Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Fog of Ufology: Lessons from NICAP

In the introduction to The UFO Evidence (1964), the NICAP Board of Governors urges the following steps to be taken:

(1) The evidence in Air Force files (after deletion of legitimate security information such as data concerning the capabilities of radar) should be made freely available to any interested citizens.

(2) There should be a Congressional inquiry into the Air Force's Project Blue Book to establish, a. the amount and kind of UFO information in the files, and whether all significant non-security data has been made public; b. the scientific adequacy of the investigation (whether there has been a consistently objective, scientific study of the evidence, or whether it has been erratic and influenced negatively by high-level policy decisions, lack of funds, or other factors).
I do not mean to suggest that current ufologists should adopt the above goals (although, as I will discuss later, there are, or should be, overlapping objectives between the two eras). Rather, I want to draw attention to NICAP's methods as evidence of current ufology's ineffectual strategies and as a potential model, or at least resource, for a new UFO methodology.

The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, or NICAP, is arguably the most effective UFO research organization of the 20th century. During what then-Assistant Director Richard Hall calls "The Real NICAP" era (1957-1969), NICAP provoked serious public, media, and Congressional interest in the UFO phenomenon. As Hall has already written a comprehensive history of NICAP, I will refrain from doing so here. I will instead focus on possible applications to current ufology.

In 1962, Major Donald E. Keyhoe, Director of NICAP, suggested "compiling a documentary report summarizing the strongest evidence [NICAP] had accumulated." This report would be distributed to the media, to important segments of the public, and to members of Congress. Eventually called The UFO Evidence (1964), the report did not attract so much productive attention simply because of its well-documented and convincing content--although it does stand as one of the most impressive collections of UFO sightings. The UFO Evidence was, unlike many books today, conceived with a deliberate public purpose: to attract serious attention from those societal entities most capable of benefitting--and ignoring--the UFO phenomenon. This report was not meant to sit on bookshelves or to be absorbed without consequence, without ramification, into whatever canon there was or would be of UFO literature. In fact, for all the criticism leveled at Dr. Steven Greer's Disclosure Project, he is one of the only UFO proponents actively pushing for Congressional hearings.

But should Congressional hearings be our goal? Are such discussions truly productive and beneficial? Assuming that the appropriate UFO researchers are present, the evidence is present, and respectful Congresspeople are present, then I see no problem with setting Congressional hearings as a goal.

But how are current and emerging ufologists to approach members of Congress? The UFO phenomenon seems to be of such low priority that open hearings would be quickly dismissed. This brings me to the issue of culture, and why the American public must be informed prior to approaching Congress.

The most significant cultural impediment to UFO recognition is the constant argument that UFOs have no impact on the daily lives of Americans. This is not necessarily a persuasive argument, as many facets of national and international life are considered and thought over by Americans but may not be directly felt. It then comes down to impressions and priorities, the former of which will guide the latter. If ufologists can begin to challenge the ingrained impressions and assumptions of people today, especially young people, then at least some of those people will re-align their intellectual priorities to include ufology as a viable research project.

The question of how to challenge a person's impressions can be answered by looking at NICAP's methods. It is a matter of compiling the most persuasive evidence, organizing it in a clear and accessible way, and then distributing it. At this point in ufology, distribution is the most difficult element of the process. While I understand the value in selling a large book, I also believe that grassroots approaches such as smaller do-it-yourself 'zines and publications, handed out free of charge, are necessary if we are to tap into youth populations, especially those on college campuses. Just as NICAP relied on its hugely effective Subcommittees, I can see smaller teams working at various universities across the country, all connected and communicating.

Distribution must happen on local, regional, and national levels if the cultural stigma is to be fought and removed. It is only then that Congress will respond with any degree of sincerity.

The current fragmentation within ufology makes it difficult to synthesize the collective goals of the field's members. Some target the U.S. federal government while others target the sightings. Some believe the MJ-12 documents are authentic while others reject them. Are there any underlying convictions or assertions to be made that accurately reflect the majority opinions among ufologists? There are at least two such assertions: [1] UFOs are worthy of serious scientific and intellectual research; and [2] the U.S. federal government and the U.S. military have not been forthcoming regarding information on UFOs. The second point does not imply a conspiracy or cover-up; it simply states that the government and military have not been entirely cooperative.

This, to me, is problematic, but I understand and respect differing opinions. Fragmentation, when organized and mobilized, can in fact be productive. But I do not think ufology has the luxury to divide itself because of personal ego or individual agenda. Not only is ufology a small field, but it is stigmatized by exaggerations and outlandish claims.

In order to clarify the basic reasons for why ufology exists, should exist, and is an important project, ufologists must gather together and prepare collective mission/position statements. For example, I believe it necessary that we make aware the news media, both independent and corporate, and scientific journals of our refusal to accept the complete decline of ufology and of our commitment to restoring public and (acknowledged) governmental interest in the UFO phenomenon. It has now become a campaign for basic awareness and recognition of not only our continued research but of our mere existence as serious investigators.

NICAP was prepared to take positions and to issue statements. It made the public, the media, and the government aware of its intentions and methods. It did not talk to itself like so many UFO researchers do today. We cannot preach to ourselves and to each other and expect to achieve long-term results.

Do we need a new organization to execute new methods? Do we need to reform an existing one, such as MUFON or CUFOS? A new organization is not necessary, nor is the deliberate reformation of an existing one. As long as all UFO researchers have access to the CUFOS archives and such, there is no need to form another organization. Furthermore, many independent researchers, including myself, prefer to work with other individuals and groups without owing allegiance to any particular body.

However, what does need to happen is an acknowledged cooperation among like-minded researchers; an open coalition that preserves individual autonomy while able to speak collectively. A staff would not exist in the typical hierarchical sense, but a researcher could expect to consistently work with the same researchers while remaining open to novice investigators (such as myself). Perhaps the UFO Blog Coalition is the start of a larger project. It has already proved effective in uniting the content of several different blogs.

I want to end with an urgent plea for purpose and resolve among today's ufologists. Just as NICAP undertook a greater public project, so must we if we are to succeed at all--and success is not necessarily uncovering the mythical truth but is only claiming legitimacy for our work outside this small circle of researchers. I suggest we begin discussing and formulating initial position statements and collections of evidence for distribution. Ufology cannot survive without an audience outside itself.

8 Comments:

Blogger Paul Kimball said...

Brad:

Hear, hear. Well said.

And happy birthday!

Paul

11:08 AM

 
Blogger RRRGroup said...

Brad (Paul, et al.):

I have to disagree, slightly, with some of Brad's articulate, intelligent, and rather thorough approach to the "new paradigm."

To think a Congressional committee or hearing would help the UFO cause is not to be aware of how and what Congress has screwed up with Congressional committees and hearings -- the JFK assassination hearing by the House in the 70s comes to mind.

And the Army-McCarthy Hearings of the 50s where Joe McCarthy's insight to communist infiltration of the military was sidelined (and ruined him) because of a quiet and emotional broadside by Joseph Welch.

The UFO cause has to be, in my mind and what we at the RRRgroup will pursue and underwrite financially, studied by Jacques Vallee's suggestion: an Invisible College, not unlike that used by the Bacons, Newton, and others who wanted to study or investigate arcane truths without the bureaucracy of science panels and constructs.

Once you open your study to the establishment -- media, science, the Church -- you've already compromised your findings.

A group, solely responsible to nothing but the truth and search for it, can present its findings, once they are concluded to the media and public.

NICAP, and the great Donald Keyhoe, were done in my members of his own group who had unterior motives and ego-needs.

The new UFO congregation has to be comprised of highly ethical, moral, intellectual persons of various relevant disciplines.

Brad, to try and re-work the old paradigm or to include the UFO die-hards is a prelude to disaster.

Not to cull that from a study of what happened to NICAP and Keyhoe seems remiss to me.

Rich Reynolds

2:21 PM

 
Blogger owendrab said...

Rich,

I understand. My point about Congressional hearings was the least supported from the start; I don't have the history that you do, so thank you for that clarification.

My main suggestions are this: [1] to underscore our work with a deliberate purpose, something I identified in NICAP's work regardless of personal ego. They didn't just put out a book; they published it with the purpose of public, media, and Congressional exposure; [2] to be prepared to distribute on a variety of levels and through a variety of ways; and [3] to issue position statements representative of serious ufologists.

Now, this question of whether or not Congress can help ufology has to remain suspended for now. I don't think it's wise to make any permanent judgments while we are still very much in the early stages of this "new paradigm." But you make extremely good points, and we should not set Congressional hearings as our main goal. That wasn't my point either.

Furthermore, I wasn't suggesting that we open up our study to the establishment. I was suggesting that once we have completed a segment of our study, we should be willing to release it appropriate members of the establishment if only to convince them of our project--if that is even possible. Maybe it isn't. I don't want to collaborate with the establishment, believe me.

"A group, solely responsible to nothing but the truth and search for it, can present its findings, once they are concluded to the media and public."

I completely agree. That is my main suggestion as well; a group with a calculated purpose.

If we follow your suggestion to exclude members of the "old guard," then how should we proceed in terms of fellow researchers and collaborators? For example, who should be invited to the UFO Blog Coalition?

I'm tempted to re-work this post... Perhaps we should work on it together. What do you think? Our first mission statement, perhaps?

many thanks, brad.

2:58 PM

 
Blogger RRRGroup said...

Brad:

Your views are circumspect and sensible. Don't assume my views should prevail.

I (and the RRRGroup) are radical anti-establishmentarianists. (Is that a real word?)

I (and my guys) find most (virtually all) of the present UFO community lacking the intellectual acumen to resolve the UFO mystery.

That it hasn't even begun to be unraveled, after 50 years of study, makes my point I think.

You, at 19 (or is it 20 now?), stand above the crowd. And there a few others, like Paul Kimball, but he is a little beholden to those entrenched in the UFO world, and have been for many years.

(He'll respond to this gripe by me surely.)

Yes, I agree, that we (you and I) need a serious dialogue...by e-mail, maybe phone.

I'll present my views, and you can discard them or revise them, in such a way that suits your goals.

You are the "new wave" -- not us oldsters. And my young guys are anxious to revamp the whole UFO discussion.

(We have a private blog about this, which I'll see if my guys would like you to join. They see you as an intellectual of the best kind, so I imagine they would be very pleased to have you join us, at least, in such a way that is beneficial to your aims.)

Rich

6:04 PM

 
Blogger Paul Kimball said...

Brad (and Rich):

Whereas I am, by and large, a pro-establishment guy. Revolutions are messy, and usually unnecessary. Further, they usually just end up becoming what they rose up against.

Perhaps it is my perspective as a history major, or a lawyer, where the past (and precedent) are valuable commodities, that drives my views.

As for the Invisible College idea... sorry, Rich. That might have been how things operated once, but in the modern world there is no substitute for organisation, method, and peer review.

Paul

10:38 AM

 
Blogger RRRGroup said...

Paul:

Organization and method I accept.

Peer review? In ufology? You're kidding, right?

Read the current spate of UFO UpDates rejoinders and you'll have to agree that most of those people are not our peers, or anyone's peers.

You're too "christian" about this.

There is no such thing as "peer review" in ufology.

Who are your peers? Or Friedman's?
Or Brad Sparks? Or even Jerry Clark's?

And when newbies form an alliance, who should review their efforts?

The studies and work the newbies produce should only be reviewed by those who have expertise in some of the elements under study: the psychology of the UFO sighters and abductees; radar and film professionals; historians (like Vallee) who are familiar with the mythologies of the past that might account for or impact the UFO phenomenon; interviewers (as you yourself have called for) who know how to interview without corrupting the interviewee; etc.

That requires a new peer group, one that does not contain any of the old-guard, as I've said, just so the "new material" is not tainted by the egregious and stupid mistakes of the past and ongoing present.

And you'll be with us all the way, I hope...

Rich (Napoleonically) Reynolds

10:55 AM

 
Blogger Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

You've answered in part your own question - the peer group would include Clark, Friedman and Sparks, as well as others like Randle, Pflock (yes, the notorious Karl P.), Dick Hall, Bruce Maccabee, etc - all the guys your guys love to poke with a stick.

Lafayette "Love those Bourbons" Kimball

12:47 PM

 
Blogger Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

Meant to add - it would, of course, be important to add new voices, and I can certainly understand why newer ufologists would want to avoid the old guard / ancien regime and seek out professionals (like historians, or pschiatrists) to vet their work. For me, it's just a balancing act - not to throw the baby, as it were, out with the bathwater.

Paul

12:50 PM

 

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