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Pierre Lagrange:

Pierre Lagrange is a French sociologist, usually misquoted both by the press and ufologists: almost everyone is convinced that sociologists see only science fiction insipred illusions in the UFO Phenomenon. Wrong, and quite the opposite.

Article by Pierre Lagrange in Libération newspaper:

Following the publication of the COMETA report in 1999, Pierre Lagrange makes some strong statesments which resounds rather nicely to my ears.

Some personal remarks and opinions:

In essence, we should be thankful to Pierre Lagrange for his essential contributions to the comprehension of the phenomenon. He is one of the rare people that does not limit his thinking to the defense of one single ad hoc theory.

The article by Pierre Lagrange:

Between the "X-Files" and "Independence Day", the "experts" report published by "VSD" feeds the misinformation on the UFOS by ridiculing the subject. However the ufologists not all crackpots.

Ovni soit qui mal y pense

By PIERRE LAGRANGE

Pierre Lagrange is a sociologist (lagrange@gulliver.fr). Latest published works: "La Rumeur de Roswell " (La Découverte) and "Among us? The extraterrestrial night" (Gallimard). He directed an issue of the " Ethnologie Française" magazin (CNRS, museum of the ATP) about parasciences.

Wednesday July 21, 1999

When people considered serious decide to look at an enigma such as the flying saucers, they more often tend to be be on the skeptic side than the believers side. Is this tendency about to be reversed? Indeed, here come a special edition of the VSD magazine with a "Confidential - widely publicized" report on UFOS written by a group of engineers and auditors of IHEDN (Institute of the high studies of the national defense) joined together as the COMETA association. Entitled "UFOS and defense: what must we be prepared for?" the report which has allegedly "been submitted to the president of the Republic and the Prime Minister", is foreworded by the former president of the CNES (French NASA-equivalent), André Lebeau, is introduced by General Norlain, former director of IHEDN, and supervised by the General Denis Letty of the Air Force. In 90 pages with a sober style and stripped design, the authors align observation reports of non identified phenomena, in particular by pilots. A summary of the research carried out by CNES since 1977 follows.

So far so good. The thing gets spoiled when the report approaches studies by foreign countries, particularly by the United States. We learn that the Americans did indeed find some technological benefit in the recovery of a crashed saucer in Roswell in 1947! Even better, they did establish contacts with extraterrestrial civilizations. In their efforts to decipher the plans of the extraterrestrials, the authors suppose that religious traditions originate in visits of extraterrestrials poorly understood by ancient civilizations. (gods come from the sky). Who knows if, one day, we will not be ssen as gods when we land on other planets, ask the authors.

After these revelations, the report preaches the need for an official structure and soldier who would centralize the UFO records at the European level, to set up a defense policy in the event of confrontation with the extraterrestrials and to force the US Air Force to release its Roswell secrets. A remix of the X-Files, Independence Day and Men in Black written by a Polytechnician, without the humour and the special effects!

What did the authors of the report want to achieve? On page 78, they explain that two kinds of misinformation exist. The first, reducing, dismisses UFO observations as balloons or planet Venus. The second, magnifying, propagates rumours based on forged documents related to the Roswell crash (such as the famous alien autopsy footage shown by Jacques Pradel in 1995). In both cases, the goal is to drown the case under a cover of nutcase theories. The authors of the report undoubtedly judged that readers of VSD require the second kind of misinformation. Fortunately, it is not enough any more to ridicule the subject of UFOS to get rid of it. In twenty years of efforts, US Air Force did not succeed, so why should the Cometa-VSD report achive this in one summer?

UFOS are not a despickable tpic that should be evacuated under the carpet of erudite culture or confiscated by experts anxious to rewrite the history of the fifty last years with the gleam of some disaster plot. As philosopher Isabelle Stengers explains, the scientist, when he proposes hallucination and irrationality (it is rarer to see them sinking in the plot), then uses the type of rhetoric technique that science is exactly supposed no to use: to use the capacity of the words to occult a difficulty, to conceal a problem (1) ". Let us seize this occasion to call in question some generally accepted ideas in connection with the UFOS before the readers of the report are tempted to "throw the baby with the water of his bath."

First generally accepted idea, the experts, wether they are attached to the Rationalist Union or with VSD, make the same mistake: they believe blindly what others believe blindly. It has been a long time that anthropologists cut the wings of this erudite belief that uneducated people, peasants, children, are drowning in flying saucers beliefs, irrationality and magical thought. The second generally accepted idea: people cannot observe the sky precisely because they are irrational. As soon as they look up into the sky, they confuse trivial phenomena such as the Moon or weather balloon with UFOS.

But if there is no irrationnel, it is necessary to find another explanation for these errors which have nothing to do with the irrationnal. The witnesses do not follow their phantasms but the indications provided by their five senses. They find their interpretation in their readings and their culture, to interpret the bizarreries of the sky (what we all would do in the same situation, don't we see the sun "rising" and "turning around the Earth" every day?) The prospect thus should be reversed. These filters (culture, psychology) do not contribute to deposit an interpretation layers on an original stimulus, and consequently to drown a physical signal in cultural noise, they contribute on the contrary to highlight a new signal which is not just natural but also cultural. When alleged skeptics (pinned in the Cometa-VSD report) like Bertrand Méheust (2) or myself evoke the role of culture in the invention of the saucers, this is not to reduce the phenomenon but to "irreduce" it, to show all its richness.

The intrusion of the culture does not mean that we are in error, and the scientists are wrong when they are trying to find the errors of the witnesses. The UFOS are objects, and they should learn about these objects from the public. This is not about teaching to people but to learn from the people. Instead of accusing witnesses to see little green men on board every weather balloon carried by the wind, should'nt we question the way scientists can correctly observe nature? We are being told, third generally accepted idea, which is the counterpart of the preceding two, that scientists are neutral observers of nature, detached of any cultural influence. This is false, they invent nature within a precise cultural framework: their laboratory. When they observe the sky, they are odder than the witnesses of UFOs. They complain about the errors made by these witnesses, claim they are irrational, to have illusions, and at the same time, forget to make the list of all the instruments which enable them not to be mistaken (and which are sometimes also at the origin of huge mistakes) and "to think": telescopes, Schmidt cameras, observatories, laboratories, etc.

It is necessary to insist on that, these are the instruments which enable them to think and not their brains as it is believed, brains that are neither better conceived nor better filled than those of the observers and UFO amateurs. Let me be clear: I do not preach an antiscientific speech, but I describe within which precise frameworks science does function and what efforts is requested when it is applied to UFOs. Precisely, as we mentionned the ufologists brains, here is the fourth generally accepted idea, according to which UFO amateurs are ninnies. This is curious, when one speaks about science, one insists all the time on the few scientists who revolutionized their discipline, never on the many scientists who did not revolutionize anything. On the other hand, when one speaks about parasciences, one focuses oneself on the amateurs of X-Files conspiracy instead of searching if there might exist some rigorous minds in the lot.

Because there are. Yuc an only admire the work achieved by amateurs like those of the the GEPA, in the Seventies, or those of the Belgian SOBEPS, nowadays (3), which knew how to describe the UFO problem in such terms that it challenges the scientists and even led the Belgian Army to choose them as privileged interlocutors. They are not naive as believed. They exert their role of citizen by challenging the scientists on problems which the latter cannot cross because of the very particular conditions which govern the production of the scientific facts (did you ever see a scientific fact except within a laboratory?). As states Isabelle Stengers: "Far from constituting an unimportant problem, the question of the UFOS can interest the citizen, independently of any assumption as of their origin: it is a challenge for our democratic ways. Can we answer a problem that is "out of control" in a better manner than by hiding it or drowning it, which translate first in impotence then in denial?"

Facing this question, ufologists managed to invent new ways to participate in the life of the city, between an avid public asking for "the marvellous" and the "rational" scientists, whose laboratories are not planned for this kind of objets. It is time to make a place to this new categories of experts, to these new categories of facts defined by other criteria that those of the laboratory and the military strategy.

  • (1) I. Stengers, "L’anomalie belge", in Vague d’ovnis sur la Belgique-2, Bruxelles, Sobeps, 1994.
  • (2) Science-fiction et soucoupes volantes, Mercure de France, 1978.
  • (3) Sobeps, 74, avenue Paul-Janson, B – 1070 Bruxelles.

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