Revisiting Edward Ruppelt: Real skepticism is not a bad thing, and real skeptics deserve respectful consideration, no matter how much we disagree with them. Debunkers are those with an agenda requiring that they reject any suggestion of contrary evidence.
What brings me to all this is my recent reading of Edward J. Ruppelt’s “The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects,” 3rd edition. The 1st was published in 1951, almost prehistoric in the field of ufology. He added the last 3 chapters for the 3rd in 1955.
Ruppelt was the director of Project Grudge from late 1951 until it became Project Blue Book in March 1952; he remained with Blue Book until late 1953. Project Grudge was a shill for the Air Force’s position of denial, something soon recognized by Ruppelt. He seemed more impressed with the operation of Blue Book. But throughout the course of his narrative, the insidious nature of the determination of the AF, and of much of the entire scientific community, to debunk, seemed to have impacted his point of view.I cannot help but wonder what his opinion would be today, but sadly, he died in 1960 at the age of thirty-seven.
Despite the book’s age it was a worthwhile read. It opens a door into the mind of a well intentioned, intelligent skeptic, and tells us much about their thought processes .Many of the naysayers now are just debunkers. but, depending on which poll one reads, there are about as many skeptics and debunkers as there are proponents. More important, the official position of the U.S. Government remains dedicated to the proposition that UFOs do not exist, mainstream science treats the subject with disdain, if not contempt, and the mainstream press ignores the subject as though it were Leprosy itself.
One of Ruppelt’s preliminary statements of the issue-in-chief is sound enough. He quotes the official Air Force position that “There is no proof that such a thing as an interplanetary spaceship exists” and he neatly describes the resultant conundrum:
“What constitutes proof? Does a UFO have to land at the River Entrance to the Pentagon… or is it proof when a ground radar station detects a UFO, sends a jet to intercept it, the jet pilot sees it, and locks on with his radar, only to have the UFO streak away at a phenomenal speed?”
His question is right. His answer, 275 pages later is wrong. Let us look at the answer first, then at a very brief analysis of what lies in the intervening 275 pages, especially the first 247 of them as that is where the 1st edition ends. Four years had elapsed between his completion of those pages and the last three chapters. During that time, he says, he was frequently asked: “What do you personally think? Do unidentified objects exist, or don’t they?” His answer: “I’m positive they don’t. I was very skeptical when I finished my tour of active duty with the Air Force and left Project Blue book in 1953, but now I’m convinced.”
What has convinced him? 1) the recent development of long range radar and satellite tracking cameras that would have picked up any kind of “spaceship” coming into our atmosphere. There has been no indication of any unknown vehicle doing so; 2)Project Moonwatch, the Optical Satellite Tracking Program for the International Geophysical Year has had completely negative results for objects that could not be identified; and 3) In the 12 years since the first UFO report there is not one shred of material evidence of anything unknown, or photos of anything other than meaningless blobs of light.
The requirements of all three can easily today be satisfied; The examples are legion in my own book “Our Interplanetary Future,” among many others. To a lesser degree they could in his own time. But he reviewed the cases the government gave him to review.
What about reports of all the experienced observers? He is not only disdainful, but, he says, sick of the words. They are really no better than anyone else. Radar? No better than the operators. All of these highly trained people make all kinds of stupid errors when they see something they are not accustomed to seeing. Ruppelt apparently considers himself an exception to that rule. It was a fair fight, but somewhere along the line we lost him.
Perhaps the nature of the contorted scientific view of some scientists, involving as it does the disdain for eyewitness testimony, can be gleaned from the reaction of a panel of experts, the Robertson Panel, convened in January 1953 to view fifty of the best cases gathered by Blue Book. Each of the cases, says Ruppelt, had some kind of loophole, many being extremely small, “but scientific evaluation has no room for even the smallest of loopholes and we had asked for a scientific evaluation.” The scientists ultimately said, as summed up by Ruppelt, that they tried hard to be objective… but “all we had was circumstantial evidence. Good circumstantial evidence , but nothing concrete, no hardware, no photos showing any details of a UFO, no measured speeds, altitudes or sizes – nothing in the way of good, hard, cold, scientific facts.” They recommended increasing Blue Book size and monetary appropriations. Data that was out of the “circumstantial-evidence class” was badly needed.
Not all scientists were in agreement. According to Ruppelt, some of the scientists who sat in on the UFO hearing as spectators, felt that the panel was definitely prejudiced – “afraid to stick their necks out.”
Ruppelt increasingly throughout the narrative of his book dwells on the meaningless cases that, he says, can be accounted for as planets, weather balloons, airplanes or helicopters, and throwing in for good measure, birds, bees and bugs. He adopts also the shopworn dicta that eyewitness reports are highly unreliable. Apparently he means all of them. Listen to witnesses to an automobile accident, he tells us, and the conflicting testimony you get. I don’t know how many trials he has heard, but as a practicing lawyer for 35 years, I have participated in hundreds. Sometimes witnesses contradict each other; sometimes they do not. I have heard many contradictions about details of an accident, but never about whether there was an accident. Their contradictions are no more frequent, and much less confusing to most people, than are the contradictions among scientific experts.
Then there is the disdain of the panel for ‘circumstantial’ evidence. What their idea of circumstantial evidence is, I do not know. But as far as I know, practically all scientific evidence is circumstantial. The only evidence that is not circumstantial is direct evidence, which is eyewitness testimony. Throw out both circumstantial evidence and eyewitness testimony and we might as well all go home. Case after case, cited by Ruppelt and other skeptics or debunkers, that find other ‘perfectly natural’ explanations for a sighting, do so on circumstantial evidence, and most often even then, because the favored explanation ‘could’ be the cause, often without the slightest evidence that it was the cause.
In courts of law, little distinction is made in the efficacy of eyewitness testimony versus circumstantial evidence. Courts habitually instruct juries that one can override the other depending on the force and probative value of each. Both civil and criminal cases have turned on either type alone.
And finally, in 1954 the Air Force asked for a review by theBattelle Memorial Institute,aninternational science and technology enterprise that explores emerging areas of science. It included almostthe entire Blue Book output, 3201 cases. It also asked that they review the findings of the Robertson panel. Ruppelt himself tells us that that the few cases that are ‘unexplained’ (militaryspeak meaning ‘can only be explained as extraterrestrial’) could be explained if only there were more evidence; if those files were more complete.
The conclusion of the Battelle group: There was a significant difference in the percentage of cases (35%) held by the Robertson group to be unknown among the good cases, than among the worst cases (18%) Hence, contrary to Ruppelt, the more satisfactory the evidence, the more likely it was, even by the Robertson Panel, to be classified as ‘unknown,’
The former Secretary of the Belgian Government said it differently. After eliminating all other possibilities (unknowns) he said that the only remaining one was “the hypothesis of extraterrestrial origin.” The thought was echoed in 1985 by, among many others, Lord Davies, former member of the British House of Lords. If only one out of the thousands of who reported such sightings is telling the truth, he said, “there is a dire need for us to look into this matter.”
We need science for many things. We do not need scientists, particularly those with exaggerated views of their omniscience, to tell us what we saw. Neither do we need them in order to use that much denigrated quality known as common sense.
The author's book is "Our Interplanetary Future: A UFO Primer For Skeptics"
His web site is www.ourinterplanetaryfuture.com