Monday, 20 September 2010

Investigating the UFOs

In the years since the US Government definitively turned its face against investigating the UFO phenomena, at least in public, the study of the mystery has been largely in the hands of journalists, amateur enthusiasts and a few full time investigators.

The quality of the investigative work undertaken has been mixed, with some pursuing open-minded strategies that would do credit to any scientific institution while others adopt a highly superficial approach. Some have approached the problems posed by UFOs with quite open minds, others seem to have decided in advance on one particular solution to the mystery. Among what might be called UFObelievers the most common fault is to try to adapt all evidence to fit the theory that aliens are visiting earth. While among UFOsceptics the determination to establish that all UFOs are natural phenomenon can lead to evidence being ignored or to witnesses be accused of lying or living fantasy lives.

Whatever their viewpoint and methods, however, nearly all UFO investigators have come to agree on certain things. Perhaps the most important of these is the classification of UFO sightings into six or more categories with generally agreed names and meanings. The classification system was developed in 1972 by Dr J. Allen Hynek, the astronomer who had formerly helped Project Sign and Project Blue Book.

When Hynek was initially called in by the USAF he was a sceptic, thinking that UFO witnesses were mistaken or fraudulent in what they reported. He gradually came to change his mind, however, as he gathered data and interviewed witnesses. By the later 1960s Hynek had become convinced that UFOs were real, though he studiously kept an open mind as to what they were. He died in 1986 after setting up the Center for UFO Studies, generally referred to as CUFOS by those studying UFOs.

Apart from Hynek, serious scientists have generally steered clear of UFO studies. In general this is because they believe, as Hynek did initially, that UFO witnesses are either mistaken in what they report or are not telling the truth. They tend to follow the line of reasoning most publicly followed by Project Blue Book: that UFOs cannot exist according to known laws of physics and so therefore they don’t exist.

Scientists are also human beings, and there is general fear of ridicule from colleagues. Moreover openly supporting a theory or claim that is not only against the consensus, but is later proved to be false can be harmful to a career in science. More practically there are virtually no funds available from either governments or universities to support research into UFOs. Since scientists need employment to pay  the bills and put food on the table they can hardly be blamed for preferring to study more mainstream subjects that supply them with paid jobs.

This is an extract from Alien Encounters by Rupert Matthews

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