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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jul > Jul 3

Re: MAGONIA ETH Bulletin #4

From: Jerome Clark <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
Date: Thu, 02 Jul 98 22:07:07 PDT
Fwd Date: Fri, 03 Jul 1998 01:59:43 -0400
Subject: Re: MAGONIA ETH Bulletin #4

> Subject: UFO UpDate: Re: MAGONIA ETH Bulletin #4
> From: Mark Cashman <mcashman@ix.netcom.com>
> Date: Wed, 1 Jul 1998 22:20:36 -0400
> To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>

> >Date: Wed, 1 Jul 1998 07:53:52 -0400
> >From: bruce maccabee <brumac@compuserve.com>
> >Subject: UFO UpDate: Re: MAGONIA ETH Bulletin #4
> >To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>

> > I agree that having "ten best cases" or 5 or 1 or 100 would be
> > valuable. We should attempt to find at least one case that the
> > majority of contributers can agree remains UNEXPLAINED AFTER
> > UNEXPLAINABLE IN THE FUTURE, where explanation is in terms of
> > known phenomena (e,g.,explaining a UFO as ball lightning is
> > explaining one unknown with another).

> This idea is interesting as far as it goes, but some ground rules
> would need to be set:

> You can see how hard this might be. The debunker will insist
> that they be allowed to reject any item of testimony they object
> to on grounds of a priori unbelievability, that any number of
> low probability events be acceptable, that a low threshold of
> proof for claiming a witness a hoaxer is essential, that
> multiple witness reports are no more evidential than single
> witness reports, and that the only acceptable trace evidence is
> a component of clearly non-terrestrial origin.

In the above and what followed in the original (which I've
deleted simply so that this will be readable), Mark anticipates
the by now well-worn rationalizations debunkers (and PSHers,
assuming there is a meaningful distinction between the two any
longer) will use not to have to come to grips with anything they
can't bear to deal with. His words came to mind this evening as
I happened to be going through my "Anomalies and Science" file,
reading papers here and there. One I happened to reread was an
old favorite, David J. Hufford's "Reason, Rhetoric, and
Folklore: Academic Ideology Versus Folk Belief" (New York
Folklore 11, 1-4 [1985]). It speaks to what Mark is addressing

First, though, a word of explanation. Prof. Hufford is using
such terms as "religious experience" and "supernatural belief"
in the broad way anthropologists use them, and in fact later in
the essay he is specifically critical of such usage. By
"religious experience" he means generally of phenomena that
suggest nonmaterial realities (life-after-death experience,
encounters with apparitions) and by "supernatural belief"
anomalous experience (including UFO sightings) generally:

"The high social position and numerous rhetorical advantages of
the academic opponents of the supernatural have resulted in a
scholarship that has assimilated data to existing intellectual
structures while maintaining those structures as rigidly as
possible, preventing their accommodation to novel input. A
shift, for example, from psychopathological to social
explanations of allegedly non- empirical and irrational beliefs
and hallucinations may give the appearance of accommodation, but
in view of the growing body of data concerning the nature and
distribution of the religious experiences of ordinary persons,
it can be seen as assimilation with a vengeance. The result is
what Thomas Kuhn has called `normal science' in its most mundane
form, and it guarantees a rapid accumulation of anomalies that
seems already to have passed the critical point. As Kuhn
predicted of such periods, this state has made the study of
religious experience and supernatural belief increasingly
convoluted, trivial, and dull for those committed to the
ideology of the status quo, while the most interesting and
exciting work tends to be that which is most resisted by the
academic establishment. This is one reason that folklorists have
been so little involved with central issues of this subject;
there is a limit to how many times one can explain the naive
irrationalism of one's informants, while simultaneously alleging
their dignity and native intelligence, and espouse a universal
relativism that is at direct odds with one's own implicit
epistemology, before cognitive dissonance and boredom combine to
send one on to more pleasant occupations."

In a lighter though no less telling vein, I found this paragraph
in a paper by sociologist of science Ron Westrum:

"Is there any reason why the existence of anomalies should prove
pleasant or unpleasant to scientists? We must admit that there
is. Science as an institution has a strong vested interest in
maintaining anomalies in a deviant status since it has so often
argued that they should be disregarded. Anomalies, along with
deviant scientific systems, have come under repeated heavy fire
from the guns of science. To admit the existence of an anomaly
is to admit that the previous shooting was not only unnecessary,
but possibly harmed an innocent victim. Such an admission would
be, in other words, acutely embarrassing for science."

Jerry Clark