Joe's UFO Problem (J. Allen Hynek)
Not Your Average Joe..
"Ridicule is not part of the scientific method, and people should not be taught that it is. The steady flow of reports, often made in concert by reliable observers, raises questions of scientific obligation and responsibility. Is there ... any residue that is worthy of scientific attention? Or, if there isn't, does not an obligation exist to say so to the public—not in words of open ridicule but seriously, to keep faith with the trust the public places in science and scientists?" -J. Allen Hynek, 1953
Dr. Hynek specialized in astrophysics which he learned in his native Chicago and then taught in Ohio, but he will forever be remembered as the scientific consultant for the Air Force's Project Blue Book, from its inception (in 1948 when it was called Project Sign) to its demise in 1969. For the first half of his over 20 years of civilian service to the military he was mostly happy to debunk UFO sightings reports, explaining most of them away as misidentifications of known phenomena.
As the '60s dawned he became increasingly distraught regarding how scientists would reach a dismissive conclusion about the UFO phenomena without first looking into the evidence. Although about 80% of the reports could be disregarded as noise, he couldn't so easily throw out the data related to extraordinary events that had been experienced by credible witnesses. Even as early as the beginning of the 1950s, Hynek realized that many scientists wanted to examine the evidence seriously but were hesitant to come forward with their views, fearing that very vocal detractors within their own field of study would label them a disgrace. During that time, Hynek did his own informal poll of scientists and found that 11% of them (5 out of 44 astronomers) had witnessed "Unusual Aerial Phenomena" (UAPs or more commonly referred to as UFOs). They revealed their experiences to him only with assurances that their names wouldn't go on the record of having witnessed anything of the sort. The one exception was Clyde Tombaugh. He had seen UAPs at least twice and was very vocal or open about that fact but, being only an amateur astronomer (yet renowned for having discovered Pluto), he had less to lose than most.
Although Hynek believed that scientists should give the UFO subject a chance for serious inquiry by looking at all the pertinent evidence first, he also felt that the believers should consider all the possible solutions or answers to the problem and not embrace any one theory, such as the extraterrestrial hypothesis, at the expense of other possibilities, such as a multidimensional, metaphysical or paranormal cause.
Feeling he had an obligation to do the right thing in the name of science, he formed CUFOS (the Center for UFO Studies) in 1973. Nobody in America was more experienced, nor as open minded, as he was when it came to UFOs at that time. He wanted to become a pioneer who would be part of the solution to the problem rather than to take the easy way out and surrender to those scientists who felt that the subject of UFOs was anathema to the scientific process.
Hynek wrote several serious books on the subject in the 1970s and devised the Close Encounter classification (among others) that was used in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Besides being used as a consultant on the film he also had a cameo appearance at the end of the movie. A French Ufologist depicted in the movie was inspired by real life UAP researcher Jacques Vallee, who was also a friend and colleague of Hynek (pictured to the right). Vallee convinced Hynek that many sightings had a mystical, magical, or extrasensory aspect to them and such cases should be examined rather than rejected as imaginary. They co-authored a book in 1975 (shown just above their picture).
Although Dr. Hynek got closer than just about any other scientist to resolving the UFO problem, it was still well out of his reach when he died of brain cancer in 1986. Not for want of trying though; he gave it his best shot. With his passing and the retiring of other noteworthy researchers in the field over the years, it would seem that the best years for serious research in the UFO field are behind us. However, with more data being collected and accessible (thanks to the internet) than ever before, and a possible UFO wave just around the bend, I am hoping that some new discoveries are just ahead of us.
And even though I do not have the scientific and mathematical credentials of a J. Allen Hynek, I believe that my commitment to investigating the UFO problem is as serious and am also willing to keep my mind open to many ideas. Using that atypical Joe as an example and an inspiration it is my hope that this Joe can also explore possible solutions to the unconventional problem of the UFO paradox.
Tom Snyder Interview with Hynek and attorney Peter Gersten from 30 years ago.
Short Interview of Hynek from 1977
Hynek's Views on UFOs in the Late '70s
Recommended Links for Further Reading
- Hynek, J. Allen; UFOs Merit Scientific Study
The Reality Uncovered Blog with articles on a range of subjects from the world of Ufology and related phenomena
- UFOS at close sight: J. Allen Hynek on the UFO problem
© 2012 Joseph Ritrovato