What’s the status of today’s UFO community? Have a look.

Alien abduction, human-ET hybrids, hypnotic regression, repressed memories, medical quackery and conspiracy theories are currently a part of the UFO landscape. All pseudoscience. All dragging down the credibility of the subject.

Thanks to Jack Brewer of The UFO Trail for providing me with notice of an excellent two-part piece he wrote on the current state of UFO research, its leaders, its critics and what happens now. If you are at all interested in UFOlogy or how a field of study evolves due to personalities and agendas, have a look.

In the posts entitled “MUFON, Science and Deception“, we get a glimpse inside the UFO community.

The Mutual UFO Network recently announced its latest change in executive directors. David “The Captain” MacDonald is vacating the position to be filled August 1 by Jan Harzan, a longtime member of the MUFON board of directors. Offered is a two-part post exploring recent MUFON history and circumstances, including comments provided by scientists, UFO investigators and MUFON members, both past and present.

MUFON, Science and Deception, Part One  explores the recent history of MUFON, with comments obtained from scientists, UFO investigators, and current and former members of the org.
Part Two of the post continues the review of MUFON activities, including considerations of those who support hypnosis as a memory retrieval tool, extraordinary and unsupported claims put forth by members of the org, and comments from scientists Frank Purcell and Tyler Kokjohn.
MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, consists of branches across the U.S. who train researchers to investigate UFO sightings. They promote a scientific method. But do they actually do that? Brewer argues no, they do not, and characterizes it as “sham inquiry.” (I can tell he reads my stuff :-))
Interested to hear how the latest MUFON conference was received? Apparently not too well.
MacDonald and his organization arguably took sham inquiry to new ufology lows when the 2013 MUFON Symposium and its theme, “Science, UFOs and the Search for ET,” included a number of speakers that could be reasonably described as scientific embarrassments. Dumbfounding to even remotely discerning members of the UFO community, Harzan told the Las Vegas Sun just before the conference that science and ufology are “one in the same.”
Oh, I doubt that very much.
The UFO Trail piece highlights some critics and rising voices in the community, some of whom wish to elevate the investigations and methods out of the realm of pseudoscience. People like Dr. Tyler Kokjohn, Robert Sheaffer (both commenters on this blog) and Antonio Paris, who runs the API Aerial Phenomenon Investigation Group which has quite a different focus than MUFON.
For more about Antonio, he is speaking at a National Capital Area Skeptics lecture next month in Bethesda. See details here. And you can check out our conversation next week online.
I’m eager to talk about this subject of pseudoscience in UFOlogy, the internal shift that was allowed to occur, and the projected future by those who take the questions seriously. This may be a new dawn for UFOlogy as the old guard dies away and the new, more centered serious thinkers take over. One can hope.
Is UFOlogy dead? We would have suspected it might be just a while ago but it looks to be undergoing a transformation once again.

  25 comments for “What’s the status of today’s UFO community? Have a look.

  1. August 2, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    Please bear in mind that the “UFO community” is not the same thing as the “American UFO community”. Don’t tar everyone with the same brush!

    • August 2, 2013 at 1:40 PM

      Fortean UK, very true. Good point. You guys have your own set of characters.

  2. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    I’m going to say this politely as possible: They’re all old guard. The only people I’m aware of who are remotely involved in UFOs, and who are under 40 (or even under 50), address them from a broad-base paranormal stance, or from a narrower specifically paranormal/religious/mystical stance. And there aren’t even that many of those.

    Second, I believe MUFON’s greatest strength is that it is part of the memory and legacy of there once being several major national UFO organizations (NICAP, APRO, arguably CUFOS though that wasn’t quite the same thing) in the pre-Roswell and pre-abduction (aka, pre-1980s) days. People point to MUFON to say that ufology still exists, but how many people who are interested in UFOs are served by MUFON, instead of websites, TV shows, etc.? More importantly, how many people who are interested in UFOs (beyond seeing a story in the news for a day or two), even frame it as “UFO” anymore, instead of with tags like abduction, conspiracy, disclosure, ancient aliens, demons, paranormal thought forms, ancient/earth mysteries, and so on. Compare this with the other “ologies,” that still have a basic relationship to what the public thinks they investigate.

    There is no transformation going on for the future. There is only the last gasps of people still fighting the transformation that happened a long time ago, when what little there was in ufology of studying sightings gave way to the Contacteeism and Conspiracy Theory that was always there. Yes, abductionism is far more involved and mythologized than 1950s Contacteeism was, but is it really that different?

    Science-oriented ufology has been riding for decades on the diminishing wave made by the brief blip of interest by military officials in the first decade of the “mystery,” and mostly propagated by pop culture.

  3. terrythecensor
    August 2, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    > Alien abduction, human-ET hybrids, hypnotic regression, repressed memories…are currently a part of the UFO landscape. All pseudoscience.

    There are some dissenting voices within ufology about abductions. Kevin Randle and Chris Rutkowski have published book-length criticisms but it seems like Paul Kimball and no one else has drawn attention to these works.

    Last year, some senior “serious” people in ufology — Michael Swords, Jerome Clark, Eddie Bullard among them — met privately and expressed disdain for the cases reported after 1980. This is a substantial blow to the credibility of these cases, however, the UFO community does not seem to have noted this news. Certainly, the participants did not promote their views beyond this brief report by Professor Swords (brackets are his):

    “Abductions: I was surprised [even as well as I know these guys] that not one of them was buying the hypothesis of a colossal numbers of abductions taking, or taken, place. Not even Eddie. Not even Jerry nor I, who considered Budd Hopkins a very good colleague and friend, and have felt similarly about Dave Jacobs. Everybody around the table considered the infamous Roper poll to be a piece of garbage as far as indicating anything about abductions is concerned, although it MIGHT be indicating ‘something’ about ‘something’ undetermined.

    “When the actual idea of a specific case was brought up, people tended to say ‘Buff Ledge sounds like a solid case. The Hills’ case looks pretty good. Maybe Travis Walton’s experience [the reported one, not the movie]. Maybe the three ladies in Louisville Kentucky….’ and so it would go with very few particular “on board experiences” cited. I was a bit amazed at the uniformity of the opinions…

    “Well, what’s the problem with all the others?, one might reasonably say. This is a group of UFOlogists who don’t readily leap to conclusions on cases unless they are pretty solidly investigated, which includes good looking into witness credibility and using convincing investigative techniques. I’m not going to get ‘down-and-dirty’ on any of that, but just leave that statement stand. Also, there are ‘many,’ in the sense of a couple dozen or so, CE4s which I did not mention above, which might join those noted, upon dragging out the case files and micro-analyzing them. But not thousands….

    “The ones which would come under serious negative evaluation would be things like Andreasson [where SOMETHING is going on, but unlikely to have anything to do with UFOlogy], Allagash, Linda Napolitano, any ‘recent’ claims from the Rocky Mountain conferences [despite all of us loving Leo Sprinkle as a human being and a friend], etc etc.”

    http://thebiggeststudy.blogspot.ca/2012/10/bells-books-and-candles.html

    The Roper poll: garbage! That quote should be repeated in every discussion of alien abduction.

    If this is what UFO heavyweights believe, why aren’t they talking about it? (Jerome Clark certainly didn’t bring it up on UFOUpdates). Why aren’t these people (some of which have PhDs or written encyclopedias) cleansing their field of study of this “garbage”?

    As I said in the comments of Swords’ post, I think these serious people are supressing their “findings” simply because they’re afraid of giving comfort to the enemy.

    How’s that for being “scientific”?

  4. terrythecensor
    August 2, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    I concur with Spooky about the contactee and paranormalism of ufology. It’s always been there — never left — and the internet, along with self-published ebooks, furnish abundant examples. But any abduction book/discussion will open with a disparaging account of contactees that pretends such reports ended nack in the early ’60s, just before the publication of the Hill case.

    Kicking around the contactees: it’s an easy and fake way for a UFO proponent to make themself look “serious.”

  5. terrythecensor
    August 2, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    Fortean UK is correct. Since 1988, BUFORA has had a moratorium on the use hypnosis in investigations owing to its unreliability.

    http://www.bufora.org.uk/content/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=133:alien-abduction-hypnosis-and-memory-the-debates-continue&catid=63:2012-articles&Itemid=95

  6. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    Terry, that’s an excellent post pointing to a very interesting and good post. I’m not sure giving comfort to the enemy is the best way to put it, but it’s probably not entirely wrong. Rather, it’s probably the same phenomenon that seems to happen time and again in the “-ologies” and especially ufology. Smart people get interested. They start with a fairly nuts-and-bolts (or pelts-and-paws) approach, not too far off the popular view of whatever the topic is.

    They study it. They investigate. They often make some important insights early on, either new patterns, or putting old cases to bed. So far so good. But at some point, it seems that a critical mass starts to be achieved, where it becomes harder to differentiate the Bigfoot apes or the flying discs from more obviously paranormal and mystical realms. This when the ultraterrestrials, the tulpas, the cursed names, the synchronicity, and so on all start to appear. I’d argue that the investigators are getting within spitting distance of the answer, that the one thing shared here is perception. That’s it is personal experience, including effects of neuropsychology and perception, that are then channeled through cultural filters.

    What happens next is what you are addressing Terry. Some embrace the fairie/daimonic universe. Others run back into the arms of nuts-and-bolts. A very few reject all of it, ala Susan Blackmore.

    I think the “seniors” you point out Terry, who continue to speak and continue to write, but generally in either more philosophical or quieter terms than they perhaps once did, don’t want to give up on the topic (for any number of reasons). And they certainly don’t want to be the guy who Killed the UFO. But at the same time, if one is honest, they will come to a lot of the conclusions recounted in the Swords post, rejecting whole swaths of foolishness since 1980 (a long standing meme in ufology is that 1973 was the last “good” wave), which is a shorthand way of saying they reject virtually all abduction after the initial cases (and as polite as Swords is in the post, he can’t avoid the names of Jacobs and Hopkins, and one just needs to go a-googling to see what has happened in that realm in the last few years), and that they reject much to most of the conspiracy theory that emerged in the wake of the book The Roswell Incident.

  7. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Let me also put it this way. Let’s say Swords, Clark, and others put out some kind of statement (well, they did, the blog post, but let’s argue they made a more strenuous attempt to influence the larger community). What impact would it have? Who is it going to influence?

    Are the disclosure people going to stop their Washington Press Corps shows?

    Are abductees going to stop believing they’ve been abducted or have hybrid children? Now, such a statement might have some effect on organizations like MUFON and their relationship with hypnotic regression, I will say that. But that leaves any number of Budd Hopkins’ non-affiliated methodological progeny to fill the void.

    Are conspiracy theorists going to stop believing in military conspiracies about UFOs? Several of the people mentioned in that post and others, in fact have waged a campaign against the belief in MJ12. Has UFO community belief in conspiracies particularly diminished? Has it killed community interest in Roswell, or even really changed the Roswell story that much, even though many of the elements of the story as it still exists were first introduced in the Eisenhower briefing document?

    Are New Agers, contactees, and others going to stop discussing star children and the light?

    Are demonologists going to stop believing UFOs are a mask for demonic possession and the End Times?

    Are ancient aliens believers going to stop thinking Sumerian religious figurines are realistic depictions of Reptilians?

    Are the punk GenX followers of Keel who love telling stories about synchronicity and tulpas and mysterious portals and such going to suddenly realize they are folklorists?

    Scientific ufology may be important historically, and in the pop culture view of the UFO. But it has not had any real traction on beliefs in UFOs for decades.

  8. terrythecensor
    August 2, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    @SpookyP
    > as polite as Swords is in the post, he can’t avoid the names of Jacobs and Hopkins

    And that is another factor in why they won’t clean up the field: these serious people became friends with frauds such as Hopkins and Jacobs. When Carol Rainey, Hopkins’ ex-wife and former investigative partner, released damning evidence of Hopkins’ shaping of abductee evidence, UFO proponents went crazy. On UFO Updates, Jerome Clark conceded, without specifics, that Hopkins made “mistakes,” but kept praising him as a wonderful friend. And Clark had bitter and unpleasant things to say about ex-wives (others took up this theme in the debate — I had to stop reading the thread at that point).

    That’s “scientific” ufology for ya!

  9. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    I’d argue that’s less a failing of ufology, than it is a reality of human socialization and interaction.

    However, I would agree that the reason it is harder to fix in a pseudoscience like ufology is that there aren’t professional institutions or standards. Everyone in the “field” is in it by will of effort alone, of self-and-mutual promotion. That’s also not unusual in other contexts, but in other professional contexts, there is at least a baseline to fall back on, which can act as a safety for the individual. If it becomes obvious that a friend of mine has fallen down methodologically in their work, having professional support that isn’t based on conferences and book sales, and having basic standards of evidence one can point to, would give me more leeway to gently reject my friend’s problematic ideas, and perhaps suggest how they could get back on the horse.

    But in ufology, or any of the similar communities, there is no incentive to have such standards except for personal integrity. There is always some community willing to buy weirder ideas. And its not like one’s “job” as a ufologist can be endangered by bad standards and practices.

    The unregulated nature of the “ologies” is a double edged sword. It means anyone can become an expert. But it means there is no support for those experts once they’re in, they’re on their own, at the mercy of the crowd and their peers exclusively.

  10. terrythecensor
    August 2, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    > What impact would it have? Who is it going to influence?

    It could result in a crackdown on investigators who hypnotise unhappy people and encourage them to “remember” terrifying sexual and medical abuse. Many of these investigators tell these unhappy people that abduction is multigenerational and so include minor children into this horror (some have even hypnotised very young children in search of abduction memories). Hopkins and Jacobs, after inflicting this damage, then conducted therapeutic support groups for their victims! These men had no formal training for any of this. Isn’t fraud a crime anymore? Shouldn’t child welfare services be involved? Local police and the FBI looked into SRA, why not alien abduction?

    Something could be done but “serious” ufologists don’t want to talk about it. The respectability of their “science” is more important than the welfare of their test subjects.

  11. Graham
    August 2, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    This quote made by believer Kevin Randle back in 2007 seems eerily prophetic.

    “So, we see that nothing in Ufology changes. We see that old cases are repeated as if newly discovered and that solid explanations are ignored because the mystery is more important than the truth.”

    The post it came from makes interesting reading as well (As long as you remember to take more than a few grains of salt, he has a huge blindspot regarding Roswell (Which he avidly promotes.) and Phil Klass.)

    kevinrandle.blogspot.com.au/2007/04/don-ecker-quits-ufo-research.html

  12. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    They looked into SRA because they believed SRA was possible. As far as I know, the only penalties that came to SRA regressionists were civil trials, though I could be wrong about that.

    I’d direct your question to Temple University’s IRB review board. Except that’s been done, and if the link is accurate they appear to have decided that hypnotic regression falls into “recording oral histories.” Which is a bizarre finding, but I can’t say I’m surprised by the IRB’s ultimate decision as described at the link (washing their hands of it all, and telling Jacobs to stop using Temple’s name)

    http://www.dysgenics.com/2012/11/24/dangerous-games-false-memories-of-ufo-abduction-a-personal-testimony/

  13. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Graham, the comments on that KRandle post kind of make the point, don’t they?

  14. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    Thinking about it, the FBI looked into MJ12 in the same way that it looked into SRA. In both cases, there was a material crime that might have been committed if the claims were real (SRA = kidnapping, murder, rape; MJ12 = leaking of classified documents). Once the unreality of these claims were made apparent through investigation, that was it.

    Alien abduction never got that look because the claims it made were never taken seriously by law enforcement, at all. The history of ufology could have been different if they had been.

  15. terrythecensor
    August 2, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    > there aren’t professional institutions or standards

    They aren’t any because they don’t want any (at least in the US). BUFORA has a code of conduct that forbids hypnosis. In 1994, Toronto psychiatrist Dr. David Gotlib and others published a code of ethics for abduction investigation (Journal of UFO Studies, New Series, vol 5, 1994, pp 55-81) that required mental health professionals determine the necessity and possible risks of hypnosis before its use, plus the requirement that hypnotists be trained. This proposal was never adopted by MUFON. Why? Their biggest stars were a painter (Hopkins) and a historian (Jacobs) who were self-taught hypnotists with a disdain for scientific standards. Hopkins told Saturday Night magazine (June 1995) that he abandoned consulting psychiatrists because he does hypnotic investigation “better than most shrinks.” According to the article: “‘You see, David Gotlib is an extraordinarily cautious young man,’ [Hopkins] says, not meaning it as a compliment.”.

    The MUFON investigators manual (fourth ed.) gives standard warnings about evoking false memories but does not even mention consulting a medical health expert. Rather, investigators are admonished to be objective.

    http://paul.rutgers.edu/~cwm/MUFON/fi-manual-hypnosis.html

    The “serious” UFO people had professional support for more stringent standards more than 20 years ago (Gotlib presented a paper at the 1990 MUFON conference). The “serious” UFO people had the status and power to delegitimise and perhaps shut down the leading instigators of the alien abduction panic. Instead, the “serious” UFO people gave cover to those who seemed to gather confirming evidence, despite warnings that their methods could harm subjects.

    There could have been an impact, there could have been influence. The only thing lacking was the will.

  16. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    The question then becomes, why was America different? Was it because abduction regression was an American invention, and that Canadian and British ufologists had a bit more breathing room to consider and regulate/reject it? Whereas, as you say, its stars were already here, including getting books on the NYTimes Bestsellers list?

  17. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 3:50 PM

    Another possibility: SRA was not really debunked until the end of the 1980s or the early 1990s. It was alive and well nearly simultaneously with the rise of alien abduction regression.

    And SRA absolutely WAS tied to religious politics and movement in America, being part of the fundamentalist revival in the 1970s that began with the anti-cult movement, and then moved on into the Satanic Panic.

    In other words, alien abduction regression could have been given a free pass in the 1980s because quite a few people, for religious and cultural reasons, believed SRA to be plausible.

  18. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    That doesn’t let American ufology off the hook, but it may help explain how it happened.

  19. August 2, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    What a coincidence! I met a man yesterday who not only believes in UFOs, aliens, and a bunch of other stuff – he has PROOF! All he lacks is the money to self-publish his true experiences and proof. Any investors interested? :D

  20. Chris Howard
    August 2, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    I have this gut feeling that all the woo woo we are currently perceiving as disperate topics are slowly coalescing into a formalized NRM.

  21. August 2, 2013 at 9:02 PM

    Thanks, terrythecensor, for the link to the BUFORA article. I had not read it before and I find some aspects of it most relevant.

    And thank you, idoubtit, for your interest in my work. I indeed read your stuff.- keep up the great work!

  22. Graham
    August 3, 2013 at 7:49 AM

    >Graham, the comments on that KRandle post kind of make the point, don’t they?

    That they do, the comments in his latest blog post (Where you also see the rare sight of a believer resorting to primary source documents.) follow a similar pattern, one even manages to bring up an idea that I first encountered in fiction, namely that ‘real’ UFOs were only around for a short period of time during the 40s and 50’s, everything since has just been hype.

    http://kevinrandle.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/foo-fighters-and-uss-new-york.html

    As to why Randle is looking into 40’s era UFO accounts, well, you see, if he can find just one report of a ‘flying saucer’ that predates Arnold, all the Skepticism’s Ivory Towers will come crashing down, just as evolution will when the creationists find a dinosaur in the Congo.

  23. spookyparadigm
    August 3, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    The “radar cases through time” graph in the comments is awesome.

  24. August 12, 2013 at 6:26 PM

    But… But… Ancient Aliens is so darn entertaining.

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