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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jun > Jun 13

Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

From: Jerome Clark <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 98 10:59:16 PDT
Fwd Date: Sat, 13 Jun 1998 18:25:24 -0400
Subject: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs


> From: RobIrving@aol.com
> Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 01:54:13 EDT
> To: updates@globalserve.net
> Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

> > To: "UFO UpDates - Toronto" <updates@globalserve.net>
> > From: "Jerome Clark" <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
> > Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs
> > Date: Wed, 10 Jun 98 12:34:54 PDT

> Jerome,

> <snip>

> Sticking to the subject...

> > The notion that scientists investigate UFOs at their own
> > professional peril is false staggers the imagination.

> That's not quite how I put it, is it. I would have expected that
> you, as a self-professed 'English major' would have learned by
> now to read more carefully, to address what is actually said,
> and try not to jump to conclusions.

An interesting example of what happens to academics and
scientists who publicly identify themselves with the UFO heresy
comes in the new (June 25) issue of the New York Review of
Books, generally regarded as the leading cultural and
intellectual journal in the United States. In the course of an
extraordinarily emotional attack on abductees, abduction
investigators, and ufologists generally, Frederick Crews
approvingly notes the professional near-ruin to which Mack and
Jacobs have been brought, mentioning their "well-earned
ostracism and ridicule from their colleagues." One need have no
great imagination to sense the chilling effect this must have on
other academics thinking of taking up UFO study.

> Supergluing myself to the point, I believe that how seriously
> the ETH is taken very much depends upon how it is presented, and
> the quality of evidence offered. That is essentially what I
> wrote previously - adapting it to your mind-set won't change the
> fact.
>
> You seem to feel that the evidence offered thus far is
> sufficient, and laid out in a way that should, in a perfect
> world, make every scientist jump to attention. I happen to
> disagree, and cited a few examples where revolutionary ideas
> were accepted quite early, even if some dismissed them as
> ludicrous. Opposite precedents nonetheless.

And I disagree with you. Having read a great deal of the
anti-UFO literature, as well as many of the anti-UFO
pronouncements of scientists, I have learned what Peter Sturrock
established more formally years ago in a poll of his fellow
astronomers: that there is a strong correlation between
ignorance of the UFO phenomenon and rejection of it. (The only
exception that comes to mind is the chapter on UFOs in Steven J.
Dick's splendid The Biological Universe [Cambridge University
Press, 1996], and even here Dick is careful to leave the door
open a crack.)

Interestingly in this connection, Sturrock found that
astronomers who had personal UFO sightings were reluctant to
discuss them. He noted that "if you want to find out whether
scientists see UFOs, you must ask them and you probably must
guarantee them anonymity." This silence, of course, fuels the
scientistic myth, perpetrated by ufophobic astronomers when
bloviating to journalists, that astronomers never see UFOs.

> What I've been trying (unsuccessfully so far) to get you to tell
> me is why you think the so-called science establishment baulks
> at the subject of ufology _in particular_.

Oh, my. Don't you have to make a living, as I do? I already
spend too much time at this nonpaying labor, and I am getting
dangerously behind on a book deadline. Unless you choose to
confine your effort to educate yourself to reading what's on
this list, I urge you to go to the sociology/philosophy of
science literature for lengthy discussions of why scientists
take up some issues and not others, and not always for rational
reasons. Marcello Truzzi, David Hufford, James McClenon, Henry
Bauer, Ron Westrum, and others have written cogently on the
subject. Mark Rodegher's Ph.D. thesis (Factors Influencing
Attitudes Toward Controversial Research: Quantitatively
Disentangling the Social from the Scientific [University of
Illinois, Chicago, 1994]) is a searching examination of the
question. Truzzi's sadly defunct journal Zetetic Scholar dealt
exclusively with the matter. Look up some back issues if you can
find them.

> > 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.)

> Well, Jerome, that's evidence enough for me that you jump to
> conclusions. Can you show me where I've described you or anyone
> in those terms? If that is indicative of your accuracy in
> reporting, and from what I've read I fear it is, then I am not
> surprised you moan about not being taken seriously.

I have no idea what this last remark means. It seems to exist as
yet another example of rhetorical inflation, such as your claim,
in a recent posting (which, disingenuously, you act as if you
have forgotten), that we who disagree with you on the issue in
question are conspiracy theorists suffering from clinical
paranoia. (To your credit you apologize at least for the
"conspiracy theorist" part of the charge later in this posting.)

In fact, as painful as it will be for you to learn, I am taken
quite seriously. My books are well reviewed in both professional
journals and popular publications, I have won a number of
literary awards, and I have had titles in the Book of the Month
Club twice. I receive a lot of flattering mail from readers,
some from academics and journalists who say they find my work
uniquely rational and helpful. An editor from this nation's
leading newspaper calls me regularly for advice and information
on current UFO matters.

I apologize profusely to readers of this list for having to wax
immodest here. Believe me, it is not my choice. I am sorry to
have to defend myself against the weird charge that I "moan
about not being taken seriously."

> Yes, I see a tack developing. I freely admit that I am not as au
> fait with every UFO case history as yourself and others, and
> suddenly I'm to be dismissed? If you think about it, isn't that
> a little childish? Or smug?... smugness in this field, that's
> funny.

Give me a break.

> Not remembering every little ufological detail was a conscious
> decision on my part, by the way. Not knowing has its benefits
> too, although I don't expect you to accept that. No matter...

I don't think the issue was "not remembering every little
ufological detail." The issue, as raised by Mark Cashman, was
your unfamiliarity with some of the most basic cases in the
literature.

> <redundancy snipped> I know how adept you are at chucking out
> references, Jerome, but I'm not that convinced you've grasped
> the full mettle of the history and philosophy of science in this
> context, any more than Blondlot did.

Really.

> > 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,
> > 52-122.

> I know. Funnily enough, I've read Bruce's report.

Good for you.

> > This is utter rot. No one is talking "conspiracy" except Rob here.

> Okay... I assumed that Stanton was talking along the lines of,
> as I said, 'a subtle or not so subtle conspiracy', which, in its
> mild form, might have been along the lines of tacit
> disapproval...some kind of widespread prejudice. Perhaps
> Stanton's well-known phrase, the Cosmic Watergate, inadvertently
> slipped into my mind as I thought of who I was addressing. Okay
> Jerome, no conspiracy. I'm sorry.

Apology accepted and issue closed.

> Incidentally, you cited Fort earlier as a major
> influence...what, I wonder, would he have thought about your er,
> dogmatism? He would have laughed surely, as I am now.

Try opening your brain a crack, Robbie. The fresh air would do
it good. That's what Fort taught me and still teaches me. If the
Fortean spirit pervaded this field, we'd all be a whole lot
better off. Another thing that Fort taught me is that there is
nothing wrong with saying, when the occasion calls for it (as it
often does), that we just don't know. Of course, when one does
so, one is at risk of being called (not by Rob but by someone
who shall here remain nameless) a "pathological fencesitter."
Hey, you guys really ought to make up your minds on which I am.
I can't be both, can I?

Cheers,

Jerry Clark




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