Serious books about UFOs are as rare as a week in Manchester without rain. Most are great sources of humour and entertainment, even if their authors are perfectly serious about their encounters with aliens and/or their latest crackpot theories. This time we are offered a serious, practically academic, tome. You just have to look at the contents page to see that it is no pot-boiler in the traditional sense. Section II for example, looks at 'Paradigmatic Transformation: Reported UFO Encounters as a Paradigm to Evaluate the Reality of Event Level Status.' That means that it is about whether UFOs are physically real or not.
Most of the authors are highly qualified but this is a fault rather than a bonus. Their suppositions are based on lack of knowledge about the subject. As compensation they resort to jargon and theory. Much of the text is as useful and practical as a budge in a goldfish-bowl.
The best contributions are supplied by Thomas Bullard, David E. Pritchard and Michael Swords. Here Bullard repeats his contention that "missing babies and post traumatic stress disorder without apparent physical cause become sticking points in the ongoing argument." (p83)
Michael Swords acknowledges the work of Bullard but considers that his conclusions are probably the result of the data-base he has worked from (e.g. the UFO literature). To get better results he suggests that we should establish better reporting protocols combined with an "open discussion of multiple alternate hypotheses." Given the attitude of most ufologists and organisations I very much doubt that this will ever happen. Such people become emotionally attached to their cases. If you dare discuss one of their precious reports you are liable to get threats of court action late at night.
David Pritchard has much bad news for the nuts and bolts school of ufology in his 'Physical Analysis of Purported Alien Artifacts'. Any artifact if it is to be convincing must have unusual performance, composition and structure which should be "simple enough to be deduced and yet impossible to duplicate naturally or in the lab." As we know in the case of photographic evidence the pedigree of the artifact is one of the most important factors. Where and how as it found? Who analysed it? Pritchard notes, "It is the whole story, confirmed by the artifact, which will do the convincing; not the artifact by itself." (p 190)
On the opposite side of the fence, the psycho-sociological explanation of the EAT (experienced anomalous trauma) is given a rough ride by a few of the contributors, including co-editor Rima Laibow, who argues that cases of EAT don't match with established mental disorder criteria used by the medical profession. This is not too surprising since those who suffer from EAT are not necessarily mentally ill but that doesn't mean to say that they are accurately reporting 'real' events.
Robert Hall compares MPI (mass psychogenic illness) criteria with EAT cases. Out of twelve criteria he finds only resemblances between two of them, which makes him conclude that there is something to EAT and that the psycho-sociological theory is up the creek. Once you start looking at the various criteria you can see that Hall's ability to make comparisons is rather faulty. He suggests that those experiencing MPI "select others as their models for belief and behaviour" but EAT victims don't. It doesn't take a great UFO expert to see that this is false what about the support groups propagated by Hopkins or the role of Strieber? The other sets of criteria can as easily be applied to EAT cases, which would indicate that MPI is at work, so Hall effectively supplies ammunition for psychosociologists.
With the exceptions noted above, this volume suffers from much ignorance and high reliance on anecdotal evidence, theory or just plain New Age psycho-babble. Try making sense of Bonnice Greenwell's 'Traumatic Correlates of profound Spiritual Awakening Experienced in the Kundalini Process'.
To conclude, this book emphasises that UFO bullshit baffles brains as easily as any idiot: it doesn't matter how intelligent or objective we think we are, the 'will to believe' is more potent. These Proceedings are a classic example of wishful thinking taken to a high art form. In years to come we will marvel at the gullibility of the poor souls who contributed to this volume. By then ufologists will believe in something different but equally bizarre. -- Nigel Watson, from Magonia 50, September 1994..