Thursday, March 23, 2006

Yoda to UFO Iconoclast(s): Try Not. Do!

The UFO Iconoclast(s), in their most recent posting, "Beyond the Fringe", write:

"...So what should be done about UFOs? We say that nothing should be done, now. The enigmatic phenomenon hasn’t provided anything of value, scientifically or otherwise, despite the contention by some ufologists to the contrary. The proof is in the flying saucer pudding as it were. Scientific analyses are not forthcoming, and no one who claims to be ufologist (Maccabee et al.) has the bona fides or credentials to matter to those who are truly professional. And some operate outside their area of expertise, confusing the public and real scientists by their peripheral expertise (Rudiak). Semi-famous UFO mythologist, Jacques Vallee, is a computer scientist, yet even his pronouncements are derided by the overall scientific community. While the evidence is overwhelming that UFOs are real (but unidentified by the sobriquet itself), no one in official circles is examining the phenomenon – overtly. The military and covert agencies (the CIA, NSA, Navy intelligence, et cetera) have studied and continue to study sightings and related UFO events, producing nothing of value as far as society is concerned. Even military applications, derived from various UFO projects over the years, seem to be deficient when it comes to aircraft design and outer space exploration. (The Stealth bomber and other aircraft, including the mysterious triangular craft reported rather abundantly for several years, have not performed as UFOs or, rather, “flying saucers” have been seen and reported to do.) The epithet of “UFO believer” is not going away. And scientists, real scientists, are not going to pursue the phenomenon any time soon, probably never. So, what to do? We suggest, and have suggested elsewhere, that UFOs must be seen in the context of their inherent importance, or lack thereof, and be studied quietly by ufologists, who are not about to gainsay their existence but should stop trying to convince an impassive public and irresolute governments of the UFO significance. UFOs are not significant.They have not ever been, and will never be, no matter how much UFO diehards would wish it to be otherwise."

I can see the Iconoclast(s) now, hanging out with Galileo, or Newton, and saying, "aw, c'mon guys, give it up."

Fortunately, someone like Dick Hall is around to counter this kind of lazy defeatism.

In an excellent recent article at SkyControl, Hall writes:

"Review of Scientific Objections

1. Only naive, poorly trained observers report UFOs.

Reply: People from all walks of life and all educational levels, and all occupational categories, have reported UFOs, including scientists, engineers, professional pilots, university professors, and clergymen.

2. People see UFOs because they are looking for "salvation" from our earthly problems.

Reply: The fear, puzzlement, and deep concern that time after time is manifested by witnesses contradicts the notion that people somehow see "salvation" in UFOs.

3. The notion that such a gigantic event as contact with alien beings could be kept secret is absurd.

Reply: Not if the people who have significant information about UFOs are just as puzzled and confused as everyone else, don’t know what it all means, and are more inclined to avoid the subject as much as possible and "hope it will go away" than to confess that they don’t have any answers.

4. UFOs, if they exist, obviously must be some natural phenomenon.

Reply: Those who use this argument clearly are unaware of the nature and scope of UFO data and have bought into the "vague lights" stereotype. Other natural phenomena that impact human society in a lesser fashion than UFOs receive far more funding for scientific study. This ill-considered argument trivializes the very large body of data that its proponents are either unaware of or ignoring.

5. The occurrence of a UFO sighting is not predictable, the events are not repeatable, therefore UFOs can’t be studied.

Reply: UFOs are at least as repeatable and predictable as automobile accidents, tornadoes, hurricanes, and meteorites, and can be studied by some of the same scientific approaches that are applied to these events.

6. There is nothing of any substance to investigate.

Reply: Read this paper, study the cited literature. What Science Could Do

Aside from the potentially fertile fields of study that UFOs offer to scholars in sociology, history, psychology, history and sociology of science, anthropology, and political science, the ways that the physical and biological sciences COULD meaningfully study these reports is limited only by two lacks: lack of imagination and lack of funding. The following suggestions merely scratch the surface:

1. Have multidisciplinary teams on standby to go to the scene of a close encounter UFO sighting with reported physical or physiological evidence, systematically gather data, and conduct all appropriate laboratory analyses. Apply forensic science investigative techniques very much like those used at an accident site or crime scene. In the case of physiological effects on witnesses, conduct appropriate medical tests. For vehicles that have experienced E-M effects, make notes on the age and condition of the engine, document the ignition system and lights, and check vehicle for magnetic signature.

2. Develop an instrumentation package to transport quickly to areas where UFO sightings persist for a period of time (there are numerous precedents for this). Include sophisticated tracking cameras and special films, diffraction gratings or other light spectrum analyzers, broad-spectrum electromagnetic energy detectors, and tape recorders with sensitive directional microphones for recording sound.

3. Compile a computer data base of all cases that meet a certain minimum set of standards geared toward potential evidential value. Conduct statistical analyses of geophysical associations. Systematically study the data relevant to propulsion clues and UFO physics.

4. Compile historical evidence on radar-visual UFO sightings, encourage current reporting of radar-visual cases to a central agency, and analyze these cases in terms of known radar imagery and the particular radar set capabilities.

5. Compile historical catalogues of all known physical and physiological evidence cases and systematically acquire all extant analysis reports. Encourage current reporting of similar cases to a central agency. This would include E-M effects on vehicles and effects on humans and animals, as well as physical trace evidence.

6. Encourage reputable witnesses who are willing to swear an affidavit about their still photographs or motion picture/videotape films, use a selective process to determine which films potentially have probative value, and submit the selected films to expert photoanalysis.

7. Establish a refereed scientific journal that will entertain articles reporting on case investigations, physical and physiological evidence, and analysis reports and promote thorough peer review of all scientific studies.

Why Study UFOs?

The benefits to society of mounting a true scientific study of UFO reports are numerous. There should be no stigma attached to scientists (or science) for conducting an open-minded investigation of an extremely widely reported phenomenon that is of deep concern to so many people. In fact, UFO data could be used to teach proper scientific methods when dealing with mysterious or borderline events. This approach has been suggested by a team of scientists, engineers, and science teachers. (Christensen et al., 1989)

In countless cases, human beings have been badly frightened by sudden menacing close encounters with brilliantly luminous, craft-like objects and their lives have been disrupted. Frequently medical injuries have resulted to the witnesses, apparently due to the energy fields involved. (Niemtzow, 1980) While trying to alert society to the phenomenon, they have been further shocked by receiving ridicule rather than respectful attention.

Human reactions to the UFO phenomenon also must be understood in the context of growing skepticism (sometimes bordering on paranoia) about Government secrecy and concealment of important information from the public in an allegedly democratic society. A pervasive and largely unnecessary practice of arbitrary secrecy has proliferated since World War II. This has tended to stifle open discussion of many other potentially serious issues or problems (e.g., secret medical experiments on human beings; workers unknowingly exposed to dangerous levels of radioactive substances or cancer-causing chemicals).

Similarly, science and the news media are increasingly viewed with suspicion when they, in effect, ridicule rather than investigate. A program to confront UFO reports head-on and open up the subject to a fair-minded investigation could help to clear the air and to establish from the ground up (not necessarily buying into preconceived viewpoints) whether the evidence is trivial or nontrivial. An open-minded, objective program that treats UFO reports seriously might also help to restore some trust and faith in our major institutions.

Scientific funding, ultimately, comes from the public. Why not determine in a fair and even-handed way whether the public is willing to support a serious, objective investigation? Perhaps a good place to start would be a national poll that, properly designed, could work around the crushing effects of ridicule and find out what people would like to see done about UFO reports.

UFOs as craft–as someone else’s technology–is one important hypothesis that could be tested. (In my estimation, it is the most likely hypothesis to be proven true.) But alternative hypotheses could be tested as well, so that the study would consider all possibilities. The scientific initiatives outlined above surely would discover a presently unrecognized natural phenomenon if that is the answer.

Having observed and/or participated in past attempts at scientific study of UFOs, however, I would caution that systematic and thorough data gathering (current and historical) necessarily must be the first and foremost element in any study with pretensions for being "scientific." Very little real science has been done on UFOs in 50 years. Instead, brief and superficial reviews and a lot of ill-informed and biased guesswork has been presented as "science."

Beware, particularly, of all arguments that follow the form of "UFOs can’t be real because…." Many precedents in the history of science should give us pause about that type of reasoning."

As we can see from the excerpts highlighted above, there are two ways to deal with the UFO phenomenon.

The first is to sit on the sidelines, lobbing potshots at those who would take the phenomenon seriously, and who encourage others to do so as well. Ridicule those interested in the serious study of UFOs as "hobbyists", and denigrate their work.

That would be the modus operandi of the so-called UFO Iconoclast(s).

The second is to do what people with drive, ideas, and the intellectual capacity to walk and chew gum at the same time do - offer critiques of the naysayers, and then offer real-world solutions for how the UFO phenomenon could be studied.

That would be Richard Hall (or any one of a number of other thoughtful researchers and commentators).

It is the difference between being a doer (and perhaps even a bit of a dreamer, as the best thinkers have always been), and a do-nothing.

It is the difference between being Yoda ("No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try.") and some guy who only heard the first part of Yoda's statement ("No. Try not.").

In pop music terms, it is the difference between being Paul McCartney on the one hand, and the guy with no musical talent or ambition on the other, but who nonetheless feels obliged (and somehow entitled) to whine about McCartney writing too many "silly love songs".

And so forth.

Guess which method I prefer?

Paul Kimball


Anonymous said...

The poster on _my_ wall does NOT say "I want to believe"; belief has nothing to do with proof to the contrary.

My poster says "I want the truth!" with a smaller font subtext of " matter what it is..." and also does not feature a Billy M. model badly photographed.

My poster shows an evolving, changing, multi-shape shifting, orangish--yellowish--goldish sphere of light, about 15 to 20 feet across, with a long, evanescent, lighted tail emanating from it into the sky.

My poster is neither benign nor malign, it is simply observant and playing around with us on a subtle, sociological, cultural, and evolutionary kinda way. Wheeee!!!

The Odd Emperor said...

There is no question which method you prefer Mr. Kimball. Being open minded is always preferable to the closed minded cynical “investigation” endorsed by some people (very few thankfully.) But, I would say that you are more riding the wave of controversy and making a living doing so, nothing wrong with that, any student of journalism would tell you so.

Over at The UFO Iconoclast(s), MKJ(?) wrote;

"A common ad hominem goes like this: He (she) is UFO believer."

Wow! That made me feel uncomfortable for (just) a moment. I’ve called a number of people “believers” over the years. But I never once felt this was ad hominem, more or a statement of what I perceived as their demeanor while approaching a subject. I don’t think that’s ad hominem at all.

MKJ(?) wrote;
"UFOs are not significant.

They have not ever been, and will never be, no matter how much UFO diehards would wish it to be otherwise."

Well I really disagree with that. UFOs are significant to the people they are significant to. They may not be overtly significant to day to day things like the price of oil but, the very idea impacts the gestalt of society in subtle but profound ways.

Regarding myself (and to the half dozen or so people out there who hang on every word I utter.) I don’t count myself as an iconoclast, a cynic or a believer. I’m pretty middle of the road regarding UFOs et-al believe it or not. I believe (that word again) it’s OK to debate complex and ambiguous subjects (like religion, UFOs, UFOs and religion or the religion of UFO belief.) As a matter of fact I think it’s healthy and not at all disrespectful.

For example the reaction of Isaac Hayes to the last couple of episodes of South Park . It’s OK to bash religion or any other subject, just not MY religion. You have no idea how often that attitude crops up in the UFO field.
Talk about your cognitively dissonant!

Anonymous said...

You seem angry about what UFOgroup wrote at The UFO Iconoclast(s). Do you think it's possible they didn't have you in mind? What difference does their opinion make anyway?

The Odd Emperor said...

Haruph! Of course they had me in mind! Is it all not about me? ; )

Well, only in the minds of a couple of people, the ones without lives who hang on every word I utter (and they know full well who they are. Shiver at the mighty sound of my voice oh loathsome woo!” )

Anyway, I may seem angry to you I’m not really. More amused than anything (and to tell you the truth, I haven’t read most of their stuff yet.)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I meant Paul Kimball. :)

Paul Kimball said...


The problem with the UFO Iconoclast(s) is the intellectual bankruptcy of their little posts, and the repetiveness - haven't we heard this all from them before? I used to enjoy reading their stuff, a year ago, when they actually had something useful to offer other than just mindless criticism of people who happen to find a particular subject interesting, and, in some cases, important.

The more pertinent question is one you should ask them - are they perhaps piqued that they left the UFO field, and no-one seemed to care?

Makes you wonder who is really important, and who just wants to be important.


The Odd Emperor said...

I guess I’m hopelessly biased; becoming important in the UFO field (if there is such a thing) seems about as useless an aspiration as I can think of. “Noisy” research in the pages of this or that magazine is not what research is all about. Real research can be boring, tedious and often gives one unexpected or unwanted results.

On the other hand (and there is always an other hand,) intelligent research is the only way knowledge in any field will move forward. Otherwise we may as well sit around and write even more intricate speculations about angels dancing on pinheads, and sell stuff. That method has been tried and tested and it’s been around for thousands of years.

Paul Kimball said...


Absolutely right - REAL research is usually a hard, tedious slog, whether through the paperwork of an archive somewhere, wading through thousands of pages to find the nuggets of gold, or whether in the field. But anything worth doing is worth working hard at.

Take making a documentary, for example. Seems glamorous, I suppose, but it takes lots of good prep research, usually a couple of weeks of shooting, and then weeks, perhaps months, of editing, to make the final 48 minute long (1 hour for TV) product. When I did the Stan Friedman film, we had a shooting ratio of 70:1, which means we had 70 hours of footage for the one hour of program. You have to go back and wade through those 70 hours after you shoot it, over and over again, to get the story (it's kind of like sculpting).

But I digress...


Howard Sux (formerly Anonymous) said...

Yes, it can hurt when someone says that something important to you is worthless. That doesn't mean everyone agrees. Others will understand why that something is important to you.

It also doesn't mean you're worthless. You're intelligent, competent, hard-working. Maybe they didn't have you in mind when they posted.

Anonymous said...

Well my problem is who is decide when some type of unknown phenonmonon will become important. Most of the great discoveries in history were made by people who felt something was important was happening that couldn't be explained by the known sciences. You and I could not hold a candle to them and probably been on the sidelines tell them they it was not "improtant". But I think I would have argued a little less because I know first hand what means to experience the "unimportant".

Paul Kimball said...

Look, whether the study of the UFO phenomenon is "important" or not isn't the point. Frankly, on the global scale of things, I don't think it's all that important (war, hunger, whether the Red Sox win the Series this year - those are all more important). The point, at least for me, is that I have a low tolerance level for people who involve themselves in something simply for the sake of mocking the rest of the people who are involved in it, many of whom presumably do think its more important. That's what the "Iconoclast(s)" do (that's what they did in their previous incarnation as well).

In short, I don't think much of people who, in order to make themselves seem better, or more important, try to accomplish that aim by pulling others down. I was raised to do things differently.

That doesn't mean that you can't criticize a person, his views, or even an entire "field" of study, if you like, so long as that criticism is backed up by the facts (which, of course, may always be interpreted in different ways). But the Iconoclast(s) don't do that. With them, it's just all piss and vinegar, as the saying goes - sound and fury, signifying nothing.

If they really cared, they would have released their Socorro information months ago. Instead, they just keep trotting out the same theories, with no proof, and offering the same tired criticisms, with no foundation. Sad, really.

But then, these are the same guys who postulated that Kenneth Arnold saw a flight of A7 test aircraft and then, when proven wrong, picked up their marbles and went home.


Howard Sux said...

Fair enough. I confess to wondering why, if the Iconoclast(s) find a topic to be without value, they choose to repeat that evaluation over and over instead of simply dropping the topic.

When someone shows their unpleasant streak, I've found I'm best served by spending less time with them and spending more time with people who make me feel good. Maybe you would enjoy reading a blog other than the Iconoclast(s)'s.

Anonymous said...

Paul, you mention the Iconoclast(s) as having been incarnated in another form last year. There are also some other hints contained in your posting about them.

I also reviewed the posts of the Iconoclast(s), and found something rather interesting.

Aren't these the same boneheads who made an appearance in the last year or two as the RRR Group? Isn't this just another iteration of Richard Reynolds and friends nattering nabobs of negativism, to quote the inimitable Spiro Agnew?

I'd swear these are the self-same boys, continuing to vent spleen, although in a slightly more refined manner. What say you?

S-A X.9