Home > Science and Social Intelligence about Anomalies: The Case of Meteorites | Traduction franšaise

If the sociology of knowledge is of any use at all, it must demonstrate the social influences on beliefs. The meteorite controversy shows one case at least in which the social environment of the scientific community was very important in influencing scientific discovery. But it also puts social influences in proper perspective. The public knew of meteorite falls, but it did not understand them. Scientists had to be persuaded that meteorites fell; but only scientists could provide the necessary insight for their understanding. The meteorite case demonstrates the importance of social intelligence ; but the existence of large numbers of non-meteoric'thunderstones' should also indicate its potential dangers.

How much the meteorite case can be generalized to explain other cases of scientists' rejections of anomaly reports is an open question. Certainly the analogy of the meteorite case to UFOs and seaserpents is evident. But there are many other types of accepted former anomalies (like the mountain gorilla) or current hypothetical anomalies (like the Bigfoot or Sasquatch) which remain to be studied s1On the mountain gorilla, see B. Heuvelmans, On the Track of Unknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1959), 54-56; on the Bigfoot, see J. Napier, Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality (London: Jonathan Cape, 1972).. It is obvious that the acceptance of parapsychological events by the scientific community, for instance, presents some different problems (as well as some similar ones) to the anomalies studied so far s2See Collins (1976), op. cit. note 1; and also M. McVaugh and S. H. Mauskopf, 'J. B. Rhine's Extrasensory Perception and Its Background in Psychical Research', Isis, Vol. 67 (June 1976), 161-89.. Until more cases have been studied, our conclusions can be only tentative.

The meteorite controversy does indicate the need for a comprehension of the workings of social intelligence. As we have seen, the assumptions made by scientists about the process by which reports of anomalies reach them are often erroneous. Further details of this incomprehension are available from the two studies of my own already cited. Only with a realistic appreciation of how social intelligence about anomalies works can one expect to evaluate the kind of information one might be getting if an anomaly of such-and-such a kind exists. In particular, the problem posed by the suppression of reports and research on anomalies through ridicule needs to be considered before one decides that absence of information indicates lack of phenomena. On the other hand, the scientist can also make use of organizations dedicated to researching anomalies and the sometimes formidable amount of literature these societies make available n1 Two such societies are: The International Fortean Organization, 7317 Baltimore Ave., College Park, Md. 20740, USA; and The Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained, Columbia, NJ 07832, USA. Both publish periodicals.. There is also the series of Sourcebooks edited by William Corliss, which has largely used scientific sources themselves for records of anomalous events s3W. Corliss, Strange Phenomena (2 Vols., 1974); Strange Artifacts, Vol. 1 (1974), Strange Planet (1975); Strange Universe (1975); Strange Artifacts, Vol. 2 (1976); Strange Minds (1976); Strange Life (1976). All privately published by Corliss at Sourcebook Project, Glen Arm, Md. 21057, USA.. The existence of these organizations and compilations of anomalous events represents a change in the parameters of the social intelligence process, since they both tend to increase the efficiency of transmission of information about anomalous events.

I would like to conclude by summarizing my basic argument. Individuals in any society are likely to experience events which current scientific doctrine holds to be impossible or implausible. Some of these experiences may represent encounters with phenomena that scientists would wish to study, if they could get information about them. But information about such events is transmitted to scientists in very unreliable and imperfect ways. Therefore it cannot be assumed that absence of reports implies an absence of experiences. For the 'stones falling from the sky' the opportunity to study a large number of reports proved to be very effective. Perhaps it would prove valuable in other cases as well.

Home > Science and Social Intelligence about Anomalies: The Case of Meteorites | Traduction franšaise