Scientists' New Spin on UFOs

Article excerpt

For years, mainstream scientists have scorned reports of UFOs - and the people who investigate them - as on or beyond the fringe of science.

But today, for the first time in nearly three decades, a group of scientists is asking colleagues to take sightings of unidentified flying objects more seriously. Admittedly, it's a small gesture. But in the often uneasy relationship between the scientific community and UFO investigators, it represents an important symbolic step - an admission that some of these seemingly bizarre phenomena deserve research, not ridicule.

In suggesting further study, the panel of scientists noted that several sightings have been accompanied by physical effects that are difficult to explain and thus warrant more-disciplined study - although the group is unconvinced that the effects violate physical laws or have out-of-this-world sources. Indeed, UFO sightings should be subjected to the rigor of the physical sciences, panelists say, not to prove E.T. is out there, but to erase the "un" in "unidentified." "The real problem has been that scientists have tended to say, 'UFOs mean extraterrestrials, there can't be extraterrestrials, therefore we can forget UFO reports,' " says Peter Sturrock, professor of applied physics at Stanford University and the panel's director. "We say, 'Forget the theories about what caused the evidence. Look at the evidence and see what it has to tell us.' " "If there are phenomena we don't understand, as scientists we ought to be interested in understanding them," adds panelist Thomas Holzer, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The group calls for modest financial, laboratory, and other support from institutions such as universities or nonprofit foundations. This would give scientists access to the latest technologies to examining the physical evidence associated with UFO sightings. The panel also would like to expand regular contact between experienced UFO investigators and mainstream scientists. These and other recommendations are contained in a 50-page report appearing today in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, published by the Society for Scientific Exploration in Palo Alto, Calif. The society was founded in 1981 to provide a forum for scientists to take a critical look at unusual phenomena. The report summarizes a four- day workshop held last fall that brought the panel together with eight UFO investigators from the United States and Europe. Grounds for optimism To UFO investigators such as Mark Rodeghier, the report is cause for cautious optimism. "This is very significant because there has been no serious look at UFOs by reputable scientists for 30 years," says Mr. …