By Kiefer D. Jones
The study of UFOs requires investigators whose credentials and methods are above reproach. If the UFO phenomenon is ever to be taken seriously by a majority of the public—and more importantly, by the scientific community, which seems determined to ignore objective evidence of the phenomenon—investigators must adhere to the highest standards of documentation and analysis. A willingness to gather and examine evidence carefully and objectivity is crucial if such evidence is to be considered credible.
While sightings and encounters with UFOs have been documented throughout the centuries, modern technology affords us an unprecedented opportunity to amass objective evidence of their existence. Today, with the exception of third world countries, a significant majority of people of every age and background carry a phone in their possession capable of taking digital photographs and video, exponentially increasing the likelihood that someone, somewhere will eventually capture a sufficiently high-resolution, close-up view of a UFO—or its occupants. Until that day, we must rely on the tireless work of a handful of men and women who have doggedly pursued incontrovertible evidence of, and explanations for, UFOs.
Forteana: The First UFO Research
The modern study of unexplained phenomenon in the atmosphere arguably began with Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932), an American writer who explored a wide range of bizarre and inexplicable phenomena. Fort’s fascination with the unexplained was so influential that the term Fortean phenomena is used to this day to describe any number of paranormal and otherwise inexplicable phenomena. Among other strange happenings, Fort publicized the existence of UFOs and what were almost certainly USOs (Unidentified Submersible Objects), described as wheels of light in the ocean. Fort was an early proponent of the notion that the strange lights occasionally observed in the sky are instances of extraterrestrial visitation. He was also among the first to speculate about the possibility of alien abductions.
Although some of Fort’s ideas bordered on the bizarre—he suggested, for instance, the existence of a sort of extra-dimensional vortex, which accounts for lost objects (the place is presumably filled with countless unmatched socks)—his contributions to UFOlogy were substantial. His chief contributions included a general raising of awareness about the existence of anomalous phenomena, and some important challenges to the fundamental assumptions of scientific inquiry. For example, he noted that although facts are objective, their interpretation is influenced by the observer’s biases and the context of the observation. He also pointed out that the boundaries between pseudoscience and science are ephemeral and may shift over time. One example of this is the evolution in our understanding of the causes of communicable diseases. For centuries the brightest and best-trained “natural philosophers” (scientists) of their day were convinced that diseases were caused by imbalances in “humors”; a notion that has been completely discredited and now seems fanciful, at best.
The Dawn of Modern UFO Research
Despite his pioneering contributions to the serious study of UFO phenomena, Fort has been more or less forgotten by the public, probably because he died before the dawn of the modern age of UFOlogy. This era has been characterized by a sharp increase in the sheer number of sightings, and an increase in photographic documentation of UFOs. The modern era arguably began during World War II with reports of mysterious glowing craft that often accompanied fighter pilots in the skies over Germany, followed in 1947 by the famous incident over Washington State, in which pilot Kenneth Arnold reported witnessing a flight of nine unidentified silvery disc-shaped craft “flying like a saucer would” through the air at impossible speeds. Arnold’s observation gave rise to the popular term, “flying saucers” which came to dominate press coverage of the phenomenon throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Of course, the Roswell UFO incident, which occurred within a week or so of the Washington State encounter, only added to the nation’s newfound preoccupation with “flying saucers”. These incidents paved the way for the dawn of serious scientific scrutiny of the phenomenon. The government launched a project to study UFOs beginning in 1947, and though it was primarily made-up of Air Force personnel, the pivotal proponent for this extensive investigation was a civilian, astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek (1910-1986). Hynek ultimately was involved in all three stages of this 20-year government research; Project Sign, Project Grudge and finally the best-known, Project Blue Book, which ended in 1969.
Even after the government closed its official inquiries into the thousands of reports of incursions into U. S. airspace by unidentified craft, Hynek continued to study the phenomenon and investigate reports. He was responsible for creating the system by which categorized the type and degree of “UFO experience”, defined as; Close Encounters of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Kinds. The UFO community would later revise this “close encounter” category-system to include additional “kinds” relating to degrees of possible abduction and extra-terrestrial interaction. Hynek created the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) that among other research, allowed the reporting and investigating of UFO encounters. As a pioneer into UFO research with unparalleled expertise, Hynek was key in inspiring Steven Spielberg to create his blockbuster, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, utilizing Hynek’s own category system as the movie’s title. Although the government’s official position has been one of denial (and Hynek was reportedly encouraged to support that foregone conclusion), he ultimately determined that a certain percentage of sightings, and supporting evidence, are undeniably credible and cannot be dismissed as hoaxes or misidentifications. Though Hynek passed-away in 1986, his pioneering work into the field of UFOlogy and his many decades of breakthrough research and meticulous scientific documenting and analyzing UFO phenomena, has given him the undisputed title of “father of UFOlogy”.
The definition of “UFOlogy” is “the study of unidentified flying objects (UFOs)” and therefore, “UFOlogists” are “those individuals who conduct serious scientific investigations, research and analysis of UFOs and the resulting close encounters”. While Hynek’s legacy in the study of UFO’s is incomparable, other modern-day UFOlogists that succeeded him continue to make breakthroughs and shed light on these phenomena. Some of these present-day luminaries of UFO/close encounter research include Raymond E. Fowler and Peter Davenport, as well as physicists Bruce MacCabee and Stanton Friedman. MacCabee is a long-time UFO investigator, beginning his research back with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in the 1960’s and then taking-on a bigger role with the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). In addition to the cases he has investigated in the field, MacCabee has written numerous books focusing on both present-day encounters, as well as various notable historical UFO incidents, always with a grounded scientific approach. Friedman is another physicist and well-known proponent of UFO research who has secured a position as one of the world’s leading experts on the phenomenon. Among the countless UFO cases investigated, includes the famous Roswell Incident, where he was the original civilian investigator. As a passionate outspoken advocate for the scientific study of UFOs, Friedman challenges other scientists to join their community of researchers to look deeper into the UFO phenomena with an open-minded. With years of field investigations and numerous books authored, both MacCabee and Friedman are unprecedented in the contribution they have and continue to make in the exploration of UFOs. Another respected authority on the UFO phenomena, Fowler, like MacCabee, has been involved in MUFON’s efforts to investigate, legitimize and document UFO encounters, and was MUFON’s Director of Scientific Investigations, as well as the author of one of the original editions of MUFON’s Field Investigators Manual. Beginning in the early 1970s, Fowler conducted meticulous investigations into UFO sightings, and various alien abduction incidents and started publishing books about his findings. Fowler is a veteran on-site UFO investigator, actively involved in conducting field research, interviewing witnesses and attempting to gather supportive physical evidence. Davenport first began conducting UFO field investigations back in 1965. He continued to independently research and investigate hundreds of reports throughout the country, at one time serving as the director of investigations for the Washington Chapter of MUFON. Having personally encountered UFO sightings, Davenport offers a compelling perspective when conducting field research. He is currently the director of the National UFO Reporting Center and has been since 1994.
More widely known as an “Anomalist” than a UFOlogist, Christopher Chacon has conducted hundreds of UFO/close encounter investigations worldwide over the course of nearly 30 years. Originally trained as a scientific investigator/researcher with the “Anomalistics” division for a private scientific think-tank, his investigations of UFO’s and close encounters allow for a more meticulous assessment of each case, conducting a wider array of analysis of the various types of physical evidence associated with each encounter, from photography and radar data to better assessing experiencers and abductees. Rather than investigating each case as a UFO/close encounter, Chacon utilizes a broader spectrum of analysis by approaching the phenomena as an “anomaly”. As a result of his vast resources and network of international contacts, Chacon has the benefit of conducting extensive field investigations/research on a global-scale, utilizing state-of-the-art technology and scientific support to assess each case. Additionally, because of the degree of discretion and confidentiality he offers, Chacon often participates on some of the most extraordinary UFO/close encounter cases in the world.
Unfortunately, 2011 marked the passing of two giants in the world of UFOlogy, Budd Hopkins and William Corliss. Hopkins (1931-2011), arguably among the world’s most famous UFOlogists at his passing, had initially taken an active role in investigating reported UFO incidents in the field after witnessing a UFO in daylight for several minutes in 1964. The experience so intrigued him, that he began exploring the varied experiences of those who encountered these phenomena, eventually coming across those “experiencers” who not only described, “lost-time”, but also eventually recounted alien abductions. Although he had been criticized throughout his research for his use of hypnosis to recover presumably suppressed “lost-time” memories, he defended the practice, claiming it has yielded invaluable information related to close encounters. Corliss (1926-2011) is lesser-known in the UFOlogy community, and like Chacon, approached the UFO phenomena as “anomalies”, to allow more room for scientific possibility. Corliss was a physicist who became intrigued, like Charles Fort, with unexplained phenomena. For dozens of years he scoured the world collecting scientific reports and anecdotal data regarding all-manner of anomalies, primarily dealing with those often labeled UFO phenomena. He wrote a series of books focusing on various aspects of scientific inquiry, and despite his involvement and research in numerous areas of cutting-edge science, he was most intrigued with the investigation of anomalous oddities.
UFO Research in the new Millennia
As phenomena continues to be reported in every corner of the world, we traverse into a new millennia where many experiencers have in their possession some type of digital recording device, like that of a cell-phone camera, now allowing a greater number of UFO/close encounter reports to include some degree of visual evidence. In one respect, the availability and application of such technology has allowed a better first-hand visual assessment of these reports to rule-out rational explanations, however, they have also confirmed that there are just as many unexplainable phenomena being experienced that cannot be dismissed. To take-on these new reports, along with the veteran UFOlogists previously mentioned, a new generation of investigator/researcher has entered the UFOlogy field. While many of these newer UFOlogists do not have the scientific background and specialized field-training as their veteran predecessors, they make-up for any scientific or investigative short-comings with a passion and sincere conviction to document and analyze these phenomena in hopes to discovering the truth behind them. Additionally, an even larger number of “arm-chair researchers” that are also regarded as UFOlogists, continue to support the ongoing field research with theoretical assessments and publications, as well as fuel ongoing investigative efforts to document, analyze and study these phenomena.
Presently, only a hand-full of reputable UFOlogists like, Friedman, MacCabee, Fowler and Chacon, have the ability and resources to conduct thorough scientific assessments of these phenomena in-the-field. As a result, they have access to some of the most compelling and credible UFO/close encounter cases. This should not however discourage or take away from the many other UFOlogists, whether they are field-investigators or armchair researchers, in their contribution in further advancing the field of UFOlogy. In addition, organizations such as MUFON, CUFOS and National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), work in some capacity alongside many of these veteran UFOlogists, as they continue to take reports and offer investigative services, utilizing the skills and expertise of other lesser-known qualified UFOlogists who are willing to volunteer their time in hopes of shedding light on the phenomena and peoples’ experiences. As all UFOlogists are equal in respect to the unpredictability of UFO/close encounters events, it offers every investigator/researcher the equal opportunity potential for documenting breakthrough UFO evidence that could redefine the field, as well as rewrite history.