Monday, June 26, 2006

The Other Side of... Karl Pflock (Part I)

Back in September, 2001 (just two days before 9/11), I had the opportunity to meet and interview Karl Pflock in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the film Stanton T. Friedman is Real (I also interviewed Kevin Randle for the first time that weekend). The interview with Karl lasted about three hours, of which maybe four or five minutes finally made its way into the film (that's how it goes). Here, in an ongoing series, is the entire interview - first up, Karl offers a bit of background on himself, and then talks about the state of ufology.

Paul Kimball

The Other Side of… Karl Pflock (Part 1)

Q. Name, rank and serial number.

A. I’m Karl Pflock. I’m an author and ufologist. I have been actively involved in and interested in UFOs literally since I was a child. I’ve done other things in my life as well. I was a senior congressional staffer for a number of years with Jack Kemp and another congressman named Ken Kramer. In fact, when I worked for Ken I was the guy who organized the first actual hearings on “Star Wars” – much to the chagrin of the Reagan administration. [laughs] We were supportive, but they didn’t want to come up there that soon. I was an intelligence officer with the CIA before that, back in the ‘60s. I went from Capitol Hill to the Reagan administration as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for operational tests and evaluations, where I had a title that goes even longer than that, and, since 1992, I have been a full-time freelance writer, in all sorts of things, not just ufology, but unfortunately a large chunk of my life over these past nine years has been Roswell.

Q. And you are involved with MUFON in some capacity, right?

A. I am a state section director, as they call it, for MUFON in New Mexico, which means that I have the responsibility for a couple of counties in New Mexico where nothing is happening at the moment, and hasn’t for a while.

Q. Now, you mentioned your work on Roswell as having taken up a large chunk of your life for almost a decade. That work has caused some people to call you a debunker. Perhaps you could talk a bit about your overall views on the UFO subject.

A. I would like to get on the record because I am continually being blackguarded as a debunker, and I’d like to make really clear where I stand on the subject of UFOs.

One of the things, I think, about me that confounds people on both sides, if you will, of the UFO belief divide, is that I am firmly convinced that UFOs are real, but I am a principal critic of the “holy grail” of modern ufology, which is Roswell. My views on UFOs are pretty straightforward – I believe that UFOs are real. That is, that they are “unidentified flying objects”. Some proportion of UFO sightings - that is those sightings which remain, after very careful investigation, still unknown – are examples of observation of craft, and in some instances beings, from another planet. I have a ‘50s-conditioned mind, and so I see them as far more likely to be visitors from an extra-solar planet than from an alternate universe or some of the other favourite ideas of the current age. So, yes, I’m a UFO believer., and a believer that we have, in fact, been visited, but my belief, if you want to call it that, is based on a body of data that we have on hand, and I think that it is the obligation of anyone who takes the subject seriously to think critically about the data, and to pursue the facts, wherever they might go. That’s what I’ve done, for example, with Roswell, much to my own disappointment, and much to the upset of a lot of my colleagues, and others interested in the subject.

Q. This is a good place, obviously, to talk about Roswell. Tell me about your book, your research, your journey, your conclusions, and why people like Kevin Randle and Stan Friedman don’t agree with you.

A. Roswell, of course, has become a case which everyone considers to be the defining case of contemporary ufology, and of course because of the fact that it offers the opportunity, or the prospect, of actual physical evidence, of proof of visitation, everyone is very excited about it, and has been for many years. So was I. That’s how I got into it. When I first took a look at the case, when I first read Kevin Randle’s and Don Schmitt’s book A UFO Crash at Roswell, and I had earlier read The Roswell Incident, which didn’t impress me very much, I thought, “gee, there’s been some very serious work done here that suggest that there’s something more to this incident than a weather balloon.” And so I got involved. I had hoped that my work would supplement, reinforce, help further prove the case that was being made by other researchers. I discovered, unfortunately, that it was quite the opposite. What I discovered was that there was a lot less to Roswell than meets the eye, and that most of the case that makes the Roswell case interesting is not a case at all. It’s a combination of hype, and wishful thinking, and fraudulent testimony, and expectations being self-fulfilled. So what I discovered was that Roswell indeed was a real “incident” – something very real happened, something real was recovered there, there was really a cover-up, but what was being covered up was not the crash and recovery of an alien spacecraft and the bodies of its crew, but rather a highly sensitive, highly classified project of the United States government. I spent a good eight years digging into this case in excruciating detail, and I have laid out in my book Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe, this whole odyssey, if you will, as well as the data and the evidence that backs up my conclusions. These were conclusions that I came to very reluctantly, because I wanted as much as anyone else to be able to say, “wow, here we have a crashed flying saucer, here’s the proof, and now there’s no longer any doubt that all the things that those of us who have been crazy enough to take this seriously for so many years really are true.” But, alas, that’s not the case.

Q. Can you talk a bit about “the will to believe”, what you mean by that, and how it impacts ufology, and Roswell?

A. It’s not by any accident that “the will to believe” is part of the subtitle of my book. What I mean by it is the desire for something to be true affecting one’s judgment and assessment of the facts before you. The poster on the wall in Fox Mulder’s office that says “I Want to Believe” is a representation of what happens to be a very real thing in ufology. People want very much to believe whatever it is that happens to be their interest – alien visitation, abductions, etcetera. Unfortunately what happens is this leads them to ignore facts which are inconvenient, that is, facts which are contrary to the things that they want to believe. Roswell is replete with this, as are so many other things in ufology. Abductions are another example of this. So, we have a real problem, especially since the field is not one which is self-policing in any kind of formal or semi-formal way like other disciplines are. It’s a field more dominated by enthusiasm and fannish-ness, if you will, rather than serious scientific or academic pursuit, like you would find in other fields where you have peer review and so on, where there is a formalized process. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who are serious investigators, that there aren’t people who do really good work, in ufology, because there are, but this is embedded in this greater, larger matrix of belief and sort of pop culture that really causes a serious problem. And the problem is not only the will to believe – it’s also the will not to believe. You have the mirror-image on the so-called sceptic side, the CSICOP-ians, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. [laughs] Whew – a mouthful. [laughs] They start from the premise that “they can’t be, therefore they aren’t.” The true believers start from “they must be, therefore they are.” So, those of us who are slogging through all this, and trying to follow the facts wherever they lead, and sort out the truth involved, are caught between these two extremes, and unfortunately are often defined by them. As a result, it’s very hard to get people who are outside the field, and who have professional expertise and knowledge that could be brought to near in a very effective and constructive way, to get involved, because they don’t want to get caught in that bizarre definition problem either.

Q. What effect does the squabbling and the infighting between ufologists have, and what’s behind it?

A. Coupled with the problem of the true believer versus true unbeliever, you have within those camps, and across those camps, and all the way around, all of the various factions within ufology. You have a continuing problem of clashing egos, and a continual concern to try and build oneself up at the expense of others. The kind of thing that, quite frankly, you always find in areas of interest and study where there isn’t any kind of formalized discipline. You have people defining things themselves based on their particular interests. They have their own desires to be the big frog in the small pond. You get that kind of infighting that goes on, without any sort of real venue for refereeing it all. What happens is that it becomes the focus of interest, this infighting, at the expense of the study of the phenomenon. It’s a continuing problem. Sometimes it’s incredibly amusing, but most often it’s terribly frustrating for those of s who are trying to move forward with some kind of serious investigation of the UFO phenomenon.

Q. Have you experienced any of that yourself, especially with the publishing of your book?

A. The question of in-fighting and character assassination and all of the things that go on in the field is something that I experienced personally more times than I care to remember, and most recently with the publication of my book. I’ve really come under sever attack from some quarters, although I have to say that generally the reception has been very positive, even from the people who disagree with the conclusions that I arrived at, they’ve still had to say, “hey, this is an important contribution because it tells a lot of what we didn’t know, it puts things in context in a way that we didn’t know.” But in general I have been blackguarded by a lot of folks as… [pause]. Here’s the interesting things that makes me more of a bad guy than, say, a Phil Klass, who has always been defined as an infidel anyway. I’m looked at as something of a heretic because I am a “believer” who dares to stand up and say that the holy grail is not made of gold, that Roswell is just pot metal, and maybe barely that. And, so, I have really been attacked for having the gall to do that. Notably, and this has just amazed me, we have The International UFO Reporter, which is the magazine for the Center for UFO Studies, and in the current issue there’s a twelve page “review” by Robert Durant attacking my book and me. I have no problem with people going after me on matters of substance, or raising questions about my interpretation of the facts. That’s a collegial exchange of ideas, and a collegial, constructive “conflict”, of you want to call it that. But when you get into ad hominem attacks, like I was hit with in that particular review, and the kind of stuff that goes on in less formal venues, like on-line at things like UFO Updates, then it’s just a big disappointment, I guess. But I don’t want to make too much about the squabbling within ufology. I think it’s an important question, especially because ufology is a kind of fringe, or proto, science, or para-science, if you want to call it that. It hasn’t moved into even the level of acceptability of such dubious disciplines as sociology, for example. [laughs] So, probably this kind of thing is more harmful because you’re not an established discipline. But the truth is that if you take a look at the history of science, or if you take a look at the history of any established discipline in hard sciences or in the so-called soft sciences, you’ve got the same kind of clashed of personality, the attempts to undercut each other, and so on, that goes on in ufology, but it happens in the context, again, of an established discipline. So it’s moderated. Ufology is continually self-defining, and now with the Internet it’s gotten even crazier.

Q. You and Stan Friedman obviously disagree about Roswell. How has that played out, and how has it affected whatever relationship you have?

A. Stan and I have known each other for a little over nine years. We first met in Washington when he and Don Berliner were there to promote their book Crash at Corona. While we have clashed on issues, and while we have serious disagreements about Roswell, we have almost invariably been collegial about it. I like Stan very much as a person, and he seems to like me. We get along well, and so our disputes have been much more the sort of disputation that you would like to see in a real discipline pursuing the truth. We’ve also cooperated with each other, on Roswell specifically, and on some other things as well, but we have actually pursued some elements of the Roswell story together. We’ve dug out facts that have shown that certain witnesses, like Frankie Rowe for example, were not credible, so we have been able to work together on things where we can cooperate, and we have been able to disagree relatively cordially on most other issues. There have been very few places where we’ve gotten into the real knock-down, drag-out fights that have happened between Stan and other people in the field.

To be continued...

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