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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Jan > Jan 3

Re: Sherman J. Larsen and Ufology

From: Jerome Clark <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
Date: Sat, 02 Jan 99 14:25:25 PST
Fwd Date: Sun, 03 Jan 1999 12:38:31 -0500
Subject: Re: Sherman J. Larsen and Ufology

>Date: Thu, 31 Dec 1998 00:14:16 -0500
>From: Gary Alevy <galevy@pipeline.com>
>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>
>Subject: Re: Sherman J. Larsen and Ufology

>>From: "Stan Friedman" <fsphys@brunnet.net>
>>To: "UFO UpDates - Toronto" <updates@globalserve.net>
>>Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Sherman J. Larsen and Ufology
>>Date: Sat, 26 Dec 1998 22:48:08 -0400


>Do people lie about their activities? Yes.
>Do they dissemble? Yes.
>Can they fool their friends, especially friends
>who have good reason to want to think the best
>of them? Double yes.
>Will they ignore evidence any way they can when
>their friends are involved? Yes.

>I look at Dr. Hynek's career, closely, and it's almost funny,
>how easily he re-invented himself after the Michigan disaster.
>Using his personal qualities he was able to put everyone to
>sleep, or rather, nearly everyone. As always, there were many
>who preferred sleep, as do so many on this list today. But
>perhaps a seed has been planted, a doubt raised. Remember, there
>is much on the public record if you simply will look at it.

Patient and gentle listfolk:

As we all know by now, Gary long ago escaped the bonds of
rationality to go floating happily through the vacuum of
paranoia and fantasy. Therefore. what follows is not addressed
to him.

As anyone who has spent a lot of time on the question of
Allen Hynek, as I have, would likely agree, Allen was almost
a classic case of cognitive dissonance: a guy who was able
to hold two equal and opposite thoughts in his head at one

On one level he was an Air Force debunker; on the other, he was
bugged by the suspicion that maybe there was something --
something big -- going on.  He also juggled conflicting
interests.  One, not necessarily admirable but entirely
understandable, was the paycheck the Air Force gave him.  In the
end it helped educate his children, no small consideration as
any parent on this list will understand.

There was also his desire, as a guy who had a career in
astronomy to protect, not to get too far ahead of his scientific
colleagues, who he knew would criticize him vehemently if he
began to champion the notion that UFO reports are genuinely
anomalous.  (This, of course, did happen eventually.)  There was
also the consideration that his views on the subject fluctuated
wildly.  In the late 1950s he was even privately urging that the
term "unidentified flying objects" be jettisoned because it
implied that there were objects which could fly.  Allen was so
conflicted on this subject (as private and official memoranda
richly confirm) that sometimes one gets the impression that his
view of UFOs depended upon which side of the bed he got up from
on a particular day.

The good Allen Hynek was privately critical of Donald Menzel's
pseudoscientific explanations of UFO reports (see, for example,
The UFO Encyclopedia, 2nd Ed., p. 634), and within Blue Book he
was generally on the side of the angels -- though not to the
point of directly confronting the bad guys.  As early as 1952 he
cautiously told the Optical Society of America that puzzling
reports existed and that witnesses ought not to be ridiculed.
(It was here that he made the deserves-to-be immortal
observation "Ridicule is not a part of the scientific method,
and the public should not be taught that it is.")  He was
depressed and frustrated by the Robertson panel's dismissive

People tend to think that Hynek's emergence as a UFO proponent
in the 1960s happened overnight.  It didn't. Even then there
were false starts and stops, culminating in the embarrassing
"swamp gas" episode which troubled Allen the rest of his life
and to which he kept returning in both public and private
discussion.  Ironically, it was ridicule -- ridicule on the
opposite side, of lame-ass Air Force and bogus "scientific"
explanations for UFO sightings -- that finally forced Allen into
his role as proponent.  It is even possible that, had it not
happened, he would have maintained an equivocal posture for
years afterwards.

(An additional aspect of Hynek's cognitive dissonance: On one
level, he was a trained, well-credentialed, accomplished
scientist.  On the other, he entertained mystical notions and
had a deep -- and, it seemed to me, profoundly credulous --
fascination with occultism.)

Hynek's chronic Hamlet-like indecision drove the aggressive,
damn-the-torpedos James E. McDonald nuts, and he despised Allen
for it.  "Despised," by the way, is not too mild a term. The
contempt was palpable. McDonald, whose personality could not
have been more different from Hynek's, found Allen's timidity
infuriating and irresponsible, and he believed Allen had failed
as a scientist.

Even so, for all that he was willing to believe just about
anything bad about Hynek,  McDonald was too smart to entertain
paranoid notions or level goofy charges such as those we've been
subjected to on this list.  Still, in common with Gary, he had
no feeling for the complex human reality that underlay Hynek's
long failure to step forward.  He could only conclude that Allen
was a venal man who cared more about his AF consulting fees than
he did about his duty as a scientist.

History will have to decide which of these two men was right.
In the meantime, it does neither history nor rational discourse
any good to go fishing in schools of red herrings. The reality
is complex and interesting enough.  A good book could be written
on the subject, I am sure.  I am equally sure that Gary Alevy is
not the one who will write it.

Jerry Clark

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