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Tales From the Dark Side of Flying Saucer Research

Date: Mon, 31 Mar 1997 11:44:02 +0100
To: UFO UpDates 
From: Joe McNally 
Subject: FWD: Tales from the dark side of flying saucer research

Forwarded from the Forteana list. Thought this might be of
interest given the recent worries that all ufologists will find
themselves tarred with the "cultist" brush:

Seen in The San Francisco Examiner on 31 /March 1997

The UFO Field

The "UFOlogy" movement has attracted so many questionable
characters selling so many strange tales that embarrassed veteran
UFO investigators have distanced themselves from the field.

Last week's mass suicide of UFO cultists is simply the latest
example of the increasingly bizarre evolution of the "flying
saucer" field.

In the 1950s, the weirdest UFO tales involved handsome aliens who
befriended ordinary people, took them on interplanetary tours of
Mars and Venus, expressed faith in God, and pleaded for peace on

Now, the movement resembles a nonstop episode of the bleak,
paranoid TV series "The X-Files."

Reading UFO books, magazines and Web sites, one would think that
thousands of Americans have been kidnapped from their beds,
hauled aboard saucers and medically examined by aliens; that
laser-wielding UFOnauts land in pastures and carve up cattle;
that space beings try to create "hybrids" of humans and aliens;
that a UFO crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947; and that the U.S.
government keeps the alien crash victims' pickled bodies at a
secret military base in Nevada.

"You see enough of this, and you get more skeptical," grumbles
veteran investigator James Moseley of Key West, Fla., whose
long-lived, gossipy newsletter 'Saucer Smear' has made him the
master chronicler of UFOlogy.

After more than three decades in the field, "I don't believe any
of the (UFO) landings. I don't believe in Roswell," Moseley said.
"Certainly people are seeing things in the sky that we can't
explain, but I don't think we have any proof" they are aliens.

"I don't think the government does, either," Moseley added,
thereby violating one of the cherished canons of UFOlogy: that
the government knows the "truth" about saucers but is keeping it
secret to "prevent panic" or for some other mysterious reason.
"The government . . . is so horrendously incompetent and
disorganized that they are incapable of covering their own
tracks, much less a mystery of this magnitude."

Another victim of disillusion is Stanford-trained physicist Irwin
Wieder of Los Altos.

Over a decade, Wieder spent his spare time investigating a
celebrated UFO photo taken in Oregon in 1966. When he discovered
that the photo had a mundane explanation and that the
photographer - a seemingly credible man with a doctorate and a
respectable military background - "was not reliable," Wieder
largely soured on the field.

"There's an awful lot of New Age people in the (UFO) field,"
Wieder said Friday. "There are still some serious people working
in UFOlogy . . . but the bulk of them, unfortunately, are not."

When Wieder published his negative findings in 1993 in the
Stanford-based Journal of Scientific Exploration, he ruefully
admitted in print that for years he had "remained oblivious to an
abundance of evidence that should have signaled something was
wrong (with the photo). If anything can be learned from this, it
is that UFO researchers need to be more diligent in applying the
principles of scientific research."

Now, Wieder studies mainly ball lightning, a frontier subject in
atmospheric physics where the investigators "are far more
serious, more scientific than the average UFO researcher."

He says he believes that this extremely rare, controversial form
of lightning - which appears as slow-moving, glowing "balls" -
may account for some UFO reports.

The last few years have been rough on the most acclaimed UFO
"event" of the last half-century - the alleged "crash" of a
saucer at Roswell, N.M., in July 1947. This tale has excited so
much interest that it played an important part in last year's
mega-cosmic movie blockbuster, "Independence Day," and in many TV
shows and books.

The 'Saucer' was a Balloon

In 1995, under congressional pressure, the U.S. Air Force
declassified documents that revealed the true identity of the
'saucer': It was fragments of a special balloon launched to
detect possible radioactive debris from covert Soviet nuclear

Worse for UFO buffs was the discrediting of a top Roswell
investigator, Donald R. Schmitt. Schmitt had co-written a book
about the Roswell case and was "director of special
investigations" for the most cautious pro-UFO group, the Center
for UFO Studies in Illinois, founded by the late astronomer J.
Allen Hynek. Schmitt's writings carried special credibility
because he claimed an illustrious background in law enforcement.

Then, Gillian Sender, a reporter for Milwaukee magazine,
discovered that Schmitt had no background in law enforcement, nor
was he working on a doctorate in criminology, as he claimed; he
hadn't even finished college. Instead, he was a mail carrier in
Hartford, Wis., population 8,000. Schmitt admitted he had "made
false statements about certain things."

Schmitt's co-author, Kevin Randle, split with Schmitt and charged
in 1995: "I went out on a limb for this guy . . . and he sawed
the limb off."

The scientific community ignores UFOs, Randle complained at the
time, "because they don't want to be associated with a field full
of kooks and nuts. And the fact is, it is full of kooks and

In San Francisco, another famed UFOlogist is wrestling with the
field's wild twists and turns. In the mid-1960s,
astronomer-computer expert Jacques Vallee wrote an acclaimed
book, "Anatomy of a Phenomenon," that critics called one of the
few intellectually interesting books on the subject.

But a few years ago a bitter letter attributed to Vallee popped
up in Moseley's World Wide Web edition of Saucer Smear.

"My decision to withdraw from the (UFO) field is consistent with
the observation that serious, constructive scientific work is
impossible in present conditions," it said. "Over the last few
years ufology has squandered close to one million dollars . . .
in absurd, unscientific procedures centered on abduction
'research', the Roswell fiasco . . . and various field
investigations of the Roswell and Gulf Breeze type. I cannot
afford to remain associated with any of this, so it is time to go
away quietly."

The Gulf Breeze, Fla., case generated many sightings and
photographs in Florida in the 1980s. The case climaxed when
someone discovered a small model of a UFO hidden inside a home
formerly owned by the prime witness, who was then accused of
using the model to fake his photos.

Vallee, who is traveling, couldn't be reached for comment. But
his wife, Jeanine Vallee, said the letter "sounds just like him.
I know he probably did (write) that. As he just said in the
letter, the (UFO) field has changed so much and there's not so
much research; things are going off the deep end."

Vallee's publisher, Richard Grossinger of North Atlantic Books in
Berkeley, said Vallee hadn't so much abandoned the UFO field as
distanced himself from parts of it.

"He doesn't want be associated with so-called inquiries into
alien abductions and cattle mutilations," Grossinger said.


This has been reported via the Fortean Times On-line
Reporting service at

Nothing in this post is necessarily the opinion of John Brown
Publishing or Fortean Times. On a bad day, it might not even be
"It was like groping your way through a thick fog. The beams of
your headlights showing the fog back at you. It was like that,
yet it wasn't." Lionel Fanthorpe, "The Asteroid Man"


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Next: UFO roundup 10/27/1996