June 19, 2013

Science Rejected: Another Hastings Con Job at UFO Chronicles

By James Carlson

Robert Hastings

UFO researcher Robert Hastings recently published an internet article at TheUFOChronicles.com entitled “Science and UFOs: Part 1 – The Condon Committee Con Job” that has – like the spontaneous erosion of mental acuity at a frat house every time someone screams beer run! – been reprinted at every UFO website in the market for free copy without any real concern for content. It’s another of Hastings’ standard rants addressed to the base of UFOlogy, one intended to elevate the worth of his name to a population of readers more than willing to trust his ethics and believe his claims for one reason and one reason alone: he tells them exactly what they want to hear. He does so, in fact, confident that few will ever challenge his claims, let alone conduct an honest hour or so of basic research to determine whether the extent of his sincerity can be measured in the quality of his claims. Had they been inclined to do so in the past, they would have discovered long ago how irresponsible he is with facts, how willing he’s been to distort the claims of witnesses, and how eager he is to insert his own unchecked, and ill-conceived personal contributions into UFO accounts merely to increase that false sense of credibility in an environment already considered lethal to such commonly valued standards of integrity. It’s like a bad comic trying to merge the local drunk’s steamy leavings with one more example of pop culture’s endless aperitifs.

The primary source Robert Hastings uses to address his alleged Condon “Con Job” issue is the testimony of Dr. James E. McDonald, a highly flawed individual who, like many others, allowed the UFO issue to consume his better instincts. He was once a reasonably successful scientist who was published regularly in well-respected scientific journals and compendiums throughout his career, the only exception being the entire period encompassing his UFO assessments and studies. During that period, he wrote nothing at all that science-oriented journals were willing to be associated with. They refused en masse to publish his claims and conclusions, because he was unable to support them with anything even approaching the use of standard, scientific methods. He could not even articulate the means by which one could test the assumptions he willingly made throughout the remainder of his life. The reasons for this are obvious. Although he was a gifted physicist, McDonald had little intuitive comprehension of human psychology, and was unable to differentiate between the varied levels of “truth” inherent to witness testimony. And let’s be very clear: UFOlogy is nothing but witness testimony. McDonald’s solution to his little quandary was to accept that everything he was told must be true. And like many others trying to find complex technical solutions to relatively uncomplicated psychological problems, it wrecked him. He could have saved himself a lot of very personal grief if he had simply monitored a few college courses on trial law and observed a few legal disputes in action. Instead, he took it all too personally with disastrous results, because he couldn’t figure out what was actually going on around him every day of the week. UFOlogy didn’t need physicists – it needed folklorists and historians who were well-equipped and willing to focus on formative religions during periods of technical and social uncertainty. McDonald might have saved himself a world’s worth of grief if he had simply stepped back from the brink of his own despair, dropped the study of UFOs completely, and spent a few months of private study and self-reflection with somebody like Carl Jung, who had tried so hard to unravel the spastic convulsions typical of human myths, dreams, and symbols.

Dr. James E. McDonald

McDonald’s frustrations in the budding field of UFOlogy, his perceived failure to validate what he insisted must be true, and his inability to do anything at all that might eventually vindicate his reputation eventually led him to commit suicide. Robert Hastings not only accepts everything this man essentially failed to prove as if it were already validated fact, he even refers to McDonald as “one of the very few scientists to actually study the UFO phenomenon”, an incredible distortion of reality that he’s completely unable to establish, primarily because he’s so grievously wrong. Most educated Americans can unravel this twisted assessment for themselves by merely conducting the simple fact-finding exercises that those who publish Hastings’ tripe should conduct for themselves before giving voice to these ridiculous fictions. Dr. James E. McDonald was not “one of the very few scientists to actually study the UFO phenomenon,” as there have been many, one example of which is the same Condon Committee he’s attempting to discredit. He was, however, one of UFOlogy’s first failures, primarily because he lacked the means to adjudicate the worth of human testimony. In a world in which human testimony is the only evidence available, the willingness to believe is a handicap. McDonald’s failure and his inability to come to grips with that aspect of his research is proof of that.

In addition to McDonald, Robert Hastings once more evokes the contents of a memorandum dated August 9, 1966, that the Condon investigative committee’s project coordinator, Robert Low, originally drafted to convince two undecided members of the University of Colorado administration to accept the Condon UFO study contract offered by the USAF. It was undertaken to persuade the University administration to accept a contract that every other investigative body, university, and college had already refused to accept for the very same concerns held by the individuals Low addressed his comments to: that nothing of scholastic, let alone scientific worth could ever come about as a result of accepting such a contract. Low believed that the publication of such a study could eventually bring the University a level of common renown that it was very much lacking at the time, and he was willing to suggest how the acceptance of such a study should be interpreted by those still undecided. He was allaying fears, not outlining policy. Given the fact that those who were involved in the research and investigations necessary to reach valid, scientific conclusions were completely unaware of the contents of that memorandum, and had, in fact, already adopted a scientific and completely ethical approach to the Condon UFO study that was supported not only by every scientist involved, but by every scientist who later examined that very issue, it’s a bit disingenuous of Robert Hastings to suggest that policy was being determined. Dr. Edward Condon, a well-respected scientist who had been involved with the Manhattan Project during World War Two, was completely unaware of the memo’s contents and was blindsided when McDonald questioned him about it. At the time, Dr. James E. McDonald knew more about its contents than Condon did. Low’s memo, in fact, was a complete non-event in regard to any possible influence it may have had on the conclusions reached by the University of Colorado UFO Project. Even Dr. J. Allen Hynek insisted that Robert Low’s memo was insignificant, and shouldn’t be used to reject Condon’s assessment of UFOs. Hastings is often very good at neglecting important details while adamantly refusing to discuss or mention anything that presents sufficient information to reach a valid, knowledge-based conclusion; it is his modus operandi, one that he has resorted to for most of his career in a sad attempt to suggest credibility that does not otherwise exist.  He’s like a prosecuting lawyer who presents only that evidence that suggests motive and opportunity in relation to the defendant, while neglecting to tell the jury that the defendant was at home eating Chinese fried chicken at a family reunion of 60-people when the crime he’s accused of took place.  He tells obvious lies of omission, yes, but they are also remarkably stupid lies of omission.  Unfortunately, he’s considered something of an authority in a field that doesn’t really concern itself with credibility.  Well, good for him.

Given that a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the oldest and most respected scientific organizations in the world, was charged “to provide an independent assessment of the scope, methodology, and findings of the (University of Colorado) study as reflected in the (University’s) Report”, I hardly think Robert Hastings’ paranoid and baseless whining is even necessary, let alone reasonable. After all, the National Academy of Sciences was given a congressional charter to properly assess questions of science and provide functional advisement to the government of the United States in regard to those questions, while Hastings merely lectures to mostly ignorant audiences while refusing point blank to answer detailed questions or otherwise provide sufficient information to correct that ignorance, thereby ensuring the outcome of an accurate and educated conclusion.

The UFO panel’s report can be found at http://project1947.com/shg/articles/nascu.html. Among its findings are the following points:

1. “In our opinion the scope of the study was adequate to its purpose: a scientific study of UFO phenomena.”

2. “We think the methodology and approach were well chosen, in accordance with accepted standards of scientific investigation.”

3. The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel concurred with the Condon UFO study’s conclusion that there is no basis for the contention that the subject of UFOs is “shrouded in official secrecy”.

4. The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel concurred with the Condon UFO study’s conclusion that “the history of the past 21 years has repeatedly led Air Force officers to the conclusion that none of the things seen, or thought to have been seen, which pass by the name of UFO reports, constituted any hazard or threat to national security.”

5. The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel concurred with the Condon UFO study’s finding that there is no reason to suggest that the investigation of future UFO sightings might “contribute to the advance of science”. In recognition of this, they recommended the Department of Defense handle reports of UFO activity in the context of “normal surveillance operations,” without necessitating the use of special investigative units such as Project Blue Book.

6. The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel concurred with the Condon UFO study’s finding that there is no need for the federal government to “set up a major new agency … for the scientific study of UFOs”.

7. The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel concurred with the Condon UFO study’s finding that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge.”

8. The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel concurred with the Condon UFO study’s finding that associated “important areas of atmospheric optics, including radio wave propagation, and of atmospheric electricity” are of fundamental scientific interest, and “are relevant to practical problems related to the improvement of safety of military and civilian flying.” For this reason, “scientists with adequate training and credentials who do come up with a clearly defined, specific proposal” should be supported.

9. The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel also concurred with the Condon UFO study’s observation that UFO reports and beliefs may also be of interest to “the social scientist and the communications specialist.” For this reason, “scientists with adequate training and credentials who do come up with a clearly defined, specific proposal” should be supported.

10. The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel concurred with the Condon UFO study’s conclusive observation that there appears to be “no reason to attribute them [UFOs] to an extraterrestrial source without evidence that is much more convincing.” This extends as well to the study’s conclusion that “the least likely explanation of UFOs is the hypothesis of extraterrestrial visitations by intelligent beings.”

11. The final conclusions reached by the National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel are balanced and orderly: “We are unanimous in the opinion that this has been a very creditable effort to apply objectively the relevant techniques of science to the solution of the UFO problem.”

It should be evident that Robert Hastings is somewhat handicapped when it comes to determining the value of any evidential support for or rejection of his claims. His refusal to address any balanced arguments whatsoever tends to result in exceptional failure, particularly when it becomes necessary to examine that failure in the context of properly interpreted evidence, the responsible application of which Hastings has shown a marked contempt for.

The National Academy of Sciences reviewing panel even sought the input of Dr. James McDonald, making an aggressive effort to review a number of reports the Condon Committee had neglected for one reason or another to review. The panel nonetheless approved of every conclusion to every argument the UFO study took into account. Does Robert Hastings believe that the National Academy of Sciences was also party to the egregious cover-up that he accuses the Condon Committee of perpetrating, or does his noteworthy paranoia in regard to scholarly assessments prevent him from reaching a balanced interpretation of Condon’s UFO report? There seems to be little doubt that something irresponsible and contrary to the well-assessed disciplines of scientific endeavor seems to have taken place somewhere between the National Academy of Science’s contemporary review of the Condon Committee’s study and Robert Hastings’ near clownish criticism of the same. It’s almost like he decided well in advance of his published condemnation that he wouldn’t even read the panel’s review accompanying the publication of the study’s report.

Upon a thorough examination of Hastings’ assessment of Condon’s study, it’s hard not to conclude that Hastings’ primary grievance with the University of Colorado’s UFO Study is somewhere tied to his outrageous claims that the USAF had insisted in advance that Condon’s study reach a very specific conclusion that would allow them to publically disown any further interest in UFO phenomena. A more balanced examination, however, shows us almost immediately that the USAF didn’t need Condon to reach the conclusions that the National Academy of Sciences also concurred with wholeheartedly. The fact is, the conclusions Condon reached had already been publically affirmed two years prior to the UFO study that was undertaken, making Hastings’ charges of a whitewash sheer lunacy – one more paranoid take of an issue he has proven himself both incapable and unworthy of examining with any real honesty.

Dr. Edward Condon and LBJ

What we’ve got here is just another case of whining by a UFO researcher who refuses to accept conclusions that the National Academy of Sciences found perfectly reasonable to adopt upon its examination of the very same issue. What we’re actually looking at is merely another attempt by UFO proponents to rewrite and reassess ancient history in a vainglorious and ill-advised attempt to whitewash their own past failure to properly address these same issues. It’s no accident that the only real evidence being presented in support of continuing UFO studies is, to a great extent, little more than the reinterpretation of decades-old accounts. The reasons for adopting such a seemingly self-defeatist strategy should be obvious. Since 1947, UFOlogy in general has defined the very character of failure, part of which is due to the previously referred to yet nonetheless habitual refusal of those attempting to promote these cases to examine all of the evidence available instead of merely those elements supporting the possibility that UFOs are somehow worthy of our attention. The fact that new cases, for the most part, have proven to be relatively easy to dismiss with real cause leaves those promoting this abject assessment with few options outside of rejuvenating older cases after their somewhat justifiable dismissal from further assessment many, many years ago. Attempts to refocus current interest on paranoid concerns that the reexamination of incidents 20 to 60 years ago supports the contention that UFOs are interested in nuclear weapons facilities is merely more misleading crap on the windmills, a desperate bid for undeserved attention that less flawed investigators dismissed years ago. Robert Hastings’ arguments aren’t new or original; they’re merely sour propaganda based on incomplete cases, the unbalanced consideration of available data, undisguised contempt for the fruits of actual science, and the repressive, illegible scrawls of men like Dr. James E. McDonald, who ended up killing himself when his obsession started to ruin his life, tear apart his family, and destroy what scholastic reputation he had somehow managed to foster before jumping on a bandwagon that he wasn’t psychologically equipped to encounter with any real sense of grace.

Perhaps this is why Robert Hastings has in the past found it necessary to invent or distort evidence, to lie about his witnesses’ statements and the conclusions reached on their basis, and has presented fraudulent claims thinly disguised as UFO testimony – all of which he has done repeatedly and liberally over the years. As a result, I hardly think his credibility is anywhere near that of the National Academy of Sciences (or the Condon Committee, for that matter). After all, they have over 200 Noble Prize recipients to rely on, while all Robert Hastings has got is a little sad experience promoting a hoax – and doing so in the absence of any ethical or educated assessment. It isn’t appropriate or honest, and he hardly qualifies as the expert witness called upon to reassess historical points of view regarding matters he doesn’t understand, is ill-equipped to examine, and has no intention of doing so with the open mind that science demands of both its critics and its champions.

In other words, he’s produced one more plaintive cry in the wilderness that we can safely and properly ignore as a complete waste of time.

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