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Ufology: A Dying Subject?

In a new article titled “Ufology entering its Dark Ages?” Rich Reynolds makes interesting observations on the current condition of Ufology and what the future may bring for the subject. As Rich notes, at his UFO Conjectures blog: “Several UFO enthusiasts (besides me) are speculating that ufology is kaput, down and out. That isn’t exactly the case but the impression that ufology is dead or dying is palpable. The ‘Roswell slides’ debacle has created a nadir in UFO interest, for UFO aficionados.”

Is Rich correct? Are we seeing the final years of Ufology? Or, perhaps, not extinction but a decline into ever-deepening obscurity? Well, let’s see. There’s no doubt that things have changed – and changed substantially – in Ufology (and related topics) in the past few years. Some of those changes have been good for the subject. Others have been far less so.

It’s important to note that when it comes to the world of the paranormal in general, trends and topics come and go. As does interest, and attendant research, into those same trends and topics. That has always been the case and probably always will be. Seances, table-rapping and ectoplasm were all the rage a century ago. The Bermuda Triangle was a big subject in the 1970s. Crop Circles, by the early 1990s, were major news. Today, none of those controversies attract the huge attention they once did.


Yes, the media still covers such mysteries, as does the field of paranormal research. But, things are definitely not what they were. Take the aforementioned Crop Circles as one example. I well remember the absolute hysteria (and that’s not an exaggeration) for Crop Circles that kicked off in the early 1990s in the UK and which continued throughout that decade.

The media (even the prime-time BBC News and the daily, nationwide newspapers) covered the subject to a large degree. People excitedly traveled to the hot-spots (primarily the English county of Wiltshire) in absolute droves. It was an amazing, fun, crazy time. But, like anything, the Crop Circle phenomenon began, peaked, and is now in decline. Soon, no doubt, it will be curled up in a rocking-chair in a nursing-home and drinking (and dribbling) warm milk.


Alien abduction is no longer the crowd-puller that it was in the 1980s and 1990s. The 2012 phenomenon: whatever happened to that? Same with the Contactee movement of the 1950s: it had its time and now it’s gone – at least, to a significant degree. So, where are we today? Let’s see.

There’s no doubt that “good” UFO sightings still occur; however, there’s also no doubt that things aren’t on the sheer scale they were decades ago. The Washington, D.C. overflights of 1952, the humanoid/”entity” wave of 1954, Betty and Barney Hill, Pascagoula 1973, the Belgian “Flying Triangle” wave, Rendlesham Forest, and the Cash-Landrum case are perfect examples of the huge diversity and frequency of fascinating cases from years long gone.

Yes, as I said, we still get very good cases today. The big difference, however, is that those days of ufological “waves” and “flaps” are nowhere near what they once were. And, as a result, I see something interesting happening: a shift in approach, to the point where many researchers no longer focus on the present and/or have hopes for the future, but obsess on the past.

As an example, over at my World of Whatever blog, the ten most popular of the currently 1004 posts include (a) one on the MJ12 documents (controversial papers on the events at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947); (b) one on the alleged UFO crash at Aztec, New Mexico in March 1948; (c) one on the Lonnie Zamora/Socorro UFO landing of 1964; and (d) no less than three articles on the fiasco known as “the Roswell Slides.” In other words, in terms of popularity at least, it’s all about the past. Okay, maybe that’s slightly generalizing, but you get the point.

So, to get back to Rich Reynolds’ article, I don’t personally think extinction is on the cards for Ufology. I do, however, think that the days of (a) roaming around a muddy field, photographing UFO “tripod landing marks,” of (b) sitting on a couch in someone’s home and interviewing them about the recent “Vehicle Interference” case they had; or of (c) crawling around on hands and knees in a Crop Circle for hours, may very well rapidly diminish.

I suspect we will see a decline in the presence of the active UFO researcher and a rise in the presence of the UFO historian – studying old files, dusty papers, the archives of long-dead researchers, and faded photos from the 1950s, and chiefly because they aren’t impressed by what they see today.

People change, situations change, lives change, and Ufology will change. I think there is definitely room for a ufological future. But, whether Ufology remains as a community, and as a “scene,” or if it becomes the domain of a few dozen people overflowing with nothing but tedious nostalgia and a yearning for the past, very much remains to be seen.

Ufology may well be entering its adult-diaper, slippers, and colostomy-bag stage, but there’s still some life left in the old geezer. For now…

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  • …Unless a new major wave of sightings start in some part of the world 😉

    I have the utmost respect for Chris O’Brien, a boots-on-the-ground researcher if there ever was one. That said, I’m not sure I share his dismay on how nowadays most people have their nose stuck in their phones instead of looking up to the sky. I’m sure the phenomenon will find plenty of other ways to captivate our attention 🙂

  • St Kos

    I think the loss of interest in recent UFO cases stems from 2 factors. One would be the modern ease of manipulating both photos and films. Heck, I can whip up a photo-shopped UFO pic in a couple of minutes. The other would be the new generation of military aircraft.

    It also doesn’t help that many modern investigators are out to prove a strange object in the sky is an alien craft. They are not researchers and their activities bring down the level of confidence that one can have in their reports.

  • Gilles Fernandez

    Ufology is at a stage I call “Council of Nicaea II like” [by analogy]: It mainly consists to restore the use and veneration of icons [old UFO cases].



  • ivr

    I think if one were to draw a long bow and create an over arching narrative of the UFO phenomenon since the 1950’s it might read like this:
    “Hello, were are from somewhere else, you should change your ways or else; we tried to be nice but that didn’t work, now get in the ship; how dense are you? do we need to draw you a map?; our toys are bigger than yours do you get it yet?; oh well, we tried, we are packing our stuff and leaving.” The End.
    Ufology will probably continue to exist, robustly or not, for a time. However, it may be marginalized as a study of historical oddities. I personal still find it interesting stuff and continue to look forward to new stories.

  • I love your summary! It’d make a kickass t-shirt 😉

  • Antony Milne

    The writer here is referring only to media and public attention to the subject of Ufos. This often happens: sceptics refer to the psychological and cultural factors only, and the not the observational, documentary, video or physical evidence. Since the advent of camcorders and digital cameras the visual evidence is now enormous, and paradoxically this makes it less newsworthy.
    Faked and photoshopped videos are easy to spot. There are subtle clues that prove Ufos they are genuine. There is a large literature on defense, intelligence and pilots’ reports. Crop circle research shows that radiation is involved in their creation. Ufos undermine the scientific canon, especially astronomy and SETI, so there is growing pressure to debunk the subject.

  • Ashley

    It is true that the only thing blogs/forums and the like talk about is past UFO experiences. I know because I read so many of them! Rarely, unfortunately do we get any new details from people today with new details. It would suck to think of UFO’s as just a fad. Instead, I like to think we’re only on the cusp of something “alien” about to happen. 😉

    It sure would help investigators/bloggers/reporters do their job better if people would just come forward and share recent events.

  • DapperDude84

    Science killed the UFO star.

    As our scientific knowledge increases, so does the skepticism. We now know the limits and the remote possibilities of interstellar travel and that killed the romantic sci-fi. And as scientific discoveries continue to be made the less likely the idea of E.T visitations sound.

    In the next few decades we will know the truth, Either:

    Physics will determine that FTL and backwards time travel is possible,

    Physics will determine that FTL and backwards time travel is NOT possible,

    Or UFO’s are just a manifestation of a reality we have yet to fully understand.

  • Gary S.

    And we all know that science is never, ever wrong…..

  • Lorin Cutts

    Any sane person with half a brain eventually comes to realise that the current public field is not conducive to anything other than mediocre entertainment. The latest episode of the Slidesters only confirmed this yet again. I would go as far as to say the current state of public UFO presentation (I won’t say research because I don’t think there is virtually any being done, at least in the public arena) leads me to believe that it is 99% lies, the crazy ramblings of insane people, people out to get attention they cannot muster in any other way, people out to make a quick buck or simply misguided and deluded nonsense. If I hadn’t had my own experiences I’d say it was 100%. So why is that?

    If a field can’t police itself, can’t possibly fathom why it is laughed at by virtually every other aspect of society, can’t keep respectable people like Robert Salas from walking away for fear of ridicule and embarrassment – unless it can really change it is forever going to be the bastion of the tin foil hat brigade and window lickers.

    In what other profession would any of the shenanigans we have recently witnessed be acceptable? Answer – none.

    If a botanist had some alleged slides of a rare species of undiscovered plant would other leading botanists comment on the slides (or the species) without even seeing them? Without any scientific analysis? And when I say scientific analysis, I mean real scientific analysis – you know, like the kind that they call for endlessly in their quest to have the subject taken more seriously by the rest of the world. And if they had behaved in such a misguided and deluded fashion – especially in the aftermath – do you think they would be taken seriously by their peers again?

    Science doesn’t have to be the be all and end all of all of this, of course. Philosophy, spirituality, religion, sociology, psychology and many other areas may also yield important results or insights. Yet I don’t read, hear or see hardly any of that from the field either.

    So here’s to another decade of mediocre entertainment by way of yet more podcasts, net radio, self published books, fantasy based reality TV shows (Hangar 1 et al) and high school level dialogue and drama.

    Few questions will be answered and no real disclosure will occur.

  • Boogie Ondown

    Rich Reynolds, as much as I like his tough stances, tends to take a paper cut and turn it into cancer, so he can declare something on his blog to stir up debate. The Roswell Slides really did NOTHING to stop ufology…I just saw a fully populated conference and everyone there really had little interest in the slides because most knew they probably weren’t of an alien, way before the fiasco in Mexico.

    X-Files are coming back
    Star Wars is coming back
    Pluto, Ceres, and more planets being discovered every month.

    The public desire is still there. Ufology isn’t dying, it’s evolving with a leaner and more muscular group of investigators…the internet can expose most hoaxes and expose some truths. It’s a good time for truth finders, but a bad time for people that loved the ufology sub culture of wild theories and tabloid encounters.

  • Edward Taylor

    No! The ufo researcher and investigator will always be around. I am a ufo researcher my self and ufology is growing in popularity. There are numerous ufo sightings going on even astronauts have seen ufos . So there is a future for ufology and ufo researchers.

  • obsidian

    It’s more accurate to say science birthed the ufo star; any extraordinary aerial phenomena would have been attributed to miracles two centuries ago.

    I don’t recall offhand whether it was scientists in general or just astronomers who were more likely than the general public, according to polling, to credit ufos as a real phenomenon. If that situation has changed (or if I’m wrong to begin with), someone should let me know. : )

    If the opinion of scientists has changed, that could likely be the influence of the media, which has increasingly marginalized the ufo subject as consolidation has increased in that industry. Scientists are as susceptible to cultural conditioning as anyone.