"Sightings and Reports"
I’d like to expand on the first point mentioned in my previous post - the UFO reports submitted to the three respective projects in Hynek's book.
Hynek’s example reports typically go into great detail with regards to each sighting. The people who made these reports seem to have a good handle on directional information, speed and size information as well as providing detailed location data. More importantly, the reports are generally rich in detail and provide an in-depth understanding of what the person was doing at the time of the sighting. The majority of the reports in the book that were made by “non-experts” provide significant detail with nearly no assumptions as to what the object was (more on this later). There are nearly one hundred reports in his book, but a few personal favorites are Five Witness and Five Discs (p. 107), The Case of the Missing Report (p. 108), The Case of the Tricky Disc (p. 115), and UFOs at Oak Ridge (p. 142).
Note: These are titles that Hynek uses in his book, not official Blue Book names.
Let’s compare this to how cases are reported today. There are a handful of UFO reporting organizations and websites. The largest, and probably the one closest to holding a household name, is MUFON.
I have spent significant time exploring MUFON’s Case Management System. The majority of the reports are lacking good detailed data such as directional bearings and headings, speed estimates, size estimates, and even simple location information. You can easily go to the MUFON website (www.mufon.com) and browse the dozens of reports made per day. Many go something like this; “black triangle flew over my house while I was cutting the grass”.
I appreciate that MUFON investigates cases and the job of the MUFON Field Investigator is to assess the quality of each report- but why are case descriptions today lacking quality information in relation to Hynek's reports?
I’d like to posit three hypotheses that differentiate Hynek’s reports from modern day reports. They are:
First, the higher potential for hoaxes, misinformation and “matrixing” (the mind filling in gaps to make sense of stimuli). If I have regular access to information concerning ufology, aliens, the paranormal, etc., I have a huge repertoire of data to draw on when filing reports. I am able to make assumptions which are not factual but are “stories” that my brain produces to see what I want to see. If I am predisposed, due to consistent exposure to media and a shared culture amongst peers, to believe that something weird is going on, and something weird happens - I believe it. In Hynek’s day, science fiction did exist and stories, novels, comics, and film about aliens were obviously present- but the access to that media was limited in relation to today. New Age and paranormal philosophy was also an “underground” movement where as today, it is nearly mainstream.
Second, everyone is an expert; also known as “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. Due to my ability to access content regarding the UFO phenomenon quickly and easily, I can consume vast amounts of data without having to consult with an expert. Hynek, and his Blue Book colleagues, were “the experts.” People submitted reports deferring to their knowledge; “these are the facts of what I saw, what is it?” Nowadays, “I saw a UFO. Here are some facts. Here are some assumptions. I’m not saying it’s aliens...but it’s aliens.” Please see the MUFON Facebook page for evidence to back up my claim. You know what- here. I’ll just take a random screenshot for you to enjoy...
This brings me to Authority. If I am making a report concerning something strange, and the body I am reporting to is the United States Air Force, I’m less likely to “screw around.” Authority plays a huge role in what I say or do. More importantly, in the 1950’s, patriotism in the United States was a cultural norm. The country just came out of a war and the military was regarded with significant respect. Wasting the time of the military would have been taboo and (I emphasize here) less likely to occur.
Finally, Technology. Not only is the access to information today vastly different than in Hynek’s day, but the ability to communicate with others has also become more efficient. If I wish to log a report, I do not have to send a telegram or write a letter and mail it- I can do so instantly with the click of a mouse. What does not occur in my ability to log a report (on MUFON’s CMS for example) is sober second thought. I can log it immediately without taking time to process what I saw. Time allows me to reinterpret information and seek out other plausible explanations. In regards to hoaxing or filing false reports, taking the time to write a letter and mailing takes much more effort than visiting a website.
So how does this affect modern ufology? We need to ask ourselves how our culture and modern technology affect the field. When examining cases, are these things we need to take into consideration? We also need to question why UFO reports are significantly higher in the west where these cultural aspects are reality? Hynek’s reports come from a vastly different world- and while they may be old, they force us to question if we need to reexamine the direction ufology is going and more importantly, how does our current culture epistemologically deal with sightings and the UFO question?