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Tales From the Dark Side of Flying Saucer Research

 Date: Mon, 31 Mar 1997 11:44:02 +0100
 To: UFO UpDates 
 From: Joe McNally 
 Subject: FWD: Tales from the dark side of flying saucer research
 Forwarded from the Forteana list. Thought this might be of
 interest given the recent worries that all ufologists will find
 themselves tarred with the "cultist" brush:
 Seen in The San Francisco Examiner on 31 /March 1997
 The UFO Field
 The "UFOlogy" movement has attracted so many questionable
 characters selling so many strange tales that embarrassed veteran
 UFO investigators have distanced themselves from the field.
 Last week's mass suicide of UFO cultists is simply the latest
 example of the increasingly bizarre evolution of the "flying
 saucer" field.
 In the 1950s, the weirdest UFO tales involved handsome aliens who
 befriended ordinary people, took them on interplanetary tours of
 Mars and Venus, expressed faith in God, and pleaded for peace on
 Now, the movement resembles a nonstop episode of the bleak,
 paranoid TV series "The X-Files."
 Reading UFO books, magazines and Web sites, one would think that
 thousands of Americans have been kidnapped from their beds,
 hauled aboard saucers and medically examined by aliens; that
 laser-wielding UFOnauts land in pastures and carve up cattle;
 that space beings try to create "hybrids" of humans and aliens;
 that a UFO crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947; and that the U.S.
 government keeps the alien crash victims' pickled bodies at a
 secret military base in Nevada.
 "You see enough of this, and you get more skeptical," grumbles
 veteran investigator James Moseley of Key West, Fla., whose
 long-lived, gossipy newsletter 'Saucer Smear' has made him the
 master chronicler of UFOlogy.
 After more than three decades in the field, "I don't believe any
 of the (UFO) landings. I don't believe in Roswell," Moseley said.
 "Certainly people are seeing things in the sky that we can't
 explain, but I don't think we have any proof" they are aliens.
 "I don't think the government does, either," Moseley added,
 thereby violating one of the cherished canons of UFOlogy: that
 the government knows the "truth" about saucers but is keeping it
 secret to "prevent panic" or for some other mysterious reason.
 "The government . . . is so horrendously incompetent and
 disorganized that they are incapable of covering their own
 tracks, much less a mystery of this magnitude."
 Another victim of disillusion is Stanford-trained physicist Irwin
 Wieder of Los Altos.
 Over a decade, Wieder spent his spare time investigating a
 celebrated UFO photo taken in Oregon in 1966. When he discovered
 that the photo had a mundane explanation and that the
 photographer - a seemingly credible man with a doctorate and a
 respectable military background - "was not reliable," Wieder
 largely soured on the field.
 "There's an awful lot of New Age people in the (UFO) field,"
 Wieder said Friday. "There are still some serious people working
 in UFOlogy . . . but the bulk of them, unfortunately, are not."
 When Wieder published his negative findings in 1993 in the
 Stanford-based Journal of Scientific Exploration, he ruefully
 admitted in print that for years he had "remained oblivious to an
 abundance of evidence that should have signaled something was
 wrong (with the photo). If anything can be learned from this, it
 is that UFO researchers need to be more diligent in applying the
 principles of scientific research."
 Now, Wieder studies mainly ball lightning, a frontier subject in
 atmospheric physics where the investigators "are far more
 serious, more scientific than the average UFO researcher."
 He says he believes that this extremely rare, controversial form
 of lightning - which appears as slow-moving, glowing "balls" -
 may account for some UFO reports.
 The last few years have been rough on the most acclaimed UFO
 "event" of the last half-century - the alleged "crash" of a
 saucer at Roswell, N.M., in July 1947. This tale has excited so
 much interest that it played an important part in last year's
 mega-cosmic movie blockbuster, "Independence Day," and in many TV
 shows and books.
 The 'Saucer' was a Balloon
 In 1995, under congressional pressure, the U.S. Air Force
 declassified documents that revealed the true identity of the
 'saucer': It was fragments of a special balloon launched to
 detect possible radioactive debris from covert Soviet nuclear
 Worse for UFO buffs was the discrediting of a top Roswell
 investigator, Donald R. Schmitt. Schmitt had co-written a book
 about the Roswell case and was "director of special
 investigations" for the most cautious pro-UFO group, the Center
 for UFO Studies in Illinois, founded by the late astronomer J.
 Allen Hynek. Schmitt's writings carried special credibility
 because he claimed an illustrious background in law enforcement.
 Then, Gillian Sender, a reporter for Milwaukee magazine,
 discovered that Schmitt had no background in law enforcement, nor
 was he working on a doctorate in criminology, as he claimed; he
 hadn't even finished college. Instead, he was a mail carrier in
 Hartford, Wis., population 8,000. Schmitt admitted he had "made
 false statements about certain things."
 Schmitt's co-author, Kevin Randle, split with Schmitt and charged
 in 1995: "I went out on a limb for this guy . . . and he sawed
 the limb off."
 The scientific community ignores UFOs, Randle complained at the
 time, "because they don't want to be associated with a field full
 of kooks and nuts. And the fact is, it is full of kooks and
 In San Francisco, another famed UFOlogist is wrestling with the
 field's wild twists and turns. In the mid-1960s,
 astronomer-computer expert Jacques Vallee wrote an acclaimed
 book, "Anatomy of a Phenomenon," that critics called one of the
 few intellectually interesting books on the subject.
 But a few years ago a bitter letter attributed to Vallee popped
 up in Moseley's World Wide Web edition of Saucer Smear.
 "My decision to withdraw from the (UFO) field is consistent with
 the observation that serious, constructive scientific work is
 impossible in present conditions," it said. "Over the last few
 years ufology has squandered close to one million dollars . . .
 in absurd, unscientific procedures centered on abduction
 'research', the Roswell fiasco . . . and various field
 investigations of the Roswell and Gulf Breeze type. I cannot
 afford to remain associated with any of this, so it is time to go
 away quietly."
 The Gulf Breeze, Fla., case generated many sightings and
 photographs in Florida in the 1980s. The case climaxed when
 someone discovered a small model of a UFO hidden inside a home
 formerly owned by the prime witness, who was then accused of
 using the model to fake his photos.
 Vallee, who is traveling, couldn't be reached for comment. But
 his wife, Jeanine Vallee, said the letter "sounds just like him.
 I know he probably did (write) that. As he just said in the
 letter, the (UFO) field has changed so much and there's not so
 much research; things are going off the deep end."
 Vallee's publisher, Richard Grossinger of North Atlantic Books in
 Berkeley, said Vallee hadn't so much abandoned the UFO field as
 distanced himself from parts of it.
 "He doesn't want be associated with so-called inquiries into
 alien abductions and cattle mutilations," Grossinger said.
 This has been reported via the Fortean Times On-line
 Reporting service at
 Nothing in this post is necessarily the opinion of John Brown
 Publishing or Fortean Times. On a bad day, it might not even be
 "It was like groping your way through a thick fog. The beams of
 your headlights showing the fog back at you. It was like that,
 yet it wasn't." Lionel Fanthorpe, "The Asteroid Man"
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