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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jun > Jun 12

Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

From: Greg Sandow <gsandow@prodigy.net>
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 10:29:54 -0400
Fwd Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 20:14:02 -0400
Subject: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

> From: RobIrving@aol.com
> Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 01:54:20 EDT
> To: updates@globalserve.net
> Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

> >But to use [John Mack]  as an example of how free scientists are to
> >pursue UFO research seems more than a little grotesque.

> Grotesque?

> Firstly, he was your example. You challenged me to challenge it,
> as I did.

Not so. I challenged you to quote scientists who didn't feel
they were discouraged from pursuing UFO research. You quoted
Mack. (And nobody else.)  Granted, Mack isn't discouraged. But
he's a special case (huge advance for his book, lavish funding
from outside the scientific community, Pulitzer Prize), and in
any case demonstrates exactly the trouble scientists can get
into. Hence -- as your only example -- grotesque.

You're now, in other posts, making a virtue of ignorance -- no,
sorry, of not clogging your mind with data -- but here it would
be helpful to hear the voice of scientists who haven't yet been
publicly quoted. I'll make a stab at that, using a connection or
two that I have. Since my connections aren't usually in
scientific fields, I can't promise results. Yes, I've spoken to
a couple of science or medical professionals involved at least
peripherally in UFO research, but I'm interesting in hearing
from scientists with virgin UFO dossiers.

Here's one additional thought, though. If you search a database
of psychology journals for articles on anything paranormal
(keyword: "paranormal"), you'll find a good many papers
examining, from a favorable persepctive, the hypothesis that a
belief in paranormal phenomena is linked to psychopathology. Or,
colloquially, that people who believe in anything paranormal
aren't quite right in the head. There's a fairly famous UFO
inquiry of that sort, by the late Nicholas Spanos and several
colleagues. As is well known, they found -- to their evident
astonishment -- that people who believe UFOs are "real" (and
even those who claim sightings or abductions) are no crazier
than anyone else.

The point here, though, is the bias in the field. People who
believe in such things may well be psychologically disturbed.
With this as a prevalent belief in the field, how likely are
psychologists to publicly declare their own sympathetic interest
in UFOs or the paranormal? (And yes, Rob, you'll find a few
papers in which psychologists do just that. A few. As opposed to
many more on the other side. The climate in the field is
unmistakable. I did ask a psychologist about it, and got
confirmation of my impression, but I'll admit that she's only a
sample of one.)

> >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."

> Give me a break, Greg. The world is full of taunters, as you
> know. Everyone with an original idea has taunters. So what?
> Reasonable people, rightly or wrongly, pride themselves in
> sniffing cranks at a mile away. Ufology is full of cranks...
> not all ufologists, mind, but it shouldn't surprise the more
> sensible ones when they suffer taunts due primarily to the
> antics of the less sensible ones.

> >Is that something other scientists would welcome?

> I don't know... ask Darwin if he welcomed it from Creationists.

Not the same thing at all. I've taken unpopular views in my own
field, and been attacked or taunted for it. Earlier this year, I
attended the annual retreat of the American Composers Orchestra,
a respected classical music institution in New York. This was a
populous affair, attended by almost 100 people, many of them
prominent. I made some remarks, as is my wont, and was descended
upon afterwards by people angry at me. (I'd suggested that
contemporary classical music didn't need the special pleading
late in the '90s that it had needed in the '70s, when the ACO
was founded.) Among those angry at me -- and this man was almost
shaking with rage -- was one of my colleagues on the Juilliard
faculty, the head of their composition department.

I doubt he's happy that I'm teaching a course called "Classical
Music in an Age of Pop, " in which I express ideas like the ones
he fumed at. For all I know, he went to the president of
Juilliard and denounced me, saying nobody like me should be
teaching there. If I organize a symposium next year, as I hope
to, on the future of classical music, maybe he'll denounce me

And if he does it, how can I object? But suppose he went to the
president and said, "Look, Sandow's views on music are bad
enough, but did you know he's a UFO nut?" That would be
genuinely troubling. I've always wondered how much at risk I am
from attacks like that. There is a BIG difference, let me
stress, between being attacked for your controversial views in
your own field, as Darwin was by the creationists, and being
sideswiped by your opponents for something outside it. That's
what happened to McDonald before Congress. His brave involvement
in ufology made him vulnerable in his mainstream scientific
pursuits, something I'm sure most people on our list can
understand, even if Rob can't.

> No-one discouraged Terence Meaden from pursuing UFO research, or
> even Michael Persinger, by the way. Do they count? Or are you
> saying ETH research or UFO? Have I said "spot the difference"
> once already?

Of course there's a difference. Scientists didn't object when
Sagan took the time to denounce UFO belief. Scientists didn't
give Donald Menzel any trouble (though they certainly should
have, if they cared about evidence and reason). It's precisely
which side you appear to be on that makes the difference. That
was the point right from the start of this discussion, and for
Rob to announce that saying so implies some partiality to the
ETH, some privileging it in the discussion, is.....grotesque.

 >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.

> How does he feel about your using his name on the Internet? I
> don't know of Pritchard, so I can't rightly comment.

Now why would your conversation with Mark Cashman make me
suspect you didn't know Pritchard?

He's a research physicist, a professor at MIT, with an
extracurricular interest in the possibility of extraterrestrial
life. He felt that SETI research hadn't produced results, and in
addition might be based on questionable assumptions. (For
instance, that aliens or their robot probes weren't likely to
visit us.) He thought that abduction reports might provide more
concrete evidence, and began to look into abductions. Along with
John Mack, he organized a conference on abductions held at MIT
at 1992, though not under official MIT sponsorship.

I feel free to mention his name on the Internet because it's
well known in UFO circles, and to some extent has surfaced in
the mainstream press. When he asked me not to mention him by
name, he said he'd gotten in trouble in his department
previously, when his UFO interest had been mentioned in the Wall
Street Journal.

Oh, and Rob....you'll like this. Pritchard was worried about
losing government funding for his research, but he also said
that UFO crazies had begun calling the MIT physics department,
trying to find him, so they could tell him the answers to UFO
mysteries. The department chairman had to field those calls, and
wasn't happy about it.

Pritchard has gone back and forth about his public visibility.
Last time I noticed, he was on the advisory board of JUFOS,
which certainly puts his name before the public in a UFO
context. (Not that any wide public reads that journal.) I've
seen him once on tabloid TV, talking about the alleged penile
implant he'd analyzed. And his more recent comments about
pressure from colleagues making him reconsider his UFO work were
made to a television interviewer -- though, I must say, to a
most discreet and seductive one, with a history of making her
subjects feel at ease, which perhaps accounts for Pritchard
talking to her at all. In any case, his remarks (not used on the
TV show in question) were entirely unambiguous, even if his
behavior is not. In any case, he was protected, in one sense --
the show was about abductions, and his comments were skeptical
of most abduction research. In fact, he served as one of the
skeptical voices on the show. His scientific respectability
wouldn't have been hurt.

Greg Sandow

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