Wednesday, March 07, 2012

UFO Conference Follies

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By Christopher O’Brien

     For the second year in a row, I traveled to The Ft. McDowell Casino near Scottsdale, AZ to lurk about the International UFO Congress and EBE Awards Film Festival. Last year John Rao’s “Open Minds” (OM) group acquired and moved the long-running IUFOC conference from its perennial Laughlin, NV location to it’s new venue, and I was impressed by the speaker lineup at last year’s soiré. The “A-list” luminaries turned out in droves: Stanton T. Friedman, Richard Dolan, Leslie Kean, Nick Pope, Jim Marrs, John Alexander, A.J. Gevaerd and Nancy Talbot. The speaker’s list read like a who’s who of serious research talent, and there was genuine excitement swirling around the event.

I remember thinking at the time: maybe there’s hope for the soon-to-be outmoded “UFO conference” model. But, maybe not. The Internet has irrevocably impacted how the world seeks and finds information, and this especially holds true for the field of ufology, where the average age of conference attendees is somewhere in the mid 60s. It was gratifying to see standing room only crowds at last year’s event, and the transition seemed charmed.

So what the heck happened this year? Attendance seemed substantially down; there was little, if any, excitement permeating the event and the list of speakers seemed to have devolved into the realm of kool-aid makers serving “true believers,” and little known “one-trick pony” presenters. This included one poor guy (who never spoke at a conference before) who had an extremely difficult time stringing sentences together – even after long 20-30 second pauses! If I had been watching I’m sure I would have wondered why nobody came onstage to give the speaker a hand, or yank him off with a sheep herder’s cane. Yikes!

Yes, my friends, it appears that the lure of the almighty dollar has struck ufology yet again. OM obviously cut corners this year on the quality of presenters – opting instead to pander to a true-believer, “butts-in-the-chairs” approach that clearly failed to deliver the caliber of data that you in The Paracast community demand. In my estimation most (but not all) of this year’s line-up, i.e., Steven Greer, Stan (and Lisa?!) Romanek, Whitley Strieber, Lynne Kitei, Jaime Maussan and David Sereda, have little to offer the hungry UFO field that, in my estimation, lusts for out-of-the-box, creative thinkers not tied to foregone conclusions, self-aggrandizing grandstanding, or creating cults of personality.

When Dr. Bruce Maccabbee canceled (?) at the last minute, instead of tapping the resources of the quality talent present at the conference, Open Minds inexplicably opted to bring back, for a second year, the irrepressible Stan Romanek and (get this) they also added Stan’s wife to the podium. That’s right: Lisa Romanek, whose recently published book “From My Side of the Bed: Pulling Back the Covers on Extraterrestrial Contact, A Spouses Point of View,” continues touting the highly controversial (and in my mind, highly dubious) Stan Romanek case.

Several people during the conference asked me what I thought of Stan’s claims and my stock answer for years has been: “If a case appears to good to be true, it probably isn’t.” I’ve been monitoring the meandering claims of the Romanekian worshippers for years, and it would seem that Stan is steadily becoming the model for a new 21st century version of the “contactee” guru – America’s answer to that one-armed Swiss bandit, Billy Meier. Ouch, my fingers smart just from writing that last sentence!

OK, I know, putting on such an extravagant event is fraught with financial peril, and when the bucks are spent, the bottom line is always an issue. But where do you draw the line between kool-aid mixing crowd pleasers and the genuine researchers with quality data?

Not all was a bust. There were several noteworthy presenters this year, including UFO historian Antonio Huneeus, prolithic author/investigator Rosemary Ellen Guiley, media maven Bryce Zabel, Colin Andrews (who was the recipient of the IUFOC Lifetime Achievement Award), and courageous General Ricardo Bermúdez, director of Chile’s Committee of Studies of Anomalous Aerial Phenomenon (CEFAA), the Chilean government’s official organization for the study of unknown aerial phenomena.

Is there hope for the UFO conference model? As the century slowly progresses, the old guard checks out and the kids grow up, I seriously doubt that this mechanism for educating the public will continue to be viable. About the time you read this article, I will be participating in my first-ever virtual UFO/Paranormal conference ( – $10 to stream) At 12 PM Eastern time, March 3, Greg Bishop (“Paranormal UFOs: The Human Element”), Walter Bosley (“The Hidden Landscape”), Andrew Colvin (“Men in Black: The Secret Terror Still Among Us”), William Michael Mott (“The Problem of Density Regarding Non-Human Encounters”) and myself (“UFOs, Abductions, Crop Circles, Miracles & Mutilations: What’s the Connection?”) will be presenting at the first-ever Alternate Universe: The i-Conference.

So is this an indication of the future paradigm in regards to presenting paranormal research to the public at large? Will this model attract a younger audience hungry for data and represent a new approach to the mysteries we cover here at The Paracast? Will the old timers login? Like much of what is happening in the world right now, only time will tell, but like many of us, I sense the future is impacting the paranormal field at faster-than-light speed.

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