The UFOs and Proof
What constitutes proof...? "This is the provocative question asked by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, former chief of the Air Force UFO project. This is the essence of the UFO controversy and the main stumbling block preventing a conclusive answer. Time after time, as Ruppelt reported, pilots and other good observers have reported UFOs which could not be explained. Twice the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC), home of the UFO project, concluded that UFOs were real objects. The second time, in 1948, ATIC further concluded that UFOs were interplanetary space ships. * When higher echelons demanded proof, however, the ATIC investigators got cold feet. Through some strange logic the conclusion was reversed so completely that UFOs suddenly did not exist at all!
One of the most popular pastimes indulged in by all sorts of people who have not examined the evidence for UFOs is to attribute all UFO reports to the psychological make-up of the individual observers. Even professional psychologists have been prone to slough off UFO reports lightly as hallucinations and delusions. In an age of psychoanalysis and psychology for the masses, these explanations have been popular with the press. Newsmen, on the whole, have willingly parroted any explanation for UFOs emanating from professional authorities regardless of the fact that very little study preceded the authoritative explanations.
If psychological explanations are to be applied to the serious side of the UFO mystery, psychologists should begin by examining the ups and downs of the Air Force investigation and ease
* E. J. Ruppelt, Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, (Doubleday, 1956) p. 62.
up a bit on serious observers like pilots who--so some would have us believe--are constantly being deluded by other airplanes, birds, clouds, and familiar objects which have always been a part of their everyday experience. It is much more plausible, even without the documented facts about the conduct of Air Force UFO investigators, to suppose that the strange actions of these responsible for investigations of UFOs are a more fitting subject for psychological examination. What psychological reasons are there for the fluctuations of the Air Force all across the spectrum of explanation from "non-existent" to "space ship" and back again? Clearly there is more to the problem than a question of weighing factual evidence when the Air Force and its alleged scientific investigation can not make up its mind from year to year whether the phenomenon it is supposed to be studying even exists.
"Proof" is nothing more than conviction based on factual evidence and logical argument. If the evidence is examined and found to be valid, and the logic is sound, a statement or claim is "proved." It is not quite that simple, however, when the claim is as complex as the assertion that "UFOs are space ships" or "UFOs are common objects which have deceived the observers." The Air Force has, for at least 10 years, attempted to prove the latter. In doing so it has had to rely heavily on psychological explanations both to account for the many deluded observers and to debunk the notion of extraterrestrial visitors as wishful thinking.
There are those of us who find the Air Force explanations glib and insulting, and who would prefer to see an open scientific investigation attempt to prove that UFOs are real. On the basis of circumstantial evidence it is not unreasonable to accept this as a possibility worthy of further study. If this attempt failed after an honest effort were made, UFOs would lose by default. If it succeeded, it could be one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.
In application to UFOs, the academic question of proof must be settled on two levels: (1) What constitutes proof that UFOs are a unique phenomenon rather than many different misidentified conventional objects? (2) If UFOs are unique, unexplained objects, how can we prove what the objects are? The Air Force has continually jumped back and forth between these two levels.
First UFOs are space ships (which implies that they are unique objects of a single type), then UFOs are not only not space ships, but also not unique objects of a single type. The logic appears to have been that if you can't prove these disc-like objects are space ships, you have to prove they are not disc-like objects. This odd set of alternatives was also expressed by Captain Ruppelt who said in 1954; "If they're real, they're interplanetary."* Whether or not you accept these alternatives, it is important to obtain proof or disproof on the first level without getting involved in the emotional morass surrounding the question of what UFOs might be if they are real.
One thing is certain. If UFOs are disc-like objects, they are not birds, balloons, or any of the other 57 Air Force varieties. They may not be space ships, but they are unexplained disc-like objects. This argument, when used in conjunction with a series of reliable reports of flying discs, has (at least for the moment) converted a few skeptics. Not to a belief in space ships, however. With breathtaking suddenness the skeptics have made the same logical leap of telescoping the 57 varieties into one --"Oh, they're probably some sort of secret U. S. device." This is at least an acceptance of the first level; but it leads immediately to a whole new argument of whether, considering the history of UFO reports, UFOs could be secret devices.
Circumstantial evidence so far favors the establishment of the first level of proof--that the real UFOs are unique disc-like objects. There is a consistency of the best reports in regard to general shape and flight characteristics. What conventional objects are circular, capable of hovering, making sharp turns, and accelerating at speeds which astound veteran pilots, scientists and other experienced observers? One professional astronomer reported a UFO sighting, stating that its "remarkably sudden ascent convinced me (it was an) absolutely novel airborne device. ** He had watched an object elliptical in outline, which was first hovering.
What conventional objects evidence curiosity by pacing airliners, leading jets on cat and mouse pursuits and tantalizing the pilots by remaining just out of reach, and darting down to hover near airports and other installations? *** This "proof" that we are dealing with something which has not been explained, and which is worthy of scientific investigation, is all documented and easily verifiable by anyone interested enough to look at the reports. There are thousands of such reports from good
Ruppelt, "What Our Air Force Found
About Flying Saucers." TRUE. May 1954.
* LIFE; 7 April, 1952. *** Ruppelt, op. cit.
observers which can not be dismissed by spouting generalities about the psychological aberrations of human beings.
Even the Chief Scientific Consultant to the Air Force, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, (Northwestern University astrophysicist) has pointed out the consistency and the need for further study. "On the assumption that the majority of these reports, often made in concert, come from reputable persons... it becomes a matter of scientific obligation and responsibility to examine the reported phenomena seriously, despite their seemingly fanciful character...,” he said. "It appears that those reported phenomena which do not admit of a ready and obvious explanation exhibit fairly-well defined patterns and that these are worthy of further study." *
To reach the second level of proof--as to the nature of the UFOs--it must first be accepted that there is no more debate on the first level. For the sake of argument, we shall assume we are now dealing with a unique type of circular or discoidal object which is being seen in our atmosphere. The second proof, at least in theory, is now relatively simple. Objects of geometrical design which are controlled (i. e. which hover, turn, rise and fall, follow, and flee when pursued) could only be the products of intelligent creatures. Ruling out the possibility that some UFOs might themselves be intelligent creatures (which would also be sufficient reason for a scientific investigation), the choice is clear. UFOs are either devices manufactured on earth, or they are the products of extraterrestrial intelligence.
If we go so far as to accept UFOs as mechanical devices, there is a proof available to settle the question of origin. It is the reductio ad absurdum (reducing one of two alternatives to an absurdity, thereby proving the other alternative.) If UFOs are not earthly devices, it follows that they are extraterrestrial devices. The government, in all probability, would know of any earthly devices which had been in existence for over 12 years; so it would know whether we have visitors from space as soon as the first level of proof were settled. It may already know. Maybe Captain Ruppelt knew what he was talking about when he said, "If they're real, they're interplanetary."
The eagerness with which the Air Force tries to prove that all UFOs are misidentified familiar objects might be caused by three things: (1) an honest conviction that UFOs are not a unique reality (2) a fear, based on pre-knowledge that UFOs are not
* Journal of the Optical Society of America, April 1953.
secret devices, that to prove UFOs are a unique reality would present a situation over which we had no control--visitors from space in superior vehicles and with obviously superior science. (3) a smoke screen to hide the known fact that we do have visitors from space.
Regardless of why this is so, the Air Force is (at least publicly) explaining UFOs away instead of examining the crucial reports for signs of consistency and intelligible patterns. Independent studies have shown that these patterns exist; but, it will take a full scientific study to prove anything. The question is: When is the phase of glib explanation going to end, and an attempt to obtain scientific proof begin?