Types of Scientists
Type I
Type II
Type III
Borderland Science
The McDonald Experience
Borderland Entry
Gaining Access
The Schizoid Situation
The Critical Experiment
The Extremist Confrontation
The Response of Established Science
The Revolutionary Analogy
The Incumbent Paradigm
Revolutionary Tactics
McDonald as Revolutionary
Revolutionary Science

BACK to Contents

Before I suggest what the McDonald experience implies it might be well to mention the limitations inherent in an attempt to generalize from this case study. First of all we must keep in mind that it is just that -- a case study. Consequently, the possibility that it is an aberrant example of the scientific process is ever present. In addition, while it may not represent normal, scientific activity one could argue that it is typical of borderland science. Yet even that position is assailable on the grounds that we are still dealing with a single case.

One means of coping with this question, at least on a tentative basis, is to treat it in a "what if?" fashion. That is, the case study material exists and we would like to draw conclusions from it even though such an undertaking is laden with risks. Therefore, we can make an assumption for heuristic purposes; what if the McDonald case study is representative of the borderland scientific process? From there it is possible to proceed with the discussion while being fully aware of its limitations.

In the first chapter I claimed that the scientific process is, at least in the case of a potentially anomalous phenomenon, a political process. The basic hypothesis was that in order to function within the scientific community, i.e., to do science, the scientist must do more than apply the scientific method to his subject matter. It is necessary for him to engage in other activities which are not associated with our traditional conceptions of the scientific endeavor. It was further argued that such behaviors are political and in conjunction with the scientific method compose what I defined as the scientific process.


This conception views the scientist not as a passive seeker after truth in the groves of academe, but rather as an active advocate doing whatever he perceives as necessary to foster his research. In chapter two the case for this argument received documentation through a detailed look at McDonald's first year of active involvement in the UFO controversy.

Chapters three, four, five and six were not essential to demonstrating the hypothesis, but were useful in presenting further insight into borderland scientific activity. Moreover, they helped me to develop my ideas with respect to the borderland science endeavor and by implication its counterpart normal science. What follows, then, is a speculative discussion of both borderland and normal science activity with the emphasis on the former. It is based upon data from the McDonald case study, the research of other social scientists and intuitive feelings about the nature of the scientific enterprise which developed as a result of undertaking this research.

BACK to Top


Let us begin by assuming that not all scientists are equally political. For purposes of discussion they can be differentiated on the basis of the amount of political behavior they engage in, the issues they study, and the political tactics they use. This will enable us to talk about different types of scientists, issues, and tactics. Although this conceptual breakdown is lacking in precise operational determinants, it nonetheless is useful in taking an initial look at the phenomenon I am calling the personal politics of science.


It is assumed that all practicing scientists are political and that the apolitical scientist is a myth. This does not mean that all scientists are as political as McDonald, but it does imply that each in his own way initiates behaviors which are not part of the scientific method and yet are intended to further the scientists' research activities. If we are to accept the apolitical scientist concept we must believe that scientists exist who do not consider the social implications of their research and do nothing to foster their own professional interests except their work -- trusting solely in the community of scholars to reward them on the basis of merit. Because this entire line of reasoning appears counterintuitive there is no further discussion of such hypothetical individuals here.

BACK to Top


However, three different types of scientists are suggested. The first type engages in average amounts of political behavior. That is, he is the normal scientist who does not attempt to wheel and deal in his discipline or pursue revolutionary breakthroughs. [1]  He does his research on normal issues and where necessary employs normal political tactics to achieve his ends.

BACK to Top


The second type of scientist takes part in above-average amounts of political behavior. He is one of the prolific members of his discipline and/or a scientific statesman. The former requires that he always has a book or an article "in press" and the latter that he sits on and organizes associational panels in his discipline and functions on the editorial boards of journals. In either case he is constantly tending


to his own upwardly mobile interests within the scientific community. This individual gravitates toward "fashionable" topics of research that exist on the periphery of paradigms but which do not threaten the assumptions of the paradigms themselves. In so doing he utilizes considerably more in the way of normal political tactics to achieve his ends than our Type I scientist.

Within this category there is a subgroup which because of my value orientations I will call the "reactionary extremists." They are successful Type II scientists who take it upon themselves to use extreme tactics to do battle with Type III scientists over potentially revolutionary issues.

BACK to Top


The Type III scientist, "the progressive extremist," unable to obtain satisfaction through labor in the vineyards of "normal science," is attracted to potentially revolutionary research areas. He focuses an enormous amount of political behavior on these topics and does not hesitate to bring extreme tactics into play. For the sake of a breakthrough he will venture to the borderlands of science in the hope of returning with a new view of reality.

The scientists of both polar persuasions, then, share several characteristics which seem aberrant and justify the label of extremist. Both the "progressive" and the "reactionary" are attracted to borderland areas of research. The former as an active iconoclast and the latter as an upholder of authority. Each in his own way exhibits traits which Rokeach has called dogmatic. [2]  Lastly, both groups are willing to substitute political tactics for the process of verification.


It should be clear that this is a first tentative attempt at mapping part of the personal politics of science domain. As a result the rigor which is desirable in such an endeavor is not always present. Nevertheless, some of the terms are amenable to definition now and others may yield to more precise delimitation in the future.

BACK to Top


Issues are either normal, fashionable normal, or revolutionary. By "normal" I mean that in Kuhn's sense it is just another puzzle in whatever discipline it occurs. It isn't considered "exciting" as perhaps it once was and consequently popular magazines do not feature articles about the men who work in the area. It is respectable, but it is the sort of thing that most scientists are engaged in. On the other hand, "fashionable normal" issues are those which are studied by the big names of science. They usually require vast funding, exist on the periphery of paradigms, and because they seem to promise the opening of new vistas of understanding they exude excitement. Most academics are at least vaguely aware the research is underway and even the man on the street may know of its existence through the coverage provided by the news media. The revolutionary issue differs from the above issues in two ways. First, it has no status as a priority problem in the scientific community, and, second, and more importantly, it is neither directly within nor on the periphery of an extant paradigm, and therefore not verifiable in traditional terms. As a result very few scientists are attracted to such problems.

BACK to Top



The tactics of political persuasion are either normal or extreme. Normal tactics are any and all behaviors used by scientists to further their research ends as long as they are not brought into play as a substitute for verification. Extreme tactics, to the contrary, are used for purposes of political persuasion either by progressive or reactionary extremists. Such tactics serve as surrogates for verification in borderland science areas where mutually acceptable criteria of verifiability are lacking, i.e., where the contending groups each adhere to their own mutually exclusive criteria of acceptance. The exhibited behaviors, then, can be identical in the normal or revolutionary context. What determines if they are normal or extreme tactics is whether or not they are intended as surrogates for the verification process.

A word of caution is in order at this juncture because it is tempting to conceive of an extreme tactic, especially when comparing tactics, in terms of the degree to which it appears to violate the canons of science. For instance, which is more extreme, fraud which is the product of falsifying results, or interfering in a fellow scientist's research project? The answer is that this is not a question which is addressed by my usage of extreme. An extreme tactic is merely a tactic employed by extremists of either caste to circumvent the accepted verification process in a potentially revolutionary context. Therefore, both "fraud" and "interference" could be normal or extreme tactics depending on the intent and the context.

It would seem that empirical inquiry into what scientists do would lead to more or less precise indicators of average and above-average amounts of political behavior, however, at this time the work has not


been done. Moreover, the scientific types alluded to are by no means always pure. It may be that a given scientist's type varies according to the issue, or that in some cases as a scientist advances in age and security he evolves from a Type I to a Type III or vice-versa. Those kinds of questions await further research. What should be obvious, however, is that McDonald was a Type II who became a Type III when he began to pursue the UFO phenomenon in 1966. At the same time he took his first cautious steps into the area known as borderland science.

BACK to Top


Up to this point the notion of borderland science has been used rather loosely. The term is meant to connote the practice of both science and pseudoscience in areas that are so nebulous that the distinction between the two undertakings is blurred. The practitioners of borderland endeavors consider themselves members of the avant garde in whatever field they work. They believe that they are doing good science which is ignored and/or that they are unable to properly engage the phenomenon of their choice because of various socio/political/economic reasons which put that particular domain of investigation beyond the pale.

To exist beyond the pale for our purposes means that such areas do not fall neatly into an extant paradigm. In fact, their assumptions may violate knowledge claims which are revered in accepted disciplines. As a result borderland science subjects are generally not taken seriously by the vast majority of the scientific community. If they were, they could not longer be considered borderland. At any rate, such subjects fall into disrepute and among the elder statesmen of science are labeled pseudoscience.


The problem is now becoming apparent as we see that both intellectual extremes are able to take advantage of the situation. For instance, anyone who pursues a borderland interest and experiences a poor reception by his peers is able to claim that this is the plight of all men who are before their time. Using this argument pleas of harassment, along with demands on available resources such as funding, journal space, and peer recognition are possible. Conversely, there are individuals within science who point to their favorite examples of pseudoscience and argue that all borderland activity is of a similar nature. They then proceed to argue either directly or indirectly that such issues, therefore, do not deserve a hearing before the scientific community. Of course, not all scientists who pursue "so called" bizarre interests are on the verge of a revolutionary breakthrough, nor are all of them engaged in worthless research. The question is how to discriminate between worthwhile and worthless work.

If the controversial issue rested squarely within an accepted paradigm then the dispute would be readily justiciable, for agreed upon criteria of verification would exist among all those concerned. However, one faction always claims that a particular matter is anomalous, i.e., falling outside of extant paradigms, while the other asserts that the issue is readily explainable in terms of one paradigm or another. This makes a mutually acceptable solution impossible.

The disagreement, then, results from the contending parties approaching the problem with differing assumptions about the data. As long as this remains true they are not able to obtain the same conclusions, but, rather, dispute assumptions and largely talk by one another. This politicizes the verification process because it is no


longer a question of intersubjectively verifiable criteria, i.e., scientific persuasion, to determine the acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis, but a question of political persuasion. How many scientists, which funding agencies, etc., can be convinced that research on the problem should or should not proceed?

Of course, while this describes the problem it does not go far enough. For the demand on the part of the paradigm defenders that the paradigm shatterers meet the formers' criteria of verification is a convenient means of disposing of the problem but is in fact a straw man. This is true because practicing scientists are well aware of the fact that the degree of rigor demanded for evidence claims varies both within and between established disciplines and yet work goes on. This points up what is the sine qua non for an ongoing research area; it is political power herein defined as a constituency of well-funded scientists sharing the same world view.

BACK to Top


McDonald did research, but recognized that what was possible with his limited funds was not adequate for a convincing demonstration of the anomalous nature of UFO data to his scientific peers, i.e., meeting the verifiability criteria of the old paradigms. Therefore, he began a political campaign to shift the conventional paradigms to make room for the legitimate study of the UFO phenomenon with specific reference to the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

BACK to Top


What, if we assume the McDonald experience is representative, are we able to say about the personal politics of science of the borderland science situation? It would appear that entry into the field is a slow


process for seasoned scientists. Because they serve their graduate student apprenticeships learning how to do non-revolutionary research few scientists, possibly none, are really out to shift paradigms until some critical event in their lives. In McDonald's case a UFO observation in the Arizona desert in the early 1950s probably planted the seed of discontent. Yet, even first-hand experience did not result in immediate pursuit of the subject. Rather than such a bold course he embarked on a low-key investigatory effort in the Tucson area which lasted some ten years. When he interacted with NICAP in those early years he demanded and obtained assurances that his name would not be used. Finally, in 1966 when he decided to launch a one-man study through the NAS, Congress or the AFOSR he wanted to do it quietly. It was only after he visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and reached his ETH conclusions that the phenomenon seemed to develop a dynamic of its own which, with each passing month, drew him further toward the center of the controversy.

On the basis of this information we can infer that while most scientists never venture into the borderland, those who do so, do it gradually. They received training and pursued careers in which the byword is caution. Therefore, when confronted with the potentially anomalous, phenomena which according to accepted world views shouldn't exist, it is only to be expected that even those scientists considered reckless in judgment by their colleagues appear conservative to the layman.

There are also a number of socio-political reasons for this circumspection. It is not true of all borderland subjects, but is true in the case of the UFO phenomenon, that no one is academically trained to come to grips with the multi-faceted data. Consequently, to attempt


to do so is an extremely time-consuming interdisciplinary task which discourages most investigators.

In addition, scientists are accustomed to research funding. Yet, borderland topics are not usually within recognized areas of university research so it is difficult to imagine where to submit a proposal. But should submission of an application occur, as a result of the disrepute in which the scientific community holds the subject, it has a minimal chance of success. This is because it is not the sort of research which a funding agency desires to justify to its board of directors or endowing body as an example of its philanthropy. Or in the instance of a federal agency, proposals are usually refereed by outstanding scientists who have their own conceptions of real world priorities which don't include the peripheral topics of borderland science. So this leaves the scientist the choice of absorbing the research expenses himself, siphoning funds from another grant as McDonald did, or abandoning the field. It is not surprising that most opt for the latter alternative.

The question of career advancement also faces every scientist. In academic institutions this means a scientist must concern himself with tenure and promotion. However, tenure and promotion generally depend on a mixture of publication and social acceptance in one's department. Unfortunately, there is seldom a respected journal which will publish borderland material and since such areas are often considered pseudoscience to one's colleagues, social acceptance may suffer (some of McDonald's peers worried that his work would hurt the reputation of the UA) by their pursuit. Consequently, there is no incentive to focus on borderland research within the work situation. In fact, the work situation rewards those who adhere to the tried and true, not those who


deviate from it. This leaves several possibilities. The scientist can undertake the research "out of pocket" as a side interest, putting career-oriented work first. He can give it first priority with the likely loss of his job or at least non-promotion. Alternatively, as in McDonald's case, the scientist can put the work aside until he obtains his full professorship and an impressive file of publications. Or, finally, and not surprisingly under the circumstances, abandonment of the work may occur. Therefore, for most scientists avoiding the borderland is probably less of a conscious choice than a course of action necessitated by the career constraints of the academic environment.

It would seem, therefore, that socio-political problems associated with career advancement and the funding of bizarre research tend to insure that few scientists entertain thoughts of unorthodox work and still fewer act upon them. However, once a scientist does act, what sort of concerns become paramount for him? Of first importance is credibility.

BACK to Top


Borderland research topics carry with them a stigma. This often takes the form of a cultist fringe which is associated with them in one way or another and may include "fast buck artists" who know a bizarre subject, if presented properly, has considerable appeal to the gullible. The serious scientist who concludes that within the noise of such a phenomenon there also exists a signal must in some manner dissociate himself from the unsavory aspects of the subject.

For instance, beginning in the early 1950s the UFO issue acquired religious and space-brother overtones fostered by various individuals who claimed contact with extraterrestrials. This became an important


factor in keeping the problem relegated to the status of a matter worthy of ridicule but not serious research. McDonald recognized this as an issue which could reduce his effectiveness and took a number of measures to increase his credibility.

Initially he didn't want his name used even by NICAP, which by UFO organization standards is conservative. Because APRO accepted occupant reports, while at the beginning he did not, McDonald avoided APRO even though APRO headquarters was in Tucson. Since he viewed the Air Force Blue Book project as responsible for much of the disrepute associated with UFOs he set out to refute its conclusions. After accomplishing this, to his own satisfaction, he publicly attacked the Air Force in his talks. Even though he became in great demand as a speaker, however, he would only address groups in which he felt some further scientific light might be thrown on the subject or scientific converts made. In other words he did not want to be known as "the after-dinner UFO speaker" for the Kiwanis, Rotary and other civic organizations. In his presentations, which were largely to scientists and engineers, he used carefully selected language to avoid appearing sensational. This is epitomized by his reference to the ETH as "the least unsatisfactory hypothesis." In the same presentations he threw barbs at those elements who he considered part of the cultist fringe. Moreover, his recognition of the interdisciplinary aspects of the UFO problem compelled him to get the views of specialists in as many social, physical and life science departments as were willing to hear him speak. This approach saved him a great deal of research and increased his credibility. It allowed him to make statements such as "Dr. X in psychology, an authority on mass hysteria, told me only last month that UFO reports could not be explained


by the mass hysteria hypothesis." Lastly, as McDonald became more deeply involved in the UFO controversy he began to refute the work of Donald Menzel, Philip Klass and eventually the Condon Report.

Through this activity McDonald intended to increase both his credibility and the credibility of UFOs as a legitimate topic of scientific inquiry. He avoided the sensational wherever possible in order not to frighten the scientists he wanted to convert, yet to some degree he found himself trapped in a paradox. For the more mundane the problem became due to his use of various circumlocutions designed to increase the scientific palatability of the subject, the weaker the case became for researching it. On the other hand, if McDonald's version of the truth were told both his credibility and that of the issue would suffer, while the number of conversions would decrease. We can assume, then, that establishing credibility is a primary concern of the borderland science practitioner. Probably the concern varies directly with the degree of bizarreness associated with the research area. Although one's credibility in the practice of normal science is virtually taken for granted, when scientific matters become a question of political persuasion (outside of the traditional framework of mutually acceptable verification criteria) credibility must be carefully nurtured and augmented whenever possible. [3]

BACK to Top


Also of concern is gaining access to those decision-makers who can legitimate the study of the borderland area in question by channeling research funds to it. Therefore, interest articulation efforts are necessary to convince the decision-makers that funding should take place.


This approach is essential because borderland subjects are not respectable areas of study and as a result none of the traditional avenues for the acquisition of funds are open.

Since it is a question of political persuasion all means which would appear to positively contribute to the goal of legitimacy may come into play. Actual tactics would seem to be a function of the temerity of the researcher. In the case of McDonald he approached leaders in the governmental, military and scientific communities. Moreover, he eventually staged a "coming out," began a speaking campaign which took him the length and breadth of the country, meddled in the Colorado Project finally resulting in his masterminding of the Look expose article, appealed to the NAS and proved instrumental in organizing the Roush Hearings.

BACK to Top


This illustrates the schizoid character of borderland science behavior. For it is obvious that McDonald considered the UFO question a matter of political persuasion; of converting as many individuals as possible and hoping that the weight of numbers would win the day. Yet it seems he never quite understood, or could accept, that for most disinterested decision-makers conversion would only take place if they could envision some benefit to themselves greater than the costs which might accrue. So, on the one hand, to build a constituency he took his case to the scientific community and the public through speaking engagements, informal communications and various forms of publicity, and on the other hand he besieged decision-makers, even going so far as to present his concern with the Condon Study to the NAS. In viewing these


behaviors it would appear that they are open to two interpretations. Conceivably McDonald wanted to campaign on as many fronts as possible, thinking that it would increase his probability of success. Alternatively, he believed (beneath his cynical demeanor) that reason would win out among the rational elder statesmen of science, government and the military. Admittedly both interpretations could be correct. McDonald, the seasoned scientist, considered the strategy of attacking on many fronts a good one. But despite his political sophistication he also maintained a streak of idealism, and undoubtedly this idealism made him, in the last analysis, hold out the hope that individuals trained in the rites of rational discourse would draw similar conclusions to his own. In fact, it may be that those scientists who work in borderland areas (Type III) tend to be those individuals who have deeply internalized the rational ideal, while Type II scientists have not done so and consequently remain aloof from research which could tarnish their reputations and/or careers. [4]  The Type III scientist, then, may believe strongly in scientific ideals, but nevertheless engage in considerable political activity. The difference in this instance between the Type II and Type III is that the former is more pragmatic and realistic than the latter. While the former weighs each research decision in terms of its costs and benefits to his career, the latter tends to engage an interesting issue regardless of the personal repercussions it might have.

There is another reason for the development of what I want to call the schizoid situation. It is the extreme frustration which results from the study of a borderland research area. The borderland scientist is frequently under a state of siege. He is often attacking or being attacked, winning a skirmish now and then, but never winning the battle.


Consequently, when the prognosis is grim appeals to otherwise hostile appearing sources of authority should come as no surprise.

This occurred in McDonald's case when he appealed to the NAS to examine what he considered the incompetence of the Colorado Project. The situation appeared acute for a number of reasons. Those familiar with the problem viewed the Condon Study as the critical experiment with respect to the UFO phenomenon. McDonald felt that twentieth century scientific priorities would undergo a complete reshuffling if a favorable outcome resulted. Moreover, if this occurred it would provide an exciting new area of well-funded research for him. But if the Colorado results proved negative then the field of UFO studies would be set back decades and surely not experience a resurgence prior to the termination of his productive years of scholarship. To further exacerbate matters the whole UFO controversy existed within a shroud of unproved, but potentially real national security problems, the implications of which were unknown, yet subject to widespread speculation with regard to the Condon Study. It is not surprising, then, that after numerous attempts to aid, guide and cajole Condon, McDonald went directly to the NAS where he somehow thought that redress could take place.

BACK to Top


This episode in the controversy also underlines the importance of a critical experiment in a borderland area. In addition, it illustrates the unusual treatment which a borderland phenomenon may receive. For once the critical experiment takes on formidable dimensions with far ranging implications, it is monitored by extremists of many colors, thus promoting the development of a circus-like atmosphere. Furthermore, it


is possible that the experiment can, as in the Colorado case, carry with it the implication that it will remove a nuisance problem from someone's shoulders. In this instance from the purview of the Air Force, which imposed an unusual restriction on the research. Because the Air Force instinctively recognized the outcome would largely be a question of the predispositions of the project staff, it stipulated in the contract that scientists previously associated with the topic could not take part in the study, surely a most unusual manner in which to conduct an analysis. This tactic virtually insured that the staff would consider UFOs a nonsense problem. In all likelihood this is an atypical example of the critical experiment due to the Air Force involvement. However, it does indicate the degree to which violation of the accepted canons of science may occur if the borderland area in question is of sufficient import. Of course, violation in this instance proved a two-edged sword. For while the Air Force made certain that it would obtain conclusions compatible with its public position, McDonald busied himself meddling in the Colorado Project hoping to thwart an outcome unfavorable to his public position.

BACK to Top


The ONR controversy exemplifies another aspect of borderland science; the confrontation of two intellectual extremists. If it were possible to array the intellectual predilections of scientists in a frequency distribution I think it would be safe to conjecture that one or two percent, the Type III scientists, would fall in one tail of the distribution. As indicated previously they gravitate toward the study of the unusual and it is for that reason that I label them the "progressive extremists."


However, there are also extremists in the other tail of the distribution. They expend considerable time and energy attacking Type III scientists. These "reactionary extremists" consist of a small number of Type II scientists who become incensed over borderland issues. The reactionary extremists assert that they wish to protect both the public and the scientific community from pseudo-science and its kook practitioners. To make their point they cite what they postulate to be typical examples of belief systems which were intellectual fads of the past, i.e., elves, black magic, astrology, witches, etc., and claim that the borderland subjects which they indict fall into the same category. For example, astronomer Donald Menzel states: [5]

The nature myths of the ancient Greeks gave way to beliefs in demons, evil spirits, the devil incarnate, witches, wizards, ogres, ghouls, harpies, fairies, fire drakes, werewolves, goblins, specters, wills-o'-the-wisp, ghosts, banshees, nymphs, elves, mermaids, leprechauns, minotaurs, centaurs, satyrs, cyclops, unicorns, and chimeras, to mention just a few. The belief in the existence of such creatures was by no means evanescent. History is full of serious claims that human beings have seen or encountered such things.

While physicist William Markowitz concludes: [6]

We have been reminded (by Hynek) that 21st-century science will look back on us. This is true. We, ourselves, look back on eras when people believed in the existence of centaurs, mermaids, and fire-breathing dragons. I am afraid that 21st-century science will contemplate with wonder the fact that, in an age of science such as ours, the United States Air Force was required to sponsor repeated studies of UFOs.

And physicist Edward Condon claims: [7]

Flying saucers and astrology are not the only pseudo-sciences which have a considerable following amongst us. There used to be spiritualism; there continues to be extrasensory perception, and psychokinesis, and a host of others ... Perhaps we need a National Magic Agency to make a large and expensive study of all these matters, including the future scientific study of UFOs, if any.


These individuals are the defenders of orthodoxy as much as the Type III scientists are the defenders of the unorthodox.

Although he is not a professional scientist we must give Philip Klass his due in this area. The ONR controversy illustrates what can occur when the reactionary extremist confronts the progressive extremist. It is the type of altercation that occurs in the borderland because emotions run high among the combatants. I would surmise that this argumentation becomes so emotionally charged because there are no mutually acceptable criteria of verifiability to discuss. Both the reactionary and the progressive, therefore, experience great frustration as a result of their respective inabilities to convince the other of his obviously incorrect belief. The outcome is a no-holds-barred struggle in which the personal politics of science, not the scientific method, is paramount.

BACK to Top


In all borderland areas the conviction of practitioners is that they have evidence for their beliefs. If only organized science would examine the data, which it won't, they argue that they would obtain vindication. [8]  The preparations for the 1969 AAAS UFO Symposium provide an excellent opportunity to observe the treatment accorded a borderland belief by organized science. It is probably not unreasonable to assume other bizarre beliefs would receive similar treatment as witnessed by the 1974 Velikovsky AAAS Symposium which Carl Sagan also planned.

The UFO Symposium illuminates two kinds of resistance to a new paradigm in science -- the direct and the indirect. Menzel and Condon represent the former, while Sagan and Page represent the latter. Menzel and Condon are examples of successful Type II scientists who are


reactionary extremists on some issues and make no attempt to veil their position. To the contrary, Sagan and Page are prototypes of successful Type II scientists who are reactionary extremists on some issues but who disguise their intentions by publicly acting in the name of the rational model of science. In this instance providing a platform for the discussion of unorthodox views.

Both of the above twosomes wanted to put an end to what they considered a modern myth, but their approaches differed. Menzel and Condon, although considered major parties to the UFO debate in 1969, wanted to stop the Symposium and went about it in a direct fashion by letter-writing campaigns and word-of-mouth. They exhibited no desire to thrash out the issues in open debate, in fact they felt that such an airing could only lend an aura of AAAS legitimacy to the UFO phenomenon.

On the other hand, Sagan and Page did not worry about legitimating UFO studies through the Symposium for they had a very different purpose in mind. In good liberal form they claimed they wanted to present the pros and cons of a current topic of public interest. Actually they intended to expose what they considered an untenable belief system to hard-nosed scientific method and by so doing destroy one of the pseudoscientific subjects they believed jaded the attitudes of college students toward the physical sciences.

Condon and Menzel, therefore, did not want to expose the subject to the light of day, while Sagan and Page wanted to expose it, but with the intent of shattering the assumptions underlying it. As it turned out neither the skeptics nor the believers won the day at the Symposium. As usual, no agreement as to what constituted acceptable evidence claims existed amongst all the participants. Consequently, those who found


UFOs a significant scientific problem were not convinced to the contrary and those who viewed the matter as another pseudo-science craze went home with their beliefs intact. Such, of course, proved a disheartening outcome for McDonald because it was in just the type of forum provided by the AAAS that he hoped the tide of scientific thought on UFOs would turn.

BACK to Top


There is something which emerges from this look at McDonald's attempt to obtain a paradigm shift. It is the temptation to develop an analogy. Arguing by analogy is always dangerous because of the amount of conceptual slippage which is possible. No two situations are ever alike with the subsequent result that an analogy often produces a seductive, but nevertheless misleading portrayal of the data. With this in mind I am going to proceed by drawing out an analogy which appears to furnish an interesting and hopefully useful means of looking at the strategy and tactics of the borderland science endeavor.

Therefore let me begin by saying that borderland science is an intensely political activity in which one group of scientists claims, on the basis of faith, that the extant view of scientific reality is adequate, while another smaller group asserts, also on the basis of faith, that some problems are not being solved because of the accepted world view and therefore it is time for a change. What is meant by this is that both groups use above-average amounts of political behavior to seek their respective ends. Each brings extreme tactics into play as surrogates for the verification process and both endorse mutually exclusive sets of criteria for adherence to their belief that the other is correct.


The extant view of reality is considered adequate by the opponents of the new paradigm because it answers the questions which interest them and, through the years, provided the context within which they obtained the perquisites of the scientific profession; perquisites which might be redistributed if a new world view came to the fore. On the other hand, the extant view of reality is considered inadequate by the proponents of the new paradigm because it does not furnish a useful context for solving the problems which interest them and consequently denies them the rewards of the scientific profession. What ensues is, for all intents and purposes, a political campaign by the proponents of the paradigm which is not in power to bring about a revolution that will overthrow the paradigm which is, and possibly its proponents as well. Kuhn suggested just such an analogy, as pointed out in chapter one, however, he does not seek to flesh it out in explicitly political terms. [9]  Although he draws the parallel between political institutions which are not capable of reform and paradigms which do not have the capacity for solving new problems, he fails to see that the analogy is capable of further extension for purposes of providing insight into the context within which a paradigm is actually shifted. Kuhn further recognizes that the process is one of conversion, in which persuasion plays the most important role, but he does not label it a political process or political persuasion.

How then might we extend the analogy? First the basic argument should be presented. It was mentioned above that just as political institutions may prove incapable of reform from within and consequently be overthrown from without, so too can paradigms undergo a similar experience; each in its own way because it cannot solve the problems


with which it is presented. In both instances the term revolution is an appropriate term to describe the transition which occurs when the legitimate process for change is circumvented. In the case of the political institution power is passed on through an overthrow of the government and not via constitutional means. In the case of a paradigm, it is replaced by converting potential adherents on the basis of a non-institutionalized act of faith rather than through an intersubjectively verifiable "act of faith demonstration." In other words, it is not a question of scientific method, but one of conviction.

BACK to Top


Granted that the above is correct how might the McDonald experience help in throwing light on the conversion-resistance process which I want to call a revolutionary political process? Let us examine the advantages of the incumbent paradigm in light of what is known about the advantages of incumbent political leaders.

A political leader carries the mantle of legitimacy as a result of coming to power through the legally prescribed procedures of the state. This legitimacy is one of the reasons he commands the allegiance of his constituents. Although, as Kuhn points out, paradigms always come to power by way of revolution, they nevertheless acquire an air of legitimacy as textbooks are rewritten to suggest an orderly ascension to power and as those scientists who know the true story become fewer and fewer with the passing of time. Consequently, paradigms too command the same sort of allegiance as a political regime. This allegiance is enhanced as a political regime meets increasingly more of the demands of its constituents or at least in one way or another leaves the


constituents with that impression. So too does allegiance to a paradigm grow as the number of explanations of heretofore insoluble problems increases.

Such an outcome should not be surprising. Just as politicians who owe their careers to a regime set the tone of the political issues which the party faithful confront, the elder statesmen of science, who made their names within the old paradigm, set the intellectual style for a particular era and by implication give support to the legitimate problems of the day. This is done in several ways. The equivalent of political largess in the scientific community is grant money. The elder statesmen have considerable control over who is funded through the refereeing of grant proposals and because their own work constitutes an indicator by example of what is priority research. [10]  So, in the same way as lower-level politicians must fall into line in order to keep funds from the central government flowing back to their constituencies, lower-level scientists must do acceptable research if they want to obtain funding. Moreover, in the name of the dominant paradigms the elder statesmen of science control the editorial boards of scholarly journals. Consequently, it is very difficult to publish a study which attacks a dominant paradigm, assuming the research is possible, without starting one's own journal. The phenomenon is similar to the immediate access the incumbent administration has to the news media while the rebels can only obtain coverage if they rape, pillage and loot.

BACK to Top


This brings us to the tactics which the rebel scientist must employ to bring about his paradigm shift in the face of overwhelming odds.


Granted, the case would be more impressive if McDonald succeeded. But that is not of great importance, for whether he was wrong or championed an idea whose time had not come, he nevertheless had experience in the personal politics of science. Therefore, regardless of the validity of the ends, we are probably safe in assuming the means are quite representative of those which would be employed by any Type III scientist in a similar situation.

Before enumerating specific tactics several distinctions are in order. Previously I mentioned that tactics are either normal or extreme. It should further be pointed out that both normal and extreme tactics are found in the revolutionary situation, but we would not expect extreme tactics in the normal science context. In other words, just because a revolutionary condition exists does not mean that only extreme tactics come into play, but it does mean that normal science situations only evoke normal tactics. The crucial thing to understand is at what point in both the normal and revolutionary scientific process that political tactics occur. In normal science political persuasion ends at the point that validation begins. Various tactics are used to further the scientist's interests, but only until it is time to validate. At that juncture the agreed-upon criteria of scientific persuasion in a given discipline are called up, and it is on those criteria that the scientist's work rises or falls. In the revolutionary instance, however, political persuasion occurs throughout the scientific process. This is because there are no agreed-upon criteria of verification between the opponents and proponents of the new paradigm. As a result the Type III scientist not only attempts to convince his audience of his findings, but also of his world view. It is in the latter instance where extreme tactics come into play.


With the above in mind let's examine the McDonald case with an eye to his tactics. We can again begin to flesh out the revolutionary analogy presented by Kuhn. While McDonald did his research and satisfied his own demands for proof of extraterrestrial visitation he knew that his evidence claims were not sufficient to convert the scientific community. So what did he do? He set out to make his case in person with as many leaders of the scientific, governmental and military communities as would listen to him. To do this he stumped the country to make conversions and get endorsements. If he could convert elite scientists he thought they might pry loose key grant money and/or force the government to look more closely at the problem. Congress might also lobby for a study or, as many hoped, conduct an investigation of the past efforts of the Air Force. In the case of the military, if they were actually in the dark and not conducting secret UFO research, conversions could possibly result in the mobilization of their well-funded research arms.

McDonald used the colloquium as a form of political rally. Between October 1966 and May 1969 he spoke on 96 separate occasions. In each instance he attacked some aspect of the conventional wisdom on UFOs in an attempt to foment discontent. To do this he undertook to show how prevailing paradigms did not explain UFO data and in the process tried to discredit the Air Force because of its staunch support for the incumbent world view. Therefore, the direction his efforts took was one intended to make the incumbent paradigms appear inadequate to the task of explaining the phenomenon. This is very reminiscent of the manner in which political revolutionaries try to convince the populace that the ruling regime is not solving the problems of the people.


McDonald was not above extreme tactics, of which we have examined two. Rather than permit the Condon Project to run amuck he blatantly interfered with its ongoing research in order to influence the verification process. This even extended to the development of his own intelligence network within the project staff and the newsstand exposure of what he considered mismanagement of the research. The other extreme constellation of tactics were associated with the Roush Hearings. Instead of taking part as a mere invited participant, he organized the proceedings. In lieu of a balanced presentation he packed the symposium with advocates of his own position. Moreover, in laying the groundwork for the Hearing he orchestrated his own write-in appeal to key Congressmen. Although in the long run these measures failed, at the time McDonald implemented them it was with the intent of making a case through political techniques which could not be won in the methodological arena of science.

While much of his activity might be called interest articulation McDonald also did considerable image manipulation. For example, just as the political activist often avoids confronting the real issue in favor of something less extreme and more palatable to his audience, so too did McDonald shy away from the question of extraterrestrial visitation. Initially he didn't mention it, then he began to use the circumlocution "the least unsatisfactory hypothesis," but still evaded the problem of craft occupants, and eventually he came to the point of publicly discussing reports of humanoid UFO occupants.

With his credibility in mind he also refused to do a National Lecture Bureau taping with Frank Edwards whose raconteur image left him uneasy. In addition, after his Tucson press experience he tried to


insure through Dick Hall that only first-class press people would cover his October 1966 "coming out" in Washington.

These examples show McDonald's sensitivity to the fact that both what he said and how he appeared effected the number of converts which he would make in the scientific, governmental and military communities. He knew that most scientists were conservative and that the governmental and military types functioned within bureaucratic structures which encouraged conformist rather than innovative behavior. Consequently, he didn't want to take the chance of frightening away any of these individuals by appearing too strident in his remarks, as the result of inaccurate publicity, or due to his association with people having suspect reputations.

BACK to Top


As a revolutionary McDonald would have to be labeled a failure since the revolution never took place. However, he acted at a time which, in retrospect, seemed ripe. The Air Force sponsored Condon Project gave an air of respectability to UFO studies which had never before, or since, been realized. Whether he carefully planned his entrance into the controversy to coincide with the new image of the phenomenon is unclear, but doubtful. What is clear is that the outcome of the Condon Study proved the turning point in McDonald's campaign. If Condon's conclusions had been positive UFO research, with McDonald at its forefront, would have experienced a vigorous period of growth. As it turned out, however, Condon's conclusions were negative and the weight of his prestige along with the seemingly official imprimatur of science proved more than McDonald could overcome.


Analogies are seldom perfect when moving from one realm of discourse to another. However, in this instance I believe the degree of isomorphism is sufficiently great to justify the endeavor. Although this fleshing out of the revolutionary analogy is incomplete, it nevertheless indicates the direction which I think fruitful thinking should take with respect to the problem of understanding paradigm shifts. For it would appear that as long as the scientific process at the level of the individual scientist is viewed as somehow transcending politics that we will never grasp, even in shadow form, the manner in which knowledge grows.


What happens in the potentially revolutionary situation, then, is that both extreme groups have no choice but to abandon scientific method for purposes of making their respective cases. They rely exclusively on extreme tactics to obtain conversions, although they each claim that they are providing a scientific demonstration of their position. Actual scientific method can only come into play once the set of assumptions underlying the paradigm in question is accepted by all concerned, or at least goes publicly unchallenged by the elder statesmen of science. For instance, if the UFO phenomenon were considered a legitimate area of research then an entire literature resulting from the use of scientific method could spring up around UFO types, landing cases, the geographical distribution of reports, etc. But as long as the validity of the phenomenon itself is in question, the funding necessary for the above undertakings will not be forthcoming.

Probably what is important in such a situation is not the number of converts which is made, but the amount of political influence they wield.


For the latter will determine if the area receives funding. And funding is in all likelihood the best indicator of legitimacy. This is because once a paradigm is well heeled and has its own journals within which to publish it is less open to attack even if critics exist who disagree with its underlying assumptions.

No doubt this is because legitimacy decreases the efficacy of such an attack to almost nil. Prior to obtaining legitimacy the paradigm shatterers need to respond to criticism because the burden of proof is essentially on their shoulders. They want the scarce resources of society to pursue their work and cannot afford to ignore detractors whose arguments might derail the revolution. Once established, however, a dialogue becomes unimportant to the victors who can ignore attack from without and in this manner extinguish such behavior on the part of those with whom they do not share assumptions.

Of course, this begins the cycle of knowledge growth all over again. Were the UFO phenomenon legitimated, for instance, and a successful research tradition developed around the subject-area over let us say a period of 25 years, then the former paradigm shatterers and their world view would become an entrenched paradigm. The revolutionaries of today would in many instances become the reactionaries of tomorrow as "young upstarts," questioned the assumptions of the UFO paradigm by claiming that it constrained them in their desire to study a potentially anomalous phenomenon. The fact that this process has essentially escaped the inquiring eye of the political scientist suggests something about both science and political science. The former as an institution and ongoing method of acquiring knowledge has over the past 300 years attained a status very similar to that which was once reserved for the Catholic church.


As a result of its unquestionable success and the lack of a history of science based upon first-hand experience, the chroniclers of scientific activity have tended to take the word of scientists themselves for how science is done. This, along with the writings of numerous twentieth century philosophers of science, has all but removed the human element from science and substituted for it a formalism focused on scientific method to the exclusion of the attendant social processes which I have called political. [11]

I think political scientists have by and large acquiesced to this for several reasons. Foremost is the fact that the personal politics of science is not within the traditionally accepted scope of the discipline. For instance, it often will have nothing to do with government. Consequently, since it could be argued that the prevailing world view in political science considers a governmental orientation (however broadly defined) as requisite to doing political science it is not surprising that very few political scientists want to engage in an endeavor which could be construed by their peers as something other than political science. In addition, the past fifteen years has seen an attempt within the discipline to make it more rigorous, to emphasize the "science" rather than the "political" in its name. While the merits of this undertaking are not at issue here it should be obvious that it is unlikely that individuals engaged in an attempt to inject a traditionally soft subject with a hard epistemology would find the personal politics of science an appealing area of inquiry. This is true because an acceptance of the personal politics of science tends to reduce the polarity between the traditional and contemporary modes of political

BACK to Top


inquiry. In other words, it acts to undermine rather than support strong arguments in favor of change in the direction of rigor.

However, it would appear that the battle over the degree of rigor appropriate to the study of political phenomena are over. In retrospect we can see that victories were few and far between with the participants in the imbroglio, while they have mellowed a bit over the years, essentially clinging to their initial positions. Nevertheless, now that a period of peaceful coexistence pervades the discipline, reducing the demands for orthodoxy, the climate may be more suitable to the study of heretofore unacceptable subjects. Ideally within this context the study of the personal politics of science will have an opportunity to flourish.



  1. This chapter uses the normal and revolutionary science concepts as defined by Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edition, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970, pp. 23-43, 92-110.Back To Text

  2. Milton Rokeach, The Open and Closed Mind, New York: Basic Books, 1960.Back To Text

  3. R.A. McConnell, "ESP and Credibility in Science," American Psychologist, 1969, 24, pp. 531-38.Back To Text

  4. See Alfred DeGrazia, "The Scientific Reception System and Dr. Velikovsky," The American Behavioral Scientist, September, 1963, pp. 45-49, for a discussion of the rational model of science.Back To Text

  5. Donald Menzel, "UFOs: The Modern Myth," in Carl Sagan and Thornton Page (eds.), UFOs: A Scientific Debate, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1972, pp. 123-24.Back To Text

  6. William Markowitz, "The Physics and Metaphysics of Unidentified Flying Objects," Science. September 15, 1967, p. 1279.Back To Text

  7. Edward U. Condon, "UFOs I have Loved and Lost," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. Vol. 113, No. 6, 1969, p. 427.Back To Text

  8. See J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry, Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1972, for a subdued but elegant plea to the scientific community.Back To Text

  9. Op. cit., pp. 92-93.Back To Text

  10. This hypothesis would seem to be intuitively obvious. It says something about the politics of science of social scientists that it apparently has not been researched.Back To Text

  11. See F.S. Kessel, "Philosophy of Science as Proclaimed and Science as Practiced," American Psychologist, 1969, 24, pp. 999-1005, for a discussion of the latter problem.Back To Text

BACK to Top