Origins of the Study|
The McDonald Papers
Proposal to NSF
Initial Research Orientation
Research Orientation Reconsidered
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The origins of most research projects and the accompanying predispositions of the researcher(s) are seldom disclosed in the final report. However, in this instance I believe a discussion of the above matters, as well as the substantive UFO question, is in keeping with the spirit of the research in general and deserves inclusion. Moreover, it will aid the reader in two important respects.
First, the reader will naturally wonder how I became involved with the subject of Unidentified Flying Objects and, in particular, the chronicling of five years in the career of a scientist who spent this period of his life on what most members of the scientific community would consider a nonsense subject. Secondly, although my bias will be self-evident in the fashion in which I present my material, I believe it is appropriate to indicate the evolution of my beliefs about the UFO question and why I hold them; this will in turn benefit the reader in his attempt to evaluate the work as a whole.
As the title of the dissertation suggests, the research focuses on the politics of science. Not the usual politics of science (usual in the sense of what is written about) which generally speaks to questions of how government interacts with the scientific community, but rather what I will call the "personal politics of science." This consists primarily of how scientists interact with one another, and an explication of the personal strategies they adopt in the pursuance of their science-related goals.
The research did not begin with this objective. It started in early 1971 when I decided that I would do my dissertation on the only
topic for which I had a burning substantive interest -- Unidentified Flying Objects. In the jargon of the field of ufology I was a believer. By this I mean I felt that the Earth was experiencing extraterrestrial visitation. The question of what political framework would fit my subject matter, or indeed, what my subject matter really consisted of, did not disturb me. Everything is political, or historical or psychological, etc., depending on one's field of study. It was only a question, I felt, of getting the proper handle on the data. And so I proceeded.
The first handle I attempted to grasp was the conspiracy hypothesis. Based on reading twenty or so volumes on the UFO problem I concluded the government and/or the Air Force intentionally covered-up the fact that the Earth was experiencing extraterrestrial visitation by what appeared to be intelligently controlled space vehicles. I spent six months reading the UFO literature in an effort to glean conspiracy information from it. During this initiation into the field a number of things became apparent. First, as with any borderland field of inquiry, I found books and articles difficult to acquire. The University of Hawaii Library collection, for instance, is limited, as is that of every other library in the country. I obtained most of my material on interlibrary loan. Moreover, there are no UFO journals that, for lack of a better term, could be called "professional," i.e., exhibiting the standards of scholarship expected in an academic journal. Secondly, the quality of the scholarship in the field is highly variable. This is something I cannot easily demonstrate, and will not take the time to try, but let it suffice to say that when one reads about trips that an author took to Venus, how Martians engineered the Northeast power
blackout of 1965 and that UFOs are spaceships returning to the long lost continent of Atlantis it takes no great acumen to realize that the ground on which one is attempting to build needs shoring up. Yet this proved to be only the beginning of a problem that had a way of coming full circle. Initially I thought I could believe anyone who appeared articulate, well-schooled and sincere. However, as I continued to read I came upon contradictions between and within camps of UFO authors. This proved disquieting and led me via this or that circuitous psychological predispositional route to accept some and reject others. Not being either sufficiently perspicacious to see beyond my own set of assumptions or to kick one of them out from under my perceptual filters I decided to restrict myself to what seemed to be, given the literature, a conservative stance. Namely, that UFOs were extraterrestrial in nature and the government and/or the Air Force conspired to keep this from the public.
My strategy became one intended to circumvent all of the "suspect" literature. At this point, the summer of 1971, it seemed that a circumstantial evidence approach to the conspiracy hypothesis, largely using indirect government documentation, might be the answer. To make a long story short, I developed a design, the output from which suggested several alternative interpretations. My committee recognized this and subsequently I dropped the conspiracy hypothesis from my research plans, although not from the back of my mind.
Continuing my search for the doable my committee chairman offered the suggestion that I might pursue government policy toward the UFO question since it was political and probably could be nailed down. This appeared to be a worthwhile idea because at the time I wanted to
develop a proposal which made the UFO problem a question of foreign policy -- they weren't from here were they? Of course, this conception depended for its success on the acceptance by my committee that the UFO problem was what I said it was, namely extraterrestrial visitation, and that this neglected aspect of the American Foreign Policy literature deserved study.
At this time the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO)  of Tucson, Arizona, announced its first academic UFO symposium to be held in November of 1971 at the University of Arizona. APRO or fifteen academics were scheduled to speak and it seemed a fine opportunity to determine what the "Invisible College" did.  So on November 19, 1971 off I went with vague notions of government policy/conspiracy floating in my head and high hopes of learning about the inside knowledge developed by the participants in the symposium.
As it turned out the symposium speakers did not know much more about UFOs than I did. Most tried to focus their field of expertise on the subject, but the efforts, even then, seemed primitive to me at best. However I did meet Coral and Jim Lorenzen who formed APRO in 1952 and continue to keep it going. And most fortunately I met Richard Greenwell, a British resident alien by way of Peru, the assistant director of APRO. Being of the same age and having similar temperaments and interests enabled us to quickly become friends. This proved most propitious because the Lorenzens were older, more distant, and consequently more difficult to talk to.
One of the reasons I came to Tucson was to look at the APRO files which I thought might help me get a feel for the government and the Air Force policy. I also hoped to acquire copies of some of the
rare Air Force reports I expected APRO to have. I did that and more. The volume of available periodical literature I found overwhelming. I examined more material in three days than in the previous eight months. When I finished Greenwell asked me if I would like to go with him on his weekly trip to straighten up the files of the late Dr. James E. McDonald. I casually agreed. I had heard of McDonald, a noted atmospheric physicist at the University of Arizona who did UFO work, but I did not want to see his files. As far as I knew he never wrote anything relating to government policy.
THE MCDONALD PAPERS
Once I began perusing his papers, however, it became obvious they were a significant find. Unfortunately I didn't know quite what to do with it. My government policy notions made me select some material, while the politics of science perspective began creeping in and influencing my choice of other data. I half-heartedly changed research designs in midstream. I Xeroxed about one-thousand pages of McDonald correspondence, but remained uncertain what I would do with it.
After sixteen days in Tucson I went on to Washington, D.C., where I spent two weeks at the National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP).  There Stuart Nixon, the Executive Secretary, opened his files to me also. Again it was an unbelievable experience. The inside of the UFO world seemed a fascinating mix of plot and counterplot; the politics of science again.
I returned to Hawaii full of enthusiasm with my two-thousand or so Xeroxed pages. The politics of science appeared to be the most intriguing aspect of the UFO question I could pursue, yet I didn't feel I obtained all the material I needed to examine the UFO controversy as a whole. I thought if McDonald did so much, surely other scientists
made similar contributions. My new goal became another trip. In my naivete I assumed all (or at least most) of the scientists in the controversy would like to get their points of view represented in my dissertation.
The trip considerably influenced the credibility I imputed to various investigators and hypotheses. For instance, there is really no way to convey how impressed I became with McDonald. If there were some doubts in my mind about the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH), after going through his files they were alleviated. As a respected atmospheric physicist who examined the problem for almost five years, who was esteemed in his own field, sat on NAS panels, and spoke to Navy, Air Force, NASA and aerospace groups he seemed to personify credibility.
A further benefit which accrued to me as a result of going through the files at APRO and NICAP was the opportunity to observe the style in which many of the authors I previously read, communicated, both without an intervening editor and when they thought their true views would not lose them readers. For me this proved a useful exercise. When I returned to Hawaii I felt like an insider. However, I also was aware of the fact that in terms of overall knowledge of the scientific controversy surrounding the UFO phenomenon my understanding left much to be desired.
PROPOSAL TO NSF
Therefore, 1972 became the year to write a proposal to finance a second trip. The task became formidable, both because of the political nature of my topic, namely, how scientists interact over a potentially anomalous phenomenon, and because of my total lack of experience in proposal-writing. I felt that I had to disguise what I was doing because the scientist readers at the National Science Foundation would
not want to admit science is political and by implication the NSF and its funding policies. Yet, at the same time I needed to score enough points to make my work look worthwhile in social science terms.
During the proposal-writing period I began making plans for my prospective trip. This meant writing those scientists and laymen who I thought could be of assistance. The result proved mixed, but further honed my critical faculties. My expectations were that a letter, possibly two, would enable the making of introductions, the laying out of my research design and the agreement, or lack of it, on the part of the correspondent. This is, in fact, the manner in which it occurred, except with Donald Menzel, an astronomer at Harvard, and Philip Klass, Senior Avionics Editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine -- the two foremost anti-UFO authors. Both were very cordial at first, but by the second letter Menzel became upset. Initially he wanted to obtain funding for my work, but when he better understood my intentions via my second missive, I suddenly became a "cultist" and "incapable of thinking logically." However, the important point about these exchanges and those which followed over the next year is that they confronted me with the other extreme and forced me to reconsider the positions which only months before appeared so tenable. Suddenly the ground under my feet was shifting again. It wasn't that Menzel and Klass were necessarily correct in what they said, it was that I could not demonstrate that they were incorrect. In addition, the communications exposed me to a perceptual distortion which I had never before experienced. Rereading their letters in an attempt to make sense out of some paragraphs which at the time seemed random, it finally occurred to me that because our assumptions were so divergent and most of the time
left unstated, that we often spoke totally by one another, we were in different worlds. As a result, we each filled in the blanks in such a way as to make meaningful communication virtually impossible. At any rate, as the eternal verities of my UFO world began to crumble and the demands of proposal-writing increased, I removed myself further and further from the disconcerting spaceship aspects of the UFO problem and became immersed in the procedural questions of the politics of science of the issue. Also I started to think about the psychological makeup of extremists, such as Menzel and myself, and why we do what we do and think what we think.
In my NSF proposal I tried to be neutral, jargonish and in good form, but I could not manage. In looking back on it the proposal contained numerous methodological problems. However, above and beyond that, my framework for analysis (from DeGrazia's book on Velikovsky), my orientation (only poorly disguised), the case study material, and lastly the personal politics of science label probably made the proposal one of those least likely to succeed. In May of 1973 I received formal word of the rejection.
However, my plans were already taking shape and I felt I could not turn back at that point. So I took out a student loan and made the trip anyway. It required ten weeks of travel and proved most productive. Nevertheless, I did encounter a few setbacks.
INITIAL RESEARCH ORIENTATION
When the trip began I conceived of the project as one in which I would try to present both sides of the UFO controversy in as unbiased a manner as I could. To me it appeared that extraterrestrial visitation might be occurring, but my ardor and conviction for that position waned over the previous year. My ostensible orientation was towards
determining if scientific due process had been accorded the UFO phenomenon. Of course, I felt scientific due process was an ideal type which neither side in the controversy would live up to and so I would use it as a straw man to give me an opportunity to investigate and chronicle the activities of the scientists who studied UFOs. In short, to tell a political story with a modicum of framework and social science jargon.
However, I found after a short time on the road that the negative position would be difficult to obtain. First of all, only a few people represent that position. By this I mean that they write about and/or investigate UFOs and debunk the subject. Dr. Donald Menzel, formerly head of the Harvard Observatory is one of those men. He gave me access to his papers, which contained a wealth of information, at the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia. I asked that some eight-hundred pages be Xeroxed by the library and sent on to me in Hawaii. What I did not realize, and was not told until later, was that I only had note-taking privileges. When the Librarian contacted Menzel about the Xeroxing, he refused permission. Why did he do so? As he put it, he felt I intended to portray him as the "arch demon of saucerdom" and also mentioned something about Xeroxing tending to reduce the value of the collection in Philadelphia. He drew the arch demon conclusion for a number of reasons. First, in my previous trip I visited both NICAP and APRO, but not him. He felt both organizations consisted of kooks, crackpots and cultists. Secondly, for a year-and-one-half prior to my second trip we corresponded and disagreed on many issues related to the UFO question and research methodology. I never took a positive position on the ETH, but he always attacked me as if I did.
I played devil's advocate and countered some highly insulting letters with equally scathing retorts. I am afraid this proved my undoing. As I look back in dismay and embarrassment, I don't believe I can begin to conceive of, much less convey to the reader, what the former head of the Harvard Observatory and paragon of twentieth century astrophysics must have felt when he read counter-argumentation from an upstart graduate student -- in the social sciences at that. Thirdly, immediately after perusing Menzel's papers, I visited Philip Klass in Washington, D.C. Klass and I were at loggerheads almost from the moment we met. I came to get data, but he insisted on drawing me into arguments to convert me to his position. Consequently, my three-day visit with him was difficult. I attempted to avoid offending him, but lost my temper several times and almost lost the data I came for. As it was I think I acquired only the tip of the iceberg. But more importantly I believe he informed Menzel, who I had not met, that I could not be trusted. Subsequently, Menzel indicated that I could have the APS material if I could demonstrate that "I am a fair and objective researcher" -- a concept I don't believe in and which he knew we discussed in previous correspondence.
It is very easy to fall into the perceptual trap which Menzel used to filter my position. Namely that I want to settle the UFO controversy, that is, speak to the reality of the UFO data, and assess blame to those members of the scientific community who acted improperly. This is not the case. Of course, there is good reason for Menzel to believe this, for at one time, in my zeal, I did intend to do so. This undoubtedly was indirectly communicated in our correspondence, although I tried to downplay the issue. In addition, Menzel did receive a copy of my NSF
proposal which I intended to be a neutral document, but which I suspect was not construed as such by the disinterested observer and, therefore, to Menzel it must have appeared a polemic.
Besides Menzel two other people who might have provided insight into the negative position refused to see me or permit me to examine their files. Most importantly Dr. Edward Condon (recently deceased), who had been the principal investigator in the Air Force sponsored 1966-68 University of Colorado UFO study. At the time his refusal was understandable since he underwent heart surgery only two months prior to my visit. However, over the phone he made it clear that the UFO phenomenon was a crackpot subject and I should give up my research.
Robert Low, the administrator of the Condon Project, was of the same opinion. In his first letter to me he indicated that my dissertation did not merit the approval of my department and that he would not help me. In my second letter to him I pointed out that if he thought my proposal would not be accepted, he labored under a misconception because acceptance had already taken place. Moreover, I explained that a number of academics had agreed to cooperate and were enthused by the idea. I also let it be known that Low's name had come up many times, in the course of corresponding with other participants in the controversy, but I hoped to hear his role described as only he could recount it.
Low's reply was not what I expected. He said there was nothing befitting a Ph.D. thesis in the physical or social sciences in the UFO phenomenon and that acceptance on the part of my department reflected adversely on its members. He said I could learn all he could tell me in the Condon Report and my research was "a waste of time."
My surmise is that both Condon and Low suspected my work would turn out to be something similar to the volume written by David Saunders  whom Condon fired from the Study and who later wrote an expose of the project's inner workings.
Of course, it would be unfair of me to suggest that only the anti-UFO scientists were uncooperative. For instance. Norm Levine, also fired from the Condon Project, did not respond to my letters. When in Boulder, primarily to see Saunders and Condon, I decided to call Mary Lou Armstrong, Condon's administrative assistant, who resigned in vehement protest over the handling of the project in general, and the firing of Saunders and Levine in particular. She too refused to see me, referring me to Saunders. Also Jacques Vallee, presently at Stanford's Institute for the Study of the Future, and one of the foremost contributors to the field of ufology, refused to respond to my letters. In a round-about, fortuitous fashion I managed eventually, arriving unannounced, to spend two informative hours with him, but he said he had no data to contribute. Lastly, James Harder of the Berkeley Engineering Department was another potentially good source who showed no interest in becoming a contributor to, and therefore an actor in, my dissertation.
In defense of everyone cited, both pro and con, I can understand their various desires for anonymity, to avoid being quoted out of context and just generally to keep an outsider from reading their mail. Yet, let's call these decisions by their proper names. They are political decisions, i.e., to insure tenure, escape controversy, retain reputations, keep some "so-called" extrascientific behaviors secret, obviate the possibility of inadvertently contributing material to the "wrong side" of the controversy, and to evade any responsibility for furnishing data to the personal politics of science literature.
RESEARCH ORIENTATION RECONSIDERED
Nevertheless, a positive outgrowth of this experience is that it forced me to move away from consideration of my scientific due process orientation, i.e., did the UFO phenomenon receive scientific due process, which required a strong two-sided presentation toward a conception of the scientific process as a political process. The political process phenomenon can be amply demonstrated from one side of the controversy alone, or as in this case, from the standpoint of the correspondence constituting one scientist's communication net, and a bit of associated background and foreground information. In a sense, although the delimitation of my personal substantive goal of learning more about the politics of science of the total UFO controversy is involuntary, I have been forced to look beyond the "them" and "us" perspective that permeated my earlier thinking and am now in a better position to view all the actors in the controversy as "them." This is crucial because altering the research orientation means that a greater emphasis is placed on the political maneuverings of the participants in the controversy and none on which group is substantively or procedurally correct. Probably none of the protagonists desires to be portrayed as political in his scientific dealings; however, if this is true, then I have robbed Peter to pay Paul by my exchange of assumptions, but it is an exchange most political scientists should find tolerable.
Yet this does not mean my substantive UFO bias will not be a factor. I cannot help but filter my data through it, but at the intellectual level I am at least aware of this problem and to some degree am able to rectify it and alert the reader. Now may be an appropriate point to explain the nature of this bias.
I believe there are five ways in which one can reach a conclusion on the substantive aspects of the UFO question. First, one can hear about someone else's UFO sighting. Second, one can read about sightings and investigations performed by others. Third, one can make use of other investigators case reports to reach a conclusion. Fourth, one can go out into the field and do case investigations. Fifth, one can make his own sighting. Each of these approaches, or any combination of them, is subject to bias, but as one moves along the scale from one toward five I think that the credence that can be placed in one's own belief increases. (It should be noted that five demonstrates my bias that one phenomenon, a real UFO so to speak, exists. A skeptic would be quick to jump on the fact that UFOs consist of many kinds of natural and man-made phenomena which could not justify a generalization from a single case.) Most individuals opt for numbers one and two. A few opt for three and four. And we don't know how many have had five imposed upon them.
My research does not demand that I resolve this substantive UFO issue, but it is in the nature of a subject such as this that one does not get involved unless one has an axe to grind. My experience has been with people in all five of the above categories. Each group contains individuals of impressive intellectual and technical stature clinging to either a pro or con position for reasons he considers valid. Not being a case investigator and not having made a sighting my position is a function of the faith I put in the credibility and expertise of the witnesses and investigators who I have spoken with and read about. At this point in time it is my belief that the person who does not
investigate cases and has not had an alleged UFO sighting is taking a strong emotional position on whatever side of the issue he stands. This is also true, but to a lesser degree, of approaches four and five, given the nature of interviewer bias, the lack of intersubjectively verifiable evidence and the complexity of perceptual distortion.
Consequently, because I have not investigated cases nor made a sighting, my belief that people are observing anomalous data is very much a function of my psychological predisposition to believe one group of investigators over another. Not necessarily because they are correct, but because I would like to think they are correct. Naturally I believe that my analysis of their analyses has produced the truth. That is, which group is correct. However, at a meta-level of analysis, I know that psychological predisposition is playing a larger role in my conclusion than is intersubjectively verifiable evidence. So, just as the investigator musters as much evidence as he can to make his pro or con case vis-a-vis the UFO data, I do the identical thing with respect to the investigators.
Although I do not intend to speak to the question of the reality of UFOs in the course of this dissertation, the present explication should better enable the reader to understand the perceptual filter through which I view my subject. This is by way of saying: reader beware. I don't accept the extraterrestrial hypothesis without reservation, but my bias is in that direction. Therefore, this bias may subtly influence the manner in which the data in this study is arrayed. It may make one group of scientists appear to be "good guys" and the other group not so good. Forewarned is forearmed.