[Published in Skeptical Briefs, new series vol. 1, no. 1, February 1991, pp. 2-3.]

UFO Workshop Held

The second of a series of CSICOP seminars took place November 16-17, 1990, at the Ramada Inn Airport Hotel in Tucson, Arizona. The seminar, focusing on the topic of UFOs, featured as speakers Air Force major and amateur astronomer James McGaha, author Robert Sheaffer, and University of Kentucky psychologist Robert Baker.

The workshop began on Friday afternoon with a session on the history and background of UFOs. This included not only a chronology of sightings, but a discussion of UFO organizations and their major figures and the "wave nature" of the UFO phenomenon. Following the session, a wide range of topics was covered, from individual cases of UFO sightings to the quantity and quality of evidence that would be required to transform skeptics into believers. After dinner, attendees were taken by Major McGaha to Grasslands Observatory to view the skies. (Some managed to witness a green fireball. According to Robert Sheaffer, it was once claimed that "if it's green, it can't be a meteor," which resulted in a number of Arizona UFO reports in the 1950s.)

Saturday morning's session was on "Factors Resisting Skepticism," focusing on the psychological factors that promote belief in extraterrestrial and other non-natural explanations for UFO sightings. The effect of expectation on what we see, the power of personal experience to outweigh scientific knowledge, and the pleasure of seeing the scientific elite baffled were discussed.

The afternoon session on Saturday enumerated natural and man-made objects that can result in claims of UFO sightings. Balloons, kites, aircraft, and various meteorological phenomena were all discussed as causes of sightings. Techniques for faking photographs were presented, along with some of the ways of identifying fraudulent photos. Several examples of UFO-hoax photographs were shown. Finally the physics of rapidly moving objects and the Drake equation for calculating the possibility of extraterrestrial life were discussed, along with their implications for the plausibility of extraterrestrial spacecraft as an explanation for the claimed maneuverability of UFOs.

Saturday evening's banquet speaker was Ronald Story, author of The Space Gods Revealed, The Encyclopedia of UFOs, and other UFO books. Story gave an account of his more than fifteen years of study, a chronology of UFO sightings, and an account of how he compiled his UFO encyclopedia, which included contributions of many points of view. One phenomenon Story noted was the "credulity explosion"--stories that would never have been accepted by UFOlogists forty years ago are readily accepted today, he said.

The Sunday morning session focused on claims of crashed saucers, sightings of aliens, and UFO-abductions. The "Roswell Incident," the abductions of Betty and Barney Hill and Travis Walton, and Whitley Strieber were also topics of discussion.

Jim Lippard

Jim Lippard is a member of the Tucson Skeptical Society (TUSKS).