Definitely not Definitive

Donald Menzel and Ernest H. Taves. The UFO Enigma; The Definitive Explanation of the UFO Phenomenon. Doubleday, 1977.

The blurb of the late Donald Menzel's book, co-authored with Ernest H Taves ("a psychoanalyst who has also done extensive research in parapsychology and visual perception and written science fiction for Playboy and Galaxy") claims that it is the book which 'proves' that "flying saucers are not extraterrestrial vehicles bringing little green men from outer space, but illusions produced by easily explainable meteorological and optical phenomena". Your reviewer cannot agree. Menzel 'proves' nothing, for the major weakness of the ETH is that it is not 'falsifiable', and even if it were Menzel's critique does not accomplish its Objective.

Menzel and Taves are guilty of most of the faults which they ascribe to others: no detailed case studies analysed in an objective manner are given. They have not followed Klass's example in looking at and criticising cases in detail. They have taken the much easier road of providing inadequate summaries of cases, followed by ex-cathedra statements which are difficult to verify.

In Chapter 8 the authors analyse and 'explain' the residue of the unidentified cases in the Condon report; a task which they simplify for a start by dismissing all single witness Type I reports as hoaxes, full stop. In other cases only summaries and cursory explanations are given. Menzel and Taves may probably be right in some of their identifications, but there is no way of telling from the inadequate information given.

The chapters on 'Flying Saucers of the Bible' and 'The Flying Saucer Scare of 1897' are taken with little modification from Menzel's first book published in 1953. The former is suffused with the same kind of naive literalism that can be found in von Daniken, the latter shows little grasp of the complexity of the 'airship scare' one of the most extraordinary media stimulated visionary rumours of modern times.

The whole book is written in a most unpleasant tone, a combination of spluttering indignation, emotionally loaded phrases, and arrogance. At times the authors give the impression of regarding themselves as Messiahs, saving the benighted plebs from superstition and ignorance, weaning them away from 'idle fancy', while extolling them to keep their feet on the ground and their noses to the grindstone. The emotional style resembles nothing so much as the hard-core believers themselves. They even share the UFO buff paranoia about the media, only there they see a great conspiracy by 'true believers'. This reaction is typical of politicians, and tells us something about the psychology of both sides in the UFO debate. -- Peter Rogerson. MUFOB New Series 8, autumn 1977


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