What Is The Responsibility Of The Scientist?

The following is quoted by J. ALLEN HYNEK in the Foreword to CHALLENGE TO
SCIENCE - UFO ENIGMA by Jacques Vallee, 1966:


WHAT is the responsibility of the scientist confronted with observations
that seem not only a challenge but sometimes also an affront to science?
How does one discharge this responsibility? The UFO phenomena presents us
with such a problem. To most scientists who have no acquaintance with the
subject, save that gained from scanning the popular press, it is an
"untouchable" area. Flying saucers indeed!-the product of immature,
imaginative, and even unbalanced minds, the playground of the
pseudo-scientist and the quasi-mystic, the haven of the crackpot.

Is this really so? Obviously, if one is to apply the scientific principles
we all staunchly defend, one must take the time to look into the subject
carefully-to look and to consider. But time is precisely what today's
scientists-in some respects the world's busiest people -do not have! Who
can take the time to wade through the seeming morass of stories, fanciful
tales, chimera, and balderdash when SO many pressing things demand the
scientist's immediate attention?

As an astronomer, I probably would never have approached the subject had I
not been officially asked to do so. Over the past eighteen years I have
acted as a scientific consultant to the U.S. Air Force on the sub-ject of
unidentified flying objects-UFO's. As a consequence of my work on the
voluminous air force files and, to a greater extent, of personal
investigation of many puzzling cases and interviews with witnesses of good
repute, I have long been aware that the subject of UFO's could not be
dismissed as mere nonsense. Nonsense is present, to be sure, and
misidentification of otherwise familiar objects that many sincere people
report as UFO's. But is there not a "signal" in the "noise," a needle in
the haystack? Is it not precisely our role to try to isolate the valid from
the nonsensical? By carefully working through tons of pitchblende, Madame
Curie isolated a tiny amount of radium-but the significance of that minute
quantity was world--shaking.

It is my conclusion (speaking now personally and not in an official
capacity) after many years of working through "tons" of reports, that there
is a signal, that there is "radium" in the "pitchblende," waiting to be
extracted. The authors of this book have come to the same conclusion, by a
somewhat different path. Whether the scientifically valid in the entire UFO
phenomenon proves to be a physical signal or a psychological one -or even a
heretofore unknown phenomenon-it is in every respect a challenge to

Perhaps I should have spoken earlier; eighteen years is a long time. But it
takes more evidence to get an idea accepted in a revolutionary field, be it
biological evolution, relativity, or quantum mechanics, than it does to
advance simply another step in an accepted scientific domain. Furthermore,
astronomers are among the most conservative of scientists. Perhaps this is
because their time scale is so great that they naturally bide their time in
proposing or accepting revolutionary ideas, particularly if such ideas are
subject to sensational treatment in the press and in the minds of the

Nonetheless, I have of late been rebuked, in my correspondence with people
whose integrity I respect, with the charge that I failed to call the
importance of the air force data on UFO's to the attention of my peers. If
any defense is needed, in view of the controversial and explosive nature of
the subject, it is that I did indeed on many occasions call guarded
attention to the steadily growing mass of reports made by intelligent
people from many countries. As early as 1952, before the Optical Society of
America, I pointed out the significant nature of some types of UFO reports
(article published in the Journal of the Optical Society of America, April,
1953). Over and above that, there remains the fact that for years I have
personally de-voted a portion of my time to this subject, an action that
would be unthinkable had I not felt it was worthy of examination. I have
long been aware that the UFO phenomenon is a global one and that it has
captured the attention of many rational people. Numerous scientists have
privately told me of their interest and their willingness to look further
into the problem.

Also, as a scientific consultant to the U.S. Air Force, I carry a unique
responsibility: any statement I make on the importance of the UFO
phenomenon, unless backed by overwhelming evidence, carries the danger of
"mobilizing the credulity of the world," as a university colleague of mine
so aptly put it. I recognize that responsibility in accepting the
invitation of the authors to write the Foreword to this book. It was only
my respect for the authors as serious investigators and the continued and
growing mass of unexplained UFO re-ports that prompted me to accept. I have
over the years acquired something of a reputation as a "debunker" of UFO
reports. If this arose from my honest desire to find a rational natural
explanation for the stimuli that give rise to the reports, a procedure very
frequently crowned with success, then I must bear with that reputation. If
it stems, however, from a belief that I deliberately adopted a Procrustean
approach, cutting down or stretching out evidence to make a forced fit,
deliberately to "explain away" UFO reports at all cost, then it is a most
unwarranted charge.

In my nearly two score years' association with the investigation of the
reports, I have yet to write a book on the subject, primarily because there
is no physical evidence in support of the phenomenon. Were I to write such
a book today, however, I probably would take much the same approach
followed by the present authors. The Vallees present a formidable amount of
evidence for the. global nature of the UFO phenomenon, but despite this
they come to no firm conclusion. As they state: "We must realize that the
observations we have reviewed . . . have no value in themselves. They are
important and deserve study, only because each one is an illustration of a
phenomenon that has manifested itself since May, 1946, in every country in
the world." Besides the fact that the reports bear striking similarities to
each other they continue to be made by people of good repute, which makes
it imperative that a scientific investigation be undertaken. Because of the
global nature of the total phenomenon, this investigation might well be
carried our under the auspices of the United Nations. The psychological
implications of the UFO phenomenon on world affairs certainly make it
worthy of study. It makes no difference, in this respect, what the physical
truth of the matter is; it is the impact it has on the minds of people in
many nations that makes it potentially important in the psychosociological
balance of the world.

My own interest, as an astronomer, in the total phenomenon is, of course,
purely scientific. Some readers many well wonder whether this seemingly
flamboyant subject is amenable to scientific inquiry. What constitutes
scientific evidence in this field? The authors present a convincing
argument that the UFO phenomenon can be studied with the advanced methods
of inquiry of the physical scientist and of the sociologist and
psychologist. In all of these methods the electronic computer figures

Scientific inquiry becomes possible when the phenomenon under study
exhibits patterns and-regularities, when it is subject to classification
Lee authors have shown that a classification system (the start of many
branches of science) of UFO phenomena is possible and, indeed, that each
type they have identified shows a different diurnal frequency pattern. In
particular, their catalogue of five hundred cases should be of interest to
scientists. I cannot help drawing a parallel with the first catalogues of
celestial radio sources: the great majority- of the entries were
unidentified optically; only more advanced methods of analysis and
observation revealed that some of these were distant radio galaxies and
that some were the striking new puzzle, quasi-stellar sources. The present
catalogue of UFO cases consists, with very few exceptions, of unidentified
items; one wonders whether the parallel with the catalogue of radio sources

Certainly no progress can be made without scientific study. Unfortunately,
as the authors point out, scientists, "draped with dignity," have often
refused to study the reports. The fact of the matter is that many of my
colleagues who have undraped their dignity long enough to take a hard look
at the reports have joined the growing ranks of the puzzled scientists:
they privately indicate serious interest in the phenomenon but publicly
they choose, like the subject itself, to remain unidentified; they are
unwilling to expose themselves to the raillery and banter that go with it.
It is to them in particular, and to all who foster the true Galilean
spirit, that this book will be of greatest value. They grope and seek,
examining even those ideas that seem fanciful and strange, for they know
how strange and fanciful the term "nuclear energy" would have been to a
physicist one hundred years ago. They are ready to accept a new challenge
to science.

Chairman, Department of Astronomy, and Director, Dearborn Observatory,
Northwestern University