Verdict: Not Proven

Robert Sheaffer. The UFO Verdict. Prometheus Books. 1981.

Sheaffer is one of a small band of UFO sceptics who are following in the footsteps of the late Dr Menzel. He sees ufology as an irrational anti-scientific movement which can be defeated only by investigating UFO reports and showing them to have normal explanations. He expresses the hope that, after reading the book, "... the reader will come away with a more accurate and rational perspective on UFOs ..." But is Sheaffer's perspective on UFOs accurate and rational? Well, so far as the UFOs themselves are concerned, it almost certainly is. He demonstrates the weakness of the evidence for the 'nuts and bolts' interplanetary UFO but he seems to have little appreciation of the approach which defines ufology as the study of UFO reports.

It is not his debunking of spurious UFO reports which is irritating to the ufologist, but his literal-mindedness and his over-simplified version of the nature of ufology today. "The present-day UFO movement can be broadly divided into two major factions: those who believe that UFOs are nuts-and-bolts spacecraft built by some extraterrestrial intelligence ... and the 'new wave' who view UFOs not as spacecraft but as a paranormal phenomenon related to ghosts, telepathy, fairies and psychic healing."

He seems unaware that many of the 'new wave' ufologists regard the UFO as a social and psychological phenomenon and that this explains their lack of concern as to whether or not a particular report is of a genuine 'nuts and bolts' UFO.

Sheaffer apparently does not appreciate that some UFO literature is written to entertain rather than inform, for example Ray Palmer's absurd yarns about 'holes in the poles'. (Surely he doesn't think that Palmer ever actually believed such nonsense?) He also seems unaware that some authors deliberately take a subjective approach, attempting to describe to their readers what it feels like to be a UFO witness, rather than looking for 'natural explanations' of every UFO report. John Keel is such a writer, whose ideas have proved very stimulating to those ufologists who appreciate that he is describing, in his own peculiar style, human perceptions and emotions rather than the physical 'reality'.

Keel comes in for a lot of stick from Sheaffer, who insists on taking him literally, word for word, and then saying that his writings, and the work of those who write in a somewhat similar manner, are absurd and irrational. Indeed, he devotes a whole chapter to the 'Men in Black' as an example of the sheer credulity of ufologists. Yet how many ufologists whether 'nuts and bolts' or 'new wave" take the story of Al Bender and Gray Barker's They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers literally, or even seriously? Gray Barker's friend James Moseley has also written plenty about the MIB and Sheaffer notes that "... Moseley's sense of humor is almost legendary".

Moseley is not the only ufologist with a sense of humour, but Shaeffer does not press the point, as he is looking for credulity rather than fun or that pleasant suspension of disbelief by which many people enjoy reading improbable yarns about UFOs. He has no difficulty in finding credulity wherever he looks in the UFO field. Everybody is credulous apart from himself and his small band of sceptics, who include Philip Klass and James Oberg, who faithfully follow the trail blazed by the revered Dr Menzel. "Not until 1966-68, when Philip J Klass became active in ufology was the title of 'No 1 UFO skeptic' lifted from Dr Menzel's weary shoulders". However it is admitted of Menzel that " ... in many instances his reliance on elaborate explanations involving extraordinary and implausible mirage phenomena seriously weakened the credibility of all attempts at rational analysis of UFO sightings".

Not only are the sceptics fighting a desperate battle against the credulity and irrationality of the ufologists, but they also have to contend with the mass media and their lust for sensationalism. Curiously, the sceptics' experience of the media is just the opposite that of the 'credulous' ufologists: the media are alleged to prefer sensational UFO stories to rational explanations. Shaeffer asserts that " ... many of the publications and news organisations that do such a dismal job on UFOs usually apply the highest standards to 'real' news stories and would never stoop consciously to publishing unverified assertions as fact in those stories". Surely he cannot be so naive as to really believe this?

This book is a good antidote to those who may be misled into thinking that we are being visited by aliens in 'nuts and bolts' spaceships, but it is necessary to take into account the implicit assumptions made by the author. He obviously believes that the pursuit of rationalism will bring happiness, as did the philosophes of 18th century France, and that science and technology will gradually lead us to a Utopian society. He seems not to accept that human nature is a mixture of the rational and the irrational and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. He thus sees ufology as one of " ... the rising irrationalisms that threaten a new dark age". John Harney, Magonia 8, 1982.


The Book of Ruth

Morton Schatzman. The Story of Ruth. Duckworth, 1980.

This study, by an American psychiatrist working in Britain, is one of the most important studies of hallucinations, haunting, and 'possession' that has been published in a long time. 'Ruth' is a woman haunted by the apparition of her father, who had sexually abused her at the age of ten. He was still alive, in America, at the time of the 'haunting'. This fact, and Schatzman being an extremely open-minded psychiatrist, probably saved 'Ruth' from the exorcists and spiritualists on the one hand, and the mental hospital on the qther.

Inspired by the dream-mastery techniques of Senoi, Schatzman's treatment was first to persuade "Ruth" (I shall drop the quotes from henceforth) that she was not mad, then to get her to gain control over the apparition and change her perception of the situation, from an affliction to a gift. He was able to get her to produce apparitions at will. During some of these experiments it was determined that the apparition acted upon Ruth's perceptions as if it was physically there. If it walked in front of a flashing light the electrical impulses of the brain (the 'visually evoked response') caused by the light, was cut off, as if a physical object had blocked the light. In another experiment, in which auditory responses were measured, she was asked to hallucinate her daughter removing a pair of headphones she (Ruth) was wearing. When she did so these responses also cut out, although the headphones were still emitting a series of clicks which created the response in the first place. Further experiments showed that the light and sound were still registering on the retina and eardrum, but were not being transmitted to the brain.

The apparitions could affect sight, sound and smell simultaneously and they possessed 'metachoric' features they seemed to affect the 'normal' environment, they could open and shut doors, lift up items, switch off lights, cast shadows and be seen in mirrors. But within this hallucinated environment, Ruth was unable to read by a hallucinated light.

There were hints of a weak 'collective' nature to some of the apparitions. Once a dog became restless as she tried to produce an apparition, and on a visit to America her father saw the apparition of her husband that she had 'created' in the car. Her husband saw an apparitional double of himself that she had conjured up.

It is tempting to speculate that if Ruth had been motivated to 'prmve' that the apparitions were really 'objective', instead of being motivated to prove their subjectivity, the resulting apparitions might have been even more 'collective'. Apparitions were not the only paranormal effect, for as part of her therapy Ruth became 'possessed' by her father in a sort of mediumistic trance, during which her 'father' communicated to Schatzman about his assault.

Reading this book one begins to understand the emotional power of ghosts; dead things which won't lie down and let the living get on with their lives, and to appreciate the significance of the traditional belief that one could end a ghost's power over you if you had the courage to speak to it.

This book is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand 'repeater' cases. It emphasises the importance of not regarding bizarre hallucinatory experiences as either proof of the supernatural or a symptom of madness, and it helps one understand the whole argument for the apparitional nature of the UFO experience. - Peter Rogerson. From Magonia 8, 1982.


In Two Minds

D Scott Rogo. The Haunted Universe. Signet Paperback, 1971.

A wide-ranging look at the 'Psychic' component of a variety of Fortean and ufological events. A great deal of valuable material is presented here, including an analysis of lesser known aspects of the Pascagoula incident, a long look at the BVM apparitions at Zeitoun, more on US creature reports, and a most interesting chapter exploring the subjective origins of the UFO mystery. In all, a fascinating and readable account of interesting events.

Yet in the end, the book is self-contradictary. Concluding that such phenomena, particularly UFOs, are the products of the human mind, he rejects out of hand suggestions that they may be result of telepathically shared dreams or hallucinations, stating:

"From years of investigation and laboratory work, we know that ESP is a very inaccurate information channel. In fact it is so bad as to be useless ... To theorise that two people could come out with carbon-copy stories as a result of telepathic infection runs completely counter to every thing that parapsychology has discovered about the facility..."

As Rogo is described as an experienced psychical investigator and lecturer one would not wish to quarrel with such a statement. Yet, after denying the telepathic effectiveness of the human mind, he seems quite happy to allow the most remarkable psychokinetic powers to it, stating: "All these assorted anomalies (falls from the sky, dematerialisations, misplaced objects and animals, monsters, spontaneous combustion) may be the products of the psychic capabilities of the human mind. The mind that releases the poltergeist is also the mind that causes rocks to fall from the sky, people to vanish, and UFOs to appear ... "

Quite some achievements for a mind that earlier in the book wasn't as effective as two tin cans and a piece of string for transmitting messages! However although you may dispute the author's conclusions the material unveiled in coming to them is well worth reading. - John Rimmer. From MUFOB new series 8, autumn 1977.


Conspiracies

Robin Ramsey. The Pocket Essential Conspiracy Theories. Pocket Essentials, 2000.

Robin Ramsey, editor of the 'parapolitics' magazine Lobster, takes a swift look at the rise of the conspiracy theory. He contrasts what he calls megaconspiracy theories, those which claim that all of history is controlled by, and all the heartbreak, pain and suffering in the world is caused by 'them', the terrible others who are incarnations of cosmic evil; with the limited conspiracies of small groups who act in limited fashions. These latter, he is much more disposed to believe in, and he spends some time attacking the media and academic establishments for rubbishing conspiracy theories.

Some of the usual suspects such as the Bilderburg group and the Trilateral Commission get a look in. Whether these groups are 'conspiracies' I suppose depends on what you mean by conspiracy. That they act to ensure the leading politicians are 'on side' and support policies which favour international capital seems obvious, but that they do any detailed actual 'conspiring' much less so. I have my doubts whether the Bilderburgers have much real influence these days. Their vaguely centre-left planned welfare capitalism seems very 1970's. Arguably life in Britain in the 1980's might have been less traumatic if they had have been in charge, as opposed to the cowboy capitalism of Reagan and Thatcher.
 
Ramsey points out that the United States is especially liable to conspiracy theories, because it is essentially an ideological state. The ideology of 'Americanism' is seen by most people to be perfect, so when life is anything but, this cannot be seen as the fault of the ideology but must be due to the machinations of evil individuals. Conspiracy theories have, in the X-Files years, developed a close relationship with the paranormal, but this goes much further back than the publication of Dawn of Magic. It was there in the crazy theories of Tiffany Thayer right at the start of Forteanism, and it goes without saying that they were there from the beginning of ufology. But surely it is older still, for the 'conspirators' are but partially secularised witches and demons. Even today conspiracy theories ascribe quasi-supernatural powers to the 'terrible others'.

The latest incarnation of this is the ascription to various demonic others of 'mind control', the same powers of enchantment that the devil once gave to witches. Conspiracy theories also view the world in a Gnostic light: it is a false face, an illusion, and history a marionette show manipulated by the 'powers and principalities' of cosmic evil.

Though Ramsey argues for the above dichotomy between 'mega' and 'real' conspiracies, in practice the line becomes extremely blurred. For example, Ramsey champions conspiracy theories about the assassination of President Kennedy, and says that perhaps only a couple of dozen people were involved. Later on, he favourably comments on theories arguing that the Zapruder film has been manipulated. Other writers argue that the autopsy has been faked. More and more people arc getting involved, more and more of the documents of history are claimed to be false.

Lobster itself demonstrates the blurring of the boundaries; during much of its life it was devoted to 'rational' conspiracy theories, involving intelligence agencies and shadowy private groups, often targeting the Left. Since the end of the Cold War, it has increasing been drawn down the paranormal road, endorsing characters such 'Armen Victorian', and tales of mind control.

Ramsey says kind things about Uri Geller and crop circles, and hints of intelligence activities in alien abduction stories. There might be a bit of truth in the later. Intelligence agencies have probably played little or no role in the modern abduction epidemic, but there is some evidence that they were involved in the Betty and Barney Hill story. Given that the Hills were a mixed-race couple activc in the civil rights and labour movement, they were almost certainly under FBI surveillance. The strange characters who first suggest missing time to Betty look like intelligence agents. Pushing her over the edge to discredit her seems like the sort of thing that Hoover's FBI might well have done. - Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 74, April 2001.


Definitely not Definitive

Donald Menzel and Ernest H. Taves. The UFO Enigma; The Definitive Explanation of the UFO Phenomenon. Doubleday, 1977.

The blurb of the late Donald Menzel's book, co-authored with Ernest H Taves ("a psychoanalyst who has also done extensive research in parapsychology and visual perception and written science fiction for Playboy and Galaxy") claims that it is the book which 'proves' that "flying saucers are not extraterrestrial vehicles bringing little green men from outer space, but illusions produced by easily explainable meteorological and optical phenomena". Your reviewer cannot agree. Menzel 'proves' nothing, for the major weakness of the ETH is that it is not 'falsifiable', and even if it were Menzel's critique does not accomplish its Objective.

Menzel and Taves are guilty of most of the faults which they ascribe to others: no detailed case studies analysed in an objective manner are given. They have not followed Klass's example in looking at and criticising cases in detail. They have taken the much easier road of providing inadequate summaries of cases, followed by ex-cathedra statements which are difficult to verify.

In Chapter 8 the authors analyse and 'explain' the residue of the unidentified cases in the Condon report; a task which they simplify for a start by dismissing all single witness Type I reports as hoaxes, full stop. In other cases only summaries and cursory explanations are given. Menzel and Taves may probably be right in some of their identifications, but there is no way of telling from the inadequate information given.

The chapters on 'Flying Saucers of the Bible' and 'The Flying Saucer Scare of 1897' are taken with little modification from Menzel's first book published in 1953. The former is suffused with the same kind of naive literalism that can be found in von Daniken, the latter shows little grasp of the complexity of the 'airship scare' one of the most extraordinary media stimulated visionary rumours of modern times.

The whole book is written in a most unpleasant tone, a combination of spluttering indignation, emotionally loaded phrases, and arrogance. At times the authors give the impression of regarding themselves as Messiahs, saving the benighted plebs from superstition and ignorance, weaning them away from 'idle fancy', while extolling them to keep their feet on the ground and their noses to the grindstone. The emotional style resembles nothing so much as the hard-core believers themselves. They even share the UFO buff paranoia about the media, only there they see a great conspiracy by 'true believers'. This reaction is typical of politicians, and tells us something about the psychology of both sides in the UFO debate. -- Peter Rogerson. MUFOB New Series 8, autumn 1977


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