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The Great Ecker-Klass Debate


Staff member
In April of 1992 I debated Philip Klass in a debate put on by Michael Corbin of MICAP in Denver Colorado. This debate is rather contentious and is somewhat INFAMOUS because during the debate Klass (who I might add was displaying the fact that he was a huge Dick) accused Frederick Valentich of smuggling drugs when he disappeared during a flight after Valentich radioed for assistance when he was confronted with a UFO encounter. I found this debate in my files and I am currently making an audio recording with it. This is a genuine historic recording. Stay Tuned!

Philip Klass1.jpg



Staff member
Editorial: Skeptics or Debunkers?
By Don Ecker, Director of Research
From The Desk of UFO MAGAZINE
Don Ecker and Gordon CooperDateline: October 7, 2000

"After all, when the United States Air Force was publicly chasing saucers they did not have a "fairies officer" or a "ghost" officer or a "haunted house" officer, but they did have a UFO officer on *each Air Force base."

As I started to think about this month's topic for Destination Space, I had several things going on at once. I have been working on a book of Lunar Anomalies and of course my job with UFO Magazine takes most of my time. Just about a week had passed since I had started reading a new book we received at the magazine, a book that I just reviewed and that will end up being the next "must have, must read" for this generation. This book is titled "UFOs and the National Security State" written by one Richard M. Dolan. (I will be talking more about this book in the future.)

Skeptical EnquirerWhile all this was going on I also received, addressed to me, something I immediately put a jaundiced eye on, a letter trying to get me to subscribe to the Skeptical Inquirer. Now why would I feel so strongly about the Skeptical Inquirer? And what is the Skeptical Inquirer? Well, in the letter it was described as the "magazine for science and reason" and that can't be too bad, can it? Let me give you a paragraph or two from the letter:

"This magazine is created by editors, scientists, and writers who are as fascinated by the extraordinary and the mysterious as you are. But unlike most of the `wide-eyed' amateurs who call themselves experts, they're not afraid to look a little closer.... to ask some pointed questions.... to bring science to bear on the issue-because they want to truly solve the mystery, not wallow in it. (Oh goody! My comment) That's where the fun is. And, believe me, it's a wild ride!"

Oh yeah, it is a wild ride for sure. But wait, just like the Ginzu Knives commercial, there is more! I also received a "personal note" from Nobel Laureate Leon M. Lederman addressed to `me.' It started with:
Don Ecker

"Dear Friend, I have found great articles in the Skeptical Inquirer that *debunk such examples of `junk science' as UFOs in Roswell, cold fusion, ghosts and haunted houses, astrology, fortune tellers, crying statues, etc., etc. The exercise of rational (scientific) thinking is essential to preserving our long-term commitment to rationality. Skepticism is an essential attribute of good thinking. Sincerely, Leon M. Lederman Nobel Laureate-Physics 1988."

Ooo, I felt better already. I decided to compile a list of writers, former and current for the Skeptical Inquirer and see what kind of rationality we came up with. And one or two names have expired or gone on to that great rational hall in the sky, so if still alive, I am sure they would write for the Skeptical Inquirer. Here goes........

What skeptical observation can begin without mentioning Dr. Donald Menzel, the grandpa of all UFO skeptics? Menzel was the man who put the "ad" in "ad hominem." Of course next would be Philip J. Klass, who bills himself as the Sherlock Holmes of UFO investigations. (Oh, really?) Jim Oberg, former NASA contractor and "up and coming" debunker. Carl Sagan, pop astronomer, former SETI proponent and debunker extraordinaire would fit right in there, and I cannot forget another "up and comer" Michael Shermer. Now some meaner guys, (not to suggest some of the above were not nasty now and then) Martin Gardner, Joe Nickell, Curtis Peebles, and Robert Sheaffer. This list is kind of a "Who's Who." So, what is it that *I think that suggests I am not ready to buy the "honest effort" that these guys put out to bring rationality to UFOs? And...... why is it that the UFO subject is always thrown in with the ghosts, astrologers, haunted houses, fairies and so on? After all, when the United States Air Force was publicly chasing saucers they did not have a "fairies officer" or a "ghost" officer or a "haunted house" officer, but they did have a UFO officer on *each Air Force base. That should say something. But my experience by and large is that the skeptical community "explains that which is un-investigated, and does not investigate that which is unexplained." Let me explain......

Philip J. Klass is today considered to be the premier UFO skeptic alive. Klass, now fast approaching 80 years of age, has slashed and burned his way across the landscape for about 35 years. Over the now almost 15 years I have been chasing the phenomenon, I have had a number of encounters with "kindly old Phil." Now please, do not get the idea that I am billing myself as the "know all and seen it all" guy, but I have been around the block with a bunch of skeptics in all those years. In my encounters with Klass, Oberg, Sheaffer, Shermer and others I have found that *without exception they *all have taken a page from Robert Low, Project Coordinator of the Condon Committee, and instead of attacking the cases -- they will attack the witnesses. Slashing and burning the word, reputations and character of people reporting on the UFO phenomenon. (In a humorous moment when I was on Larry King Live debating Jim Oberg on the STS-48 shuttle UFO, Oberg accused me of coming on the program to sell magazines when I asked him if he was operating under any security restrictions. The "ad hominem attack!)

I do not have either the time or space to give you a litany of each skeptic I have named, so this month I will simply zero in on one, Phil Klass.

Klass entered the UFO scene around 1966. A former editor with Aviation Week & Space Technology, he would seem to be an excellent choice to examine the UFO subject and present an honest and critical eye on some of the more difficult UFO cases. Alas, that was not to be. After Klass wrote his first UFO book "UFOs-Identified" where he claimed UFOs were anomalous, but not alien, Klass theorized that UFOs were caused by ball lighting and free floating plasmas. Even the University of Colorado study (Condon) found this theory to be scientifically unsustainable. Dr. James McDonald, an atmospheric physicist and proponent of legitimate UFO study, tore Klass's arguments apart using scientific reasoning and facts. Klass then decided McDonald must be dangerous and dealt with, after all he was "pro-UFO." McDonald was working for the Office of Naval Research who funded his trip to Australia to conduct cloud-physics studies, and Klass went on a rampage at ONR writing letters demanding to know who funded McDonald to conduct UFO research in Australia, and later trips McDonald was to take to Europe and the USSR. Klass also enlisted other sympathetic journalists to assist him in a campaign that lasted 1 and one half years. The ONR conducted an audit of McDonald that cleared him, but then cut McDonald off from any further grants. They were afraid of further bad press. At this point I would ask the Skeptical Inquirer about rational and scientific open mindedness.

Klass's position is such that if anyone is willing to propose that some cases might possibly be explained as off world technology, then they are only seeking celebrity status or attempting to make money. At this point, Klass then zeroes in on the character of the researcher. In 1983, Klass began an attack directed against the University of Nebraska because they were sponsoring a UFO conference. In a conversation with the university's administrator Klass charged that "ufologists `seek what the Soviet Union does, to convey to the public that our government can not be trusted, and I resent it as an American citizen." He equated UFO research with communism, as un-patriotic and anti-American. Klass went on to phone faculty and further claimed that for the university to sponsor such a conference (UFOs) was comparable to the dilemma they would face if the American Nazi Party wanted to hold a conference there. Later CSICOP spokesman Mark Plummer wrote that he found nothing excessive in Klass's claims.

I had personal experience with Klass on two different occasions when he displayed his fanatic anti-UFO sentiments. In 1992, I was invited to debate Klass

in Denver, sponsored by ParaNet and MICAP. During the debate we began to discuss the Frederick Valentich case. This was a case of a young Australian pilot who disappeared in 1978 after radioing that he was being approached by a huge UFO. (The RAAF became involved in this case, but no aircraft or body was ever located.) Klass began by calling Valentich a "drug smuggler." I was not about to allow him to get away with that and demanded he prove his assertion. His proof? Valentich had four life preservers in his aircraft. Klass has operated on the assumption that if the case cannot be discarded because the claims can't be disproved, then it *must be a hoax because UFOs simply cannot be real!

Frederick ValentichThe next run in with Klass happened near the end of January 1995. I had invited Klass on my two hour, weekly radio program UFOs Tonite!. During the program Klass had threatened to hang up when I challenged him about his assertion that Major Jesse Marcel, when picking up debris from the Roswell Incident, was trying to claim a $3,000 reward offered by a newspaper for proof of a flying saucer. Klass got very testy when I challenged him on the statement that Marcel, the intelligence officer of the most elite military group in the world, would attempt collect a reward. (By the way, there is no proof of such a reward being offered that I was ever able to locate.) He threatened to hang up at that point. Later during the program we were discussing the 1952 overflights of Washington DC, when Klass tried to suggest the Air Force was not worried because they took over an hour to send up jet interceptors. I informed Klass the reason was that the local Air Force bases were repairing runways and the jets had to be flown in from Delaware. (I had the proof including a statement by Al Chop who was then the Air Force liaison with its Blue Book operation) Klass became enraged and began "screaming bullshit" over the air. When I expressed my indignation to him, he became embarrassed and hung up his telephone mid show! (Another time Klass "lost it" and began screaming profanities to a national audience occurred about 1993 on the Larry King show. Klass appeared with Travis Walton and Mike Rogers, and Rogers accused Klass of being a government agent. Klass in a "klassic display" of temper screamed, `MIKE ROGERS!, YOU'RE A GODDAMNED LIAR!") This is the rational thought demonstrated by the likes of the Skeptical Inquirer and CSICOP that I have encountered.

(Ed. note - Is this healthy skepticism or something a lot more disturbing? Join the discussion!)

Washington DC 1952The bottom line is the fact that UFOs are real (but I am not saying necessarily ET, but some cases DO suggest that) and the United States Government is hiding the information. Perhaps they still feel that they are "protecting us", but I don't buy it. When my tax dollars help defray the costs of all these damned secret programs, and then I am lied to, to boot . . . . . well damn it, I feel used. AND -- if the skeptics are honest, and not much proof of that yet -- either..... in their heart of hearts they know it to be true. More on this later and remember to keep your eyes to the skies.

more from UFO Magazine

For over 11 years, Don Ecker has been Director of Research for UFO Magazine. He hosted "UFOs Tonite!" for 5 years, a radio program deemed a critical hit during its run. A decorated Vietnam war veteran and former law enforcement officer with over 10 years experience, he brings credibility to a field rife with charletains.

Ecker's critical and in-depth articles, book reviews and research have been published worldwide. Ecker has been utilized as a critical expert in "the real X-Files" for years. Ecker's media appearances are numerous. He has been used many times as a technical adviser and commentator for "Hard Copy," Fox's "A Current Affair," and was a semi-regular on both "Sightings" and "ENCOUNTERS." He was interviewed on CNBC's "Talk America," "MSNBC News" and "NBC New's with Tom Brokaw." Ecker appeared on the Sci Fi Channel's "Anti- Gravity Room" and Sci Fi's "Vortex" and "C Net-The Web."

Watch here monthly for a new commentary from Don Ecker.


Foolish Earthling
Good morning Gang! I am currently working on a very special edition of DMR concerning my "debate" I had with Phil Klass. To perhaps whet your chops for this show here is an Op Ed I wrote about Skeptics vs. Debunkers where I highlighted Phil. Enjoy!

Not to change the subject Don...just wanted to tell you I really enjoyed the Coast to Coast episode last week with you on it. Excellent job!
Looking forward to the DMR episode.:cool:


Paranormal Adept
>As I started to think about this month's topic for Destination Space,

Tnx Don so much for that article.
I am curious about this reference to "Destination Space". Could that be Diana Botsford's project somewhere from the end of 1990s where many people were meeting on IRC chats to discuss UFOs with the whole web page and guest articles?

That reference (if that is the case) brought me a lot of memmories. I have a whole folder of those old chats archived.


Staff member
Tnx Don so much for that article.
I am curious about this reference to "Destination Space". Could that be Diana Botsford's project somewhere from the end of 1990s where many people were meeting on IRC chats to discuss UFOs with the whole web page and guest articles?

Yes, that was Diana Botsford's project. I was sad when it closed shop. Also I was sorry to see her drop out of the topic. I have bumped into Diana on FB but she has other pursuits now.



Paranormal Adept
Just finished listening to the debate. Wish i could of been there in the auditorium.
Actually that was quite an invigorating debate, Don.
I'm stunned by the amount of passion displayed by everyone in the debate, Vicki included.
There were quite good responses on both sides.
Klass tended to respond with hyperbole one to many times for my taste, Klass can be real hit and miss, like he was on UFO's Tonite! with his Bull**it comment, this time he was on his game.
It was to bad when the topic of astronauts came up Gordon Copper and all of his experiences weren't brought up.
One resounding observation is how little this field has progressed, in fact the high water mark might have been around the mid 90's. In fact it feels as if this field has imploded with the signal to noise at its lowest point in recent years in my opinion.
Well thanks for the blast to the past Don, one of the funnest and most thought provoking debate I've heard in a long time.


Staff member
Well tell me Ward, what was your reaction to what Klass speculated concerning Valentich transporting drugs? I remember that at the time I was rather outraged by his speculation.


Paranormal Adept
Don a couple more observations about that debate...

About the Valentich drug runner statement Klass made,
that because he has 4 life preservers on-board when he went down...doesn't make him a drug runner
because his friends didn't supposedly immediately list him as missing...doesn't make him a drug runner
that he flew at night...doesn't make him a drug runner

like i said Klass went to Hyperbole far to often and really hurt his arguments by going to these absurdities.

Also the spurious reasoning of one of the questions asked you about what level of evidence would convince you that there is nothing to investigate,
is like asking at what point can you be 100% convinced you are not reading these words that form what you are translating into language in your brain right now?

We are dealing with a phenomenon who's very existence is unknown to us.
The level of proof required by different "ologies", study of fields, will all vary. Science has one definition, the courts another, Law enforcement another.
Eyewitness testimony by competent reliable people seems to me a rational starting point. My answer would of been if no one had ever seen anything that they could
not explain by prosaic means, then that would convince me. That would mean i would have to throw out all the testimony of people i know are telling me the truth mainly family, and friends.
Also i would have to discount my own sighting. Eliminate those events in my life and i would concluded there was nothing to the phenomenon.
Of course that also means i am dismissing other evidence on my rush to come to a conclusion, even if its not the truth.
Ultimately it was a flawed question.


Paranormal Adept
Thank you Don so much for this important and rare historical recording.
On the same note, here are also few companion pieces from my audio archives that others could find interesting:

(Audio) Phil Klass on Voice of America (from 1978)

(Audio) Robert Jacobs and how he lost his job at the University of Maine :
Jacobs' chronology and correspondence with Klass:
UFO Report

(Audio) Richard Dolan and Stanton Friedman commenting the Klass letter:

Letter itself:

Letter was in length discussed on UFO Updates in November 2005:
(where you can browse through messages with subject “Phil Klass letter found”

Message from Jerry Clarke where he also recalled incident connected with Hynek:

Randle's compilation:
A Different Perspective: Philip Klass and His Letter Writing Campaigns

Best Wishes.


Staff member
Lance Moody, I have a question for you.

After looking at the links provided by uforadio, I found this in a thread on Kevin Randles website.

Lance said...
Hi Kevin,

"The Valentich quote is on tape, video tape, recorded by Russ Estes. I did provide the source of the quote and the name of one of those who made it. "

Yes, yes you provided everything EXCEPT the actual quote or a link to the quote. You linked to Don's self-congratulatory account of the debate not the debate itself. It appears to be a real problem if you don't understand this basic idea.

I've learned that whenever someone paraphrases something (like when you paraphrased the supposed Roswell nun diary entry, still love to hear that actual entry!) to be wary.

I wasn't intentionally changing the topic, I was just expanding upon Christopher's comment. I don't see this as a debate, Kevin. I see it as a discussion. Who the hell is listening to us anyway? Its a sad fact that no one will talk to us skeptics except believers (or, God forbid, other skeptics!).

Walters conviction? I tried to look it up on the webs but couldn't find anything definitive. Klass said it included forgery and I suppose I can look into my records if you are saying that this is not true. Are you?


Just what in hell did you mean by stating "Don's self-congratulatory account of the debate".

What self-congratulatory account would that be? And, what exactly did you mean? I will be waiting.


Goggs Mackay

Staff member
Glad to see you back Lance. I must add about Valentich, if I was a member of his family I'd be outraged at Phil Klass making such an accusation. Without a shred of evidence, he is accusing the young man of a crime that can have you put away for life and a crime that is high on many people's list of despicable crimes. To say this about a missing son is just unforgivable.

Lance, I may be wrong but I was under the impression that Valentich was not a poor pilot and that he had started young and was intending to either join the Air Force or go commerical, or both. I've read nothing that indicates he was a poor pilot. It seems to me that this is a typical debunking tactic - it cannot possibly be anything like a UFO therefore he's a crap pilot? On what evidence to you base your assumption about his abilities as a pilot?


Paranormal Adept
Great debate. Don, I liked your question to Klass regarding the possibility that he may have at one time or another put to sea with a shot or two under his belt. Klass has (had) no more way of proving this never happened than he had evidence that Valentich was flying contraband.


Staff member
Great debate. Don, I liked your question to Klass regarding the possibility that he may have at one time or another put to sea with a shot or two under his belt. Klass has (had) no more way of proving this never happened than he had evidence that Valentich was flying contraband.

You are correct Boomerang. If I had played by Phil's rules that he operated under I could have made that allegation that perhaps Phil sailed occasionally with a shot or two under his belt. But without actual knowledge or proof I could not have done that. And Phil had no more proof that Valentich was smoking grass or transporting it than Phil sailed drunk. But the rules are different for some skeptics. Proof of that? I highly recommend that everyone listen to last nights show with the interview I had conducted with Dwight Schultz that I ran last night. In my opinion it was as brilliant a take on the UFO field as you would hear anywhere or by anyone. The difference between skeptics and genuine UFO researchers is pretty simple. People like Schultz or even myself will take the lunatic fringe to the wood shed (hear Schultz's take on Greer) as well as point out the deception that "skeptics" engage in. It is very rare indeed to hear skeptics ever point out the deceptive over the top antics that some skeptics engage in. Phil was an example of that with his often fanatic over the top tactics that he himself used often.