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Knowing About UFOs, Part 1

Christopher O'Brien

Back in the Saddle Aginn
Staff member
[Ron Westrum appears to be one of those aeronautical experts that has a low-key interest in unexplained aerial phenomena. This multipart article is worth the read... —chris]

Article HERE:

by Ron Westrum, Ph.D

In recent years there has been much concern among sociologists with the process known as “the social construction of reality”. Although several theoretical works have come out on this subject, there have been in comparison relatively few examples of attempts to find out empirically how this process works. Whatever the reason for the dearth of such studies, it is obvious that they are necessary to the refinement and validation of theory. It behoves sociologists therefore, to take a closer look at the effects of various processes of “reality negotiation” on beliefs held by various members of society.

One area sure to yield some interesting insights is that of “anomalous phenomena”, events which seem to violate widely held rules about the nature of physical reality. In deciding about the reality of sea-serpents, abominable snowmen and UFOs, both scientists and laymen generally recognise the problematic character of any decision eventually reached. In very few cases have those making the decision had the experience which often constitutes the sole evidence for the events in question. They must depend, therefore, on the reports of experiences of others. Faced with such “hearsay” evidence, usually from untrained observers, many scientists refuse to render a judgement, on the basis that reports do not constitute “tangible evidence” (see Jones 1968a) or that the events reported are “impossible”.

(1) If the reports are detailed or the witness “reliable” however, some scientists may be tempted to hazard a guess as to the true identity of the phenomenon, particularly if it can be placed within a class of similar, but known, phenomenon.

(2)The layman is in a more ambiguous position as ordinarily he is accustomed to making judgements about natural events on the basis of the authority of “experts”, and generally has little training in evaluating the evidence on which their judgements are based. Nonetheless, the layman’s judgement, like the scientist’s, is based on an overall assessment of the plausibility of the reports at hand. His grounds for evaluating such reports may differ, but his problem and that of the scientist are the same: what information about the real world can be gained from the report, and with what degree of confidence?

The valid assessment of a report depends on knowledge of the social context in which the report was generated. It is a perennial concern in military intelligence, where the reliability of reports is of the greatest importance, and in the courts, where a host of rules known as the “law of evidence” governs what is and what is not admissible. Nonetheless, the rules of evidence are founded on commonsense rather than scientific demonstration, a difference which becomes important when, for instance one is considering the confidence which can be placed in eyewitness accounts. (3) And evaluation of sources of military intelligence often place more on the basis of the quality of the reports transmitted than scientific evaluation of the transmitter. This is not to say that there does not exist a corpus of experience and commonsense wisdom on how the reliability of informants should be evaluated; but this is very different from truly scientific knowledge of the same subject.

It is not only a question of informants, however, but of the social channels through which information moves. A brilliant observer may be rendered useless if the only channel between him and the evaluators of social intelligence is sensational press accounts.

Likewise, it is no secret that information transmission through intelligence hierarchies is less than perfect (Wilensky 1976, oh. 3). And finally there is the question of silence. Investigation dies before it begins if the observer tells no one of what he has seen. The greatest enemy of social consciousness of anomalies is the ridicule which silences those who have seen but dare not make witness of their experiences.
What we will attempt do do here is give some brief rendition of the kinds of social factors which affect public knowledge about one kind of anomalous phenomenon: UFOs.

Before proceeding further in describing social intelligence processes about UFOs, the reader may be concerned about whether the author considers these objects to be real or imaginary, and to what class of concepts, if not objects, the discussion will be limited. The label “unidentified flying objects” was originally substituted for “flying saucers” as an attempt to be more agnostic about the phenomena in question (Ruppelt, 1956, p.7; Strentz, 1970, p,3) Even the former term however poses difficulties. Menzel (1960) suggests that the term is a misnomer because it implies that the sightings are “of material reality”, a view to which Menzel does not adhere. Objection could also be made to the word “flying”, since this assumes something about the propulsion of the phenomenon: and in any case some of the most interesting manifestations are seen on the ground. How to delimit this seemingly amorphous class of objects or events?

Both the taxonomic and the epistemological problems can be solved if we are willing to adopt Husserl’s operation of “bracketing” the concept of UFOs: that is we will treat as UFOs those experiences to which people attach the label “UFO”, without being concerned for the moment with whether these experiences in fact represent a particular kind of physical object or not. By thus dealing with experiences instead of objects

(4), we can avoid the necessity of coming to a decision which the “experts” themselves are still debating

(5). We are not suggesting that the question of the physical reality of UFOs is unimportant, even for our discussion here. In fact we will later discuss the kinds of indicators sociologists might use in distinguishing epidemics of imaginary and real objects. Nonetheless both physical scientists and sociologists are very far from being able to resolve the issue, and hence for the present an agnostic truce is perhaps the most reasonable. REST OF ARTICLE HERE:


Found the link of the "Egryn Lights" by author Kevin McClure , 1980s interesting and any connection to 'Bentwaters Case' later in history?

Trevor Wozny

Paranormal Novice
Love this..in the absence of any actual evidence..all logically consistent line of inquiry is valid. Nice psychological reference frame. Much can be learned.