Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Scientific Study Of UFOs [The Colorado Project}: Looking for Love in all the wrong places.

Folks, I decided that I needed a break from writing about things that I had to practically do a new research project on each time, and so today you get something that I actually know what I'm talking about [cue cheers from impatient audience]. I'm going to write about the Colorado Project. The reason that I say that I know what I'm talking about here is [and I really am not trying to be self-serving, but rather want you to know where this stuff is coming from] that I spent four weeks with the Colorado official files reading every page, and ended up writing the only historical paper in UFOlogy on the project that is based entirely on those documents. It is a piece of work that I am proud of, and one that I feel will last. Many things were discovered while doing that work that no one had seen before, and some of them were not included in that historical paper [simply because of the paper's theme]. You got some of that sort of thing with the insider stuff that appeared in the post on Ubatuba. Today I'll give you the inside scoop on how they handled the vehicle interference phenomenon.
Just some general set-up for this: the Air Force gave Colorado, and chief scientist Ed Condon, ultimately about a quarter of a million 1966-1967 dollars to do this year-and-a-half study. Given the amount of avid free help that was volunteering to aid them, this should have been plenty to get a lot done. And, the colonels that were the Pentagon contact with the project said : if you have difficulty coming up with a proper recommendation, just ask for more--that is almost a direct quote. Colorado ended up producing an overinflated, disorganized fiasco of a report whose appearance actually was superior to the work that went on inside. I can promise you that if you read the case investigation work, you'd be astounded at how some of it was done and how other aspects of it were blown off or left out of the commentary. The main reason for this was, of course, as everyone says, Ed Condon. What people didn't know until all those weeks of reading at the American Philosophical Library [where the files still are today] was that Condon had been told just what his conclusions were to be [by Colonel Hippler of the AF Pentagon ] before the project had barely begun. And secondly, although Condon began treating the whole thing as a romp and a good time, by the middle of the summer of 1967 something snapped in him, and he began being very angry about the subject, saying that it was doing damage to the minds of American schoolchildren [I am not kidding you; it's right in the documents]. With an angry paranoid project chief, the subject was not going to be cast in a good light no matter what. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The progress of the project was not helped by many of the staff. Some people did a pretty good job, considering the poorly organized nature of what was happening. William Hartmann did a decent job analyzing photographic cases for the most part [I didn't say that he was perfect]. Many of the ultimate "unknowns" come from him and from the next guy. Hartmann may have been able to do as well as he did because he was not at Colorado [but stayed at the University of Arizona] and could avoid toxic elements of its "intellectual environment". When Hartmann drafted his chapter for the final book, he was obviously out-of-touch with Condon's attitude, and the chief scientist "edited" it by making slash marks across the conclusions [which suggested further study] and wrote "Good God!" in the margin. The other guy who did a decent job, given what he had to work with, was Gordon Thayer, a scientist much and unjustly maligned by the UFO community. This is because Thayer didn't come to all the "right" conclusions on the radar cases. Jim McDonald pointed this out rather belligerently without even trying to understand the conditions under which Thayer had to work. Thayer was brought in at the last minute to try to do the radar chapter which Norm Levine, who was fired, was supposed to do. Thayer was fed partial data on some of these things, without him apparently suspecting it, and did what he could do. Still, many of the project unknowns come from him, and he later said that he was fully in agreement that the field was worthy of study. On the non-hero side of things was , most prominently, UFO "hero" David Saunders--a long story that is in my paper but I will not go into here, and field investigator and Condon buddy, Roy Craig, who ended up writing most of the case materials in the report. Craig is the main culprit in our story today, and is, to me, one of the few remaining enigmas in this whole business. He seems to never have understood how biased he was about...well...everything. A reason to reject a case couldn't come fast enough for Craig despite whatever else was true about it. And doing the minimum was a habit--especially when it came to any creative thought whatsoever.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Condon and Craig were physical scientists, so, in their ways they thought like Allen Hynek and Jim McDonald. Good evidence would be physical lab-bench-style evidence. Hynek suggested that certain categories of the phenomenon were especially valuable to look at, and, in the beginning the project agreed. These would be the [as we say today] close encounters of the second kind where some physical effect is noticed. Prominently in the minds of people like Hynek [due to the Levelland case in the 1957 wave--a case that Hynek always thought that the AF blew] were the vehicle interference cases. [and cases where there were apparent electromagnetic effects otherwise.] The project did not assign a physicist to the task of looking into this but gave the task to a psychology grad student, James Wadsworth. Fortunately Wadsworth was very bright and enthusiastic, but he wasn't the proper choice for "The Scientific Study of UFOs". Jim's perfectly reasonable list of claimed phenomena that he presented as the lead-off thought piece at a brain-storm session appears above. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the matter of vehicle interference cases, the project stumbled across three of them.The first was courtesy of Ford engineers, Fred Hooven and David Moyers [who did all the work] and Allen Hynek and William Powers [who found the case for them]. Colorado did nothing. The report goes like this: New Richmond, MI, January 3, 1967. A lady is driving home from her daughter's house at 2AM. She is startled to see the road and the ground around her car brightly illuminated. The indicators on her dashboard then seemed not to function. She turned the headlights off, but was still driving in a circle of light. She began searching out her windows for the source, but couldn't find it [it was directly overhead and very slightly behind]. She turned her lights back on and went slowly. In the rear view mirror, she saw a lighted object, with a curved edge, above the car. She and it moved along at 30mph. It seemed to have a circle of yellowish-white lights around its curve. Her radio cut out, giving only static. Listening intently now, there was no sound outside and nothing else on the road. She tried to accelerate the car but it would not do so. She tried to alter the direction of travel, but could not do so. Her best view of the object was when it began to move away, looking like an upside down mushroom with its "stem" or dome on top. It made a "whoosh" and suddenly was gone. Hooven and Moyers were impressed with the witness and made measurements, which are reported in the document above. When Colorado heard about the case from Hynek, they spun their wheels. As Hooven and Moyers volunteered to consult generally on such things, they heard about it, and unlike the scientific study, reacted immediately. Their magnetic mapping of the car's surface showed no particular anomalies and Hooven concluded [almost certainly correctly] that no intense broadly radiating field had been applied. He also did a radioactivity scan, and found three anomalies: two which were sometimes seen in such cars, but one which was completely anomalous. [a peak at 5 gammas per second at 120 kev]. The conclusion by Hooven was: unknown, but not a magnetic field effect. Probably because someone outside the project wrote this up and did all the work, it could not be "nuanced" and was reported as an unknown. The radiation anomaly was, however, edited out. [at least I can't find it mentioned in the place where the case is described--Craig was in charge of all editing in this section]. A couple of pages away appears the following: "No instances of radiation excursions coincident with UFO sightings were reported to the Colorado Project, which has therefore not had an opportunity to study at firsthand any possible relationship between such events". If one confined oneself to Geiger-counter excursions only, one could get away with that comment, but a "scientific study" would certainly look into things like Hooven's finding if it was "honestly" trying to discover things.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The second case was right in Colorado's back-yard. There was a whole flap of sightings going on, almost as if the UFOs were thumbing their noses at Colorado knowing that the project was incompetent. This case was at Dry Creek Basin, April 6, 1967. It was investigated by James Wadworth, the psychology student. Again, I have great admiration for James Wadsworth and believe that if anyone could locate him today, he would be one of the great UFO history interviews that we've had [please someone do that]. But he was not the choice to do a physics case. The incident goes like this: an 18-year-old high school senior is driving to his parents' home after having finished a night class ["first aid"]. He was on an isolated stretch of road at 11PM. There was an object ahead of him and quite high. It appeared at that distance like a fiery BOL. However, it descended to about 100 feet in the air and over to his left. Pacing his vehicle, it looked like an inverted soup bowl glowing all over with shaded colors, blue to the top and bright red at the bottom. The pacing went on for 20 miles, when it sped up and parked itself ahead over his family's store, "as if waiting for him". While this was happening, the car got extremely hot on the inside, the radio cut out, the headlights quit, various gauges registered odd readings, the engine sputtered, missed and backfired, and a self-winding watch gained 1 1/2 hours. Wadsworth now had a physics problem on his hands. Did the "scientific study" send a physical scientist to look at the case only an hour away? Not a chance. Wadsworth was on his own. He did the best he could. Using a simple compass instead of the high quality device that Hooven had used for New Richmond, he "determined" that comparison readings between the incident car and a control car were no different. No other look was given to any of the other effects. Wadsworth did what he was able to do, and interviewed the witness and even found another person who might have independently seen the same thing. Very little of this was in the final report. The report was quick to state, however, that the car was out-of-tune even though the witness said that it was fine previous to the experience. The tone suggests that the witness doesn't know what he's talking about, rather than that the effects were caused by the event. [this is Craig's tone throughout the report]. then comes this hypocritical howler: "Unfortunately, it was impossible to determine whether any specific damages resulted from the effects of ordinary wear and tear." Of course not, you didn't even TRY to determine anything!-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Case number three came to the project from NICAP who investigated the case and set up the witness meeting for Colorado [done this time by Craig himself] {Craig was by the way not yet on the team for New Richmond, and "just" for Dry Creek Basin, but that doesn't excuse Colorado for not sending someone to help Wadsworth}. Lake Elsinore, CA, November 8,1967. The witness, a local businessman, was driving home from an out-of-town meeting at 3:45 AM. It was foggy and he was going slowly. Suddenly the car emerged from the fog and was bathed in light. He felt as if something was pressing down on him, and simultaneously his engine, lights, and radio shut off. An object passed across his windshield and hovered about 1000 feet away. It glowed red-orange and had sparkling lights revolving about its rim. The object then started a rapidly accelerating spin which blurred the small lights into one band, wobbled violently, and shot away. The ground illumination disappeared, the "pressure" left, and the lights and radio began functioning. The engine took another half minute of trying until it kicked on. The witness was thoroughly scared , did not go directly home, but stopped to tell two persons about it [a milkman and a waitress], the first two people he saw. Later, he noticed a serious deformation of his back window [plastic] and some paint-pitting that he'd not seen before. His car's clock also seemed affected. NICAP's team did a great job, and tracked down both persons whom the witness saw first. The stories were coherent. Craig came in and disliked the guy, possibly this was understandable as he was aggressively insistent upon anonymity. NICAP thought that many elements of the case were significant. Craig thought none were. His "magnetic signature" testing was done not with a scientific instrument but with a hand-held compass. Craig promised to share the results with NICAP, but then told them they'd have to wait for the book. In the book he shows two unusual anomalistic readings on the back of the car, but says that there are none. He passes off both the paint pittings and the windscreen warping by simply not believing the witness. A priori reasoning that the alleged force couldn't have anything to do with the clock was good enough to ignore that as well. Craig was particularly hard on the witness for what he considered to be poor size and distance estimates, notoriously the thing we humans are poorest about. Craig then dismissed the witness entirely as "religious" and a "believer"--very scientific. Who knows what he said to Condon about this case when he got back to Colorado, but in the report Condon completely loses it and says this: "There was some ground for skepticism about the report in that it was made by a diabetic patient who had been drinking and was returning home alone from a party at 3AM." ALL of the details in this statement are either wrong or colossally irrelevant. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
At the right is NICAP's report to Colorado. One can immediately tell that the non-funded amateurs did far more work on the case than the funded "scientists" and without the benefit of standing-ready labs. [Hooven, by the way, said that Ford would be happy to do more work on such cases if Colorado wanted them to. No such request ever came.] NICAP however did want to do more work, but Colorado offered no help. [even to the extent of helping buy the car or certain elements of the car involved with the phenomenon; ex.the clock]. Craig wrote them back saying that if they chose to do anything more he'd be interested in hearing of their results! In the final report of the Project, Condon not only made his libelous comments about the Lake Elsinore witness, but said it was the only vehicle interference case that the project was involved with--showing an astounding inability of a world-class physicist to count to three. What it really shows is, of course, that the guy writing the study's conclusions didn't even know what the study had done, little as it was. Still, another world-class physicist [and similarly ignorant on the project] called the work "a monument to the scientific method (!)". {Philip Morrison of MIT and SETI.}-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Condon and Craig were able to add one more star to their scientific report card on this subject with their dealing with one of the consultants that they hired to make an empirical and theoretical study of possible ways to stop car engines. To do this they hired Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory's Ronald Hawke to do the work. Lawrence Livermore is at California, Berkeley and is one of the powerhouse federally funded labs in the country. Hawke was a very adventurous young physicist, interested in many anomalies, and willing to try to test them. Hawke finished his study and wrote his review and presented it to Condon and Craig near the end of the project's tenure. Hawke felt that such engine stoppages were possible and talked of ways that they might happen.Although the field strengths were very high, he thought that in some ways their effects on different components matched what was reported in certain events. Craig and Condon didn't like this and changed the language in Hawke's paper. He went through the roof, and told them that neither his name nor the lab's was to be used if they quoted anything from the study [which is why no names occur in the book].------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hawke went on to have more open-minded fun, trying to do things like see if Uri Geller could influence the readings on a geiger counter, and Colorado went on to be criticized by everybody but the Old Boys Club of Science. Colorado, with all the help offered them, "found" only three cases of engine interference and tested, essentially none of them [though the Ford guys did a bit]. When you look at case catalogs for the time frame of the project, Rodeghier's catalog lists 25 in the US and Canada. One case occurring right in Colorado [and sent to the project..claimed to have been anyway] was never acknowledged. After all was over, Craig wrote Condon a note with a peculiar statement in it [reproduced at the side]: "As I look back upon it, I still wonder why each of us, during the course of the study, did not take certain actions which were not taken." AMEN! The sleeper awakes?


  1. Dear Professor,

    Would the paper you're referring to be your 1995 paper that was written for the MUFON Symposium, or is there another paper by you concerning the Condon Committee (not the one concerning Schirmer; I already have that)?

    Also, is there an extent copy of the 'informal' letter Hipler sent to Condon? That would certainly confirm what most of us have suspected: that the Condon Committee was put together with the express purpose of ending the Air Force's publicly visible UFO investigation.

  2. To Steve, my "big" Colorado paper was published as an academic-style history paper in CUFOS' Journal of UFO Studies [some of these are probably still around for anyone who might be interested in the "heavy" stuff---see CUFOS. As to the Hippler Letter to Condon and Bob Low [with Low's response] I have, of course copies of these which I have shared with many colleagues who wanted to see them "in the flesh". Hippler is clever to do what he can to mask his intent while still communicating to Condon what he wants [I'm sure that nosy people like me concerned him as he wrote this--as one politician said: the only letter you regret is the one you didn't burn] and the content is only clearly seen by putting it into the context of the exchanges they have already had. Having said that, there is no doubt whatever what Hippler is saying, once you read the documents as a "set". i suppose that I could compose a short post on this exact exchange some time if anyone really was interested.

  3. Dear Professor,

    Thanks,I found it online through CUFOS.

    Re: Hippler's letter. I'm not sure you need to do an entire post on that; those of us interested in this subject can certainly read his intent! My asking was just to ensure that copies are out there; I have a sneaking suspicion that the more things become digitized the harder it will be to keep track of the originals (including Vallee's 'Pentacle' memo).

    Were Hippler still alive he might be interesting to interview.

  4. He IS alive and in Florida. He has refused to talk with UFO historian Michael Hall when I found him by some lucky detective work on the internet [he still sells real estate.] I am not at all surprised that he would not like to talk to any of us. As to copies being around: I and CUFOS and Mary Castner and a few others now have copies of the three major pieces, so no MIBs will be successful at shenanigans--HA!--not that any of that any longer concerns them. The American public has no patience nor any REAL concern for any of this stuff we like, so we could even find the left arm of ET and nobody would believe it tomorrow. It's ourselves and the slow job we do at strengthening the base information of the subject that matters. It's a slow process, but I think a happy one if you get the perspective correct and just enjoy the ride of researching an anomaly which is obviously real for a change.

  5. Fantastic article! All these cold mornings of standing in front of your house chanting "Case files! Case files! E-M Effects!" finally has paid off.
    I look forward to finding the CUFOS "big" article as well. The letter from Hawkes is a doozy, and the Wadsworth notecard is fascinating as well. I especially am interested in the vibrating and magnetized road signs, which was used to (possibly) exaggerated effect in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." I had not run across any of those cases in the literature or files, though I have always enjoyed the elements that Speilberg put into his movie with a little (or a lot) of poetic license and humor. The Ravenna, Ohio, chase is touched on, with the humor of the saucers getting onto the Ohio turnpike without paying any toll.
    If the public only knew that there have indeed been many nights like that, where police and sheriff's departments are beseiged with calls and their own police radios communications are full of chatter about strange objects and lights.... Dexter, Red Bluff, Ravenna, and just about every night in mid-October of 1973 in Ohio and Indiana....
    Historically, we know that the Colorado/Condon project was the Air Force wanting to be done with its involvement in UFOs. Did Hippler and the school of thought and organizations he represented fear that a project with conclusions more favorable to the UFOs would cast a bad light on the Air Force's 22 years of handing/mishandling UFOs reports? Is that the main motive, or does it also fall under the general view that "It can't be, therefore it isn't, so lets just take this half-a-million dollars and write a report that clarifies little and, in a bouillabase of pseudo-scientific method, smoke-and-mirror the public and put this to rest....?"
    Is it a Robertson panel part two, with the aims being to get the Air Force out of this business without making anybody look too bad?

  6. Complex question. See a separate posting today [friday] to answer this and another received on the Black Dog topic.

  7. Dear Professor,

    Your cartoon at the end says it all. Brilliant.

  8. Pro-Fessor...

    I have an orginal copy (three vols) of the Condon Report. Is it worth very much to a collector, and who would be a likely person/organization who might be interested in buying this study..? Thanx. J.J.


  9. The original government produced copy of the report would only have interest to someone who is simply a collector as it contains nothing that the more public versions also have. It is a large awkward thing to read, and has value only in that it might be easier to photocopy pages out of it [it's "paper-back" not hardbound] if someone had such a need for some reason. I much prefer using the hardbound version of the report which is like a book. Still, there might be someone who just wants to own one. If so, one of the ways that one might "move" the item would be to contact Bob Girard at Arcturus Books in Port St Lucie, Florida, and ask him if he wants to try to sell it for you. By the way, this is not the sort of question that I should be being asked to answer as it hardly moves the study of the field forward.



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