THE NATURE OF UFO EVIDENCE: TWO VIEWS



The 70th anniversary of “the case that started all” –the observation of 9 strange objects flying near Mt. Rainier made by Kenneth Arnold on June 24,1947—surely is motivating and will motivate many people to remember the case, but also to do something special, like giving a public lecture, set up an exhibition, writing a book or an article.

That is the case of a world recognized student of the UFO subject as is our friend Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos. He together with folklorist and also UFO student Thomas E. Bullard have written each one an article about the UFO subject.

Those articles, originally published at Academia.edu are reproduced here submitted to the analysis and consideration of our members and eventually anyone interested in the UFO phenomenon.

Please refer your comments to each author, and to this blog to share your own thoughts.
-----------------------



THE NATURE OF UFO EVIDENCE: TWO VIEWS

Part I

Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos
           
It is exactly 70 years since the society of the United States was thrilled and shaken by the first report of “flying saucers”. This was the early sighting by Kenneth Arnold on June 24, 1947. It also started a phenomenon ufologists would later call “wave”, a huge avalanche of reports throughout all the nation’s newspapers. It was short-lived and profiled as a sharp Gaussian curve developed over only three weeks: following the initial sighting’s press coverage, news interest ignited, peaked, reached a saturation point and quickly declined.  This aftermath triggered two important developments: (1) the stories were disseminated all over the globe, taking on a life of their own in every country, and (2) the Army Air Force (later, USAF) jumped on the matter, beginning to investigate the visions of flying saucers (later, unidentified flying objects or UFOs).

Seven decades of UFO history have provided countless facts and histories, actions and reactions, military and civilian initiatives, Congress and Parliamentary hearings, symposia, scientists and laypersons declarations, and countless UFO-related portrayals in media, cinema, television, publishing and advertisement, daily bombarding and influencing the citizens. Not to mention the millions of supposed UFO reports that emerged from the public and the feedback they yielded. Not to neglect the important effect produced by thousands of UFO proponents all over the globe, people that James Carrion, ex-CEO of MUFON, the top UFO organization in the world, characterized as “self-proclaimed investigators or investigation journalists, whose modus operandi is to perpetuate the mystery, not to solve it”. Seen from a European perspective, this diagnostics is right on target.  

In the past people regarded strange phenomena in the sky as signs, portents, and wonders, understood in religious or folkloric terms.  Only on rare occasions were such sights reported and recorded—in the Middle Ages by a learned monk, later by a naturalist or scientist, today by the media.

Since the XIX century, literature and press, and more modernly, cinema and television, have helped to create fictional expectations in the minds of people. This science-fiction scenario had a disastrous effect on the eyewitnesses, reducing their critical judgment and matter-of-factly obstructing a rational self-evaluation of the event observed. This problem infects even elite observers like pilots, military personnel or scientists, whose reports ‒as experience demonstrates‒ ultimately are explained in mundane, conventional terms at the same rate as those by laymen.

Close review of UFO sighting reports, especially those of higher strangeness or image recording examples, reveals that every instance is individualistic (unique and exclusive). There are not two occurrences equal, in the same way that there are no two UFO photographs perfectly equal. Except for a general resemblance due to known symbols from the collective imaginary, every craft’s shape, dimension and kinetics, or every occupant’s biometry and behavior is dissimilar. It is like a theater of the absurd. It rather looks like the result of everyone’s own creative imagination.

Case after case, when duly documented and analyzed, is demolished or downgraded. Every day that goes by, we hear of another classic UFO case long considered uncanny and insoluble, now probed and found to have an ordinary, conventional cause. Here is one of the most recent discoveries: for years, Western ufologists have praised the 1979 dossier by Gindilis, Men’kov & Petrovskaya (USSR Academy of Sciences) reviewing a collection of apparently unsolvable UFO sightings in Russia, mainly centered on a 1967 wave. UFOs were not an American construction after all! Yet investigations by Dr. Yulii Platov first and, recently, work by Jim Oberg, completely trashed the reliability of the Soviet research, showing that most of 1967 cases corresponded to Russian military space activities (the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System or FOBS). Another piece of “scientific” evidence that failed.

Advanced imaging systems aboard military aircraft are available today in such numbers that one could expect that UFO images would be recorded frequently, if UFOs appeared in the atmosphere with the regularity some reports suggest. The bare truth is that the evidence of anything exceptional or singular recorded with such powerful means is extremely poor or non-existent: for example, the recent most important cases of airborne infrared video technology captures (2004, Campeche in Mexico; 2013, Aguadilla in Puerto Rico; and 2014, Navidad in Chile) were explained as something as earthly and trivial as oil wells flames, a likely balloon, and an airplane aerodynamic contrail, respectively.

In the 1950s charismatic UFO organizations were established, only to close down decades later without having achieved their main objective, to prove that flying saucers exist. Nothing extraordinary or persuasive was transmitted, only thousands of “UFO journals” pages filled with stories and lots of cabinets with innumerable cases files destined to yellow with the passage of time. Nowadays, private centers devoted to the “study” of UFOs can be counted on one hand’s fingers. The healthiest-funded one, set up in Sweden, is mainly dedicated to preserve UFO archives, well aware of the increasing number of retiring ufologists, abandoned files, and shut down organizations.

In the United States, a scientific-oriented organization was founded in the year 2000 under the logical premise that if UFOs intrude in the atmosphere, their activity might result in a hazard to aviation safety. In his January 2017 resignation letter, the scientific director stated that no such major problem had been detected. This conclusion is to be expected if no physical UFOs share the air space with our aircraft.
  
No specialist in any scientific discipline will understand why, if evidence exists on the reality of actual visits from outer space, it has not been formally presented to the world. Neither articles in UFO journals nor documentaries in TV channels will serve. They say that mainstream science will never accept it. False. Science is always avid for new findings. In this case, the argument is even more fallacious because the relevance to society‒if UFOs were true‒is far greater than the discovery of the Higgs boson or the latest tribe in Amazonia, for example. Objects heavier than the air will not fly, humans wouldn’t travel to the Moon, stones cannot fall from the sky, are some of the many widely-held beliefs proved wrong by scientific and technological advancements or by empirical evidence. The self-correcting mechanism is something inherent to science. If there was real evidence of UFOs pointing to an extraterrestrial origin, it would be perfectly acceptable. Contrary to what has been often repeated, the public is prepared for this scenario.

But UFO data is consumed only by ufologists. Analyses that appear to confirm discoveries (anomalous images, biological effects on the ground or on vegetal tissue, electromagnetic interferences to equipment, you name it) are almost always performed by believers, and often irrespective of whether they have appropriate experience or hold advanced degrees.  Apparently amazing findings are not delivered to peer-review mainstream science journals, and the rare exceptions do not generate any positive feedback. Only a continuing research in the future will reveal how much wrong and bad science was signed by established physicists, engineers, and other pro-UFO scientists.

On the other hand, what it is easier to find in academic journals are articles showing models to explain classes of extreme UFO experiences, like the abductions, postulated as instances of psychological confusion like sleep paralysis, fantasy proneness, or disorders. In this particular segment of reports, clearly induced by published books and TV programs, we find the grievous paradox that the maximum promoter of the physical reality of extraterrestrial kidnapping was a Harvard psychiatrist! This is one of the multiple extravagances one can meet in the study of UFOs. It is a tested fact that deeply-rooted, extremist beliefs take root in all minds. Unfortunately, we find it also in science, not only in politics or religion.

Ufology not only fails to advance, it is a vicious circle.  Today we see UFO news publicized on the internet with the same old images of lens flares or aircraft contrails that seemed strange in the 1950s.  Because there are no academic or authoritative criteria universally accepted, and no hard evidence that exists as a certainty, past mistakes recur over and over.  Ufology is immersed in a loop that never ends.  Lately, I have read about IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) signals picked up from unknown traffic during the 1950s and 1960s and now offered as examples of hard evidence.  In my view, if a “UFO” responded to IFF interrogation even in apparent encrypted mode, it is more logical to suspect that radar triggered an aircraft’s transponder than to attribute the response to an extraterrestrial spacecraft equipped with earthly IFF systems.


The ETT
The theory that flying saucers are space visitors was adopted immediately, especially by book writers looking for sensation. It was not a supposition that needed half a century to evolve after large amounts of reliable, substantiated evidence was collected. Not indeed. Marketed books in 1950 definitely linked flying saucers to outer space. We should look back and consider the quality and magnitude of the “proof” that existed between 1947 and 1949 to back up such assertions, because it formed the foundation of the case for extraterrestrial UFOs.

Let us take the best-authenticated, most detailed, and strangest reports collected during the first three years of the flying saucer phenomenon and examine them in a neutral and objective manner.  The result will be no support for the claim that UFOs come from another planet.  But by then beliefs and impressions derived from those reports had launched a vivid and influential idea of extraterrestrial visitation.  Lack of probative evidence posed no obstacle to the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH), or should I say ETT, because for believers the idea did not serve as a working hypothesis but as an established theory and taken for granted by all leading ufologists at that time.  The theory settled in as accepted fact even prior to the landings and creature encounters, the photographs and footage, and many of the military and pilot incidents that have shaped the imagery of the UFO phenomenon as we know it.  The ETT preceded most of the events now cited as proof that the ETT is true (e.g., the landings of 1954 in France, the worldwide surge of 1965, the humanoid wave in USA in 1973, and more). These subsequent occurrences or episodes might really sustain an alien origin for UFO reports IF they were true. But this all happened many years after the ETT was in force.

So we are facing here an interesting situation: an idea based largely on poorly-investigated incidents and shaped by the fertile imagination of writers fond of sensationalism finally created a “real” phenomenon that both housed and draws its observational substance from those previous, weak tales. How is that possible? This has been possible by the conjunction of a continuing flow of new UFO stories, increasingly weird and absurd, and the fuel contributed by magazines and books, motion pictures, television films and documentaries. Once the belief is established, sightings never cease to pour into the system, and a newborn mythology grows and matures.

The myth evolved differently in various countries according to their particular cultural idiosyncrasies. One of the nations where the impact of the UFO phenomenon has been greater and more aberrant is Brazil. The number of UFO touch down reports is incredibly high, the accounts of humanoid beings associated to those landings (with the richest possible variety of morphologies, from dwarfs to giants, including one-eyed monsters) are innumerable. In 2009, the Brazilian historian Rodolpho Gauthier published his bachelor thesis which credited “a combination of sensationalist journalism, fear of an atomic conflict and fascination with space exploration” for the emergence of the idea that extraterrestrial were visiting the Earth aboard flying saucers.

I am convinced that similar work in other countries will expose the trends, influences and motivating factors that solidified the belief in flying saucers as vehicles from other worlds. We will realize that, in many countries, this media-triggered belief predated the local UFO waves to come, ones that afterwards were exhibited as examples of UFO displays.  

Similarly, US historians must deeply delve into the influence and weight that personages like Ray Palmer or Kenneth Arnold himself, the science fiction tabloids of the epoch and magazines like FATE, had on the invention and the willingness to accept the close association of flying saucers and UFOs to the ETT.

The bottom line here is that the idea of interplanetary UFOs precedes the myth. Though debatable whether Kenneth Arnold’s foundational sighting remains an authentic mystery or just a formation of pelicans, as proposed, it is certain that the publicity associated with the observation sparked the craze. And people started reporting “disks” by the hundreds, as soon as the popular name “flying saucer” was coined in this context, though it is not sure that this shape accurately reflects what Arnold saw.

 The popular, widely acclaimed extraterrestrial theory is opposed by the realistic “all can be explained in conventional terms” position of the skeptics. Yet other odd theories have been proposed such as time travelers, evil forces, or UFOs operating as a control system. These are purely undemonstrated and indemonstrable speculations that range from the lunatic to the very well rhetorically-crafted and breathtakingly imaginative. But in my humble opinion, they are no more than literature after all.

There is also a flagrant contradiction between the alleged non-contact-policy of aliens, postulated by some UFO theorists, with their marked exhibitionist character when they flaunt their presence at night with all their lights turned on! Unless what is seen is simply astronomical bodies, fireballs, aircraft, high-altitude balloons, reentries, missile launches, and the like, objects better observable during evening and night, as statistics show.

Attitudes
Between skeptical researchers and radical believers there is an ample gradation of investigators who hold positions ranging from mild skepticism to a firm nuts and bolts conviction. The first usually endure derogatory names like pelikanists, debunkers, deceivers, and worse; the last have an educated tendency to gullibility and credulity. But all of them agree in public that most sighting reports are misperceptions and phenomenological garbage. Typically, however, the latter strive to maintain that the cases they have investigated or cataloged qualify as UFOs: if over 90% of events are IFOs, this percent drastically drops when it comes to their own favorite cases. Somehow a Mark Twain’s phrase is applicable here: “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

You can wrap yourself in ufological academicism and state that you do not look for extraterrestrials in your research but a new atmospheric phenomenon, an optical anomaly, etc., but in reality what you are supporting are those traditional photographs showing flying discs, the old-fashioned landing reports or the lunacy of abductions. To some audiences you hide your true beliefs to appear scientific (even you may be a scientist yourself!) and abhor the term UFO and use UAP (or any variants), but underlying these dodges is a conviction that UFOs are nothing less than visitors from outer space. It explains the harsh attacks you receive after solving a prominent UFO case. Your standing within ufology collapses. And it hurts.  There is nothing more frustrating than realizing that you have wasted your life in the pursuit of a mirage or a delusion.

Time and again a seemingly water-tight UFO incident springs a leak and skinks. Even case histories that acquired fame and that required books to be told meet inglorious finales. It is realized how even the most impressive accounts end up beyond belief, simply implausible. But the believer soon exchanges the previous disappointment for a shiny-new, surely insoluble “unknown”. And so the merry-go-round continues. The believer never quits.

The Government
In the USA, the USAF has declassified some 15,000 UFO cases, amounting to some 150,000 pages and the US Government through the departments of Defense, State and Army, plus CIA, DIA, NSA, and FBI agencies has disclosed circa 12,000 additional pages of documents related to UFOs. Nevertheless, neither the Air Force, the Government, the intelligences services, nor the University have been able to sort out, learn or draw lessons from thousands of UFO reports. Nothing close to “reverse engineering” to help improving space research or the weapon industry. Incompetence? No-one guessed that they were handling a gold mine with remarkable potential to advance science and technology? They all knowingly dismissed this opportunity?

In view of such huge release, the speculative proposition that there is hidden information in secret vaults of the US Administration seems quite questionable. After all “evidential resources” proved nothing but unimpressive stuff, some resort to believe that the Holy Grail of UFO evidence is treasured in the still unreleased reports, when such documents ‒if in existence‒ are probably on hold due to issues affecting national security, not to withheld alien secrets. 

Many other countries had their own shares of UFO reports and their Air Forces were involved in the evaluation of cases reported to the military. Most of Governments have declassified or released their UFO archives: England, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Brazil, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Finland (and the list does not end here) have placed in the public domain circa 100,000 pages of UFO documents, concerning over 25,000 UFO reports. Governments with an in-house, official unit to study this problem, like UK, closed down the shop in recent years. All coincided to make public their archives, asserting at the time that the reports did not represent a risk to homeland safety or air security and that no scientific information was gained in their scrutiny.

The situation in the old USSR and present Russia and Ukraine is less official but it is equally important: in the last years, a team of researchers formed chiefly by M. Gershtein, I. Kalytyuk, S. Petrov and A. Bilyk has had access to 3,000+ UFO reports from the Academy of Sciences and other Government institutions. Another 2,500 cases are scheduled to be released in the coming two years.

In Europe, only France maintains a UFO program started in 1977 and conducted under the French space agency CNES. Since 2007, GEIPAN has disclosed online over 2,500 sighting reports (~50,000 pages). The reason why France remains in the UFO business (sorry, unidentified aerospace phenomena, PAN in the French acronym) has much to do with the traditional interest in the matter by high-rank officials and established scientists, probably influenced by thinkers of the stature of Aimé Michel. However, GEIPAN affirms that only 2% of the collected cases in the last 10 years is unidentified, but there are no signs of any current or foreseeable theoretical or technological exploitation of UFO reports data.

A few Latin-American countries (Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Uruguay) maintain low-budget, modest UFO studies, basically to monitor observations reported by official channels. In most cases this is a political response to people’s demand for higher transparency, and I have plainly noted that in some instances the will-to-believe or a too credulous approach is evident within the military environment, when the UFO question is tackled.

The notion held by some ufologists and writers that the US Government conceals revolutionary secrets (either information or hardware) on the origin of UFOs is practically contemporary to the commencement of Project Blue Book or its predecessors. However, decades and various political administrations have passed, each with distinctive agendas, yet none have admitted or even hinted at holding such secrets. On the reverse, repeated official declarations have stated (for example, The White House, November 6, 2011) that “the US Government has no evidence that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye”. No doubt the United States is a big power in the concert of nations, but thinking that it is the only repository of the knowledge of a technology arriving on our planet is nationalistic delusion.

Epistemological issues
From the viewpoint of philosophy of science, ufology is a freak subject, beginning with the object of study which is a negative, i.e. it gathers what we cannot identify. It means that there are infinite objects of study. For the lack of a positive definition and other reasons there is no possibility of replicating experiments. Statistics, which is a key medium to replicate experiments is useless here as the content of the samples is different according to the collectors. Anomalies in science are important, for example the anomalous precession of Mercury’s perihelion, which helped to establish the theory of relativity. But this requires finding constants in the data and UFO phenomena are devoid of constants. Scientific theories are predictive, but what does the UFO theory predict? What experiments can we do to refute or validate the theory? A hypothesis must be falsifiable. The ETT cannot be falsifiable…unless a flying saucer lands in the White House lawn.

We all know “experiences” not satisfactorily explained. Like the extremes of a Normal curve, there will always be a residue of seeming anomalies: they show the limits of visual perception, the ceiling of our skills, some room for evaluation errors, the shortcoming of data, even our own biases. But in no way these tailing events give shape to a congruent phenomenon that constitutes a new class of physical entities in defiance of present-day science. Much less do they suggest a manifestation of an intelligence aboard machines that have crossed the universe.

My best guess for the small remnant of bona fide unsolvable cases is that their solution lies with disciplines like eyewitness psychology or atmospherics physics. And I feel that when the solutions come these will not produce even a tremor in the international scientific world. 

Without accurate data no real assessment can be done. It is essential that visual input has not been corrupted, but this is often difficult to achieve. I am convinced that many unknowns result from this sort of corruption. It probably produces most of the residuum typically invoked as the unexplainable core of the “authentic” UFO phenomenon. But verily the statistical “properties” of supposedly genuine UFOs are inseparable from the properties described in IFO reports, and this same dilemma haunts supposed similarities in the narrative structure of close encounters, landings and humanoid tales. Even alleged psychological or physiological effects, and mechanical or electrical effects are similar when we compare “true” UFOs and solved IFOs. This indistinguishability between anomalous and conventional events (the indiscernibility concept) suggests that both have the same origin: UFOs come from inner space.

Over decades of inquiring into UFO testimonies and solving them, I came to the realization that even the best, apparently irreducible cases, on which the ETT for the UFO enigma is founded, are like mirages lending appearance but no substance to sustain this claim.  Yes, there are apparent idiopathic reports but they are not unassailable ones. Practically every major UFO case defended as unaccountable by believers has a plausible counter-explanation among skeptics.

It is an unattainable goal to solve 100% of all circulating reports. There will always be unexplained events but it does not mean they are unexplainable. We will always have bad input data. There will always exist people willing to deceive us. There will always be wrong analysis or biased interpretation on such observations. What do unexplained cases account for? You cannot erect a hypothesis proposing a defined nature of something on the basis of unknowns and events you cannot explain (i.e., which have an undefined nature). Only the detection of a coherent, well-assessed, multi-witnessed set of physical observations can be the foundation of a hypothesis. A signal, even weak, within the random noise. Never a myriad of ephemeral, heterogeneous, visual or instrumental observations, which is all the residual true UFO reports in hand amount to. And even less than nothing if you wish to uphold the ETT, which is the bottom line for UFO promoters since the phenomenon was born.

Can you calculate the millions of work hours devoted to UFO research in the world in the last seven decades? Never has so much work accomplished so little in any field of investigation (parapsychology and ghost-hunting apart). The corollary is: what if there is not a real UFO phenomenon? At last, not as a unique, common phenomenon but a host of different phenomena that have been mistakenly tied up together. The irony is that this is precisely what the critics have argued ever since the early days of the UFO mystery.

So where is the substantial evidence? Does it look homogenous? There circulate various lists of the 10 best, irresolvable-looking cases. Well-documented incidents witnessed by several observers, displaying features far from current knowledge on science and technology? Scientists will be eager to analyze them. The scientific journals in atmosphere physics, aeronautics or space research are certainly willing to publish revolutionary discoveries.

However, the remaining set of queer-looking unknowns are old and no matter how much you sort those out you cannot build a credible breakthrough. Many tried to find Scientia in the UFO phenomenon only to come upon unmanageable gobbledygook, much to our regret. I  more than anyone wishes to be proved wrong, but all indications are that in the future flying saucers and unidentified flying objects will be categorized as a mass sociological phenomenon. Today ufologists still have the opportunity to do science, but only by studying UFO raw data and demonstrating how a vision that puzzled the observer has a rational explanation. We have the chance to be didactic in the process by teaching others how to use the scientific method on claims that appear weird at first glance and even after a certain inquiry.

For long time we have been searching for constants, patterns, invariants or clusters in the body of UFO data that would suggest intelligence or any recurrent law that would prove consistency. No model has been formulated from this data pool. Nothing. In place of salient features we find only gibberish.  On the other hand, sociological mechanisms have been found in the topography and timing of sightings. These facts pose more than just a minor inconvenience to any theory that postulates significant metadata within the mass of reports.  What these facts point to is a chaotic collection of oddities having as many origins and natures as the people who report them; a jumble of individualistic observations sharing little in common and calling for separate explanations on a case-by-case basis.

In order to recognize the existence of a new phenomenon, you would require events totally original, unambiguous, highly-strange, necessitating a novel physical framework to be understood, objective in recording, observed by scientists, and reported in mainstream scientific journals. UFO phenomena do not adhere to these standards.

Every researcher whose position has evolved from proponent to agnostic, acquires spontaneously a sort of “cross-border perspective”. This viewpoint liberates the mind from narrow habits of belief that turn every puzzling aerial object into a UFO unknown. Once free to think outside of the UFO “box,” you investigate natural and man-made sources for alternative solutions in a more efficient manner. For example, if a reliable source reports seeing an oval object flying slower than a plane or helicopter but faster than a weather balloon through the afternoon sky, you can trust that an object of that description really flew in the area at that time.  And you look for it and you research any mundane possibilities, to finally find out that a blimp fits the reported characteristics.  If one was in the area, schedules and flight paths will confirm or refute your hypothesis, but if you cling to the position of the UFO proponent, your assumptions fence you in.  Your desire to confirm that the object was a UFO closes your eyes to other and likelier possibilities.

Epilogue
Let me be perfectly clear: the UFO phenomenon holds transcendent significance only insofar as it results from extraterrestrial life visiting the Earth. It is this possibility that made the ETT popular and compelling from the start. But I fear that 70 years of air incidents, close encounters, radar returns, photos and videos and other seemingly astonishing experiences do not sum up to proof that such visits have taken place. This evidence is inadequate as proof. To be realistic, however, people will not give up the flying saucer myth. Its impact on popular belief and society at large has been profound and universal, having permeated all levels of education and social class. In some form this mythology will last forever. After all, the down-to-earth solutions are dull by comparison and interest no one aside from a handful of academics. 

In a reasonable prognosis for the future, the present social situation around UFO phenomena is not expected to change at the popular level. Active UFO propagandists will continue defending the ETT hell or high water through books, radio, TV and websites because this business has a market. They are discouragement-proof and turn a deaf ear to information from all quarters about the increasing number of reports written off after analysis exposes their conventional nature. They will respond to skeptical challenges with name-calling, recycling old stories, and adulterating the scene with unsubstantiated claims and conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, the ranks of serious and objective researchers still supporting the reality of a distinct UFO phenomenon will decline, as time and lack of proof play against keeping the mere faith, the hope of a contact, or the regularly-predicted (and miserably failed) expectation of recognition by the powers that be. On the other hand, it is not difficult to foretell that UFO phenomena’s cultural outlook will be increasingly treated by university scholars as a topic worthy of study, but for reasons other than those proposed by believers.
 
Not the last word has been uttered on this subject. There is pending research on a number of puzzling UFO observations, where the application of physical sciences is of paramount importance. Documentalist work is required in the area of bibliographies and resource indices. History, Folklore, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, Epistemology, Biography are amongst the many academic outlets that can provide valuable insight into the characteristics of this phenomenon. And we encourage present and future investigators to deal with it. As an example of what has already being accomplished, early this year, the Italian specialist Paolo Toselli released a database with 283 university theses and dissertations dealing with UFOs worldwide.

After 70 years of recurrent reporting, the evidence at hand should be sufficient to demonstrate the material existence of extraordinary machines that cruise our skies, interact with our environment and communicate with our fellow earthlings. Not at all. Lo and behold what was baptized by imaginative writers as visits from space has not been substantiated by cogent, palpable proof. We have collected records of ambiguous phenomena, diverse in appearance and behavior. Most cases that seem intriguing happened years ago, while none of the thousands of so-called landing events have yielded any remarkable evidence. As they recede further into the past, the cases that once seemed convincing will look more and more like anecdotes and tales, less and less like credible evidence that we have been visited by aliens.

Let me finish this synthesis of thoughts that condense five decades of a personal, investigative journey over the UFO subject, with a 1988 quote by a distinguished British writer and acknowledged UFO researcher, Hilary Evans:

If we are to benefit from this splendid myth we have created, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is – only a myth.

Acknowledgements
The author wishes to thank Dr. Felix Ares de Blas, Manuel Borraz Aymerich, and Dr. Thomas E. Bullard for valuable comments.






Not the last word has been uttered on this subject. There is pending research on a number of puzzling UFO observations, where the application of physical sciences is of paramount importance. Documentalist work is required in the area of bibliographies and resource indices. History, Folklore, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, Epistemology, Biography are amongst the many academic outlets that can provide valuable insight into the characteristics of this phenomenon. And we encourage present and future investigators to deal with it. As an example of what has already being accomplished, early this year, the Italian specialist Paolo Toselli released a database with 283 university theses and dissertations dealing with UFOs worldwide.



After 70 years of recurrent reporting, the evidence at hand should be sufficient to demonstrate the material existence of extraordinary machines that cruise our skies, interact with our environment and communicate with our fellow earthlings. Not at all. Lo and behold what was baptized by imaginative writers as visits from space has not been substantiated by cogent, palpable proof. We have collected records of ambiguous phenomena, diverse in appearance and behavior. Most cases that seem intriguing happened years ago, while none of the thousands of so-called landing events have yielded any remarkable evidence. As they recede further into the past, the cases that once seemed convincing will look more and more like anecdotes and tales, less and less like credible evidence that we have been visited by aliens.


Part II



Thomas E. Bullard



Seventy years have passed since Kenneth Arnold reported the first “flying saucer,” the biblical threescore-and-ten that comprises the years of a natural lifespan.  Perhaps this anniversary more than any other marks a symbolic moment in the history of the subject, a time to evaluate what we have learned, to look ahead, and to ask hard questions.



Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos is a legendary name in ufology.  He has a sterling reputation for research and thought, a long and deep familiarity with the field in all its aspects.  When he speaks, the wise pause to listen, and his reflections in “The Nature of UFO Evidence” carry a special weight.



His thoughts in this article express not the usual pep talk to the faithful, or a statement of progress made, or of plans for future research.  His topic is heavier, his tone somber and mournful.  He wonders, has the subject of UFOs run its course?  Has the time come to admit that its life has reached an end?



He recalls that he took up UFO study with the same youthful enthusiasm that so many of us remember, drawn by the hope that beings from other planets were visiting the earth and a desire to be on the cutting edge in solving the greatest mystery of all time.  He has shared the disappointment that many of us have felt when the years passed and the desired solution continued to elude us. 



Unlike some proponents, Ballester Olmos has not closed his eyes to the shortcomings of ufology, or committed himself to defend the phenomenon in spite of all reason.  On the contrary, he has confronted the evidence with clear-eyed scientific judgment, and concludes that despite enormous time and effort invested in UFO research, no convincing evidence has resulted to indicate that extraterrestrial spacecraft have visited the earth.



The thoughts our colleague has written for this occasion do not call us to redouble our efforts and soldier onward; rather they serve as an obituary for a failed quest.  I do not want to hear that we have tilted at windmills for decades, but sadly, I have to agree with most of what he says.



Ballester Olmos argues that UFOs constitute a mythic belief rather than a phenomenon accessible to science.  The basis of the belief rests on genuine sightings but the sightings themselves reduce to conventional phenomena, reshaped into something strange by ideas of what UFOs are, how they should look, and what they do.  The operational term here is ideas rather than an objective truth that corresponds to them.  The extraterrestrial theory quickly took control of the popular understanding of UFOs.  Ufologists accepted this proposition, the news and entertainment media promoted it, and witnesses conformed their reports to the expectations it sowed.  Reports multiplied and grew stranger as both witnesses and ufologists made emotional commitments to their beliefs.  The story expanded, its supporters rationalized and defended it, and in the end they enclosed themselves in their bubble of belief, a mythic narrative self-confirming and impervious to challenge that had taken on the semblance of truth.

         

Although ufologists seek to portray their efforts as science, the evidence they gather does not meet scientific standards.  It is voluminous but largely anecdotal and subject to the shortcomings of human observation, the illusions, misperceptions, and preconceptions that can turn Venus into a shining spaceship about to land.  With UFO evidence no replication is possible, no controlled experiments, no predictions, no falsification.  Photographs are abundant but almost invariably questionable either as conventional phenomena or as hoaxes.  No convincing physical trace, no alien technology, has ever fallen into human hands except as rumors.  Consistencies in UFO data are few and mostly of the broad stereotypical type that could be borrowed from popular expectations, and the properties reported for UFOs are indistinguishable from properties reported for IFOs.  The subject has undergone scientific investigation and been debated in more than one official forum but no reason to credit a genuine unknown phenomenon has emerged.  A complaint that science ignores the UFO evidence is really a complaint that UFOs have not produced any evidence worthy to attract scientific attention.



There are certainly anomalous UFO cases.  They lend a sense of mystery, but any great mass of evidence based on human observation will have a residue of unexplained cases.  Their unknown status is more likely due to human factors, like a tendency to combine unrelated observations and ascribe a desired meaning to them, than to a distinctive unknown phenomenon.  No standout recurrences distinguish the body of unknowns as coherent and unique.  Even the best cases diminish in number under close skeptical investigation, suggesting with ever-growing likelihood that UFOs are not objective phenomena but products of human imagination, error, expectation, and desire.  UFOs come from inner space, from the human imagination and myth-making capability.  They provide subject matter for sociologists, psychologists, folklorists, and the like, but in the end Condon was right: The study of UFOs contributes nothing to physical scientific knowledge, much less proof of alien visitation.



This reckoning is hard but fair.  It exposes ufology as so barren in its results that anyone who doubts that this is the last word pretty much convicts him- or herself as a committed true believer.  For my part I agree with the reasoning of the argument, yet I still cannot accept the absoluteness of the conclusion.  I still find some substance among UFO reports and see a path, albeit narrow, that may lead to a true anomalous phenomenon, and without detours into the “alternative facts” of UFO mythology.



Both Ballester Olmos and I agree that UFOs are mythic in character.  I think we also agree that the appropriate sense of “myth” here is not the mere false belief of popular usage, or the slightly more sophisticated sense of a way of understanding experiences that is not acknowledged by authoritative consensus.  UFOs are mythic because a complex system of facts, alleged facts, understandings, arguments, and speculations have grown up around them.  Many people accept all or part of this system and view some aspects of the world as if UFOs were factual truths, even though both the evidence and the interpretations attributed to UFOs remain in question.  UFO ideas shape entertainment and imagination.  They become part of informal education and inform expectations of things to see in the sky.  The myth influences—or contaminates—perception, conception, memory, verbal formulation, communication, argumentation, in other words every aspect of the UFO narrative and discussions about it.  We do not hear of, speak of, or even observe a pure phenomenon.  Our relationships with UFOs are always mediated by the myth.



UFOs as we know them are indisputably human products serving human purposes, but the myth is not necessarily everything.  People still see something.  Often the object of observation is conventional but rendered strange by the distorting influences of the myth.  Sometimes, perhaps, the object observed is strange in itself and rendered into suitable “UFO” form by the force of expectation and the need to assign an unknown to an understandable category.  The myth distorts both ways. 



A toxic entanglement between observation and comprehension is the common lot of humankind.  The situation grows worse in the case of UFOs since official understandings seem inadequate or unsatisfying and unofficial versions take over.  Ufology presents vivid examples of extreme distortion, like the case of a satellite reentry in 1968 where several people reported windows and hull plating on an object at treetop level, when the actual stimulus was half a dozen flaming fragments a hundred miles overhead in the upper atmosphere.  Yet the appearance of anomalous sights does not automatically spell the end of objectivity.  Many more observers of this reentry described it accurately whether or not they identified it for what it was.  Considerable evidence confirms that people deserve more credit than they receive as observers of strange sights in the sky.  For example a 12th-century monk, John of Worcester, entered a detailed account in his chronicle that we now recognize as a fine example of a large and brilliant meteor.  He limited himself to a clear description of a phenomenon unknown to him without any effort to force the sighting into a medieval interpretive scheme.



Are UFOs mythic?  Of course they are, and our human bias will always threaten to muddle observations, our human efforts to give meaning to experiences will intrude on the facticity of the objects we wish to understand.  These complications are inescapable but not necessarily fatal.  A disease can be explained as the result of germs, humors, or witchcraft, but while the interpretations differ, the disease remains the same and all too real.  UFOs can be both mythic and phenomenal at the same time.  This duality complicates the job of understanding, but we can live with it and work around it by learning to separate the human contributions from the objective basis.



The fundamental unit in any argument for UFOs is the individual sighting.  At least one UFO report must describe a genuine unknown phenomenon or the case in favor of UFOs collapses as empty.  We know what we want—a landing on the White House lawn, a piece of unmistakably unearthly technology, indisputable instrumental records.  We do not have these Holy Grails.  What we have are vast numbers of witness reports describing lights in the night or fleeting objects in the distance, claims of close encounters and occupants without firm evidence to back them up, indefinite landing traces and ambiguous radar contacts and photos that may be fakes.  The great majority of these reports have conventional answers or lie in a broad “gray area” where nothing can be proved either way.  No wonder Ballester Olmos has grown cynical.  Anyone who has confronted these mountains of disappointment feels the pangs of despair



At the same time, ufology does have a collection of unsolved cases that is significant in size and meaningful in evidential value.  These cases describe unknowns not just in the trivial sense of insufficient information or nobody has really tried to solve them, but in a robust sense of cases rich in description, provocative in strangeness, and impervious to conventional solution even though skeptics have attempted time and again to explain them.  Astronomer Lincoln La Paz and others saw a white rounded object maneuver during daylight in 1947.  He was able to triangulate it and calculate its speed.  Its actions distinguished it from either a balloon or an aircraft.  In 1968 the crew of a B-52 approached Minot AFB when a very large object appeared on radar, heading toward the plane and turning away just before a collision.  At the behest of ground control the plane circled the area and observed a large glowing object on the earth below.  These highly trained personnel confirmed the presence of an unknown object also detected from the ground by radar and visual witnesses.  Multiple persons at O’Hare Airport in 2006 saw a disk-shaped object just below the cloud deck.  The object rose and punched a “cookie-cutter” hole in the clouds, a process that would require a great deal of heat energy.  Cases such as these offer multiple quality witnesses and instrumental support or the chance to “do some science” with results that suggest an unusual phenomenon.  Here is the foundation for a genuine and puzzling UFO phenomenon.



Ballester Olmos readily admits that ufology has its unknowns.  His concern is that they do not remain unknowns forever and yield sooner or later to conventional solution.  This course has certainly become familiar.  The Yukon “giant mother ship” UFO of 1996 and the Phoenix Lights of 1997 attracted a great deal of attention among ufologists.  These cases seemed strong until skeptics provided convincing explanations of a satellite reentry for one and a flight of military aircraft for the other.  Yet the skeptics are not always the safe bet.  The Exeter case of 1965 has had numerous solutions, some that actually addressed the sighting and some that were laughable, but the skeptics took their best shot when they attributed the UFO to a refueling aircraft.  This was an intelligent proposal but it fell apart under close analysis; so have all the others.  About one-fourth of the cases investigated by the Condon Committee emerged as unknowns.  Some cases, among them the best in the files, do seem to be “ironclads” defensible against conventional solutions.  Conversely, some explanations such as Blue Book personnel used to clear their docket of difficult reports, amount to no more than slipshod excuses that explain nothing.  A number of explanations succeed only as reminders that the rationalizing of skeptics can distort the truth as grievously as the credulousness of UFO enthusiasts. 



In this light a readiness to give up on UFOs seems premature.  New cases continue to enter the “unknowns” pool—for recent examples consider the Southern Illinois police chase case of 2000, the O’Hare sighting, and MUFON’s “phone receiver” object of 2013.  Since a high standard ought to apply to explanations as well as to unknowns, older cases explained in dubious terms deserve to be thrown back into the pool.  We may not have the full story from the Government files, either.  I have never favored conspiracy theories, but I have noticed the abundance of quality unknowns from military and civilian pilots in 1947.  After 1952 military reports became scarce in Blue Book files and unknowns of any sort diminished to a trickle.  This change follows JANAP 146 and AFR 200-2, regulations that barred both military and civilian pilots from revealing UFO sightings to the press, and the Robertson Panel, which created a policy of defusing public interest in UFOs.  A sudden end to pilots seeing UFOs seems unlikely.  Perhaps rumors of a dual system—Blue Book that was a public relations front, and a hidden system that secluded reports of the highest quality—have substance after all.  And if so, significant files comprising a “ufologica irredenta” may yet await the light of day deep in the bowels of Government secrecy.



A healthy body of unknowns even now underlies the UFO mystery.  These cases hint that the apparent downward spiral of unknowns toward zero, or to a minimal residue of intractable rather than truly anomalous events, may be an historical illusion rather than an inevitability after all.  Perhaps some consistent level of unknowns persists throughout UFO history.  The level of occurrence may be a low one, but a stream of “ironclads” duly recognized might emerge as a clear signal in the noise.  Shouldn’t we at least consider this hypothesis before we surrender the phenomenon altogether?



Nothing stings ufologists so painfully as the rejection of their subject by official science.  They regard their enterprise as scientific and crave approval, only to find themselves like small children closed out of the game by the big kids at the gate.  Complaints that scientists do not listen or ignore the facts overlook the nature of UFO evidence.  It is sloppy in the extreme, overwhelmingly anecdotal and intangible.  UFOs offer little or nothing to carry into the laboratory for analysis or experiment.  The rare exceptions have proved inconclusive or at least not compelling.  This empty-handedness along with a reputation as pseudoscience assure that ufology will continue to get the brush-off from laboratory scientists.



Field science offers an alternative approach that is more congenial to the nature of UFO events.  When scientists cannot control their object of study, they must approach it on its own terms, in its native environment, and gather observational data for indirect analysis.  This model sounds like a good match for UFO reports, though with the added complications that the observers are numerous and widely-scattered individuals with differing temperaments, abilities, and expectations, who witness rare and ephemeral sights in the sky, most of which turn out to be false alarms.  The witnesses most likely to report probably have preconceived notions and biases. No standardization in the observational process and little in the descriptions of sightings is possible.  Face-to-face meetings between investigator and witness are rare.  The resulting data is raw in the worst sense—heterogeneous, inconsistent, and suitable only for crude analysis.  UFOs make unruly subjects even for field techniques.



If individual reports of unknowns comprise the foundation of a case for UFOs, patterns of consistency in these reports add the next essential layer.  Each separate unknown may be impressive in itself but only multiple cases with significant similarities build evidence for a recurrent phenomenon.  Without this support the unknowns remain random oddities and may have no further significance.  With a consistent pattern to unify them, these oddities begin to acquire an identity.  Unknowns and their patterns provide mutual support and the case in favor of UFOs grows at once in strength—if, of course, we find such patterns.



The typical studies applied to mass UFO data are statistical comparisons, either content analysis for consistent descriptions of appearances and activities or frequency searches for patterns in the time and place of UFO events.  These efforts have led to limited results.  A finding like more UFOs are seen in early evening than at any other time may be consistent but not surprising, while discovering that UFO reports are more frequent on one weekday than on any other comes as a surprise but carries no apparent meaning.  Searches for a recurrence pattern in UFO waves have led to predictive successes but they did not hold true for very long and might have been artefactual after all.  Content analyses that show most UFOs are round and most occupants are short humanoids enjoy an unmistakable robustness, but as Ballester Olmos warns, such findings hold equally true for IFO cases and reflect popular images.



This sort of analysis offers ufology its best option to make a case for UFOs with the data in hand.  Rather than waiting for a piece of spaceship to fall into our laps, or for the Government to show us the bodies, all those intriguing cases we have accumulated transform from dusty files into tools for actual scientific work.  But have we tried and failed at this enterprise already?  I don’t think so.  From my own experience, a comparison between abduction reports with high reliability and those of low reliability revealed that consistency in sequence of events and descriptive content was much higher in the high-reliability cases.  In the low-reliability cases where presumably more of the stories were hoaxes or fantasies, plots and content varied far more.  A comparison of two samples of UFO occupant cases found stronger preferences for certain descriptive options among the high reliability reports than in the general run.



The reason behind these consistencies might be cultural influence or investigator bias, but actual observation in contrast to imagination might also be the cause.  At least the possibility is worth exploring.  So many IFO reports in the sample, so many human errors and shortcomings in descriptions plague the record that they threaten to smother the signal from the very much smaller body of UFOs.  In the past good minds have had to work with bad data limited in both quantity and quality, and the disappointing results come as no surprise.  Today we have much larger samples and data of better quality to escape the garbage in-garbage out problem that dogged earlier efforts.  I see reason to believe that some distinctive consistencies in the phenomenon may yet be forthcoming, and that reliance on quality cases as the database will reveal those consistencies in sharper relief.  At least the effort should be made before we give up the spaceship.



Vicente-Juan invited me to collaborate in a dialogue of views on UFOs for this 70th anniversary event.  He may not have expected quite so much difference in conclusions, but in fact we disagree on very little.  His criticisms of ufology are on target and his exposure of its failures as a scientific enterprise are as necessary as they are painful.  We differ only in the conclusions we draw.  He is ready to drive nails in the coffin and lower ufology into the grave; I still see sparks of life and wish to avoid a premature burial.  A very much alive Mark Twain once quipped that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.  A similar pronouncement for UFOs may not stretch the truth quite so much, but even this 70th anniversary need not be the end of the line.  Maybe I grasp at straws like a true believer still holding out, but I still perceive a mystery amid the clutter and avenues, or at least alleyways of research not yet explored, or not adequately followed up.  Until that happens I will continue to see a future for ufology.



Valencia (Spain) and Bloomington (USA), June 24, 2017.



Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos worked 30 years for Ford Motor Co. in Spain as Analyst and Department
Manager (Finance). An active investigator of the UFO phenomenon since 1966, he has authored 10 books and over 480 publications (see his bibliography at http://cdufo.info/bib/bibliog1.pdf). He has delivered lectures in Europe and America and has been a staff member or consultant of the major UFO organizations in Spain as well as in foreign countries. A specialist in UFO “landing” reports in the Iberian Peninsula and in military-sourced UFO reports in Spain, he played a remarkable role in the declassification process of the Spanish Air Force UFO archives, 1992-1999. Since year 2000, Ballester Olmos manages the FOTOCAT Project, a database of reported UFO and IFO sightings where pictures, films, videos or digital images have been recorded, occurred up to December 31, 2005 (with over 12,200 entries).   Married, father of two daughters and one son, he is an avid reader and a great fan of country music.
                                                                        FOTOCAT Project:   Apartado de Correos 12140, 46080 Valencia, Spain
                                                                                    Email address                                 : ballesterolmos@yahoo.es
 




Thomas Eddie Bullard took an interest in UFOs as early as 1957 when he was eight years old.  The interest persisted and he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject while a graduate student in folklore at Indiana University.  He published studies of UFO abductions for the Fund for UFO Research and the Journal of UFO Studies, as well as The Myth and Mystery of UFOs for the University Press of Kansas in 2010, a book comparing UFO accounts and beliefs with extranormal encounters in myth, religion, and folklore.  He has served as a board member for both the Fund for UFO Research and the Center for UFO Studies.  Recently retired, he continues to write on UFO phenomenology and pre-1947 anomalous aerial objects from his home in Bloomington, Indiana.

E-mail address:  tbullard@indiana.edu



For bibliography quotation purposes, the formal reference to this article will be as follows:
Ballester Olmos, V.J. & Bullard, T.E. (2017), “The Nature of UFO Evidence: Two Views,”

0 comments: