Over the years, I've read my share of debunking and extremely skeptical books about UFOs. In the early years, when I was trying to make sense of the field, I considered very seriously the "facts" and arguments of these irrational critics. They did succeed in leading me astray for a while, but perseverance in reading the literature luckily saved the day, and I eventually understood what I was reading to be the highly prejudiced material that it is.
Debunkers Spread Misinformation
Here I present my understanding of this fascinating part of the UFO subculture. The writings and ideas of these debunkers and extreme skeptics will not help you understand anything substantive about UFOs and related fields, but should be read and understood nonetheless because of their influence on the largely ignorant mainstream sources of public information. Debunkers and extreme skeptics help spread misinformation about UFOs to the public through influencing the major media and makers of TV documentaries and movies about UFOs. You need to know about that.
More About Understanding Debunkers
The literature about helping you to understand the debunker mentality and debunker activities and tactics is not large and tends to be hard to find. After all, who wants to read about how we are misinformed? Most people find that just getting informed on controversial topics is hard enough. But it turns out that you've got to know who your "informers" are in order to figure out that some who pose as genuine informers are not that at all. The public UFO debunkers and the U.S. military/intelligence establishments are the biggest misinformers in America.
The bigtime media also play a role in misinformation, but it is largely not intentional, I believe. UFOs are still just too weird to qualify as real so they don't make it into the average newpaper editor's or reporter's understanding of reality. If some establishment authority says it is not real to news media people, then it is not real.
Facts are sourced from establishment sources of information for the news media. Investigative reporting, which does develop facts (that might contradict the "facts" from establishment sources), is less common than it was in the past. The news media has been taken over by large corporations, like most everything else in America, and investigative reporting is too often not "cost effective"; it doesn't add anything to the bottomline. When everything is driven by the profit motive, many things, like the truth, may get left behind.
Here are some sources for understanding the debunking and misinformation enterprise:
- Terry Hansen's The Missing Times. A book about how the news media have treated and still treat the UFO to give a distorted picture of the facts. This is a must read about the news media and UFOs by a news reporter by profession.
- Bernard Haisch's website. Astrophysicist Haisch is a true skeptic and not a debunker. He directly confronts the curious lack of attention that astronomers and other scientists give to UFO phenomena when their own best science now indicates that many, many stars have plenty of planets. This despite the idea that presumably the intelligences associated with the genuine UFO phenomenon could very well have "evolved" the way humankind is considered to have evolved by mainstream scientists. Yet they persist in ignoring the UFO phenomenon. Haisch edited the Journal of Scientific Exploration, which is a peer reviewed scientific journal specializing in articles and reports about paranormal subjects. Note that extremely few scientific or scholarly articles are allowed into mainstream journals unless they take a very cautious stand on the "reality status" of the phenomenon.
- In the 1990s, writer and media producer Dan Drasin looked into the debunking enterprise and came away with these thoughts. Unfortunately, they are too often accurate for the majority of people who hold debunking attitudes about UFOs and the entire field of paranormal phenomena.
- Three scholars' and a journalist's books bear looking into if you want to understand the cultural background of the debunking enterprise. Try Henry H. Bauer's Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies (Chicago: University of Illinois, 2001), James McClenon's Deviant Science: The Case of Parapsychology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), David J. Hess's Science in the New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders and Debunkers, and American Culture (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), and Richard Milton's Alternative Science: Challenging the Myths of the Scientific Establishment (Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press, 1996).
- The Michel Gauquelin astrology affair a few years after the founding of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (now renamed Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) is also instructive. A CSI member at the time, physicist Dennis Rawlins decided to check the statistical work of astrologer Gauquelin who claimed correlations between a person's astrological characteristics and their later profession. Rawlins determined that Gauquelin's statistics weren't quite right, but what he wasn't prepared for were the curious activities of other principal CSIers who seemed to not want Gauquelin to get a fair hearing of his claims and backup evidence. Rawlins was so upset and astonished that he quit CSI and published a long paper in Fate magazine (October 1981) explaining the skulduggery of the other CSIers.
Debunkers and extreme skeptics have banded together and formed some very successful organizations from which to pursue their aim of getting both establishment people and the public to reject "claims" of the paranormal and other topics deemed by them too crazy to be believed. These organizations claim to do investigation into these "claims," but too often the investigation is entirely biased and one-sided in the sense that the investigation merely consists of a search for conventional explanations, however implausible they may be. If it is conventional, they reason, then it is by that fact alone to be preferred, following the Occam's Razor rule. (This rule says to prefer the simplest explanation. Debunkers and extreme skeptics assume "simplest" means anything consistent with the current scientific model of physics, chemistry, and biology as an explanation of (all of) reality.)
In actuality, the debunkers' organizations are primarily public relations and advocacy organizations and rarely formally investigate or research paranormal claims. Debunkers don't need to investigate or research the reality of claims since their minds are already made up. The deceased UFO debunker Phil Klass finally admitted in his later years that "debunker" actually described him to a T. Bless his heart.
If establishment organizations like the news media and government sometimes "slip up" and treat paranormal phenomena as if they just might be real, the debunkers' organizations go on red alert to ensure that the "correct" viewpoint is represented so that no one is "fooled" into thinking that paranormal phenomena might be real and, therefore, might be worthy of time, money, and expertise from establishment sources.
Some debunker organizations are the following:
- Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP). This is the grand-daddy of the debunker organizations. It was formed by members of the American Humanist Association in the 1970s when a group of them decided that the growing exploration of the occult and paranormal by the 60s generation portended disaster for American and world civilization. They foresaw the end of science and rationality as a guiding light for humanity because some kids turned on, tune in, and dropped out. Their fears were not justified, of course, as American capitalism and the science and engineering it is built on continues unabated today.
- Skeptics Society. Founded in 1992 by Michael Shermer, this organization is not quite as dogmatic as CSI. Shermer would be more an extreme skeptic than a debunker. There is a slight possibility that Shermer might actually be convinced by the huge mass of UFO evidence if he ever actually spent the two or three years it would take to become truly knowledgeable in the best literature. But he has his fingers in too many pies to do any of them real justice. The paranormal is not easy. Michael Shermer, keep trying. Someday you may actually understand that something real is going on in the world of paranormal phenomena.
Many other debunker and extreme skeptics organizations exist on the web. Try typing in "skeptics" or "debunkers" in a Google search or on wikipedia.org.
Quite a few intelligent and knowledgeable people find themselves (unknowingly) drawn to the debunker enterprise. However, the really active people do not tend to be prominent scientists or scholars. Despite this, CSI is always looking for the most prominent scientists and scholars it can find to lend the organization prestige by association. Check out their list of CSI "fellows." (The word "fellows" as used here means a member of a literary, scientific, or professional organization, none of which CSI is. CSI is merely an advocacy group for the ultra skeptical and debunking stance in scientific, medical, and sometimes other areas. CSI does not call for the scientific or scholarly investigation of paranormal phenomena by the academic establishment. It hopes to discourage this by attacking paranormal study advocates in the media.)
Most of the people active in the debunking enterprise are people employed on the periphery of science and scholarship. They tend to be science writers, stage magicians, technical editors, etc.; that is, people who adore science and the skeptical approach to life that they think science represents. There are also a few activist psychologists and philosophers affiliated with universities who provide the education establishment connection.
Mainstream science and scholarship tends to shy away from some of their more extreme statements and tactics. Even one of CSI's "fellows," Murray Gell-Mann, has criticised CSI formally in his writings. (See Gell-Mann's popular science book The Quark and the Jaguar.)
Debunkers and extreme skeptics tend to be well-educated and smart people. They generally know more about the world than you and me, and they like to let us know about it. They are elitist and definitely believe they are superior to the average person. They pride themselves on not being fooled by anyone. And, since they think they know the truth about what is real and what is not, they are eager to set you straight and make sure you believe in what is right and especially in the correct way of thinking.
Sometimes it is difficult to figure out what their criteria are for what is correct belief and what is not. Basically, it seems to be this: if the academic establishment doesn't currently believe it by consensus, then it is incorrect belief. But sometimes this doesn't work either. So, to figure out what to believe and not believe the CSI way, just sign up and become a believer by assiduously reading their publications. This seems to be a safe way to always believe what is right. To do this, just pick up any book published by Prometheus Press. Something like half of all extreme skeptic and debunker books today are published by this very active press. It is loosely connected with CSI. Take a look at this CSI list of recommended books and note how many of them are published by Prometheus Press. It would seem strange, indeed, if nearly half of all UFO books were published by one publishing house, wouldn't it?
Some prominent UFO debunkers of today and times past are the following:
- Philip Klass (deceased). For almost 40 continuous years, Klass was the chief UFO debunker. Every chance he got, he appeared on TV and radio to "debate" the UFO "believers." (That's what UFO researchers and investigators were to Klass -- merely "believers" since he "knew" that no UFOs were genuine anomalies deserving of serious study. But almost 100% of Klass's case "research" consisted of whatever "evidence" he could gather from his armchair over the phone. Often his "new, additional information" concerned the supposed lack of honesty of witnesses so that he could besmirch their reputations if the physical facts of a case were strong.) He was so obsessed with UFOs that he wrote six books about the subject. One of them was even for kids! He had to set everyone straight! He was a founding member of CSI and immediately formed their UFO subcommittee to do battle with the ignorant UFO "believers."
- Donald Menzel (deceased). Menzel was a famous astronomer at Harvard University and an early debunker of UFOs with his first book Flying Saucers, published in 1953 by no less than Harvard University Press. This was a very early UFO book in a period when there were only eight UFO books total (in English)! However, there is an even darker side to Menzel. He was a covert U.S. government researcher (which actually a surprising number of prominent university professors have been over the years). He did cryptographic and other top secret research and consulting. This was kept from virtually all his Harvard and other academic colleagues. This came to light through the excellent research of UFO researcher Stanton Friedman in the 1990s. So, was Menzel a disinformer, hired by the U.S. government? You can bet on it.
- Robert Sheaffer. He has been very active in CSI and has written a column about paranormal events in the news for the Skeptical Inquirer for years. He wrote the UFO Verdict in 1981 and updated it as UFO Sightings in 1998 — both published by the CSI-connected Prometheus Press. Sheaffer consistently takes the debunker stance in all his writings so that they become a mixture of carefully selected facts, implausible assumptions, and ridiculing tone. This is sad for UFO truth because, as is the norm for many debunkers, Sheaffer is very bright and knowledgeable.
- Kal Korff. Korff's claim to fame is his debunking work on the famous Billy Meier photo/contactee case. The Meier case is a complex one, and most MUFON ufologists do not believe that it has much merit. Korff has wasted his primary debunking efforts on a case that 90% of ufologists think is dubious at best. Korff, in contrast to many debunkers, actually did field research, but, unfortunately, did it unethically by doing "undercover" work on the Billy Meier contactee commune. The zeal of some debunkers leads them sometimes to overstep the bounds of normal propriety. You will find Korff's examination of the Billy Meier case in his Prometheus Press published book, Spaceships of the Pleiades. A review of Korff's work pointing out the many untruths, distortions, etc., may be found at this page. Korff went on to capitalize on the Roswell Incident excitement in the middle 1990s by writing The Roswell UFO Crash, also published by Prometheus Press (1997). This book added nothing substantive to the research of Randle, Schmitt, Moore, Friedman, and many other ufologists.
- Karl Pflock (deceased). Pflock worked for the U.S. State Department under the Reagan administration and earlier for the CIA. Pflock was involved in the Washington office of NICAP, an activist UFO investigative organization of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. He is reputed to have played a minor role in the 1970s investigations of the cattle mutilation phenomenon, which swept over Colorado, New Mexico, and other western states. And, curiously, his wife (Mary Martinek) was chief of staff for Congressman Steven Schiff (also deceased) when Schiff was pursuing an examination of the events surrounding the Roswell Incident. Pflock himself re-entered ufology in the middle 1990s as a supposedly "independent" critic of the Roswell Incident. Initially, he seemed to support the work of UFO investigators Randle, Schmitt, Friedman, Moore, and others, but gradually changed his tune as the years went by till in the late 1990s he thought that Roswell was not alien-related. This culminated in another Prometheus Press book, Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe. Was Pflock working for the government to keep the public misinformed? Perhaps later historians of ufology will clarify his role.
Here are a few debunkers' books you'll run into if you really start trying to figure out what is going on with UFOs and the paranormal. These books are fun to read and are occasionally actually informative, but not about the facts about UFOs and the paranormal. They are informative about debunking tactics and modes of thinking.
Kagan, Daniel and Ian Summers. Mute Evidence. New York: Bantam Books, 1983. 504pp. ISBN 0-522-23318-1. Curious book debunking the animal (mostly cattle) mutilations that went on in the late 60s, 1970s, and early 80s.
Klass, Philip J. UFO-Abductions: A Dangerous Game. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988. 200pp. ISBN 0-87975-430-3. Klass’s attempt to dissuade people from doing honest, open investigation of a difficult subject.
Klass, Philip J. UFOs — Identified. New York: Random House, 1968. 290pp. LC 67-22622. Klass says that genuine UFOs may be explained by ball-lightning, but fails to convince the scientific establishment, ufologists, or the public.
Klass, Philip J. UFOs Explained. New York: Random House (Vintage Books), 1976. 438pp. ISBN 0-394-72106-3. More debunking without much investigation.
Klass, Philip J. UFOs: The Public Deceived. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Press, 1983. 310pp. ISBN 0-87975-201-4. Debunker Klass tries to protect the innocent public from being taken in by the errors of mainstream ufologists.
Korff, Kal K. Spaceships of the Pleiades: The Billy Meier Story. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 1995. 439pp. ISBN 0-87975-959-3 2.
Korff, Kal K. The Roswell UFO Crash: What They Don’t Want You To Know. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 1997. 264pp. ISBN 1-57392-127-0.
Menzel, Donal H. and Ernest H. Taves. The UFO Enigma: The Definitive Explanation of the UFO Phenomenon. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1977. 297pp. ISBN 0-385-03596-9. A dedicated debunker's dying last gasp.
Menzel, Donald H. and Lyle G. Boyd. The World of Flying Saucers: A Scientific Examination of a Major Myth of the Space Age. New York: Doubleday, 1963. 302pp. One of the author’s three debunking books about UFOs. Most ufologists think Menzel, now deceased, was in the know about saucers existing from 1947.
Menzel, Donald H. Flying Saucers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953. 319pp. ISBN LC 52-12419. Menzel’s earliest debunking book. Note imprint of the great Harvard U. Who wouldn’t believe this distinguished astronomer’s thoughts on the subject in the gullible 1950s?
Persinger, Michael A. and Gyslaine F. Lafreniere. Space-Time Transients and Unusual Events.Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1977. 267pp. ISBN 0-88229-462-8. UFOs are produced by magnetic fields from earthquake faults under strain, and UFO abduction is produced by strong magnetic fields disturbing your brain. He created these strong fields with a magnetic helmet fitted on subjects. These subjects reported vague feelings of unease along with the feeling of "presences." Trouble is, abductees are nowhere near strong magnetic fields when they experience UFO encounters.
Sheaffer, Robert. The UFO Verdict: Examining the Evidence. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1981. 242pp. ISBN 0-87975-146-0. Card carrying member of CSI dispenses with ALL the evidence even though he’s not traveled to the site of a single one of the cases he discusses, well, maybe a couple. It is amazing what armchair, professional UFO skeptics can concoct when they don't engage the evidence on the ground.
Tacker, Lawrence J. Flying Saucers and the U. S. Air Force. New York: Van Nostrand, 1960. 164pp. An official government debunker wades in with a "don't worry about it—it ain't real" book unsupported by the pertinent facts developed thoughout the 1950s by diligent UFO researchers.