Getting Scientific

Jenny Randles, and Peter Warrington. Science and the UFOs. Blackwell, 1985.

Ufologists of many persuasions, from hardcore ETH to the fringes of 'New Ufology' (how dated that appellation now seems) have been united by a feeling that whatever the solution to the UFO enigma might be - spaceships, paranormal events, some facet of radical misperception - there must be something in the UFO phenomenon that should provoke the interest of 'mainstream', 'establishment' science. "Even if you think we're all nutters," we say in effect to the scientists, "we're at least uncovering some sort of phenomena, aren't you interested in it?" And with one or two exceptions, largely from the fields of behavioural and social science, the answer has been "Not a lot!" In this book Jenny Randles and Peter Warrington make another attempt to take science by the scruff of the neck, rub its nose into the UFO evidence, and hope it takes notice.

The book opens with chapters which summarise the history of the flawed science of ufology. They outline the ongoing shambles of governmental UFO investigation (some of the comments made by US Government officials in the forties and fifties are hair-raisingly irresponsible in retrospect), and are only too well aware of the failures of 'enthusiast' ufology, and the damaging effect of ETH domination of ufological thought.

The second part of the book reviews current research within that 'enthusiast' field. The authors demonstrate an excellent understanding of the problems of radical misperception within a falsely constructed frame of reference, and what this means for the investigator. They present a detailed analysis of a series of extraordinary sightings in Hastings in 1981 which demonstrate the problems involved in assessing even the most unequivocal eyewitness testimony. Yet unlike some other writers who have attempted to stimulate scientific interest in ufology, the authors do not attempt to sweep under the carpet some of the more embarrassing data. The abduction, contactee and 'psychic' cases are faced up to, and put squarely into a psycho-sociological context, and the challenge to conventional science in clearly stated: "There can be no doubt that the CE4 [abduction/contact cases] represents a strange part of human experience, a chapter so strange that it is difficult to justify its continued neglect by social scientists."

The core of the book is in the final chapters, 'The Future'. Here the authors attempt to map out paths for future study. Firstly the pitfalls of media coverage are accurately charted, and it is interesting to read of some of the backstage manoeuvrings behind news coverage of Rendlesham. The authors' estimation here of the significance of that case is considerably more restrained than that which has appeared elsewhere. In fact there is little stated here that this reviewer (or the reviewer of Sky Crash) would disagree with. The authors are also prepared to take a critical look at some of the recent panaceas which have appeared on the UFO scene. Regression hypnosis, birth trauma, and earth lights are all looked at critically, and their strengths and weaknesses accurately defined.

In conclusion, the' authors examine what the store of UFO data has to offer to each field of science, from astronomy to sociology, from geology to psychology. They make the point convincingly that this data is of importance and does have relevance to a wide range of scientific disciplines. But will the scientists working within those disciplines be prepared to accept the data which ufologists are 'offering them? Probably not, yet. The negative image of ufology will take many years to erode. This book is an excellent attempt at hastening that process. -- John Rimmer, from Magonia 20, August 1985.

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