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

Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

From: "Jerome Clark" <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
Date: Wed, 10 Jun 98 12:34:54 PDT
Fwd Date: Thu, 11 Jun 1998 18:17:25 -0400
Subject: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

> From: RobIrving@aol.com
> Date: Wed, 10 Jun 1998 08:09:47 EDT
> To: updates@globalserve.net
> Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

> >Date: Tue, 09 Jun 1998 20:28:06 -0300
> >From: "Stanton T. Friedman" <fsphys@brunnet.net>
> >To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>
> >Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

> >I think Rob's comments are so much horse manure.

I am afraid, sadly, that I must agree here with Stan.

> >>With sufficient and clearly presented evidence I can't see much
> >>of a problem. What exactly is the problem, in your opinion? I
> >>personally don't accept the line that scientists are too worried
> >>about reputation to involve themselves in ufology - that argument
> >>doesn't hold water.

> I maintain that if the ETH were ever presented in a manner that
> didn't rely on anecdotal and bogus documentary evidence, it
> wouldn't face the stonewalling from the scientific community
> that many imagine.

It is getting harder and harder to take Mr. Irving seriously. He
is notably long on attitude and sweeping, dismissive waving of
hands and short on basic knowledge. Like Mark Cashman, I had
begun to wonder how somebody who knows so little about this
subject should have such strong opinions on same (not to mention
those of us who have bothered to educate ourselves on it; or
maybe he holds the Orwellian view that ignorance is strength). I
am genuinely disappointed. I had expected rather more of someone
who wrote "The Henry X File" (Fortean Times, September 1996),
one of the sharpest, wittiest pieces I've ever encountered in
this field. Maybe I'll have to reconsider my assessment of Henry
A. (that's a JOKE, Rob).

The notion that scientists investigate UFOs at their own
professional peril is false staggers the imagination.
Scientists' resistance, for reasons not always strictly
rational, to anomalous claims is the subject of a considerable
literature in the sociology and philosophy of science, e.g.,
Mauskopf's The Reception of Unconventional Science
(AAAS/Westview, 1979) and Bauer's The Enigma of Loch Ness
(University of Illinois Press, 1986; see Chapter 7 in
particular). (I have a bulging file of papers, mostly from
social- science journals, on this and related matters.)
Sociologist of science Marcello Truzzi has written lengthily and
eloquently on this subject, most recently in the forthcoming
essay "On Some Unfair Practices Towards Claims of the
Paranormal." (By the way, Truzzi, though skeptical, holds the
view that rational, critical-minded persons can look at UFO data
and see, rightly or wrongly, an ETH there. He admirably resists
the temptation to rhetorical inflation so beloved of Rob and
some others on this list, who regularly tell us we are religious
fanatics, gullible true believers, and even [see below]
clinically paranoid.)

Those of us who know a great deal more than Irving does about
James McDonald's ordeal can laugh or cry (your call) at his
strange claim. McDonald's correspondence with fellow scientists,
to whom he presented meticulously investigated cases and who
(with a handful of honorable exceptions) clearly had no interest
in letting evidence contaminate their biases (their replies
indicate they had not even read the case material), serves to
validate Allen Hynek's famous observation that science is not
always what scientists do (for explication, see Chapter 12 of
The UFO Experience). One might add that an Allen Hynek speaks on
this subject with rather more authority than Rob Irving.

Many cases speak to the point, but this one comes to mind at the

When it sought to get out of the UFO business, the Air Force
tried to get a university interested in taking up an
investigation. No university wanted anything to do with so
disreputable a subject, and even the University of Colorado took
it on reluctantly, mostly because it needed the money (it was
suffering from recent cutbacks in funding mandated by a
conservative state legislature). In fact, after Colorado was
approached, assistant dean Robert Low consulted several
prominent scientists for their views. As Low later reported to
the university, he was told that even to consider the
POSSIBILITY that UFOs may exist was not "respectable." And keep
in mind that Low was every bit as skeptical as the scientists he
was addressing. Even so, they thought he and the university were
flirting with heresy.

Anyone who's ever investigated a case and found an item of
evidence (in, say, a CE2) for evaluation by a scientist can
testify to the extraordinary skittishness even of interested
professionals. Few will allow their names to be published, for
fear of what their colleagues or deans will say (or of being
attacked and ridiculed in the journal of scientistic law
enforcement, Skeptical Inquirer). (See the discussion on "CE2s
and Failed Science" on pp. 196-97 of The UFO Encyclopedia, 2nd

Bruce Maccabee, a scientist who is open about his UFO interests,
tells some amazing tales of scientism's resistance to even the
most thoroughly documented UFO data in his eye-opening paper
"Still in Default," MUFON 1986 UFO Symposium Proceedings,
131-60. The title, incidentally, harks back to McDonald's
"Science in Default: Twenty-two Years of Inadequate UFO
Investigations," in the Sagan/Page UFOs -- A Scientific Debate,

> That's not to say that others haven't had problems, or that
> there are not good examples of the contrary, but it seems to me
> that imagining that some kind of subtle or not so subtle
> conspiracy exists to deny your 'truth' is indicative of the
> classic descent into paranoia, usually occurring when belief is
> dominant.

This is utter rot. No one is talking "conspiracy" except Rob here.
(Whatever else might be said, the guy does have a fertile
imagination.) Maybe, my friend, you really ought to find a subject
you know something about to denounce. What we're seeing
from Rob, I fear, is more indicative of the classic descent into
the sort of arrogance usually occurring when ignorance is

Jerry Clark

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/FONT> >marks were found on the site.> >After lengthy inquiries by Hynek and others, the simplest -- and >surely most elegant -- explanation would have been that >something was really out there. Klass, though, reasoned >differently. He found someone who lived not too far away who >said he hadn't heard a roar. So he formed his first >Occam-twisting hypothesis: That this person, rather than the >witness, was believable, even though (as Hynek pointed out) the >man lived near a noisy highway.> >Klass also talked to someone (unnamed) in the town, who said the >whole thing was a hoax. His second Occam-deforming hypothesis: >That THIS person, not even named, was more believable than the >witness, even though Klass gives no reason why, and doesn't tell >us anything at all about what kind of person this was. (I might >add that -- as Klass has to know from his normal journalistic >work -- it's not hard to find someone to take any conceivable >point of view, when you're dealing with anything controversial. >So the mere fact that someone asserts something doesn't mean a >thing.)> >Finally, Klass noted that the Mayor of Soccoro owned the land >which the sighting occured, and on that slim reed rested his >final Occam-astounding hypothesis: That the Mayor and his >employee, the policeman, had staged a hoax to give the town >publicity, and presumably make the land more valuable. This, >even though the alleged plot would have ended with the sighting, >and no further steps were ever taken! Almost needless to say, >Klass never asked either the policeman or the Mayor (or anyone >else in town, save his anonymous informant, who in any case was >only theorizing) whether this was true. Thus, in Lewis Carroll's >terms, he chose to believe three impossible things before >breakfast, instead of merely one, as the "Objectively Existent" >hypothesis would have required him to do. Occam lies confounded. >("Objectively Existent" is Mark Cashman's phrase for the theory >that some up to now unknown physical phenomenon lies behind >some UFO reports.) Once again I must congratulate Greg for an excellent discourse on the application of the Razor to ufology. He has correctly illustrated the Klassic Anti-Razor Attack. (KARA) in which two or more hypotheses are combined in order to explain a single observation rather than accept the hypothesis that "he saw what he said."

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