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Science and the UFO phenomenon:

"Statement on Unidentified Flying Objects"

This statement has been submitted by Dr. James E. McDonald, Senior Physicist, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, and professor, Department of Meteorology, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics at July 29, 1968, Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, Rayburn Bldg., Washington, D.C.

I created a table of content below; which was not part of the original scientific publication. The 56 pages publication is some 250Kb and I broke it in several files for acceptable web access speed.

Please go to the Science section of this website for more scientific papers by James E. McDonald and other scientists, plus comments and information regarding scientists' work and position about the UFO phenomenon.

Table of content

Dr. James E. McDonald.

Scope and background of present comments:

It has been suggested that I review for you my experiences in interviewing UFO witnesses here and abroad and that I discuss ways in which my professional experience in the field of atmospheric physics and meteorology illuminates past and present attempts at accounting for UFO phenomena. To understand the basis of my comments, it may be helpful to note briefly the nature of my own studies on UFOs.

I have had a moderate interest in the UFO problem for twenty years, much as have a scattering of other scientists. In southern Arizona, during the period 1954-66, I interviewed, on a generally rather random basis, witnesses in such local sightings as happened to come to my attention via press or personal communications. This experience taught me much about lay misinterpretations of observations of aircraft, planets, meteors, balloons, flares, and the like. The frequency with which laymen misconstrue phenomena associated with fireballs (meteors brighter than magnitude -5), led me to devote special study to meteor physics; other topics in my own field of atmospheric physics also drew my closer attention as a result of their bearing on various categories of UFO reports. This period of rather casual UFO-witness interviewing on a local basis proved mainly educational; yet on a few occasions I encountered witnesses of seemingly high credibility whose reports lay well outside any evident meteorological, astronomical, or other conventional bounds. Because I was quite unaware, before 1966, that those cases were, in fact, paralleled by astonishing numbers of comparable cases elsewhere in the U.S. and the rest of the world, they left me only moderately puzzled and mildly bothered, since I came upon relatively few impressive cases within the environs of Tucson in those dozen years of discursive study. I was aware of the work of non-official national investigative groups like NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) and APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization); but lacking basis for detailed personal evaluation of their investigative methods, I simply did not take their publications very seriously. I was under other misimpressions, I found later, as to the nature of the official UFO program, but I shall not enlarge on this before this Committee. (I cite all of this here because I regard it relevant to an appreciation, by the Committee, of the way in which at least one scientist has developed his present strong concern for the UFO problem after a prior period of some years of only mild interest. Despite having interviewed a total of perhaps 150-200 Tucson-area witnesses prior to 1966 (75 of them in a single inconclusive case in 1958), I was far from overwhelmed with the importance of the UFO problem.

A particular sighting incident in Tucson in early 1966, followed by the widely-publicized March, 1966, Michigan sightings (I, too, felt, the "swamp gas" explanation was quite absurd once I checked a few relevant points), led me finally to take certain steps to devote the coming summer vacation months to a much closer look at the UFO problem. Within only a few weeks in May and June of 1966, after taking a close look at the files and modes of operation of both private and official (i.e. Project Bluebook) UFO investigative programs, after seeing for the first time press-clipping files of (to me) astonishing bulk, covering innumerable intriguing cases I had never before heard of, and (above all) after the beginning of what became a long period of personal interviewing of key witnesses in important UFO cases, I rapidly altered my conception of the scientific importance of the UFO question. By mid-1966, I had already begun what became months of effort to arouse new interest and to generate new UFO investigative programs in various science agencies of the Federal government and in various scientific organizations. Now, two years later, with very much more background upon which to base an opinion, I find myself increasingly more concerned with what has happened during the past twenty years' neglect, by almost the entire scientific community, of a problem that appears to be one of extremely high order of scientific importance.

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This page was last updated on January 19, 2002.