SEVEN PITFALLS OF UFOLOGY
by Jacques Vallee
The intelligence agencies often forget that before they can classify or
censor a piece of data, it has to exist in a conscious thought in somebody's
head. This is especially true of UFO data. It can be tracked down, investigated,
and verified by anyone capable of independent thinking. But the pivotal keyword
here is independent: truly unbiased investigation implies the careful
recognition and deliberate avoidance of a few deadly pitfalls in reasoning.
Therefore I will close this section by identifying the seven most dangerous
pitfalls that tend to derail our thinking process.
Pitfall One: The Transitivity of Strangeness
We are all prone to this fallacy, which works as follows:
Someone makes an extremely strange statement we will call (A). For instance,
(A) could be the assertion "I am in contact with an extraterrestrial
civilization." When challenged to prove this assertion, the subject will
make a second very strange statement we will call (B). For instance he or she
might say, "They have given me the power to bend your spoon just by
thinking about it."
Naturally you will challenge this second assertion by saying something like
"Oh yeah? Well, prove it, wiseguy!"
In the next few minutes the subject proceeds to turn your spoon from a
treasured heirloom to a pitiful, useless, unrecognizable shred of twisted metal,
leaving you amazed and breathless. From then on you will probably tell all your
friends that the individual in question is indeed in contact with
A truly independent thinker, on the contrary, would have realized the
fallacy. The subject has only demonstrated assertion (B), namely the fact that
he could bend your spoon. We could debate whether this ability derives from
paranormal powers which could be latent in all of us or whether trickery was
involved. But in no way does it prove statement (A), namely the contact with
The human mind, which loves to jump to conclusions, has established a
transition (B is true, and it was stated in the context of A, therefore A must
be true) which is completely unwarranted.
Pitfall Two: The Ratchet Effect
This particular fallacy was discovered by a skeptic who noticed that most
amateurs of the paranormal never went back to a baseline of normal belief once
they had become convinced of a certain weird fact, even if it was later proven
to be false.
A perfect example of this fallacy is given by the current legends about live
humanoids in the custody of the Air Force.
Several independent researchers have become convinced that there were such
humanoids in an underground base under Area 51. It took me months to find the
man who was the source of the rumor. When he was interviewed, it turned out he
had never seen any such humanoids. Yet the people who had believed in his story
did lot simply erase the statement from their mental blackboard. Instead, they
started looking for any confirmation, any other hint, from any source, that
little humanoids might be held in some underground base.
Their belief had become too dear to them to be questioned, even when they knew
its underpinnings to be wrong. Their assumptions about the world had been "
ratcheted" one notch and could not come down again, no matter what the
This fallacy is not limited to ufologists. If you can get people to buy
lottery tickets just once on the expectation that they might win a million
dollars, they will probably go on buying lottery tickets even if they keep
losing: it would now be too painful for them to let go of the pleasant
realization that they might win a million dollars next week, especially as their
losses (now viewed as investments) keep mounting.
Pitfall Three: Spurious Data Sequencing
This fallacy is an emotional one, and as such, it is even more devastating
than the first two. It ensures that most researchers of the phenomenon, once
fooled by a certain belief, will continue to be fascinated by successive
"revelations" even when they absolutely know them to be false.
It works like this:
A stranger calls you on the phone and breathlessly reveals to you some
extraordinary confidential fact. For instance, he might assure you that a flying
saucer will land next week at a certain spot in New Mexico. As you are a
dedicated researcher, you fly to New Mexico in time for the big event.
The flying saucer never comes.
Now you have a perfect opportunity to tell the stranger that he is a
self-deluded fool and that he must never call you again. According to Pitfall
Three, however, you are unlikely to do this, because he has now become a source
of adventure and privileged information for you and you are afraid to be cut off
from his data stream if you offend him. Many ufologists derive a curious form of
self-gratification and a sense of power from such sources, even though their
revelations are consistently spurious. It does not matter how often the
Mysterious Stranger is wrong, as long as he or she keeps producing a sequence of
good stories that play into your expectations.
Pitfall Four: The Lure of The Physical
As I compiled the data for this book I observed a novel fact that I found as
amazing as the UFO phenomenon itself. Again and again I witnessed experienced
researchers, people who had patiently studied the paranormal and related effects
for many years, actually flipping in a matter of a few hours when exposed to
taped interviews of people like Falcon or Condor. Once, in San Francisco, an
entire lecture hall filled with the creme de la creme of California
parapsychological research heard respected scientist and philosopher Arthur
Young, inventor of the rotor for the Bell helicopter, introducing taped
revelations about the alleged aliens in secret bases. Many came away convinced
that proof was at hand. As one of these researchers told me, "At long last
we have something tangible!"
He had nothing of the kind, of course.
All he had was a videotape of pleasant-looking strangers making wild claims. How
could scientists who had spent much of their life designing and critiquing
delicate experiments in parapsychology suddenly buy the story of hard material
proof of captured saucers in Air Force hangars, without demanding an opportunity
to probe into the obvious discrepancies of these claims?
The answer probably lies in our continuing frustration with a phenomenon that
remains maddeningly beyond our reach. These revelations came at an ideal time to
relieve the pain caused by this frustration. It promised physical evidence, a
proof we might all see and touch, if only we had the clearances to get inside
The irony of watching a roomful of psychic luminaries falling for a story of
captured saucers because "at last we have something tangible, something
physical," was quite remarkable.
Pitfall Five: The Coconut Fallacy
When I told the story of these repeated teasers to one of my scientific
colleagues, physicist Edwin May, he sighed and said he understood my
frustration. "It's like my experiences researching parapsychology in
India," he said with a shrug. "People would tell me that if I went to
a monastery two hours outside Benares, I would find an amazing wise man who
could materialize an object inside a coconut as I was holding it. They did not
expect me to actually do it. So I would buy a coconut at the local market and
like a stubborn American scientist I would hire a driver and I would go two
hours away from Benares, and sure enough, there was a monastery full of wise
monks and they would direct me to an especially holy man who was meditating in
his hot little dusty cell. Yes, he said, he could materialize a physical object
inside my coconut by the sheer force of his spirit, but what made me think that
I could hold the coconut?" In the business of MJ-12, Condor, Falcon, and
the Aviary, there is no information, no document, no evidence that does not come
from a source that is either a suspected forger or someone closely associated
with governmental disinformation. In every case the hoaxers are firmly in
control of the coconut. And we are left holding the bag.
As long as you are restricted to the position of watching it, rather than
holding it, there is no way for you to ascertain what is actually happening to
If the President of the United States announced tomorrow that aliens had
landed and were being held in a secret base in New Mexico, how would the
scientific community find out if the statement was true or not? What are the
limits of what can be faked? If something is recognizable as a mystery, doesn't
that automatically imply that it is within the scope of our scientists'
detecting instruments, and therefore could have been faked by other scientists,
possibly equipped with slightly more advanced instruments?
Pitfall Six: Mystery Merging
When two curious events (A) and (B) happen in close time and space proximity,
it is natural for the human mind to merge them into a single mystery. Yet this
often turns out to be a mistake.
The fact that solid citizens have seen strange objects fly over Groom Lake
(event A) does not substantiate Lear's claims that there are hangars with disks
in them (event B) at Nellis Air Force Base.
And even if such disks existed, where is the evidence that they have anything to
do with the UFO mystery?
It is a similar flaw in the published statements about Roswell that makes me
hesitate to regard it as a genuine UFO crash, in spite of the excellent field
research that has been done.
What we have is evidence that something did crash on a ranch (event A) and was
covered up by the Air Force, which used a ridiculous explanation to deny the
facts. Yet the debris showed no evidence of being disk-shaped, and there were no
bodies present. Another site with a disk and bodies was said to have been
discovered miles away nearly a week later (event B) by different witnesses. So
where is the logical link between these two events, and why do ufologists
automatically merge these two radically different episodes together as "the
The material recovered in the crash itself, while it remains fascinating, was
not necessarily beyond human technology in the late Forties. Aluminized Saran,
also known as Silvered Saran, came from technology already available for
laboratory-scale work in 1948. It was paper-thin, was not dented by a hammer
blow, and was restored to a smooth finish after crushing.
Pitfall Seven: The Magnification of Secrecy
Believers in the extraterrestrial theory are often seen on television and in
lectures brandishing heavily-censored government documents as evidence that they
are right. The public loves an expose, so these men derive a great measure of
prestige and additional leverage by claiming that formidable government agencies
are trying to hide the facts.
In reality such censorship could come from a great variety of trivial
reasons, which go from the obvious requirement to protect new technological
capabilities to mere bureaucratic stupidity. When such censorship is lifted, the
hidden text often turns out to be purely technical in nature.
The believers have simply magnified the nature and the meaning of the secrecy.
The very fact that the U.S. military has been doing its own secret research,
interrogating certain witnesses and conducting discreet laboratory analyses,
demonstrates how little, not how much, they know. This is the kind of obvious
contradiction many believers have been ignoring, blindly assuming that the
government knew everything. Would there be a need to conduct covert experiments,
to monitor civilian research groups, even to finance through devious channels
the investigative efforts of certain ufologists, if the Air Force did have
flying saucers sitting helpless in its hangars and little aliens under the
scalpel of its surgeons?
The facts point to a different conclusion: the expectation of advanced
visitors from the sky is being fostered and exploited by various groups for
their own purposes.
Taken together, these seven fallacies lead to an important observation:
anyone smart enough or devious enough to emulate the appearance of UFOs as
physical objects can drive the conclusions of the research community into any
direction he wants. He can capture the fascination of the public, and possibly
the secret beliefs of the government experts themselves.
If a test of the control-system hypothesis is ever designed, if a real signal
is ever sent to the form of consciousness that may be governing the UFO
phenomenon, the formula will be found at this level. The intelligence community
does not control this capability. Once these flaws in human reasoning are
understood, challenging the UFO control system is a game anyone can play.