Astronomer Wants UFOs Studied With Science

From Huffington Post:

Nothing kills a career faster than being branded a kook, and in many circles, that’s what you are when you admit you’ve seen a UFO.

The stakes are raised, of course, if we’re talking about academic communities, and even more so among astronomers — people who study the skies.

Many astronomers say there’s nothing of any scientific merit that could result in the study of UFOs.

With the career suicide stakes for astronomers so high, some UFO researchers believe many of them are hesitant to step forward. Certainly, the Air Force’s Project Bluebook— the last officially announced government study of unidentified flying objects — concluded that five percent of the cases investigated could not be immediately explained away.

Nevertheless, one nationally renowned astronomer, Derrick Pitts, tells The Huffington Post that it might be time for a thorough study of unexplained aerial phenomena.

derrick pitts

(Courtesy of The Franklin Institute)

“If you say, ‘Let’s pursue an investigation of UFOs so we can identify where these alien spacecraft are coming from,’ then people go, ‘What? I’m not touching that with a 10-foot pole.’ But if you say, ‘Let’s look at what the possibilities are that, at one time, there were environments where life possibly could have developed on Mars,’ then everybody says, ‘Oh, yeah, I want a piece of that,'” said Pitts, senior scientist and chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia.

Pitts, pictured at right, is also a NASA Solar System Ambassador. He told HuffPost about the idea that most serious astronomers give no credence to UFO reports.

“I can speculate about what many astronomers would say if you ask them that question. Many of them would say, ‘I haven’t seen anything, so I can’t say that they exist. I can’t say that this five percent are alien spacecraft.’ But if you ask them in the same breath, ‘Would you be willing to engage in a research project to figure out what these things are,’ I don’t know what that answer would be.

“I’d say, yeah, let’s find out, let’s take a look at it, because here we have a phenomenon that causes a tremendous amount of interest. Why not try to understand what it is?”

A careful look at historical records reveals how astronomers have, indeed, not only endorsed efforts to study the UFO phenomenon, but in many cases, have themselves seen unexplained objects for which they couldn’t account.

In the late 1940s, astronomer — and UFO skeptic — J. Allen Hynek became the scientific consultant to Project Blue Book. During the nearly 20 years that Hynek was charged with explaining away UFO reports, he prepared a “Special Report On Conferences With Astronomers On Unidentified Aerial Objects.”

Included in the study of 45 astronomers was a general feeling that “if they were promised complete anonymity and if they could report their sightings to a group of serious, respected scientists who would regard the problem as a scientific one, then they would be willing to cooperate to the very fullest extent.”

Watch J. Allen Hynek discussing astronomers and UFOs

Hynek later went on to coin the phrase, “close encounters of the first, second and third kind,” which described the various types of UFO reports made by people. As the director of the Center for UFO Studies, he was also the technical consultant — with a cameo appearance — in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Also in 1977, astrophysicist Peter Sturrock created a survey based on responses of members of the American Astronomical Society concerning UFOs. One respondent wrote: “I find it tough to make a living as an astronomer these days. It would be professionally suicidal to devote significant time to UFOs. However, I am quite interested in your survey.”

A year after Sturrock’s survey, Hynek found himself addressing the United Nations, pictured below, on the topic of continuing global sightings of UFOs.


“If it were not worldwide, I should not be addressing … these representatives from many parts of the world,” Hynek told the UN Special Political Committee in 1978. “There exists a global phenomenon the scope and extent of which is not generally recognized. It is a phenomenon so strange and foreign to our daily terrestrial mode of thought that it is frequently met by ridicule and derision by persons and organizations unacquainted with the facts.

“Yet, the phenomenon persists; it has not faded away as many of us expected it would when, years ago, we regarded it as a passing fad or whimsy. Instead, it has touched on the lives of an increasing number of people around the world.”

Joining Hynek at that milestone UN initiative to try and get the world body to create an internal UFO committee was astronomer Jacques Vallee, portrayed by Francois Truffaut in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

“We are beginning to pay the price for the negative and prejudiced attitude with which our scientific institutions have treated sincere witnesses of UFO phenomena,” Vallee told the U.N. delegates in 1978. “Lack of serious, open-minded research in this field has encouraged these witnesses to think that science was incapable of dealing with the phenomena.

“This attitude has led many people to seek answers outside the rational pursuit of knowledge to which science is dedicated. Only an open exchange of information on the subject could now correct this dangerous trend.”


Vallee, pictured above, closed his remarks at the United Nations, saying, “All the great nations of the world are represented on this committee. Let us keep in mind that the UFO phenomenon may represent an even greater reality. It is our choice to treat it as a threat or as an opportunity for human knowledge.”

Watch Jacques Vallee discussing UFOs at the 2011 Global Competitiveness Forum in Saudi Arabia.

Toward the end of his life Hynek pretty much recanted his work with Project Blue Book and adopted the extraterrestrial hypothesis to explain UFOs. Mainstream science ignores this fact and chalk this up to Hynek just getting old and senile.

Hynek might have gotten old, but he was in no way senile.

As for Vallee, he adopted John Keel’s view that UFOs are a form of mass cultural  manifestations of collective consciousness – i.e., a form of leprechauns, witches, elves, angels and demons.

Vallee’s ideas might have merit, but so did Hynek’s in my opinion.

And until the UFO phenomenon is studied with science, that’s all these views are going to be.

Ideas and theories.

Derrick Pitts, Astronomer, Wants UFOs Studied With Science

Hat tip to the Daily Grail.

4 responses

  1. […] Flying Over Nanoose Bay, British Columbia – Gather.comThey fly Over the Cuckoo’s NestAstronomer Wants UFOs Studied With Science .wp-pagenavi { font-size:12px !important; } […]

  2. So, “it might be time for a thorough study of unexplained aerial phenomena”? There have already been conducted a number of thorough studies of UFO phenomena, and the conclusions they’ve reached are fairly universal: they don’t pose a national security threat, and for the most part it represents an identification issue. Interestingly, this is also the conclusion reached by the staff of “The Fortean Times” magazine. The only people who might suggest that the studies already conducted aren’t sufficient are those who still insist that the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis hasn’t been properly examined, and, to be frank, they tend to make any scientific examination of anything a waste of time, because they refuse to accept the basic tenets implied by term “scientific”.

    The main problem seems to be associated with the acceptance of scientific thought by so many of the “you can’t tell me what I saw — I know what I saw” classification of the general public; they don’t understand the way the human mind works and refuse to educate themselves in that regard, making the only reasonable response to “I know what I saw” the immediate rejoinder, “well, apparently you don’t . . .” In any society that thrives on the belief of ultimate free will and the authority one has over every aspect of personality and mental acuity, nobody likes to hear a response like that, and they tend to dismiss it immediately. They reacted the same way 450 years ago when we used to execute witches for making our sheep unable to procreate: “You can’t tell me that I can fix my sheep with a change of diet that includes fresh water and clean facilities — I know what’s going on here, and it’s all the fault of those accursed witches who want me to fail, and my lamb chops to taste like crap. I know exactly what’s going on.” Well, apparently they don’t. Still.

    People have been screaming for a scientific assessment for 60-years. Well, it’s been done. There’s nothing there but rumors and the measure of amateurs using poor identification tools. The UFO phenomena has taught us more about the human mind than anything else, and those lessons we’ve learned point directly to one culprit: UFO witnesses aren’t as reliable as they want you to believe they are. For the most part — as any afternoon spent on you-tube can easily confirm — these people are lying, because they think it’s funny, or because they believe that doing so will benefit them in some other possibly less tangible way. And those who aren’t lying have fooled themselves into believing that they saw something tremendous and unexplainable. They haven’t. They’ve merely convinced themselves that they have using the same form of self-hypnosis that we use to convince ourselves that there is hidden nobility in partisan behavior, or that life is sacred, but only that of other humans, leaving us free to assert dominion over all other life on the planet. With such individuals, scientific assessment is not “scientific” unless it reaches the same conclusions they have already reached for themselves using assessments that are far from being “scientific” and tend to be based on those personality conflicts demanding the acceptance of convictions that are undeserved.

    And I’ve got to tell you, any of this ridiculous reliance on “J. Allen Hynek was a brilliant and scholarly man who deserves to be paid more attention to” claims should take into account the fact that the “swamp gas” explanation that enraged so many people in the 1960s was his baby, and for the rest of his life he was reacting to that rage and its biased refusal to examine facts and environment more thoroughly. Hynek wasn’t exactly in favor of unbiased and thorough investigation, given his habit of denying anything at all that pointed in a different direction. In the long run, his psychological defects were the result of the worldwide ridicule he suffered while working with Project Blue Book, and he therefore spent the rest of his life denying that any real validity could be applied to USAF investigations. His further contributions to scientific assessment were so biased as a result, that they’ve become almost useless for the determination of actual confirmed facts, and led to decades worth of the aggressive pursuit of data that could not be reconciled with already known points of fact. As a result, he tended to ignore anything that didn’t back up the flying saucer claims he believed would ultimately erase any of the associated ridicule he received from the generally ignorant public that laughed at his “swamp gas” explanations. He succeeded in this, of course, but only at the cost of any real scientific value his work may have otherwise provided throughout the remainder of his life.

    During a significant portion of his post-Blue Book career, Hynek was a seriously disturbed individual who was completely unable to examine UFO testimony without insisting upon the integrity and reliability of his witnesses, even when they were proven to be completely wrong in regard to many of the issues needing examination. His definition of “scientific process” was based on the reckless assumption that witnesses and testimony do not require confirmation, the human mind does not make identification errors, particularly during periods of high stress, and human witnesses do not lie or make up facts to support their claims. It is this basic assessment alone that has led to explanations for UFO phenomena suggesting an origin outside of our own universe, time frame, or physical locality based in some other imaginary environment where the simple laws of physics no longer apply. And in a universe stocked with creatures who not only possess the proven willingness to accept as tenable explanations for real phenomena “magic” based on rules of behavior originating in other universes and/or dimensions, but fail to take into account the standard rules of human error, doubt, and the willingness to make up “facts” from nothing except the unspoken desire to stand out in a crowd of wastrels, who the heck cares whether or not the niceties of “scientific process” has been properly observed?

    It should be noted, however, that shortly before his death Hynek decided that a reexamination of his own claims might be in order: “I have come to support less and less the idea that UFOs are ‘nuts and bolts’ spacecrafts from other worlds. There are just too many things going against this theory. To me, it seems ridiculous that super intelligences would travel great distances to do relatively stupid things like stop cars, collect soil samples, and frighten people. I think we must begin to re-examine the evidence. We must begin to look closer to home.”

    The reliance of Jacques Vallee and John Keel on explanations depending on unproven and unexamined manifestations of collective consciousness that have never once been witnessed or properly measured to the extent necessary for introduction into the reasonable world the rest of us live in is equally meaningless. They basically insist that UFOs are simply common folklore, but common folklore is still as enthusiastically tenable as anything else in the physical universe as long as enough people believe in it. So what came first? Was it the fiction or the factual manifestation of the fiction that only came about because of the very confused people in the world who decided the fiction was actually a fact? When did these pathetic solutions become appropriate in a world so dependent on scientific validity that renowned astronomer, Derrick Pitts, would suggest to “The Huffington Post” that it was high time a thorough study of unexplained aerial phenomena be conducted.

    It’s a little difficult to accept any sort of explanation that smacks of such a logistical error of thought as those based on rules like “UFOs are real, and we can accept it as fact for the same reasons that we accept the premise that leprechauns, witches, and elves are real.” Proof, of course, isn’t necessary in a world that depends on faith alone for its answers.

    On the other hand, we can always rely on those famous words of Marvel Comics’ hero, The Silver Surfer: “it is the power cosmic, not magic.”

  3. Excellent reply James and I can do little to top it!
    In my amateur view however, even in a universe in which the human mind is already made up about certain things like elves, witches, fairies, grey aliens and UFOs I say “Why not study the phenomenon with science, what could it hurt?”
    Even if it was tried before decades ago, there might still be a chance a source of the “what-ever-it-is” can be found.

    Perhaps we might find a form of a Clarke Monolith that could be a “Power Cosmic?”

  4. IRT “Why not study the phenomenon with science, what could it hurt?”

    Absolutely nothing; I don’t think the examination of anything is a waste of time. The point I’ve tried to establish (and probably failed to do sufficiently) is more a recognition of the futility of doing so when contrary arguments — a necessity in any scientific assessment — refuse to apply scientific principles and refuse to accept conclusions that are based on such principles. Coupled with the huge prevalence of proven hoaxes, the well-established inconsistent character of witnesses, and the presentation of evidence that is either irrelevant, unproven, or impossible, any assessment under these current conditions would likely prove useless. UFOlogy in general tends to make scientific endeavors one-sided, leaving contrary arguments on the wayside. The fact that very few UFO proponents are willing to accept conclusions based on prior examinations using scientific principles supports this viewpoint. On the other hand, I do recognize that conclusions regarding more psychological/sociological aspects of the phenomena probably do serve a scientific purpose. In any case, such examinations are hardly a waste of time so long as we recognize that the essence of such matters will likely provide inaccurate conclusions.

    A Clarke Monolith, however, would be totally cool! Sign me up . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: