What To Do With Sturrock?
Robert J. Durant
July 28, 1998

Public opinion polls show that over 50% of adult Americans think UFOs are "real," over 70% think the government is hiding information about UFOs, and 40 % think that the government is concealing information proving the existence of UFOs, presumably hardware or bodies. Only one out of three are skeptics.

Those are extraordinary numbers. They mean that more Americans believe in UFOs than the number who voted for Reagan or Bush or Clinton. Roman Catholics are the largest religious denomination in the U.S., and the UFO "believers" outnumber them two to one. Fundamentalist Christians comprise about 10% of the population, and exert a huge influence on the Congress. UFO "believers" outnumber them by five to one.

Almost without exception since the press began reporting the UFO story in 1947, journalism has demeaned the topic and those who take it seriously. The climate of ridicule surrounding the UFO phenomenon has prevented meaningful activity by those elements of our society in a position to study it. I mean, the scientific and academic communities. UFO research has been pushed into a tiny backwater, unfunded and without the resources that are automatic in every established discipline.

There are some "good" reasons why scientists steer clear of UFOs, but the "bad" reasons are the overwhelming rule. This is a cultural issue, not a scientific one.

When 70% of the population believes its government is engaged in a program of systematic deception on a topic of such fundamental importance as UFOs, this presents an ominous social issue. Regardless of one's belief about the "reality" of UFOs, this fact alone should militate for an open study. This is not a "scientific" reason for such a study, but in a society increasingly alienated from its ruling institutions, it is nevertheless a compelling reason.

A related topic is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It consists of a search for radio signals, and from the outset the practitioners have made extraordinary efforts to distance themselves from UFOs. SETI began in 1959. Thirty nine years later, they have not a single piece of data. Yet they continue to spend lavishly, using the taxpayer's money at a rate of 11 million dollars per year until that was cut off, and then raising a similar sum from private sources. In fact, most SETI funding is still begged, borrowed and stolen from publicly funded programs.

Contrast SETI with the UFO situation, in which we have no funding at all -- and a mountain of data.

Several central figures in SETI recently appeared on National Public Radio as part of their continuing public relations campaign. They complained that the UFO issue is always raised when they speak to the public. Apparently Mr. and Mrs. America are so stupid that they assume their money is being spent in a real search for extraterrestrial intelligence, not just the absurdly narrow search for radio signals. So much for the unwashed, or so I gathered from listening to the boffins.

I said that journalism has ridiculed UFOs, almost without exception. The exceptions are quite instructive. The first instance was the Air Force "swamp gas" explanation for a series of sightings. For reasons that escape me, the press suddenly came to life, denouncing not UFOs and UFO observers, but the Air Force for this preposterous claim. Newspapers throughout the country wrote editorials making fun of the Air Force, and published clever cartoons skewering the Swamp Gas officials.

The second instance is recent, and that is the postscript Air Force "explanation" for Roswell. I refer to the "crash dummies," and the ensuing furor in the press, nearly all of it denouncing the Air Force.

Almost on the heels of the "dummy" paroxysm, we have the Sturrock Report, which was on the front page of most newspapers, including such important journals as the Washington Post and the Atlanta Constitution. The story was played "straight," meaning without the usual attempts at demeaning cleverness. A panel of real scientists had concluded that UFOs deserve serious study. (That's what the press said, and it is a telling and unfortunate thing that ufologists have ignored that message, opting instead to engage in endless nit-picking of what the Panel did or did not write.) This was not just "news," it was front page news, and it was a huge vindication not only for ufologists, but for the great majority of the American public.

The first instance in which the press sided with "us" resulted in a congressional inquiry and then in the establishment of the Condon study. Such is the power of this topic when combined with a "good press."

Politicians would much rather be called crooks than fools. That is why the favorable press treatment of UFOs is critical. Without fear of ridicule from the press, the politicians will hasten to pander to the public's enthusiasm for UFOs.

The Sturrock Panel story closely following the "dummy" fiasco, combined with the intense public interest and belief revealed by public opinion polls, should set the stage for action on Capitol Hill. What is past is prologue.

My suggestion for putting the Sturrock Report to practical use is to meld all of the factors listed above, and use them to mount a public relations campaign of our own. The target should be the Congress. The goal should be to set up a long term study of UFOs. This time around we know how NOT to do it. For example, don't put a known crackpot- debunker in charge of the study.

Most Senators and Representatives would endorse such a study. In fact, "studies" and "commissions" are the politician's dream come true. This is a time-honored way to evade and avoid making hard decisions. At the same time, it gives the public what the public plainly wants -- the appearance that something worthwhile is being done about UFOs.

President Clinton would welcome anything that might put his other problems on page two. A UFO Commission would also get Laurance Rockefeller off Clinton's back.

But with just a little bit of luck, a genuine inquiry can be made, using the federally funded resources required for this awesome task, but that are forever beyond the grasp of civilian ufology.

I would commend, mainly as a public relations trick, that we demand that half of all current SETI funding be allocated to UFO research. This will certainly make good sense to the taxpayer, and to the press, and therefore to the politicians, and it will panic the SETI crowd and their fellow-travelers. The panic will probably result in a "political" settlement in which ufology gets the grudging support of the SETI folks in return for being allowed to continue their strange hobby, though on a somewhat reduced allowance.

Several years ago I was browsing in a Government Printing Office store, where I found a NASA brochure on SETI. It was elaborately printed on fine paper and in color, and seemed written for the seventh grade student needing something for a "report." I wrote to NASA inquiring about what the brochure cost. They replied: $76,000. This is chump change to NASA and the SETI crowd, but a fortune to ufologists. It would pay for half a dozen very worthy projects in this field.

An attack on the "radio only" SETI program, and a demand for a piece of their funding, would find great favor with the public, and with talk show hosts, and eventually with the politicians in Washington who can fund UFO research. The tale of the SETI brochure can be used to great effect in these forums.

The politicians are not likely to take the initiative. But I predict that they will eagerly take the bait if it is offered to them in a concrete proposal. The UFO Coalition can do that, and should begin at once.

R. J. Durant
28 July 1998