Monday, May 01, 2006

UFO Reflections

After a hiatus of several months, Kyle King has returned to blogging at UFO Reflections, which is always well worth a read.

His latest post, "Random Notes", contains some interesting observations. They're not exactly original - different people have raised them over the years - but they should be the subject of more discussion within ufology than they heretofore have been.

A couple of excerpts:

Kyle: "Many UFO researchers seem to feel that instrumented field data-gathering is a waste of time or that it could never get funding or earn legitimacy. My question to them is, "Compared to what...the CURRENT methods of UFOlogy?". I cannot understand the objection to attempting to gather more than anecdotal or archival data."

I'm not sure there's an objection, at least not in theory, but the problem comes in terms of putting that theory into practice. To do so would require a major shift in how ufologists operate, and it would require money. So long as the "true believers" in the ETH dominate the ufological discussion, the latter will be hard to come by. In terms of the methodological shift, most ufologists, espcially those on the less-than-sunny-side of 50, would be lost in a ufology that relied more on state-of-the-art technology than on written and oral history. It took a long time - and some hard lessons - to persuade admirals of the importance of air power in modern warfare, because change is always uncomfortable, especially when the status quo favours you. Many long-time ufologists are no different than those admirals of the 1920s and 1930s.

Don't get me wrong - archival data is important, and so, to varying degrees, are witness accounts - but they aren't the whole story, and they might not be the best way to get at the truth about the UFO phenomenon in the modern world.

Kyle: "SETI garners more legitimate press, and far more scientific acknowledgement than UFOlogy ever has, and yet they have not one single coherent signal to show for it. Perhaps the reliance on anecdotal and photographic evidence actually hinders the field."

Ufologists like to take shots at SETI - the "Silly Effort to Investigate" as Stan Friedman calls it at his lectures, usually to at least some chuckles. But Kyle is right - from an institutional perspective, SETI has accomplished far more in a shorter time period than ufology has accomplished in its entire history. It's gotten the money, the facilities, and the scientific respectability (at least more than ufology has). Ufology has gotten... what, exactly? A diminishing public support base (ask any conference organizer), a few small grants here and there, a fair number of books that not many people read (as Nick Redfern has reminded me more than once), and some radio and television appearances. SETI might be a "silly effort to investigate" in terms of science, but it's a "successful effort to investigate" when compared to ufology in every meaningful measure - including results, as neither SETI nor ufology have come up with a definitive answer.

In general (there are always exceptions that prove the rule), ufology has ceased to be a scientific inquiry into the UFO phenomenon of the kind championed by Dr. James McDonald and Dr. J. Allen Hynek decades ago. As currently "practiced", ufology is the equivalent of watching "Happy Days" re-runs on TV Land, all the while grumbling about the "crap" that's being made today, and how modern producers and directors don't have a clue, without ever having really seen any of the new stuff, or even understanding it.

If ufology is to survive, it needs to move into the 21st century. It needs to interest and engage bright young people, and recognize that the current experts can probably learn at least as much from them as they can from the experts.

It's time to move beyond the "Happy Days" re-runs and the comfortable nostalgia. It's time to move beyond the ideological certainties that have built up over the years into a dogma - a dogma that turns young people off. It's time to build on the foundation that has been laid, as opposed to living in it.

In other words, it's time to embrace the future, and become "challengers of the unknown" once again, as opposed to "defenders of the faith".

Paul Kimball


Kyle said...

A fond hat tip Paul -

Thanks for expanding on my thesis...and for further acknowledging the role that the old case, anecdotal and eyewitness evidence play...and will continue to the field for the foreseeable future.

You're right in that these ideas are not original, as well. But in UFOlogy unlike SETI, there is an occasional "signal" that breaks through the "noise", and my post reflected my hope that this is such a signal, and that it deserves to be repeated.

Like you, I think there IS a 21st century's just a little late to the party. Fashionable perhaps, but long overdue in my view. And the "20th century" researchers shouldn't feel the need to leave when it arrives. :)

Thanks again,


Paul Kimball said...


Weird - just as I sent an e-mail to you, the in-box clicked with notification of your comment to the blog.