This morning, New York Magazine featured a thoughtful article on ufology, Mark Jacobson’s “The End of UFOs,” which presented a recap of the recent MUFON Symposium in Pennsylvania. In the commentary Jacobson provided, I found the following excerpt particularly poignant, in light of a culture of belief that surrounds a subject about which, in pure honesty, I feel a number of its great adherents remain very “in the dark”:

“Fernando Garces-Soto, a wry, 60-ish Colombian-born music producer from Miami and fellow witness, was taking it more personally. ‘I’m spending a $1,000 to come to this. That’s a lot of money for the same old stories. This rehash, and more rehash. Probably next year I’ll spend another $1,000. What choice do I have?’ Fernando exclaimed, finding the existential humor of the situation. ‘I’m obsessed,’ he sighed. ‘I’m all messed up.’ “

In truth, maybe we’ll stay “messed up” if we continue re-hashing and re-hashing, and hiring only “celebrity ufologists” to come out and give lectures because they are “the big names in the field,” and hence, the ones who will sell tickets. There are a great many brilliant thinkers out there whose names you never hear, and who wouldn’t sell tickets to a large-scale event; but what they have to offer might do more than just amuse or entertain… it might cause you to think.

I applaud Scotty Roberts for having the guts to encourage P.Z. Myers, an evolutionary biologist, skeptic, and adversary of his, to come speak at last year’s Paradigm Symposium. This is the last time in recent memory that I can recall a hardened skeptic being invited to speak at an event of this sort, and while I don’t agree entirely with Myers, he provided a much-needed intellectual balance amidst the other speakers. Who in the UFO field is really working to maintain balance of this sort? Who would invite Joe Nickell, a UFO skeptic, to speak at an event, and put aside their reservations or personal dislike for the man or his views, with hope of learning something valuable?

On the other side of the fence, who are the innovators in ufology today, who actually present the best case for the existence of a phenomenon which we don’t fully understand? Arguably, many of the brightest thinkers aren’t names you would even know… and hence, from a practical business standpoint, you likely won’t hear them lecturing at large-scale UFO events. I think we all have to understand this… but we also must remember to try and overcome our reservations about listening to new voices in the field, whose work we know nothing about… just like we must overcome our feelings about what a UFO skeptic has to say on the subject. In truth, we might learn something meaningful from each of them.

So is ufology “dying”? Is there so little to this phenomenon that there is nothing to be studied at all? I think that’s hardly the case; the problem, instead, is that we have become hung up in the ideological extremes, and the cult of personality surrounding those who have (and I say this in appreciation of their work) dedicated their lives, and livelihood, to studying this mystery. For a few of them, it has led to fame and notoriety… I wonder if they, after working so hard, and for so long, would really want people to shrug off new ideas and good research that may arise elsewhere, in favor of an autograph instead? It’s food for thought…

I don’t think the serious study of UFOs is dead at all; but I also don’t think you’ll find it at a lot of events and conferences. There is a lot you can learn from going to these locations, meeting the speakers, and hearing their ideas and perspectives. There is a great service rendered here to those who are new to the subject, and those who may not have lived a full life of studying UFOs themselves, documenting reports, and studying alongside other great minds in the field for decades.

Still, I would argue that the newest, and best innovators in this field are “below the radar,” so to speak. You may not find them at conferences, because they don’t draw crowds; you won’t see them on television, because they aren’t sensational enough to bring ratings. You may not even read about their work, because some of them are applying technical thought to the subject that publishers wouldn’t find appealing on any printed page… but they are out there, and they are working. I know, because I am familiar with many of them myself.

In fact, I would argue that some of the best innovations in the study of unidentified aerial illuminations aren’t even generally accepted as what we call “UFOs,” and largely due to the fundamental (but timeless) misinterpretation of the acronym UFO–meaning simply an unidentified flying object–being taken to mean an extraterrestrial spaceship, which was never the intended use of the term.

Of those outside the field of ufology whose work has helped formulate new ideas on the nature of anomalous aerial illuminations are Robert Theriault and John Derr, two of the authors who contributed to a brilliant paper on “earthquake lights” earlier this year titled Prevalence of Earthquake Lights Associated with Rift Environments. Nothing about the title insinuates an alleged UFO crash, an individual abducted from their bedroom, or a mass-sighting of a huge alien spaceship; but the scientific work it entails, while far from being the final word on the subject, may contribute more to understanding the nature of anomalous aerial lights than any presented in the last two decades. Yes, the authors argue that the “UFOs” they are discussing are of a natural variety… and in truth, this is likely the story behind many (if not a majority) of modern UFO reports.

The study of UFOs isn’t dead; if anything, the serious research is, and perhaps always has, worked behind the scenes. It takes place in laboratories where scientists take seriously the idea that there are natural phenomenon we have yet to fully understand or formulate a clear idea as to their origin. It also takes place in the homes and offices of individuals who are able to look past the sensational aspects of this phenomenon, and consider instead the idea that there could be correlations drawn and new isights extracted from the plethora of data on the subject that has been amassed since the end of World War II. There are businessmen–Robert Bigelow comes to mind–who take it all seriously enough to invest their time and fortunes in the study of the phenomenon, and whose work ends up being very much “behind the scenes,” for better or for worse. And yes, there are probably some secrets that are kept from the public; whether or not they represent some wide-reaching “conspiracy” or “cover-up” is irrelevant; it would be silly to think that a subject of potential national security importance would truly be systematically overlooked by government agencies. Proof of their fundamental interest in the phenomenon is presented with the release of countless official documents on the subject; again, whether or not they prove the nature of the phenomenon is irrelevant. The important fact is that we know they’ve been watching, with interest.

A colleague  of mine, Chris Rutkowski recently expressed similar sentiments about all this. “I rarely go to UFOcons,” he said, “mostly because of the points you raise. Too bad, because there are some very good researchers out there who never get the recognition they deserve. Fortunately there’s an ‘underground ufology’ hard at work behind the fluff. Below the surface, there is good and thoughtful discussion that needs to be uncovered.”

As Rutkowski suggests, there is an entire world of study involving UFOs that very seldom makes it to the stage at UFO events, or onto the sound stages of the production companies and networks that produce popular UFO programming. You won’t read about it in popular books and magazines that cater to the rumors, conspiracy theories, and urban legends that have formulated around UFOs over the last several decades, though you may read about some of it in science journals, if you have proper access, and know where to look. The same can be said of information posted freely online: a lot of the process of finding good information is simply knowing where to look, and at times, having access to it.

If it must be underground, so be it, and maybe for the better. Serious study of UFOs will always be criticized, but arguably, this is largely because it’s detractors are among those who don’t know where to look for the good research that’s being done. These critics will continually watch the sensational television shows, and sit in the back rows at popular conferences and events, criticizing arguments that, at times, are so easily deconstructed that it’s easily likened to shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. But what they are criticizing often isn’t the most meaningful, relevant, or up-to-date information on the subject; perhaps they should spend their time and criticisms more wisely, and go looking for a harder argument to deconstruct. And as for the groups who continually prop ufology high atop a rickety scaffolding of old cases, fringe theories, and sensational claims, they should learn to expect that critics will continue to attempt to debase their arguments. In truth, neither of these opposing sides seem to be interested in discussing the most relevant details pertaining to true anomalies which may exist in our world.

Down in the heady world of research that exists below, there is no end to the UFO phenomenon anywhere in sight. But in fairness, innovation–if it is to be achieved–very seldom ever occurs on a soundstage, does it?

Welcome to the world of the underground innovators.

 

24 Comments

  1. We absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be exactly I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content available for you? I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects you write with regards to here. Again, awesome site!

  2. What “research” is going on? I’ve Read everything I could get my hands on for 30 years, and I understand the NY Magazine’s article perfectly. There’s nothing new; all we can do is wait for the next mainstream sighting (like Stephensville) and then wonder some more. I’m tired of it.

  3. Really great article Micah. Well done,again. Thanks for mentioning the earthquake paper,must read it. Best of luck.P

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    As an amateur researcher into the phenomenon over the past 45 years (yep, it’s been that long), I have long suspected, along with Dr. Jacques Vallee, that most of the UFO field is full of people with hidden and not-so-hidden agendas.

    Many ignore the best cases to fit their pet theories regarding alien invasions, medical experimentation, government cover ups and the like. The fact that most make their living touring the circuits, writing books and lecturing suggests that research has taken a back seat to celebrity status, infighting and the nonsense that goes along with proving one theory is right over another.

    This has left the evidence in the dust, so to speak as more people spread misinformation, half-truths and idle speculation as “research”.

    So it is refreshing to see such an insightful article.

    Following the research of Paul Deveraux (though he has strayed far away from the original premise), I have come to the very plausible conclusion that most of the truly unidentified UFOs are naturally occurring lights produced deep beneath the earth’s crust as examples of triboluminessence. This phenomenon has been attested to by geophysicists and has been reproduced in miniature under controlled laboratory conditions by putting samples of rocks under extreme pressure. What occurs is that light formations appear above the surface of the rock which change colour, move extremely rapidly, change shape and can disappear in a flash. All of these effects are features of the best UFO sightings.

    I believe that the same phenomenon occurs on a much larger scale and can reoccur regularly in certain areas such as in Hessdalen, Sweden. Project Hessdalen has been an ongoing research initiative by Swedish geophysicists and geologists for over 30 years in an attempt to explain why mysterious lights appear in the valley that exhibit all of the hallmarks of UFOs. I invite your readers to visit their website for more information.

    So where does that leave abduction accounts?

    Well, it has been attested that certain frequencies of electromagnetic radiation (specifically microwaves) can induce hallucinations in test subjects. Given that the triboluminessence appears to be a form of visible radiation, it would follow that this could cause some people who are within the vicinity of the radiation to react to it, including inducing vivid hallucinations.

    I believe that it is like an “allergy” and would explain why some UFO reports with more than one witness often include those who do not experience abductions of any kind, while other witnesses to the same events do. And it would also explain why some families are “targeted” and have multiple abductions spanning generations as in the family of Whitley Strieber. They happen to have the gene making them more susceptible to the subtle radiation produced by these hypothetical earthlights. In short, it’s in their brain structure.

    I will leave it to psychologists and sociologists to explain why, over the past 60 years, abduction and close encounter reports have gone from benign with warnings about misusing atomic energy (Adamski, et al) to today’s reports of medical experimentation. Again, Dr. Vallee wrote about this trend in one of his more recent UFO books (I forget which, but it was part of his latest trilogy of UFO books). To put it very briefly, a person’s cultural expectations seem to make the abduction experiences either benign or malevolent.

    I trust that the underground UFO researchers will do their part to help solve this most mysterious phenomenon and that fewer conspiracy theorists become rich off of a gullible public.

    Thanks again for going to bat for legitimate research into UFOs. We might just crack the puzzle within the next decade.

  5. I’ve had a lot of ‘weird’ experiences including physical and none physical UFO sightings (http://www.realitywalker.com/category/ets-and-star-beings/). What I have personally found to be seriously odd is the degree of effort it took to recall and write IN DETAIL about specific ‘off the edge’ incidents and experiences. As a scientist by profession it seems ‘significant’ that certain ‘anomalous’ topics take a lot more ‘cognitive’ effort to both recall, think about and write about compared to topics that are significantly harder to formulate.

  6. Will it be safe from government misinformation (an other assorted hoaxers) if it is underground? If so, that might be a good thing.

  7. Coincidentally, I’m just now watching on You Tube the nasty spat between figures in the Rendlesham Forest incident and thinking, ‘Jeez! What a load of vitriol and misinformation…wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole….’

    This sort of thing may be one major reason ufology ‘is dying’. It’s probably not. Research-as-normal is probably all going on behind the scenes with researchers being extremely careful who they trust.

    Which is a great pity for the rest of us because we don’t get to hear – or help with – the research-in-progress. More and more, we just get pulled in when the book’s on sale…

    Granted, a lot of this infighting seems to pivot around all the secrecy oaths that many experiencers seem to have been bound by. As someone whose (unrelated) job required UK Official Secrets Act compliance many years ago, and who heard e.g. about one of ufology’s major cases from a serving officer (now deceased) way before any of the ufologists got to it, I am skeptical about this secrecy oath claim.

    Of course, there must be information that cannot ever be divulged. Though it seems to me that some who claim to be still bound many decades on are not playing straight. Even worse, when they go on to deliberately mislead us.

    There are a few experiencers and ufologists who, to my mind, are quite obviously still working for their apparently previous organisations. Probably in order to steer research and debate, subtly discredit witnesses/reports and throttle lines of inquiry that their bosses don’t want revealed.

    This cannot do the rest of genuine ufology any good. It taints all research.

    And then we have the egomaniacs and the just-plain-bizarros. Who all make a lot of noise and detract from the validity and credibility of the genuine researchers. In no other field of research would these people be allowed to share a podium with the bona fide track record researchers. It’s extraordinary. But, again, casts a taint.

    So it’s no wonder that ufology seems to be ‘dying’.

    One of the joys of ufology is its apparently democratic nature. Everyone is equal, it’s open to all to share whatever they want. (But I note the absence of Black people, visibly disabled people, LGBT people etc. up there on the stage.)

    Without wanting to restrict the field further, I do think that *anyone* who gets up there to speak about their research or publish books should have passed at least a basic research methodology, evidence gathering & ethics course as applicable to the extra-terrestrial hypothesis.

    It maybe that ufology has reached a fork in the road. Do we want it to continue to be marginalised entertainment? Or do we want to take ourselves, our experiences and our research rather more seriously? Do we want to remain a rather outre, fringe club, or have we got the confidence in our experiences, knowledge and abilities to take it to the next level?

    At this point, I’m thinking that we must get professional and academic if we want other professionals, academia, science and MSM – hence the public – to take ‘ufology’ seriously – and to ensure the quality, clarity and ethical research methodology of their oeuvre.

    The foundation of this international college is clearly a job for people of the standing of e.g. Richard Dolan, Linda Moulton Howe, Stan Friedman, Paul Hellyer… And I’m sure people like Dean Radin and Steven Spielberg could be very helpful too…

    Rather than perceiving only ufology death throes, we could see this time as one in which ufology grew up and matured into an authentic science of stature.

  8. Business people have been cashing in on the UFO subject for a few years now .I understand MUFON is now privately owned .Too many entrepreneurs are using the subject and their own connections to rehash books that tell us nothing new .We won’t learn anything by joining a ‘Gang’ ; we appear as far from an answer as we were in AD 500 .

  9. EXCELLENT ARTICLE. I REPUBLISHED IT TODAY . KEEP UP THE GREAT JOB AND SOMEDAY WE WILL SEE UFO PHOTOS AT A UFO CONFERENCE……….

  10. Let us not forget, there is an immense gap between skepticism and denial. I’ve noticed that major media has not differentiated between these two camps lately, and that is a blunder, as well as poor journalism.Skepticism must include an open mind, or it is nothing more than denial, which has no place in science. Individuals such as Joe Nickell, are not qualifed to comment on anomalous experience reports, since they are incapable of approaching the subject rationally, and are apparently frightened beyond measure at the possibility that their belief system is threatened to it’s very core, and that they might be up-staged as illusionists by a certain reality. How sad.

  11. @Clive – This difficulty in recalling and articulating experiences related to ‘ufo’ events is widely reported, I’ve noticed.

    As someone with a similarly scientific/academic background, I wonder if this is because these ‘events’ are simply the dreams, mental content generation yet to be explained, hallucinations and ‘living myths’ that humankind has ever reported: elves, fairies, leprechauns, trolls, minotaurs, centaurs, unicorns, dragons, witchcraft, Thor’s hammer/ Ezekiel’s wheel aerial incidents etc etc., all updated for the 21st century mind (to borrow Mr Dolan’s latest book title). After all, back then, many people apparently really, really believed in those entities as originators of all sorts of events with more mundane causes…

    Or whether ‘ufo generated’ events/sightings/experiences represent an actual phenomenon whose time has come in terms of examination and acceptance as reality.

    I would like to ask if your observation has led you to formulate any deductions or hypotheses?

    Like you, I have a slew of anomalous experiences, sightings and expert witness information which imposed themselves on me and interjected themselves into my life well before any of this ‘ufology’ business took off and well before my interest in the subject was piqued. They are all still a real bugbear as I can find no mainstream scientific explanations for them. Except to allow that maybe it is as it is: we are indeed seeing and experiencing a substratum of consciousness that is just as real as our humdrum, mundane life experiences but rather occluded (if so, why?)…after all, mystics and magicians have ever claimed that ‘seeing’ is only given to some who have the ‘gift’ and the humble reverence to treat their abilities and resultant manifestations with much care…

    Whatever, I want answers! Which is why my largely scientific yet authentically skeptical mind suggests a genuine university approach to the open-minded yet rigorous study of the field.

    PS. You have a fascinating site. Thank you.

    1. Hi Sam,

      Firstly I don’t ‘believe’ in fairies in the same way I don’t believe in chairs – I sit on them they exist. The belief ‘allegation’ is exactly that I don’t have hallucinations or any other related bullshit, I feel presences and I chose to access and I perceive what I perceive.What I perceive is entirely constant to what others with the same perceptual abilities perceive.

      You would not employ color blind researchers to research eye sight? Would you?

      There is no chance of getting ‘physical’ proof because ‘reality’ is more akin to a rigged game.

      Read this page which is the closest I can come to describing what I call the ‘physical con’, although I am in the process of collating more evidence for this ‘theory’.

  12. I always found that the best part of the conferences were talking to other attendee ufologists in “bull sessions” where one could talk about anything and everything and have ones perceptions challenged. There have always been “big names” in the field. But now they have “stuff” to sell. That $1000 spent to travel to conferences can be offset by selling enough of that “stuff.”
    Over the years I have spent thousands to attend conferences. Today it does cost more to go and hear the same old stuff in person that one can find on YouTube or on those people’s website or in their books.
    UFOs are a mystery. Unlikely to be “solved” any time soon and hasn’t been in the last 70 years!

  13. I am a UFO skeptic but like to keep an open mind. This is an excellent article. Keep up the good work.


  14. Colavito is more of a blogger—TV critic. He watches a lot of television, shows he knows he’ll hate. Then he writes up a review of how awful the show was.

  15. Bravo for this Micah.

    Having spent the last few months researching and writing, I have often found myself pondering about what the internet has done to this subject of ours. Certainly two out of my three biggest inspirations (and in my opinion, the people I have conversed with, with by far the most data and informed opinions) wouldn’t be seen dead at a UFO conference. I’ve been taking my lead from these people – after all, they are one of the reasons I’m here researching and writing myself.

    One of the issues is that in order to carry on getting very high quality information, going public with it might cause problems for oneself and one’s sources – as well as possibly discouraging further sources from coming forward. Another reason is that, some of the information seems to be so out there that one might also risk ones credibility. This is much the same issue with going public with ones own experiences. Can anyone experiencing esoteric phenomena to any degree be taken seriously as a balanced researcher? I would argue, possibly not – and I am in that position.

    Finally, one thing I have discussed at length is this. Whatever happened to quietly getting on with the work? Perhaps surfacing only when some results or some conclusions or theories are wrapped up in a cohesive format such as a book or series of works? The 24/7 net media and blogosphere has definitely been a double edged sword. Relative freedom of information on the one hand, but also a stage for everyone and anyone – a narcissist and egomaniacs playground. The constant need to comment on every new youtube video has created a huge distraction from much of the real work and thinking that might be needed.

    Overall, after a few years of this, in my opinion the UFO community in it’s current form is not where one will answers.

    So I fully agree – the death of ufology part 27. No – as you said, it’s simply gone underground. And with good reason.

  16. I enjoyed reading this a lot. I don’t have any answers to offer at the moment, but I think I understand the questions. Thanks!

  17. Totally agree with this article. Micah raises an interesting opportunity at the same time – knowing that the mainstream UFOcons are commercially motivated and rehashing the same material, what would it take to bring the emerging best and brightest thinkers on the subject together in a straightforward, no BS symposium? It might not generate a lot of revenue or publicity, but if it helps to at the very least link these emerging researchers together in some kind of a community of intellectual exchange than can keep the subject moving forward with credibility, then it would be worth the effort. Otherwise, it all seems destined to die off as a circus sideshow.

  18. I was at the Cherry Hill MUFON event. Kindly I was allowed to show some of my artwork there. It was well organized. What was missing were reports of UFO sightings from recent years. I am a multiple experiencer. The phenomena is real. It seems to me we are akin to a South Seas cargo cult. We do not have the intelligence to perceive what is truly happening. Humans are NOT atop the intergalactic, multidimensional food chain.
    Another thing, as a woman, it is more difficult to be taken seriously in UFOlogy. Thanks, Micah.

  19. NO ONE really cares worth BEANS if aliens ARE here! SHOW ME ONE EXAMPLE, of the supposedly existing serious scientific efforts going on. I know of one or two TINY serious efforts going on, but nothing which has a sane chance of accomplishing anything. And if any young non-scientists want this stuff so bad, GO TO COLLEGE AND BECOME A SCIENTIST! NO TAKERS ON THIS IDEA, BECAUSE NO ONE cares all that much.
    Like Hynek said a zillion years ago, untill it’s proven that something unknown is in our skies, NO progress will ever be made.

    “I can’t believe I belong to such an idiotic rotten species.”
    Albert Einstein.

    I bet not more than 200 people in the USA really care A LOT, if aliens are here. And the UFO phenomenon is too rare and unpredictable for those few people to get anywhere. They need help and will never get any. THIS SPECIES MAKES ME SICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Here’s a few ideas for you one in a million, lol, for all the good it’s going to do:

    First the well known idea – a sensitive magnetic field detector. As you might know, at least some UFOs seem to emit an ultra powerful magnetic field. The big problem with this detector is that, as you know magnetic fields follow the inverse cube law, so even with an ultra powerful magnetic field, after a couple miles, it’s strength is below the noise of the Earths magnetic field. Looking only at a particular high frequency, changing magnetic field, is one possible solution, but the UFO would have to be generating that frequency, which might be totally never. So range is likely I guess crazy limited. Plus I think the vast majority of UFOs are not generating real strong magnetic fields.

    Another idea (my own) is to listen on “protected” radio frequencies. From 1400 to 1427 megahertz is the major international radio astronomy listening band (and used by SETI too.) NO transmitters are allowed at ALL. So if a UFO was just so happening to be causing interference there, it would stand out like crazy. And the range would be good.

    Another idea of my own, is to listen at 121.5 megahertz – the frequency used by ALL air traffic control towers in the world when ALL unidentified aircraft enter controlled airspace (all around airports) and get in the way. Pick up on UFOs, by equipping investigators near major airports. The eyes and radars of all those professionals right at our fingertips. And I read in the encyclopedia, that since 9/11, NO unidentified aircraft are allowed in the country – when they get close, they are radioed, and if a reply is not given, jets are ALWAYS scrambled. And 121.5 is the frequency ALWAYS used for this without exception. And of course UFOs don’t reply. So if you live near a water or land border, this idea would be good.

    So, anyways, once you have detected a UFO real time, you have to chase it. Otherwise what’s the point. A 25 mile range remote controlled aircraft with movie camera is doable. Maybe even with a 10 second rocket assist when you want it. Although I guess over about 200 m.p.h. is impossible because of the propeller.

    Or set up a single phone hotline number to call, as a sighting is happening, so skeptics can get to a sighting in progress. And have the calls go directly to peoples constantly logged in computers at home, setting off an alarm if it’s a nearby sighting. I have my doubts about this idea though, because of all the cranks in the world. But it’s sure worth a try.

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