Admissable Evidence?

Richard H. Hall. The UFO Evidence: Volume II, A Thirty Year Report. The Scarecrow Press, 2000.

This massive 670-plus page tome is likely to become the Bible for true-believing ufologists. Its Biblical status lies not only in its proportions, or in its vast collection of UFO reports, but in its intentions. Just as religious folk in past times assembled collections of saintly miracles or divine providences to convince the atheist of the truth of God's presence, Hall assembles his book as a collection of evidences for the ETH.

This religious tone is emphasised by the way that the text is bordered: beginning with a panegyric to 'witnesses' and concluded by a clergyman's homily. The panegyric contains iconic references to the Christian tradition. Witnesses are not presented as puzzled people who have some unusual and inexplicable experience and are seeking advice as to its nature. Instead they are portrayed as 'messengers' bringing the truth of the coming of 'the others'. But they find themselves: "greeted with laughter and ridicule in far too many cases. Their lives have been disrupted, uprooted, sometimes destroyed. They deserve far better: at the very least they deserve to be heard." Here there is a clear reference to the Christian tradition of the suffering Witness for Christ and the Gospel.

There are reflections of America's Puritan dissenting heritage. Spiritual truth might come from anyone: the plain folks testify to the truth which is ignored by the official religion - in this case the official religion of 'science' and 'key opinion makers'. However, the actual voice of the sacred witness is only dimly heard here, for this is a distillation of some of ufology's key sacred texts. If there are several texts relating to the same event, Hall chooses the most ufologically orthodox, and these are presented in a largely unquestioning manner. With a few exceptions the confusions, complexities and vagueness affecting many of the actual incidents are smoothed over. The raw vision has to be interpreted into the official theology of extraterrestrialism.

Testimony and text are interpreted in a ufologically fundamentalist manner; there is no reference to the 'higher criticism' of Allan Hendry. The multiple distortions of perception, memory, narration, listening, writing, editing and compression are ignored.

If this is to be the reference Bible for the True Believers, will it convert the sceptics? For some of the ufologically naive it will, for there is no doubt that many of the stories as told here would be very difficult to explain; the more so as both text and illustrations are geared to present 'evidences' for structured craft. Challenged to explain the stories, those without background knowledge of the subject may not understand that this is not the same thing as explaining what 'actually happened', and that the texts are not unmediated truth.

Yet many with a more sceptical bent will find the presentation less than satisfactory, for the formula, adopted from the 1964 volume of The UFO Evidence, of presenting sets of lists illustrated with a selection of more detailed entries, simply does not provide the evidence on which they could base an opinion. Even the most detailed entries are so mediated that the reader is not in a position to form an independent judgement. Those with a sceptical bent and a good background knowledge of ufology will detect a few worrying hints that things are not as clear cut as they seem. Among the cases here is one which was caused by a lighthouse (no guessing which one that was), another by a son et lumière display. There are at least a couple of known hoaxes, and one case given a very lengthy treatment here is rather less impressive when you realise that the principal investigator's private opinion was that the witnesses were among the stupidest people he had ever met. Then there are the old Rex Heflin photos presented as next to perfect, the unwillingness to come off the fence on Ed Walters, and the hanging on to Roswell with the finger tips.

However much ufology might appeal to the wisdom of the folks, there is a great desire for validation by the authorities. There is special emphasis on military, police and professional witnesses. Wearing a uniform or being a member of the professional classes makes you a 'better witness'. Though Hall disclaims wild conspiracy theories, he clearly aims to give the impression that the authorities know something we don't. Of course the actual evidence is quite the contrary; it all points to, at best, the same confusion as felt by the rest of us, and at worst an attempt to cover up ignorance. Despite all setbacks, Hall holds to the belief that if only there was a Congressional inquiry all would be revealed. Naive is not quite a strong enough word.

As with several other presentations, I cannot help but feel that the ufologists are their own worst enemies; perhaps if they were willing to present cases, warts and all, with all the arguments back and forth, allowing readers to make up their own minds, and if they were to approach the subject in a genuinely open-minded fashion, then perhaps more people would take notice.

Of course this does not render this book useless; at very least it is an excellent bibliographic reference and a source of classic cases, ranging from LITs to abductions (the latter section supplied by Eddie Bullard, who also does a piece on UFO waves). And if there are genuinely, massively anomalous cases, you will find some of them here. There are some genuine puzzles - why do people from different places and times report UFOs with two occupants looking out of the window and manipulating levers? They can hardly be taken literally (spaceships with levers and other controls more redolent of a Skoda!), but what could have caused them? Could they be fantastical misperceptions of the moon and its markings, something which takes a bit of believing for even the most dedicated pelicanist?

Faced with the mass of material, my reaction is an agnostic one. As presented here, many of the stories are diffucult to explain, but only by getting behind the ufologists' texts is this dilemma likely to be resolved. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 76, November 2001

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