I found David Clarke's new book entertaining, but he and I disagree about its significance. I see his book just catering to the UFO theatre aspects of the UFO controversy, rather than being a serious look at the real UFO reality. David Clarke clearly sees his book as contributing substantially to the full story of the UFO mystery. In other words in David's view "UFOs R Us" Real UFOs are not physically real. Its all misidentification, hoaxing, stories etc - the rich fodder of social scientists, psychologists, and folklorists - a perfect fit for the psychosocial hypothesis (PSH).
As I read David Clarke's book I was waiting for him to deal with the kind of UFO events and cases I have encountered in more than 40 years of UFO study, namely physical evidence cases. Instead we get a very light touch indeed and a dismissal that all such cases are not what they seem. There is no physical evidence for UFOs, according to David Clarke.
I couldn't disagree more. So I've decided to post the "book review" part of my "OZ Files" column that appears in the latest UFO Truth magazine:
(Check out the hyperlinks I have embedded at various points to give yourself further details on points I have made)
“In the eye of the
beholder” – UFO reality and UFO “theatre”
David Clarke’s latest book “How UFOs conquered the world – the history of
a modern myth”
London, 2015) embraces the UFO
experience and UFO theatre.
To him it
seems they are one and the same, just different manifestations of “the UFO
He concludes his entertaining
book, “Myth or reality, UFOs have conquered the world. People say seeing is believing, but I
disagree. All the evidence suggests the
opposite is the truth. In plain fact, we
see what we believe.”
David Clarke’s new book is well worth reading as it gives an excellent
description of the “psychosocial” perspective.
While there may well be unexplainable cases he clearly feels that they
are not evidence for extraterrestrials visiting Earth. The answer to the mystery is of human origin
(both psychological and social explanations), with diverse causes. Mankind created the UFO myth, in part to
address the need to know we are not alone in the vast universe. The UFO myth is belief driven and evolving. No hard evidence is available to support the extraterrestrial
The book is presented as his personal
journey through ufology, but it seems clear that it is a cleverly framed
exposition of the psychosocial hypothesis (PSH), with a personal perspective
inserted in each chapter. He describes
wanting to believe himself, but maturity and experience turned him to embrace
the PSH – a comfortable fit for a researcher trained in folklore.
Here are parts of David Clarke’s journey through “the UFO myth” as
described in his book.
He connects with early ufology in Britain through an interview with
Dennis Plunkett of the British Flying Saucer Bureau. The British press
announced the end of ufology when it was claimed the Bureau was closing in 2001.
Plunkett disputes the facts and tried to correct the error. “Ufology” had moved
David Clarke uses Allen Hendry’s excellent book from 1980 “The UFO
to argue that the UFO mystery is all about UFOs being reduced to
IFOs, namely identified UFOs. Pelicans
and Venus are big starters here. Pelicans
carry the “badge of honour” for the PSH school, despite the fact that as an
explanation for the Kenneth Arnold sighting back in 1947 it is far from
proven. We don’t learn from David
Clarke’s coverage that there did appear to be a ground based witness FredJohnson
, a prospector, in the same area at about the same time, who saw a
number of disks, and even reported some possible compass effects, during the
passage of several of the objects.
Clearly magnetised pelicans with a powerful magnetic field! But the USAF
listed the case as “unexplained”?
David Clarke states (pg. 70) “The misperceptions of pelicans and Venus
that explain many UFO reports happen unexpectedly and without warning. Scientists do not know when they are going to
occur so cannot observe and analyse them under controlled conditions.” Pelican behaviour and migrations and flight
are pretty well understood. Their localities are generally known with some
precision. Ask any bird watcher with a
passion for pelicans. Venus – ask any astronomer
or consult sky charts, Venus’ position, movements, appearance are well
understood. Again plenty of opportunity
for controlled observations and studies.
The reality seems that the pelican/Venus explanatory nexus is vastly
overstated as an explanation in compelling UFO cases. The behaviour and characteristics are well
known and a bit of thinking usually sorts those sorts of cases out.
Warminster and the fake UFO photos associated with it (particularly David
Simpson’s SIUFOP experiments) are used as a general template to reinforce the
idea of the “will to believe” by uncritical witnesses or believers. The propensity of hoaxing the gullible is put
forward extrapolating very broadly that "...every type of UFO evidence, from complex photographs to alien
abductions, secret government documents and stories told by high ranking
military officials about extra-terrestrial cadavers hidden in air force
hangers, has at some point been unveiled as being invented. " (p.93.) This is really evidence of over
reaching, as he falls far short on evidence for that statement. Perhaps he is arguing if you can prove one,
it is reasonable to argue that all of this type of claimed evidence should be
treated the same and therefore there is no need to bother with any other
David Clarke is on
surer ground when he uses his impressive work on helping bring official British
government UFO files out into the open.
There is a lot of interesting material particularly in his interview
with psychologist Alex Cassie who was involved in the MODs investigation of
Angus Brooks’ intriguing but strange “craft” sighting in 1967. The invoking of
a “lucid dream” initiated by a “floater” in the eye seems a stretch,
particularly given the long duration of the claimed event. Cassie’s team investigation was a particular
standout because it was detailed. The
majority of MOD investigations were far less impressive and could be easily
called limited at best. I saw the same
pattern in Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) investigations - some standouts,
but hardly representative of the true picture.
Most investigations were inadequate.
In fairness many cases really didn’t call for detailed investigations,
but when impressive cases didn’t get much attention nor anything approaching a
serious and adequate investigation, it is difficult to give much credit to
official investigations as sources of “gold standard” conclusions.
David’s conclusions about the so-called Condign report are not that far
from my own. It had poor foundations in
terms of poor case data (large amounts of MOD data with very limited information
& little investigation) meant it couldn’t be relied upon as a basis for
viable analysis. It did serve a purpose as the basis of disengagement for the
MOD from UFO “investigations.” It was
interesting to see that David Clarke had clearly established who “Mr. Condign”
was and that he had witnessed a UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena) during a
secret mission. While it may have made the man a good fit for compiling the
report, it didn’t validate the report as credible.
I’m sure UFO Truth editor Gary Heseltine will address his interview
that is mentioned in David Clarke’s book, but I was struck by the proclamation
made in the same chapter that, “for all its talk about evidence, ufology was
not an empirical discipline. In order for it to survive it had to close itself
off from the scientific method." (p.145) With my science background and as someone who researches UFOs I
take issue with that statement. Sure
there are many “UFO researchers” who fail the basic critical thinking test, a
basic template for a scientific investigation, but there are many more that
apply reasonable scientific methodology.
There are many aspects of reported UFO activity that thrive on the
application of scientific method in the pursuit of evidence. For example
instrumented field studies of UFO “flap” areas – that is, potentially utilise
“repeatable phenomena” – a mainstay of scientific method.
As I used David Clarke’s conclusion chapter title “In the eye of the
beholder” in my “gonzo” take on the Bonsall “UFO theatre”
I’ll return to the
substance of his conclusion and his “ten basic truths” and insert some
1. "There is
no such things as 'the UFO phenomenon' but there are lots of phenomena that
Richard Hall, author of the 1964 “UFO Evidence” undertaken for NICAP, and the
2000 “UFO Evidence” follow up (“A thirty-year report”) provides impressive
evidence of repeatable patterns amongst a wide selection of UFO data. Basic pattern replications in 2 separate
studies more than 30 years apart, argues powerfully for a phenomenon of some
validity. In other words a real “UFO
phenomenon.” IFOs help calibrate our methodologies and interpretations of the
data. Force fitting of ill-fitting
“explanations” or ignoring “inconvenient data” in order to make explanations
fit in compelling cases happens repeatedly within the ranks of PSH thinking. The Battelle “Stork” study back in the 1950s isolated
“unknowns” by virtue of their lack of correlation with IFOs, which led to some
limited UFO modelling of types. That didn’t stop the USAF misrepresenting the
is no such thing as a 'true UFO.'"
Again Battelle had a crack at it as above and isolated compelling data.
David Clarke’s book spent most of its pages
addressing what I refer to as “the UFO theatre”
and infrequently engages with
compelling cases studies.
Try the 1968
Minot case as one example: http://minotb52ufo.com/
3. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
Extraordinary investigations are also required.
“Operation Prato” in Brazil is an intriguing example.
The Bigelow funded “Skinwalker Ranch” might
be but without more detailed access to data certainty is not there. The CAIPAN
2014 Workshop highlights the kind of thing that can potentially be done. Philippe Ailleris “The lure of local SETI:Fifty years of field studies”
(2011, and its follow ups) provide a good
template for further study.
Without these sorts of
investigations being the “norm” rather than limited exceptions, “extraordinary
evidence” is going to be limited and uncertain.
Lots of worthwhile
databases and studies of case types like physical traces, “EM-car stop” cases
etc argue for compelling trends and data.
of UFO experiences form the core of the syndrome, but stories do not constitute
'evidence.' They are folklore."
Again the 1968 Minot case is good example.
David Clarke writes, “Pilots are experts at identifying aircraft but
their pilot skills are no better than anyone else’s when it comes to unexpected
close encounters with stray balloons or flocks of pelicans.” This is
ridiculous, however David Clarke doesn’t cite anything credible, such as a lot
of compelling cases in the NARCAP database
I’ve interviewed pilots who have reported engine power loss in the
presence of nearby UFOs, hardly the stuff of stray balloons and pelicans.
- not experience - creates the UFO interpretation but some experiences are
independent of culture."
Provided we can limit our embrace with “the UFO theatre” that David Clarke is
preoccupied with, the “endless feedback loops” that are encountered in more
compelling case studies, that seem scarce in this book, would mean one would
encounter loops of appropriate levels of investigation, research and analysis.
There is already a lot of that material, but “the UFO theatre” preoccupations
of PSH promoters instead see loops of anecdotes, poor enquiries and folklore –
the consequences of a skewed focus.
UFO syndrome fulfils the role of the supernatural 'other.'" The
argument that this “fulfils a deep emotional need” is a “cop out.” It could be
argued that its nothing new. The
technological ETH model could be viewed as a western imperative. “Sky being” lore is very widespread in
ancient and native cultures. So it could
be argued the ETH’s growth and diffusion around the world is not a triumph of
western imperialism, but rather a shift (or technological upgrade) of existing
beliefs in worldwide indigenous cultures. A “modern myth”- perhaps not. It could be just as easily argued for a
complete inversion of that perspective.
The modern US rendering of the “UFO myth” is just an inevitable
technological reframing of an existing worldwide “myth” system with very deep
roots. Perhaps a reframing might have
western culture catching up, belatedly reframing an existing long held belief
7. "The extra-terrestrial hypothesis and other exotic theories
cannot explain UFOs."
The ETH in its simplest form suggests that a technologically advanced based
phenomenon is visiting Earth. What is
disprovable (and hence potentially scientific)? Well the hypothesis that there
is no advanced technology is evident in UFO reports? Science and sceptics have been arguing that
for years (e.g. The flawed Condon report) – that there is no evidence for
In fact the contrary
view may very well be provable . There
are lots of potential discoveries and useful insights in UFO data, none of
which can be found in David Clarke’s book.
Here are a few
suggestions he might like to follow up:
Dr. Myrabo’s seems to modify his “light craft”
technology ideas (NASA related) in response to viewing and examining evidence
in a UFO event filmed by Ray Stanford (see Chris Lambright’s “X-Descending”
try reading Paul Hill’s “Unconventional Flying Objects – a scientific analysis”
which is based in part on his own sighting and examining a lot of UFO data in
his capacity as an unofficial UFO “clearing house” at NASA; Auguste Meesen’s 3
papers in the 2012 PIERS electromagnetics Research Symposium – each using UFO
data to support various arguments & hypotheses related to propulsion and effects;
Claude Poher’s analysis of evidence for possible advanced propulsion in the
UFOs imaged in the radar photos from the 1968 Minot B52 incident
8. "The idea of a super-conspiracy to hide the truth about UFOs is
I suggest that instead of concentrating on the unproductive study of the
collision of “UFO theatre” with conspiracy belief, why not focus on what
governments have really done.
example read “UFOs and Government” by the UFO History Group.
9. "The common denominator in UFO stories is the human beings who
see and believe in them."
Why not study the data that has emerged and is emerging from instrumented
studies, physical evidence, forensic evidence (even in stranger areas like
alien abduction claims. For example see my book “Hair of the Alien”
Once again the 1968 B52 radar visual case
with photographic evidence from the radar screens is a good place to
The evidence already strongly
suggests that UFOs are more than just a human creation.
10. "People want to believe in UFOs."
Arguing that UFO
research and evidence is all about belief and no evidence is once again
evidence for skewed perspectives emerging from PSH promoters. I know many UFO researchers that approach the
subject from an evidence based perspective.
They assume that most sightings are probably IFOs and let the quality of
the data argue that it might be a UFO.”
I argue that UFOs are
about evidence and there is plenty of it, if one can avoid the pitfalls of
playing in the PSH sandpit, which seems far too preoccupied with “UFO theatre” rather
than a really serious deep engagement with the UFO phenomenon.
David Clarke says he long ago abandoned his
own list of “best cases” as “a singularly pointless exercise.” My experience
has been the complete opposite.
long examined by own local “best cases” list constantly revisiting the data and
arguments about them. Equally I could easily list many other cases that could
qualify for that list.
experienced any crisis of confidence with my own list and my own constant
re-evaluation of it and its consistency and robustness for me, are powerful
endorsements of the UFO phenomenon.
written extensively about that process and my “best cases.”
To conclude I thank
David Clarke for an excellent book on the psychosocial perspective and his own
personal pathway to it. For me it
informs me about “the UFO theatre” and not about the UFO phenomenon. As I have argued here in response to the
book, there is a real UFO phenomenon with a lot of compelling data, which
argues a strong case that it ought to be the focus of a well-funded and
extended scientific study. It’s all
about “the eye of the beholder.”
One of the mantras that comes out frequently in David Clarke's book is the argument that Kenneth Arnold's watershed sighting of "flying saucers" in 1947 did not involve "saucers" and given that people went on to report "saucers" everywhere, then that re-enforces that people just reported "saucers" because they were influenced by the "flying saucer craze."
Well, one thing researchers are surely aware of (well maybe PSH advocates are an exception, when it suits them), is that UFOs (or UAPs) come in all shapes and sizes. While "saucers" are popular, people were reporting a variety of things, not just "saucers".
Here is a nice quote that gets into that very point, a newspaper report from 1954 (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 January 1954):
“The most remarkable feature of this interplanetary pageant has been
the great variety of shape, size, speed and colour attributed to the
“They have been round, square, oblong, spherical, hemi-spherical,
faceted like diamonds, smooth like a billiard ball. They emit orange, green or scarlet jets. They have the approximate dimensions of
baseball bats or battleships."
"It is becoming increasingly clear to Melbourne citizens that the
Martians are people of infinite variety.
When it comes to spaceships, they are not content with routine stock
“Probably they have the same jealous individuality with their craft
as terrestrial women have with hats.”