Thursday, December 21, 2006

I've recently seen my name used in conjunction with the word "ufology." Loosely defined, ufology is the study of the UFO phenomenon. This includes disciplines ranging from metallurgy to psychology, from neuroanatomy to String Theory. The best UFO literature benefits from the reasoned inclusion of as many perspectives as possible, even those that would seem to refute the very phenomenon under investigation. (The pronounced lack of such books is predominantly why it's fashionable for intellectuals to adopt a scoffing, can't-be-bothered approach when addressing UFOs -- a most intriguing reaction, given that "UFO" simply denotes an aerial object of unknown origin.)

Am I a ufologist? I don't know. Maybe. If I am, I should probably qualify the "U" word with "theoretical." There are theoretical physicists and literary theorists; why not theoretical ufologists?

The ufological "community" suffers from creative anemia. It has a disheartening tendency to refute dissenting voices -- even those within its own ranks -- with tired screeds that unnecessarily polarize the debate (such as it is) between cautious advocates of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis and know-nothing science popularizers who seem genuinely incapable of considering the UFO inquiry outside the cognitive barriers posed by decades of cheesy sci-fi cinema and the legacy of myriad True Believers.





So it's no real surprise why ufology is marginal. While its luminaries might noisily claim otherwise, ufology collectively wants to be marginal. With the lamentable exception of a few spokesmen who feel the need to "explain" the phenomenon's intricacies to a wary public (often in the guise of would-be political discourse), the ostensible UFO community remains afraid of stepping into the rude glow of widespread public attention.

And it has a right to be be afraid. Having dotingly constructed a theoretical house of straw, many ufological proponents secretly prefer the tenuous camaraderie of their peers to the much more exciting prospect of being taken seriously by science. (This isn't to condemn UFO research as anti-scientific; perhaps the only reason the field remains afloat at all is the pioneering effort of scientists such as James McDonald, J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee.)

But the era of genuine hypotheses seems to be nearing an end. The "old guard," inexplicably enamored of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis, is now engaged in little more than ideological turf-wars. The boons of speculation have been quietly set aside in favor of models that make just enough sense to allow their defenders to issue brittle proclamations with semi-straight faces.

Meanwhile, the enigma persists -- as always, seemingly just beyond our comprehension. And we have the nerve to wonder why.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mac:

Bravo.

Paul

Ray Palm (Ray X) said...

Mac:

Meanwhile, the enigma persists -- as always, seemingly just beyond our comprehension. And we have the nerve to wonder why.

A persistent enigma? Just beyond our comprehension? You mean Jerry Clark? [G]

Sorry, I was unimpressed with his illogical attack on your Crypto-terrestrial speculations. But I do have the nerve to wonder why he did it.

Ray

W.M. Bear said...

The ufological "community" suffers from creative anemia. It has a disheartening tendency to refute dissenting voices -- even those within its own ranks -- with tired screeds that unnecessarily polarize the debate (such as it is) between cautious advocates of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis and know-nothing science popularizers who seem genuinely incapable of considering the UFO inquiry outside the cognitive barriers posed by decades of cheesy sci-fi cinema and the legacy of myriad True Believers.

I especially like that phrase "know-nothing science popularizers." It well describes the state of writing and reporting about science (and especially anomalistics) that, I think, characterizes contemporary media of all stripes, from magazines to talk radio to TV.

weevee: neozugi (Why can't those damned Zugis stick to their traditional beliefs!?)

LesleyinNM said...

That is a great post!

I personally don't like it when people call me a ufologist. Mostly because I don't think I am. To me a ufologist is someone traveling around, out taking samples and interviewing people and I don't do that. I am just someone who is very interested in ufology, who expresses opinions and theories which may or may not be true.

I am sad that you were jumped upon the way you were at ufo updates for merely expressing an opinion. It makes me remember why I don't post there.

W.M. Bear said...

Mac -- On rereading your post (can we assume this is also an excerpt from the CT book?) a thought occurred to me re the following observation by you:

Having dotingly constructed a theoretical house of straw, many ufological proponents secretly prefer the tenuous camaraderie of their peers to the much more exciting prospect of being taken seriously by science. (This isn't to condemn UFO research as anti-scientific; perhaps the only reason the field remains afloat at all is the pioneering effort of scientists such as James McDonald, J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee.)

I think this is an extremely important point. One of the problems with UFOlogy as a "scientific discipline" (if it can be called that) seems to me precisely many researchers' igorance of (or, worse, contempt for) the most basic rules of evidence and logic. Some of this, I believe, may be due to lack of the requisite academic training or, at any rate, unfamiliarity with these rules. For what it's worth, here is my "short list" of writers on the subject of UFOs qwith whom I have some familiarity who DO seem aware of the fact that evidence and logic count for far more than name-calling, dogmatizing, reductive out-of-hand dismissal, and other forms of rhetorical bullying. (I'm excluding other types of anomalists whom I also respect -- especially the planetary SETI crowd though there certainly is some overlap.) Here is my list:

James McDonald
J. Allen Hynek
Jaques Vallee
John Mack
Mac Tonnies
Paul Kimball
Carol Maltby
Nick Redfern

(I'm sure others could be added. This is just off the top of my head.)

Anonymous said...

W.M. -

Thanks very much - to be included on a list with Hynek, Vallee and McDonald is an honour. Redfern? Well... :-)

I would add the late Karl Pflock to that list, as well as Kevin Randle. Dr. Bruce Maccabee as well, and Dick Hall, and, despite what I'm about to post below, Stan Friedman.

Here is my summation of the concept of proof, evidence, and so forth, which is consistently misunderstood or sometimes misrepresented by many ufologists. I sent this in to UFO Updates today, in response to something Stan had written (my response follows his original, italicized, comment).

Best regards,
Paul

Stan wrote:

I do not use the word 'proof' nor do I insist upon other star systems. I say the evidence is overwhelming that Earth is being visited by intelligently controlled ET spacecraft. In other words SOME UFOs are of ET origin. Please look up 'Extraterrestrial'. It means from outside the Earth. It does _not_ mean only from other solar systems or other galaxies. It includes the moon and other planets in our solar system.

Well, d'uh. Poor little plebes, unable to figure out what "extraterrtestrial"
means. Sheesh...

Perhaps you should look up the term "evidence" in a dictionary, and then the term "proof" - follow it up with "fact", as in "proven fact", which is what you have asserted the ETH is for decades now. While you're at it, you might also want to look up the term "overwhelming".

Aw, heck, I'll save you the trouble, as you were so kind as to provide me with a definition of "extraterrestrial".

"Evidence"
From Black's Law Dictionary, 6th Edition (which is the proper source, as you also use the legal standards of proof when you're trying to make a point about this):

"Any species of proof, or probative matter, legally presented at the trial of an issue, by the act of the parties and through the medium of witnesses,records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects, etc., for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury, as to their contention."

So, that's what evidence is. You use it to prove your point, i.e. induce belief in whatever your target audience is). In this case, your point, that you seek to prove is that some UFOs are alien spacecraft. In other words, that the "Extraterrestrial hypothesis" is really the "Extraterrestrial fact".

As I said, here's a brush-up on "prove" (again, from Black's):

"The effect of evidence; the establishment of a fact by evidence".

In other words, while you might not use the word "proof", you should be, because that's what the evidence you talk about is designed to do.

Now, let's take a look at the term "fact", again, as understood in the context of using evidence to prove something, using, again, the legal standard you to which you often refer (more on the exact standard in a second):

"A circumstance, event or occurrence as it actually takes or took place; a physical object or appearance, as it usually exists or existed. An actual an absolute reality, as distinguished from mere supposition. A truth, as distinguished from fiction or error."

Now we're getting to it - you say the evidence proves that some UFOs are intelligently controlled extraterrestrial spacecraft. Don't duck from the word prove - its what you're really saying. You assert this proposition as a proven fact.

And therein lieth the problem. Because, by any measure of how one weighs evidence, and establishes whether it proves something, the ETH is not a proven fact.

Neither is the CTH, or the EDH, or any of the "H's" that are out there, because they all rely on the same evidence, which can be interpreted in different ways (including the "null hypothesis"). One may seem more likely than another, as the ETH does to me when compared to the CTH or the EDH, but I would never assert that as a proven reality, an "absolute reality, as distinguished from supposition", which is what you and some of the ETH proponents do.

Ah, but you might say, we can safely make that claim on a civil standard of the burden of proof, i.e. it is more likely than not that the ETH is the ETF (again, something I've heard you use many times - I have it on tape, in fact).

Well, let's look at those standards which, as the party making the assertion, you are called upon to meet.

First, there's the "preponderance of the evidence" standard, i.e. the civil standard, as it is commonly known.

From Black's:

"As standard of proof in civil cases, is evidence which is of greater weight or more convincing than the evidence which is offered in opposition to it; that is, evidence which as a whole shows that the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not"

This standard, I agree, has been satisfied if the proposition you wish to prove is that UFOs are an objective reality, i.e. the phenomenon, whatever it may be, including the "null hypothesis", exists. No-one, not even the most ardent debunker, could or does argue this.

However, this standard is wholly inadequate, in my opinion, to prove the much more contentious proposition that the ETH, or any theory, is a proven fact, i.e. that some UFOs are intelligently controlled extraterrestrial spacecraft.

That's not being less than brave, that's just common sense. Sagan was right - extraordinary claims, whatever they may be, require extraordinary evidence. In the terms of the burden of proof, that means something more than just a preponderance of the evidence when one asserts that a theory for the UFO phenomenon is instead a fact.

Further, people like Mac can, using this standard of proof, make the same claim as you do if they wanted to, using the exact same evidence (that Mac doesn't is a point in his favour, and to his credit).

For example, take the Malmstrom case, or the Rendlesham case. What, exactly, about those cases (or any other case, for that matter - Tehran, RB47, Shag Harbour, on and on and on) makes them extraterrestrial, as opposed to interdimensional, or cryptoterrestrial, or explainable as a mundane event misinterpreted? Nothing. Mac could use Rendlesham or Malmstrom to bolster his CTH by saying, as he did in one of the clips I posted, that these beings may be using advanced holographic technology to project these images to us. He could also say that it would be relatively easy for this advanced group, working covertly, to create a device, like the one that was allegedly touched by one of the airmen at Rendlesham (and how hard would that be - after all, you claim the US government has managed to keep things secret all these years, by keeping the information compartmentalized, and limited - what could be more limited than a small group of cryptos?).

Do I buy that as a proven fact? Of course not. But I don't buy the ETH explanation as a proven fact either. No-one should based on the available evidence.

So, which standard does that leave? The one that should be used, indeed, that must be used, if one wants to assert one of these theories as a fact, proven by the available evidence. Beyond a reasonable doubt.

Indeed, you indicate that this standard is the one to use when you use the word "overwhelmingly".

Again, from Black's:

"In evidence means fully satisfied, entirely convinced, satisfied to a moral certainty; and phrase is the equivalent of the words clear, precise and indubitable. In criminal case, the accused's guilt must be established 'beyond reasonable doubt,' which means that the facts proven must, by virtue of their probative force, establish guilt."

Now I know you, and some others, think that you've met that standard Stan, but you haven't. No jury in the world, no group of objective citizens, honest and true, when presented with the best available evidence and then asked, "does this prove that some UFOs are intelligently controlled extraterrestrial spacecraft" will answer in the affirmative. They won't, because they can't (and don't quote me the results of some Oxford debate, or some C2C "debate" with Seth Shostak - those are hardly full, frank discussions of all positions, and the evidence, which if done properly would take days, or weeks, and would involve many different players). You're a man of science, and you've spent enough time with lawyers (thereby covering both bases) - you above all people should know that.

Does this mean that the ETH is not a good theory? No, and Mac never said it wasn't. He's just saying, as others before him have, that it isn't proven, and there are other theories as well.

In a subject where the best that one can say is "something is happening, and we don't know for sure what it is," one cannot assert that any one theory is a proven fact.

Of course, you disagree, but then we're back to the original question - where is the evidence that proves your assertion? Don't just cite me the 5 scientific studies, etc., etc., - unlike most of your audiences, I am familiar with them. Cite me the actual evidence. Name the one case that proves the ETH is the ETF beyond a reasonable doubt, and not something else.

Best regards,

Paul Kimball
www.redstarfilms.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

W.M.

I would also add Greg Bishop to that list. I'm sure there are many others - that's why I remain optimistic!

Paul

W.M. Bear said...

Paul -- That's a great meditation on the nature of proof and evidence, and I completely agree with you that nothing in this field seems to be "proved" in any real sense. At best, we can make a good case for this or that perspective on the phenomenon (as we believe Mac is doing for CTs). But good cases, as you point out, DO rest on hard evidence. I would just add that they also rest on the application of solid logic TO that evidence and maybe, also, just sheer wisdom (always in short supply) as to what is truly LIKELY to be the case in any particular instance. (This consideration by itself would, I think, clear the field of a lot of the hoaxing which seems to dog it.)

I also agree with your addition to the "list" (which wasn't meant to be exhaustive), especially Greg Bishop whom I also admire.