Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NICAP in the Sixties: Have we gone forward? {Plus a little something on glo-balls}.

This is a brief post, mainly because I'm too lazy at the moment to work any harder. Still, there may be something of worth to someone here. In this 21st century, we are sometimes proud of our accomplishments and sometimes have reason to be. I was reading very old NICAP files the past few days [to get a break from reality and just enjoy something without having to argue about it] and something struck me that I'd not seen before. NICAP, even when it was losing its great war against the Air Force for congressional hearings was respected by heavyweight persons and organizations outside of UFO studies like nothing in our field before or since. This finally penetrated my dull wit when coming upon three such instances in a pile--concentrated enough so even I could not miss it. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The three pieces of documents were these: a citation in a scientific journal by a physicist not yet turned on to UFOs [at least as he would later be]; another citation in a formal scientific report by a leader in his field of study; and a request from one of the country's leading aerospace research labs. The first was in a paper by Jim McDonald from the year 1960. As an atmospheric physicist, he was interested in the mystery of falls of large chunks of ice. NICAP kept large files on everything that could possibly pertain to the UFO mystery, and Dick Hall had reported to the journal [Weatherwise] on those ice-fall files. McDonald read it, and requested the raw information. Hall happily sent it. Thus began a major collaboration in UFO research history. McDonald's 1960 paper praised NICAP for its wholehearted sharing of data on the anomaly. The second was similar. Famed American Meteor Society leader, Dr. Charles P. Olivier, was, of course, interested in fireball sightings. He requested that NICAP send him whatever they had on this sort of sighting. Hall did. "These sources of reports are invaluable to us", was the quote from the AMS' Annual Report for 1960. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The third example came from Douglas Aircraft Corporation's Research and Development Space Sciences Department. The request was by the chief scientist, A.D.Goedeke, a well-known expert on plasmas and several other areas of frontier physics. Goedeke was interested in "kugelblitz" [ball lightning] and wanted to make field studies of the phenomenon. Of course his problem was exactly like the UFO research problem--with a rare and unpredictable phenomenon, where does one go to set up one's equipment? He asked NICAP to kindly provide data on incidents which might be ball-lightning as well as "areas of concentration" of such sightings. He was, in other words, saying: boys, where should the research team go? His plans were extremely high-tech and it would be good to learn if he ever managed to corral a BOL. In his letter he said the following: "On a recent trip to Brazil, it was learned that there exists a small area, on a plateau, in Brazil, where numerous observations of ball lightning, or some phenomenon, have been made". Hmmm. Makes one wonder if the good sir was open to possibilities other than kugelblitz?-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For some reason, in that strange way that we do this, the remark reminded me of something buried in the files. I was, miraculously, actually able to find it. [big anomaly]. It was a letter to Fortean Times 22 years ago from Cynthia Luce, a person interested in many things paranormal. She had moved to Brazil [in the area shown on the Google map, near Petropolis]. She described her new residence as a "remote mountain village" and that is possible in that country, even though cities are not that far away. She wanted to tell FT about the local folklore involving the Mae de Ouro [Mother of Gold]. There is a village not far away called Ouro Preta, by the way, so Gold is playing a role in this area. The Mae de Ouro was a frequently seen yellow-gold ball of light that was a bit smaller than a volleyball. It had been around for at least 150 years [as of 1987]. Locals interpreted it as a spiritual entity [and perhaps so it is], but Luce, and ourselves, would probably put it in UFO file folders. Goedeke, and Douglas, no doubt, want to put it under kugelblitz or at least some novel earth energy emission. Luce says she saw the thing herself. The BOL "passed from east to west with the wavering flight of a butterfly about five feet off the ground...It made a wide curving turn and headed off towards the stables and vegetable garden near the spring. My gardener...reached out to touch it. The ball faded away to nothing as he put out his hand, then reappeared about 15 feet ahead of him....The phenomenon seemed to him to have intelligence." One can't help wonder if Luce and Goedeke were talking about the same area. Those mountains that Luce was living in are called, Serra da Estrela, the "Mountains of the Stars". When you go for a visit, tell me what you see.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Mae de Ouro was the fun of this post. The real reason was a reminder. We in the community have not at all gone forward on the criterion of respect in the scientific or technological community. How many requests for information from our files have any of our organizations gotten [from anyone but media]? NICAP did certain things right. Part of that was the conservativeness of its publications and public pronouncements that everyone rags them about. Sure, UFOlogy deals with things MUCH stranger than those conservatisms. But the "outer world" isn't even ready for our most conservative statements, yet we try to cram hyper-weirdness down its throat. Many of our most notable UFO-personages have no social sense at all. They're running as fast as they can and are getting as far away from acceptability as they can. They don't care. They're on their great explorations, and they really don't think that they need anyone else. Especially they don't think that they need to build a respectable field of study brick-by-brick from the ground up. But we really need to at least try--even if we bite our tongues on the weirdest stuff until we can lay the foundation upon which that weird stuff might be able to be swallowed. Then, like the lady above, we might actually see the Light.


  1. Regarding your last paragraph, AMEN.

    Now that I've been reading the old stuff from the 50's and 60s as well as the earlier era, I see the work of the old guard in a whole new light. There was a lot of good work done "back when" by folks who took their time, did the hard stuff and just hung in there.

    And, oh by the way, I just donated to NICAP and got a very cool baseball style cap with the NICAP letters on it. Seems a good way to honor the work. (Besides I think Mulder had one....)

  2. Super cool, professor. This is my favorite type of stuff on many accounts - most notably, the connections that course through many fields of study. I have a really good fall of ice from my 1966 files, where a big (compared to a 25 pound brick, larger in another article) block fell - THUNK!!! - about 20 feet from where a woman was raking leaves in broad daylight. There was a "shrill noise like a flock of geese going by," followed by a sound like a "shotgun blast." Local officials said it was ice formed on an airplane wing, etc, though FAA officials said conditions were not favorable for icing.
    Also, you might enjoy checking Devereaux's "Earth Lights Revelation" (pp. 117-118) for his account - reprinted from the original source - of two geologists doing survey work in the Marfa lights area. They encounter the lights, and wrote up a good report in 3rd person scientific style. "They both had the distinct impression that it knew exactly where they were and that it was just daring them to chase it." " had intelligence, definitely," one of them told a reporter. "It kind of looked like it was playing with us." They said it was about the size of a basketball.
    Which leaves us only with the mystery, as I think George Carlin noted, as to why meteorological objects are always compared to sports equipment, such as golf ball sized hail or volleyball-sized orbs of light, while tumors and other things human-body related are always compared to fruit - a cyst the size of an orange, or how the head is referred to as a melon.

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  4. I removed the above because the electronic world was processing it at the exact moment that "Willy" was posting, and it didn't make sense with his post in between. So, try again. To MnDoc: Funny comment about you now aspiring to be the next Mulder--I approve and i am sure that Fran [over at NICAP} is quite pleased as well. To "Willy": when I see you tomorrow, you can try to use your "melon" to explain to Bill Murphy the extent of your data on this new discovery. The world awaits.



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