THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC EXPLORATION VOL 19, Spring 2005
CHALLENGING THE PARADIGM
the last 30 years I have made several attempts to publish UFO related articles
in conventional science journals. Most
of my papers or letters have been rejected.
However, quite by luck, in my opinion, I was able to publish two short
articles concerning the
In their recent article, “Challenging Dominant Physics Paradigms,” Campanario and Martin (2004) pointed out the difficulties in publishing information that conflicts with the accepted paradigm. In the case of UFO sightings, the conventional paradigm is that reports of UFOs are not reports of some new and novel phenomena. Instead, each sighting has a conventional explanation. That is, each sighting results from a mis-identification (failure by the witness and by the sighting investigator to correctly identify what was seen) or from a delusion (mental state of a witness) or from a hoax. Therefore it is not surprising to find that journal editors are biased in favor of articles that offer conventional explanations for UFO sightings even if those conventional explanations conflict with some (or much) of the available information about the sightings.
Several times, beginning in 1974, I have “tangled” with editors over the publication of UFO articles in which I claimed that there are no conventional explanations for some sightings. Most of my articles have been rejected. This article presents the history behind my one success.
Denting the Paradigm
I read the article and within the month submitted a letter to the editor in which I argued that the BUH was not a satisfactory theory for UFOs. The editor responded in early December in a positive way: he said that my letter, perhaps with some modification, would be an acceptable response, but he wanted to wait several weeks to see if there were any other letters. Along with the publication of the chosen letter(s), he would include an editorial statement that the discussion of the UFO topic was closed unless new optical phenomena were presented “in a scientific way.” The editor stated that he didn’t want Applied Optics to become a “stamping ground for the UFO believers who are 99 and 44/100ths percent kooks.” There the matter rested for several months, and may have rested forever, if it weren’t for a significant UFO event.
The year 1978, which is particularly noted for the October
disappearance of pilot Frederick Valentich over the
ARGOSY FREIGHTER AIRCRAFT
The reaction to the claim of filming UFOs, interpreted as
interplanetary vehicles, was immediate and intense. Consistent with the paradigm, skeptics from
all over the world offered explanations based on conventional phenomena. These explanations ranged from simply wrong
(“unburned meteorites” proposed by Sir Bernard Lovell of Jodrell
Bank Observatory in
UFO vs SQUID BOAT
My investigation of these sightings began about a week
after they occurred, when an Australian reporter brought the film to
The conclusion that there was no conventional explanation
was presented at a press conference in
About the time that I sent off the short manuscript to Nature, I received another letter from the editor of Applied Optics. He wrote that he had contacted a “very senior man” in the Optical Society who had said that a response to the BUH should be allowed, provided that there were no further articles on this subject “unless they presented new data involving optics.” The editor wrote that no other response had been received and so my rebuttal of the BUH could be the published after a few modifications. At the time I received his letter, I had not thought about the BUH for quite a while, so I put it aside while I waited for a response from Nature. However, I realized that the brightness calculation I had sent to Nature was more directly related to the subject matter published by Applied Optics. Therefore, as soon as I received the rejection from Nature I revised the article and sent it to the editor of Applied Optics in early May. I included a cover letter in which I wrote that, although this article did not respond directly to the BUH, nevertheless it was an indirect response (e.g., here is a sighting which the BUH can’t explain) and, furthermore, “this article contains some physical data about an unusual light source and, since the data are primarily of an optical nature, the article is suited to your journal.”
Wonder of wonders, the editor accepted my argument. A few days after I sent my article, I received a hand-written note: “I am much more comfortable about the present manuscript than I was about the earlier one. I will show it to someone, but it is my feeling it is probably OK. I remember that event…. (it was) shown on the Walter Cronkite news program. I watched this flickering, bouncing hand-held camera shot and I’m glad I don’t have to try to explain it.”
It was as if I had accomplished a “bait and switch” by offering a rebuttal to the BUH and then replacing it with a different type of UFO article. Of course I was delighted because, for the first time (so far as I know), a technical analysis of a particular UFO sighting would be published in a refereed journal. It was published in August (Maccabee, 1979; see http://brumac.8k.com/NEW_ZEALAND/NZSB.html). By an unexpected stroke of luck I had won a skirmish against the paradigm. But the real battle was yet to take place.
The Paradigm Strikes Back
As part of the scientific process, in July I sent a
preprint of my paper to two scientists at the New Zealand Department of
Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR).
I did send a response a few weeks later, but the editor
complained that it was longer than the DSIR article. He wanted me to shorten it. Near the end of October I responded that I
would write a shorter response, but that, at that present time, I was waiting
for more photographic data from experiments that would be done in
The DSIR article was published in December (Ireland and Andrews, 1979), while I was still waiting for the experimental data. In late December, the editor sent me a copy of a letter of “congratulations” which he had received from a professor of electronics who was also a well-known senior member of the OSA. The member had written: “I want to express gratitude to Ireland and Andrews for their trenchant discussion--one might more accurately say destruction--of Maccabee’s earlier report of an ‘unidentified bright object’ seen off the coast of New Zealand…as a regular reader of The Skeptical Enquirer and as an individual concerned over the widespread acceptance of pseudo-science I would hate to see Applied Optics inundated in a flood of communications of this caliber. The scientific and technical trappings of Maccabee’s report cannot, in my judgement, hide its essential triviality and lack of believability. The only conclusion from the exchange seems to me to be that the initial letter ought never to have been published.”
Of course, I was dismayed at the attitude of the professor, so I wrote directly to him in early January 1980. I pointed out that I, too, was concerned about pseudo-science, but my concern was with the “pseudo-science” done by authoritative scientists who publicized explanations for sightings without thorough analyses that would show whether or not the proposed explanations were satisfactory. I pointed out to him that the authors of the article which he had cited as destroying my report had initially claimed that the witnesses had seen Venus, rising 10 or more minutes early. It was only after I pointed out to them that it was physically impossible to see Venus 10 or more minutes before its rise time that they began to investigate other possible explanations.
The experiments that I had requested to done in New Zealand had not been carried out as of the end of January, and it seemed that they might not be done for several months, so I submitted my rebuttal to the DSIR article in early February, fully expecting that it would be published. (The experiments were eventually done but too late for inclusion in my rebuttal.) Therefore I was astonished to read the response from the editor several weeks later: “I am writing again about your manuscript. It is my present feeling that perhaps it is better simply to leave matters as they now are (i.e., without the reply). The reason for this is that the reply is not particularly convincing in negating the earlier comment and if I proceeded with it I would feel obligated to involve (the professor) who wrote me a letter in late December concerning the (DSIR) comment.”
Naturally I was disappointed to learn that the editor
would end the discussion in this way without letting me respond to the
critics. I called him on the phone.
During the ensuing conversation, he made it clear that his main concern was
that he would be publicly criticized by the irate professor if he published my
response. At this point I realized that
nothing I could do would convince the editor to publish my response. Therefore I decided to try appealing to
outside help. I knew that the professor
The Paradigm: Down But Not Out
Before continuing, I should back up a bit and finish the story of the BUH, because it probably affected the ultimate decision to publish my rebuttal. In April, 1979, the editor received another reply to the BUH article. This was a well written paper by an entomologist (Tha Pa U, 1979). It was published in August 1979, two weeks after mine, along with responses by Callahan (Callahan, 1979) and Mankin (Mankin, 1979). Thus, in that case, the journal had published the original BUH article, the rebuttal to the original article, and the authors’ responses to the rebuttal. In his early March, 1980, letter to the journal editor, Sturrock pointed out that it seemed “only fair that Maccabee should have the same privilege” of responding to the critics as had Callahan and Mankin. Sturrock also wrote, “Most scientists are quite uninformed about the UFO phenomenon. None of the established scientific journals provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of relevant evidence. In my opinion you have provided a real service to science, in its broadest scope, in agreeing to publish the papers of Callahan, Mankin and Maccabee and the discussion which followed. I hope that you will continue to publish articles dealing with optical aspects of anomalous phenomena as well as conventional phenomena.”
About a week later the editor received a letter from the professor, who wrote that he had been thinking about what to do “on the Maccabee controversy” while “trying to be principled and fair” in spite of his “personal conviction that this is a scientifically foolish piece of work.” The professor clearly understood that the point of my response to the criticism was to prove that the light moved and therefore could not be a squid boat. He wrote that the “discussion may or may not be science,” but at the very least was not optics and so was “not appropriate to an optics journal.” Nevetheless, he suggested that there was a reason to publish my rebuttal to the DSIR article. He wrote, “On the other hand, despite my own confidence that Maccabee’s rebuttal simply makes clear how inane the whole discussion is, I am aware of (even if I totally disagree with) the claims that the scientific establishment refuses publication and suppresses discussion of these allegedly scientific observations. Indeed, if I feel that Maccabee’s rebuttal is inane, perhaps I ought to support rather than oppose its publication, with the confidence that making it available in print will simply let others reach the same judgement.” He then went on to propose that the editor publish my rebuttal along with an editorial statement that this would end the discussion in Applied Optics.
In late March I received a letter from the editor. He included a copy of the professor’s letter and indicated that he would follow the recommendation. I responded that, although I was unhappy to learn that my rebuttal was “inane,” nevertheless I would accept the editor’s decision. I made a few more minor revisions of the rebuttal, which was now a better paper than my original submission months before, and it was finally published a year and a half after the sightings (Maccabee, 1980).
(For the complete documents see the web sites mentioned above.)
To some it might seem that I actually beaten the paradigm, but this would be wrong. Yes, three short articles were published in which a particular UFO sighting was discussed and, yes, the concluding article was “allowed” to claim that the phenomenon that had been seen and filmed was unexplained. Nevertheless, in the long run the paradigm won because of a lack of interest. Although I essentially claimed that this UFO was “real” (without, however, making any statement as to what it might be, e.g., there was no mention of the ET or another hypothesis), I cannot recall one request for a reprint of the article, nor can I recall any requests for further information by scientists in general. Publication in a technical journal such as Applied Optics did not result in widespread dissemination of this positive UFO information even though an earlier publication of a negative UFO article had received widespread attention. Furthermore, publication of these articles did not lead to the publication of other similar UFO articles in the conventional science journals. So far as I know, these three short articles in Applied Optics are still, twenty-five years later, the only series of technical articles on a single UFO sighting in the conventional science literature.
I have had other “run-ins” with the paradigm, the most
notable being when I tried to publish a response to an article that appeared in
the early summer of 1980 in the Journal of Atmospheric and Terrestrial
Physics. The author of the article,
a well known atmospheric physicist, used only a few of the initial press
stories as his sources of technical information. From these he deduced that no one had
suggested that atmospheric refraction or mirage could explain the sightings, so
in his article he proposed, in a qualitative way (no explicit data or
calculations), that a looming mirage of distant squid-fleet lights could
explain the sightings. In my response I
pointed out that atmospheric refraction had, in fact, been publicized in early
I went through several iterations with the editor, all to no avail. In 1985 I attempted to duplicate my success with Applied Optics by submitting another calculation of brightness, this time the brightness of an unidentified high-altitude light-source photographed by a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot. The paper was rejected by two referees who claimed first that it was a sun dog and then that it was a reflection in a lake. Many years after the second rejection I submitted the paper to this journal and it was published (Maccabee, 1999).
For more information about my attempts at publication, see “Still In Default” at http://brumac.8k.com/still in default/still in default.html. Look for the section entitled “Non-publication of Scientific Papers,” which is about halfway through the publication. There you will find more details of the Applied Optics controversy, the complete controversy over the refusal of the JATP to publish my short article, and the controversy over the refusal of Applied Optics to publish my article about the high altitude bright light source.
Although the paradigm might have suffered a dent in its armor, it was not severely shaken and it still reigns supreme: from the conventional science point of view, UFOs are still an inane subject pursued by people who are 99 44/100ths percent kooks.
Callahan, P. and Mankin, R. Insects as unidentified flying objects. Appl. Optics, 17, 3355(1978)
Callahan, P. Insects as unidentified flying objects: Authors’reply to comment. Appl. Optics, 18, 2724 (1979)
Campanario, J.and Martin, B. Challenging the dominant physics paradigms. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 18, 421(2004)
Fogarty, Q. (1982). Let’s Hope They’re Friendly. Australia: Angus and Robertson
Ireland, W. and Andrews, M. Photometric properties of an unidentified bright object seen of the coast of New Zealand: Comments. Appl. Optics,18, 1979
Maccabee, B. (1979). Photometric properties of an unidentified bright object seen off the coast of New Zealand. Appl. Optics, 18, 2527
Maccabee, B. (1980). Photometric properties of an unidentified bright object seen off the coast of New Zealand: Author’s reply to comments. Appl. Optics, 19, 1745(1980)
Maccabee, B. (1987). Analysis and discussion of the images of a cluster of periodically flashing lights filmed off the coast of New Zealand. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1, 149
Maccabee, B. (1999). Optical power output of an unidentified high altitude light source. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 13, 199
Maccabee, B. (1999). Atmosphere or UFO? A response to the 1997 SSE Review Panel Report. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 13, 421
Mankin, R. Insects as unidentified flying objects: Authors’reply to comment. Appl. Optics, 18, 2725 (1979)
Startup, W. and Illingworth, N. (1980). The Kaikoura UFOs. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton
Tha Paw U, K. Insects as unidentified flying objects: Comment. Appl. Optics, 18, 2723 (1979)