Sunday, May 08, 2005

Science in Default

Anyone serious about the UFO phenomenon needs to read Science in Default: 22 Years of Inadequate UFO Investigations, by the late Dr. James E. McDonald, which was presented at the Symposium on UFOs, 134th Meeting, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston, Dec, 27, 1969.

A copy can be accessed online at:

The presentation of this paper was a seminal moment in the history of the search for the truth about the UFO phenomenon. It was a damning indictment of the failure of the scientific community to take the study of the UFO phenomenon seriously. McDonald wrote:

"No scientifically adequate investigation of the UFO problem has been carried out during the entire 22 years that have now passed since the first extensive wave of sightings of unidentified aerial objects in the summer of 1947. Despite continued public interest, and despite frequent expressions of public concern, only quite superficial examinations of the steadily growing body of unexplained UFO reports from credible witnesses have been conducted in this country or abroad. The latter point is highly relevant, since all evidence now points to the fact that UFO sightings exhibit similar characteristics throughout the world.

Charging inadequacy of all past UFO investigations, I speak not only from a background of close study of the past investigations, but also from a background of three years of rather detailed personal research, involving interviews with over five hundred witnesses in selected UFO cases, chiefly in the U. S. In my opinion, the UFO problem, far from being the nonsense problem that it has often been labeled by many scientists, constitutes a problem of extraordinary scientific interest.

The grave difficulty with essentially all past UFO studies has been that they were either devoid of any substantial scientific content, or else have lost their way amidst the relatively large noise-content that tends to obscure the real signal in the UFO reports. The presence of a percentually large number of reports of misidentified natural or technological phenomena (planets, meteors, and aircraft, above all) is not surprising, given all the circumstances surrounding the UFO problem. Yet such understandable and usually easily recognized instances of misidentification have all too often been seized upon as a sufficient explanation for all UFO reports, while the residue of far more significant reports (numbering now of order one thousand) are ignored. I believe science is in default for having failed to mount any truly adequate studies of this problem, a problem that has aroused such strong and widespread public concern during the past two decades. Unfortunately, the present climate of thinking, above all since release of the latest of a long series of inadequate studies, namely, that conducted under the direction of Dr. E. U. Condon at the University of Colorado, will make it very difficult to secure any new and more thorough investigations, yet my own examination of the problem forces me to call for just such new studies. I am enough of a realist to sense that, unless the present AAAS UFO Symposium succeeds in making the scientific community aware of the seriousness of the UFO problem, little immediate response to any call for new investigation is likely to appear.

In fact, the over-all public and scientific response to the UFO phenomena is itself a matter of substantial scientific interest, above all in its social-psychological aspects. Prior to my own investigations, I would never have imagined the wide spread reluctance to report an unusual and seemingly inexplicable event, yet that reluctance, and the attendant reluctance of scientists to exhibit serious interest in the phenomena in question, are quite general. One regrettable result is the fact that the most credible of UFO witnesses are often those most reluctant to come forward with a report of the event they have witnessed. A second regrettable result is that only a very small number of scientists have taken the time and trouble to search out the nearly puzzling reports that tend to be diluted out by the much larger number of trivial and non-significant UFO reports. The net result is that there still exists no general scientific recognition of the scope and nature of the UFO problem."

Sadly, his words are just as relevant today - 36 years later.

Paul Kimball


RRRGroup said...

The problem, Paul, is that the words come from a dead man.

No one pays attention to the dead, no matter how brilliant.

Even had Saga left the same comments or Einstein, they'd be disregarded by the public, media, and, of course, most of the UFO community, which is in a state of anomie.

What is needed is a stentorian voice from a prominent, living person. But who could that be?

The giants are long gone...

Rich Reynolds

Paul Kimball said...


Sorry, but you're just dead wrong (pun intended) - people pay attention to the dead all the time; that's why Shakespeare is still going strong, classical music still has an audience, and the Bible is still read & followed by millions. Further, military leaders pay a great deal of attention to the great leaders and thinkers of the past, as do the smarter politicians. Ditto scientists, who build their work on the foundations laid by others. Etc. etc.

As for a prominent living person, perhaps they're already out there. Who knows? However, if ufology wants to be taken seriously, it will have to figure out how to engage scientists, both academics and professionals, as well as others, such as historians, in the way that McDonald tried to. I suspect, given all that has happened in society since 1969, they will find a more receptive audience - if they hold to a reasonable (and reasoned) position.


Anonymous said...

Ummm, what about the french studies Vallee refers to so many times? Or are we only counting english scientific UFO studies? ;)

Paul Kimball said...


An excellent point.

A good, short summary of the COMETA study can be found at:

Gildas Bordais' take on French studies can be found at: