Monday, November 14, 2011

Review panel on physical evidence

Dear readers

In a previous post (click here) ) I wrote of Wendt and Duvall's thoughts on a systematic science of UFOs. One of the three things they thought such a science needed was a focus on collecting objective physical evidence.

I am currently re-reading "A Tale of Two Sciences: Memoirs of a Dissident Scientist" by Peter A Sturrock (click here). (2009. Exoscience. Palo Alto, CA. ISBN 978-0-9842-6140-6.

On page 115 Sturrock writes that in 1996 he was asked to meet with a group led by Laurance S Rockefeller. "It was and is my position that we will make little progress until we can get the attention and interest of the scientific community and that, in order to get that attention, it will be necessary (but not sufficient) to demonstrate the existence of physical evidence. Hence, my proposal was for a review of such evidence."

Sturrock therefore organised a review panel approach which took place at the Pocantico conference centre in New York. A group of UFO researchers presented "...evidence on physical properties and effects related to UFO events..." to a group of scientists "...with the relevant expertise for assessing this information." (p.116.)

"The charge of the panel would be simply to determine whether further investigation of such physical evidence would be likely to lead to improved understanding of the UFO problem." (p.116.)

The review:

What types of physical evidence were reviewed? Richard Haines looked at photographic; Jacques Vallee covered both optical luminosity and physical traces.; while Jean-Jacques Velasco (GEPAN/SEPRA) covered ground traces; and  Illobrand Von Ludwiger, radar cases.  Mark Rodeghier examined electromagnetic effects; Richard Haines also tackled pilot observations. Michael Swords presented reports apparently broaching our understanding of gravity and inertia. Finally, John F Schuessler detailed physiological effects on witnesses.


Sturrock writes "The panel considered that a few reported incidents might have involved rare but significant phenomena such as electrical activity high above thunderstorms (eg sprites) or rare cases of radar ducting, and that a few cases might have their origins in secret military activities, but the panel was not convinced that any of the evidence involved currently unknown physical processes or pointed to the involvement of extraterrestrial intelligence." (p.135.)

However, they also stated "It may therefore be valuable to carefully evaluate UFO reports to extract information about unusual phenomena currently unknown to science. However, to be credible to the scientific community, such evaluations must take place with a spirit of objectivity and a willingness to evaluate rival hypotheses." (pp135-136.)

Like Wendt and Duvall, the panel suggested an emphasis on examining new cases, rather than older cases, in order to gather new data. (p.136.)

It also noted that "The GEPAN/SEPRA project...[has] provided a valuable model for a modest, but effective organisation for collecting and analyzing UFO observations and related data." (p.137.)

In summary, the panel "...did present...the view that further investigation of physical evidence would be likely to lead to improved understanding of the UFO problem." (p.138.)


It has now been 14 years since he review panel. Richard Haines, in the interim went on to create Narcap ( click here) to focus on aviation related UAP reports. Mark Rodeghier continues to lead CUFOS (click here) . GEPAN/SEPRA made its UFO database publicly available. Jacques Vallee has continued to contribute important work. However, despite all this, science as a whole has continued to ignore the UFO phenomenon. Perhaps one exception has been in the area of abduction reports, where a number of academic articles have been published. Sturrock and others founded the Society for Scientific Exploration (click here) in 1981, which continues today.

A couple of questions arise in my mind.

Wendt and Duvall thought that looking at individual case studies was not particularly useful, especially older cases. The review panel also emphasised examining new cases. I know that my co-blogger, Keith Basterfield, is of the view that re-examining old cases is useful, particularly if a diligent review adds new data, which can either strengthen or weaken a particular view as to the cause of that case. So, my first question to readers, is "Are individual case studies of value?"

My other question concerns methodology. Wendt and Duvall suggest looking for patterns in large number of reports. However, if you do not examine individual cases to decide if they are IFO or UFO, is there any meaning in the patterns you would detect in large volumes of cases?


  1. I don't think anything will change in ufology without there being a resurgance, or distinct change, in the overt behaviour of the varied phenomena. Until something like an international wave of credible sightings occurs, the subject is like an orchestra without a conductor. Too much diversity, too many divas and too much dischord to hear a melody.

    Individual case studies are out there and gain no traction. Tom Tulien's recent rendering of the Minot AFB incidents involved some 15 independent, credible witnesses and multiple radar paints with descriptions of what looked like a physical craft on the ground. Likewise, the Enerage sighting involved credible witnesses and coincided with the analysis of radar data by Mark Cashman fom the Belgian Wave. Sturrock's sidereal time analysis is another that has fallen by the wayside.

    Unfortunately, the best people to check the methodology of Sturrock and Cashman's analyses aren't interested in doing so. In an amiable way, I sometimes think that we like the case studies for the way they reassure us that *something* is, or has, occurred that is genuinely remarkable; for the other 99.99999999% of the population, it's irrelevant.

  2. Hi Kandinsky

    Thanks as always for your perceptive comments. I too, feel that the valuable work which is being done by a small number of researchers gets buried in the noise that pours in from too many, and divergent sources these days.