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Science and the UFO phenomenon:

Some UFO-skeptics claim the Condon report of the Colorado project to study UFOs solved the question of the UFOS in a scientific and once-and-for-all manner: UFOs do not exist. That, is one of the greatest deception ever. Here is a part of the explanations of this deception. There are other aspects of this deception, including that when one really reads the body of the Condon report and not just the conclusion, it contains UFO cases evaluations for which it is concluded that there is not a better explanation than that they are extraterrestrial flying machines.

Dr. Thornton Page and the Condon report:

The following review of the Condon report was written by Thornton Page, and published in the science magazine American Journal of Physics, Vol. 37, No. 10, 1071-1072, October 1969.

Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects conducted by the University of Colorado, edited by Daniel S. Gillmor (Bantam Books, New York, 1969, $1.95 paperback, 965 pp.)

Reviewed by Thornton Page Jr.

Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects: Final Report of Research Conducted by the University of Colorado for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under the Direction of Edward U. Condon. Pp. 965+xxiv, Bantam Books, 1969. Price: $1.95, paperback.

Reviewed by Thornton Page.

Most reviewers of this book have an advantage over Condon and his Colorado Project Staff in that we write for a more homogeneous audience. I assume that readers of Amer. J. Phys. are mostly physicists, many of whom view "flying saucers" with amusement or disdain, and I hasten to add that I had that reaction in 1953 when I served on the first (secret) UFO panel chaired by the late H. P. Robertson (Cal. Tech. physicist). He recognized our responsibility better than I, and reprimanded me severely for my excessive levity (though he included my warning in our brief report that UFO reports might clog the U. S. communications system during a true military emergency).

The Condon report is not brief (989 pages), nor very humorous, and I cannot say that I have read every word of its 24 chapters and 24 appendices ranging over such physical topics as optics, radar, zodiacal light, plasma, and sonic boom, to history, perception, and psychology. This edition starts with an 8-page introduction by Walter Sullivan of the New York Times, and ends with an excellent 23-page index. Whether or not you agree that the subject is worth all this, the 56 detailed case studies make interesting reading, and a good deal of physics is brought to bear on a popular problem. In fact, we have offered Flying Saucers as a 1-semester course at Wesleyan University for the past two years, with some success. (It attracted students who would not otherwise have had any science.)

In one sense, the Condon Report lives up to its title Scientific Study, because physical principles and available data are applied meticulously to more than 56 selected, well-documented "cases" (UFO sightings), with the result that 33 cases are explained. however, as several other reviewers have noted, this leaves unexplained a larger proportion than the 10% or so which caused all the ruckus and forced the Air Force to fund the Colorado Project in the first place. Hence, it may be argued that Condon's carefully written conclusions (the first five pages of the Report) do not logically follow from the case studies. He recommends, in effect, that there be no further government records or study of UFO sightings, a recommendation that makes the "UFOlogists" see red. Those of us concerned with the AAAS Symposium on UFO's (scheduled for 27 December 1969 in Boston) find it important not to take sides on this controversial issue (We have discovered how emotional the reaction is on both sides, a fact hinted at in Sullivan's introduction. So I will outline three separate views: Condon's, as expressed in this report, his critics' (the more sensible ones) and a "middle" position.

Condon argues that his Colorado Project explained the majority of cases as normal phenomena, examined the "far-out" hypothesis of extraterrestrial visitors, and found no direct evidence favoring it. In fact, use of the extraterrestrial hypothesis to explain more cases would clearly violate laws of physics and/or require materials with properties we think are impossible. It seems likely to Condon that, if more complete observations had been made, all UFO sightings would be explained by normal phenomena. Twenty-one years of investigation have developed no evidence of new scientific phenomena, hence further study is of no scientific value, and should not be maintained as a load on the scientific community.

The sensible critics, one of whom is J. Allen Hynek, who recently reviewed the Condon report [Bull. At. Scientists 85,39 (1969)], admit that 90 to 95% of UFO sightings are easily explained, but find a few well-documented cases among the other 5 or 10% that may be highly significant. These may indicate new atmospheric phenomena, or extraterrestrial visitors with technology far superior to ours. As in many important discoveries (supernovae, quasars, pulsars), the significant "cases" may be swamped by non-significant ones, and vast amounts of "messy data" (ancient observations of bright stars, rough locations of small radio sources, and UFO sightings) must be carefully studied. Therefore, Air Force records and periodic reviews, the critics say, should be continued.

The "middle position" is based on the fact, mentioned in the psychology section of the Report but ignored in Condon's conclusions, that a large fraction of the U. S. public (30 to 40%) believe that UFO's are extraterrestrial visitors. This is not only of political significance (it probably accounts for the $500,000 grant to the University of Colorado for preparing the Report); it raises further questions about public education and the public image of science and scientists. Certainly educators (particularly science educators) should be concerned when the public is grossly misinformed. (The AAAS Symposium will discuss several aspects of the UFO problem for that reason.) But it does not help the public image of science when the scientists shrug off sightings and interpretation accepted by so many tax-paying citizens simply because "UFO's don't appeal to us." In fact, the scientists' general refusal to take UFO's seriously may strengthen the "new left" view that science is based more on authority than on observation and reason. Intelligent laymen can (and do) point out the logical flaw in Condon's conclusion based on a statistically small (and selected) sample, Even in this sample a consistent pattern can be recognized; it is ignored by the "authorities," who then compound their "felony" by recommending that no further observational data be collected. Actually, the Colorado Project introduced one new set of data with higher statistical reliability than visual UFO sightings-the sky photos of the Prairie (meteor) Network. It had been noted [Science 160, 1258 (June 1968)] that this is a valuable source of UFO data not costing millions of dollars, but the Report scarcely does it justice in a brief section [(pp. 770-774) garbled by poor definitions and misprints.]

In my opinion, this "middle position" leads to the philosophical question: "What is the proper evidence for Physical reality?" Following the "operational" definition of P. W. Bridgeman (Logic of Modern Physics. The MacMillan Co., New York, 1927), UFO's have certainly been "measured" (detected) in a definable way, unlike the luminiferous ether, or the 20,000,000 deg. K central temperatures of stars, for instance. In more modern terms, the UFO sightings show some statistical patterns that can be fitted to a theory based on the hypothesis of "extraterrestrial civilizations which know far more physics than we do, and have developed materials, energy sources, and field devices that we have not yet invented." How can we logically reject this theory when we accept theories of rotating neutron stars to explain pulsars? Of course, a better theory might be devised if more data were collected and the present data examined in broader terms. For instance, there is a definite trend in the shapes reported from "saucers" in 1947 to "sickles" in 1960 to "cigars" in 1966, and also the eastward travel of "flaps" (maxima in UFO activity) circling the earth in about 15 years. This latter empirical fact, which I like to call "Page's Law," may fit a sociological theory that settles the UFO problem and allows physical scientists to regain their sense of humor (though it is "outside the scope" of the Condon Report).

About the Condon Report, see also here.

About Dr. Thornton Page:

Thornton Page obtained his Ph.D. in astronomy at Oxford University in 1938 and was a professor at the Wesleyan University starting in 1958. He has been an associate with the universities of Chicago and California, Smithsonian Astrophysics observatory. He worked on several civilian and secret military projects for United Aircraft, Grumman, and the Naval Ordnance Laboratory.

Some comments on the Condon report review by Thornton Page:

"I assume that readers of American Journal of Physics are mostly physicists, many of whom view "flying saucers" with amusement or disdain, ..."

Dr Page indeed just made an assumption here. His fellow astronomer and ufology hero Dr J. Allen Hynek went beyond the assumption. While discussing with his scientific fellows, Hynek found out that their apparent scoffing at flying saucers stuff was merely a mask they wore in public, whereas in private discussions, scientists are quite interested, and eager to get information, as long as they were sure that is remains discrete and low key.

"many of whom view "flying saucers" with amusement or disdain, and I hasten to add that I had that reaction in 1953 when I served on the first (secret) UFO panel chaired by the late H. P. Robertson ..."

There in fact Page recognizes his share of responsibility in this disdain. To learn more on the Robertson pane mentionned here, see:

"... I had the same reaction in 1953... ": what Dr. Page bluntly says here is not less than this: he did not take the subject seriously at the time when he should have had, and he admits having changed. In fact, it is hardly astonishing that a scientist was not convinced by simply sitting at a three day UFO briefing under the CIA's supervision in 1953. He only got a little bit more information since, and that was enough to realize that a) a three days skeptic seminar is not enough to decide whether the saucers are extraterrestrial or non-existent, and b) the opinion of their inexistence or their ridicule melts the more so as one wants to really seriously dig into the topic.

"He [Robertson] recognized our responsibility better than I, and reprimanded me severely for my excessive levity ..."

Here again we have a quite interesting revelation: the very chairman of the Robertson Committee, this committee which concluded in writing that there is no evidence of real extraterrestrial flying saucers, reprimand one of his own group members for not having taken the subject seriously enough.

"In one sense, the Condon Report lives up to its title Scientific Study, because physical principles and available data are applied meticulously to more than 56 selected, well-documented "cases" (UFO sightings), with the result that 33 cases are explained. however, as several other reviewers have noted, this leaves unexplained a larger proportion than the 10% or so which caused all the ruckus and forced the Air Force to fund the Colorado Project in the first place.Hence, it may be argued that Condon's carefully written conclusions (the first five pages of the Report) do not logically follow from the case studies."

You read well: the supposedly scientific study to reduce these "few 10 % more or less" of "unexplained" reports (when one defines as unexplained all that firmly resembles extraterrestrial visitors), has resulted in that instead of reducing the 10% to 0% or 1% or 5%, it increased to 23 "unexplained" on 56 studied cases, that is to say nearly 40% of "unexplained." (Do not think for a minute that the condon group only dealt with cases considered solid of difficult of which they would have "explained" 60%; on the contrary they rejected the best cases recommended by the ufologists and scientists of NICAP in particular, and rejected the recent cases for which they may have been the first investigators, while including perfectly mundane or ridiculous cases of the type of odd-looking cloud photographs.)

"In fact, we have offered Flying Saucers as a 1-semester course at Wesleyan University for the past two years, with some success. (It attracted students who would not otherwise have had any science)."

It may not obviously show, but Dr. Page gives the boot to professor Condon here. The recommendation of Condon was to discourage any student's interest in flying saucers so that they tudy "real science", while Page organizes a flying saucers class which becomes an effective means to get students who otherwise would have had no scientific training become interested in scientific matters.

"Condon argues that his Colorado Project explained the majority of cases as normal phenomena, examined the "far-out" hypothesis of extraterrestrial visitors, and found no direct evidence favoring it."

Implicitly, Page informs us that he very well knows that there is indirect evidence in favour of the extraterrestrial flying saucers, and that he is aware that in the end, the skeptics position all sums up to the absence of accepted, available, undisputable, hard - easy to handle by any scientist - proof, such as a flying saucer engine in the Smithsonian Institute or an extraterrestrial in a cage in the London zoo.

"The sensible critics, one of whom is J. Allen Hynek, who recently reviewed the Condon report [Bull. At. Scientists 85,39 (1969)], admit that 90 to 95% of UFO sightings are easily explained, but find a few well-documented cases among the other 5 or 10% that may be highly significant."

As a matter of fact, there has never been even one ufologist who ever claimed that each time any person "saw a UFO" he has always necessarily seen an extraterrestrial spaceship. The argumentation for the extraterrestrial intelligent origin to explain some particular UFO sighting reports has nothing to do with percentages per se, may it be 40, 5 or 10%, but with the data of the cases themselves, and only secondarily with their number, never with percentages. Any ufologist however convinced he may be knows very well that people mistake weather balloons, planes, etc, for extraterrestrial spaceships. There is nothing strange in that. It is sometimes insinuated that the reports evaluated as "unexplained" are of comparable nature to the "explained" but it is not so at all, (this does not appear in the Condon report).

"Those of us concerned with the AAAS Symposium on UFO's (scheduled for 27 December 1969 in Boston) find it important not to take sides on this controversial issue ..."

The UFO symposium of the American Assiciation for the Advancement of Science set as a rule that no word of criticims or comment will be said about the work of the Condon group.

"But it does not help the public image of science when the scientists shrug off sightings and interpretation accepted by so many tax-paying citizens simply because "UFO's don't appeal to us.""

Indeed, the future has illustrated Dr. Page's concern: the apparent contempt by the noninformed scientists resulted in a contempt for science from the general public, this contempt which resounds in the expression "official science".

Dr. Page probably noted in the decades which followed the lament of the "rationalist" leagues concerning the public "under the influence of the X Files," "gullible" and "hungry for the paranormal." Ufologists too, innundated with questions on the Egyptian pyramids on Mars, the "fake moon landings" and other "Queen of England manipulated by reptilian ETs" pay the price of the ignorance resulting from the reflex mockeries of scientific "authorities" totally ignorant of all things ufological.

"... the "authorities," who then compound their "felony" by recommending that no further observational data be collected."

With as automatic result that only goodwills, acting out of the usual scientific academic ways even when they are academic scientists themselves are working out the UFO sighting reports. Then, it will be briskly pontificated on the topic of the "unqualified" "amateurs" in ufology in opposition to "true scientists" (which they are sometimes however.) Let's not mention the "no progress in ufology for 50 years" chorus line. There is indeed an apparent regression, an exile of ufology and ufologists, or rather an evergrowing ditch between the uninformed public and scientists and the UFO-specialists. In 1966, nobody would have called professors Allen Hynek, McDonald and al. "crackpots" or "believers" or "saucer sect gurus." Nowaday, they would hear it. Thank you professor Condon.

"... In more modern terms, the UFO sightings show some statistical patterns that can be fitted to a theory based on the hypothesis of "extraterrestrial civilizations which know far more physics than we do, and have developed materials, energy sources, and field devices that we have not yet invented." How can we logically reject this theory ..."

Yes, you just read it: you really have one of the high-profile members of the military commission for the final burial of the flying saucers who wrote this in a scientific magazine a few years after the burial which had his signature. Is it too late or too early to think about all that?

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