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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Oct > Oct 31

Re: British Ufology Has Been Reborn!

From: Jerome Clark <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 99 11:23:38 PDT
Fwd Date: Sun, 31 Oct 1999 10:45:40 -0500
Subject: Re: British Ufology Has Been Reborn!

 >Date: Fri, 29 Oct 1999 15:40:30 -0400
 >From: David Clarke <crazydiamonds@compuserve.com>
 >Subject: Re: British Ufology Has Been Reborn!
 >To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>

 >>From: Jerome Clark <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
 >>Subject: Re: British Ufology Has Been Reborn!
 >>Date: Wed, 27 Oct 99 13:41:10 PDT
 >>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>

 >>Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 16:39:36 -0400
 >>From: David Clarke <crazydiamonds@compuserve.com>

 >>Subject: Re: British Ufology Has Been Reborn!
 >>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>


 >>You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.  I think you're

 >Well at least we have established that I am entitled to have an
 >opinion, and that opinion is a well-informed one rather than the
 >"empty posturing" you would prefer to regard it as.

I regard as empty posturing the assertion that the ETH and the
larger notion of ETI are equivalent to a belief in elves and fairies.
I would like to think that you would have a more interesting
argument than that by now well-worn cliche.  Notions such as
ETH and ETI may be right or wrong, but they are not mere

 >As to whether I am wrong, time will show that I am right.

Uh huh.  You don't mind if I don't hold my breath, do you?

 >But because so many people pass through ufology and stay only a
 >little while, I fear we will have to fight this tiresome battle
 >many more times in the future.

Sorry to have to tell you this, Dave, but I plan to stay right

 >>yours is not a conclusion other smart, hard-
 >>working investigators, including those trained in the physical
 >>sciences (McDonald, Hynek, Maccabee, Sturrock, et al.,
 >>come to mind), have come to.  Perhaps your training as a
 >>folklorist has given you too narrow a focus.

 >I've no doubt thosf those "trained in the physical sciences"
 >have arrived at different conclusions, because they are studying
 >a very narrow aspect of the subject themselves.

Yes, they are.  They're studying the cases at the core of the
UFO phenomenon, the cases that will eventually determine whether
or not UFOs exist as extraordinary unknowns, namely CE2s and
the like.  No elves and fairies here.

 >And you have unwittingly hit the nail on the head - it is
 >precisely because the physical sciences are so "narrow" in
 >themselves that the disciplines I have cited are more suited to
 >this subject.

Nope.  The disciplines you have cited are not qualified to study
physical evidence.

 >You cannot study ufology as you would study the workings of a
 >automobile engine; ufology is a human science, it is bound up in
 >the beliefs and psychology of human beings.

And so is just about everything human beings participate in. So
what?  But it takes a physical scientist to analyze landing
traces, radar records, photographs, and other hard evidence.  Of
course, as you reveal, you harbor a strange notion of the very
process of scientific inquiry, as is revealed in what follows.

 >You do not employ astronomers and optical physicists to study
 >how myth is created, and how the human brain perceives and
 >interprets anomalous phenomena, One would have thought this
 >concept would be obvious to someone as smart as Jerry Clark.

Since you have already decided UFOs are a "myth," I guess
those physical scientists -- whose evidence suggests otherwise --
are unwelcome at your table.  From my perspective, however,
you're serving up empty calories while vehemently declaring your
meal to be the only nutritional one.

 >You can talk all you like about "astrobiology" and unprovable
 >arguments about the possibility of life in outer space.

 >The arguments of the SETI crowd might have some validity, but
 >they have absolutely no connection with some funny light someone
 >saw over Arkansas the other night.

I am sure you are sincere in your belief, Dave, but your
touching sincerity does not make your statement of faith any
more persuasive to those of us who think such questions will be
settled by evidence.

 >The facts are we have no UFOs or aliens for your "physical
 >scientists" to study.

We have all sorts of UFO evidence to study.  If you want to
learn how a physical scientist goes about investigating reports,
may I suggest a trip to the University of Arizona and a week or
two's immersion in the James McDonald files? Here you'll learn
the difference between hard science and soft science, and
perhaps you'll shake your fatal addiction to the latter.  You
might also read Peter Sturrock's brand new book, The UFO Enigma,
which also documents how physical scientists can -- and do --
study UFO evidence.

 >All we have are human beings, their claims and their beliefs -
 >and that is why only the human sciences, and especially those
 >which are cross-disciplinary (anthropology, folklore, sociology)
 >are of any use in this area.

 >And that's my point - you don't hire an optical physicist to
 >study religious mythology.

Apparently you harbor the strange view that I have argued
physical scientists should be studying contactee literature.
I'll leave that up to the religious scholars and the
folklorists, who can actually make themselves useful in this

 >>>Add to that a sound knowledge of folklore and cultural belief
 >>>which led to a me being awarded a PhD - described by a panel of
 >>>academics as "a valuable contribution to knowledge" - and I feel
 >>>I am well qualified to comment, and certainly as qualified as
 >>>Jerome Clark.

 >>But not as well qualified as the physical scientists who have
 >>worked on specific cases.

 >I disagree. All cases are based upon narratives produced by
 >human beings, the eyewitnesses, describing events which are to
 >all intents and purposes "supernatural" in the traditional
 >sense. Therefore they are as much open to study by the
 >folklorist as to the scientists you cite.

The sorts of arguments you're using have been thoroughly trashed
by a number of folklorists, including David Hufford, Thomas E.
Bullard, Bill Ellis, and more.  You tend to speak as if from on
high -- as if your degree grants you the authority to render
sweeping judgments to which we lesser mortals can only nod our
heads in unison, and vigorously -- when in fact, as I know from
my own interactions with folklorists, many are sympathetic to
anomalous claims, closet or not-so-closet heretics.  (An
example: a book written by two prominent British folklorists on
the lore of merfolk; at the end they conclude that a real
mystery exists and probably a real unknown animal at its core.)
They have more respect for human experiences than you seem to
have.  What you're falling victim to here is what Hufford ably
skewers as the "tradition of disbelief."

In any case, "all cases" are not "based upon narratives produced
by human beings," at least any more than any other human
experiences are.  CE2s can give us evidence that can be taken
into the laboratory or otherwise analyzed.  Any assessment of
the UFO evidence that expects us to take it seriously has to
take it into account.

 >>You can have all the folklore
 >>knowledge in the world, and none of it is going to help you
 >>explain the McMinnville photo, the RB-47 case, Socorro, or any
 >>of the other classic UFO incidents on which the case for the
 >>reality of UFOs as extraordinary unknowns rests.  I have no
 >>doubt that your Ph.D. amounts to "a valuable contribution to
 >>knowledge" -- you're a bright, interesting guy.  All I am saying
 >>is that it doesn't help you explain the most puzzling UFO cases.

 >Yeah but what about all the other "classic" cases which have
 >since been explained: i.e. the Alexander Hamilton 1897 "calf-
 >napping", Aurora crash,  the Berwyn Mountains events, dare I
 >mention Sheffield incident, etc etc. They might have been
 >"difficult" to explain from a purely folklore perspective at
 >first sight, but they undoubtedly generated rumour and folklore,
 >whatever their explanation. Some, like the 1897 hoax, continue
 >to do so.

Weird.  I don't recall saying anywhere that hoaxes or
misperceptions don't occur.  In fact, I debunked the Hamilton
case myself, back in 1976.  I didn't do it, however, as a
folklorist; I did it as an investigator.  With the arguable
exception of the Hamilton story (which appeared in Jacques
Vallee's first book), none of the other cases you cited could be
considered "classics."  I think you've made my point.

 >That is precisely why I claim UFOs are modern folklore - none of
 >these cases are "isolated" occurrences, removed from the culture
 >that spawned them, or from other "unexplained" UFO events.

 >Any kind of strange light in the sky is now habitually tagged as
 >a UFO equals ET craft by the media and the public, whatever its
 >explanation. My point again: UFOs are modern folklore. So I
 >would maintain that ALL of the cases you cite would benefit from
 >re-interpretation in the way I have dicussed.

On what evidence, may I ask?  I hope you plan to apply sounder
reasoning than you've shown us so far, or any we've seen from
eager-beaver would-be skeptics who in recent months have regaled
us with ludicrous, easily disprovable "explanations" for several

 >>>Among these I can count equally well qualified and experienced
 >>>sociologists, folklorists, psychologists and historians, and
 >>>that's just in one small hick Yorkshire town, noted for its
 >>>open-minded academics.

I'm sure Sheffield is a nice town, Dave.  Don't put it down, or
I'll be forced to follow your example and judge my own beloved
Canby "one small hick Minnesota town. "  Actually, come to think
of it, John Rimmer did it for me the other week on this very
list.  Oh well, we can't _all_ live in London.

 >>I note no physical scientists among them.  And those
 >>sociologists, folklorists, psychologists, and historians -- do
 >>they know anything about UFOs except that they don't exist?  And
 >>what would a social scientist have useful to say about physical,
 >>photographic, or instrumented evidence, anyway?  May I venture
 >>an answer: say, just about nothing?

 >If there existed any conclusive photographic or instrumental
 >evidence to prove the existence of ET UFOs we would not be
 >having this discussion, so you have killed your own argument.

If "conclusive" evidence one way or another existed, they
wouldn't be UFOs, would they?  Science, alas, continues its work
in all sorts of areas even when conclusive answers and evidence
aren't there, or have yet to be uncovered.  (Do you ever read
books on the hard sciences?  Sure doesn't sound like it.)  If
science demanded "conclusive evidence" before it even started,
there would be no science.  Nature and the universe do not yield
their secrets easily.  You are underscoring, I am afraid, the
strong -- though, I hope, unconscious -- antiscientific bias you
bring to your work.  Your focus, I am learning, is even narrower
than I had suspected.

 >You cannot study something for which there is no physical
 >evidence. Once again, back to my earlier argument, the only way
 >you can do so is via the humanities, and via studying the
 >percipients themselves. Physical scientists are useless in this

See above.

 >>>As for "UFO phenomenon or the ETH", it's just a theory and
 >>>despite your 'special pleading' it has not more evidence to back
 >>>it up than any other. I think I will stick with the idea that
 >>>the fairy folk are the flying saucer pilots, after all two can
 >>>play at wearing cultural blinkers if that's the game we're

 >>Interesting argument for a proclamation without supporting
 >>evidence.  For a insightful discussion of the limitations of
 >>folklore as an approach to UFO study, I urge listfolk to read
 >>"Folkloric Dimensions of the UFO Phenomenon," JUFOS 3 (new
 >>series, 1991): 1-57.  The author, interestingly, is Thomas E.
 >>Bullard, who also holds a Ph.D. in folklore from Indiana
 >>University, which houses one of the world's best esteemed
 >>folklore departments.

 >I have great respect for Dr Bullard, but his arguments are not
 >shared by any of the eminent folklorists of whom I am
 >acquainted. Among these I can point to the highly respected
 >Professor J.D.A. Widdowson, my PhD supervisor, who trained under
 >one of the mentors of modern folklore study, Herbert Halpert, at
 >the University of Newfoundland.

And I'll bet you any amount of money you want to offer that
neither has done remotely the amount of research and analysis of
UFO matters  that Eddie Bullard has.  David Hufford, one of
America's most respected and influential folklorists, has told
me of his deep admiration for Bullard's work, which -- I might
add -- has been published in the flagship Journal of American
Folklore. I hope I am not telling tales out of school, but
mainstream academia is taking note of his splendid scholarship,
and a university press has approached him to do a booklength
study of abductions and the UFO phenomenon. I'm afraid that on
UFOs, I'll take Bullard over Widdowson and Halpert any day of
the week, any minute of the hour, any second of the minute.

 >Professor Widdowson and the vast majority of folklorists in this
 >country with whom I am in regular contact share my views, indeed
 >I have been invited to present a lecture on UFOs as modern
 >folklore at the Folklore Society AGM next year.

Where I'm sure you will tell them exactly what they want to
hear. No heretic is Dr. David Clarke.

 >So, although Jerry Clark likes to champion the views of Dr
 >Bullard, his conclusions are much more measured than Jerry would
 >have us believe, and are certainly not typical of folklore
 >scholarship in general.

Eddie Bullard is a friend of mine.  I've known him for years,
and we have, over time, talked for many hours. I've read
everything he's ever written.  We agree about 95% of the time.
(Our one significant area of disagreement is over the
significance of the 1896-97 wave.) Nobody has ever written more
intelligently, more knowledgeably, and more even-handedly than
Bullard on the abduction phenomenon. I believe that the best
(relatively) short essay ever written on the subject, a model of
how a difficult, contentious subject can be approached with
reason, restraint, and intellectual rigor (and, I might add,
without polemics), is Bullard's entry "Abduction Phenomenon" in
The UFO Encyclopedia, 2nd Ed., pp. 1-26.  I urge all of you who
are interested to go to the reference section of your local
library and read it.  If you're lacking intellectual nourishment
in your consumption of UFO literature, Bullard's piece will give
you all the vitamins and minerals you could want.

Most of all, it shows how a folklorist can make a genuine
contribution to this subject without ever straying into areas
beyond his particular expertise.  Here you'll find no ringing
bloviations about "myths" and "religion," or the futility of
scientific inquiry in the face of uncertainty, just a sober
effort to get discern signals, if they exist, amid noise.  All
of us, including me, including Clarke, including Clarke's
folklore colleagues, could learn from this brilliant, modest

Jerry Clark

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