Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Idle UFO Musings Two: J. Allen Hynek, Accidental Hero.
Ah, Allen. A good man. A good-not-great scientist. A paradoxical timid but avid explorer of the Unknown. We were lucky to have you, "warts and all".
Allen Hynek is the second most significant positive element [speaking of human beings] in UFO history [next to Donald Keyhoe without whose superhuman tenacity there probably would have been no UFOlogy at all]. But not many people following the UFO mystery from 1952 through 1970 liked or trusted him --- and given the strange dramatic role he assumed, it is understandable why not.
Hynek was an obscure astronomy professor at Ohio State University in 1948 when the Project SIGN people at Wright-Patterson wanted an astronomy consultant [mainly for their "final report" to the Pentagon, which became the "Grudge Report"]. Dayton-based Wright-Pat had called upon University of Cincinnati professor Dr. Paul Herget for ad hoc advice, but he wanted no permanent duties. Instead he recommended that they look into Lincoln LaPaz or maybe this fellow Hynek. When asked, LaPaz also recommended Hynek. Since Allen had worked on an important Top Secret project during WWII [the development of the Proximity Fuse to allow bombs to explode before burying themselves in the Earth --- maximum damage is done by blowing the bomb slightly above the target], Hynek was A-OK on those grounds. He was hired. The drive from Columbus to Dayton was fairly short, so he could mosey over there get case files and analyze them from an astronomical perspective.
Allen said that he was totally naive about UFOs and assumed that they were just bunkum. He might have added that he was also totally naive about military intelligence matters and their attitudes towards science. He interpreted his charge as attempting to explain away as many cases as he could, EVEN IF THE EXPLANATION WAS A STRETCH. In later years he would say: "Maybe I reached too far". His appendix to the Grudge Report is almost totally negative about UFOs, but he does often say: "this case has no astronomical explanation", while giving the reader the impression that it can however be explained otherwise. Hynek presumably picked up his added pay at the end of 1948 and went back home to Columbus through with UFOs for good, he thought.
And back he came... a little more intrigued now, a little more wondering if there might be some new natural phenomena buried in the more mysterious sightings, but no more "hip" to what was actually going on around him.
As this year proceeded, he became convinced that there WAS "something" in this, but not extraterrestrials. ET just couldn't get here. [An absolute dataless dogma of the Academic Tribe]. Hynek never really got over this hang-up. But he DID think that there was reality and that it was a very old reality, mentioned in the Books of Charles Fort [that he was reading Fort shows the quietly renegade adventurer down inside him]. He soon spoke to a major science society about his belief that the UFO phenomenon pointed to a not-yet-described type of atmospheric "X" which he called "The Nocturnal Meandering Light". To Allen he was on to something which could even make him a famous discoverer. Who knows what his colleagues thought.
When Ruppelt and the positive elements of USAF attitudes towards honestly researching UFOs evaporated, Hynek found himself embedded in a Project bent on waving away UFO incidents no matter how mindlessly and savagely opposed to case details the "explanations" might be. Once again, Hynek was naive. He'd present his stretched astronomical possibility with very cautionary language only to find out later that his idea was written into the case file as absolutely the explanation. Rather than complain, he tucked his tail and shut-up. It was these bogus explanations that drove Jim McDonald around the bend and almost made him come to blows with Hynek in a confrontation in the late 1960s in Hynek's office. McDonald was a science idealist and a fiery man. Hynek was an idealist hiding in a mouse's body, too scared of the bosses for too long, too ignorant and too trusting of what was going on, and subconsciously realizing that he was screwing this mystery up.
In the mid/late 1950s Allen at least woke up to the fact that he wasn't seeing the best cases. Either the Air Force [due to its public attitude] wasn't even getting them [True] or the Air Force were shunting some kinds of cases away from Wright-Pat and into some other intelligence pathway at Air Defense Command [Probably also true]. In desperation, Hynek reached out to certain civilians to try to get better reports. He actually took a trip to France with the famous astronomer Gerard de Vaucouleurs to visit Aime Michel and look at Michel's case files of the 1954 wave. He also reached out to the little-known-today powerhouse triad of NYC researchers, CSI-NY [Isabel Davis, Lex Mebane, Ted Bloecher]. People like Dick Hall and Ted Bloecher have said that Isabel Davis was perhaps the clearest mind thinking about UFOs in their lives. Hynek secretly arranged to meet with the Terrific Trio in NYC at, I believe, Isabel's home [and more than once --- Hynek would ask them if they could get him Broadway tickets so as to double his pleasure from the trips]. He actually would show up at their place almost in disguise --- another testament to his timidity. Hynek would share USAF information [doubtless against his security oath] and they would share case information back. Isabel saw right through Hynek and gave him a blistering letter reminding him of what science was and his duty to a higher purpose. Poor old Allen.
When Sputnik went up Allen got a job at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory as assistant to Harvard's Fred Whipple to make plots of satellites in their new orbits. They were assisted by ground observers all across the country in what was called Project Moonwatch. These observers were of course set up to catch fast-moving high-altitude aerial objects --- uh oh --- and they did. There was a great debate about whether the Moonwatchers should send in reports on the mysterious lights which were NOT satellites. In some places direct orders went out NOT to send them. Allen, of course, wanted them and many came through. Once again he blew it, as when asked by the press whether there were ever any Moonwatch reports which could be classified as UFOs, he said "never a UFO from Moonwatch". He later in life claimed that he had not yet seen one, but upon returning "to the office" shortly thereafter "I had spoken too soon". Even if he's not telling a fib here, he never [to my knowledge] went to the press to correct his false statement. Allen, no wonder Mac wanted to punch you!
Finally he and the Air Force got on one another's nerves so badly that Hector Quintanilla [last chief of Blue Book] wanted to punch him too. Hynek was straying more from USAF influence, buying the reality of UFOs as far beyond meandering lights, and feeling that he was clearly the expert on these things and Quintanilla was not. Suffice it to say that by the time Swamp Gas came along [early 1966], Hynek and Quintanilla hated one another's guts. The embarrassment of the Swamp Gas fiasco tore everything apart: Hynek's last shred of faith in the Air Force project, Hynek's last shred of credibility in the civilian research community, and the Air Force project itself. In came Colorado. Out went Hynek and Blue Book.
So, how in the world did Allen Hynek get to the point where he was actually doing any service for UFOlogy? I'll continue this riveting masterpiece of [as Frank Mannor would say during a Swamp Gas interview] HULLABILLUSION in the next post, which I hope I'm up to soon.
Till then: Peace.
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- A Different Perspective
- American Philosophical Library
- Caltech Archives
- Dr. J. Allen Hynek's Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS)
- Dr. Janet Quinn
- Frontiers Of Science
- Global Consciousness Project
- National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena (NICAP)
- Robert G. Jahn, Ph.D.
- Smithsonian (SIRIS)