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.