Is Ufology Dead?
by: James L. Choron
Almost thirty-five years ago, a noted theologian shocked, astounded, and angered the vast majority of people in the Western world by making the statement "God is dead." The reaction to the statement, given the times, was predictable. The man was fortunate not to have been lynched. Of course, what he meant was not the "physical" death of "God," but rather, the "death" of the prevailing notion of him as a distinct, physical being... He was referring, or course, to the changes which were taking place in the society around him... not to changes in the character of "God"... After the initial reactions died away, the hype, sound and fury surrounding this statement had two notable effects.
First of all, it did, in fact, turn a good many people who already were pondering the reality of a deity, to turn completely away from organized religion, and to, in fact, abandon belief in "God." Secondly, on the flip side of the coin ... those who had a strong, existing belief in a deity, regardless of religion, creed or sect, found that their belief was strengthened by the necessity to reexamine what they believed and reevaluate the foundation of those beliefs. In short, in the words of the Bible... "the wheat was separated from the chaff."
Now, I'm not a theologian. There are those of my accusers who would say, in fact, that I am not terribly religious. That is rather like saying that someone is "slightly pregnant" or "marginally dead." Be that as it may, what I am is a journalist, and an investigator of the "paranormal" ... that which occurs, but lies outside the realm of what our society and culture considers to be "normal." As such, I am, of necessity, a UFOlogist.
Recently, both the electronic and print media have been filled with "editorial comments" stating, rather flatly, that UFOlogy, as a discipline, is "dead." My reply to this is... "hardly."
It is true that many major organizations, such as the once-vaunted MUFON, have fallen by the wayside, so to speak ... lost their direction and their vision ... and have become mired in the "political correctness" of becoming a "mouthpiece" for the "powers that be," or ... having become infested and overrun with what many, including myself, consider to be outright and patent "kookery."
I was a member of MUFON for many years. I let the membership lapse about five years ago, when I began to feel that the organization was getting away from it's primary mission, and more and more into the realm of either this, for lack of a better phrase, "political correctness" (from the standpoint of being a mouthpiece for the "powers that be"), or the so-called investigation of incidents which are not directly related to Unidentified Flying Objects. in short, their membership and administration had begun to get a bit "kooky" for my liking ... and failing in it's stated purpose, which is the impartial and scientific investigation and gathering of information on the UFO phenomenon.
In that sense, and only in that sense, UFOlogy, as we have come to recognize it, is, in fact, "dead". Now, don't get me wrong. The study of the Unidentified Flying Object phenomenon is not "dead", nor will it ever die, until there have been definitive answers do a large volume of questions. ". The study and investigation of Unidentified Flying Objects is far from dead... In fact is, there are still people "out there" who wish to make a genuine study of this phenomenon, and are willing to put forth the time, effort and expense to do so.
The problem arises in the current, accepted definition of UFOlogy... UFOs are real. They are, and have been present, in the skies of Earth for thousands of years. Still, the vast majority of reports are easily explainable, and a great many people believe so strongly that they literally see Extraterrestrials and Unidentified Flying Objects behind every tree.
A classic example of this is the recent "sighting" of an Unidentified Flying Object in a videotape of President Bush's address to the nation. The fact is, the object in that particular video could be practically anything ... most likely a street light or a normal aircraft. The "cameras" used to film such an address are hand held, and quite subject to the slightest movement. While this will not show up in the immediate "target area" (the President), it becomes exaggerated when objects in the distance are involved, making stationary objects appear to move, and making moving objects appear to move at unusual speeds and directions. It is my opinion that had an Unidentified Flying Object been present, it would most certainly have shown up in more than one piece of videotape, and most likely would have been noticed by at least some of the other cameramen and journalists present (not to mention the others present) who are, after all, trained observers.
My personal opinion is that, in view of the Kreskin hoax and the publicity surrounding it, which was in "full swing" at the time, many observers were in "sighting mode", actually expecting to see an Unidentified Flying Object, psychologically prepared to do so, and when the otherwise explainable object appeared in the videotape, numerous "sighting reports" flooded in.
There are, however, plenty of good, solid cases and stories to be found... Cases which involve UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS... Not "crop circles', not "the hollow earth," not "mind control" and not necessarily "abductions"or suspected "alien encounters." While these topics are interesting, to some, and while many people have experienced some aspect of each of them, they are not necessarily related to the study of the UFO phenomenon.
Unfortunately, many of those who have traditionally involved in UFOlogy have become "sidetracked" in these issues, some of which, such as the concept of a "hollow earth" are so purely transparent as outright "kookery' as to be laughable. This kind of "side show" has contributed to the demise of the respect and credibility that our field has slowly, and painfully built up, and has contributed substantially and directly to the "death" of UFOlogy as a "scientific" endeavor.
At this point, let me say a word about some of these "related topics" which I find particularly noxious and damaging to our field. First is the issue of the "hollow earth"... In the past forty years, since space flight became a reality, a number of government and private sector agencies and concerns have launched some of the most sophisticated mapping and other "measuring devices" that mankind has ever developed, into orbit around the earth. This planet has been most thoroughly charted, mapped and surveyed. If there was any chance, any indication at all, that the so-called "hollow earth" theory were true and factual ... demonstrable in any possible way, then it would undoubtedly have been done. Now, proponents of this theory will argue that it is known, and, like the Roswell Incident of 1947, and the California Crash of 1942, and other notable UFO incidents, is being "covered up" by the government. This is impossible. The mapping and surveying of the earth, and the release of information regarding it, is far and away outside the control of a single government. It is the domain of literally dozens of governments, hundreds of government agencies and an equal if not greater number of private concerns. To keep a secret such as the earth being "hollow" is simply impossible at that level of involvement. This numbskullery is an excellent plot for a Science Fiction novel (Jules Verne was first to use it in "Journey to the Center of the Earth," in the latter half of the 19th century), and it would, and has, in fact, made an exceptional motion picture plot ... however ... it is just that ... fiction. The "hollow earth" theory is yet another piece of patent kookery that has tended to be linked with UFOlogy, through the involvement of organizations such as MUFON and some of it's membership, and is detrimental to the reputation and credibility of our field. The fact that it attracts so many "conspiracy theorists" is further damaging ... rather like attempting to put out a fire by dousing it in gasoline.
The same can be said for the so-called "mind control" experiments such as the Montauk hoax being promoted by Al Bielek and others. This charlatan has gathered quite a number of followers by linking "Project Rainbow" (the Philadelphia Experiment) and supposedly reverse engineered alien technology to an absolutely fantastic story regarding a supposed "super-secret" government project, taking place in a "super-secret" base that can be demonstrated by actual public access not to exist, and never to have existed. While the existence of "implants" is plausible, it is far more likely, given the current scandals involving the so-called "tracking chip" now used by the State of California to monitor paroled criminals, that the "implants" are the work of the United States government, and used for monitoring by security agencies and police ... and that they have nothing at all to do with any reverse engineered technology, alien or other. What we see here is an obvious case of an opportunist taking advantage of a highly volatile and at times gullible segment of the paranormal community ... very much as did Kreskin. In point of fact, Bielek sells a lot of books and makes a lot of (very lucrative) personal appearances.
While crop circles and "abductions" may well be associated with UFO activity, it is as certainty that the vast majority are not. Therefore, these cases must be treated with care, certainly investigated, but never given the same priority that is given to our true priority, the actual investigation and examination of the Unidentified Flying Object...
I recently came down pretty hard on the "Amazing" Kreskin and Art Bell. I realize that Bell is a "big gun" in the field of paranormal research, but his promotion of Kreskin, and the fact (to me, at least) that such claims are obvious frauds, was inexcusable. Now, there's no shame in being hoaxed. We all have been at one time or another, and Bell is only as human as the rest of us.
Still, it took two full days for him to admit that he was duped, and state, publicly that he would "never again have Kreskin on his show." The fact that the admission and "banning" came only after literally hundreds of complaints poured in, makes one a bit skeptical as to Mr. Bell's motives, and his intent to do anything at all, had the complaints not come in. The admission, and barring of Kreskin form further shows should have been immediate, as soon as proof of the fraud was seen. My personal policy has always been to "call a spade a spade." I have found that such a reputation has helped me, in that when I do come out on the side of a particular story, I am taken fairly seriously. I fully believe that this is true of any individual in our field, or should be.
As I stated, I am a believer in Unidentified Flying Objects. I experienced my first "encounter" with a UFO as a teenager, a witness to the last great "wave" of UFO activity to sweep the United States, in 1972/73. As I stood on the side of the highway, with three friends, and watched the lights dance overhead... changing speed, altitude and direction in what was truly "less than a heartbeat," I knew the reality of the words "we are not alone," even though the phrase, as such, had not yet been coined.
I remember, as a child, hearing my grandfather, who was born in 1881, tell of the strange lights in the sky, and of the mysterious "airship" that had been sighted around East and Northeast Texas when he was a teenager ... of the stories that he had heard of a "crash" in the tiny town of Aurora...
Yes, I believe.
In 1996, I stood on the balcony of a home in Kandy, Sri Lanka, with Dr. Nissanka P. Wijeratna, the Sri Lankan Minister of Justice, former Defense Minister and former Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Russian Federation, and watched yet another UFO dance in the skies, and heard His Excellency Dr. Wijeratna explain to me that such things were common in his country and the neighboring strait between the Island of Ceylon and Indoa, and that the Air Force no longer bothered going up after them, as they had no chance of intercepting the objects in their Mirage IIIs and MiG 21s (both of which are supersonic). He also told me of several encounters that the Sri Lankan Navy had had with submerged objects, one of which took to the air (and on into space) the precious summer. Understand that this man is a graduate of Oxford and Sandhurst. Is a knight of the Order of the Star of India, served as a government official under the British Raj, and has held four major posts in the government of his own country. I would consider him to be a credible witness, and his integrity beyond question.
I heard similar stories from Mr. Arjun Dias, Owner and CEO of Ceylon Tea, the largest tea brokerage in Sri Lanka, and a former RAF fighter pilot with 21 victories against the Japanese in the Second World War, a knighthood, and a Victoria Cross. He is also a graduate of Oxford and Sandhurst... and... I feel, a viable witness whose character and reliability are beyond question.
Yes, I believe...
In May, 2000, I, along with several million other residents of the Russian Federation, witnessed an Unidentified flying object as it was tracked for over fifteen minutes, by a television crew, on a live feed, to RTR, the Russian State Television Network and to NTV, one of Russia's largest private television networks. The wedge-shaped, triangular object was clearly visible to viewers on live television... Both networks interrupted regular programming to show the footage as it was coming in ... footage which included two MiG-26 fighter aircraft approach the object, fire an air to air missile at it, and promptly have the missile outrun and outclimbed. This The UFO was in restricted air space, near the coast of the White Sea, and the fighter response was mandatory, given the state of affairs in Chechinia.
Two days after the incident, I spoke with Colonel Alexander Savanov of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Federal Security Services), whom I learned had been on the scene, and had returned to Moscow. He confirmed the entire incident, as well as two other such cases which had occurred within a a month of each other, in the same area.
Aside from seeing this with my own eyes on television, Colonel Savanov is a career soldier with over twenty-five years service, most of which has been with the various security organizations in Russia and the (former) Soviet Union. The man is a trained observer, makes meticuluous and detailed reports, and simply does not have an imaginative bone in his body. He is, in my opinion, a highly credible witness.
I could go on, but...
Yes, I believe...
However, there are those witnesses that are somewhat less than credible.. One such is Bob Lazar, who has recently signed a substantial motion picture contract in the United Kingdom, to "tell his story." The trouble is, his story seems to change practically every day, and his credentials are, to say the least, difficult to ascertain. Lazar, of course, claims to be a "physicist" who worked on reverse engineering the propulsion systems of downed UFOs being housed at the famous Area 51. Unfortunately, no one has ever been able to determine exactly where Lazar received his degree in physics. Even more unfortunately, and similarly to Al Bielek, there is some question as to whether Lazar is the man's actual name. True, his story sounds plausible, and it just might be true, but ... there are enough unanswered questions to make one suspect that Lazar is either a very competent con-man and opportunist, or a "plant" who is deliberately spreading disinformation. He is, as a friend of mine says, "the kind of guy that you will listen to twice ... three times, if you have your tinfoil hat on a bit too tight." For myself, I reserve judgment. If his story is true, with the current level of interest, it will eventually be proven. If it is not, the truth of it will come out.
Now, on to the topic at hand. Is UFOlogy "dead"... Hardly. I feel that several things are at play in this debate, all of which are actually a matter of semantics and definition, rather than an actual demise of our field.
First, let us examine what a "UFO" actually is, and what it is not...
The term "UFO" or "Unidentified Flying Object" was first coined with the inception of the farcical "Operation Blue Book." It was used to describe any flying or airborne phenomenon which was not an "Identified Flying Object," that is, an aircraft, balloon, bird, meteor, or see other such explainable object seen by a witness. Recently I read an article which stated, quite bluntly, that "anyone who claims to never have seen a UFO [Unidentified Flying Object] is either blind, lying (whether intentionally or not), deluded or in an outright state of denial. I fully agree... Everyone has seen at least one "UFO."...
If you have ever driven down a highway, and seen a sudden movement of a dark shadow flash by in your perhipreial vision, then, until you look back and identify it as a bird, you have seen a UFO. The thing is, you easily and quickly convert it from the status of UFO... Unidentified Flying Object... to IFO... Identified Flying Object (in this case, a pigeon).
My point is that not all UFOs ... in fact ... only a very small portion of such sightings ... are actually spacecraft, piloted by Extraterrestrial beings. Likewise, many people have confused normal (if experimental, or secret) aircraft for interplanetary or interstellar spacecraft. I remember, in the late 1980's when there was a "spate" of sightings of UFOs in the Groom Lake//Edwards Air Force Base area ... which, of course, turned out to be test flights of the (admittedly unusual looking) "Stealth" fighter and "Stealth" bomber. The same thing occurred in the early 1970s, when the famed SR-71 "Blackbird" was still a closely kept secret, but occasionally dropped down to a low enough altitude to be seen by witnesses on the ground. Once again, we see a "UFO" become an "IFO" with the passage of some time.
Who knows what the Government of the United States, let alone the Governments of any number of other nations, is experimenting with, at the moment? Quite possibly, many of the sightings of "UFOs" that are coming to fore at the moment, will eventually be placed in the "IFO" category as the veil of secrecy shrouding any military aircraft development program, is lifted. A classic example of this would be the "Aurora" lifting body, which is supposedly already in it's test phase, at Groom Lake. Who knows?
What about direct contact with Extraterrestrial Life Forms? How many reported cases are "for real"? Once again, it's difficult to say. The same applies to "abductions." While both obviously occur, the frequency is most just as obviously much less than is reported. What are the possible explanations for such occurrences when they do not actually involve Extraterrestrials? Obviously as many as there are people, and differences in human psychological make up and human nature. Unfortunately, the majority of such cases fall in to three categories: The Opportunist (those seeking to profit from such a story), The Publicity Seeker (those seeing to promote themselves or to look "important" by professing such an experience) and the Delusional (self explanatory). The fourth category ... by far the smallest.. is Those who have actually had an encounter with an Extraterrestrial or been the victim of an actual abduction... Once again, a very small portion of reported cases ... but ... nevertheless ... real.
Now, let us truly attack the question at hand. Is UFOlogy "dead"? No ... not at all. What is needed is a "cleansing" or a "realignment" within the field. What is truly needed is a return to the naturally skeptical attitude that was the hallmark of the "first generation" of true UFOlogists... We need to "redefine" our field, or rather, return to the definition which was originally applied to it...
"The scientific study and examination and investigation of the Unidentified Flying Object phenomenon." The plain, simple fact of the matter is that UFOlogists study "FLYING OBJECTS," their nature and their origin. UFOlogists study this phenomenon with the express object of turning UFOs into IFOs, whether those IFOs are of extraterrestrial origin or not... UFOlogists study, when possible, the occupants of UFOs and their nature... UFOlogists keep in mind that this phenomenon is quite "natural" but not "normal" and they should be prepared for the fact that, most likely, ninety-plus percent of the cases that they investigate will not prove to be of extraterrestrial origin. UFOlogists should be prepared to face the opportunist, the publicity seeker and the delusional with the same cold and meticulous approach and scientific method with which they face the genuine sighting or encounter. The UFOlogist should be as prepared, or more so, to expose the hoax as they are to reveal the truth ... and ... as they say in the (now defunct) X-Files... The truth is "out there"...
In short, UFOlogy must return to being what it was in the beginning. We must return to our "roots." The side issues, the peripheral interests might well be interesting, they might even be associated to the UFO phenomenon in some way, but ... they must not be confused with our "prime objective." Rationality must return to our field. We must "police ourselves," ... eliminate or denounce the "kooks," "crackpots" and opportunists. We must regain our reputation for impartiality and scientific method.
UFOlogy is far from dead, but it is very nearly comatose, it is stunned and bleeding ... made that way by overindulgence in fads and whims... We have tilted too many windmills, and one of them it appears, turned out to be a real dragon. That dragon is called "kookery." It must be slain, or it will, in fact, slay us.
James Choron is a featured contributor to this WorldOfTheStrange website.
Contributions include: !Is Ufology Dead?, King Bird Fifty, The Tunguska Incident - An Overview, School Days, In a Class By Herself, Dawn at the Alamo, Three Times A Hero, Lady With the Lamp, The Little Girl in the Garden
Website: http://wintersteel.homestead.com/home.html (dead link)
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