High Strangeness: March 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

UFO Bad Guys

What's a book without a bad guy?

That was one of the many questions I had to answer while writing my book, "The Close Encounters Man." In writing about the life and career if astronomer and UFO expert Dr. J. Allen Hynek, I had--much to my surprise--a regular rogues gallery of villains from which to choose.

This was surprising to me because Dr. Hynek was just such a nice guy. How could such a gentle soul make any enemies in life? And yet he had. From his Project Blue Book project chiefs in the U.S. Air Force to establishment scientists to amateur UFO investigation groups to the whole state of Michigan, there was seemingly no end to the people Hynek pissed off in his pursuit of the truth.

  • There was Dr. James McDonald, professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Arizona, who was furious at Hynek for having "dismissed with absurd explanations" so many of the "good" UFO cases he came across while employed by the Air Force. McDonald could not forgive Hynek for ignoring so much good data, and could not understand when Hynek explained that a lot of that "good data" was in fact rubbish.
  • There was Philip J. Klass, the aviation writer who spent many years debunking UFO sightings in magazines, newspaper articles, and books, and who relentlessly mocked Hynek for taking the UFO phenomenon seriously. Klass is particularly interesting for the fact that Hynek and his colleagues Jacques Vallee and William Powers delighted in making fun of his absurd rationalizations for UFO sightings--Vallee would simply say: "Klass dismissed!"
    The UFO that made Major Quintanilla start smoking again.
  • There was Major Hector Quintanilla, the final project chief at Project Blue Book, who never liked or trusted Dr. Hynek, and did his best to kneecap Hynek's investigations at every opportunity. Quintanilla made no secret of his hatred of UFOs and the people who report seeing them; he had just quit smoking before being assigned to Project Blue Book, and lit up again when the famous Soccoro, New Mexico Close Encounter of Lonnie Zamora made national headlines in 1965.
  • There was Dr. Donald Menzel, astronomer at Harvard University, who challenged Hynek's Blue Book work at every opportunity, as he was convinced that all UFOs could be explained away as "invisible clouds" and temperature inversions.
  • There was, as mentioned above, the entire population of the state of Michigan, who reviled Hynek for suggesting that the 1966 Dexter-Hillsdale mass UFO sighting could well have been nothing more than "swamp gas."
  • And then there was my favorite, Dr. Carl Sagan, astronomy professor from Cornell University, who took great pleasure in ridiculing UFOs, people who claim to see UFOs, and fellow professors who study UFOs. That last category included, of course, Dr. Hynek. Sagan loved to go after Hynek every chance he got, as readers of my book will learn, but his arguments against Hynek's work were a bit odd, to say the least. You see, Sagan himself believed strongly in the existence of intelligent life on other planets. He also believed it was likely that those other life forms had indeed visited earth... but only hundreds of thousands of years in the past. If anyone suggested that aliens from other worlds were visiting us now, in the present day, well, Sagan would give them the smackdown, real fast...

Sadly, not all of these villains make it into the book, and some of those who do only get brief mention, simply because they did not play all that big a part in Hynek's story. But Dr. Sagan plays a pretty big role in the book, and I think readers will be very surprised by some of the things he said and did regarding UFOs.... and the reason he said and did them.