Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ufological Cause and The Condon Effect

I've talked about what I call the "Condon Effect" before:

Here's a good example of it in action, from 1969. Note the headline: "Don't study UFOs, Study the Believers".

Of course, what you don't read in the Condon Report is that he ignored a number of good cases which remain unexplained to this day - like the 1957 RB47 case.

Furthermore, even after Condon abandoned his intellectual integrity and scientific objectivity and proclaimed that there was nothing of interest to science about the UFO phenomenon, and that "studying the believers" was the way to go, strange sightings continued to be of interest to the highest levels of the US government, such as the 1976 Tehran case.

As I wrote in 2008, in a post I called The Hypocrisy of Edward Condon:

There is so much that is wrong with the University of Colorado Project for the Scientific Study of UFOs, aka The Condon Report, and in particular Dr. Edward Condon's conclusions, that it is hard to pick the single most egregious example. However, if I had to choose, it might be this passage from Condon's conclusion:

The subject of UFOs has been widely misrepresented to the public by a small number of individuals who have given sensationalized presentations in writings and public lectures. So far as we can judge, not many people have been misled by such irresponsible behavior, but whatever effect there has been has been bad.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to write this paragraph, lambasting civilian UFO researchers, when you consider the ones that came just before and after it:


It has been contended that the subject has been shrouded in official secrecy. We conclude otherwise. We have no evidence of secrecy concerning UFO reports. What has been miscalled secrecy has been no more than an intelligent policy of delay in releasing data so that the public does not become confused by premature publication of incomplete studies of reports.

No evidence of official secrecy about UFOs (which is different than saying there had been a massive coverup of something like a crashed flying saucer)? I'm no conspiracy theorist, but even I recognize that this statement is absurd on its face, given that there was plenty of evidence that the subject had been subjected to official secrecy. I'm not talking about bogus materials like MJ-12 (which, if it had been real, would have been in place at the time Condon was writing), but rather real secrecy, like the Robertson Panel (which was specifically referenced in the Condon Report), or even the cover-up of the Roswell Incident, which is undoubted, whether you buy the alien spacecraft explanation, Project Mogul, or something else - whatever it was, it was not a "weather balloon".

So, no official secrecy, and the government is perfectly clean - rather, it's the civilian UFO researchers, authors, lecturers, and so forth, who are the problem according to Condon. What to do about that?

A related problem to which we wish to direct public attention is the miseducation in our schools which arises from the fact that many children are being allowed, if not actively encouraged, to devote their science study time to the reading of UFO books and magazine articles of the type referred to in the preceding paragraph. We feel that children are educationally harmed by absorbing unsound and erroneous material as if it were scientifically well founded. Such study is harmful not merely because of the erroneous nature of the material itself, but also because such study retards the development of a critical faculty with regard to scientific evidence, which to some degree ought to be part of the education of every American.

Therefore we strongly recommend that teachers refrain from giving students credit for school work based on their reading of the presently available UFO books and magazine articles. Teachers who find their students strongly motivated in this direction should attempt to channel their interests in the direction of serious study of astronomy and meteorology, and in the direction of critical analysis of arguments for fantastic propositions that are being supported by appeals to fallacious reasoning or false data.

Whatever you might think of the UFO phenomenon, this section should anger any thinking, rational individual (particularly given the erroneous conclusions offered by Condon just before). If these children for whose welfare Condon was seemingly so concerned had read the data in his own study, the hypocrisy of this conclusion / recommendation would have been clear. There was evidence, there was data - in other words, there was something that was worthy of serious scientific study, as opposed to the virtual censorship advocated by Condon. Children would not be educationally harmed by reading about UFO reports; they were educationally harmed by the people who took Condon's conclusion as gospel, and acted on his erroneous and unscientific recommendations.

Whether intentional or not - and reasonable people can debate the motives that underlay the Condon Report - the effect was to achieve exactly what the Robertson Panel recommended in 1953: the debunking of the UFO phenomenon. The ultimate irony is that the Condon Report, when it discussed the Robertson Panel, concluded:

So far as we can determine, no official steps were ever taken to put into effect the training and "debunking" recommendations of the Roberston panel. A private effort was not to be expected, since such a program would not be commercially attractive and would conflict with books that were beginning to make money by exploiting popular confusion about the ETH and alleged government conspiracies.

Of course, who needed a "private" debunking effort, when you could get one funded by the United States Air Force, and directed by one of America's most respected and accomplished scientists, who, in chastising teachers for allowing their students to look into the UFO subject, ignored the data contained in his own report, which showed the subject of the UFO phenomenon to be one of the great unsolved scientific mysteries of the 20th century. Or, as the conclusion to the study of the Trent photos case (1950) found:

This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological and physical appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses. It cannot be said that the evidence positively rules out a fabrication, although there are some physical factors such as the accuracy of certain photometric measures of the original negatives which argue against a fabrication. (p. 407)

This should leave any reasonable observer with only one conclusion: that the real danger to the sound education of not just children, but all Americans, came from Edward Condon, and those in the mainstream who bought into his debunking, hook, line and sinker. Unfortunately, the effect of his unscientific debunking is stronger than ever today - and citizens are that much poorer because of it, whatever the UFO phenomenon may represent.
But what to do about it?

Well, as I wrote in 2005, there is a way to combat the Condon Effect. I called it The Sturrock Gambit, and wrote:
The conclusions in the Condon Report – at least so far as they are generally known to the public, and, more important, government officials, stopped the interest in the UFO phenomenon by government dead in its tracks. It changed the way that the people who matter (i.e. the ones who could fund a serious study of the UFO phenomenon) think about UFOs. It became a subject for historians to study, more from a cultural perspective than anything else. It became fodder for fringe radio and the alternative media, but not the mainstream media, which could make a difference. It became science-fiction, instead of science.

And that’s pretty much where it sits today, as I have noted here before.

Ufologists can’t blame just the Condon Report. Roswellism, i.e the descent into conspiracy theory, and crashed flying saucer stories, and MJ-12, and, above all else, the acceptance by many of the ETH as a proven fact, hasn’t done the cause of the serious study of the phenomenon any good. These things have merely confirmed the impression created by the Condon Report, and have seen ufology reduced to the fringe. Every time the words Cosmic and Watergate are uttered in the same sentence by a ufologist, the people who matter tune out.

I recognise that believers don’t care about “the people who matter,” and I suppose I don’t blame them. They’ve already accepted that the ETH is a fact, so, for them, what’s left to study?

It’s time for the rest of ufology, however, to recognise that further association with this group just makes things worse, not better. It’s time to wish them well, and then head in separate directions, because, no matter how much one might like them as people, the harsh reality is that they’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

That doesn’t mean repudiating the ETH as a hypothesis. It does mean parting ways with those who can’t see that it is still just a hypothesis.


Because there is something “up there” that is worthy of serious study, but the nature of that “something” is still unknown, and that serious study requires the resources that only government can really muster.

Of course, if you think that the government is the real problem, then this approach is obviously not for you. You’re in the first group, mentioned above, and, as I said, I wish you well (you might want to stop reading at this point). Make your appearances on Rense, and Coast to Coast, and at conferences where fellow-travelers chat about the latest crash retrieval, or exopolitics. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing these things – it just isn’t the way forward. It won't accomplish anything.

For everyone else, I can guarantee you that the Condon Effect will remain in place, and those resources will not be forthcoming in any meaningful way, until the “H” is put firmly back in place in the “ETH.”

I’m sorry if that seems harsh, but reality isn’t always pretty. Sometimes you have to make the hard choices in order to make progress. But ask yourself - is ufology interested in pleasing everyone, or in searching for the truth? Is ufology a social club, or a serious scientific and historical study? If it's the latter, then it needs to act like one.

Assuming all of that is done, and ufology sorts out its own house (a BIG assumption, but one can always hope), what then?

How does serious ufology counteract the Condon Effect?

Well, with the ufological flanks secured, and everyone singing from the same hymn book (more or less), ufology should then employ, in a concerted, public way, what I call “The Sturrock Gambit.”

First, you let the decision makers know what the Colorado Project really found, as opposed to what the Condon Report said it found – that there were still a significant percentage of cases investigated that remained unexplained. Don’t talk about dark conspiracies to cover-up the truth – simply present the Condon Report for what it was – the work of a biased man (Condon) who acted in an unscientific-manner, and ultimately screwed the pooch. After all these years, it’s time to present the Colorado Project to the decision-makers, and not the Condon Report, and remind people that they were, for all intents and purposes, two different things. Give them the facts, in other words, and not the personal agenda of Edward Condon.

Then fast-forward to the late 1990s and the Sturrock Panel, a far more recent look by scientists at the UFO phenomenon.

Point out that the Panel was composed of top scientists, led by distinguished physicist Dr. Peter Sturrock (above - his specialties were plasma physics, astrophysics, and solar physics). Include their bios.

Don’t try and sugar-coat the Panel’s conclusions. Decision-makers, or their aides, at least, can read - and they will.

Give it to them straight.

Tell them the following:

The panel found that, despite the fact that the specific cases presented to it by UFO investigators did not provide “convincing evidence pointing to unknown physical processes or to the involvement of extraterrestrial intelligence,” nevertheless, it would be “valuable to carefully study UFO reports since, whenever there are unexplained observations, there is the possibility that scientists will learn something new by studying these observations.”

To be credible, stated the panel, such evaluations must take place with a spirit of objectivity and a willingness to evaluate rival hypotheses. The best prospect for achieving a meaningful evaluation of relevant hypotheses, the Panel concluded, “is likely to come from the examination of physical evidence.”

The Panel then specifically addressed the Condon Report from 1969:

The chances of a significant advance are considered greater now than at the time of the Colorado project that led to the Condon Report thirty years ago, because of advances in scientific knowledge and technical capabilities, and in view of the example of a modest but effective UFO research project provided by the French space agency CNES.

The Panel concluded that:

1. The UFO problem is not a simple one, and it is unlikely that there is any simple universal answer;

2. Whenever there are unexplained observations, there is the possibility that scientists will learn something new by studying those observations;

3. Studies should concentrate on cases which include as much independent physical evidence as possible and strong witness testimony;

4. Some form of formal regular contact between the UFO community and physical scientists could be productive; and

5. It is desirable that there be institutional support for research in this area.

Throw in a copy of Dick Hall’s The UFO Evidence, Vol. I and II. Reference the Project Blue Book Archive, for those decision-makers who are Internet savvy ( Mention RB-47 and Minot AFB. In Canada, try the 1996 Yukon case. In Europe, the 1990 Belgium multiple witness, multiple radar, F16s-scrambled case. Reference national UFO studies that show the phenomenon is alive and well (to say the least). Cite polls that show people (i.e. constituents) think the UFO phenomenon is worthy of serious study (different than saying that they believe that there is ET life somewhere out there). Work at a grassroots level, not for “disclosure” (which is anti-government, in that it assumes the government is lying), but for government-funded scientific study of the phenomenon. Get a petition started in each constituency calling for serious scientific study of the phenomenon. 100 signatures in each riding will create an impression with the M.P., and force him to at least take a look at the subject, and the materials you send him or her. Believe me - an M.P. might ignore 1 constituent; they will not ignore 100, or more.

Compile a list of the fifty best unexplained cases that meet the criteria outlined in point #3, above, by the Sturrock Panel. Prepare a synopsis of each case.

All of this, and more, can be done - but it's important to have all the ducks in a row.

Then, when you have their attention (and you will get someone’s attention), prepare a budget for a five year scientific study to boldly go where science has not gone before (Condon doesn’t count, and the Sturrock Panel was only a start). Keep the budget reasonable – a few million dollars, spread over those five years, would be a good start.

And always remember that once a government program is in place, it is very difficult to get rid of – especially if it actually shows some results, and doesn’t go off the rails (i.e. exceed its mandate)!

And then make your case.

This will, I know, be a hard pill for many in ufology to swallow.

But Roswellism – i.e. the “everything-is-a-conspiracy, ET-is-here” approach - has been dominant for the past twenty plus years, and has achieved nothing of substance.

It is has been a failure, because it is based on a flawed, unproved set of assumptions, masquerading as facts.

It is unscientific.

It is a-historical.

The Sturrock Gambit is the way forward.

It is the Theory of Evolution to Roswellism’s Intelligent Design.

And if it isn’t done, then someone else will be writing in ten years about the “Condon Effect” – and offering the same advice I just have, even as they mutter under their breath “ca plus ca change, ca plus ca meme chose.”
As I look back on what I wrote five years ago, it's the last sentence that stands out the most. As I watch many within so-called serious UFO research blindly defend the "methodology" of the "alien abduction cult" (er... researchers), and fail to disassociate themselves completely from their discredited work, I can't help but think that maybe, in a way, Condon got it right.

After all, UFOs come and go. Who knows what they are - maybe we'll never know, for sure. But the true believers? They'll always be with us. Condon pegged it.

But then again, the true believers have pegged it about Condon as well. His report wasn't about the truth. It was a whitewash. And like the true believers he derided, Condon's heirs remain with us today, the true disbelievers.

Believers and disbelievers.

Yin and yang.

Black and white.

A Manichean couple dancing to the same old tune, played by the same old orchestra, with instruments out of tune both to the times we live in, and the reality of the situation.

They deserve each other.

The truth lies somewhere in between... and perhaps far beyond, if we care to look for it with open minds and honest effort.

Paul Kimball

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