Sunday, April 10, 2016

An Analysis of the Condon Report on the Colorado UFO Project

JACQUES F. VALLEE

1550 California Street #6L, San Francisco, CA 94109

The “Condon Report,” presenting the findings of the Colorado Project on a scientific study of unidentified flying objects, has been and remains the most influential public document concerning the scientific status of this problem. Hence, all current scientific work on the UFO problem must make reference to the Condon Report. For this reason, it remains important to understand the contents of this report, the work on which the report is based, and the relationship of the “Summary of the Study” and “Conclusions and Recommendations” to the body of the report. The present analysis of this report contains an overview, an analysis of evidence by categories, and a discussion of scientific methodology. The overview shows that most case studies were conducted by junior staff; the senior staff took little part, and the director took no part, in these investigations. The analysis of evidence by categories shows that there are substantial and significant differences between the findings of the project staff and those that the director attributes to the project. Although both the director and the staff are cautious in stating conclusions, the staff tend to emphasize challenging cases and unanswered questions, whereas the director emphasizes the difficulty of further study and the probability that there is no scientific knowledge to be gained.

Concerning methodology, it appears that the project was unable to identify current challenging cases that warranted truly exhaustive investigation. Nor did the project develop a uniform and systematic procedure for cataloging the large number of older cases with which they were provided. In drawing conclusions from the study of such a problem, the nature and scope of which are fraught with so much uncertainty, it would have been prudent to avoid theory-dependent arguments.

The Condon Report, presenting the results of the Colorado Project on a Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, does not give the impression of a tightly integrated research program. The total budget over a two-year period was $500,000, but the report lists 37 members of the staff project and a number of other individuals were consulted in addition. It is clear that the Air Force was receiving a very high return of scientific manpower for its money, even though most of the staff must have been contributing only a small fraction of their time to the project. One would have expected that such a large research effort would have been organized into teams led by the other principal investigators or by members of the full-time staff, but there is no indication that such a structure was set up.

Professor Condon is listed as the “Director” of the project. The following are listed as “Principal Investigators”: Stuart W. Cook, Professor of Psychology; Franklin E. Roach, Professor of Astrogeophysics; and David R. Saunders, Professor of Psychology; in addition, William A. Scott, Professor of Psychology, is listed as “Co-Principal Investigator”; all were at the University of Colorado. Mr. Robert J. Low, with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Business Administration, was the “Project Coordinator.” In addition, there were five “Research Associates”: Norman E. Levine (PhD, Engineering), Ronald I. Presnell

The title of the Condon Report is “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects.” The great weight attached to this report by scientists, by the public, and perhaps by officers of the Federal Government, is based on the presumption that the study was, in fact, scientific.5 This has been disputed by a number of individuals, notably McDonald (1969) and Hynek (1972), who make specific criticisms of the methodology of the project. These criticisms will not be repeated here. The following comments are more general in nature.

Whether or not there is a well-defined “scientific method” applicable to all scientific problems, the fact is that the practices used by scientists vary from one subject to another. In research areas where the background noise and/or the inherent variability are high, such as epidemiology and meteorology, it is necessary to develop and use appropriate statistical techniques of data analysis. Where the experimental situation is well controlled and where the results are faithfully reproducible, it may suffice and may be desirable to analyze a single experiment in meticulous detail.

It was stressed in Section II that physicists tend to look for an outstanding experiment that, taken in isolation, conclusively proves or disproves some hypothesis. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that this is the approach adopted by Condon in appraising the information reported to him by his staff. To some extent, it reflects also the attitude of the scientific staff. For exceptions to this rule, one might cite the recently quoted paragraph by Craig (Condon & Gillmor, 1968, p. 115), concerning “Indirect Physical Evidence,” which clearly reflects judgment based on an accumulation of evidence. It is also worth pointing out that, if the staff had indeed been searching for one or two cases to prove conclusively one hypothesis or another, it would have been necessary to devote far more time, attention, manpower, and resources to those cases than appears to have been given to any one case.

Concerning “Direct Physical Evidence,” Craig (Condon & Gillmor, 1968, pp. 94-97) attaches special significance to “metal fragments that purportedly fell to earth at Ubatuba, São Paulo, Brazil, from an exploding extra-terrestrial vehicle. The metal was alleged to be of such extreme purity that it could not have been produced by earthly technology.” Investigation by the Colorado staff showed that a sample of triply sublimed magnesium, supplied by the Dow Chemical Company, had a smaller impurity level than that of the “Brazil UFO.” The analysis, however, showed that the fragments contained traces of both barium and strontium, which are not usual impurities in the production of magnesium; these metals were undetectable in the Dow sample. Craig remarks, “The high content of Sr was particularly interesting since Sr is not an expected impurity in magnesium made by usual production methods, and Dr. Busk [of Dow Chemical Company] knew of no one who intentionally added strontium to commercial magnesium.” It was found that Dow Metallurgical Laboratory had made experimental batches of magnesium alloy containing 0.1% up to 40% of strontium, which is to be compared with the level of 500 ± 100 parts per million of strontium in the Brazil sample. Although the lowest value in this range is twice the value found in the Brazil sample, Craig states that Dow had “produced a . . . batch of magnesium containing nominally the same concentration of Sr as was continued [sic] in the Ubatuba sample.”

Craig also makes the following remarks: “Metallographic examinations show large, elongated magnesium grains, indicating that the metal had not been worked after solidification from the liquid or vapor state. It, therefore, seems doubtful that this sample had been a part of a fabricated metal object.” This is a very curious remark, implying–as it does–that no fabricated object has ever been made of cast metal.

Condon, in his summary, remarks that “the magnesium metal was found to be much less pure than the regular commercial metal produced in 1957 by the Dow Chemical Company . . . (and) therefore it need not have come from an extra-terrestrial source. . . .”

Once again, Condon’s statement does not give an accurate representation of the work of his staff. The staff describe the comparison sample simply as “magnesium produced by known earthly technology” (Condon & Gillmor, 1968, p. 96). Condon describes it as “regular commercial magnesium.” As Craig states (Condon & Gillmor, 1968, p. 95), the Dow Chemical Company has “supplied on request samples of triply sublimed magnesium.” These samples represented a laboratory production, not “regular commercial magnesium.” Furthermore, the samples of triply sublimed magnesium supplied by the Dow Chemical Company had not been annealed (annealing would introduce further impurities), so that their metallurgical properties were grossly different from those of Brazil magnesium.

However, the most regrettable aspect of the Colorado Project investigation of the Brazil magnesium is that the investigation was confined to a rather limited laboratory analysis of the sample. It is a basic rule of UFO research that one must assess the total evidence, which always includes the narrative evidence. According to this rule, another investigator (fluent in Portuguese, or accompanied by a translator) should have been sent to Brazil to track down any evidence of events that might have been related to the Brazil magnesium sample.

The last category of evidence considered is “Indirect Physical Evidence,” reviewed by Craig (Condon & Gillmor, 1968, pp. 97-115). In presenting his conclusions, he states:

Of all physical effects claimed to be due to the presence of UFOs, the alleged malfunction of automobile motors is perhaps the most puzzling. The claim is frequently made, sometimes in reports which are impressive because they involve multiple independent witnesses. Witnesses seem certain that the function of their cars was affected by the unidentified object, which sometimes reportedly was not seen until after the malfunction was noted. No satisfactory explanation for such effects, if indeed they occurred, is apparent (p. 115).

The discussion of this evidence, both by Condon and by other members of the project staff, is of special interest. It is argued that, if automobile motors are stopped, it must be attributed to magnetic fields associated with UFOs (Condon & Gillmor, 1968, pp. 38, 101, 380). For the one case studied by the project, it was determined that the automobile had not been exposed to a strong magnetic field. Craig (Condon & Gillmor, 1968, p. 380) concludes: “The case, therefore, apparently did not offer probative information regarding UFOs.” We shall return to discussion of this argument in Section V.

Scientific Methodology of the Colorado Project
The title of the Condon Report is “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects.” The great weight attached to this report by scientists, by the public, and perhaps by officers of the Federal Government, is based on the presumption that the study was, in fact, scientific.5 This has been disputed by a number of individuals, notably McDonald (1969) and Hynek (1972), who make specific criticisms of the methodology of the project. These criticisms will not be repeated here. The following comments are more general in nature.

Whether or not there is a well-defined “scientific method” applicable to all scientific problems, the fact is that the practices used by scientists vary from one subject to another. In research areas where the background noise and/or the inherent variability are high, such as epidemiology and meteorology, it is necessary to develop and use appropriate statistical techniques of data analysis. Where the experimental situation is well controlled and where the results are faithfully reproducible, it may suffice and may be desirable to analyze a single experiment in meticulous detail.

It was stressed in Section II that physicists tend to look for an outstanding experiment that, taken in isolation, conclusively proves or disproves some hypothesis. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that this is the approach adopted by Condon in appraising the information reported to him by his staff. To some extent, it reflects also the attitude of the scientific staff. For exceptions to this rule, one might cite the recently quoted paragraph by Craig (Condon & Gillmor, 1968, p. 115), concerning “Indirect Physical Evidence,” which clearly reflects judgment based on an accumulation of evidence. It is also worth pointing out that, if the staff had indeed been searching for one or two cases to prove conclusively one hypothesis or another, it would have been necessary to devote far more time, attention, manpower, and resources to those cases than appears to have been given to any one case.

The evaluation of evidence by category, presented in Section IV, seems to show that each staff summary is a fair and justifiably cautious summary of the relevant case material. By contrast, Condon’s summary bears little relation to the work, analyses, and summaries of his own staff. Hence, a minimal criticism that one might make is that the efforts of many individuals found no satisfactory integration.6

This failing may have been due in part to a faulty initial conception of the nature of the phenomenon. If, as the Director may have believed, the phenomenon could be tackled as a straightforward problem of physical science, there might now be little disagreement among the scientific community regarding the validity and conclusions of the Report. The UFO phenomenon appears instead to be more akin to some of the enigmatic phenomena of modern astronomy, such as the sources of gamma-ray bursts. Concerning these strange objects, we do not know where they are, we do not know what they are, and we can only speculate on how they function; but these limitations, severe as they are, by no means deter astronomers and astrophysicists from studying them as intensively as possible.

Concerning UFOs, we are not sure whether they are hoaxes, illusions, or real. If real, we do not know whether the reality is of a psychological and sociological nature, or one that belongs in the realm of physics. If the phenomenon has physical reality, we do not know whether it can be understood in terms of present-day physics.

The post An Analysis of the Condon Report on the Colorado UFO Project appeared first on Area 51 Aliens.



from WordPress http://ift.tt/1N2zCRN
via IFTTT