High Strangeness: UFO DOA? WTF?

Monday, June 12, 2017


This is interesting timing. Just as my book is about to hit the stands, a prominent UFOlogist makes a very dramatic public statement in which he sticks a fork in UFOlogy. And the thing is, the guy makes a really good argument.

I'm talking about Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos and recent blog post entitled Anniversary Issue -- 70 Years After Arnold, and you can read it here. I urge you to so, because it's good reading and it doesn't shy away from some ugly truths about this field of endeavor. "Arnold," of course, refers to Kenneth Arnold, the private pilot who in June 1947 saw a string of silvery flying objects traveling at fantastic speeds among the peaks of the Cascade mountains in the Pacific Northwest, and kicked off what we now call "the modern era" of UFOs. It was 70 years ago that Arnold's sighting made world headlines and triggered the public's unending curiosity with UFOs, and yet here we are, 70 years later, Mr. Ballester Olmos says, not knowing anything more today than we did back then.

As I said, it's a good read, and it's sobering to see someone admitting that his 50 years of research has essentially been wasted. He bases this on the fact that we have not uncovered a single shred of proof that UFOs represent anything other than a naturally-occurring phenomenon. "There is nothing more frustrating than realizing that you have wasted your life in the pursuit of a mirage or a delusion," Ballester Olmos says, then follows up with this:
"Time and again a seemingly water-tight UFO incident springs a leak and skinks. Even case histories that acquired fame and that required books to be told meet inglorious finales. It is realized how even the most impressive accounts end up beyond belief, simply implausible. But the believer soon exchanges the previous disappointment for a shiny-new, surely insoluble 'unknown'. And so the merry-go-round continues. The believer never quits."
But I think his desire to call time of death on UFOlogy is premature. To me, the real issue is that the way that UFOlogy has largely been practiced for the past 70 years is hopelessly flawed. This idea comes up in my book, The Close Encounters Man, but now that Ballester Olmos has shot this arrow into the heart of UFOlogy it bears more thorough consideration.

I hope that this is the beginning of a really interesting conversation!


Dave said...

Mr. Olmos is right. Seventy years after Roswell and virtually nothing to show for it. Ufology spends more time discussing personalities than legitimate cases.

purrlgurrl said...

Sadly (because I once-upon-a-time truly wanted UFOs to be proved to be ET visitations), I've come to the inevitable conclusion that if UFO research over the past 70 or so years ever had been conducted professionally, objectively, and scientifically, it would long ago have been proved that ET piloted UFOs aren't now nor ever have been visiting Earth.

Now I see the myth of ET piloted UFOs as:

The collective fantasy of a shrinking subculture of highly imaginative "believers" who were strongly influenced by 20th century science fiction,

A very profitable meme for the entertainment industry,

A reliable source of easy chump change for con men and hoaxers.

The truly dismaying thing to me about Ufology today is that because of its strong anti-government stance and government-conspiring-against-the-people bias, it has attracted a cadre of uber right-wingers, many of whom feel John Ventre's racist hate speech is defensible and correct, and who swallow without question all the rotting slops that lovable "entertainment artist", Alex Jones, spoon feeds them.

Yeah, if I were asked to vote, I'd vote Ufology is terminal and all life support should be discontinued immediately.

geehart100 said...

Your reactions are strange to say the least. If I had not found anything worthwhile in 50 yrs. it would have bwen smartest to give up a long time ago OR to change your technique to a process that works. I have largely found what everyone seeks and habe documentation but it seems no one cares when you really have it. Then arise such as someone wantimg me stop what I am doing to send info all at my expense and the absurdity goes on from there. You can capture proof of an intelligence flying around in our skies. The intelligence will be interacting with you as you do.If you can't steeach to understand this then there is no point in talking further.

geehart100 said...

Sorry for misspellings, etc. It is hard to do this on my phone. You have focus on what produces results. MUFON climate data is irrelevent at the next level if you were doing more than just collecting stories. I habe always looked for sightings cases that involved interaction to the exclusion of other cases to produce tesulsts more quickly if resultz or progress could be found. This works but it then changes how you interact with the public. I have no time for arguing or useless chat. Forget rehashing history. Work with what is happening now and progress visits you with a purpose of its own. Again, if what you are doing as an investigator isn't working then dammit change your technique!!! Everyone seems to expect investigating to fall into a human pattern of expectations when other-dimensiona phenomena is studied. That is not how it works!!! BTW this is of necessity an oversimplification of what turna out to be a complex situation involving counless species, etc.

Anonymous said...

Mark, on the subject of the way that UFOlogy is practiced, what do you think _would_ work? I mean, let's imagine we wave a magic wand and you have all the money you want for the project. How do you investigate the phenomenon in such a way as to produce useable evidence? I'm not sure it can actually be done.

Mark OC said...

Anonymous, when I try to think through that question I always end up at Hynek's motivation for becoming a scientist: He wanted to the explore the edges of science, the phenomena that science couldn't explain. I think there may be clues for us in the way quantum physics approaches a problem. Can't find the Higgs boson? Look for it where it isn't supposed to be and when you've eliminated all but one possibility, you've found it! I'm vastly oversimplifying, of course, but I do think there's a lesson there for us. Maybe we start out by ditching the nuts-and-bolts crowd and the extraterrestrial hypothesis crowd and the disclosure crowd once and for all and start with a clean slate. Maybe we don't ditch the scientific method altogether, but we should be willing to suspend it when it obviously doesn't apply...

As I write this I'm thinking that if I had unlimited $$ as you suggest, it would be a very fun and worthwhile exercise to get the best Hollywood special effects houses to analyze the Tremonton, Utah movie film. The 1952 film taken by a Navy photographer of lights dancing in the sky stumped the military's best photo analysts at the time, but imaging technology has changed so dramatically in the past few decades, we might be able to learn something more from that old film if we could take it apart pixel by pixel... How about that for a starting point?

Probably talking circles here, but that's the way my mind works after my morning coffee ;)

dubious f said...

By the suffix -logy, ufology HAS to be science based. Laws of physics govern the universe, multi-dimensional or not. If just the fact that there are sightings, it implicates light and matter that are "tangeable". To travel across immense distances, light-years, parsecs or wormhole jumps, the "fuel" needed remains quite large. Either to propel through galaxies or protect against massive gravity pull. Crafts can't be small. A saucer 30 feet in diameter can't even bring you across the solar system (unless you are in no rush). Even warp drives guzzled by element 115 (see lazar...) can't mathematically compel. That is why nowadays we are hearing more and more tales of aliens contacting us through a psychic network to compensate the solid improbability. Ufology should in that case, change its name to ufoparalogy. Unlimited money? Create a world wide scanning system of the exosphere. A real time, high precision, object identifier of entering matter; 1.35 E10 square kilometers of it! We would certainly see more rocks coming in than space-bending Westfalias...

Anonymous said...

Same anonymous as before. Thanks for responding.

>Maybe we don't ditch the scientific method altogether, but we should
>be willing to suspend it when it obviously doesn't apply...

Could you elaborate on what you mean by that? Because when somebody starts talking about "suspending" the scientific method, I get nervous.

>We might be able to learn something more from that old film if we
>could take it apart pixel by pixel... How about that for a starting

But what? What can we learn from it? Let's assume UFOs are genuinely anomalous (a subject I'm agnostic on, for the record). And let's assume the Trementon film is a film of a genuine anomaly. We take it apart with an electron microscope. How can we PROVE it's genuinely anomalous? The most we'll ever be able to say with it is that we can't prove that it isn't.

And beyond that, even if we can somehow prove it is, that doesn't really tell us anything by itself. Okay, something anomalous is flying around. By itself, that tells us very little. We already know there are anomalies in the skies - e.g. ball lightning - that doesn't mean they're intelligent entities.

I would really like to be wrong about this, but I just don't see a route through this.

Bill Pilgrim said...

Mr. Olmos omitted any reference to the decades long research of Robert Hastings - UFO's and Nukes.
More than 120 former USAF officers ranging from ICBM Launch Control Officers, to Target Control Officers, to missile base security officers have come forward to publicly reveal their experiences of UFO's messing with ICBMs in their silos. Some of the officers were eyewitnesses of the glowing objects that hovered over missile silos or nuclear weapons storage depots, then flew away at bullet speed.
There's also the Rendlesham Forest incident in 1980. Let's ask Col. Charles Halt if what he saw in the woods that night was a "myth."
Or the dozens of airport workers and pilots who watched a silvery disk-shaped object hover over O'Hare International then shoot away...drilling a hole through the thick cloud cover as it left.
I could keep going.
In my view people like Olmos have set the evidentiary bar so high they must resort to philosophical & epistemological screeds to mask their simple disappointment (and bruised egos.)
Rather than ignoring researchers like Hastings, Olmos and his ilk ought to be grateful for the accomplishment.

Bill Pilgrim said...

Put another way: The voluminous data Robert Hastings has compiled - which includes military eyewitness testimonials and declassified official documents - clearly demonstrates a "pattern-language" of behaviors indicating intelligently guided UFO activity directly related to a specific technology of modern civilization.
To my mind, there's enough irrefutable evidence there to keep the UFO/ET Hypothesis relevant.
Why has UFO activity has been observed near nuclear installations of all types since the dawn of the atomic age in the 1940s? That's a question more researchers could put their heads and resources together to try to answer.
Time to put aside all the fiefdoms.

Mark OC said...

Back at my desk after a few intense days of book promotion, and I'm glad to see so many new comments! More questions piling up than I can possibly respond to, but I'll give it a try:
dubious f: Maybe we start by getting rid of the term UFOlogy, since that implies that the study of UFOs is a science. We humans do tend to attach familiar, comfortable names and imagery to things we have a hard time understanding or explaining. When we think about UFOs "coming from somewhere" we're attaching familiar human terms to something that might not have actually "come from" anywhere in the usual sense. Hynek once asked how fast thought travels, suggesting that maybe UFOs were actually mental energy, i.e., thoughts, emanating from another world or another dimension. That would obviate the need or "nuts-and-bolts" spaceships and impossible requirements for energy/fuel.
Anonymous: I'm not trying to be dismissive, but if suspending the scientific method makes you nervous, quantum physics must terrify you! It seems to me that quantum physicists bend and fold and twist and outright ignore the scientific method all day long, and nobody gives them a hard time about it. The "discovery" of the Higgs boson was basically a case of "We can prove it DOESN'T exist at A, therefore it MUST exist at B." It's a "discovery" based on a LOT of evidence but absolutely no "proof," as we generally understand the term.
As for the Tremonton film, expert photo analysts using 1950s technology were 100% certain that the objects were light sources... but they couldn't say what kind of light. Wouldn't it be valuable to know, perhaps, the temperature and chemical composition of that light? Wouldn't that tell us something about the nature of those objects? Maybe it's impossible to determine that even with today's tech, but it sure would be worth knowing.
Bill P., I'm not well read on Robert Hasting's work, but I think you make a good point that Mt. Olmos should be careful about rejecting ALL the UFO research done by ALL the UFO researchers. I will have to write more about Olmos and the Ballester-Guasp UFO rating method that I used for several years as a MUFON investigator. I wonder if he now disowns that system he co-invented??

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what you're talking about when you say that quantum physics "twist and outright ignore the scientific method". Could you elaborate? No offense, but I suspect you're laboring under some misapprehensions.

Regarding Trementon: I'm going to refrain from comment, as this is getting outside the domain of my expertise, except to say that if that can be done, great, let's do it, but I have been under the impression that while you can get chemical composition and temperature of a light source using a spectrograph, you can't do it from a photograph taken of the light source.

Mark OC said...

Anonymous, observation is one of the pillars of the scientific method, but in quantum physics observation is problematic, to say the least. Similarly, the scientific method relies on cause & effect, but in quantum physics cause & effect goes right out the window. I think Neils Bohr and Erwin Schrodinger would back me up on this.

As for the Tremonton film, you may be right. Our best photo analysts in 1952 determined without a doubt that the objects Newhouse filmed were light sources, and I'm assuming that technology has advanced enough in the past 64 years that we might be able to learn more from the film. In 1952 nobody could have used image enhancement software to tell us what the placard said in the image of the mummified child in the "Roswell slides," but in our time it was child's play.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I still don't really get what you're getting at here. And I'm pretty sure Niels Bohr and Erwin Schrodinger would not call quantum physics "unscientific".

The fact we can't observe both the location and velocity of subatomic particles doesn't mean we can't observe them at all. And quantum mechanics does have cause & effect, it's just a weird cause and effect.

The fundamental core of the scientific method is that a hypothesis should provide a generalizable model that makes testable predictions about previously unobserved phenomena that are distinguishable from the null hypothesis. Everything else is guidelines about how best to achieve that.

Quantum mechanics achieves that in spades - there are plenty of examples, but one that comes immediately to mind is the single-electron double-slit experiment, which demonstrates self-interference of electrons, i.e. that subatomic "particles" are actually partially wave-like in nature. This is a phenomenon that was predicted by quantum mechanics, which contradicted the null hypothesis (that is, classical mechanics), which was testable, and which was unobserved before the experiment was made. There are many other examples. The fact that the predictions of quantum mechanics are probabilistic rather than deterministic is completely irrelevant - there are plenty of more mundane fields, like medicine, where this is also the case.