Friday, April 28, 2017

The UFO/Paranormal Coup

The line in the sand may likely fall in the middle
These days it's not hard to see it on social media outlets or hear it on podcasts and radio: the need to 'reform' UFOlogy, or the paranormal subject. While it's certainly an admirable idea across the board, and I certainly understand the drive to make it happen, there's one problem: it won't work. And I'm not denigrating anyone who's trying - years ago Jeremy and I tried to force the hand of the UFO community to examine itself while trying to make a totally new UFO field - one not based upon old, tired data but experimental thinking. Needless to say it never gelled, and while we made a modest impact in regard to the Hopkins/Jacobs/Regression Hypnosis problem, proponents of that garbage are still lecturing and appearing as guests on internet/radio programs.

George Hansen, speaking to Jeremy at a conference in New Jersey many years ago now was the first to make the point that we were blissfully unaware of at the time: that trying to reform or enact widespread change in regard to the paranormal isn't going to work, when the very thing you're trying to study exists within a context of anti-structure and marginality. It exists ensconced in the things one wants to change.

By examining the surrounding tenets of paranormal events (as we've been discussing on this blog) we see that the structured, repeatable, stable and routine (and others) are pernicious to the paranormal. We can't pretend we know why the paranormal is so steeped in chaos and change, and encompassed in marginal elements - we can only note that it is. Recognition of these patterns and documenting them is half the battle. Accepting and integrating them is the other.

Efforts at scientific data gathering are always to be encouraged - but scientific rationale of the data collected will see most of that information discarded because it doesn't align with modern day scientific scrutiny. Scientific data gathering doesn't currently allow for questions that would focus upon the anti-structural elements (among others) and I'm sure that there wouldn't be much use for questions or methodologies that immediately marginalize the thing you're trying to study. The entire premise may find itself well off the target it's trying to hit - because there's no sights on the gun.

On-site scientific data collection and analysis is also costly. As mentioned on this blog, the funding just isn't available, because the public at large doesn't support serious inquiry into these topics. In fact, the populace sides against this type of study - evident by the operating budgets of CSICOP vs MUFON, and their subscribers/readers. The interest is there, but the money doesn't follow. When a case involving a ranch that had significant strange activity was discovered - it was privately funded and all scientifically collected data that came from it has never been released to the public.

Michael Huntington in his paper, "A NEW UFOLOGY: A Critical Examination of the Current State of Ufology and Ideas for Reform" states:

"The UFO Culture needs to be less biased towards ETH, less New Age, less Cult-like, less money-oriented, less commercially-oriented, less celebrity oriented, and less biased against skeptical viewpoints and Mainstream Science/Academia. There needs to be better delineation of Ufology from the paranormal realm (Ancient Aliens, Bigfoot, Spiritualism, etc.) that now cross-pollinates and influences the UFO field."

This is a tall order, and one that's impossible for the UFO field to adhere to. First, to remove the cultish, wish-fulfillment, celebrity oriented mess that it is now means that entire structure has to be torn down. And that's not going to happen anytime soon. This in the end is what the public at large wants. Pouring over scientific data isn't fun. It's also not entertaining. It's hard work that requires thought, dedication and critical thinking. I only need point out Project CORE, a 2-year long preliminary study of those people who report paranormal events. CORE was anticipated for well over a year, involved 3 full-time working research scientists, myself and Jeremy Vaeni and over 200 participants - and was complete with a synopsis of results and full commentaries - it was largely ignored. It's initial year in public view after publication garnered page views of a little over 20. 

I believe it was so under viewed because it didn't make wild speculations or conclusions and was labeled as a first step. It also didn't ask questions that were predisposed to get us positive paranormal results (like the F.R.E.E. survey currently does. For instance, we didn't ask things like "Can you describe what group of ETs have you observed?"). The CORE survey questions were specifically formulated in tandem with working scientists to make the questions as balanced as possible, and afterwards those results were cross referenced probably more than most paranormal surveys ever have been. CORE answered the community call for science to get involved in this area - but in the end, the public simply wasn't interested. But even that, in the end, is something learned.

The preliminary look...
CORE is certainly not the first to experience the crickets - this as it turns out is not uncommon. It's part and parcel to how the field(s) work. Scientific or academic work is ignored, and sensational nonsense is elevated for all eyes to see. (Compare Project CORE's visibility to the Roswell Slides, the Haiti UFO Footage or the Linda Howe touted Drone fiasco.) Now while it may sound like I'm bitter about this (well ok, I am to a point) I recognize that this should in no way dissuade me from CORE Phase II. This is simply the way the field responds to this kind of work. It's no one's fault, and you have to expect that going in. Those that actually want to see attempts at scientific / academic work, specifically in UFOlogy are a minority in the grand scheme.

As far as 'less celebrity oriented'? Well, try and speak that to the droves of people who voraciously support UFO celebs. I respect Michael and his drive in this subject very much - but if one is going to call for the removal of celebrity and sensationalism in the UFO field, one should stop supporting that very thing by going to conferences - unless one is reaching for that same brass ring. (Although Mike is a travel writer, and that is ultimately content for him.)

The celebs and their devoted fans are another interesting wrinkle in the subject. Many fans will ardently defend their hero no matter how far afield they fly from their initial trajectory. It's part of the loss of critical thought so often seen in paranormal fields. Celebrities often fill a void for fans: they are the public mouthpiece that validates their own preconceived notions. This provides a shortcut to pseudo-confirmation for those who don't want to do direct study and experimentation of the phenomenon. They put all their marbles in one bag and defend it not always due to being enamored with the celebrity, but because the celebrity represents their beliefs. 

The one and only issue
As Dr, Tyler Kokjohn  wrote in Paratopia Magazine : 

"...the consumers of books, articles and videos play a unique and crucial role as the ultimate evaluators of quality. Your decisions will determine the evidentiary standards and research conduct that will prevail in this field."

Another quote from Huntington's paper reads:

"There needs to be better delineation of Ufology from the paranormal realm (Ancient Aliens, Bigfoot, Spiritualism, etc.) that now cross-pollinates and influences the UFO field." 

This is a good example of the self-defeating nature of 'reform' I mentioned earlier. Many reform proponents want to draw a line between 'paranormal' and 'UFO', when that line is exceedingly blurred by the study of UFOs in the first place. The crossover phenomena is something that I think many see these days. While it's not an end to explain anything, it's a thread that needs to be explored and studied. Even Jacques Vallee (a reclusive UFO  'celebrity') who's studied the phenomenon longer than most of us alive today, has largely dismissed the notion of an isolated UFO study, and has spoken about and studied crossover type phenomena. Segregation and isolation of the UFO subject from other areas of paranormal events would be a mistake, just as much as isolation from the study of consciousness and perception would be, Such things are obviously intertwined with the UFO sighting and encounters with assumed occupants. 

When it comes to collecting trace evidence of a paranormal event - sure, I'm all about sterile. non-contaminating, scientifically based collection and analysis. But this brings us to the question: when it comes to UFOs - how does one separate the strange, bizarre and confounding enigma from say, the top secret military / secret commercial project? The perception twisting alien visitation, from mental aberration? There is currently, no way to effectively establish the line that does need to be drawn. Could it be possible to implement a set of questions relating to anti-structure and marginality - making note of liminal situations, places and people to perhaps give a better picture to the phenomena vs mundane question? It might. But that would require UFOlogy to abandon long standing constructs - which it shows no sign of doing. When I've mentioned some questions that might do the trick to researchers, most often I hear "What's that got to do with anything?"

You're not going to get MUFON to see these surrounding consistencies or formulate cross  pollination questions - they've been putting people into investigator positions based on an open book test for years. If reform is the target, a start a serious test that isn't open book and is administered and graded by tough academic standards would be a good place.

Huntington's reform works for some aspects of the UFO research problem - don't misunderstand me, I value his attempt. But he's far from the first to suggest such a thing, and surely won't be the last. The notion has been going around for decades. And, like all the others who tried (myself included) it just won't happen. At least not in the broad sense desired. 

It's not about reforming UFOlogy (or the paranormal studies) - it's about accepting all the self-negating, and marginal aspects that come with it. It's about expecting hoaxes and recognizing them for what they are - but it's also about accepting that they often come in the same bag as the enigma we want to study (when is the last time you saw a hoaxer interviewed as much as a witness?). We need to see that many of the UFO celebs are people who couldn't get arrested in any other field - and see that in itself as an interesting consistency that needs to be studied. There are many interesting facets that deserve study - but they aren't going to provide a brass ring. My own opinion is that researchers need to stop pursuing an 'end' or resolution of the problem. To do so means you already have an 'end' in mind. Huntington is absolutely right when he says a more neutral stance is needed - but if one were truly neutral, it's likely that one wouldn't be in this to start with. 

In the end, reform talk is good for morale, and even some aspects of practical study - but the phenomena we're all trying to study routinely blurs the boundaries of acceptance, fact, legitimacy and absurdity. Reform must account for that - but many reform parameters are counter to it. It's not that the subject is a losing battle or not worth the effort - it's about re-focusing on what happens and to whom - rather than what we think or believe that it is. Observe, Everything. Reform...you.


Michael Huntington concludes his final paragraph with "Yes, Ufology is at a crossroad in it’s long history."

It's not at a crossroad, it is the crossroad. Crossroads represent a location between worlds. On that, I couldn't agree more. 🔻








Note: Michael Huntington's well-written paper on reform was apparently plagiarized and put up for sale by someone else just as I finished this post. I think the issue has been resolved. Ufology rolls on.

My thanks to Michael for writing the paper in the first place, and as soon as he has it posted publicly I'll link it here. 

5 comments:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say here. It's refreshing to find rational voices in the UFO field. I'm going to follow your blog and will seek out your scientific project report. While not many people share your rationality, some of us do.

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  2. Thanks Roberto - I think more people share the thought than you'd think, but like most things there's a stigma to not admit being hoodwinked, or having to backpeddle when one realizes their theory isn't working anymore. No one wants to re-evaluate their ideas - it's pick the theory and no matter what, they stick with it. The cognitive dissonance is so very rampant in UFOlogy and other paranormal interests.

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    1. You're right. Imagine being Budd Hopkins and having to admit that hypnosis wasn't so reliable as one had thought, after spending 20 years basing all beliefs on it. Better stick with it.

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  3. Rock on, Ritzmann. I'll be one of the first to plunk down a subscription if you should ever re-launch Paratopia's magazine.

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    1. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one Nelson - a little too much work to put out a publication like that again. Would rather focus my time on experimentation and research into the phenomenon. But I thank you for your enthusiasm sir! ;)

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