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Scientists taking position:

This is the statement read by Dr. James E. McDonald at the Outer Space Affairs Group of the United Nations and the letter, introductory to this reading, sent by the scientist to Mr U. Thant, General Secretary of the United Nations.

James E. McDonald received his Ph.D. in physics from Iowa State University in 1951, then worked there as an assistant professor in meteorology. He then worked as a research physicist in the University of Chicago's department of meteorology from 1953 to 1954, when he 1954 he joined the University of Arizona faculty, first as an associate professor from 1954-1956, then as a full professor in the department of meteorology from 1956 to 1971. McDonald was also a senior physicist in the University's Institute of Atmospheric Physics, and served as both associate director (1954-56) and scientific director (1956-57). He also advised numerous federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, The Office of Naval Research, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Environmental Science Service Administration.

During the mid-late 1960s, McDonald became intensively involved in UFO research, interviewing hundreds of UFO witnesses and lecturing widely on the subject to professional societies. His talks emphasized the need for a serious scientific study, adding that he considered the best reports to be evidence of extraterrestrial visitation. He also played an important role in Congressional UFO hearings in 1968.

Privately, McDonald analyzed all Project Blue Book case files, convincing him that the Air Force had performed an entirely inadequate investigation, which appeared to have been more concerned with internal politics rather than real science. He also reviewed the cases of the Air Force's sponsored University of Colorado UFO study, and concluded that many of their explanations were not well founded either. McDonald left no book but privately published many monographs based on his lecture presentations, some of which are avaliable in the science section of my website.

Dr. McDonald's statement:

Dr. James E. McDonald, senior of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics and professor at the Section of Meteorology of the University of Arizona, is not an unknown.

Dr. James E. McDonald thought that the Federal Power Commission was evading the evidence concerning UFO involvement in the total power failure that paralyzed the whole North East of the United States on July 13, 1965, and dared to say so in front of a Congressional committee.

This eminent and courageous man is undoubtedly, in the United States and in the world, one of the best defenders of the cause of the real existence of the flying saucers. Publicly challenging for years the attitude of the American services with regard to these strange demonstrations, he did not hesitate, after a thorough study of the files at Project Blue Book, in Wright Patterson, to publicly attack the methods of the Project's UFO investigations and data processing He straightforwardedly stated that the survey of the American Air Force was very superficial and had been carried out "at a very low scientific qualification level."

Most curious besides, in this matter, is that the scientific director of the commission of Wright Patterson, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, in fact agreed with criticisms carried out by Dr. McDonald against this commission and, complaining about the poverty of the financing that were allocated to him, he also asked that the survey be carried out to a higher scientific level. Oddly enough, in his effort to obtain the creation of a scientific board of high qualification and independent of the possible pressures of the U.S. Air Force, Dr. J. Allen Hynek could even benefit of the attacks of Dr. McDonald. It is known that he won the case and that it resulted in the creation, at the University of Colorado, of a UFO investigation board chaired by Dr. Edward U. Condon, which created a sensation and numerous comments in the press worldwide.

At this time when the U.S. Air Force tried to dismiss the saucers as ball lightning and atmospheric plasma, the fact that Dr. McDonald, senior of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the University of Arizona and worldwide recognized expert in plasma, atmospherics and meteorological phenomenon and radar, was in the camp of those which, the whole world, made effort to sensitize the scientific opinion with the very serious problem of the UFOs, and he brought interested people invaluable reasons to hope. The assertion, by a man of his reputation, that the assumption that flying saucers are most likely to be space probes of extraterrestrial origin, inspired several other scientist some prudence, when they wanted to treat reported UFO sightings as misinterpretation of scientific phenomena.

The letter:

On June 5, 1967, professor James E. McDonald wrote the letter that follows to Mr. U. Thant, Secretray General of the United Nations:

Dear Sir,

I wish to thank you again for making it possible for me to meet with the U.N. Outer Space Affairs Group to talk about the international scientific aspects of the problem of the unidentified flying objects.

Attached hereby you will find a copy of the declaration which I will submit on June 7 to the Group of the Outer Space Affairs. It briefly summarizes the reasons for which I have exhorted the United Nations to take immediate action with regard to the problem of the UFOS. This problem is a very vast problem, therefore a short summary of this type can present only a highly summarized draft of the apparent nature of the problem of the UFOS and the possible scientific methods to study it. I believe that a serious and solid effort on behalf of the United Nations to gather information about this problem and to encourage an immediate scientific attention in its connection among all the nations members would be a considerable step towards the removal of this "lid of ridicule" which, at for now, is opposed in such a strong manner to the publication of many UFOs observations. Many other actions by the United Nations could and should be undertaken in order to increase the interest of the scientific world into the UFOs problem.

As I indicated in my declaration, attached hereby, to the Group of the Outer Space Affairs, I believe that it is necessary to take into very serious account the assumption that these strange objects constitute some sort of extraterrestrial probes. Before I had undertaken a personal study of the problem, I was willing to grant credit to such an assumption. After one year of intensive study, I must still regard it only as an assumption, but I must stress that my research strongly pushes me to admit that this assumption is the only acceptable one as for now if one wants to account for the utterly amazing number of observations at low altitude and short distance which are now recorded in the whole world and which relate to objects that have the appearance of machines.

I wish to offer whatever personal assistance or counsel you or your colleagues might be able to draw from my own personal experience in studying the problem. The problem of the UFOS is an eminently international scientific problem. The U.N. has both responsibilities and obligations to accelerate serious scientific study of the UFO problem throughout the world. To the numerous serious investigators of the UFO problem, it appears conceivable that something in the nature of a global surveillance by UFOs has been underway in recent years. If this view is correct, then our present ignorance of the purpose and plan of such surveillance must be urgently replaced by maximal understanding of what is going on. If the whole phenomenon is of some other nature, we also need the knowledge. The present ignorance, the present neglect and the present mocking remarks, all constitute regrettable features of our collective attitudes with regard to what can be, for all the people of the world, an affair of utter importance.

An attentive examination of these questions by the United Nations is, in my opinion, urgently needed.

Respectfuly yours,

James E. McDonald

The statement:

Here is the full text of the statement by Professor James E. McDonald:


During twenty years, there was a persisting and intriguing flood of reports, coming from countries located in all the parts of the world, relating to what we finally called the unidentified flying objects (UFOS). In all these reports, whatever their geographical origin, the nature of the reported objects appears to be primarily similar.

During the last twelve months spent, I pursued an intensive examination of the scientific aspects of the UFO problem, dealing with reports originating within the limits of the United States. After I interviewed the key witnesses to dozen important cases distributed over the whole 1947-1967 period; after having studied, with personal of the U.S. Air Force, official methods of investigation; and after having personally checked a great number of other sources of information, I concluded that, far from being a stupid problem, the problem of the UFOS is a problem of an extraordinary scientific interest.

It is my conclusion that no official group of my country conducted an adequate study of this problem. This conclusion is against the impression many people have, at the same time inside and out of the United States, that a qualified scientific examination of the American reports was undertaken. I fear that this false impression, largely spread, has diverted the scientific attention to a problem of a great international scientific interest for a long time. I requested the present occasion to appear in front of the Group of the Outer Space Affairs because I want to urge that all the possible steps be immediately taken by the United Nations, via its scientific staff and via scientific establishments available in all the nations which are members, so that a systematic study of the UFO problem, at the scale of the world, is undertaken without delay.

There is now a clear indication that the number of reports of observations, at short distance and low altitude, of absolutely strange aerial objects, having the appearance of machines and whose performances show unexplainable characteristics, increased in the few years that have just passed. It is certainly apparent inside the United States. I have the strong impression that the same increase appears in many foreign territories. My own studies led me to reject the opinion according to which they are only natural atmospheric phenomena or misinterpreted astronomical phenomena; in this respect a number of official explanations are almost absurdly erroneous. It is not possible anymore to explain all these observations with assumptions calling upon the products of a technology of avant-garde or experimental secret craft, with assumptions of mystification, fraud or trickery, or with psychological assumptions. Each one of these assumptions intervenes indeed in a great number of cases, but there still remains an astonishing number of other reports, submitted by observers highly worthy of faith during the two last decades, which cannot receive such a satisfactory explanation. I believe that this vast residue of reports, which amounts now to hundreds and perhaps thousands of cases, requires the attention of the most eminent scientists of the world. However, because of the official mocking remark that journalists, and even scientist, largely spread, almost no scientific attention is currently granted to this problem. This situation, I insist there, must be as fast as possible transformed, because the records - as soon as one examines them closely as I tried to do these last months - directs irrisistibly towards a certain phenomenon about which we should quickly acquire much better information. The official mocking remark must be replaced by a meticulous scientific examination and of high precision of this problem. Because of the worldwide nature of the phenomenon, it falls immediately into sectors where the United Nations must take its responsabilities to encourage an immediate raising of the level of the scientific examination of the problem.

It is my present opinion, based on what I believe to be a sufficient scientific examination of excluding mutually assumptions, that the most probable assumption to account for the phenomenon of the UFOS is that these are a certain type of monitoring space probes, of extraterrestrial origin.

I stress that, at present, this can only be considered as an hypothesis against which, naturally, much preconceived scientific ideas are opposed, which are obvious. I stress also the fact that there are innumerable facets of the UFO phenomena which I can only describe as highly strange and unexplainable in terms of the scientific and technological knowledge of today. I would also like to point out that, if these objects are not extraterrestrial origin, then the mutually exclusive assumptions which would be necessary to account for them would be even odder, and perhaps of an even greater scientific interest for humanity. Therefore, regardless of what ultimate explanation is found for the UFO phenomena, the present scientific neglect and ridicule must be replaced by scientific concern and intensive study. My recommendation to the Outer Space Affairs Group is that it seek all possible means of securing worldwide attention to this problem.

The first need is for erasing the ridicule that is quite clearly suppressing open reporting of sightings of unconventional objects in the air and on the ground. I am personally totally aware about its inhibiting effects in my own country. My conversations with scientists and other people from abroad convinced me that derision and the mockery are comparable in the foreign countries to those one can find in the United States, and that only a tiny fraction of the whole of the reports manages to pass by the official channels. It is necessary to quickly remedy this deplorable situation, since all the attempts to discover significant structures of the space and temporal distribution of the observations are blocked at present by an obvious difficulty: it is never known if a structure that one distinguishes is not simply and fortuitously in connection with some local and transitory reduction of the mocking remark with which the reports are so frequently accomodated. A serious interest with regard to an unknown and potentially very important problem must become the dominant official treatment of these observations of UFOS throughout the world if one wants to put an end to the mocking remark which constitute an obstacle to a complete information today.

In the second place, the existence of a detection system already available in the form of radar equipment of radars must be recognized as extremely fortunate. At present, most radar sightings of UFOs are not getting into scientific hands, largely because most radar equipment is operated by military groups who, in almost all countries of the world, tend to ignore inexplicable high-speed radar target reports or else to withhold them from scientific attention.

As though this is fully understandable, at first sight, this attitude must quickly be changed. No other currently available technique can compare with radar acting to obtain objective data on the movements and operating features of the unidentified flying objects. It is hoped that better detector sets will be elaborate as soon as the problem of the UFOS is considered with the serious that it largely deserves. But, in the immediate future, radar equipment, more than any other available equipment, offers the greatest promise to provide us the scientific data about this problem.

A wide range of electromagnetic disturbances accompanying close passage or hovering of the UFOs is now on record throughout the world - despite this record not yet being admitted into what one would ordinarily call the "scientific record". Disturbance of internal-combustion engines coincident with close passage of disc-like or cylindrical unconventional objects is on record in at least several hundred instances.

I personally know of dozen cases of this phenomenon reported by credible people, within the sole limits of the United States and during the last years. Often the disturbances are accompanied by broad-spectrum electromagnetic noise picked up on radio devices. In many instances compasses, both on ships and in aircraft, have been disturbed. Magnetometers and even watches have been affected. All these reports point to some kind of electromagnetic noise or electromagnetic side-effects that offer promise for design of new sensing devices, which will only be developed when competent engineers and physicists take seriously the rapidly growing body of reports of close-range, low-altitude sightings.

But these equipment can be useful only when qualified engineers and physicists seriously take the quickly increasing mass of the short distance and low altitude sightings reports of the unidentified flying objects. In the immediate future, radar must be used but new detectors will have to be worked out to reinforce the means of continuation and the techniques of detection of these objects. The temporal and space variations at the time of the movements of the UFOS must be noted without the diverting effects of these psychological factors which exert an inhibiting influence even on the fraction of all the observations which is openly reported. Some serious students of the UFO phenomenon claim since years that one can distinguish in UFOS the structures, the layouts, of reconaissance and exploration. I am been willing to give the insurance that some of these layouts appear in the reports, but I am not inclined to try to draw from this any firm conclusions, because I was informed by too many testimonys that only a small fraction of all the observations reach us, or are even confidentially announced.

There is curious evidence, still too inadequately studied to warrant any firm conclusions, that unconventional objects apparently rather similar in nature to those that have been reported in our global airspace in the past two decades have been seen prior to the 1947 epoch of marked rise in sightings.

If this is true, then it is, with regard to our final interpretation of what happens in the UFO phenomenon UFO, that it has huge implications. It would be necessary that a scientific examination of these testimonys is undertaken by people versed in a large variety of disciplines, by scientists who have a knowledge of the various historical aspects of technology and the disciplines which relate to it. I will not try here to develop the thing in detail, I only want to stress that a certain number of students of the problem gathered testimonys in which rises the convinction that the UFO phenomenon goes back to at least a half-century, if not more. Consecutively with this remark, one must then stress this somewhat disconcerting point that the frequency of sightings increased by perhaps two or three orders of magnitude in 1946-47 - for reasons we do not now understand in the slightest degree. It may be that this ignorance is not easy to surmount; but, unless we begin the serious scientific study of the UFO problem, we will persist in complete ignorance of what is perhaps, for the entire humanity, a subject of exceptional concern.

In short, I will say all the value that give to this occasion which was given to me to meet you and to speak with you about this problem. I insist that the United Nations immediately undertakes the examination of the problem of the UFOS, perhaps by the intermediary of the Group of Outer Space Affairs. And I hope that all the member nations will be encouraged to create research groups and commissions for the examination of the UFOs observation in their own country, and in order to obtain a rapid increase in the world scientific attention with regard to this problem.

If, on the basis of my recent scientific research about this attractive problem, I can personally help you in some manner, I hope that your Group will call upon me. Many others which I know would be also ready, I believe, to offer their assistance in this field, with the hope that this long time neglected problem can be quickly raised to the condition of a problem in which a high scientific priority would be granted. I do not know any other scientific problem whose character is more intrinsically international than this problem of the nature and the origin of the unidentified flying objects. Consequently, it seems essential to obtain that the United Nations engage in the study of this problem, whose importance can be really enormous for the world.


These texts by Dr. McDonald, along with other of his writings, were collected in a special issue of the French magazine Phénomènes Spatiaux:

Le plus grand problème scientifique de notre temps?

It seems (2002) they can still be ordered at this address:

Madame Francine Fouéré
69, rue de la Tombe-Issoire
75014 Paris (France)

For more information, articles and papers by Dr. McDonald, visit the science section.

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This page was last updated on January 18, 2002.