The Great Martian Panic

Gerard Barthel and Jacques Bucker. La Grande Peur Martienne [The Great Martian Panic] Nouvelles Editions Rationnalistes, Paris, 1979.


It is regrettable that the lack of a suitable translation condemns some books to remain unknown to the English-speaking public, because some foreign works are significant and should be read by all interested in the UFO phenomenon.

One such book is La Grande Peur Martienne. When it first appeared it was not well received by European ufologists, who perceived it as a demolishing attack on ufology, intended to promote the so-called sociopsychological explanations of the phenomenon. Perhaps in the end that is what the work of Barthel and Brucker has done; but after a thoughtful reading, I do not believe that such was their original intent.

The book addresses exclusively the French wave of 1954, more precisely the cases reported between August 1 and November 30, of which the author claims to have reinvestigated 562, by directly interviewing the original witnesses and reviewing the newspapers of the time. In doing so, they have discovered a large number of cases with trivial explanations, as well as a good number of hoaxes and frauds, including deliberate media manipulations. The original reports are presented in the text together with the new elements discovered by the authors, thus eliminating those cases from the catalogues of UFO events.
All of this sounds serious and legitimate and in a way is similar to the methodology used by UNICAT, but the reader soon discovers that the selection of the cases presented is far from unbiased. The brunt of their attack seems to be on Jacques Vallee, and emphasises the lack of care and critical judgement apparent in the selection of the cases that were included in his catalogue. By actual count, more than forty cases of the Vallee catalogue have been shown to be poor, erroneous, and I will add, without scientific value.
Not that Vallee does not deserve this ruthless critique. In fact, during our own consideration of Passport to Magonia we have found many cases that surprised us, as they are worthless and based either on newspaper accounts, marked 'personal' (which rules out the possibility of an independent verification), or attributed to Guy Quincy, whose original listings do not have suitable references. Not unexpectedly, many of the cases demolished by Barthel and Brucker coincide with the ones I have already eliminated.
But after all this good work, the authors seem to run out of steam, and rush to their world-shaking conclusion: UFOs do not exist (sounds familiar, doesn't it?). Nobody has touched one, no craft has ever landed, no marks on the ground can be attributed to those nonexistant UFOs. As Michel Monnerie said, "there are no UFOs". All we have is a complex mixture of various circumstances, magnified by the media eager for sensationalism and by ufologists wanting only to perpetuate a myth. There is really nothing behind those hundreds of thousands of reports, and all have a trivial or mundane explanation.
Perhaps Barthel and Brucker realised at this point that they had gone too far, that the extrapolation from a few cases from the 1954 wave to all the cases in France, and by extension to all the cases in the world, was unsound. Thus as an afterthought they tell us that they have "also studied the majority of the important cases" (for France), and they produce a short list of such cases. But alas ~ Those are hardly the most important cases, which are notoriously absent. Not a word is said about, for instance, Cussac (670829) or the case of Dr. X (681102). Two other cases are noted: Quarouble (540911), dismissed by waving hands and ignoring the evidence; and Valensole (650701), for which, since other cases have shown that physical races and humanoids are without foundation, the sincerity of the witness is dubious, and one must look for a psychological explanation.
To give the authors credit where credit is due, their criticism of the methodology in the selection of cases is accurate, and there is at least one classical case (Premanon, 509271 that they have unmasked. And they have also pointed out in the Vallée Catalogue some of the cases without scientific value, information which is really not new to us.
In spite of their unsupported extrapolation, their leaning towards sociopsychological solutions, and their ignoring the evidence when it is not in the direction of their bias, the work has merits. It points out the fallacies of using newspapers as sources of information and the resultant inexactitudes in dates and times, of which we have become so acutely aware in working with UNICAT, and indirectly supports our methodology of not even considering a case unless there exists a good written report based on an 'in situ' investigation. -- Dr. Willy Smith, from Magonia 24, November 1986.

No comments: