ Such a position continues to astonish me.
There is every reason to consider a coverup. It is foolhardy and a recipe for failure to assume that we are on a level playing field with our government and military regarding UFO information. And the world of science is so intimately connected to that power structure that the field of UFO research endangers itself by getting into bed with this crew.
And consider this: the mainstream scientific community never passes up the chance to rip the study of UFOs as pseudoscience. This last spring saw yet another spate of coordinated articles in the media bewailing America’s fixation on pseudoscientific ways of thinking, citing belief in UFOs as near the top of the list.
Part Five. The Problem of Disclosure
The main problem of Ufology today is not the quality of its research, or how scientific — or not — it supposedly is. Admittedly, the writing in this field has always been a mixed bag, but how important it that? There is good work being done out there, often by people not associated with the established organizations, and who certainly were not peer reviewed.
No, the problem is not that we lack information or understanding. The answers are there; at least, many important answers are there. The main one being, there are others here, and that certain powerful groups in our civilization know this. There are all kinds of details on which one can disagree or be unsure. But UFO researchers have done the job in showing clearly that this phenomenon is real, it is intelligent, it is technological, and it’s not ours. You can do the rest of the math yourself.
So our problem is not in our methods of research. They have been quite adequate to the task. A more scientific approach would not have enabled us to avoid the major controversies of the past few generations. Not Roswell, not MJ-12, nor much else that I can think of. There are certain issues that are difficult and need to be hashed out. Doing that is usually messy.
The problem is that our colleagues have for fifty years been slamming into this brick wall that I sometimes call the National Security State. This means that it has been impossible to get official acknowledgment of UFOs, in any form. Think about the difficulties in getting such recognition.
Consider this scenario.
Imagine that you’re a security guard at a nuclear facility. You’re outside one night at your post and you see eight intensely bright lights in a wide V-shape formation. These lights then enter the restricted airspace of your facility. They’re extremely low, way too low (you think) for any standard aircraft. This is very unsettling, to say the least. First of all, if this is a single object, it’s immense – much larger than a football field in length. It’s also silent — completely silent. It’s also moving extremely slowly and steadily, despite very strong winds that night, almost as though it’s gliding on a flat plane. As it enters your airspace, the security system throughout the facility goes offline.
So you and the other guards gather together to watch this thing. You all agree that you can see — behind those bright lights — some kind of dark solid structure connecting them. At least that’s what it looks like. This apparently solid object is now moving toward the single operational reactor at the facility (several others were there but were not on line that evening). It just hovers directly over this reactor. A rather provocative act. Your boss (the shift commander) orders you and the other guards to be ready to fire your rifles at the object. He then phones a nearby National Guard base and asks if they can identify this object. Obviously they can’t. What are they going to say? So he says, ‘can you send over an armed helicopter to shoot this thing down?’ Luckily for everyone, however, there won’t be a confrontation – the object is now beginning to leave. By the time it leaves, you’ve watched it for a total of twenty minutes. The next day you’re told by your boss that none of this ever happened. Just forget it.
As you probably surmise, this event was real. It took place in New York State in July 1984, at the Indian Head Nuclear Power Plant. It occurred in the midst of the notorious Hudson Valley sightings, which were seen by literally thousands of people just north of New York City over a few years. Not far from where we are today.
This event, like so many others, shows just why UFOs are matter of national security. During the mid-1980s, just above NYC, thousands of people saw the same type of object. People pulled off the highway to watch. They reported it to their local police, who of course didn’t know what to do about this. What could the police do? Ditto the FAA. Indeed, the FAA was on the spot. Ask yourself: what would the FAA truly be able to tell people? How do you tell people that, yes, actually there is a huge triangle up there that can do whatever it wants. That it isn’t ours, and we don’t really know who operates it, or what operates it. Would you want to be the person responsible for telling the public? Our entire bureaucracy, at every level, is designed specifically and explicitly to prevent people from being held responsible for anything. Who would stick their neck out on this issue? The answer is no one. The FAA disinformed the public throughout the entire Hudson Valley UFO wave. When you think about it, it’s easy to see why – well, actually it appears they were instructed by NSA or possibly CIA – but you can see why they would lie to the public.
I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which we would get official disclosure about UFOs. The Hudson Valley sightings couldn’t do it; nor could the great UFO waves of 1966 or 1952. I suppose a scene out of Independence Day might do it. Short of that, short of a craft hovering over the White House, or blowing up Congress, and knowing the history of the failures of trying to obtain disclosure for the past half century, I just can’t see it happening any time soon. At least not while the present structure of power relationships maintains itself. That’s not a call to revolution; it is just an acknowledgment that we are dealing with much more than a scientific issue.
Without disclosure, I think scientific breakthroughs that ‘prove’ the issue one way or another will prove to be fruitless. I repeat: it’s not so much that the evidence is weak. It’s more of the case that established powers simply refuse to acknowledge it. Henry David Thoreau once observed that “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak, and another to hear.”
I look at truth in society as really a three stage process. You learn it, you tell it, you act on it. None of those steps are easy, and there are no guarantees that one stage will lead to the next.
You may know that something is true – like, for instance, the reality of UFOs – but how much does this matter? At the societal level, knowledge often fails to translate into action.
Such is the case regarding UFOs. There is an overabundance of data supporting them. Most adults believe in them. Yet officially, they don’t exist. Mainstream science ignores them. After 50 years, and despite the Freedom of Information Act, we are no closer to ending UFO secrecy.
What has changed, however, is public awareness of UFOs. Most public figures still can’t tell you out in the open that they believe in UFOs, but many do. Younger people in particular are more receptive to the reality of UFOs. Attribute it to the X-Files, if you like, but there has been a slow and steady shift at the foundations of our culture.
So if we despair of the quick fix of ending UFO secrecy today, we should remember that our culture has gone through tremendous change since the days of the early cold war, and this includes perceptions about UFOs. At some point in the future, the dissonance between culture and power will be too great, and the political structure will have to give.
The only problem is that we don’t live in normal times. Given the rapid growth in human population, the proliferation of dangerous weaponry, coupled with the alarming stress and depletion of natural resources like water, arable land, and (soon) petroleum, nothing is assured, not even the survival of our global infrastructure.
But all we can do is our best. If we can make it over our current tightrope, our knowledge of the ET presence will indeed translate one day into official acknowledgment. Mass culture will continue to change, and will eventually force the issue. The how or when, of course, is anybody’s guess.
Looming behind the preceding discussion are the most difficult of all questions: the nature of the UFO phenomenon and alien presence itself, what the alien intentions might be, and what all this means for our civilization. In my book, I avoided dealing with those questions in any detail. Instead, I’ve tried to stay close to the verifiable facts.
But if you know the facts, at some point it becomes a responsibility to make as much sense out of them as you can. This doesn’t mean engaging in wild speculation, but it does mean being willing to speculate reasonably on the basis of known facts. So permit me to shift gears somewhat, and speculate.
Part Six. What Are They?
When you study UFOs, there is a lot of ground to cover, most of which, frankly, is human-centered. The history of the cover-up, as I did in my book. Or the nature of the abduction phenomenon (as perceived by abductees). Or analysis of the sighting reports. All of these are important, but at some point you just might ask yourself, what exactly are we dealing with?
Back in the 1950s, most UFO believers assumed we were dealing with “men,” of some sort, from other planets. Donald Keyhoe theorized about a race from a dying world, maybe even Mars, looking for a new home. Perhaps, he wondered, we were on the brink of an interplanetary war. Still others talked of Space Brothers who could lead us to spiritual enlightenment and a better future. Either way, the assumption was that we were dealing with standard biological entities: people, more or less like ourselves.
This version of the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) dominated UFO research through the 1960s. Later, some people speculated along more paranormal lines, essentially trading in aliens for angels, elves, or interdimensional entities.
From what I can see, these two positions are the basic poles of most thought about aliens to this day. Let me of course acknowledge that there is a great deal of room for variations on these themes. But, it seems to me that UFOs are generally seen either as the product of an advanced race, shall we say, of people, or else something paranormal, maybe even spiritual.
I look at it a little differently now. I concede that my position is provisional, and may change in time. But the more I reflect on it, the more persuasive I find it. It is that the UFO phenomenon is the product of an artificial intelligence. Advanced machine intelligence, vastly outstripping our own, biological, intelligence.
Now, many people believe that machine intelligence is involved somehow in the phenomenon of UFOs. What I am suggesting is that it is the driving force.
I assume that I am not the only proponent of this idea, but I am not aware of any other UFO researcher who has expressed it in this way. Back in the 1960s, there was one writer whose thoughts moved in this direction, or who at least entertained the possibility. That was Ivan Sanderson, surely one of the most original thinkers ever to write about UFOs.
It is a shame that Sanderson, a biologist by profession, wrote only two books on UFOs. It is a greater shame that he is largely forgotten today. His first book, Uninvited Visitors (1967) remains among the most sophisticated analyses yet done on the possible nature of UFOs (Sanderson called them Unexplained Aerial Objects, or UAOs).
Too long to summarize here, Sanderson asked, not what UAOs were, but what they could be. He developed a six page outline of the possibilities. Thus, they could be inanimate or animate. If inanimate, they might be natural, or artificial, each possibility with several subsets. If animate, they could also be natural or artificial. Natural forms might include life-forms indigenous to space, or to atmospheres, or to solid bodies. Artificial forms might be domesticated natural life-forms, genetically created life forms, or biochemically created life forms. And so on.
Sanderson at several points suggested the possibility that the “occupants” of UFOs might be artificial life forms. He wasn’t dogmatic about this. He also speculated that they might be an as-yet unknown life-form indigenous to Earth. Still, the concept of UFOs as a form of artificial intelligence is fertile ground, and gave me a push in that direction. A stronger push came from studying current trends in artificial intelligence.
Reading AI literature is nearly as far out as reading UFO reports. Many scientists involved in artificial intelligence research – maybe even most, it’s hard to tell – are convinced that we are on the verge of a new era in civilization: the age of intelligent machines. Many of them also believe in the inevitability of an event they call the Singularity. This is believed to happen when computer intelligence becomes able to upgrade itself, to reprogram itself continuously, and become … self-aware.
They argue that this will involve a rapid, exponential increase in computer intelligence, leaving human intelligence in the dust. A similar event occurred when human intelligence exploded within the brief period (biologically-speaking) of a few million years. But in the case of machine intelligence, the pace will be much, much faster. Once a certain critical mass is reached in terms of hardware, software, connectivity, and storage, machines will be able to foresee their own technological needs and redesign their software.
Instead of needing 18 months to double their power, as has generally been the case for over 30 years, what would be needed when artificially intelligent computers are doing the research? Could the time be cut to, say, twelve months? And when it becomes more powerful still, to six months? Then three months, then one month – then what? Then, as one AI writer put it, “our crystal ball explodes” and everything we know goes out the window.
Ray Kurzweil, one of the world’s foremost authorities on this topic, thinks this will happen no later than 2040. Others think it will be much sooner, perhaps as early as 2010. Some of these prognostications are rather unsettling. More than one scientist has predicted, for all intents and purposes, a godlike level of intelligence residing within machines.
Whether this is good or bad is another issue, and not every AI scientist believes in the coming of the Singularity. Some who do remind me of the stereotypical mad scientist. But a mad scientist may be perfectly correct. It is at least plausible to assume that we are standing at the doorway to something completely new and utterly revolutionary. The future is coming, sooner than most of us have thought.
There seem to be two futures available to us. Either a modification of human biology, which would then be merged with advanced machine intelligence (as Kurzweil believes will happen), or more simply, machine intelligence that becomes so dominant as to be incomprehensible to us.
Either way, our near future promises a radical increase in the dominant intelligence on this planet. Assuming our civilization can survive long enough to let that happen. And we’ll just hope that the machines don’t pull a Terminator scenario on us.
I haven’t encountered any AI theorist talking about UFOs. However, they all talk about future machine intelligence as something that will be so far greater than ours as to be alien (their word).
My question is this: could it be that such a progression — from biological to machine intelligence — is a normal one, not just here on Earth, but elsewhere in the universe where intelligent life may have evolved? You look at natural selection, and it’s obvious that such a process of evolution — that is, natural evolution — does not give us unlimited intelligence. It gives us the intelligence necessary to exist within a natural ecosystem. To get beyond that – say, to develop the intelligence and technology to reach the stars – maybe more than natural selection is needed.
We’re not suited to live in space. We’re not suited to live anywhere else but here, on Earth, at least not for the long term. We evolved here, with Earth’s unique gravity, magnetic fields, temperature, microbes, atmosphere, and food. To live elsewhere, we will need to be modified, perhaps so much that the result would be something entirely different. A new species, created with some of our DNA, would probably be the most logical means of sending biological organisms to distant worlds. Unless, of course, it’s a better choice to let the machines go it alone.
If on Earth, why not elsewhere? Indeed, wouldn’t this be the most logical scenario? Judging from the long history of UFO sightings and reports, I think the answer is yes.
And just what constitutes a machine is a fair question. In our own world, the distinction between people and machines is going to be increasingly blurred. Will the machine be made out of silicon chips, or … organic material? At what point do we cease calling it a machine? I don’t know. However you want to look at it, we’re talking about forms of intelligence that will have been drastically enhanced and upgraded beyond anything we can currently do. Whether these are biological or not is perhaps a secondary issue.
They could well be both. Think about what our current capabilities are. There was a news report from March 2002 described a chimpanzee able to move a computer cursor across a screen, solely through the power of thought – and a conveniently placed silicon chip in its brain.
The more we considers developments in our own technology and the future of AI, the less outlandish alien technology appears.
What we have been groping to understand for the past fifty years may well be our own future within the next fifty.
As interesting as it is to ponder the question what are they?, we need to remember that even more important is, what are they up to? and what is our relationship to them? It’s very easy for Ufology to get stuck on such questions as what color lights did the observer see, or how many bolts were on the underside of the craft, or how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. We need to remember that this is not simply something flying around in the sky. There is a great deal going on right here on the ground. Whatever it is, it is not restricting its activities to harmless cruises in our atmosphere. It is interacting with life here on this planet, and with us. They, whoever they are, don’t appear to be that interested in giving us full disclosure of their activities, and those human agencies charged with national security don’t seem motivated to do so, either.
Organization and unity, even closer relations with mainstream science, can be helpful to moving things in the right direction. But we must remember that science is not value-neutral, and that the relative anarchy of UFO research is not so much the cause of its fringe status, as much as the effect of that status. There are major political and national security reasons why we are a fringe topic, and they have nothing to do with our shortcomings.
Science teaches us to disbelieve miracles. We should certainly not expect any if UFO researchers reach out to mainstream science, which has a specific role to play within our society. That role does not normally include a dispassionate search for truth. Wherever truth is being found, someone is paying for it, and that someone has his reasons, which are seldom clearly stated.
Attempts to make us more scientific, however that is construed, could result in further closing the ranks within this field, and restricting access to it by all but the most reliable initiates. Since ours is a field where things are not always obvious, and where the players do not always present their cards clearly on the table, it’s quite possible that this is a prescription the patient can do without.