Conclusions and recommandations

Condon, Edward Ulher, 1968

We believe that the existing record and the results of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects of the University of Colorado, which are presented in detail in subsequent sections of this report, support the conclusions and recommendations which follow.

As indicated by its title, the emphasis of this study has been on attempting to learn from UFO reports anything that could be considered as adding to scientific knowledge. Our general conclusion is that nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.

It has been argued that this lack of contribution to science is due to the fact that very little scientific effort has been put on the subject. We do not agree. We feel that the reason that there has been very little scientific study of the subject is that those scientists who are most directly concerned, astronomers, atmospheric physicists, chemists, and psychologists, having had ample opportunity to look into the matter, have individually decided that UFO phenomena do not offer a fruitful field in which to look for major scientific discoveries.

This conclusion is so important, and the public seems in general to have so little understanding of how scientists work, that some more comment on it seems desirable. Each person who sets out to make a career of scientific research, chooses a general field of broad specialization in which to acquire proficiency. Within that field he looks for specific fields in which to work. To do this he keeps abreast of the published scientific literature, attends scientific meetings, where reports on current progress are given, and energetically discusses his interests and those of his colleagues both face-to-face and by correspondence with them. He is motivated by an active curiosity about nature and by a personal desire to make a contribution to science. He is constantly probing for error and incompleteness in the efforts that have been made in his fields of interest, and looking for new ideas about new ways to attack new problems. From this effort he arrives at personal decisions as to where his own effort can be most fruitful. These decisions are personal in the sense that he must estimate his own intellectual limitations, and the limitations inherent in the working situation in which he finds himself, including limits on the support of his work, or his involvement with other pre-existing scientific commitments. While individual errors of judgment may arise, it is generally not true that all of the scientists who are actively cultivating a given field of science are wrong for very long.

Even conceding that the entire body of "official" science might be in error for a time, we believe that there is no better way to correct error than to give free reign to the ideas of individual scientists to make decisions as to the directions in which scientific progress is most likely to be made. For legal work sensible people seek an attorney, and for medical treatment sensible people seek a qualified physician. The nation's surest guarantee of scientific excellence is to leave the decision-making process to the individual and collective judgment of its scientists.

Scientists are no respecters of authority. Our conclusion that study of UFO reports is not likely to advance science will not be uncritically accepted by them. Nor should it be, nor do we wish it to be. For scientists, it is our hope that the detailed analytical presentation of what we were able to do, and of what we were unable to do, will assist them in deciding whether or not they agree with our conclusions. Our hope is that the details of this report will help other scientists in seeing what the problems are and the difficulties of coping with them.

If they agree with our conclusions, they will turn their valuable attention and talents elsewhere. If they disagree it will be because our report has helped them reach a clear picture of wherein existing studies are faulty or incomplete and thereby will have stimulated ideas for more accurate studies. If they do get such ideas and can formulate them clearly, we have no doubt that support will be forthcoming to carry on with such clearly-defined, specific studies. We think that such ideas for work should be supported.

Some readers may think that we have now wandered into a contradiction. Earlier we said that we do not think study of UFO reports is likely to be a fruitful direction of scientific advance; now we have just said that persons with good ideas for specific studies in this field should be supported. This is no contradiction. Although we conclude after nearly two years of intensive study, that we do not see any fruitful lines of advance from the study of UFO reports, we believe that any scientist with adequate training and credentials who does come up with a clearly defined, specific proposal for study should be supported.

What we are saying here was said in a more general context nearly a century ago by William Kingdon Clifford, a great English mathematical physicist. In his "Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought" he expressed himself this way:

Remember, then, that [scientific thought] is the guide of action; that the truth which it arrives at is not that which we can ideally contemplate without error, but that which we may act upon without fear; and you cannot fail to see that scientific thought is not an accompaniment or condition of human progress, but human progress itself.

Just as individual scientists may make errors of judgment about fruitful directions for scientific effort, so also any individual administrator or committee which is charged with deciding on financial support for research proposals may also make an error of judgment. This possibility is minimized by the existence of parallel channels, for consideration by more than one group, of proposals for research projects. In the period since 1945, the federal government has evolved flexible and effective machinery for giving careful consideration to proposals from properly qualified scientists. What to some may seem like duplicated machinery actually acts as a safeguard against errors being made by some single official body. Even so, some errors could be made but the hazard is reduced nearly to zero.

Therefore we think that all of the agencies of the federal government, and the private foundations as well, ought to be willing to consider UFO research proposals along with the others submitted to them on an open-minded, unprejudiced basis. While we do not think at present that anything worthwhile is likely to come of such research each individual case ought to be carefully considered on its own merits.

This formulation carries with it the corollary that we do not think that at this time the federal government ought to set up a major new agency, as some have suggested, for the scientific study of UFOs. This conclusion may not be true for all time. If, by the progress of research based on new ideas in this field, it then appears worthwhile to create such an agency, the decision to do so may be taken at that time.

We find that there are important areas of atmospheric optics, including radio wave propagation, and of atmospheric electricity in which present knowledge is quite incomplete. These topics came to our attention in connection with the interpretation of some UFO reports, but they are also of fundamental scientific interest, and they are relevant to practical problems related to the improvement of safety of military and civilian flying.

Research efforts are being carried out in these areas by the Department of Defense, the Environmental Science Services Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and by universities and nonprofit research organizations such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, whose work is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. We commend these efforts. By no means should our lack of enthusiasm for study of UFO reports as such be misconstrued as a recommendation that these important related fields of scientific work not be adequately supported in the future. In an era of major development of air travel, of space exploration, and of military aerospace activities, everything possible should be done to improve our basic understanding of all atmospheric phenomena, and to improve the training of astronauts and aircraft pilots in the recognition and understanding of such phenomena.

As the reader of this report will readily judge, we have focussed attention almost entirely on the physical sciences. This was in part a matter of determining priorities and in part because we found rather less than some persons may have expected in the way of psychiatric problems related to belief in the reality of UFOs as craft from remote galactic or intergalactic civilizations. We believe that the rigorous study of the beliefs--unsupported by valid evidence--held by individuals and even by some groups might prove of scientific value to the social and behavioral sciences. There is no implication here that individual or group psychopathology is a principal area of study. Reports of UFOs offer interesting challenges to the student of cognitive processes as they are affected by individual and social variables. By this connection, we conclude that a content-analysis of press and television coverage of UFO reports might yield data of value both to the social scientist and the communications specialist. The lack of such a study in the present report is due to a judgment on our part that other areas of investigation were of much higher priority. We do not suggest, however, that the UFO phenomenon is, by its nature, more amenable to study in these disciplines than in the physical sciences. On the contrary, we conclude that the same specificity in proposed research in these areas is as desirable as it is in the physical sciences.

The question remains as to what, if anything, the federal government should do about the UFO reports it receives from the general public. We are inclined to think that nothing should be done with them in the expectation that they are going to contribute to the advance of science.

This question is inseparable from the question of the national defense interest of these reports. The history of the past 21 years has repeatedly led Air Force officers to the conclusion that none of the things seen, or thought to have been seen, which pass by the name of UFO reports, constituted any hazard or threat to national security.

We felt that it was out of our province to attempt an independent evaluation of this conclusion. We adopted the attitude that, without attempting to assume the defense responsibility which is that of the Air Force, if we came across any evidence whatever that seemed to us to indicate a defense hazard we would call it to the attention of the Air Force at once. We did not find any such evidence. We know of no reason to question the finding of the Air Force that the whole class of UFO reports so far considered does not pose a defense problem.

At the same time, however, the basis for reaching an opinion of this kind is that such reports have been given attention, one by one, as they are received. Had no attention whatever been given to any of them, we would not be in a position to feel confident of this conclusion. Therefore it seems that only so much attention to the subject should be given as the Department of Defense deems to be necessary strictly from a defense point of view. The level of effort should not be raised because of arguments that the subject has scientific importance, so far as present indications go.

It is our impression that the defense function could be performed within the framework established for intelligence and surveillance operations without the continuance of a special unit such as Project Blue Book, but this is a question for defense specialists rather than research scientists.

It has been contended that the subject has been shrouded in official secrecy. We conclude otherwise. We have no evidence of secrecy concerning UFO reports. What has been miscalled secrecy has been no more than an intelligent policy of delay in releasing data so that the public does not become confused by premature publication of incomplete studies of reports.

The subject of UFOs has been widely misrepresented to the public by a small number of individuals who have given sensationalized presentations in writings and public lectures. So far as we can judge, not many people have been misled by such irresponsible behavior, but whatever effect there has been has been bad.

A related problem to which we wish to direct public attention is the miseducation in our schools which arises from the fact that many children are being allowed, if not actively encouraged, to devote their science study time to the reading of UFO books and magazine articles of the type referred to in the preceding paragraph. We feel that children are educationally harmed by absorbing unsound and erroneous material as if it were scientifically well founded. Such study is harmful not merely because of the erroneous nature of the material itself, but also because such study retards the development of a critical faculty with regard to scientific evidence, which to some degree ought to be part of the education of every American.

Therefore we strongly recommend that teachers refrain from giving students credit for school work based on their reading of the presently available UFO books and magazine articles. Teachers who find their students strongly motivated in this direction should attempt to channel their interests in the direction of serious study of astronomy and meteorology, and in the direction of critical analysis of arguments for fantastic propositions that are being supported by appeals to fallacious reasoning or false data.

We hope that the results of our study will prove useful to scientists and those responsible for the formation of public policy generally in dealing with this problem which has now been with us for 21 years.