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Behind The Scenes: Ufology’s Shadow Research Community

The late researcher of UFOs, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, once wrote that, “In one’s frustration it is all too easy to seize on an explanation of the “Men from Mars” variety and to ignore the many UFO features unaccounted for… We may be inadvertently and artificially increasing the significance of the conspicuous features while the part we ignore–or that which is not reported by the untrained witness–may contain the clue to the whole subject.” 

I would also argue just as well that, in addition to part of the UFO enigma that remain hidden, there might be researchers in this field that do the same.

I recently attended the 2013 International UFO Congress as a speaker, as well as a panelist for a discussion with fellow researchers Stanton Friedman and Richard Dolan, where we discussed the state of ufology in the 21st century. The Congress, arguably the largest and most well-attended UFO conference anywhere in the world, is not only a proving ground for both the budding young researcher and the decades-in ufologist alike; it is also a breeding ground for new ideas and the formation of new hypotheses, which may eventually sow the seeds of new insight toward solving this enduring mystery.

International UFO Congress - Educating the World One Person at a Time

International UFO Congress – Educating the World One Person at a Time

And yet, while there is this obvious mainstream component to the UFO research community, there is another more clandestine arm of the community that is less active before the public eye… but not all things that are “secretive” are necessarily nefarious or part of some grand dark conspiracy. In truth, it may be within the humble confines of Ufology’s “Shadow Research Community” that some of the more innovative thinkers exist, working out problems behind the scenes that many point-and-click researchers of today might overlook altogether.

No doubt, a statement of this caliber might be enough to anger many prideful UFO researchers at large (although I would argue that most serious UFO researchers will learn early on to rid themselves of any pride, lest they be crushed by the seething sensationalism in the mainstream media, and their overt approach toward the UFO community in general). But again, the notion of their being an underlying academic element that persists behind the mainstream study of UFOs–if one could ever call UFO research “mainstream” at all–is nothing new.

French Ufologist and computer scientist Jacques Vallee in his book Alien Contact by Human Deception argued that there were many private UFO researchers in academic circles–perhaps a few hundred he knew and had worked with–that studied the UFO problem intently, but without doing so publicly. Vallee referred to this as being a sort of “Invisible College” that has continued serious scientific study of UFOs, despite the fact that since the late 1960s, Edward Condon and his University of Colorado UFO Project helped determine that once and for all, the UFO mystery would forever be pseudoscientific.

Hynek and Vallee

Hynek and Vallee

Indeed, the general study of UFOs has largely been pseudoscientific, in that the largest body of serious research spanning the last several decades has been carried out by civilians, and often those with little or no academic or technical training suited for study of the phenomenon. While this has often been a point of criticism by scientists the likes of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and many others, it also highlights yet another problem in the UFO field: the tendency for academics to push for debunking of UFO phenomenon or labeling it as pseudoscientific, while doing very little on their own accord to help further the serious scientific study of the phenomenon aside from waging an ongoing war of words.

Angela Joiner

Angela Joiner

To the credit of the academicians, it should be noted that to openly and publicly embrace the study of UFOs most often becomes equivalent to academic suicide in the Western world. There are many instances where professionals have been forced to choose between studying fringe subjects and maintaing a career by more conventional standards. Scientists such as Dean Radin, who lost his teaching position for openly discussing parapsychology, comes to mind, as well as members of the media like Angelia Joiner, who famously reported on the Stephenville, Texas UFO flap several years ago; the latter was eventually pinned into a position where she felt she had to resign as a reporter for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, in order to be able to continue following the UFO story.

Altogether, the problem here is that UFO research, by virtue of the fringe or “kooky” subject matter it has often become directly associated with, warrants blacklisting among professionals (especially scientists, university professors, etc). In my own experience, I’ve had numerous interactions with those in academia who reach out to me, often under aliases at first, to express interest not just in UFO research, but to share their own ideas and findings (albeit covertly) from an academic standpoint. The reasons these individuals would reach out to ufologists at all most often has to do, in my experience, with a hope for finding someone who will allow them to plead their case, but also that they might be able to influence or steer with their own professional observations. On both counts, this is usually a good thing, as it allows the academics to find others who won’t be so openly critical with the treatment of fringy subject matter, but the less technically skilled civilian researcher also gains insight from members of the scientific community.

Thus, while there is certainly a “trickle down effect” with regard to academics who occasionally reveal tidbits of insight to the publicly known UFO researchers, it could be argued that some of the most plausible and interesting insights into the field of ufology may exist behind the scenes, in what Vallee dubbed a so-called “Invisible College.” Today, could we ever get a serious, ongoing academic discourse on UFOs back into mainstream scientific circles… or is this even something that could ever be afforded the modern UFO research community, with an ever-growing divide that is occurring between the “believer” and “skeptic” diametric?

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  • PurrlGurrl

    “Today, could we ever get a serious, ongoing academic discourse on UFOs back into mainstream scientific circles… or is this even something that could ever be afforded the modern UFO research community, with an ever-growing divide that is occurring between the “believer” and “skeptic” diametric?”

    Why would American Ufology be any less polarized than the society in which it exists? Polarization is a much larger socio-cultural issue that has the potential to rend this nation apart if we don’t begin to deal with our differences in constructive ways. How dysfunctional have we become? Just look at our inability to govern ourselves at all levels. We’re like a nation of mad dogs tearing at each other over every scrap. It’s not enough to seize the prize, we need to bloody then grind into dust all those who opposed or competed with us. Ufology looks like a pack of snapping wolves because as a people we have become a pack of snapping wolves. Ufology is a reflection of the zeitgeist.

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    Good overview article, Mr. Hanks. Additionally, i notice a love fest for the ‘scientific’ pursuit of ufology at the expense of other, quite respectable intellectual disciplines. As one recent example, Ardie Sixkiller Clarke appeared recently on the Paracast. I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation, tho it was obvious that Mr. s Steinberg and O-Brien were aghast and dismayed at her approach – to sum up their reaction from the following show, ‘not scientific and so we cannot do a thing with it’.

    Now, i was surprised – okay not really. But Mr. O’Brien especially has shown a long-term, sincere interest in studying the sociological, anthropological, and folkloric aspects of the ufo and paranomal phenomena so i was a bit taken aback that he did not see the resource that Ms. Sixkiller Clarke represents. Ms. Sixkiller Clarke’s body of data would be incredibly fruitful in the arenas i listed above – for one, here we have a body of hundreds of encounters remembered without hypnosis, in contrast to the great bulk of North American encouters documented to date. What are the similarities, the differences between the encounters and also the backgrounds of these ‘with and without hypnosis’ experiencers? Ms. Sixkiller Clarke mentioned that most experiencers in her group had to prodded to realize that they were communicating telepathically with the ‘others’ – this would be another fruitful area to explore. As it happens, i’ve studied anthropology at the college level, and this intellectual discipline has methods for dealing with verbal and written reports – as does, in fact, the discipline of history (which takes as it’s material little else). We wouldn’t have to invent all of this from nothing.

    Additionally, it seems to me that Ms. Sixkiller Clarke could be a great resource for finding out how to get people to tell you their experiences, coming up with ways to identify people who’s professions put them in a good position to collect encounters and developing ways to train such persons in what data would be especially helpful to researchers, delving into the question of how people living in the back end of the boondocks know that the last thing they want to do is let a ufologist know what they’ve seen – and how can we change that viewpoint?

    Of course everyone wants pristine, ‘hard data’, collected under massively sterile and documented circumstances. But how long have we been waiting for this type of case? In the meantime it may behoove us to look towards various intellectual disciplines which deal with so-called less than perfect data in ways which manage to yield fruitful results. Besides which, many of the most interesting questions (why are they here? what do they want? what does this mean?) will not be answered by analysis of landing traces or light spectra, fascinating and vital as those pursuits may be.

    I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Steinberg and Mr. O’Brien. It’s just a recent example of ufology focusing on ‘science’! so much we ignore other data which could yield interesting insights as well. steph