Science of UFOs

William Alschuler. The Science of UFOs, Byron Preiss Book, 2001

There are reasons to both like and hate this book. On the happy side there is a reasonably good discussion of the problems of interstellar travel and how they impact on the idea that extraterrestrials are visiting us. There are a few good pages on the ways that extraterrestrials could prove their alien origins if they were of a mind to want to. There are a few paragraphs devoted to why the Breeding Programme theory makes no sense to the author. One can also get a good feel for the doubtful character of claiming aliens come from other dimensions or universes if one takes such New Age expressions too literally.

Sadly, the book doesn't do very well when actually discussing UFO reports. There are a number of rather silly errors. He mistakenly states Adamski said his aliens came from Vega. He falsely states that the craft in the Hill abduction had landed in the consciously remembered version of the experience before hypnosis. In fact, the craft was airborne when Barney tore off the binoculars and sped off. He misunderstands Project Mogul's role in the Roswell fiasco - claiming the weather balloon explanation was a cover story to hide the Cold War project. In truth, the weather balloon explanation was believed and given sincerely, based on the look of the debris. Nobody prevailed upon the participants to lie. Mogul personnel did not even realise at the time that the Roswell crash involved their equipment. He suggests the 1991 Medjugorge, Yugoslavia photo might be an experimental aircraft, but anyone reading the testimony would surely realise it is a photo of a kite.

He also states at one point that no alien abduction accounts mention ark-ecologies, but, in point of fact, there are reports consistent with the idea. Early in the book, he quotes a 1998 opinion from Popular Mechanics that the Ralph Ditter photo "remains unexplained to this day". But Alschuler somehow forgets to bring up the matter of Ditter's confession.

Alschuler seems poorly informed about other ufological critics. Rather shockingly, he discusses the Linda Cortile case in a manner that suggests he has never heard of George Hansen's critique of the weaknesses surrounding the case. He judges the Phoenix flares case to be "unresolved" which I doubt anyone aware of Tim Printy's comprehensive review of the arguments could say with a straight face. In a brief paragraph he discounts the mutes problem as involving human slashers and shows no awareness of the work of Kagan and Summers.

Strangely, he talks about how there are tests like isotopic ratio analysis that could be performed on materials from the Roswell crash, if ever found; yet ignores the fact that such a test had in fact been performed on an alleged fragment by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1996. Why would he fail to discuss this if he had been reading the works of other critics? The bibliography at the end of the book in fact shows little awareness of the critical literature on Roswell - e.g. Kent Jeffrey's paper, Saler-Ziegler-Moore's book, Kal Korff's and Karl Pflock's writings, among others.

It also seems peculiar that in a discussion recommending researchers to study the existing literature, he favours mention of atmospheric optics works by Minnaert and Greenler. They are fine and lovely books which I would recommend to any science-minded individual, but I can't say they would be all that helpful to the average UFO researcher. His bibliography omits far more useful works - the Condon report, Allan Hendry's UFO Handbook, Tim Printy's website, Ron Story's Space-Gods Revealed and his Encyclopedias, Michael Crowe's and Steven J. Dick's histories of extraterrestrial speculations and many more.

So, is it thumbs up or thumbs down? I go very unenthusiastically thumbs up. The discussion of future science works well enough as an effort to expand the tradition of Arthur Clarke, Bob Forward, and the stable of science-writers for Analog into the field of ufology. The tragedy is he never discovered the tradition of criticism of UFO claims necessary to make this a work of science in the fullest sense. -- Reviewed by Martin Kottmeyer, from Magonia Supplement 43, November 2002

No comments: