Friday, July 15, 2005

Winning the Ufological PR Battle



Ufology in general is lousy at marketing itself. This is particularly true of ETH proponents.

Despite the fact that the majority of Americans (and Canadians, etc.), in poll after poll, state that they (a) are convinced there is life on other planets, and (b) are convinced there is something to the UFO phenomenon, ufology has failed to make any significant dent in the public consciousness.

I’m not talking about science fiction programs like the X-Files, or Roswell, or movies like War of the Worlds or Close Encounters of the Third Kind – I’m talking about serious, sustained public interest in the UFO phenomenon.

Instead of seeing opportunities, ufology sees conspiracies, and enemies. Instead of trying to find common ground with the mainstream, particularly the scientific community, ufology attacks them for not doing enough. Instead of a bird in the hand, ufology wants two in the bush, and a third in the field.

In short, ufology has an abysmal record at public relations.

Nowhere was this more evident than in ufology’s response to the ABC News special Seeing is Believing a few months ago. In short, ufology blew it. There were exceptions, of course, but for the most part all you heard was the same old whining and moaning about the “corrupt mainstream media” screwing ufology yet again - accompanied by what surely must be the world’s smallest violin.

Real potential for a positive step forward... and instead we got "Peter Jennings is a tool of the conspiracy of silence." [I paraphrase]

Last week, as another example, Larry King Live featured a program on UFOs, where the pro-UFO guys outnumbered the sceptics 2 to 1. What have we heard, by and large?

Carping about Seth Shostak (pictured above)!

It’s popped up again after a short article by Shostak appeared on the Internet today wherein he discusses the King program, and UFOs in general. Most ufologists who have referenced it have done so by attacking Shostak as, basically, an “idiot.”

Not exactly how one “wins friends and influences people.”

Even if you really do think Shostak is an "idiot," you don't win any points with people by saying so publicly. Sure, you'll please your "base," but you'll alienate everyone else.

Compare and contrast, folks.

Shostak sounds reasonable (whether what he says is reasonable is irrelevant). People who attack him don’t.

Who do you think the general public is going to listen to?

Here’s how the response should have gone if you happen to be an ETH proponent (I offer this as a free public service to ufology, with the caveat that it's not how I would do it):

SETI scientist Dr. Seth Shostak and UFO researcher Stanton Friedman agree - "UFOs are real; Space Travel possible"

Senior SETI astronomer Dr. Seth Shostak, following his appearance last week on Larry King Live with noted UFO experts Dr. Bruce Maccabee, former NASA and Boeing engineer John Schuessler, and others, released a statement today in which he says UFOs are real.

“Several recent television shows have soberly addressed the possibility that alien craft are violating our airspace,” stated Dr. Shostak. “Pilots, astronauts, and others with experienced eyes and impressive credentials have all claimed to see odd craft in the skies. It’s safe to say that these witnesses have seen something.”

While UFOs may be real, Dr. Shostak is not convinced that they are aliens visiting Earth.

However, he is convinced that there is almost certainly alien life “out there.”

“There’s clearly, to my mind, enormous probability that there’s life out there, even intelligent life,” he stated on Larry King Live.

While he is extremenly sceptical, Dr. Shostak did not completely rule out the possibility that some UFOs could be spacecraft from another world.

“Despite heated discussion by all concerned,” he noted, “let’s admit that interstellar travel doesn’t violate physics.” Although it is beyond our capabilities at present, he said, “It’s possible.”
Canadian nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman, an experienced UFO researcher, agrees with Shostak.

According to Friedman, if we look at just our local ‘cosmic neighbourhood,’ the odds are pretty good that there is life within travelling distance. “There are about 1,000 stars within 54 light years of earth – a mere walk down the block by galactic standards. Of these, 46 are estimated to be very similar to our sun, which means they are likely to have planets.”

Dr. Shostak pointed to a poll released in May 2005, which showed that most of the respondents think that extraterrestrials would be more advanced than us. “Well, of course, any extraterrestrial signals we might detect are very likely to come from societies that are, indeed, more technically advanced than our own,” stated Dr. Shostak.

Friedman, who has written several papers on the subject of UFOs and physics, concurs with Shostak and the poll respondents, even as he explains that we have to keep things in perspective.

“Of course, they wouldn’t be using chemical rockets, like we do. But if their civilisation is even one hundred years more advanced than ours is, who knows what kind of technology they have developed? Remember, our own scientists are already starting to examine the possibility of using things like worm holes for space travel. Just think of what aliens might have come up with if they have a thousand year head start on us.”

Friedman also points out that several scientific studies have shown that there are a large number of UFO sightings that simply cannot be explained by conventional means.

“The Condon study, conducted in 1968 for the United States Air Force, was one of the most thorough scientific studies of the UFO phenomenon ever,” noted Friedman. “When they were finished, they couldn’t come up with an explanation for thirty per cent of the cases they examined.”

Friedman notes, “if you got a hit thirty per cent of the time in the Major Leagues, you’d be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

He then points to the RB47 case, from 1957, as one of the many excellent sightings of which the public is largely unaware, but which indicates that the UFO phenomenon is definitely real.

“On July 17, 1957, an Air Force RB-47, equipped with electronic countermeasures (ECM) gear and manned by six Air Force officers, was followed by an unidentified object for a distance of over seven hundred miles and for a time period of one and a half hours, as it flew from Mississippi, through Louisiana and Texas and into Oklahoma. The object was, at various times, seen visually by the cockpit crew as an intensely luminous light, followed by ground radar, and detected by ECM monitoring gear aboard the RB-47. Of special interest in this case are several instances of simultaneous appearances and disappearances on all three of those physically distinct “channels,” and the rapidity of maneuvers beyond the prior experience of the aircrew.”

“The Condon Report classed it as unidentified,” explains Friedman, “and it remains an unsolved case to this day.”

On the Larry King Live show, Dr. Shostak noted that the late Dr. Carl Sagan once stated that “extraordinary claims require pretty convincing evidence.”

Friedman agrees. “Carl was absolutely right,” he says.

But he adds, “The evidence is there for all to see. It’s time we took a real look, with an open mind.”

END OF STATEMENT

Note – Dr. Shostak’s statements quoted above are taken verbatim from the Larry King transcript, his article today at www.space.com, and a blog post at http://blogs2.nationalgeographic.com/extraterrestrial/. Stan’s are an amalgam of various statements he’s made over the years, except for the RB47 synopsis, which is taken from Dr. James McDonald's analysis of the case.

This is called “framing the message” folks, and it’s part of the very real public relations effort that ufology needs to get serious about if it ever wants to be taken seriously beyond its own limited ranks.

The debunkers have been very good at it over the years. Whether you believe it or not, they are winning the struggle for hearts and minds, which involves more than getting someone to answer “yes” in the occasional public opinion poll.

It’s time ufology got in the game, too.

Paul Kimball

56 comments:

owendrab said...

Okay, so you write this post, Paul. You make your case. Now what? I agree with you, but you've made dozens of posts with equally valuable recommendations, and what has been done?

If this post is a small example of the kind of PR effort that ufology needs to get serious about, then what's next?

This is the kind of post which should prompt discussion on The UFO Forum.

take care, brad.

RRRGroup said...

Since ufologists prefer to preach to the choir, as your commentary suggests, Paul,one can't hope to engender PR that might win converts or create alliances with people outside the UFO clique(s).

I get the impression that UFO addicts like the idea of being out of the mainstream, kind of unique as it were.

This wasn't how it was in the old days with the great Keyhoe or the Lorenzens.

But that's how it is today. The UFO CLub is intact and outsiders are not welcome.

Why even some at the edge of UFO credibility are not welcome.

This is an exclusive club, and it will take some Machiavellian thrusts to change that.

Let's hope there are a few who are working to bring this about (ahem).

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Rich / Brad:

Hey, I'm just an ideas guy. Someone else can do all the heavy lifting!

That, and I have a documentary that I'm working on which will make a major statement. Details to come soon...

Paul

RRRGroup said...

Yes, I know that the documentary will raise some eyebrows, and will expiate your heterosexual, non-ufological sins.

And I know I can't spill the beans, but anticipate the uproar and paeans that will occur when it's done.

I can barely wait...

RR

owendrab said...

Paul,

While I have no doubt that your documentary (of which I don't know anything) will provoke discussion, that doesn't mean it will do the heavy lifting of which you speak. We have to do that.

Am I making any sense to anyone?

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

To each their own gifts and abilities. I make films, so I do my heavy lifting that way (with a little research tossed in). Brad Sparks does the research end, and does it better than anyone else. Jerry Clark writes books - some pretty good ones. Stan wows the faithful at conferences and symposiums - and no one does it better. EBK has Updates and SDI. Rich and the RRR group provoke people (the value of which should never be underestimated). Etc etc...

What is needed is someone to act as a credible, articulate spokesperson. And no, Stephen Bassett ain't that guy!

A few Nobel laureates wouldn't hurt, either.

Paul

owendrab said...

Paul,

Given the number of UFO books, conferences, and UpDates posts over the years, I'd say these methods aren't doing what you're advocating in this post.

And a spokesperson won't solve our problems. What's she going to say? If Stanton Friedman tells her to tell the public, "The MJ-12 documents are real," then what are you going to say?

In a vague phrase, I believe deliberate collective work is what we need.

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

You've identified the problem.

A spokesman would be nice. However, a yearly conference of serious UFO researchers, not open to the public, is what is really required. Then they can hash out their differences, and come up with a unified position statement (which, if I had my way, would look surprisingly like my Third Way "manifesto"). And then they would go home, and stay on message - and the spokeman could be someone they refer to when called by the media.

It'll never happen, of course, but it's nice to dream, and they won't be able to say that someone didn't point it out to them.

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

As a side note, I nominate Jenny Agutter for spokesperson. If she's not available, Erin Gray.

PK

owendrab said...

Paul,

I agree with you on everything except the not happening part. Maybe I'm just idealistic, and maybe that will be my downfall, but I didn't start studying UFOs to show the same people the same cases at the same conferences year in and year out.

Your proposal for a private conference to assemble a position statement rings of The UFO Collective. As long as you continue to deem that goal unreachable, it will remain so. But if we say, "Okay, let's spend six months trying to make this happen," then maybe....

C'mon, Paul--you know the end product, you can see it. No need to settle for the way things are when multiple people see the way things could be...

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

I respect your passion, but...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - so long as the UFO Collective, or any other group, refuses to include the UFO Mavens (as Rich calls them), it will get nowhere. What the Collective COULD do is attempt to organise the Conference. Vallee and Sturrock should be on the invite list, but so should Friedman and Clark, and Sparks and Haines, and Dick Hall, and... well, you get the picture. That would take $, however.

I suggest Vegas. Might as well have some fun while you're there! Try the Luxor - great Arcade!!

Paul

RRRGroup said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
owendrab said...

Paul,

Nevermind about The UFOC. It's not established enough to organize something like what we're talking about. The first thing is to get a lot of ufologists talking about this, which means repeated blog posts, UpDates posts, and UFO Forum threads re: this topic. These isolated bursts of energy and discussion too often fizzle.

I'm hesitant to suddenly make blog posts and start UFO Forum threads about this because no one, besides you and Rich (many thanks), really listens to or knows me. In other words, I'm a newbie, and I need the veterans' help.

And Rich,

I appreciate the flattery, but it's really not necessary--and I'd rather read suggestions and ideas from you than compliments (but still, thank you).

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

Good to see you agree with Brad, although I recall a time, not so long ago, when I was the flavour of the month.

Ahh... the good ol' days.

Paul

P.S. No doubt you'll be ponying up the quid for the Conference.

RRRGroup said...

Paul:

When I was in high school, I set up a Flying Saucer Club, which got members 3 extracurricular credits toward graduation.

At the first official meeting, I said that not only would we try to answer the flying saucer conundrum but that we would have fun doing so, by having parties and night-time get-togethers.

I was not voted in as the Club President.

The kids wanted a serious person to head up the Club. And these were not just nerds. We had a large group of students from all grades who were truly interested.

Thus, today, while I try to provoke debate and/or ideas, I eschew the Las Vegas trips and conference venues that offer fun in the sun or gambling tables for the seemingly adventurous ufologist.

UFO conferences have become the vehicle by which today's UFO mavens create their entertainment.

I learned my lesson back in high school, and Jacques Vallee seems to take a similar approach.

While you are a fun guy, that facade seems to offput the younger serious people who see how far ufology has strayed from the serious days of Keyhoe, and how little has been accomplished by the good ol' boys of ufology
who, after many years, have little to show for.

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

It ain't a facade, pal. I am the epitome of FUN!

Ask anyone ("anyone" of course meaning people I have thoroughly vetted and approved in advance).

Paul

owendrab said...

Paul,

I'm pretty sure we (you, Rich, and I) are all in agreement on this topic, at least to some extent. You're the harder nut to crack, so I'm basically asking for your help, in whatever form it may be needed. I would think that you'd be willing to offer since you yourself said that this is what needs to happen.

I'm willing to do the heavy lifting. I just need someone to spot me.

(And by someone I mean a lot of people, and by me I mean a lot of people as well, but you get the analogy.)

RRRGroup said...

Yes, Paul, and you can take some time out for fun, because you have credentials, and hard-core materials (your films and researched material here at your blog) to commend you.

But do you really want to be the poster-boy for the less credentialed?

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

Hey, I'm no veteran, and nobody in ufology listens to me anyway (they definitely don't listen to Rich).

Get your university to sponsor the symposium - that way it would be sponsored by a neutral party, and would have the all-important veneer of academic respectability that would attract the likes of Vallee, Sturrock and Haines.

Of course, it would have to be held on campus, but that way the students could get free lectures from the experts - Stan to the physics class, Vallee to the computer science class - heck, if you invite me, I'll chat with the history class, and then take everyone out for beers at the university pub! You could even invite my favourite critic - he could "chat" with the psychology class.

Just a thought.

Paul

owendrab said...

Paul,

That's an idea, but it prevents any sort of "invisible college" effect from taking place. And honestly, given the Northwestern Astronomy Department's animosity towards Hynek and CUFOS, and the administration itself, I highly doubt I, one student, could pull that off.

But it's an idea, and I will keep it in mind. Thank you.

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

Start with your student council. I know whereof I speak, old student councillor that I am. Ignore the astrology department, if they're a stumbling block, and go straight to the administration, or another department (computer science, physics, biology - all are concerned with the prospect of alien life, or time travel, or even the EDH).

Anything I can do to help, schedule and means permitting, I'm happy to chip in with.

Paul

RRRGroup said...

Paul --

It doesn't matter that no one in ufology listens to you or me.

It's the new breed that we should be catering to.

Aaron Sakulich knows this, and even though he is a debunker, his writings lead readers to check out the events and UFO tales he presents.

Some even become serious about UFOs.

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

You've got it backwards, pal o' mine - I don't take time out of the real world for the fun, I take time out of the fun for the real world.

Is there any other way to do it??

As for the less-credentialed, there are plenty of people in ufology who probably toss me in that category. It's all relative.

Besides, I've always wanted to be a poster boy for something. Then Lehmberg could hang me on his wall and toss darts at the picture.

See - win / win!

Paul

owendrab said...

Paul,

Ufologists are much more likely to listen to you than to me. You know this.

Advice taken re: student council. But that still does not erase the challenge of presenting this idea to ufologists.

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

If you can find a suitable academic setting, and the $ to stage it, I have no doubt that the serious ufologists will come. Any that wouldn't are guys and gals you wouldn't want there, anyway.

Sell it to the SRC as a great way to make a major mark - look at the publicity the MIT time travel "conference" got this year!

Paul

owendrab said...

Paul,

SRC?

RRRGroup said...

Well I'm not so sure that Alfred would toss darts at a picture of you on his wall. (He has a nice wall I hear.)

But the point is that UFO newbies have got be frustrated by all the nonsense in the UFO debate -- and unresolved issues.

For example, whatever happened to the Google survelliance map-UFOs?

They were hot for a week or so and then just died on the vine.

Nothing is ever brought to conclusion.

Maddening.

RR

owendrab said...

Rich,

That's exactly right, which is why this discussion has to be sustained. That's why I suggested giving The UFO Forum a deliberate purpose. Posts and threads often lead in circles, and I think it's safe to say that ufology has one of the biggest tails around.

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

SRC = Student's Representative Council, at least at Acadia University, where I served as Chairperson in 1986.

Ohmigod - 1986??

19 years ago!

Eep...

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

I'm sure the padding on the wall would prevent any damage to the actual wall. :-)

Paul

owendrab said...

Paul,

Thanks. I will definitely think about this some more. Rich, what do you think of this university-hosted idea?

1986, eh? I was born in 1985. Strangeness.

RRRGroup said...

Paul:

For some reason you think the old UFO crowd would bring media and public attention to UFOs. I don't think so -- they are old hat, really old hat.

The MIT conference didn't include ufologists but real scientists.

While you are credentialed in the UFO community, to some extent at least, you, Richard Hall, Stan, Clark, et al. are not credentialed outside of it.

They are considered kooks, and UFO promoters, as the ABC special made clear.

You're not about to disclaim allegiance to the old guard because you want to be favored by them, hence your distancing yourself from The UFO Forum.

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

Strangeness??

Imagine how it feels to be me. It seems like just yesterday I was sponsoring an SRC motion that we should boycott South African goods on campus.

Or did I vote against that resolution?

It's so hard to recall.

Either way, it all worked out in the end!

Paul

RRRGroup said...

Brad:

The hosted conference has to include scientists who are willing to discuss the parameters of the UFO issue, not UFOs themselves.

This is where the Condon Committee and Report went wrong...privately there was a serious attempt to discover the UFO reality, but then the public report, the overview, was suffused by Edward U. Condon's silliness and that sank UFOs as a serious topic for real scientists and the media that might have been interested in following up.

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

I want to be favoured by them??

Hahahahaha...

That's the funniest thing I've heard in days!

I couldn't care less what they think. I won't abandon them because they are the experts, no matter how much you hate to admit it, and they've earned my respect - even as I disagree with them on a lot of things (ie. MJ-12 with Stan).

Re-inventing the wheel is just stupid. Better to pave the road, remove the dead animal carcasses, and get back on the highway.

Or something like that.

"Want them to favour me."

I'm never going to get to sleep now - I'm laughing too hard!

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

P.S. I haven't distanced myself from the UFO Forum at all - I'm a member in good standing. I just don't see it as a replacement for UFO Updates with, that's all, as some people do.

The two can co-exist, happily. Thye fulfill different functions.

Paul

owendrab said...

Rich,

What exactly are the parameters of the UFO issues?

Paul,

In the case of ufology, the road is quite long, and re-paving (reform) is not permanent. You have to see that we could repeat the methods of the last fifty years and potentially get nowhere. What I mean is, more books, more articles, more MUFON conventions... it's all scripted. Innovation is in rare supply now.

owendrab said...

("rare" supply? Scarce supply.)

RRRGroup said...

In the case of UFOs, Paul, it seems sensible to me that the wheel be re-invented, since the old wheel hasn't moved us forward one iota.

Experts? What experts? These guys haven't produced one scintilla of evidence to prove the reality of UFOs.

They've recounted and collected anecdotes up the wazoo, but more than that? Nope.

These guys are self-appointed experts who get imprimaturs from guys like you who keep their moribund "expertise" alive by mythologizing it.

Keyhoe was an expert. Vallee is an expert. Friedman to some extent.

The rest? Parasites, feeding off the UFO witnesses, those who've actually seen a UFO (or two) or even been abducted (perhaps).

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

And that's why we'll never see eye to eye on this - to call Clark, Hall and Sparks parasites is simply ridiculous.

Corso was a parasite.

There is a difference, and you do the study of the UFO phenomenon a great disservice by not acknowledging that fact.

However, as I said once months ago, you're Robespierre, and I'm Lafayette, so vive la diferrence, I guess.

Just don't forget who was still standing at the end of it all!

Gotta keep your head!

Paul

owendrab said...

I think this entire series of comments is a viable discussion point for the UFO Forum.

owendrab said...

I think Rich's post somehow got erased...

RRRGroup said...

Robespierre got it in the neck. Yikes!

Clark and Hall, and others, have done nothing but feed off the work of others.

No investigative work on their own, no ideology, no theses, just a regurgitation of things by others.

If that's not parasitical, I don't know my English language or ass from a hole in the ground.

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

Ah, you Jesuit, you.

Every field needs its storytellers.

And Hall, Clark and Sparks have certainly done their research. Brad in particular has done more than anyone else I know - including Stan (you should chat with him about the Trent photos, by the way).

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

See - we do think alike on some things! I had just posted the original blog article at the forum, with a note that the discourse should continue there.

Great minds think alike...

How does the rest of that go again?

Paul

owendrab said...

Paul and Rich,

This disagreement between you two re: the value of others' work doesn't seem to be very productive. I may want to re-invent the wheel, but that doesn't mean "old folks" can't catch a ride in my car (or something).

Paul,

Thanks for making the thread at the Forum. Let's see where it goes...

RRRGroup said...

I've been accused of favoring the Wise Old Man archetype as delienated by Jung, and exampled by Moses, Freud, Jung (himself), Einstein, and a few others.

I don't see any wise old men in ufology. Even Stan Friedman hasn't become an archetype for me, as much as I adore the guy.

So, Paul, we'll have to depart on the issue of who should be lauded and who shouldn't be.

RR

RRRGroup said...

Ohmygawd!

Let's clutter the UFO Forum with this nonsense?

And I was hoping the Forum would not be like UFO UpDates!

RR

owendrab said...

Rich,

If the discussion is done in a deliberate and cooperative way, then it won't turn out like UpDates. The Forum does not have to repeat UpDates' mistakes.

We can't just confine this talk to Paul's comments.

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

You should know by now that you can't control these forum thingees.

Hehehe... hoisted on your own petard. I love poetic justice!

As for our disagreement, let's just say that I'm right, you're wrong, and we'll always have Berlin (inside joke with another pal of mine).

Paul

RRRGroup said...

Paul:

You're always right, but I'm always just a little righter -- in the metaphysical, cosmological, existential sense.

RR (the Jesuit-trained tyro)

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

Who am I to argue with a John Bircher about being "right!"

Paul "former UN Seminar staffer" Kimball

P.S. Long live Kurt Waldheim.

Er... Boutros Boutros Galli?

Hmm... Kofi Annan?

Sheesh...

No wonder the UN gets no respect.

Aha!

Dag Hammarskjold!!

Good enough...

William said...

Brilliant post Paul.

MUFON seems incapable of serving such a PR function (they don't have good BS filters) and CUFOS seems unwilling, not viewing it as part of their charter from what I can tell. Lack of proper funding would certainly be a problem since the radicals are already spoken for and most serious minded folk interested in the phenomenon would likely be afraid to associate themselves with an as yet unproven organization fearing their trust would ultimately be misplaced. Worse still, there seems to be very little mutual trust and respect among peers even within serious Ufology. Without such trust and respect it will be impossible for any collaboration to build the reputation required to attract more mainstream support.

Getting funding from a wealthy (probably eccentric) donar seems to be a perilous course as well considering what happened to NIDS over time. Creating a new and improved APRO or NICAP (which seems to be required) will be a very hard nut to crack for anyone willing to take on the task. CUFOS could perhaps do it but PR and mass communication doesn't seem to really be something they're interested in.

Paul Kimball said...

Will:

I've said ti before, and I'll say it again - there either needs to be an umbrella organisation of all the lesser groups (CUFOS, FUFOR, even MUFON), or a totally new group devoted to the serious study of the subject, and to finding common ground with the scientific community (including SETI), that would be comprised primarily of non-ufologists (as they currently exist).

I'm not holding my breath on either option, alas.

Paul

Kyle said...

Guys -

Perhaps another method to achieve the same goal?

UFOreflections.blogspot.com

Best,

Kyle

Aion said...

Pæns, Pains, Peons, Mavens, and Mævens... My mind shall now go quietly explode...