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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jun > Jun 11

Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

From: "Greg Sandow" <gsandow@prodigy.net>
Date: Wed, 10 Jun 1998 14:00:36 -0400
Fwd Date: Thu, 11 Jun 1998 18:12:50 -0400
Subject: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

> From: RobIrving@aol.com
> Date: Tue, 9 Jun 1998 22:13:24 EDT
> To: updates@globalserve.net
> Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

> >From: "Greg Sandow" <gsandow@prodigy.net>
> >To: "'UFO UpDates - Toronto'" <updates@globalserve.net>
> >Subject: RE: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs
> >Date: Tue, 9 Jun 1998 09:48:34 -0400

> >What Rob or I personally care to accept is beside the point. What
> >matters is what scientists think. David Pritchard said recently that
> >peer pressure was pushing him away from UFOs, and John Mack was
> >publicly questioned by an official Harvard invesitgation. There we
> >have two gentlemen with professional scientific credentials who
> >organized a scientific conference on abductions, and paid for it. I
> >know of two other scientists who take part in abduction research, but
> >prefer to be anonymous, fearing what their colleagues would think.
> >Would Rob care to quote some UFO-involved scientists with contrary
> >views?

> Surely. I can quote John Mack, from my interview with him in
> Helsinki in late 1996, not long after his problems with Harvard
> (which was not an investigation, by the way). Lacking in class
> as it is to quote ones own writings - especially all the time,
> don't you agree Jerry? (Jerry agrees) - I'll make an exception,
> as it's relevant. From Fortean Times 96 3/97:

> 'Mack's well publicised appearance before a Special Faculty
> Committee at Harvard medical School, to answer "many, many
> complaints" arising from the 1994 publication of his book,
> Abduction: yadayada, developed into something of a cause celebre
> for ufologists.'

> 'Some of his colleagues were unhappy that the school had become
> associated with stories of flying saucers and sexual
> experiments. Moreover, Mack seemed to be taking what his
> 'experiencers' were saying literally. Ostensibly an issue of
> academic freedom, the case set standards for criticism of
> perceived 'pseudo-scientific' idealogy.'

> 'I asked Mack whether he thought this had more to do with a
> natural tendency to err on the side of caution when faced with
> novel ideas. "The senior dean for academic affairs told me that
> I wouldn't have been in trouble if I hadn't said that we might
> be required to change our notions of reality," Mack explained.
> "Of course, that closes the issue right there..."'

> Quite! Then he talked about how complex crop formations couldn't
> be man-made.  Anyway... Mack was allowed to continue his work
> uncensured. Which, coupled with his curious drifts into
> cerealogy, rather supports the points I've made to you... which
> you appear to have clumsily avoided.

Well, let's see.

The committee at Harvard considered formal academic censure. If I
remember correctly, it also considered stripping away Mack's
tenure, a serious and almost unheard of punishment at American
universities.

Sure, in the end Mack was neither censured nor demoted. But to
use him as an example of how free scientists are to pursue UFO
research seems more than a little grotesque. Let's say I'm a
younger scientist at Harvard. I look at Mack and what do I see?
An example of how academic freedom protects my right to do any
research I like. Or an example of how much trouble I can get into
if my colleagues don't like what I do?

Suppose I don't have tenure yet. Am I encouraged to throw myself
into ufology, and to publish ufological papers? Wouldn't I be
more than likely to think: "If there are people at Harvard
powerful enough to threaten a tenured full professor who's won
the Pulitzer Prize, what could they do to me? Wouldn't they be
powerful enough to deny me tenure? They wouldn't even have to
make a public fuss."

Then there's the issue of government funding. Many scientists get
grants for their research David Pritchard told me he worried that
his funding might get cut off because of his abduction work. When
I interviewed him, he asked me not to use his name in print, and
insisted we only talk when he was home. He didn't want anyone to
accuse him of doing ufology on MIT's time.

Would our young scientist imagine his path to funding would be
smoothed by his UFO research?

Let's remember James McDonald, who in his capacity as a top
atmospheric physicist was asked to testify before Congress on a
matter unrelated to UFOs. Congressmen who disagreed with his
position taunted him, declaring his views worthless because he
believed in "little green men."

Is that something other scientists would welcome? Would they like
their UFO research to interfere, not just with faculty promotions
and funding for their research, but with outside activities,
including chances for employment as consultants?

So, as I said, let's see. Rob and I are debating whether
scientists are discouraged from pursuing UFO research. I
challenge him to quote a scientist who says he or she isn't, and
he picks the one who got in the most dangerous -- and public --
trouble. (Thus demonstrating one good reason why scientists would
shy away from UFOs.)

There ought to be a name for that. May I suggest "rhetorical
suicide"?

Greg Sandow




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