Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Heflin Saga

There's been a lot of talk over at UFO Updates lately about the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) UFO photos taken by Rex Heflin four decades ago.

A re-examination of any evidence can be a useful exercise, particularly when there is newer, better, more advanced equipment which may be able to shed further light on the evidence - in this case, the Heflin photos. Often having a fresh set of "eyes" look at things can also help.

The problem is that the only useful exercise - re-examining the actual photos themselves, or top notch copies of them - is not in the cards at the moment, because the photos are held by researcher Ann Druffel, who refuses to let anyone look at them right now because she and some colleagues are in the midst of re-examining themselves.

As Druffel pointed out in a post to UFO Updates today, this is not as unreasonable as it sounds, as she and her team have a right to finish their work and publish first (a time-honoured tradition in science, by the way). Besides, it's not like we're talking about a cure for cancer here. The world will not come to a crashing end if folks have to wait a while to take a look at the Heflin photos and conduct their own independent analysis. Much of the carping about Druffel from some quarters frankly sounds pretty petty - patience, folks, is a virtue.

On the other hand, Druffel's statement that the originals, once her team is finished their work, will "be available to be viewed at my home" is not on, either. She wrote that she "promised Rex Heflin that I would preserve them for perpetuity for the use of the UFO community, so I could not let them out of my own archives, although they will be available for study, as Bob Wood says, under controlled conditions." Controlled conditions? As defined by whom? Druffel? That's hardly a recipe for an independent inquiry by someone else.

If she wants the photos preserved, then the proper thing is to turn them over to an independent institution upon the completion of her team's research, preferably one easily accessible to the public, like a university library, or perhaps the national archives. I'm sure there are libraries out there that would be happy to have the photos, could care for them better, and more securely, than Druffel - and would ensure that any researcher could have access to them without having to visit Druffel at her home, or obtain her permission.

Druffel has always struck me as a reasonable, fair-minded sort of person. Hopefully she'll do the right thing with the photos when her team is finished, and place them in the public domain.

In the meantime, researchers can speculate and hypothesize as much as they want. No harm there. With respect, however, I would suggest that anonymous posts and messages purporting to know the truth, or a portion of the truth, and attempts to recreate the photos, are of no evidential value. As Dick Hall and Martin Shough have noted, anonymous "testimony" is basically worthless in this case. So too are the attempts to re-create the photos, which are similarly of little evidential value.

At the end of the day, the question is not whether the Heflin photos could have been faked (I haven't heard anyone suggest that they could not have been faked), but rather whether they were faked. To answer that question, only an examination of the actual photos (or proper copies), and Rex Heflin's credibility, are relevant. The rest is sound and fury, signifying, more or less, nothing.

Paul Kimball

12 comments:

AJ Gulyas said...

The UFO collection at the Ohio State University library would be a great place for these photos, imo. I don't know Ann Drufel personally, but I somehow doubt that her house is kept at the very finicky environmental requirements to preserve old photos.

I did an internship at an archive once, and one of my jobs was to catalog and sort photos, most of which weren't as old as the Heflin pics. Special envelopes, cotton gloves, the works. That's waht the photos need, and they need to be accessible to any interested parties. A university archive would be perfect, espcially one like OSU.

Mac said...

Similarly, the point of science isn't to arrive at the simplest answer (Occam's Razor), but to arrive at the *correct* answer.

Paul Kimball said...

A.J.

Exactly so. Far too many UFO photos, materials, etc. are currently stored in someone's basement, or filing cabinets somewhere by some organization, instead of where they belong - in a publically accessible, independent library.

Mac:

True enough, although sometimes the simplest explanation is the correct one.

Paul

The Odd Emperor said...

In these days of excellent digital reproduction the fact that one cannot do high quality scans of those photos and publish them on the Internet is telling all by itself. This is the age of distributive research, there are plenty of photo analysis types out there who would gladly look those over and render an opinion. I’d be overjoyed to host the dang things if someone’s short of space (I have plenty.)

Secrecy is certainly Druffel's prerogative but there can only be one reason for it. That reason is not to further research into UFOs

Paul Kimball said...

Odd:

There's no secrecy here - just a desire to complete their research and publish it prior to letting others have a crack at it. That's a time-honoured tradition in any academic study. Druffel shouldn't be pilloried for it, or have it implied that she's trying to cover things up. Note as well that this forthcoming research is a follow-up (more of an addendum) to work they did a few years ago, and published.

It amazes me how quickly some folks have been to jump all over Druffel et al for simply doing what any author or researcher does when they have unique data - conduct their own research first, publish, and then let others have a go.

If this is the "new" ufology, it desperately needs to grow up, and get a grip, because it sounds a lot like whinging children saying, "me, me, me - let me try!!!!"

Now, once Druffel et al are done, I would expect them to turn the photos over to a library or some other institution, as I stated in the post. If they fail to do so at that point, then, and only then, are they open to the kind of criticism that is being sent their way now.

Paul

The Odd Emperor said...

Point taken;

What I was commenting on was-- “Druffel's statement that the originals, once her team is finished their work, will "be available to be viewed at my home"

That seems so very… 1950s to me. ; )

If this is the "new" ufology, it desperately needs to grow up, and get a grip, because it sounds a lot like whinging children saying, "me, me, me - let me try!!!!"

Well I must disagree on one point, it’s not the new UFOlogy. It seems to be the status quo of UFOlogy--for some people anyway. A time honored tradition by folks who don’t seem to understand how research is conducted, or don’t care.

Until and unless the “New UFOlogy” wakes up and realizes how little its accomplishing by hollering and hand waving it won’t progress.

Paul Kimball said...

Odd:

You wrote:

"Until and unless the “New UFOlogy” wakes up and realizes how little its accomplishing by hollering and hand waving it won’t progress."

I concur, with that caveat that this applies to all sides. Take Druffel, for example: which approach is more productive - to publicly castigate her for her research, and imply that she's dishonest, or to respect her research, wait for her to finish, and then encourage her to turn the photos over to a library or some other independent institution where they can be properly preserved?

That's an easy one, as far as I'm concerned.

Paul

Martin Shough said...

I agree with Paul's own take on the matter. They're entitled to their own materials. I'm told by Bob Wood that the recent discussions have hastened the likely release date, so that's something. I'd only add that Ann Druffel seems to have done quite conscientious archiving with the McDonald papers and without doubt she treasures the Heflin photos. She takes seriously a personal promise she made to Heflin to preserve them. I wouldn't be surprised if she takes more care of them than you might think. I doubt they are kicking around on some dusty shelf.

Paul Kimball said...

Martin:

I have no doubt that Ann takes care of the photos as best she can, but they belong in an archive, or a library, not in a private collection where the person who has them can restrict access as she sees fit, with no oversight, and no objectivity.

Again, however, she and her team certainly have every right to finish their work, at which point hopefully she can be prevailed upon to turn them over, perhaps as part of the "Ann Druffel" collection at some institution - which would be a nice legacy for her! :-)

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

Martin:

P.S. - Welcome to Blogger! :-)

Paul

Martin Shough said...

Well you think that they don't _yet_ belong in a public archive, whilst work proceeds. This is what I said I agree with. In the meantime - maybe a matter of a few months - I don't think we need to worry too much that they'll come to harm.

Paul Kimball said...

Martin:

I suspect that you're 100% right about that... unless some NORAD guys come by and convince Ann to give the photos to them first! :-)

Paul