How to make chicks scientists like you.

A short while ago I posted some thoughts on Jacques Vallee and the problems of ufology.  Probably the main theme of the disagreeing feedback can be summarized as “mainstream scientists are so prejudiced against this subject that it’s a waste of time for ufologists to keep trying to persuade them to take it seriously.”

In response to this, I thought it might be a good idea to clarify my arguments a bit, and (while I’m at it, since I’m not likely to post on this subject again soon) add a few suggestions I should have added last time.  And by the way, I’m not trying to sell anyone anything, and my only advocacy here is that this subject deserves serious study (I make no claims about its nature).  I don’t flatter myself that a lot of people will take much notice of what I have to write on this subject anyway.  But I do cover mainstream science and scientists a lot, in my day job, and I have the strong sense that most ufologists don’t understand the language and the culture of the people they are trying to woo.  Their task, frankly, strikes me as being like this fellow’s:

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here are my suggestions for how this can be done (the ufologist/scientist stuff, not the farmboy/supermodel stuff):

Understand that it’s difficult, but possible

Yes, your object of persuasion is heavily biased against you. The ideas you stand for invite rejection because they lie outside the mainstream — and also because they are threatening by their very nature.  Scientists are among the elites on this planet, and the elites have the most to lose from accepting UFOs as extraterrestrial (or interdimensional or whatever is the theoretical flavor of the day) – for the idea implies that Earth’s “elites” are really not so elite, in the grand scheme of things.

Nevertheless – you know that if flying saucers were to land on the White House lawn, or even to fly slowly over any large city at low altitude and in daylight, the evidence and the public clamor would be too great even for the most dogmatic skeptic to shrug off.  So there is a hypothetical threshold of evidence and social impact beyond which science would stop ignoring the subject.  By optimizing your efforts to gather evidence and lobby scientists, you should be able to lower that threshold – well below a Day-the-Earth-Stood-Still level – and persuade science to take you seriously.

Understand the value of scientific acceptance

Churchill in his memoirs wrote that on the night of December 7, 1941, having just learned of the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, and the loss of over 2,000 lives and much of America’s navy, he “went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and the thankful.”  Why was he so happy?  Because for him what must have seemed one of the key battles of the war – to coax America with its vast resources into a full committment – had just been won.  So may it be with amateur ufologists and mainstream science, once that threshold is crossed (hopefully without the horrors of a Pearl Harbor).  And the victory wouldn’t just be about getting government funding.  The conferral of scientific respectability would open the pockets of a lot of private donors, as well as draw a lot of talented and energetic people to this field.

Change your name

On the whole, “ufology” now has about as much scientific credibility as the parapsychological study of spirit-mediums, and at least as much historical baggage.  Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ successfully rebranded ESP as “remote viewing” in the 1970s.  As an alternative to “ufology,” how about “exotechnology studies” – exotech for short?  Or macro-exobiology?  Even exo-studies would be an improvement.  (Xenology has been proposed before, but apparently hasn’t caught on, and has also been claimed by xenon chemists and parasitologists.)

Set up a new organization

Like the name “ufology,” existing amateur organizations probably do more to scare scientists away than draw them in.  That’s just the way things are, and I’m not disparaging these organizations or suggesting that they can’t do useful work.  But when it comes to lobbying scientists and congressmen and so forth, the chances of success won’t get much above zero until the people doing the lobbying are professional, accomplished and respected scientists and engineers (and maybe senior retired military personnel from the sci/tech management side of things).  These would be people who speak the right language and have the right connections.  (Older scientists with more connections, more respectability, and less to lose careerwise, might be more useful than younger ones.)  Such a group could run some actual data-gathering projects, to demonstrate how good (and cautious, small-s skeptical) science could be done in this area, but essentially they would be a lobbying organization.

And again, this isn’t an impossible task.  The journalist Leslie Kean and her publishers recently managed to coax a very positive blurb from physicist and bestselling science popularizer Michio Kaku.  John Alexander, whose new UFO book is out soon, also apparently was able to get Tom Clancy – not a scientist, but certainly well-connected in military and tech circles – to write some encouraging words.  Alexander himself used to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory and was also on the Army Science Board for a time. All this is progress that can be built on.

Be from Missouri*

The highest category of case, and I would suggest the only one to be used for lobbying purposes, is that in which multiple, independent images and videos or radar, are combined with the testimony of multiple independent witnesses.

I am aware that some of the most compelling and dramatic cases out there essentially rest on the testimony of one or two credible witnesses – e.g., the Schirmer case, and the Parker/Hickson case – but to me, those belong in a secondary category simply because they do leave open the question of what caused the experience being reported.  Even the cases of UFOs reportedly switching off launch control systems at missile bases – cases which seem to have formed the thrust of a recent, ill-fated awareness-raising effort in DC – suffered from a lack of photographic evidence.  As for Roswell, I’m no expert on the subject, but considering that the USAF already has put together a detailed rebuttal of the ufologists’ crashed saucer story, it would seem counterproductive to use that case in lobbying efforts.

The JAL Flight 1628 case from 1986 would be in my first category, because it involves multiple pilot witnesses on separate planes, extended and detailed observations partly narrated by radio, radar tracking from the plane and from two locations on the ground, and the corroborating statement of an FAA official.

But even this case suffers from the fact that it is almost a quarter-century old.  Time heals all wounds, including the wounds that UFOs put in conventional reality, and the best cases even in this highest category would be the ones that have just happened – so that the wound, so to speak, is still fresh and people are still nervous and want this to be studied.  (Something like this happened in the mid 1960s, when a UFO flap in Michigan induced a congressman named Gerald Ford to take an interest.)

*explanation for non-US readers

Show ‘em how it’s done

If ufology exotech studies were to be no more than an expensive news- aggregating service, consisting of a lot of Claude Lacombe types roaming the planet and gathering testimony and photos, there would hardly be any point in science’s getting involved.  But as a scientific discipline, it should be able to set up its own hard-data-collection systems.  And I think it would be an excellent idea, a show of scientific good faith, for present-day ufologists exotechnologists to set up something like this on their own, in advance of any official funding.

Obviously it isn’t an original idea to set up skywatching cameras, and I guess that some (not all) of those who’ve tried it would describe it as a waste of money – either because they just didn’t have the resources to cover a large enough area at high enough resolution, or because, as has been claimed, UFOs tend to switch off cameras or the human will to use them.  But in a way, capturing UFOs wouldn’t be the main point of the sophisticated, automated, high-resolution, maybe stereoscopic skywatching setup that I would suggest. The main point would be to impress mainstream scientists.  It would show them that there is something for them to do in this field, other than serving as bait for any hoaxster with a story.

Of course I’m aware that people can fake more than stories.  They can fake photos; they can fake videos; they can even put “spacecraft” into the sky and make them glow.  But what they can’t do, to the best of my knowledge, is make an airborne vehicle or light-form the size of the Pentagon zip around at Mach 6 without so much as a whisper — as some UFO witnesses have reported.  Setting up even one or two proof-of-concept camera systems capable of capturing such phenomena would not be prohibitively expensive, and should eventually inspire the recognition that the US government – for example – could cover its entire airspace with such cameras (ground-borne, drone-borne, balloon-borne and satellite-borne) probably for fewer dollars than it now creates out of thin air in a typical day of quantitative easing.

So … that’s all I have to suggest.  Happy hunting – or, as they say in her neck of the woods, in bocca al lupo!