Rich Reynolds, in a comment to "J. Allen Hynek - Not an Apologist Ufologist," suggests that Dr. Hynek was discredited by his swamp gas explanation for a sighting in Michigan. I agree that the swamp gas explanation was a blow to Dr. Hynek, but, as I said in the post, nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes.
For example, Kevin Randle for years supported Frank Kaufmann's testimony regarding Roswell. Similarly, Stan Friedman supported Gerald Andersen's. Both men have since been discredited. Are Stan and Kevin still respected UFO researchers? Most people would say yes, including, I'm sure, Rich.
Or how about MJ-12? Yes, there are still a few people out there besides Stan who believe the MJ-12 documents are authentic, but not many. Rich himself has stated that the documents are probably bogus. And yet, he still holds Stan in high regard, as he should. Why? Because good people sometimes make bad mistakes.
Leaving the field of ufology for a moment, here's just a couple of "mistakes" (a few of my personal favourites) from which people have recovered, and which were far more egregious than Dr. Hynek's "swamp gas" explanation:
1. Churchill and Gallipoli / Dardanelles campaign (etc etc);
2. Mountbatten and Dieppe;
3. Sir John Barrow and... well, you name it (see the book "Barrow's Boys");
4. Darwin and the Theory of Evolution (just kidding!).
5. Me and... well, too numerous to mention.
The point is that a person should usually not be judged by one incident alone, unless that one incident is so beyond the pale that it really does overshadow everything else (like Ted Kennedy at Chappaquiddick... er, wait. He's still a Senator isn't he? Note to self - above rule apparently does not apply to the Kennedy family). A person is judged by the totality of his or her life, and work. With that in mind, Hynek deserves his place as one of the two or three greatest ufologists (as was made clear to the general public in the ABC News "Seeing is Believing" special).
Perhaps his impact can best be seen in the following letter, which appeared in the issue of Science (Vol. 154 (Pt.2), Nov. - Dec. 1966, p. 1118) published immediately after the one in which Hynek's "UFO's Merit Scientific Study" letter was printed:
"A 1953 Sighting
Hynek's letter (21 Oct.) makes me feel better. As a fishery biologist, I have almost felt ashamed that I, too, among other scientists, have seen a 'flying saucer.' In the fall of 1953 in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, it was there on the horizon, about a mile away - looked 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 m) in diameter - glistening in the crystal-clear sunny afternoon. It moved vertically from an on-the-horizon position, then to the left, to the right, and finally descended to the horizon. Then with phenomenal speed it took off to the right on a high sweeping curve out of sight. In my car with me were two other fishery biologists, who saw what I saw and we all agreed it was the 'flying saucer' often described in the press that year, and probably what a doctor in that part of West Virginia had been reporting. I suggested we report it, but one of my assistants felt it mught be classified as 'fishy' since it was from three fishery biologists! One of the viewers was a former P-38 pilot.
The result of a scientist's reluctance to report such sightings is that these incidents remain merely conversational comment at parties. Now I feel relieved that Hynek has given the scientific observer freedom to talk about those crazy flying machines. [emphasis added]
Elwood. A. Seaman
American Fisheries Society
Seaman fit Hynek's description of a "scientifically trained person" who was "reliable, stable and educated. He had his sighting one year after he had served as President of the Northeastern Division of the AFS, and in 1988, after a distinguished career, won the AFS's Meritorious Service Award.
This is just the kind of person that Hynek, in his October, 1966 letter, encouraged to come forward. That is the other side of truth about Dr. J. Allen Hynek, and his true legacy - swamp gas or no swamp gas. If his reputation has suffered in the years since, then it's time to restore some proper perspective.