Monday, December 12, 2011

UFOs - J. Allen Hynek's Freshman Orientation at Northwestern

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J Allen Hynek

Robert Sheaffer
By Robert Sheaffer
© 1969-2011
     April 2,1969 was to have been the first day of classes of the spring quarter at Northwestern University, but classes were delayed one day in memory of former president Dwight Eisenhower, who was being laid to rest that day. In absence of classes, a talk on UFOs by Dr. J. Allen Hynek was announced for that evening in the main lounge of McCulloch Hall, a freshman men's dormitory. I cannot recall a talk by a faculty member ever being given in such a location. It is pure accident that I even heard that the talk was being given, for no notices were posted on all-school bulletin boards or in classroom buildings. Instead, mimeographed notices were posted in all the freshman men's dorms, and to the best of my knowledge, only there, This is the only time I know of that only freshmen were notified of a talk that is theoretically open to all students, or even to the public. (Nothing would have stopped a non-university person from coming, had he known about it.) The result of this is that, to the best of my knowledge, my friend and I were the only non-freshman in the audience of about 70 persons in the lounge.

Hynek's unamplified voice is not distinct on my tape, but some highly significant comments were made. He deviated only slightly from his standard UFO lecture, keeping the same jokes and comments as usual.

Hynek said that it is particularly easy to judge witnessess' credibility when they send in handwritten reports, for handwriting analysis provides us with a lot of information about them. He talked as if this were highly reliable.

He concentrated on criticizing the Condon report. He says we have all been indoctrinated by newspapers to believe the report, and to think that it is the final word on UFO'S. His main criticism of the report is that they explained the easy cases, and did not even choose to tackle the difficult ones, He plotted his own Sigma-C graph [strangeness vs. credibility] of Condon's cases, and found the high-Sigma [strangeness], high-C [credibility] sadly lacking.

He was greatly upset by Condon defining a UFO to be anything that the witness is unable to identify. Hynek would say that a UFO is only a thing that a trained investigator is not able to identify (although the trained investigator did not see it.). This led to an interesting exchange later. Hynek feels that by calling anything that was once unidentified a UFO, we are going to open the floodgates to let all sorts of nonsense pour in. I would grant that this will happen, but if this be the stuff that most UFO's are comprised of, so be it. Dr. Hynek would not even call something a UFO unless it had defied analysis by "competent, qualified scientists."

Hynek feels that Dr. Condon is a great scientist, but is out of his element in the UFO field. Condon is "used to working with precise data," and would be as out of place in economics or sociology as he is in UFOlogy.

When he showed the slides of the Calgary photographs [figures 4 and 5 in Hynek's The UFO Experience ], he said that there is no doubt that this is a real image of something (which it probably is). Granting that it may be a hubcap or anything else, to him the question is, "Who is 60 miles southwest of Calgary, in very rough country, throwing up hubcaps?" (The photographer's friend, perhaps?)

For the ordinary UFO reports, all these demonstrate is that the "average person cannot distinguish Venus from a hole in the ground". How we are to obtain worthwhile scientific data from such persons he did not say.

We saw the most interesting slide of a science-fictiony drawing of a little green man, complete with winged ears, long, slender arms, and a muscular torso. "This is not a laughing matter", he sternly said to silence our chuckles,

"We have a good many reports, which I don't particularly like to publicize", he continued, because they are always met with laughter, "But I can't help it," he said frantically, "The reports exist." The tape clearly shows his voice rise in both volume and emotional opulence, "And they seem to be made by people of good credibility." "At any rate," he concluded,"these sort of things are important".

Hynek lamented that he was unable to devote more than 10% of his time to UFOs, though to many of us it seemed like considerably more. It seems fair to ask that when a professor is not teaching any courses, and is not engaged in any research projects, as was the case last fall, what does he do with the remaining 90% of his time? Perhaps he is designing a course on UFOs, something he has expressed a desire to do.

During the question and answer session, he was asked how a UFO could stop a car magnetically without leaving any magnetic imprints in the metal, as was the finding of the Condon committee. He replied that the question was not, "Was the car magnetized?", but rather, "Did it indeed stop?", leaving the door open for even more absurd explanations. When the day comes that science has finally mastered the mysterious UFO rays, he seemed to imply, we will be able to look back and say 'this great discovery was made by chasing UFOs.'

On the Hill case, Hynek said that he had Dr. Simon hypnotize them [Betty and Barney] for an hour and a half in his presence. They are now so far gone that they can be hypnotized by a single word from their "trainer," even if it is on tape! Barney Hill showed great terror when his abduction was re-enacted under hypnosis, with sweat pouring down his face. It seemed Hynek was trying to prove veracity by the man's hysteria.

I took the liberty of asking about the discrepancy between the Hynek and Condon definitions of UFO, and wondered if the latter might no be more appropriate. If we fail to perceive the high-Sigma [strangeness], high-C [credibility] cases as being strongly non-representative, is this not an error? He interpreted my question as was most convenient to him, and said that it is only lack of funds and time that prevents all cases from being investigated. I am convinced that this was a dodge, as his later remarks show that he understood my question perfectly. We should want to start with the reliable cases, he says, and, "once established" that we have a phenomenon (which I am as yet unwilling to grant), we can proceed from there. "If you had several stacks of hay, and you know there's a needle in one of them (which we don't), you will try to pick the haystack that you think is most likely to have the needle".

A bit unhappy, I rephrased my question and refused to be brushed off. Comparing the situation to ESP, I showed that ignoring the large mass of data and concentrating on the top will lead to erroneous conclusions. He attempted to show that there are too many UFO reports to apply this (though he earlier said that there may be 5,000,000 "junk" reports), made another haystacks analogy, and quickly rushed on to the next question.

His famous Northern Lights analogy ['the science of the 18th century was as baffled by the Northern Lights as the science of today is by UFOs'] was changed from the l8th century to 1900. Hynek would be defenseless without analogies.

At the end of his talk, he requested that anyone having good, reliable UFO reports should come forward and report them.

Now you, too, dear reader, know how freshman orientation proceeds at Northwestern. Why were no signs announcing that talk posted on classroom bulletin boards, or in dorms where upperclassmen live? Why was it not announced in the school paper like all other faculty lectures? Why was it held in the lounge of a Freshman dorm? "As the twig is bent, so grows the tree." It appears that Dr. J. Allen Hynek has been doing a little gardening.

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