Scientific Ufology

Kevin D. Randle. Scientific Ufology, Avon Books, New York, 1999.

ETH proponents are notoriously reluctant to give lists of their favourite sightings, presumably because it enables the sceptics to concentrate their efforts on them and effectively debunk them. Now Kevin Randle risks their disapproval by discussing some UFO reports which he believes could possibly be evidence for extraterrestrial visitors. He insists that UFO reports should be investigated in a logical and scientific manner, and that those that stand up to critical examination are deserving of further study.

But what type of UFO report is the most impressive and convincing? Randle writes: “The key is obviously multiple-witness cases, especially those in which the witnesses are unknown to one another. After a week, or month, or, in the case of UFO research, years, we can rely on the memories of the witnesses if those memories are corroborated by other witnesses, physical evidence, and documentation.”

Unfortunately, there are very few of such cases, so it is interesting to see what Randle makes of those he has selected. He is inclined to forget that, in a multiple-witness case, it is necessary firmly to establish that there really were other witnesses, apart from the principal ones. In discussing the Trindade Island case of 16 January 1958 he repeats the usual assertions by believers that there were up to 100 witnesses, yet he fails to produce any statements made by any of them and does not discuss reports that journalists who boarded the Almirante Saldanha failed to find these other witnesses.

The most puzzling case he deals with is the series of sightings around Levelland, Texas on the night of 2 November 1957. One of the problems for anyone studying these incidents is that there are several versions from different sources, and Randle does not tell us clearly which sources he has used and which ones he has rejected. His only acknowledgement of this problem is to note that: “The first of the sightings reported directly to Levelland police was made by Pedro Saucido (or Saucedo, depending on the source), who, with Joe Salaz (or Palav, Palaz, Salav, or Salvaz, depending on the source), saw a glowing object sweep across the highway in front of his truck.” (1)

This problem concerning the reliability and accuracy of reports is most conspicuous in Randle’s description of an incident of 18 April 1962 in which a brilliant object was seen moving rapidly across the skies in Utah and Nevada. Randle collates the observations and suggests that the object changed direction near Reno, Nevada, from north-west to south-east. Project Blue Book concluded that the object was a bolide. However, if the reports of different directions are true, then perhaps there were two of them? An unlikely coincidence perhaps, but less so than something more exotic. Randle does not mention this possibility and seems too willing to give credence to individual witnesses. For example: “It was also near Eureka that the object was reported to have landed near a power plant, shutting down part of the power grid. One witness, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that he had seen the oval-shaped, glowing object on the ground and watched as it lifted off, resuming its flight to the west.”

There is no mention of any attempt to confirm that there was a power failure at that particular time and place and no confirmation of the “landing” by other witnesses, which would be essential if we are expected to take the report seriously. However, he does quote the opinion of a physicist who investigated the reports: “Kadesch was not impressed with the descriptions of the object given by the witnesses, nor was he impressed with the fact that most had estimated it as being little more than a thousand feet high. He said it was difficult, if not impossible, for people to judge the size and distance of an object, especially if they didn’t know what they were seeing. This is, of course, exactly right.”

Kevin Randle appears to have grown slightly more sceptical in recent years. Although this book is biased towards the ETH, this is explicitly admitted by the author.-- From Magonia Supplement 22, December 1999, reviewed by John Harney

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