Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Book and The Fury

In the early 1970s, parts of Missouri seemed awash in UFO sightings and, taking a stance against the historically negative grain of UFO opinion evident whenever academia usually became involved in those years, a team of scientists from universities in Missouri actually approached the situation with open minds instead of derision and catcalls. Dr. Harley Rutledge (deceased), chairman of the physics department at Southeast Missouri State University, joined with various colleagues to initiate "Project Identification," an ambitious attempt to determine what was going on via the use of high-tech tools out in the field (even ultrasound detection equipment, which raised an eyebrow for me because I had written an article for APRO in 1971, theorizing the possibility that UFOs may incorporate ultrasonics, and I suspect that article played a role here).

Eventually, as former UFO skeptic Rutledge professed in his 1981 book, Project Identification, the team came to the conclusion that UFOs were real, intelligently controlled and seemingly intent upon revealing their existence to us, albeit ever so slowly.

As Dr. Rutledge's letter (shown here) attests, I gave it a glowing review for the journal, Pursuit, as, by the way, did the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization for its own journal, The A.P.R.O. Bulletin. However, Rutledge's book was hardly accepted with applause by UFO research notables such as Dr. J. Allen Hynek, nor by other prominent investigators who still continue their efforts to this day. I already knew before writing the review, and stated within it, that Rutledge was destined to be attacked by well known UFO researchers -- a situation almost unparalleled, as one would usually expect that scientists on basically the same UFO investigative "path" would be more supportive of one another. Yet, I expect Rutledge's "in your face" conclusions spooked numerous people, even those of a similar hypothetical mode.

Of course, though his detractors were fellow scientists, I'm just a writer trying to make sense out of the information available to me as a layman. But in a May 20, 1982 letter sent to me by Dr. Rutledge, just a day prior to the one displayed here, he did raise a few points in his own defense.

At one point in his letter, Dr. Rutledge states that he "very much" liked my sentence, "In the best scientific tradition, he (Rutledge) tells the Missouri UFO story step by step, carefully examining pieces of the puzzle until he comes up with some ultimately irresistible conclusions."

Elaborating on this statement, he writes, " I was assailed for this by reviewers you so aptly describe. . .Actually, I wanted enough science in the book to give it validity while maintaining an interesting story of true adventure. I certainly think some critics were too harsh with regard to the scientific presentation; I know of no other book that goes as far that is written for public consumption.

"Actually," continues Rutledge, "I had placed most of the technical developments in seven appendices, but (Prentice-Hall's editor) wanted them up front. It may have been a mistake; the average reader is probably intimidated by the equations.

"I was pleased that you mentioned the 'vague rumblings' in your review. I was forewarned that (Rutledge mentions four prominent UFO researchers' names here, all significant for their science credentials) were 'out to get me.' First, they were going to show that I falsified data on the word of someone who worked in our Project. I dared them to try. Then, they were going to show that I could not have remembered the details of all those sightings. Of course, I have a shoebox full of tape recordings made in the field. But keeping records and trying to direct 40 different participants was a terrible task. And there was a paucity of funding.

"I did not respond to the negative reviews," advises Rutledge, "and do not plan any action. I have gone through in detail the review. . .in the (CUFOS) International UFO Reporter. Refutation was so easy that it was obvious to me that it was a character assassination rather than a book review."

The lesson for me here is that the UFO is a legitimate and complicated scientific mystery, with implications so deep and so strange that even the science folks get caught up in the chaos of attacking one another as they attempt to get a handle on that which can't yet be handled. There's the scientific method, and then there's the other scientific method. Scientists are people, too.