Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lets get it done - an Encyclopedia of Australian UFOs

Lets get it done - an Encyclopedia of Australian UFOs
Something to get done 
- a challenge for the Australian UFO community
(a draft concept for consideration)
Science progresses by the collection and assessment of data.  Hypotheses to explain the data are considered and if they are verifiable then viable theories can emerge.
In UFO research that scientific perspective has had a variable history.  The quality of data varies enormously, with much of it falling far short of what might reasonably constitute scientifically evaluated UFO data.
In an article in “Frontiers of Science” (an interim publication in the journey of IUR (the International UFO Reporter) May-June 1981, Dr. J. Allen Hynek identified the problem.
Hynek wrote, “Here we come face to face with the charge that after thirty years of dealing with UFO reports we still have no really convincing “hard data”, i.e. parts of a UFO, unimpeachable residues from soil samples, unequivocal evidence that a UFO caused damage to animate or inanimate matter.  Yet the fact is that we do have large amounts of such evidence … I grow livid when such charges of “no data” are made.  After years of frustration without the funds to pay for adequate laboratory and other professional work, I bristle at the lack of understanding on the part of scientific skeptics, who wouldn’t get to first base without well-funded research projects with staff, travel and laboratory facilities …”
“All we have are abortive, often amateurish attempts at data gathering, data analysis, and feeble attempts at laboratory studies (on a charity basis, of course), all of which dwindle   into inconclusion and frustration … It is my contention that “hard” data may well have been present in many UFO cases but their discovery and definitive establishment has repeatedly gone by default for lack of professional (funded) treatment.  It has always been the case of “too little too late,” necessitated by the use of volunteers bolstered only by their unselfish devotion to the pursuit of an overwhelming mystery,” Hynek concluded.
Dr. Hynek lived to see the beginnings of some “thorough, professional study” in the work of GEPAN, specifically the Trans-en-Provence UFO landing physical trace case of January 1981.  Indeed, given access to the GEPAN files, at the direct invitation of the French government, he found all of the GEPAN cases to be very well investigated.
In my column "Science and the UFO controversy" I highlighted how the GEPAN organisation (in the form of its current incarnation GEIPAN) hosted a workshop to discussed optimal ways to improve investigation and the acquisition of viable UAP/UFO data.  All of these tools should be taken up by UFO groups, where practical, as it will improve the quality of the data we have and help us to assess further the rich data already collected.
The creation of an encyclopedia of UFO data arranged chronologically helps the assessment of the UFO data particularly if it is accompanied by rich social data and historical context.  This sort of material provides insights into the methodology in the past, contemporary with the time of investigation.  We can then use the benefits of experience to reassess the data and make more informed assessments.
Correlations in the data can be better assessed over long periods of data.  Correctly assessed data can be important scientific finds if they have been correctly assessed and the patterns established are consistent over a large body of data and a lengthy period of time.
Apart from the obvious benefit of displaying all the data amassed by groups over a long period of time it helps reveal the impressive work of those who have gone before and appropriately acknowledge their legacy.  The benefit of a large historical cross-section of UFO data gathered by as broad and comprehensive range of players can equally assist the interpretation of data and patterns.
John Hanson and Dawn Holloway have created just such a broad encyclopedia in their impressive book series “Haunted Skies – the Encyclopedia of British UFOs”.  As of November 2014 Volume 10 has just emerged.  I have volumes 1 to 9 and they all contain a rich picture of the periods they cover with sightings data, investigator and group data, social history and occasional correlations with oversea cases.  Having access to this rich cross-section of raw data and original material provides interesting insights not only in the nature of reports being received but also how they were investigated, or sometimes how they were not investigated.  They also reveal the ebb and flow of sightings data reinforcing the broad picture of flap cycles and the spread of types of cases such as close encounters versus more distant reports.
What is even more impressive is that John Hanson and Dawn Holloway have achieved an impressive level of assistance and contributions from a lot of different groups and individuals.
Their series of books provide a good template of what could be achieved here if the right sort of cooperation can be achieved. A lot of data has been lost with old groups that have ceased to operate and where researchers have withdrawn from the field or passed away.
There are helpful tools for assisting the preservation of UFO data.  An important example is the “Proceedings of the Sign Historical Group UFO History Workshop” which took place in 1999.  I participated in that workshop by contributing a section on “Australian Ufology” and an introductory look at my collection and an assessment of what was available in Australia.  The proceedings are available on line
Keith Basterfield’s extensive cataloguing activities also provide a useful guide for the development of an encyclopedia series, where his summary entries can be flesh out with whatever original data can be located.
The closest comparison to the Hanson/Holloway British encyclopedia series is the one volume compilation “The Jarrold Files” put together by Ufologist magazine editor Robert Frola back in 1990.  While billed as based on “the sightings record collection of UFOR (Qld), it was more comprehensive than that drawing on case material and occasional social history, news clippings and broader research reviews from various parts of the Australian UFO community.  It covered up to 1979.
Robert Frola and Daniel Sims have been working at creating a more extensive series tentatively titled “The Almanac of Australian UFO Sightings” and have indicated that they are planning a first volume that may take us up to the end of 1944 or perhaps 1946.
This will be an ambitious series and I felt it would benefit immensely if broader assistance, cooperation and contributions can be provide by all UFO groups and individual researchers across Australia.
More recently I learnt that Larraine Cilia and Dominic McNamara had had contact with John Hanson and Dawn Holloway and gotten permission to use their title “Haunted Skies” of their envisaged Australian encyclopedia series.   While it would be interesting to see different takes on the same type of project – an encyclopedia series on Australian UFOs, I suggested to both parties that a cooperative and shared venture would possibly work better. I described what Robert Frola had achieved with the one volume of The Jarrold Listings.  Given that listing, the AUFORN database which also reflect the work of a cross-section of Australian researchers and groups and that Robert and Daniel have already begun, Larraine agreed it would be useful to discuss a cooperative venture. 
I firmly hope that a cooperative venture to produce a multi-volume Australian UFO encyclopedia series can be achieved.  I would certainly assist and contribute to that sort of team effort.  I look forward to this exciting project moving forward with the hope that an extensive measure of full group cooperation can be achieved, which would reflect a great level of maturity and evolution of inter-group relations.  We are a big country and no one group or individual can easily achieve this big and important project.  It may be that a more efficient way to achieve that goal is to develop a broad task force that can develop strategies to achieving the end result.  
Perhaps what is needed is an Australian UFO History Group modelled on the UFO History Group that produced the mammoth book "UFOs and Government".
Good luck with this important project. You have my support. Now, lets get it done – an Encyclopedia of Australia UFOs.


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