UFO Research Today
In the first flush of UFO mania in the late 1940s reaction to the phenomenon was fresh and uninhibited. Raw amazement and open bewilderment were expressed by ordinary people, scientists, politicians and the military. There was a public clamour for an official investigation. After all, these mysterious aircraft might well have been some form of Soviet secret weapon. How could the government just ignore something which might present a threat?
The era of official investigation opened in the early 1950s and lasted approximately until the beginning of the 1970s. Projects Grudge and Blue Book were sufficient to stave off the public outcry. But did they ever do any real investigation? Most outside observers, and some inside observers such as J. Allen Hynek, one of Blue Book’s consulting scientists, conclude that there was no real investigative intent in any of these inquiries. Their results appear to have been framed in advance, and their agenda was nothing more than to give the appearance of doing something about UFOs to appease the members of the public and politicians who persisted in asking pestering questions about the subject.
As well as the official projects, a number of private UFO research organisations came into being. Today several of these still exist, including the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), NICAP (the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) and the Centre for UFO Studies (CUFOS). The Committee for Sceptical Inquiry (CSI, formerly CSICOP) should also be mentioned, although it approaches the UFO phenomenon from a resolutely sceptical perspective.
Typically these organisations have a few thousand members who pay a subscription and receive a newsletter or journal periodically. They usually maintain some facility, such as a web page or a telephone hotline, through which anyone can report a UFO encounter. The organisation’s members may serve as field investigators and turn up, asking further questions of the witnesses or probing events at the scene. Reports are stored and filed away and the most notable feature in the organisation’s journal. Although their boards of directors typically include a few scientists, the truth is that these organisations survive on shoestring budgets with minimal complements of paid staff and lack the resources needed to pursue a large-scale, wide-ranging scientific inquiry of the UFO phenomenon as a whole.
For a time, it seemed like NICAP in the United States might be an exception to this. In 1964, it issued a comprehensive “UFO Evidence” report which attracted a great deal of attention. Its membership and staff increased and, for a while, NICAP was the “go-to” group whenever a news organisation needed a UFO quote. It looked as if things were building up to some kind of breakthrough, but the publication of the dismissive report of the officially-sanctioned Condon committee put a great dampener on things. Even though it has now been demonstrated that the Condon committee was only going through the motions, and had already arrived at its conclusions before its investigation had even begun, many of the casually UFO-curious members of the public found the sceptical conclusions of this panel of eminent scientists persuasive. NICAP’s resources dwindled, and though it still survives, it is in a much diminished capacity.
Apart from the resource-constraint issues which limit their effectiveness, a few of the deeper thinkers in the UFO field, such as Jacques Vallée, have denounced the major UFO research organisations for their whole approach to the subject, claiming that they are obsessed with the extra-terrestrial hypothesis and not open enough to other, more parapsychological, possibilities.It seems that only the government has the resources and the credibility, whether deserved or not, to take the study of UFOs forward. Yet, in our own time, officialdom has shown barely a hint of interest in the phenomenon. And there is at the moment almost no pressure on the government to undertake an investigation of UFOs. Paradoxically, this is because the conspiratorial belief that the government already knows all about UFOs, and is probably colluding with extra-terrestrials, has taken hold among those with the greatest interest in the subject. In so far as UFO aficionados now exert any pressure on governments, it is for disclosure – in other words getting them to tell us what we think they already know - rather than for further research.