Saturday, July 16, 2005
Ufology - Going... Going... Gone?
A "Very Serious Ufologist" e-mailed me today, after reading my "Winning the Ufological PR Battle" column, and said I had it all wrong. "Ufology," according to the VSU, "is winning the PR battle," as evidenced, he said confidently, by those opinion polls I mentioned - polls which show that more people accept UFOs as real than do not.
However, unlike most of the people who wrote me about the column (thanks everyone - the response has been, as the kids say, "off the chain" - er, or something like that), the VSU missed the point.
Polls do nothing more than measure surface responses. Where, I asked, is the serious interest in the UFO phenomenon within the general public, and particularly among younger people?
It is virtually non-existent.
Doubt that conclusion?
Fine - take a drive to your nearest bookstore, and check the shelves.
How many "UFO" books will you find (and you'll see why I put "UFO" in quotation marks)?
I've made this point before, but I'll make it again.
Last night, I wandered over to Chapters (Canada's equivalent to Barnes & Noble), and took a look.
As Obi-wan might say, "Not good."
Here are the UFO books on the shelf (and I mean "shelf," not shelves, as you could fit them all into one shelf, with room left over for some extra Harry Potter books):
Philip J. Corso's The Day After Roswell - 2 copies
Jerry Clark's Strange Skies - 1 copy
Barry Parker's Alien Life - 1 copy
Hopkins / Rainey's Sight Unseen - 3 copies
Redfern / Robert's Strange Secrets - 1 copy
William Birnes's UFO Encyclopedia - 1 copy
Zecharia Stichin - The 12th Planet - 5 copies; The Stairway to Heaven - 5 copies; The Wars of Gods and Men - 1 copy; The Lost Realms - 2 copies; The Cosmic Code - 2 copies; The Earth Chronicles Expeditions - 1 copy
Contrast this to the fact that there were twenty shelves full of books about tarot (5 shelves), astrology (5 shelves), and wicca(10 shelves), and you get the picture.
The "Science" section (notably, nowhere near the UFO / Aliens "section") had about twelve shelves full of books, many by the likes of Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan, David Grinspoon, talking about other worlds, travel to the stars, time travel (including one by British ufologist Jenny Randles), and so forth. But while some of those books, like Grinspoon's, might reference UFOs, they are not about UFOs. I imagine Seth Shostak would be pleased, however.
I asked the assistant manager why so few UFO books. She sort of rolled her eyes, and said, "they don't sell - and, besides, you can always order them on-line."
Yes, on-line - but only if you already know about them. Not on the shelves in the store, where the casual browser might be inclined to pick one up.
They don't sell.
Because, polls or no polls, UFOs aren't on the general public's radar screen.
Doubt that conclusion?
Fine - wander over to your nearest university library. In Nova Scotia, a province with more universities and colleges than you can shake a stick at, you can check the Novanet system, and in one fell swoop see everything that is available at the following libraries:
Dalhousie Univeristy (4 libraries)
Atlantic School of Theology
Mount St. Vincent University
Nova Scotia Agricultural College
Nova Scotia College of Art and Design
Nova Scotia Community College (14 campuses, including Halifax's Institute of Technology)
St. Mary's University
St. Francis Xavier University
University College of Cape Breton
University of King's Colleges
In all of those libraries, serving post-secondary institutions which between them have tens of thousands of students, and are also open to the general public, how many books are there under the subject headings "UFO" or "Flying Saucer," or using the words "UFO," "Flying saucer" or "Roswell" in a title search?
Here they are:
- Berlitz and Moore, The Roswell Incident
- Karl Pflock, Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe
- Benson Saler et al, UFO Crash at Roswell: Genesis of a Modern Myth
On UFOs or Flying Saucers in general:
Timothy Good - Above Top Secret
Don Ledger - Maritime UFO Files
Rhonda Blumberg - UFO
Susan J. Palmer - Aliens Adored: Rael's UFO Religion
Richard H. Hall - The UFO Evidence, Vol. II
Jacques Vallee - Messengers of Decption: UFO Contacts and Cults
Jacques and Janine Vallee - Challenge to Science: The UFO Enigma
Martin Sable - UFO Guide, 1947 - 1967
Yurko Bondarchuk - UFO Sightings, Landings and Abductions
Arthur Bray - Science, the Public and the UFO
J. Allen Hynek - The UFO Experience
B. L. Cathie and P. N. Temm - Harmonic 695: The UFO and anti-gravity
Philip J. Klass - UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Business
Robert Sheaffer - The UFO Verdict
Donald Menzel and Ernest H. Taves - The UFO Enigma
Paul Thomas - Flying Saucers Through the Ages
C. G. Jung - Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies
Jay David - Flying Saucers Have Arrived
Desmond Leslie and George Adamski - Flying Saucers Have Landed
Edward Condon - The Condon Committee Report
That's it, folks.
The only books on that list written in the last ten years are Pflock's, Ledger's, Hall's, Saler's and Palmer's. Of those, two are sceptical, and one is about Rael - which, while very tangentially related to the UFO phenomenon, is probably not what most ufologists have in mind when they say UFO books.
Also note that a fair number of the other books are by sceptics / debunkers - Klass, Menzel, Condon and Sheaffer are all represented. Clark? Friedman? Keyhoe? Nowhere to be seen. And, while pro-UFO, Jacques Vallee will hardly give comfort to pro-ETH ufologists.
And then there's Adamski. Again, not exactly the book that most ufologists would hope some university student would pick off the shelf to learn about the UFO phenomenon.
Just for chuckles, I ran very quick title-only searches on astrology, tarot and wicca / witchcraft.
Tarot - 18 books
Astrology - 50 books
Witchcraft / Wicca - 258 books
Er... how about "astronomy," this time by subject?
Get the picture yet?
See the pattern?
Is it sinking in?
Ufology isn't a page in the "book of public discourse" - it's barely a footnote.
Nobody cares, outside the very narrow confines of the ufological hard-core - and ufologists spend most of their time talking to that hard-core, not trying to figure out ways to broaden the appeal of the subject.
Sticking your head in the sand, or talking about the latest opinion poll, or blaming everyone else, is not the answer.
It is a PR problem, Mr. VSU - and it's arguably worse than it's ever been.
Rather than look about for someone to blame (hey - the government doesn't control all of these bookstores and libraries), it's time for ufology to look inward, and ask some pretty hard questions.
Do you want to grow, or do you want to slide further into irrelevance?
The clock is ticking...