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!


Frank Warren said...

Mornin’ Mark,

Wow! “UFO Outrage?” Ashamed for Ufology? Where to begin?

I guess I should make it plain that my comments (mainly) pertain to your remarks re the “blogger whose name and blog title [you] have already (deliberately) forgotten.” The blogger of the piece you refer to of course is longtime UFO & Nukes researcher, author and filmmaker, Robert Hastings. I’ve never heard of Robert being referred to as a blogger before, although he most certainly is.

Also, to be clear, I don’t pretend to speak for Robert, my comments are my own.

Not quite sure why you chose to omit his name, given that Robert’s tirade, as you put it, was a criticism of her (science writer, Sarah Kaplan) ignorance on the subject of UFOs. Methinks his identity, experience and background is most relevant, given the gist of his critique.

In reading your piece, it sounds like you took Robert’s rejoinder personally, as if his criticism was directed at you, or your book in some way. If that’s the case, I assure you it was not; he merely was expressing his disdain for the ongoing ignorance demonstrated by mainstream science and or the media.

Along with noting how important it is for a “prominent national publication” i.e., WAPO to discuss your book in particular and by default Ufology in general—in your response to Robert’s article, you wrote:

“I want my book to start public discussions like this (and I hope your readers have smart, lively responses to your essay!) Because ultimately that's the best thing for the study of UFOs.”

Robert certainly appreciates the importance of a newspaper like The Washington Post addressing the UFO issue, and took that moment to make his point. In short, he was doing just what you said you hoped for. This was merely his Op-Ed or rebuttal if you will, in response to Kaplan's piece; certainly nothing to be ashamed of or outraged by.

You wrote:

“... 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....”

Here in lies the bone of contention; I know it is part of Robert’s frustration and I know I’m in good company when I say I share the same position. As Robert wrote:

“…most scientists reject outright the validity of UFO research, refuse to engage in it, and deliberately ignore the intriguing data compiled by a handful of their more inquisitive, less-biased peers.”

When they do broach the subject and to Robert’s point—they do so from a position of ignorance. Robert was merely, taking her to task and educating her at the same. He used McDonald as an exemplar for his argument. This had nothing to do with your book or Hynek per se.

Given all the crap that permeates Ufology, I’m sure Robert, like most of us, applauds your efforts in completing and offering for public consumption, The Close Encounters Man.

Frank Warren

purrlgurrl said...

Ufology is a magnet that attracts people that have nowhere else to go with their whacko beliefs (orbs are spirits of the dead guiding human evolution, lizard men were involved in fire fights in tunnels under Dulce, 3000 year-old beings from the planet Xenon are being channeled by human adepts, newborns are being exchanged as food for alien technology, secret off-world human colonies were created for Earth's uber wealthy, the human race is an engineered human-alien hybrid, ETs built the Pyramids and all other ancient monuments, and on and on), so they regularly show up promoting their totally unsubstantiated beliefs in comments attached to any subject that even tangentially touches on UFOs.

Since Ufology depends on their money, it will always welcome and pander to them. I guess what I'm saying is this is part of the territory. Best to just get used to it.

Mark UFO'Connell said...

Good comments here. Unfortunately, a family medical crisis has not given me time to respond, but I will try to put down my thoughts sometime soon.

purrlgurrl said...

Prayers for your family.

Mark UFO'Connell said...

*whew* finally I can comment...

Frank, I left out Mr. Hastings' name because I could not retrieve his site on my browser history. That's just me being a tech dummy, but it's not very classy, I admit.

My essential issue with Mr. Hastings' column was that I thought it was silly to argue that Ms. Kaplan would have written a better informed review of my book if she had read Dr. McDonald's book first. Of course that is a pretty dismissive thing to say about my book, but that's not what irks me about his column.

First of all, how does he know that Ms. Kaplan hasn't read McDonald? Second of all, McDonald had a very clear agenda. He was seriously trying to prove something about UFOs that he was not capable of proving. This approach (which is shared with the vast majority of UFO books in the history of UFO books) would scarcely improve Ms. Kaplan's view of UFOlogy. In other words, if reading my book didn't render her opinion "informed" in Mr. Hastings' eyes, how would reading McDonald render her opinion "informed"? In my opinion Hastings fails to address this, and so I remain irked.

Purrlgurrl, you are, as always, spot on about everything :)

Frank Warren said...

Mornin’ Mark,

I hope all is well with the family.

I almost feel that we’re not talking about the same article. Robert’s commentary wasn’t about your book per se; for example he opens his piece by writing:

“Regarding WAPO science writer Sarah Kaplan’s recent review of scientific commentary on the UFO phenomenon, she seems oblivious to a basic truth:”

In the second paragraph he continues (describing Kaplan’s piece):

“…she devotes most of her article to touting the demonstrably uninformed utterances of UFO skeptics such as physicist Enrico Fermi and SETI specialist Jill Tartar.”

Nowhere in Robert’s article does he say or intimate “that Ms. Kaplan would have written a better informed review of my book if she had read Dr. McDonald's book first.”

First, McDonald didn’t write a book; as mentioned in my previous comment (in my view) Robert was merely using McDonald as an exemplar for a scientist that took the time to research the subject matter and stated that Kaplan was “unaware of,” or “ignored McDonald’s work.” Robert did cite McDonald’s statements in front of Congress (the House Committee on Science and Astronautics”, July 29, 1968).

What McDonald was trying to prove and or capable of proving is the subject for another conversation (or book).

Finally, like you said, “…She [Kaplan] seems to feel that the subject of UFOs is an embarrassment to science ….” Robert was merely addressing this stance in his own OpEd; his commentary, generally speaking didn’t have anything to do with your book.


Mark UFO'Connell said...

Frank, I'll have to reread that article sometime, because my take on it was very different.

Mark UFO'Connell said...

Uh oh.... Hastings' blog post has poofed!

"Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist."

Frank Warren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank Warren said...

UFOs in the Mainstream Media: Washington Post Science Writer Reveals Her Unfamiliarity with the Facts

Mark UFO'Connell said...

Thanks for the link, Frank! I've re-read Mr. Hastings' column and I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. What I am still reading in Mr. Hastings' argument is, "If only Ms. Kaplan had read up on James McDonald first, she would have been convinced to take UFOs seriously and she would have written a more positive analysis of O'Connell's Hynek bio," and I just don't see the logic there.

It may not be clear in my book, but I'm a fan of McDonald's. After all, it was his scolding that prompted Hynek to break cover and write his letter to Science Magazine in 1966, and that was no small thing.

Frank Warren said...


Well ... the world would be a boring place if we all agreed on everything! ;^)


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