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UFO means Unidentified Flying Object. The term was originally coined along with several others like UAO (Unidentified Ariel Object) and Flying Saucer to describe unknown objects seen in the sky.
The late and much missed UFOlogist Leonard Stringfield once tried to capture the frustration of chasing the elusive evidence for crashed UFOs by titling a book chapter, 'The Search For Proof In A Squirrel's Cage'. Stringfield's cutting analysis was lost to the world in 1993 but, from this distance, it is tempting to say that his estimate of the confusion and contradiction he experienced would barely do justice to today's situation. It is a complex subject. The truth is out there somewhere and some of it may be in this book, but, to complicate matters, you and I would probably find differing truths.
Celebrated UFOlogist Dr J Allen Hynek noted that UFOs are not studied. In reality, most of those with an active interest in UFOs only encounter verbal or written reports and reproduced images of the UFOs in question. This is true for both active investigators and armchair students of the subject. Put bluntly, UFOlogy is largely the study of second-hand sources of evidence. This situation frequently leaves doubt in the minds of some as to whether the objects in question were ever genuinely unidentified and/or flying. And it gets more confusing! The term UFO on a book or video jacket has proven a sales winner time and again but much of the most marketable material in the last decade and a half has not been primarily concerned with flying objects at all. At the start of the 21st century UFO investigation and the popular market on the subject also include reports of other phenomena including: cattle mutilations; human abductions by aliens; people who claim to channel messages from aliens; and 'alternative archaeology,' which presents a revisionist view of history in which alien intelligences play a pivotal role in the history of life on this planet.
Central to all the strands of UFO investigation is that there is a series of phenomena that can be studied. Virtually all amateur UFO investigation assumes that there may be intelligence behind some of these phenomena. The most popular viewpoint amongst the subject's greatest supporters is that life alien to this planet is involved. There is certainly logic and rational thought behind these notions, but there is also much disagreement.
The truth about UFOs and UFO investigation is that a central core of mysterious reports are continually being appropriated and hijacked by people with their own agendas. The motivation behind this is often well meaning but the result has been to scatter the subject in a way that leaves entrenched camps seething with mutual suspicion and much research being undertaken in isolation. Information travels around, work is published and claims are made, but the major casualty is undisputed truth. The result is that many UFO cases of genuine substance are tainted by the shenanigans surrounding the investigations.
The many ironies are not lost on some of the key players. In recent years the British UFOlogist Andy Roberts has unleashed the merciless and amusing newsletter The Armchair UFOlogist. His motto: 'Tough on UFOlogy, tough on the causes of UFOlogy.' This chronicle of political infighting and massive egos built on minuscule ideas casts UFOlogy as a collision between support groups for the socially wretched and an exercise in self-aggrandizement for a select group of the terminally delusional. Roberts' agenda is, in fact, very positive. His publication highlights the very real issue of the people problem that underpins much of the UFO world. Roberts' work reads like a detailed synopsis for the greatest movie Terry Gilliam could ever make. His message is that it doesn't have to be this way.
Put simply, it is very often impossible to separate the claims made about UFO events from the people who make these claims. The vast majority of UFO case investigation is amateur and the vast majority of investigators undergo a rudimentary initiation at best. It is easy to condemn the chaos and comedy that often result but there is little or no alternative. In a quiet year there are a few hundred UFO reports in the UK and no professional organisation exists to monitor, investigate and report on the situation.
There is some professional investigation ongoing, some of it producing vital and challenging work. However, the bad press attached to UFO investigation has left the subject in an academic limbo. On the one hand, UFO reports are fascinating and more substantial in terms of evidence than the cynics would like to admit. On the other hand, many employed in universities and colleges regard their amateur colleagues in UFO groups as a kind of Care In The Community branch of academia. The end result is predictable and tragic for the subject. UFO research has been seen as a certain route to career suicide for the best scientific and social scientific minds of several generations. Only a handful of serious, peer-reviewed studies exist. Research undertaken in Psychology, Tectonics and Sociology has made a substantial contribution to the UFO debate but it often fails to impress those involved in gathering field reports in their local area. In some cases those in research groups simply don't understand the academic research. In most cases, they get the gist of the ideas but, understandably, point out that it doesn't help them to explain anything to the terrified witness they've just interviewed. The most damning argument from the rank and file is also the most obvious. The academics that claim to study UFOs seldom do the local groundwork or meet the witnesses. Much academic work concerns itself with trying to replicate UFO events in laboratories. The academic fraternity for their part have often slammed the primitive and inaccurate investigative methods of the self-appointed research community of UFOlogy.
UFOlogy, a loose term coined to include pretty much any investigation related to UFO reports, is not a science. This was eloquently stated in a 1979 paper. NASA scientist James Oberg won a prize offered by Cutty Sark Whisky with his paper The Failure Of The Science Of UFOlogy. Presenting himself as a benevolent sceptic, Oberg demolished the pretensions of the fledgling science with some substantial points. He saw UFOlogy as a protest movement, or the results of effective myth making. Almost twenty years later I followed up his report with a much longer investigation. I found many of Oberg's points still applied, although the situation had become more complicated.
UFOlogy may not be a science. In fact it is no one thing. UFOs and the study of UFO events resemble, by turns, a protest movement, a branch of the entertainment industry, a collection of religious movements, a well-established scam for fleecing the public and a bizarre fringe profession employing a collection of visionaries and mavericks. The people problem may complicate the whole picture but we have to keep one truth in mind: UFOs and UFO investigation remain alive and well because, despite the problems, people continue to see and experience things they can't begin to explain.
Most of the people on the receiving end of such experiences did not ask for them and do not seek any publicity. They are, by turns, fascinated, frightened, changed as personalities and physically harmed. UFO cases may peak at times when UFOs are a popular media subject but they never go away. Many cases are easily explained. Some of the best known are kept a live by a mixture of faith and bullshit but there are others so indisputably mysterious that they present a challenge to established ideas. The stories in this book include the terrifying, tragic and incredible. Honest, sincere people report such things every day. Some of the possibilities presented by those cases are so awesome they strike at the very core of the deepest questions we can comprehend.
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