Thursday, March 22, 2012

When politicised & militarised Science tried to bury the UFO subject – the Condon report exposed

43 years ago the controversy plagued Colorado University Condon committee scientific study of UFOs was released – the result of a two year US Air Force half a million dollar funded investigation.  It concluded “that nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge.  Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of the UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.”

The US Air force used the report to end its public bondage to the UFO problem.  The notorious Project Blue Book was terminated and publicly at least the Air Force were out of the UFO business.  This was the “fix” that was intended all along. The Condon report has since been used as the basis of continuing mainstream scientific and sceptical rejection of the reality of UFOs.

Just how credible was the Condon report and its conclusions?  The National Academy of Sciences endorsed the study.  Much of the media uncritically embraced the report.  UFOs were dead and buried.  However no one informed the UFO corpse. In 1973 UFOs were back with a vengeance in the one of the biggest UFO waves the US had ever experienced.  UFOs have refused to be put down and they continue to be reported and continue to be marginalised by science.

The spectre of Charles Fort’s “procession of the damned” has been played out.  “By the damned, (Fort meant) the excluded.” He wrote in his classic narrative engagement with the unknown and the unidentified, “The Book of the Damned,” “We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.” 

When it comes to credibility as a scientific report the Condon Report is hugely controversial.  The problems and dubious background of the study have been widely reported.  For example “the inside story by an ex-member of the official study group” appeared in book form just before the Condon Report was finally published.  “UFOs?  Yes! Where the Condon Committee went Wrong” by David Saunders and R. Harkins revealed the tumultuous history of the Condon UFO project.  Its internal problems during the course of the study had also been aired in spectacular fashion in Look magazine in May of 1968, when journalist John Fuller wrote “Colorado UFO Fiasco” which leaked the notorious Low “trick” memo, in which Robert Low, who would be the study coordinator under Professor Edward Condon the project head.  Low wrote, “The trick would be, I think, to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study but, to the scientific community, would present the image of a group of nonbelievers trying their best to be objective but having an almost zero expectation of finding a saucer. One way to do this would be to stress investigation, not of the physical phenomena, but rather of the people who do the observing – the psychology and sociology of the persons and groups who report seeing UFO’s.  If the emphasis were put here, rather than on examination of the old question of the physical reality of the saucer, I think the scientific community would quickly get the message.”
Professor Condon played that game throughout the study and was over the top with his lack of objectivity and his focus on the obviously dubious side of the subject – the contactees and the silly stories, that didn’t require any scientific investigation to show them up as nothing of merit.  His biases were revealed in his “Conclusions and Recommendations” in the final report.  Stanford University astrophysicist Peter Sturrock examined the report in close detail, something the National Academy of Sciences review panel and the media failed to do. Professor Sturrock found what I found as a budding researcher reading the Condon Report in detail.  There was a huge disconnection between Condon’s conclusions, report summaries and the detail of the actual report and studies of the scientists who did the actual investigations and research.  Sturrock’s analysis revealed Condon’s summaries variously misleading, false or inaccurate.  For example Condon indicated that the project’s investigator/photoanalyst Dr. Hartmann had solved all the UFO photographic cases.  Hartmann’s conclusion for the famous 1950 McMinnville photos in the Condon Report:

“This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological, and physical appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disc-shaped, tens of metres in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within the sight of two witnesses.”   

This was one of the more obvious contradictions between Dr. Condon’s conclusions and summaries and the actual substance of the report itself.  There are certainly others, sufficient to question why the National Academy of Science endorsed the report.  Professor Sturrock would later direct a major review of the physical evidence for UFOs.  While it didn’t prove that UFOs were alien for example, it certainly endorsed the need for further serious and well funded scientific study.  Sturrock’s review was published as the first major scientific inquiry since the Condon report, “The UFO Enigma” (1999).  It is an excellent review of the physical evidence for UFOs.  Read in conjunction with Richard Hall’s excellent 30 year review sequel to his classic 1964 “UFO evidence”, the year 2000 Volume 11 of “The UFO Evidence” you have a compelling case for the validity of the UFO subject.  And yet very few sceptics, few scientists and certainly few media commentators are aware of either study.  They trot out the Condon Report as if it is a credible study.  When pressed they haven’t read it or they have only bothered with the disconnected “conclusions and recommendations” of Dr. Condon.  They haven’t properly evaluated the Condon Report and they haven’t even examined any of the controversy and debate about the report. 
Few if any realised that other scientists also examined the Condon Report and came to different conclusions and also saw the obvious disconnections between Condon’s own conclusions and recommendations, and the body of the report.  An extraordinary example of this situation can be found in Dr. Claude Poher’s response to the Condon Report.  He was with the French equivalent to NASA – CNES.  Examining the Condon Report in detail he found that contrary to Condon, the report substantiated that there was a real UFO problem.  An examination of the report indicates that about a third of the cases examined for the Condon Report were unexplained.  What did Poher do?  Well he would eventually win support for the establishment of GEPAN – a UFO study group within CNES, which went on to do some excellent research, some of which went a long way to supporting a UFO reality, not the least being the Trans-en Provence case of 1981, in which a UFO landed and left behind compelling physical evidence – a ground trace that yielded fascinating data.  If many of the thousands of the worldwide physical trace cases received similar attention as the Trans-en Provence case we would have a compelling body of physical evidence data.  Instead we have thousands of lost opportunities – a huge measure of the failure of mainstream science to properly examine a real UFO phenomenon.

Roy Craig was a major field investigator for the Condon study.  As a physical chemist like myself I found some affinity for his memoir published in 1995 as “UFOs – An Insider’s View of the Official Quest for Evidence.”  Craig felt the American public got a “good” report out of the Condon report.  His memoir gave this take, “Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote that the American public did not understand the importance in our society of the “no-business meeting,” that is, a meeting whose purpose was not to conduct business, but to give the impression that business was being conducted.  Bob Low’s indiscreet paragraph in his office memorandum suggested the Colorado Study would be a “no-business” investigation.  Dogmatic views like that of Condon … would fit a situation in which a “no-business” non-investigation would be appropriate.  The contents of (Craig’s memoir), however, as well as the full contents of the Condon Report, show that the American public got a real “business” investigation in the Colorado Project, regardless of the implications of the Low’s office memorandum, regardless of the possible appropriateness of a non-investigation, and regardless of the campaign of magazines and newspapers to convince the public otherwise.”
Despite Craig’s somewhat myopic and limited take on his time as a key player in the controversial Condon UFO study, there are still some matters emerging that seem to substantiate the severe credibility problems it had, and it was Roy Craig who had an indirect role, albeit after his death.

It is important to note that despite the damage done and the massive misdirection that occurred with the mainstream scientific community and the media, there were some positive outgrowths of the notorious Condon committee report.  David Saunders and Roger Harkins in their 1969 book “UFOs? Yes! Where the Condon Committee went wrong” tried to spell out the problem at the time but were largely ignored in the tidal wave of myopic mainstream acceptance of the Condon report.  Roy Craig’s own 1995 book “UFOs – An Insider’s View of the Official Quest for Evidence” has some insights but it was from within his personal papers and documents that the “smoking gun” of deception and misdirection may have emerged.   We have seen in a positive sense the published Condon report made some scientist realise that there was a real UFO problem worthy of scientific attention, despite Edward Condon’s negative conclusions to the contrary.  Dr. Claude Poher, of the French equivalent to NASA read the report in depth and saw the huge disconnection between Condon’s conclusion and the full report itself.  As I showed, this led Poher to work towards getting GEPAN formed.  Gildas Bourdais provides an excellent summary of GEPAN’s history in the International UFO Reporter (IUR) Volume 31 Number 2 (June 2007): "The Death and Rebirth of official French UFO Studies").   GEPAN and its variations had to also run a difficult course through politics, mainstream scientific scepticism and clandestine militarism but much good work was achieved.

Of possible critical significance is the emergence in 2009 of documented evidence that confirms the dubious nature of the 1969 Condon report that has so sidetracked the interest of mainstream science in UFOs.  Documents found in the papers of the late Roy Craig, confirm that the report chairman Dr. Edward Condon had drafted his negative conclusions about the UFO subject “without benefit of prior reading of the other sections of the report which were by (then) near completion.” The Craig papers also reveal that despite publicly reporting over 30 % “unknowns” in the final report (and astonishingly reporting that there was nothing of scientific worth to the UFO subject) the reality was that more than 50% were “unknown.”  A confidential 3 page memo to Condon dated 5 September 1968 from Joseph Rush, a National Centre for Atmospheric Research physicist and Condon UFO project investigator revealed that despite growing more sceptical in the Condon study environment, the irony was so many of their investigations had ended up as unexplained cases.  Rush wrote, “This may seem an anomalous conclusion, since more of the C-cases (Colorado University cases) are unexplained than explained.”  

Most UFO researchers who have examined the controversy in detail, particularly the “devil in the detail” behind the Condon report are hardly surprised by such revelations.  Dr. Michael Swords, who wrote an excellent review of the Condon study in the CUFOS Journal of UFO Studies Volume 6, 1995/1996, and who has undertaken a detailed study of Roy Craig’s papers is not surprised.  He told me the Condon report was a “political and sociological response” to the USAF’s UFO “problem.”  As such it was an effective response providing the Air Force with an “escape clause” from its UFO nightmare.  Well, the nightmare continues and the UFO “corpse” is alive and well.  UFOs relentlessly continue their march of the “damned” and still await the serious open and scientific attention they deserve. 


  1. It promises to be an interesting series of articles! I hope you get a few readers...

    In the weeks after the report was published, Condon was writing ( Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; December 1969) that 'Where corruption of children's minds is at stake, I do not believe in freedom of the press or freedom of speech.' He stated his belief that 'teachers of pseudo-sciences' should be 'publicly horsewhipped' and 'banned' from their professions.

    If this was the mind-set that he was hired for, one can hardly be surprised at his conclusions; They were set in stone before he even wrote them. Many people would agree with him about teaching 'pseudo-sciences,' but his argument was a deflection. Nobody was seeking to corrupt children's minds or teach them about whatever UFOs might be. Public horse-whippings seems like an extreme view and perhaps highlights his use of emotive rhetoric to persuade his audience.

    In contrast, James E McDonald might have erred with references to 'extra-terrestrial machines,' but he wasn't seeking to put UFOs into science classes - he was pushing for a serious study only. He was right there pointing out that Condon had probably posted his conclusions without reading the contents first.

  2. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) reception of any sort of 'facts' don't really seem to depend on the facts themselves. To the point where it might be more appropriate to say there is no such thing as as 'facts themselves'. Rather, they are part of a larger socio-cultural-political apparatus/support group: they oppose UFOs not because of facts but because of a more general orientation toward what the UFO seems to represent. Until the general population of scientist comes from a different population mindset (which is happening) not much will change. And of course, it could be that even then not much will change in re: to the phenomena itself.

  3. Thank you for your comments. Dr. Condon was not shy about publically highlighting his negative attitudes, even at the beginning of the study, in public contactee "no-shows", events that did not deserve a scientific investigation. The "no-business" approach soon got the attention of the scientific community, particularly those scientists that were interested in the UFO subject. Best to go "sub rosa" and many did. Fortunately many budding scientifically orientated researchers read the Condon report in depth and in totality and saw plenty of evidence for a UFO problem that warranted serious attention. But it was obvious that mainstream science was not going to support such efforts.

  4. Also of interest concerning the NAS review of the report: "

    Odishaw: and The Condon Report"