UFOs And Science: The Trick That Was The Condon (University Of Colorado) Investigation And Report

Why do scientists tend to shy away from more active consideration of the UFO extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) issue?

A whole series of UFOs were reported in various localities in Michigan in March 1966. They (the reports) received a lot of press coverage, and the public wanted answers. The USAF had to provide them, and Hynek was their bunny that had to front and centre. Totally unprepared on really short notice to ‘please explain’, the only possible prosaic explanation that popped into Hynek’s mind was ‘swamp gas’, and said that was the answer at a widely attended press conference. That really generated media coverage as the witnesses concerned just could not and would not accept such a glib explanation for what had been seen over many nights by many people.

That ‘swamp gas’ episode was a turning point for now the USAF UFO Project Bluebook investigation was becoming a real public relations disaster. The more the Air Force tried to downgrade the issue, the more the public smelled whitewash. Since the USAF knew the UFOs were not a national security issue – no alien invasion had resulted after two decades – it was time to exit gracefully from any involvement relating to the UFO issue. The question was how to accomplish that in an apparently open and in the public eye manner. Well, what about a totally independent study by an established university headed by a well known and respected scientist (or at least someone well known and respected by the scientific community – most scientists don’t tend to be household names).

So, in order to bring in qualified, independent experts, restore credibility (and get a reason to get out of the UFO business) the USAF turned to a number of credible universities to do an independent study, all to no avail. Universities didn’t need the government’s money that badly as well as the negative image UFOs would provide. Except one finally, and that expression of interest was the University of Colorado, and respected physicist Edward U. Condon, to head the team that would look into the UFO issue.

And so it came to pass that the military (USAF) finally contracted out the University of Colorado (and Edward U. Condon) to conduct a study that would give them a graceful out of the UFO business, since by that time national security via-a-vis any terrestrial foreign power had no credibility.

Unfortunately, Dr. Condon, as head of the independent investigation, ultimately proved to be more a liability than an asset. Staffers uncovered a memo by his higher echelon administrator that strongly suggested that he (Condon) had already made his mind up even before the formal and serious study began, that suggested UFOs were a non-issue and that they somehow had to ‘trick’ the public into thinking that they were going to do a bona fide study, when in reality they all knew they were just wasting their time, but marking time, collecting the government’s money, thank you very much.

That lower echelon staff uncovered, hence leaked that ‘trick’ memo showed that Condon, despite being a scientist, had a closed mind on the subject. That produced such dissention in the ranks, with resultant media publicity, that the internal politics just about shattered any credibility to the investigation, as if it had any in the first place. Some members quit and offered scathing rebuttals to the inner (office politics) workings of the University of Colorado study.

And true to form, the final report apparently dumped poo on the UFO subject, or at least the introductory / summary chapter written by Condon himself dumped poo on it. However, his summary was something his staff never saw until the report was actually published. His staff had actually uncovered something sweeter smelling that poo

Now Condon was clearly 100% anti-UFO before the study even began, but any read of the lengthy actual report relative to Condon’s summary (what the press, etc. took note of being short and first up) – well Condon said there was nothing to the UFO ETH; but the actual report compiled by his staff couldn’t explain over 30% of the cases it studied.

Now when you issue a 1000+ page report to the press, journalists who have deadlines to meet, all they have time for is to come to terms with the summary and write their articles based on what that summary says. What that summary said is that there’s no meat on the bone; the USAF should stop wasting time on the subject – which is exactly what the USAF wanted to hear – and bail out from this PR nightmare. Subject closed. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite turn out that way.

What you’ll find in the non-Condon written bulk of the University of Colorado report is that UFO case after UFO case (well about 30% of UFO cases in fact) were unexplainable. How Condon could say that there’s nothing to the UFO subject in his summary, while his team suggested that 30% of UFO reports they investigated was anything but ‘nothing’, remains a perplexing historical anomaly.

So the University of Colorado UFO investigation on behalf of the USAF, the Condon Report, didn’t close the book on the UFO ETH subject – that is it didn’t if you have real the entire report and not just that summary first chapter. There is no similarity between the questions regarding the nature of the UFO unknowns the actual report raises and the summary conclusions reached by boss Condon as given in that first chapter. Few people have taken the time to separate the wheat from the chaff in the Condon Report. The first chapter is the chaff; the bulk of the Condon report contains the wheat.

So, read the entire report. Contrary to popular opinion, the Condon report proved the need for heightened investigation into the UFO phenomena, not the need to abandon the investigation.

In hindsight the Condon Report proved to be a pivotal point in the history of UFOs. It provided a reason for the U.S. Air Force to get out of the UFO business – publicly at least (behind the scenes might be a different question); it provided a disincentive for scientists to further seriously study the UFO ETH issue. Condon set back the scientific study of UFOs by decades – it probably still hasn’t recovered from the debacle. And thus, to this day, scientists shy away from the UFO ETH issue. As far as the scientific community is concerned, the case is closed, and Condon closed it.

In conclusion, for the first 20 years of the UFO phenomena, scientists weren’t involved in any major way with the issue. UFOs was under the jurisdiction of the military. The subject had been tainted by the New Age cultists and cranks, and then Condon put the final nail in the coffin. Any scientist after that wouldn’t touch the subject – they weren’t involved from the beginning; the subject was tainted; nobody much bothered to read beyond Condon’s anti-UFO ETH summary (even though the actual report contained a lot of meat and potatoes). Translated, no scientist starting out on their career path would now dare consider the topic. The negatives have snowballed and been self-reinforcing ever since.

Further readings regarding the (University of Colorado) Condon Report:

Fuller, John G. (Editor); Aliens in the Skies: The New UFO Battle of the Scientists: The Scientific Rebuttal to the Condon Committee Report: Testimony by Six Leading Scientists Before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics July 29, 1968; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, N.Y.; 1969:

Harkins, R. Roger & Saunders, David R; UFOs? Yes! Where the Condon Committee Went Wrong; Signet Books, N.Y.; 1968: [Saunders was a member of the University of Colorado UFO Study.]

University of Colorado & Gillmor, Daniel S. (Editor); Final Report of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects Conducted by the University of Colorado Under Contract to the United States Air Force; Bantam Books, N.Y.; 1969: [The Condon Committee Report.]

Science librarian; retired.

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