High Strangeness: UFO Outrage!

Monday, August 14, 2017

UFO Outrage!

I was going to continue to post material that had to be edited out of the final version of my book, The Close Encounters Man, but instead I feel the need to write about something that's come up in the course of publicizing the book, something that I'm finding quite bothersome...

About a week ago, The Washington Post ran an Op-Ed entitled "The Never-Ending Search for UFOs and Extraterrestrial Intelligence," in which their science writer, Sarah Kaplan, considered three new books that dealt with the aforementioned topics in wildly different ways. It was clearly labeled an opinion piece, not a book review, so it must be taken at that level. Despite the fact that Ms. Kaplan lumped together two topics -- UFOs and extraterrestrial intelligence -- that really should be considered separate items despite their apparent connections, I thought her analysis of the three books was altogether fair-minded and well written. The fact that she chose to address my book first didn't hurt (the other two were "

Was I happy with everything Ms. Kaplan wrote about my book? No, of course not. She seems to feel that the subject of UFOs is an embarrassment to science, and at times she comes close to scolding me for writing a book on the topic and expecting people to take it seriously. That's not entirely unexpected, is it? Science's low opinion of UFOs and all "pseudosciences" is a constant in this field of endeavor, and it comes up over and over again throughout my book, because it was such a significant factor in Dr. Hynek's work. In other words, the disapproving attitude of institutional science comes with the territory, and we all know this, so, in my opinion, there's no reason to get upset over it.

To me, there's something far more important going on in Ms. Kaplan's piece. The simple fact that my UFO book is being written about it in a prominent national publication, not as a joke but as a serious work of reporting, is tremendously important. The Post could have given the story to an entertainment editor, or a "News of the Weird" editor, but instead the column was written by their science reporter, and I think that speaks volumes. Ms. Kaplan may have issues with my book, but she takes it seriously nonetheless, and that is a major victory for me and for you and for anyone interested in the UFO phenomenon.

But then there were the comments. After reading Kaplan's piece, I was excited to see what kinds of comments and conversations the readers of The Post would have on offer. To my delight, there was a lot thoughtful discourse in the comments, but I was disappointed that so many of the commenters took umbrage at Kaplan's disdain for UFOs.

Here are some highlights:
  • "Even with Einstein's restrictions, there is no reason that ET's could have sent out robotic or bio-robotic ships a billion years ago, when there were just as many habitable planets in the Universe as there are today. They could have colonized the entire Galaxy hundreds of millions of years ago and been watching the Human race develop from a primeval state. So the visitation of Earth by ET is only illogical to people who do not consider the facts
  • "Hell yes we're being visited. The question today is, By how many species? With what intentions? And what are the repercussions for not acknowledging their presence?" 
  • "'If there really are advanced beings out there, traversing the universe at the speed of light, it seems unlikely that scaring suburbanites and confusing livestock are the best uses of their time.' The author clearly hasn't experienced a genuine AV sighting. If she had, she would know what almost 50 percent of the US population knows: that Earth has been under direct observation by Alien Intelligence since 1947."
Not that there isn't come interesting thinking going on there, but does anyone really think that the cause of UFOlogy is advanced by unprovable claims that multiple alien species are visiting us, or that "Earth has been under direct observation by Alien Intelligence since 1947"? I don't think so.

Then, over the weekend, I came across a UFO blogger's tirade against Kaplan's Op-Ed, and I was truly ashamed for UFOlogy. The blogger--whose name and blog title I have already (deliberately) forgotten--was upset that Kaplan's opinion piece was based on what he felt was an "uninformed opinion." Then he laid out his argument that, before she could comment on my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Kaplan should have studied up on the life and career of... Dr. James McDonald.


I must be missing something here. How would reading about James McDonald have helped Kaplan do a better job opining on my biography of J. Allen Hynek? It makes no sense. Why does it make no sense? Because Hynek and McDonald, last I checked, were two different people. True, they crossed paths, which I write about in my book, but, again, they are not the same person.

Some people get it. When I did my recent interview on public affairs talk show "Chicago Tonight" on Chicago's public TV station, I got the distinct impression that the host of the show was not entirely thrilled to be saddled with the chore of interviewing the author of a UFO book. Not that he was rude or judgemental in any way; he just had a knowing smile that signaled to me that he considered our interview to be a bit of a joke. But, over the course of our eight-minute interview I earned the host's respect, I guess because I failed to live down to his low expectations. I didn't make any crazy claims. I didn't try to prove anything. I didn't insist that he share my beliefs, or insult him for not agreeing with everything I said. And, guess what? After the show he shared a favorite UFO story with me. Success!
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