Category Archives: Ufology

The Teaching Company — The Great Courses…

I wrote a post a while ago, I think it may have been one of my first posts, that mentioned The Teaching Company. They basically do lecture series on any number of topics. I’ve gotten a few including a general philosophy course, and a philosophy of science course. The one on philosophy of science was sort of tough to get very into as it had such a materialist bent. Maybe it was less so later, but I had a tough time listening to much that I stopped after the first few lectures. The point, however, is that people in the paranormal would do well to go through some of these courses so that they have a better handle on the arguments used by ‘debunkers’

Anyway, I noticed they have a new lecture called Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist. The series of 18 lectures feature none other than Michael Shermer, PhD. There are five lectures with paranormal themes including, The Paranormal and the Supernatural, Science Vs. Pseudoscience, Comparing SETI and UFOlogy, Comparing Evolution and Creationism, and Life, Death & the Afterlife. I haven’t listened to the lectures, but I reckon its consistent with Dr. Shermer’s previous skeptical endeavors.

But this post isn’t really about the Teaching Company’s products, or even Michael Shermer, PhD’s skeptical bona fides. I wondered if the paranormal community could produce something along the same lines. Is there any one person or group who could pull it together to put out say 20 quality lectures on the ufo topic and do it in a way that wasn’t open to immediate ridicule?  For me, Richard Dolan is the only one that comes to mind. It would take the form of a history course using his UFOs and the National Security State series (1941-1973, and 1973-1991, and whatever the last one turns out to be).  I think everyone in the field has heard Mr. Dolan talk before, but normally its and hour, or maybe two in a podcast interview or conference presentation.  This format would allow him to go into much greater detail than he normally does in presentations and would probably reach a much different audience than that which normally listens to the Binnall of America podcast or goes to the X conferences.

Dolan may not be the only person who could put something like this together. I’m sure Stan Friedman, Jacques Vallee, and Grant Cameron could also put together some quality information and do it in a way that would be reasonable. Maybe there could be a series of 24 lectures, with 4 people producing six each, or some combination like that.

Anyway, I don’t know Richard Dolan or the people at The Teaching Company, so I’m not really in any position to effectively suggest this, but if any of my two or three regular readers stumbles on this post and has relevant network contacts, maybe forward it along.:)

Thanks for reading and I wish good fortune to everyone.

Wishlist #5 — Philosophy 101

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a little while. After seeing this interview with Chris Carter a while ago, linked through Anomalist.com, I thought it was finally time to hit the keyboard again.

If there’s one thing that we need is education. As a community (paranormal community) we don’t even seem to ask the right questions. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like there’s a decent foundation to work from. Normally someone has an experience, or hears about someone else’s experience,  and tries to combine it into their own view of the world. And from what I read on the Internet,  their view of the world is probably pretty uninformed and unexamined. What might be really helpful is a better foundation in philosophy.

I’ll admit, I’m no philosopher, but I’ve found the subject a lot more interesting since I left college, especially since becoming interested in anomalous topics. But it seems to me that people have been dealing with these subjects for thousands of years.  A lot of good minds have come to bear on the subject, not that you would know it from the discussion in the current ufological/paranormal community.

So what I would like to see, item #5 on my wishlist, is a an educational outlet devoted to the philosophy of the paranormal. I would love to hear philosophers talk about dualism as it relates to what we call the paranormal. What do Hindu philosophers have to formally say about UFOs? There’s a ton of material that can be tapped, and related directly to this crazy world in the ether that we all seem to be fascinated about, but so few have any idea about what’s already been said.

And the other thing is that this would be an area where skeptics (or whatever pejorative you’d like to use) could actually find some common ground with the believers (or whatever pejorative you’d like to use) because it doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with the current landscape, just some talking about what some dead guys said a long time ago.

I wrote an email to Paul H. Smith a few months ago asking him to think about doing a subscription podcast on the philosophy of the paranormal.  I’m happy to pay for a little education, and I hope you are too, because honestly, whatever you’re paying for cable tv is too much. The format of the Philosopher’s Zone podcast is pretty good, maybe Alan Saunders could take a stab at it. How about the folks at the Teaching Company? They do some nice educational audio work, maybe they could put something together?

Well, that’s my wishlist item #5. I hope you think the idea has some merit. And lets be honest, we’ve all heard the same people on the podcast circuit over and over and over, so a new approach might be useful.

Wishlist #3 — Funding Mechanism — Kickstarter.com

A while ago I did a post on a new item for my wishlist.

The post described an idea for a funding mechanism that would enable people working on paranormal projects to seek funding from outside sources. Ideally it would provide a way for people to make contributions that are tax deductible and provide a mechanism for funds to be returned if enough money for the project isn’t raised or if a portion of the money remains unspent at the end of the project.

Well, I was reading my most recent issue of Make Magazine and found a mention of a website that accomplishes some of these goals and its called Kickstarter

Basically it allows people or groups seeking funding to post a project proposal online and then collect funds from interested parties. In this case, if the desired amount is not raised, all the funds get returned to the donors.

According to the FAQ, non-profits can use their tax-deductible status.

The program uses Amazon.com’s payment system. They also mention in their faq that Paypal is working on a system that Kickstarter might consider using as well, to process contingent payments. I thought a company like Paypal would be ideal because they already have much of financial infrastructure to deal with relatively small payments. I guess Amazon is close enough.

I recently came across another instance where this sort of program would be very useful. Billy Cox did a posting on an event that is being organized by Robert Salas and Robert Hastings. The post talked about how they need money to get the people to D.C., to put them up in hotels, and to rent the space. Sounds good to me, as they seem to be more reasonable than some other presenters (your opinion may vary) so I sent in some money via paypal.  I couldn’t help wondering though, that having a more community oriented portal for solicitation would be helpful. Something where they could make a presentation, contributors could get updates, and then potentially have refunds if excess (haha) funds were raised. Kickstarter accomplishes most of these things.

I hope people looking for funding for projects will at least give Kickstarter a look.

Goodbye Ufology, Hello Truth…..uh….ok

So I’m going to comment on James Carrion’s kiss-off post to ufology, which can be found here.

There was a lot in his post, and there was a lot that I wholeheartedly agreed with, so I figured I would take excerpts from the post and give my take.

“There was a time many years ago when I was considering leaving Ufology because I couldn’t make sense of it all….

…I latched on to the only organization that I felt had some reservoir of common sense and reason in its modus operandi – MUFON.”

I’m right there with you Mr. Carrion.

“I proposed to the MUFON Board to digitize the paper files under what I called the “Pandora Project” and they gave me their blessing and financial backing.”

That’s a good idea. Those files need to be online, if only for backup/security purposes. Lead on!

What I discovered was that the phenomenon is based in deception – of the human kind –and that there is no way ANYONE will understand the real truth unless they are willing to first accept that. No, I am not talking about some grandiose cover-up of alien visitation, but instead the documented manipulation of people and information for purposes that I can only speculate on. How do I unequivocally know this to be true? Well let me lay it out for you in laymen’s terms.

Well, you’re probably right here. Although is this really new? Anyone watching the phenomenon  and looking into its history, over any period of time sees that there is manipulation of people from every angle.

Whoa! Wait a minute, what about those who don’t take things on faith and actually collect data and conduct investigation? Good question. I decided to examine the data collection and investigative practices in Ufology, and after poring over thousands of historical case files from MUFON, NICAP and APRO investigators in the MUFON archives, what I found, was inconsistent investigation with a total lack of evidentiary standards. I also found a paper trail of disinformation and misinformation that has kept Ufology in check through infighting and red herrings, rabbit holes and elaborate deception operations.

So you decided to examine the data collection and investigative practices in Ufology and found inconsistent investigation techniques with a total lack of evidentiary standards. You know what, me too. I was a MUFON field investigator briefly. I paid my dues, bought the training manual for like $90, took the open book test, and voilà, I’m a field investigator. My local director sent me information for a recent case, I had to get to work. Unfortunately, it quickly became obvious that there really wasn’t much to work with. The person making the report had sent photos of his dinner while on vacation in Manhattan. There really just wasn’t much to work with, which was extremely frustrating. In my day job (stock analyst), I’ve got access to reasonable information: audited financial information, government data on commodity inventories, supply/demand trends. #ven then I feel like I’m playing defense in shoes three sizes too big against Michael Jordan. There’s nothing like that in ufology. So eventually I just got frustrated and left, like Mr. Carrion.

There is a difference between my frustration and that of Mr. Carrion. The difference is that I’m at the bottom rung, with no real mechanism to change anything. I decided that it would be better to help improve the data that investigators could access to make better reports. So far, my main contribution has been ATCMP.  It got a pretty tepid response, but its out there if you want it. (It takes an old computer and turns it into a 18-hour a day recording device to archive radio broadcasts)

On the other hand, Mr. Carrion was the International Director of MUFON. He was THE person who could have the largest impact. He could have implemented a better standardised training program and data collection techniques. It is sorely needed.

“The other thing I found documented in the MUFON archives was the sad history of those UFO investigators who thought they could successfully play the “cover up game” by cultivating their inside sources only to be discredited, manipulated or ego driven to delusion.”

OK, back to agreement. Ufology must stop playing the cover up game. If you want to use information from a ‘confidential’ source, you cannot publicise that information until you can verify it. If you want to publicise the information, your source must be willing to come forward and be verified. You cannot have it both ways.

“But it was after conducting six personal investigations that I began to question whether or not ANY of the data sitting in any UFO archive can be relied on.”

Well, that’s a good question. Can any of it be relied up? Individually, no. As a whole, well, kinda, maybe, sortof. How good is the data? It could certainly be much better. How can we improve the data and data collection techniques going forward? Not to be too snarky, but I guess its a good thing that the Director of the worlds largest ufo organization thought that it might be a good idea to do a few actual investigations. But seriously, I don’t hold a lack of investigative history against him too much. I think a critical look from outside ufology would be very beneficial.

So he chooses, Kinross Dive Company, Portage County, California Droanin’, Stan Romanek, and Skinwalker Ranch. From my point of view any attention paid to Stan Romanek by anyone other than his family is too much attention.  Ditto the California Droans. Kinross Dive Co. never really seemed to amount to anything anyway. I just don’t know anything about Portage and little about Skinwalker besides what’s in the book.  But hoaxing has a long history along with ufology. Is it attention seeking individuals? The government? Lonely folks seeking validation? All of the above seems likely. This actually seems like an area where Mr. Carrion could have added considerable value within MUFON. Maybe he will still be able to from outside of the organisation and outside of ufology.

“I decided to dig deeper and rather than focus on the sideshows that would pop up and distract ufologists by leading us down yet another rabbit hole, I did original research into the early days of the phenomenon. What I found was amazing and is documented in my paper at http://scilib.ucsd.edu/sio/hist/Carrion_New%20Avenues.pdf. Realizing that to uncover more information and to prove my theory would require laser like focus and time that I did not have to spare, I made the decision to leave the MUFON International Director position and informed the MUFON Board.”

Ok. I hope he figures something out with where he’s going. I didn’t really get the point of the above-referenced paper. Yes, it seems like the U.S. government has used disinformation for legitimate reasons. Maybe they still are. I still don’t think disinformation and an actual anomalous phenomenon are mutually exclusive. Improving the quality of investigations would have helped the whole field. Maybe poor quality investigations is endemic to the field, and is the reason its never gotten anywhere.

I guess I’m just disappointed that someone who actually recognised some of the problems with ufology chose to abandon it. I hope he will make progress in his own way, independent of the circus. Good luck Mr. Carrion.

Wishlist items #2 and #3, Passive Radar and Funding Mechanism

You often hear people say that there’s no money in ufology. The only way to make money is by writing a book and selling it. Maybe Having a subscription based podcast is the new version of a book, or at least some sort of syndicated radio program. There’s certainly next to no funding coming from established research programs at universities. There may be something at the private level, but if there is, the output of that research seems to be staying with those funding it, or maybe its coming out in books.

Obviously,  If someone asking for money directly, I suspect you will view them with a very critical eye.

So I’m using this post to propose a process to allow for the raising of private funds for the purpose of UFO research, or really any kind of independent research, paranormal or otherwise. Some mechanisms of the process may not actually exist yet, but probably won’t be terribly difficult for someone with the right skills to create.

I will describe the process with a hypothetical example and describe how it would proceed and could involve the whole paranormal community. I will use the names of actual people, forums, companies, podcasts, and even projects, but only for illustrative purposes. Please don’t think that the use of their names implies that they are presently involved in anything like what I’m describing. Maybe they are, but not too my knowledge. I use them to illustrate because their current roles are easily understood by the community and would be useful.

So here goes…

WISHLISTS

It all starts with the wishlist. I talked about my concept of a wishlist here (http://yaufob.wordpress.com/2009/8/21/wishlist), but the idea is to let the world know what you want, because you don’t know who can make a contribution to make it happen.

So in this example, we’ll start with the wishlist of an organization like the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). To reiterate, I don’t know what’s on CUFOS’s wishlist, or if they even have one, but there are a few specific reasons to use CUFOS for our example. First they have been around for a while, so they are familiar with the subject matter and are headed by people with reasonable academic credentials. Second, CUFOS is a nonprofit (enter “ufo studies” in the search box) , so donations made to CUFOS are tax deductible, which would help maximize the level of funds that would be raised.

So in this example, CUFOS creates a wishlist and includes on it a passive radar system to be implemented on a statewide level. Again, I don’t know if CUFOS would want this, but lets say they want to develop something like this. Peter Davenport described passive radar at a mufon conference a few years ago, and put together a .pdf document which you can find at his website. Although CUFOS may not have any particular expertise in developing a passive radar system, they decide that a passive radar system might be useful to implement on a statewide level in a state with little military air-traffic, so they put it on their wishlist. By doing so, they are looking to act as a sponsor to someone who has the skills necessary to put together such a system.

The Technologist, The Proposal, and the Sponsor

Although CUFOS may not have any expertise with passive radar, they know there are people out there who have the technical chops to put something like that together. One person who has worked on such technology is Eric Blossom. So maybe Mr. Blossom hears about the CUFOS wishlist and decides to submit a proposal for a statewide passive radar system. The proposal details how much a system would cost to build, who would administer it, what the fixed and ongoing costs would be, how it works, and what its strengths and weaknesses are.

Once CUFOS receives the proposal they debate it internally, and decide if they would like to sponsor it. Sponsorship would involve appointing someone within CUFOS to administer the project. This would include arranging for media interviews and debate, making necessary changes to the proposal, setting benchmarks for funding process, checking benchmarks against progress, ensuring adequate record keeping, and distributing final results.

Media Debate

Because ufology doesn’t have a peer review process and because funding will be coming from outside sources, alternative media (podcasts and blogs) will play a central role in the hashing out of the merits of a particular research project.

In this case, either the CUFOS representative and/or Mr. Blossom would get together with members of the media along with other reasonable authorities to debate the pros and cons of a particular project. For example, Mr. Blossom might be a guest on Paratopia where he could describe the project and proposal to the Paratopia audience. To get a balanced idea of the project, hosts Jeremy Vaeni and Jeff Ritzmann would need to arrange for opposing viewpoints on the show as well. Maybe they would try to get someone else on the show who has dealt with passive radar and knows the pitfalls that must be dealt with. And/or someone who has experience with UFO/radar cases. The idea is to get a 360-degree view of the projects.(Actually Alex Tsakiris, host of the Skeptiko podcast does a really good job at working through some of the details of experiments dealing with Psi phenomenon, and readers would be well served to check out his podcast)

Of course it wouldn’t need to be just one podcast. There are probably many more blogs with an interest in the ufo subject than there are podcasts, and some non-ufo/paranormal outlets that would also have an interest, could also participate. So bloggers could and should get in on the action too. Taking a position on either side, and advocating to their hearts content.

Funding Mechanism

After the listening and reading audiences get a chance to hear discussion from various sources, both for and against they would be able to make up their own mind about whether or not they would like to contribute financially to the project. Those who are interested in helping financially, or just keeping up with the projects results, would go to a project website.  The website would be a central hub that would host the proposal so that interested parties can look at the details for themselves. It would also provide a way for people to make donations.

The proposal would provide the outline of the project, with benchmarks marking the functional sections and noting the successful completion of a section, as verified by the sponsor representative. Donations would be set up to be prorated, with a certain percentage of each donation being allocated for each section of the project. As an example, if someone donates $100 to the project, that $100 would be broken up into smaller amounts to be released as portions of the project are completed. If a project stalls half way through, after a defined inactivity period, donors would receive the portion of their donation back for the uncompleted project, assuming the sponsor was unable to find someone else to complete the project. Upon completion of the project, donors would receive a package detailing the project’s outcome.

I’m not sure exactly who the best organization would be to put together such a website. My first instinct is to think of Paypal as an organization that can handle making payments of varying sizes securely, and keep track of it all. They already have a micro-finance division called Microplace.com that connects those with money to micro-business owners that need loans. (Maybe contact Scott Thompson at President of PayPal, and let him know they should think about this.) Then there are sites like elance.com that deal with the matching of people who need services with people who can provide those services, even implementing some benchmarking payment programs. Maybe its someone else altogether.

So that is basically the idea. To summarize:

1. Figure out what you want to get done to advance ufology.

2. Find someone who can do it.

3. Get the idea out there and have people debate it from all angles.

4. Provide an efficient mechanism for making proratable payments.

5. Check the progress of the project and pre-determined intervals.

6. Upon completion, get the results out to the world, or at least the sponsors.

It would provide a structure to match up people who want to do alternative research with people who are interested in funding it, and it would do so in a way that everyone involved is informed about what is going on at the beginning, and if they aren’t, it is up to them to get better answers or opt out of participation.

Well, thats it for now. If you think its a good idea, please comment. If you think its bunk please comment as well, but try to be nice about it.

Thanks for reading.

Jeff's Roadmap

I’m not normally a big fan of criticism for criticism’s sake, at least I try not to be, but some days are better than others. It reminds me of a television commercial where two consultants go on at length to a business owner about how to reorganize his business. The business owner then says, “Great, let’s do it.” The consultants look at each other for a confused second and respond, “We don’t actually do it, we just propose it,” and then walk out of the office. I don’t want to be those guys, so I’m going to take my own advice and put out my own roadmap and then start to working on it. I should preface all that follows by saying that this is how I imagine ufology to be, at least potentially. Your view may well be different. If so, great, I hope you publish it somewhere so people can discuss it. So here goes, Jeff’s roadmap to acknowledgment for the UFO phenomenon.

Jeff's roadmap

I picture the ufo phenomenon or at least the American public’s acknowledgment of something anomalous in the skies like the function plotted in that graph.

The graph plots a function determined by an ‘X-factor’ variable on the horizontal axis, with the percentage of the public that acknowledgment an anomalous phenomenon on the vertical axis. I will discuss my thoughts on the makeup of the ‘X’ factor later in the post. Overall, the function’s shape is something like an S with a slowly rising portion followed by a steeper portion followed by another flatter portion.

At the point on the far left of the horizontal axis, the ‘X’ factor is zero or close to it. The value of the function, however is not zero. This represents the idea that some portion of the public will always acknowledge the UFO phenomenon no matter what the value of X is. For this portion of the function, it is important to note, however, that although gains may be made in ‘X’, the percentage of acknowledgment increases at a rate slower than the rate at which X increases.

To the right of X3, the function continues to rise, however at a much slower rate, and never approaches 100%. For example, there is a portion of the world’s population that believes the Earth is flat. Another portion of the population denies that humanity has sent a man to the moon. There’s plenty of data to suggest otherwise, but many of them will never acknowledge the sphere-ish shape of the earth or the lunar landing, no matter what the evidence says. (There are plenty of people that would put the ufo phenomenon in where I just put the flat-earthers, so I won’t be too harsh.)

I think the interesting part of the graph is in the middle portion. Between the points above X1 and X3, the function has a slope greater than 1 for all parts. That’s good because you can make great progress in terms of the goal of achieving acknowledgment with smaller gains in X than you would have had to make in the end parts of the functions. Its also good, because given the gains in technology over the last few decades, gains in x are probably more easy to obtain now than they ever have been.

Personally I think that the best that ufology can probably do, in its present form, is get to X2. X2 represents the point that would be a critical mass of the population that acknowledges that something is going on, and begins to enable/demand better research and funding for the study of the phenomenon. X2 is somewhere between X1 and X3, although I don’t have any idea which point it is closer to, making it impossible to say just how far ‘X’ would have to be increased to get to X2.

Of course, I don’t have any data that suggests the graph accurately represents the state of ufology, or anything else. I haven’t even identified what I think X represents. Unfortunately, a lack of a good definition of X and how to increase it also seems to have paralyzed progress. Maybe its not a lack of a good definition, maybe its not being able to move on from an older, assumed definition that outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone else has really come up with a good definition either, so I don’t feel so stupid assuming the shape of the function or defining its variables. For the sake of discussion, I’m going to assume shape is reasonable and assert that we’re probably closer to X1 than X2 on the X axis, and nowhere near X3. I’m also going to take a stab at defining what X is. Hey, if Frank Drake got to declare an unsolvable equation with a bunch of unknowable variables, why can’t I?

X = Q x F x D x C x V

I define X as a combination of factors that can each be approximately quantified, on a scale of 0 to 1: Q,Quality of data; F,Freedom of informational movement; D,Dispersion of experience/data; C,Connectedness of population; V,Volume. Like the drake equation, I think of these as factors to be multiplied together. If any of the factors equal zero, then X equals zero. I don’t think any of the factors are zero, if only because there’s obviously a significant portion of the population that believes the phenomenon exists.

Quality of Data: I define quality somewhat broadly, as both the degree to which data can be originally collected, but also to the degree that it can be controlled, and the degree to which it fits the actual phenomenon. A telephone conversation, for example, can be said to be high quality if there isn’t a lot of static and you are able to hear the other person. But as a source of data, it is only high quality if it can be analyzed. That requires the ability to control when the conversation happens, the ability to control the volume, the ability to record and replay it, and the ability to identify and correct errors within the mechanism of transmission. At present, the quality of ufo data varies widely (to put it mildly), and the topic of quality probably deserves a number of separate posts here and a much broader discussion in the UFO community as a whole. Its possible that the overall quality of UFO-related data will never be very high and will keep the value of ‘X’ permanently low, although this is one area that I think the most significant progress can be made.

Freedom of Informational Movement: Ideally, in a society with an informed, competent, and competitive media, information will move about with little resistance, without anyone being able to decide to withhold information to a larger group. Of course you can debate how well that describes our world until you are blue in the face. I’m less interested in quantifying a precise score for freedom of informational movement than I am in figuring out how its changing, and how to improve it.

Dispersion of Experience: The dispersion of experience is the measure of a given population that has direct experience with the phenomenon. Everyone in North America acknowledges the phenomenon of snow mainly because most everyone has experienced snow at some point, or knows someone that has. Prior to the advent of television, the percentage of people in equatorial populations that would be willing to concede a cold, white crystaline form of precipitation was probably far less than 100. Dispersion of experience is another factor that can be significantly improved upon within and by ufology

Connectedness of population: The degree that people within a population are in regular contact with each other. It is proportional to the number of people that a given person knows, as well as how regularly they are in contact. In a small town, news travels fast because everyone knows everyone and those relationships are cultivated through frequent face-to-face contact. I’m not sure how this will be increased, but maybe someone can figure something out.

Volume: The degree of noticeability of a piece of information. A front page story is louder than something buried on page 25. A full page ad is louder than classified ad. No matter where you stand in ufology, you probably believe someone shouldn’t be quite as loud as they are, because its taking away from the “real” story of ufology, whatever that is.

Some of the above factors can be controlled or improved upon by and within ufology, such as the quality of data. Others are much more subject to factors beyond the control of ufology, such as the connectedness of a given population. The Internet has done a lot to increase this factor and would have done so without any input from ufology, but ufology would do well to figure out better ways to hitch its horse to improvements of the factor.

My point in this post is not to say that this is how ufology is. My point is to say that this is how ufology might be, and these are some factors that could be improved to help push ufology forward. Defining the factors helps to give those interested a starting point to think of ways to improve the factors. You may have different ideas about the shape of the curve, if a curve is even a good way to map out possible progress, and what factors should go into calculating ‘X’. If so, I hope you will express them so that other people can think about them, and set about devising ways to improve them.

Less Is More

One of the problems with ufology is that it tries to accomplish far too much with far too little. The usual goal seems to be trying to convince the general public or the academic establishment that extraterrestrials are visiting Earth. The resources available to accomplish the goals are few. Maybe a skilled researcher is hunkered down in a government archive digging for official reports of high strangeness or filing Freedom of Information Act requests. More often it is a barely trained field investigator interviewing an unprepared witness. Most often, an angst-ridden enthusiast is simply reading Internet stories and getting angry at the government for the ‘truth embargo’. The problem with trying to accomplish the grand goals of ufology is that the people going about it rarely have the skills needed to fulfill the task. Not that the ufological community is talentless, far from it, but how does one become an expert in a subject whose very existence is denied by academia, the community we normally trust to produce experts?

 

The SETI Institute’s Dr. Seth Shostak tells us that thousands of scientists would be working on the problem if they thought there was anything to it. I take that as being a somewhat reasonable statement, although I find it difficult to imagine Dr. Shostak praising any of his colleagues for their ufological efforts. So maybe ufology would be better off spending its time showing that something is going on, not necessarily exactly what is going on. If we define the problem as showing what is going on, we find ourselves appealing to unproven notions of extraterrestrial or interdimensional beings. If we define the problem as showing that something is going on, rather than exactly what is going on, the solution to that problem may well fall into the realm of fairly conventional science. Further, as was the case in the movie Contact, if widespread acknowledgment is ever achieved, it is very likely that the ufological community will be marginalized in favor of other mainstream scientific groups with more adequate equipment, training, facilities, and financial resources.

 

So if the ufological groups aren’t going to prove that aliens have landed, what are they to do?

 

As I see it, the assets of the mainstream ufologoical groups are databases of historic sighting reports, some leaders that are recognized and respected by the rest of the ufological community, and a fairly thick collective skin. What I would like to see from present and future ufological groups is to take their years of experience with all aspects of the phenomenon and conceive of some sort of hypothetical roadmap to a broad acknowledgment of a phenomenon. It shouldn’t seek acceptance of any particular theory (extraterrestrial, cryptoterrestrial, interdimensional, intertemporal, spiritual, utterly natural or other), just a possible path to general acknowledgment that something odd is operating around our planet.

 

Groups and individuals could propose something like the following illustration which would show a series of steps, events, or paradigm shifts that would could bring us from ridicule to acknowledgment. For the first section, organizations would develop a list of steps that they believe could lead to the general acknowledgment that something is out there. Three steps may not be enough, they need not necessarily be linear, and they will almost certainly need to be revised, but the goal would be getting to the acknowledgment that something anomalous is happening. Steps 4-7 would bring us from acknowledgment of something odd to acceptance of the phenomenon and (dare to dream) establish it as worthy of traditional academic study. Mainstream ufology would probably have very little, if any, involvement with the second group of steps, although its entirely possible that individuals from within ufology could bring their individual skills to bear on the problem.

Roadmap illustration

What form steps 1-3 take would be determined by a given organization as it sees fit. MUFON, for example, would probably have a different take on a roadmap than NARCAP. A group may seek to consult with mainstream scientists or not. It may focus on concrete, outcome-oriented tasks or more general guidelines, where the method of achievement is proposed and executed by others. Perhaps new organizations would be formed, with their members designing and executing their own roadmaps. Ideally, however, the roadmaps from all the organizations would be publicly available, with the methods, measures of progress and problems encountered also made available eventually so that observers, both within and without ufology, could also make suggestions and contributions.

 

In the end, achieving the steps between ridicule and acknowledgment should be far easier to accomplish than the steps between acknowledgment and acceptance, if only because members of the ufo community already know, or believe they know, that something odd is out there. Achieving a critical mass of people who acknowledge the phenomenon may be as simple as increasing the number of people exposed to existing information on the subject, making it simply a marketing problem. After 60+ years of the modern ufo era, however, this may be necessary but alone is probably insufficient. What will be needed to get us to acknowledgment is yet to be determined, but whatever it is, improved leadership in the community will certainly be necessary to get us there.

Face Forward, Please.

It seems odd to me that some people seem to believe that if only the government would acknowledge the existence of UFOs, then the discussion would be over and universities the world over would establish ufology departments and existing physics departments would tear out the chapter on relativity from all of their textbooks. But is anything like that even remotely realistic. If President Bush were to announce tomorrow that some UFOs were in fact intelligently controlled craft, not built by any company or any nation, would anyone believe him? I can hear the scowls now. “Its obviously Christofascist propaganda being used as a pretext to take away our rights!!!” or “Just another example of the neocon’s anti-science agenda.” So Bush shrugs his shoulders, the UFO community stands with mouth agape, and not a thing has changed because the mainstream scientific community still doesn’t have anything to work with.

 

Maybe it would be useful to consider a world without government. What would we do if there was no government or military. There is no one to file Freedom of Information Act requests with. No Wright Patterson, Roswell Army Airforce base, NASA or area 51. But most importantly, no one to seek final approval from regarding the existence of UFOs. The thing about this hypothetical land, at least where UFOs are concerned, is that it is not terribly unlike the current state of ufology. Instead of having no government, we have a government that denies the existence of UFOs. In either case, those who acknowledge the phenomenon have to convince those who don’t that there is something to it, in order for there to be general acceptance. I suspect that we would look at the problem as we do with any sort of bet. Someone figures out a novel way to demonstrate or prove that it is correct, but they do it by looking forward, not looking backward.

 

In the end, a physical phenomenon is a phenomenon, whether the government or military says it is or not. “They” may have the best evidence under some super-duper classification, but where is it written that other evidence cannot be obtained. After 60 years of modern ufology we seem to be stuck in the “file-a-report” stage: File a report with NUFORC, file a report with MUFON, file a report with NARCAP. Actually we’ve probably regressed into the “file-a-report” stage from a more proactive period in the 70s when a few academics seemed jazzed to do something about it. Technology has progressed a long, long way since the 70s, but ufology somehow seems content to fill binders upon binders with backward-looking reports. Sure, NARCAP put out a nice big report on the 2006 O’Hare incident, but that was still just a report based primarily on eyewitness accounts of their impressions of an event that happened in the recent past.

 

Some people will say that the very nature of the phenomenon prevents science from obtaining real-time data. That of course is crap. Tell that to a seismologist (as far as I know we can’t predict earthquakes yet) and they’ll probably call you a neocon with an anti-science agenda. I probably have more processing power in my living room than the whole of NASA during the Apollo missions, but somehow ufology is stuck in a world that is still watching the first moon landing. If you look at modern computers and the networking capabilities of the Internet, its disgraceful that the best that we seem to be able to do is put out podcasts and watch hoaxed videos of Jamaican UFOs on youtube. (I actually think highly of podcasting but will save those thoughts for another post.)

 

Ufology needs to take the next step, looking at the information that has been collected and using it to help design experiments that can give real-time, concrete data, so that it can get to the bottom of the mystery. It may take a long time. It may be expensive. It will require new ways of thinking. But until we begin to perform actual experiments to verify what people have been seeing since time immemorial, we might as well be watching Ed Sullivan on a black & white.

The Invisible Undergraduate

One of the cool things about ufology is that its leads you down all sorts of paths, through areas that you may have previously never had any interest, so you get to learn a lot. A person with an interest in the UFO phenomenon needs to know something of physics, political science, history, logic, and philosophy.

 

One of the not-so-cool things about ufology is that it leads you down all sorts of paths, through areas that you may have previously never had any interest. Its very easy to spend a lot of time trying to fill in the gaps in your educational background, following leads that in hindsight may not have been the smartest way to go, as you try to figure out just what the heck is going on in the skies (and oceans and space.)

 

Unfortunately, from this blogger’s perspective, many people (this blogger included) who have developed an interest in the ufo phenomenon lack an educational background that is broad enough to a begin to ask appropriate questions (That statement may actually be more true for those who dismiss UFOs out of hand.) That is not to say that they are uneducated; many people with an interest in UFOs are highly educated. It is often the case, however, that specialization in the interest of career wins out over general well-roundedness. Furthermore, even someone with an extremely broad education may not have touched on the specific areas necessary for a study of the phenomenon and its relationship to society. For example, without some understanding of relativity, the practical and theoretical difficulties of interstellar flight may not be apparent. Without an understanding of the philosophical framework of the scientific establishment, it is difficult to understand why so many professional scientists scoff at the notion of UFOs. I think many of the people who have developed an interest, have often done so because they’ve noticed inconsistencies in how the world deals with the phenomenon and are simply attempting to reconcile what they are seeing with what they believe to be true.

 

In an effort to help address this problem, I would like to propose a concept I call the Invisible Undergraduate. I am borrowing from the title of Dr. Jacques Vallee’s book, The Invisible College. In Dr. Vallee’s book, he briefly describes his association with a group of scientists who are involved with the study of UFOs, often in secret. The Invisible Undergraduate proposes a slate of college-level courses, something along the lines of a major, to help prepare students (actual students, and students of life, hard knocks, etc.) for the difficulties that go along with an interest in ufology. In this case, you won’t be getting any official recognition and your teachers won’t know why you are taking the classes.

 

Now, obviously, no accredited college in the United States is going to grant an undergraduate degree in ufology. But that’s okay, a piece of paper is not what we’re after here. What we are seeking is a better understanding of the world. Looking at the Internet, the lack of critical thinking in ufology is all too apparent. To be sure, a lot of extraordinary work that has been done, but there is plenty of absolute crap. It seems to me that part of the reason is because there is a lack of any structure within ufology, and no way to get everyone on the same page. The Invisible Undergrad concept seeks to help students obtain a solid background in existing academic subjects, and use that as a foundation to eventually help improve the state of ufology.

 

Fortunately, because the Invisible Undergrad doesn’t have to satisfy any administrators, he or she has certain flexibility in how the requirements are fulfilled. There isn’t any time frame, previously earned credits transfer easily, and future credits can be obtained at the student’s leisure. Furthermore, the Invisible Undergrad doesn’t even have to be an undergrad at all. The concept lends itself well to adult learners who may only have time to take a night class from time to time.

 

In the end, the source of the UFO phenomenon may contradict what we currently know about the world. It may not. In any case, ufology will have to come to some reasonable reconciliation of the phenomenon with our current understanding of the rest of our world, either by altering our understanding of the world or finding a way to append it to what we already know. In either case, ufology needs more people working on the problem and it needs to have those people better prepared to do so. The Invisible Undergraduate is one way to get more people on the same page, so that maybe some progress can be made.

 

What follows is one possible curriculum for the Invisible Undergraduate. For the most part I looked for courses that I thought were relevant (from what I’ve gathered as someone with an interest in UFOs). They were listed in the student handbook from my college days, although they should be available at most schools. Many of these courses, or close substitutes can also be found at MIT’s OpenCourseWare program.

 

Obviously, this list will not please everyone; it is nuts-and-bolts oriented, and admitedly America-centric (feel free to add your ideas in the comments section.) Some may find that looking for answers to the ufo problem within academia is a waste of time. I believe it is, however, important to know what fundamental work has been done already, before you can actually improve upon it.

 

Physics (will require mathematics prerequisites)

  • General Physics I/II
  • Sophomore lab
  • Mechanics
  • Electricity and Magnetism I/II
  • Modern Physics (including relativity)
  • Quantum Mechanics

Astronomy

  • Introduction to Astronomy
  • Modern Astrophysics

Philosophy

  • Elementary Logic
  • Introduction to Existentialism and Phenomenology
  • Descartes, Hume, Kant
  • Philosophy of Science

Political Science

  • Introduction to American Politics
  • Public Policy and the Political Process

History

  • America in the nuclear age

Rhetoric

  • Introduction to Journalism
  • Investigative Journalism