Part 1, the late Dr. James E. McDonald—who held the title “Senior Physicist, Institute of Atmospheric Physics” at the University of Arizona—also holds the distinction of being one of the very few scientists to actually study the UFO phenomenon. In a prepared statement before the U.S. Congress’ House Committee on Science and Astronautics, delivered on July 29, 1968, McDonald said this:
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|By Robert Hastings|
“From time to time in the history of science, situations have arisen in which a problem of ultimately enormous importance went begging for adequate attention simply because that problem appeared to involve phenomena so far outside the current bounds of scientific knowledge that it was not even regarded as a legitimate subject of serious scientific concern. That is precisely the situation in which the UFO problem now lies. One of the principal results of my own recent intensive study of the UFO enigma is this: I have become convinced that the scientific community, not only in this country but throughout the world, has been casually ignoring as nonsense a matter of extraordinary scientific importance.”1Scientists universally profess allegiance to the lofty principles comprising the Scientific Method, both in the pursuit of their own research, as well as when reviewing the work of their peers. Therefore, one might predict that they will indignantly dismiss the suggestion that, on occasion, they have temporarily abandoned those cherished principles. Nevertheless, as regards the subject of UFOs, very few scientists actually practice what they preach.
In essence, to engage in science is to search for knowledge. This exploration is conducted through the systematic collection and objective analysis of facts. If one aspires to understand the nature of an unexplained phenomenon, one must first assemble and evaluate data—or, at least, impartially examine the data gathered by others—before drawing conclusions.
Unfortunately, most scientists reject outright the validity of UFO research, refuse to engage in it, and deliberately ignore the intriguing data compiled by a handful of their more inquisitive, less-biased peers. If this were not enough, despite their profound unfamiliarity with the subject, many of these same intransigent individuals pontificate about UFOs in the most shameless and presumptuous manner. If they were to apply this same “methodology” to their own research, their colleagues might justifiably consider their conduct incompetent, if not fraudulent. Nevertheless, it is rare to hear a scientist speak knowledgeably about the UFO phenomenon and rarer still to find one who has actually studied it.
Accuse a scientist of being closed-minded about UFOs and he or she will recoil: “I’m not closed-minded, but I am skeptical!” Because the former term implies inflexible prejudice and the latter one prudent caution, it is understandable that these UFO “skeptics” would prefer to view themselves in a more flattering light.
One scientist who has advocated a comprehensive, unbiased investigation the UFO phenomenon, astronomer Dr. Bernard Haisch, defines a Skeptic as, “One who practices the method of suspended judgment, engages in rational and dispassionate reasoning as exemplified by the scientific method, shows willingness to consider alternative explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and who seeks out evidence and carefully scrutinizes its validity.”2
By Haisch’s definition, very few scientists are true skeptics on the subject of UFOs. On the contrary, over the years, most have behaved as self-appointed experts, having all the answers, without first investigating any of the facts. Although scientists profess a deep curiosity about little understood or unknown phenomena, when it comes to UFOs, this assertion rings hollow. At the moment, the UFO phenomenon is a blind spot in most scientists’ field of vision. There is definitely something there to be seen, but they can not, or will not, bring themselves to take a look.
As noted earlier, the late Dr. James McDonald—one of the few scientists to have actually studied the UFO phenomenon before holding forth on the subject—once pointedly criticized the thoroughly unprofessional posture toward UFOs he observed among his colleagues and the scientific community at large.
Sad to say, some 40 years after Dr. McDonald’s lament, the same smug, dismissive attitude toward the phenomenon remains firmly entrenched in scientific circles, resulting in a pervasive, self-imposed ignorance about UFOs among those who supposedly seek the truth. At the beginning of the 21st century, it remains true that the overwhelming majority of scientists, if they consider UFOs at all, consider them to be beneath their dignity, and worthy of outright derision. With this self-righteous stance, they have effectively abdicated their collective professional responsibility in the most unscientific manner. This is not so much an accusation as it is an objective statement of fact.
Fortunately, despite the collective disinterest in UFOs exhibited by the scientific community as a whole, there have been a few brave pioneers. In the mid-1960s, Jim McDonald was well ahead of the curve, with his repeated, plaintive calls for a legitimate investigation of the UFO phenomenon. Seeking to review the available data for himself, he persistently demanded access to the Air Force’s UFO files—at least those held by Project Blue Book—and was ultimately granted repeated access to the ones that were not classified.
Following those reviews McDonald had written, “…There are hundreds of good cases in the Air Force files that should have led to top-level scientific scrutiny of [UFOs] years ago, yet these cases have been swept under the rug in a most disturbing way by Project Blue Book investigators and their consultants.”3
Despite, or perhaps because of, the Air Force’s ongoing attempts to suppress the frequently high-quality data on UFOs it collected, McDonald began to investigate the phenomenon on his own time and at his own expense, while ignoring the very real risk to his scientific reputation. This diligence paid off and, by 1968, McDonald was widely regarded—although not among his still-dubious peers—as one of the world’s leading scientific experts on UFOs. Consequently, he was invited to address the United States Congress on the subject, during hearings held that year. McDonald’s full statement before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, presented on July 29th, may be found in the U.S. Congressional Record, as well as on the Internet.
While acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of UFO sightings undoubtedly had prosaic explanations, and that a great many questions about the phenomenon remained unanswered, McDonald succinctly summarized his conclusions regarding the most credible of the unexplained cases: “My own present opinion, based on two years of careful study, is that UFOs are probably extraterrestrial devices engaged in something that might very tentatively be termed ‘surveillance.’”4
Although this was merely an opinion, it was after all an informed opinion on UFOs, something very few other scientists could offer, then or now. Many of McDonald’s published papers, private research notes, and personal letters relating to his investigations of the UFO phenomenon are now accessible online, providing insight into the cautious, rational reasoning underlying his dramatic conclusions.
There is an old joke about the intellectual who sniffs, “Well, it may work in fact, but it will never work in theory.” While most UFO skeptics are quick to dismiss as impossible the idea that UFOs are alien spacecraft, very few of them will ever make the effort to learn whether any evidence exists to suggest otherwise. Instead, they merely continue to assert that, as an idea, it simply does not work. However, as the joke implies, the real question to be asked is whether it works in fact. That is, is there evidence in the real world which lends credence to the validity of the ET hypothesis of UFOs?
Granted, the proposal that UFOs are alien spaceships is decidedly counter-intuitive. For most scientific professionals, the notion just doesn’t make sense and almost certainly has no basis in reality. However, as is often the case in science, many ideas which initially seem impossible, or at least highly unlikely, eventually turn out to be true. As a noted cosmologist once observed, “The greatest obstacle to the advancement of science is the illusion of knowledge—the notion that one already knows the answers.”
Precisely. At the end of the day, practicing science still involves asking questions and seeking answers, whatever those answers turn out to be. However, a scientist must actually adhere to, not just reflexively espouse, these fundamental principles. Pontificating about UFOs from the comfort of the armchair contributes nothing to the solution to the problem. To honestly attempt an understanding of UFOs, one must actually investigate the UFO phenomenon, however pointless or distasteful this proposal might seem to some.
A thousand-mile journey begins with a single step. To those curious but still-uninformed scientists who wish to learn the facts, I respectfully recommend reading Dr. McDonald’s Prepared Statement to Congress as that first step.
1. McDonald, Dr. James E. “Prepared Statement before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics”, July 29, 1968
3. [Tucson] Daily Citizen, March 1, 1967
4. McDonald, Dr. James E. “Prepared Statement before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics”, July 29, 1968
. . . More
Science and UFOs: Part 2 — Occam’s Rusty Razor
Science and UFOs: Part 1—The Condon Committee Con Job
Remembering Dr. James E. McDonald
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