Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Are UFO Enthusiasts 'Giving Up' on UFOlogy? Get Real!

Very likely you have seen the article in The Telegraph of London November 4 titled "UFO enthusiasts admit the truth may not be out there after all." The main point of the article is a statement by one Dave Wood, chairman of something called "the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (Assap)," who said that a "meeting had been called to address the crisis in the subject and see if UFOs were a thing of the past."

The Telegraph's illustration accompanying this article
I read the article's sub-headline "Declining numbers of “flying saucer” sightings and failure to establish proof of alien existence has led UFO enthusiasts to admit they might not exist after all," and I asked myself: where did this reporter get a crazy idea like that? Anyone who knows the field of UFOlogy knows that dedicated UFO believers are impervious to reason and fact. Indeed, they would not have reached the conclusions they have, and stubbornly maintained them, unless that were so. Who is this guy who is telling us that  UFO sightings are fading away (when I know that they are not), and that widespread outbreaks of reason are causing longtime UFOlogists to question the Faith?

To be truthful, while I stay pretty current on the UFO literature, I had never heard of this guy before, or his organization ASSAP. And yet here he is being cited in a major publication as a spokesman telling us the future of UFOlogy. What's with that? I tried to find something on the web about Dave Wood and UFOs predating the Telegraph article, and couldn't find anything. I did find something about ASSAP investigating a haunted house. So why are we supposed to care about what he says concerning UFOs?

Well, it turns out that this "meeting" he is talking about is not some emergency get-together to address a UFOlogical Crisis of Faith. Instead it is called "Seriously Unidentified? ASSAP's First UFO Conference," and it looks like most other UFO conferences. Nothing in it suggests a 'crisis of faith' for UFOlogists, and the fact it's described as ASSAP's "first UFO conference" suggests that they expect to be holding more. Indeed, this looks like "business as usual," with speakers ranging from skeptic Ian Ridpath to Cal Cooper, author of a book titled Telephone Calls from the Dead. (The late parapsychologist D. Scott Rogo and  Raymond Bayless co-authored a similarly-titled book Phone Calls from the Dead; see my book Psychic Vibrations, p. 136.) The only thing on the conference schedule even hinting at the supposed 'crisis of faith' is a fifty-minute "Round table discussion on the likely future of British Ufology and possible future trends." Panels like this are common at UFO conferences, and that wording could mean anything.

As you might imagine, some people on the pro-UFO side are quite miffed by this claim. "Reached at his Cincinnati headquarters office today, MUFON Executive Director David MacDonald said ufology was alive and well. 'The fact is that MUFON is receiving on average more than 700 cases a month,' "  In 2006, MUFON was receiving an average of less than 150 cases a month. This doesn't sound to me like UFOs are a 'dying  belief.' Skeptic Dr. David Clark, quoted in the Telegraph article,  asks in his Blog whether the UFO subject is dead again. He concludes that it's at a dead end, which is obvious. But that has always been the case, and that never seemed to matter before. 

Interest in UFOs will be with us for a very long time. It is true that the emphasis of UFOlogy is shifting from groups and publications to electronic media. Most UFO believers today get their UFO thrills from cable TV programs like UFO Chasers and Ancient Aliens, from podcasts, websites, and Facebook pages. Indeed, there have been times in recent months when the National Geographic Channel was serving up back-to-back UFO programming as if there were nothing else to present. They would not be serving it if the audience wasn't eating it up.

The way this article was picked up and taken at face value by a number of skeptics is, to me, rather troubling. To be a skeptic means to evaluate claims skeptically, not just to adhere to a certain "party line." When confronted by an article that seems "too good to be true," the skeptic should not just take it as confirmation of what he or she has long believed. Instead, the skeptic should ask a question like, "Who in the hell is this guy Dave Wood, and why should we accept his claim about UFOlogists having second thoughts?"


  1. Heard that article mentioned on the radio this morning inbetween election news. I laughed. For the media to run with that news shows how truly little they know about the topic.

  2. It is just another publicity stunt, to make more people aware of their conference...seems like it's worked.

  3. I think that if I were starting up a group that was bound to attract ridicule, I would name it in a way that the acronym didn't start with "ASS".

  4. On the completely predictable death of the pseudoscience of ufoolery:



    The pseudoscience of ufoolery is history already, can the death of popular belief in the irrational, antiscientific "UFO" delusion be far behind?

    1. Zoam, that's a very interesting Blog entry on the Pelicanist. He blames the demise of "serious UFOlogy" mostly on the effects of Leslie Kean's book, and the subsequent realization that she created this impressive-sounding collection of "unexplained" cases by simply ignoring all criticisms and explanations. He also cites Kean's debacle concerning The Fly, and her refusal to admit the obvious. It seems to me that he is implicitly crediting this BadUFOs Blog for playing a major role in the demise of "serious" UFOlogy, which suggestion I am glad to see. He doesn't mention BadUFOs or my Skeptical Inquirer review of Kean's book (now on-line), but he certainly refers to their contents.

      But in my view, popular belief in UFOs is not dependent on "serious" UFOlogy, but actually the opposite. Jacques Vallee played a major role in creating this, and bringing Hynek into the fold. If you read Vallee's "Forbidden Science," it's not that the public was reading "serious UFO" books, and then started seeing saucers. Instead, Vallee felt the need to come up with a "scientific" explanation for what people are seeing - but without taking into account the unreliability of human perceptions and memory. So I think that public acceptance of UFO claims is quite unrelated to anything that the likes of what Hynek, Vallee, or Kean are saying. It will continue on its own for the forseeable future. There has been very little major "serious" work on "psychic powers" lately, as there was in the days of Targ and Puthoff and Geller, but the public's belief in "psychics" like Sylvia Brown, Theresa Caputo, or John Edwards, continues without diminishing.

    2. Robert; I must be more optimistic about the effects of the excellent work done over decades by yourself, other important skeptics, and the Magonians. I do not think that the "serious ufologists" are impervious to criticism, some of whom have been trounced repeatedly by the Magonians on UFO Updates over the years.

      Given that backbiting is the rule among this assortment of snake-oil salesmen, frauds, liars and just plain crazies--and the fact that the subject is utterly devoid of substance or consequence--I think that this generation of "UFO" hucksters may be the last. I do not see replacements for the likes of SF or Jerome Clark, and those that are trying to replace them are mostly uneducated, not very bright but even still are wise enough that they're jaded by "serious ufology's" money-grubbing, ego-driven antics and stupidity, and are decidedly unenthusiastic about a subject that never shows growth but has only ultimately recreated its origins in the darkly paranoid cosmic-conspiracy-world lunacy of the Shaver mystery.

      The true believers I've met online in the last two decades, mostly educated and promoting the "hypothetical ET visitation" argument for a small percentage of "UFO" reports, have jobs; and what I've met and heard from the next-generation of self-styled "serious ufologists" whose intention is to make a living on this baloney--like Barker, Moseley and Keel before--don't believe a word of it. And they tend to treat the subject as simply one of the many lines of nonsense they're selling from lost civilizations to time travel. Nick Redfern represents this group.

      The very idea "UFO" is a modern mass-media manufactured myth and collective delusion: first Airship mania and then its recreation as "flying saucer" mania by the Ray Palmer-engineered FATE promotion hoax, known as the Kenneth Arnold fairy tale. Even Arnold's story attempted to sound "scientific" with its entire "as by a pilot from an airplane" phony appeal and his calculations of size, distance and speed; and he speculated that he might have seen "guided missiles." In fact, the public's optimism about technology played a major part of Airship mania and persists as the "secret technology" hypothesis for "UFO" reports. Certainly there were many silly science-sounding "UFO" books written by phony "professors," Adamski comes to mind, long before believer Vallee's "scientific" approach.

      The idea that the mere failure to identify an ambiguous visual stimulus in the sky--distant wandering lights as opposed to an obvious celestial display--is an event worthy of reporting could only subsist in a population in which there is mass communication and a certain level of apprehension. "UFO" scares over the last century, and "flying saucer" flaps from the 1940s to the 1970s were fueled by unexpressed fears of war and nuclear annihilation. So this collective delusion --unlike belief in talking spirits which has been around for millenia and does not require evidence for its existence--required special circumstances for its creation and perpetuation, and those circumstances are certainly changing and even the longest running collection delusion in history will eventually have run its course.

      When there are no longer any professional "flying saucer" scientists, journalists, generals and former government officials writing junky books composed of lies and out on the lecture circuit promoting the myth and collective delusion as real, the "media reportage of them and their nonsense, of 'UFO' sightings and the forcefully sustained public interest in the subject" feedback loop will diminish.

      If interest in "UFOs" was reduced only to the level of a John Edward's "psychic" sideshow, it would be a victory for rationality in the world and Scientific realism.

    3. I'd like to share your optimism, but can't escape the feeling that the next wave of UFOlogists has already arrived. The National Geographic, History Channel, etc. programs are probably a representative of what to expect for the foreseeable future.

  5. If rationality ruled the day, ufoolery – the pseudoscientific and even anti-scientific exploitative nonsense peddled by some – would have collapsed into well deserved obscurity a long time ago. Almost seventy years after Mr. Arnold saw strange objects in flight, it does seem clear the underlying UFO phenomenon is persistent. I suggest that skeptics hailing the end succumbed to a combination of confirmation bias and wishful thinking.

    Anyone eager to pronounce ufoolery dead must face the fact that the purchaser pool has a steady input; UFO sightings continue apace and people have strange experiences. Maybe this partially explains why some authors produce such shoddy work seemingly without fear of consequence. In this realm, the investigator need not ever produce tangible evidence or a single new fact to succeed. And some accomplish those feats handily.

    Far from thinking their days are numbered, I suggest some opportunists have recognized a new golden age of opportunity is before them. The world wide web offers immense possibilities for fact free journalism and self promotion. Better yet, through the miracle of crowd sourced funding, you can now get people to pay you to produce the next book or documentary that you intend to sell to them. Now that is one sweet deal.

    When rationality rules the day, they will only come out at night. No matter what time it happens to be where you live, somewhere it is midnight.

    Tyler Kokjohn

    1. || Almost seventy years after Mr. Arnold saw strange objects in flight ||

      Well, that's the flying-saucer fairy tale he told anyway. Are you aware that he told other such tall tales? It's just a tall tale without a bit of evidence. It would be foolish to accept Arnold's story at face value. I've heard that he saw meteors, swans or pelicans; I don't believe Arnold saw anything at all. Are you aware the supposedly "successful businessman" and "flying fire-extinguisher salesman" (in actuality an attention-seeking fortune hunter) was in the employ of science-fiction publisher Ray Palmer practically overnight, and was sent to investigate (promote) another flying-saucer fairy tale in the Seattle area? Some, including me, think Arnold was already in Palmer's employ before he flew from airport to airport spinning his very tall tale to anyone who would listen, and before he just happened to encounter (hint) a newspaper reporter, and before he initiated contact by telegram with the FBI to tell them all about his encounter with super-secret "saucer-like" "saucer-shaped" "saucers." There never were any saucers. After Shaver, Arnold was Palmer's new stooge!

      || it does seem clear the underlying UFO phenomenon is persistent.||

      Petitio principii, sir. What "UFO" phenomenon? How can a proven delusion and fundamentally absurd idea, an abstract, be a phenomenon? My Jaroff PK9000 baloney detector starts beeping when I see that strange mix of real and unreal.

      If it's not on Baez's Crank point scale or Turpin's Crackpot list, then it should be

    2. Zoam:

      On page 20 of THE COMING OF THE SAUCERS (Palmer & Arnold) Arnold writes that on about July 15 he opened his mail and found a letter headed "The Venture Press" from a Mr Raymond A.Palmer. Arnold says he had never heard of Palmer or the Venture Press. He also says "but later I found he was connected with the type of publications that I not only never read but had always thought a gross waste of time for anyone to read".

      Arnold also says that had he known who Palmer was he probably would not have answered his letter.

      This seems conclusive in showing the two had NOT known each other before Arnold's sighting.

      Where is your evidence that they did?

      Palmer only asked Arnold to investigate Maury Island because Arnold lived approximately in that area and thought he would make a reliable investigator. Palmer wanted to know if the two guys, Dahl & Crisman, were 'on the level'.

    3. It is true that Arnold reported OTHER weird stuff besides his famous "flying saucers" in 1947 He claimed that 'invisible entities' entered his home (see my book "Psychic Vibrations," p. 30-31). Martin Gardner notes that Arnold was a "repeater" who claims he saw "clusters" of saucers traveling at fantastic speeds on at least seven different occasions (The New Age, paperback, p. 216).

      However, all of these weird claims came well after Arnold's classic 1947 sighting. I'm aware of nothing to link Arnold to Ray Palmer prior to his 1947 sighting.

    4. Dear Chris;

      As I said recently, in 1947 the FBI was convinced that Ray Palmer and Arnold had concocted flying-saucer hysteria. I think that's much more significant than what the alleged hoaxsters claim in their revisionist book published five years after the fact. Military experts dismissed Arnold's strange saucer account as utterly implausible.

      Editor Palmer was a slick prevaricator, a master manipulator, an orchestrator of fantastic conspiratorial intrigues come to life. And to accept his letters to Arnold as being their only communications, to accept Palmer's version of the sequence of events is to be less than skeptical and to choose to remain mystified by his hoax.

      "Are we to believe editor Palmer and Arnold were total strangers who formed an instant bond in the promotion of flying-saucer hysteria that profited them through book and magazine sales and public appearances for the next two decades?" Or isn't it much more likely they were working with Shaver fanboy Crisman and Dahl?

      If Arnold's seminal saucer report was simply a Palmer-engineered FATE magazine promotion hoax, then not only is this seemingly insoluble case finally put to bed, but the real-world historical, FBI, skeptical, PSH version of the sequence of events falls into place. Those two long-inverted, misfitting pieces creating the saucer "mystery," which was Palmer's intention, are finally resolved as one and as the most plausible scenario for the invention of the flying-saucer myth inside the larger "UFO" delusion.

    5. Robert; Thank you. Arnold was a attention-seeking fortune-hunting hoaxster at best.

      Mine is a circumstantial case, I admit, but one advanced by skeptical others independently. And it's not an unimportant issue that might finally be resolved. Even if it changes the overall skeptical narrative very little, it's a more plausible hypothesis (and effective debunking) than those addressing a literal account.

      Instead of repeating the argument with Chris A, here's a link:


  6. We had an interesting discussion about this on Doubtful News. I was also very confused when I read the piece. But it's the UK, are things different there than here. Also, ASSAP (which I had heard of) is a different animal ENTIRELY than MUFON. I suspect they see things very differently.

    Here is the article, take a look at the comments here.

    1. Hey idoubtit; Good Link! spookyparadigm makes some excellent points. If you had posted this link sooner, it would have saved me some typing. (vbg)

      The pseudoscience of ufoolery is history already; let's make popular belief in the irrational, antiscientific "UFO" delusion history as well.

  7. Guess I will have to let the greys know that everything is being called off due to lack of enthusiasm.

    Truth has always been within grasp of the world..but most prefer to be told what to "believe" as real... Wouldn't that be embarrassing?

    I know that there is nothing fictitious about ET and UFO being here..Been there..done that..and ..the world is in for a shock someday.

    Taken By The Greys

  8. Sorry to disappoint you guys, but these reports of the death of the study of the UFO phenomenon are greatly exaggerated. This field will never die, because it is based on a REAL phenomenon.
    A large percentage of the American public has seen UFOs, and the govt has reams of classified documents concerning UFO sightings. Why the high level of classification, if there is nothing to it?
    Also, in spite of Mr. Schaeffer's insistence to the contrary, there IS physical evidence associated with UFOs and reported alien abductions, including UFO crash debris, objects implanted in people's bodies, anomalous magnetic fields on objects such as wood and plastic, which do not normally magnetize, traces of radioactive material, and UV-fluorescent dyes, invisible in normal room light, which are left behind on abductee's bodies, and in their houses.
    The implants and crash debris contain carbon nanotubes and other nanostructures, and have trace elements and isotopic patterns which often indicate extraterrestrial origin for the material.
    The implants also often give off radio signals and sometimes move about under the skin. If these phenomena are not evidence of something very unusual going on, I don't know what is!

    1. Steve, are you a human or a silicon-based cliché generator? You seem completely unaware of the numerous criticisms of your arguments. Show a little modesty, lad.

    2. Steve, have you ever wondered about the logic of these claims?

      Why would a civilization so spectacularly advanced in relation to our own need to place physical implants in their test subjects?

      What agenda is helped by leaving fluorescent dyes on people and in their homes, especially knowing they'd be found by someone who knows what to look for?

      The one I end up asking is: How long does it take such an advanced race to study humans? We've had abduction reports for decades. What more can possibly be learned? Can't they reproduce hybrid specimens without a human female by now?

      These aliens are a curiosity. Greatly advanced in certain scientific areas, but not so very bright at the same time.

  9. But these "aliens" are highly theatrical. They give good drama.


Keep your comments relevant, and keep them civil! That means no personal attacks will be allowed, by anyone, on anyone. Commenters are welcome to disagree with me, or with other comments, but state your arguments using logic, and with a civil tone. Comments in violation of these rules will be deleted, and offenders banned.

Comments should be in English, although quotes from foreign-language sources are fine as long as they're relevant, and you explain them. Anonymous postings are not permitted. If you don't want to use your real name, then make up a name for yourself, and use it consistently.