UFOs are an intriguing scientific problem; Congress must act accordingly


“The lack of wings and the obvious lack of propulsion means clearly exclude conventional planes and helicopters. Many are silent, many move at such speeds and with such accelerations that they defy understanding in terms of current technology.

This description – which describes an intriguing scientific problem – could easily apply to the mysterious flying objects encountered by military aviators in recent years. In 2014 and 2015, for example, Navy pilots tracked unidentified craft apparently capable of spinning, stopping in midair, and accelerating rapidly “without a jet engine, no exhaust plume” and no wings.

A few years earlier, at least five Navy aviators witnessed an object which, as one squadron commander later recounted, had no “wings and rotors and surpass our F-18s”Accelerating to extreme speeds in the blink of an eye.

According to the former director of national intelligence John ratcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHow UFO Transparency Can Unite a Deeply Divided Nation Centrists Gain Foothold in Infrastructure Talks; cyberattacks at the center of the Biden-Putin meeting Five things to know about the new UFO spotlight MORE, unidentified objects engage in “actions that are difficult to explain.” Movements that are difficult to reproduce, for which we do not have the technology, or which move at speeds exceeding the sound barrier without sonic boom. Asked about these encounters, Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTop GOP health policy adviser to run for California comptroller Sinema emerges as Senate negotiator amid progressive angst McConnell has tough choices to make (R-Utah) referred to “technology that sits in a whole different realm than anything we understand.”

Likewise, former President Obama said that “there are pictures and recordings of objects in the sky, which we don’t know exactly what they are. We cannot explain how they moved. Obama’s CIA director, John brennanJohn Owen Brennan How UFO Transparency Can Unite a Deeply Divided Nation World’s Most Passionate UFO Skeptic Against Government Five Things to Know About New UFO Spotlight MORE, went further, speculating that these mysterious devices could constitute “a different form of life”.

But the description at the top of this column is not that of a senior government official or a pilot. Nor, despite the similarities, does it describe any recent UFO encounters.

Instead, it is an excerpt from the 1968 Congressional testimony of the late James McDonald, a distinguished atmospheric physicist and professor of meteorology at the University of Arizona.

Initially skeptical with only a tangential interest in UFOs, McDonald’s found his scientific curiosity aroused after discovering that the official explanations for several notable UFO sightings were absurdly unscientific.

After spending years combing declassified documents and scrupulously tracking down more than 500 witnesses, McDonald’s has become the world’s foremost scientific authority on UFOs. Perhaps most intriguing, his archives of extraordinary physics-defying UFO reports spanning the mid-1940s to the late 1960s have remarkable parallels with more recent incidents.

Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s painstaking research has taken it from skeptic to open advocate of serious academic study of UFOs. But as an exasperated McDonald’s told Congress, the scientific community “has casually dismissed a matter of extraordinary scientific importance as nonsense.”

J. Allen Hynek, chairman of the Department of Astronomy at Northwestern University, testified alongside McDonald’s at that 1968 UFO hearing. Hynek, like McDonald’s, began his college career as a fierce UFO skeptic. But after two decades as a consultant for a U.S. Air Force project documenting UFO sightings, Hynek had seen enough compelling data to implore Congress and the scientific community to initiate a strong and fiercely independent academic investigation into such encounters.

Scientists today are generally dismissive of UFO reports. While most contemporary academics are unaware of Hynek and McDonald’s meticulous research, any scientist or skeptic would do themselves a favor by reading Hynek’s concise reflections on a 20-year career investigating the UFO phenomenon.

Hynek and McDonald were particularly struck by the sincerity, good judgment and professional caliber of the hundreds of often reluctant witnesses who had nothing to gain – and much to lose – in reporting UFO sightings. Additionally, McDonald and Hynek found that radar and other technical data corroborated credible eyewitness accounts in many of the more notable incidents. As Hynek observed, the skepticism on the subject of UFOs is largely due to the lack of exposure of scientists to such “really difficult UFO data”.

Moreover, much of the aversion to serious investigation of these phenomena is rooted in the findings of a massive 1969 report funded by the US Air Force. Billed as the last word on UFOs, the 1,000-page executive summary asserted that “a thorough study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the hope that science will advance in this way.”

But that conclusion, written by physicist Edward Condon and reported by mainstream media at the time, did not reflect significant scientific analysis in the report. Contrary to Condon’s recommendation against the academic study of UFOs, the scientific consensus of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics estimated that “a phenomenon with such a high rate of unexplained cases (about 30% in the report itself) even) should arouse sufficient curiosity to continue studying.

McDonald, Hynek and several other experts have also made it clear that much of the so-called Condon Report is unforgivable. It was biased from the start, omitted important cases and critical context, relied on poor or non-existent witness interviews, and frequently attributed absurd and unscientific explanations to extraordinary events.

As Stanford physicist Peter Sturrock noted, “critics [of the report] came from those scientists who had actually carried out research in the field of UFOs, while the rave reviews came from scientists who had not carried out such research.

But for an academic community already wary of getting involved in a topic associated with wacky UFO fanatics and bizarre science fiction works, the report’s overall recommendation against rigorous academic study of UFOs was – as Hynek accurately noted – “the kiss of death upon further investigation.” Half a century later, little has changed. With few exceptions, the stigma remains largely.

After the report was released, an exasperated McDonald spoke at a symposium hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, telling colleagues that “science is at fault for failing to mount truly adequate studies. sure [the UFO] problem. ”The audio recording of McDonald’s AAAS presentation is a must-read for any skeptical scientist.

A few years before writing the book that inspired the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Hynek dug the root of the problem: “Misconceptions among scientists have been so powerful and global about the nature of UFO information. which an astonishing lethargy and apathy towards the inquiry has prevailed. This apathy is unworthy of the ideals of science and undermines public confidence. “

Make no mistake: these are remarkable statements from two academics who began their careers with deep skepticism of the UFO phenomenon.

With recent UFO encounters reflecting the incidents that have sparked academic curiosity from Hynek and McDonald, Congress must continue to assert itself on an issue that demands scientific investigation.

He can start by following Hynek’s recommendation to establish a “properly funded, scientific UFO committee” staffed with academic experts with access to relevant data. To mitigate national security concerns, sensitive information can be analyzed by Department of Energy and NASA scientists with security clearances.

As the proliferation of unchecked nuclear weapon barrels and a drought of “biblical proportions” grips the United States, Hynek’s rhetorical question to Congress whether we can “afford to overlook a potential breakthrough of great importance” is more relevant than ever.

Perhaps more importantly, as Hynek eloquently stated in his testimony to Congress, “even though the sole purpose of such a study is to satisfy human curiosity, to fathom the unknown, and to provide intellectual adventure. , then it conforms to what science has always stood for. for.”

Marik von Rennenkampff was an analyst in the Office of International Security and Non-Proliferation at the US State Department, as well as a person appointed by the Obama administration at the US Department of Defense. Follow him on twitter @MvonRen.

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