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