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Physical Evidence Related to UFO Reports - Sturrock Panel - Abstract, Summary and Introduction

Sturrock Panel Report

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Summary: The purpose of this four-day workshop was to review purported physical evidence associated with UFO reports, with a view to assessing whether the further acquisition and investigation of such evidence is likely to help solve the UFO problem, namely the determination of the cause or causes of these reports.



The purpose of this four-day workshop was to review purported physical evidence associated with UFO reports, with a view to assessing whether the further acquisition and investigation of such evidence is likely to help solve the UFO problem, namely the determination of the cause or causes of these reports.

Seven UFO investigators presented a variety of physical evidence that they claimed was associated with UFO reports: photographic evidence; luminosity estimates; radar evidence; interference with automobile functioning; interference with aircraft equipment; apparent gravitational or inertial effects; ground traces; injuries to vegetation; physiological effects on witnesses; and analysis of debris. There was in addition a presentation of investigations into recurrent phenomena that occur in the Hessdalen Valley in Norway.

A review panel was composed of nine scientists of diverse expertise and interests. The panel offered comments and criticisms concerning the investigations that were presented, and also prepared a summary of their overall response, with the following key elements:

Concerning the case material presented by the investigators, the panel concluded that a few reported incidents may have involved rare but significant phenomena such as electrical activity, but there was no convincing evidence pointing to unknown physical processes or to the involvement of extraterrestrial intelligence.

The panel nevertheless concluded that it would be valuable to carefully evaluate UFO reports since, whenever there are unexplained observations, there is the possibility that scientists will learn something new by studying these observations.

However, to be credible, such evaluations must take place with a spirit of objectivity and a willingness to evaluate rival hypotheses.

The best prospect for achieving a meaningful evaluation of relevant hypotheses is likely to come from the examination of physical evidence.

The chances of a significant advance are considered to be greater now than at the time of the Colorado Project that led to the Condon Report thirty years ago, because of advances in scientific knowledge and technical capabilities, and in view of the example of a modest but effective UFO research project provided by the French space agency CNES.



In December 1996, Mr. Laurance S. Rockefeller, Chairman of the LSR Fund, invited me to review with him the status of our understanding of the problem posed by UFO reports. 1 We agreed that the problem is in a very unsatisfactory state of ignorance and confusion. I expressed the opinion that this problem will be resolved only by extensive and open professional scientific investigation, and that an essential prerequisite of such research is that more scientists acquire an interest in this topic.

In searching for some way to encourage such interest, Rockefeller and his colleague Mr. Henry Diamond and I conceived of a workshop at which prominent investigators of UFO reports would meet with a panel of eight or nine scientists with wide-ranging interests and expertise. We agreed that the workshop should focus on physical evidence associated with UFO reports, and I agreed to serve as director.

This workshop should be regarded as a typical enterprise of sponsored scientific research. With administrative support from the Society for Scientific Exploration, I submitted a proposal to the LSR Fund in February 1997. After some negotiation, this proposal was accepted, and the necessary funds were transferred from the Fund to the Society. The Society's role has been strictly administrative: the role of the Society is to encourage and support research, not to control or direct research. Accordingly, as is normal in sponsored research, responsibility for the conduct of the workshop and for the preparation of this report was vested in the director.

This report contains the following material: a summary report prepared by the scientific review panel; an introduction; eleven sections dealing with specific types of physical evidence; reflections on how the panel's suggestions might be implemented; a guide to supporting documentation to be found on the Society's web site;2 and eight appendices. Except for the appendices and those sections for which the authorship is specified, many participants contributed to each section.

It is a pleasure to extend my thanks to Laurance Rockefeller for his interest in and support of this project; to Henry Diamond and Charles Tolbert for their administrative support; and to all the participants who first struggled valiantly to present and to absorb complex information, and then worked for many months to present their thoughts and advice in what is hopefully a readable form.

In re-reading the Condon Report that has played such an important role in the history of the UFO problem, I note that on October 31, 1968, University of Colorado President Dr. J. R. Smiley wrote in his letter of transmittal of their report to the Secretary of the Air Force, "We hope and believe that [this report] will have the effect of placing the controversy as to the nature of unidentified flying objects in a proper scientific perspective. We also trust that it will stimulate scientific research along lines that may yield important new knowledge."

Of course, this unofficial workshop lasting only three days is a very modest undertaking compared with the two-year-long Colorado Project that was supported by both the Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency. Nevertheless, the intent and spirit of the workshop was such that all the participants would join with me in echoing the same aspirations that Dr. Smiley articulated in relation to the Condon Report almost thirty years ago.

1. Summary Report of the Scientific Review Panel


On September 30 - October 3, 1997, a workshop was convened at the Pocantico Conference Center in Tarrytown, New York, in which this scientific review panel met with the investigators. The panel and workshop director also met in San Francisco on November 28 - 30, 1997. The participants addressed the problem of understanding the cause or causes of UFO reports, which have continued worldwide for at least 50 years. The investigators were asked to present their strongest data to the review panel. The thrust of these presentations was that at least some of the phenomena are not easily explainable. The panel focused on incidents involving some form of physical evidence, with clear recognition of the dangers of relying wholly on the testimony of witnesses and of the importance of physical measurements for distinguishing among hypotheses.

It may be valuable to carefully evaluate UFO reports to extract information about unusual phenomena currently unknown to science. However, to be credible to the scientific community, such evaluations must take place with a spirit of objectivity and a willingness to evaluate rival hypotheses.

The history of earth science includes several examples of the final acceptance of phenomena originally dismissed as folk tales: two centuries ago, meteorites (then regarded as stones falling from the sky) were in this category. The reality of ephemeral phenomena such as ball lightning and sprites was questioned until quite recently.

It was clear that at least a few reported incidents might have involved rare but significant phenomena such as electrical activity high above thunderstorms (e.g., sprites) or rare cases of radar ducting. On the other hand, the review panel was not convinced that any of the evidence involved currently unknown physical processes or pointed to the involvement of an extraterrestrial intelligence. A few cases may have their origins in secret military activities.

It appears that most current UFO investigations are carried out at a level of rigor that is not consistent with prevailing standards of scientific research. However, the panel acknowledged the initiative and dedication of those investigators who made presentations at this workshop, both for their efforts to apply the tools of science to a complex problem long neglected by the academic community, and for their diligence in archiving and analyzing relevant observational data.

The panel concluded that further analysis of the evidence presented at the workshop is unlikely to elucidate the cause or causes of the reports. However, the panel considers that new data, scientifically acquired and analyzed (especially of well documented, recurrent events), could yield useful information. In this case, physical scientists would have an opportunity to contribute to the resolution of the UFO problem.

The panel made the following observations:

The UFO problem is not a simple one, and it is unlikely that there is any simple universal answer.

Whenever there are unexplained observations, there is the possibility that scientists will learn something new by studying those observations.

Studies should concentrate on cases which include as much independent physical evidence as possible and strong witness testimony.

Some form of formal regular contact between the UFO community and physical scientists could be productive.

It is desirable that there be institutional support for research in this area.

The GEPAN/SEPRA project of CNES (Centre National d'√Čtudes Spatiales - the National Center for Space Research) in France (see Appendix 1) has since 1977 provided a valuable model for a modest but effective organization for collecting and analyzing UFO observations and related data.

Reflecting on evidence presented at the workshop that some witnesses of UFO events have suffered radiation-type injuries, the panel draws the attention of the medical community to a possible health risk associated with UFO events.
The panel also reviewed some of the conclusions advanced in 1968 by Dr. Edward U. Condon, director of the Colorado Project. He asserted that "nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge," and that "further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby." While agreeing with the first conclusion and its extension to the present, the panel considers that there always exists the possibility that investigation of an unexplained phenomenon may lead to an advance in scientific knowledge.

The panel considers that the chances of such an advance are greater now than they were in 1967 because of the advances in scientific knowledge and technical capabilities, and in view of the GEPAN/SEPRA model for data acquisition.

2. Introduction


Over the last fifty years, people throughout the world have become familiar with UFO reports. These reports have been attributed to a wide range of causes including hoaxes, hallucinations, planets, stars, meteors, cloud formations, ball lightning, secret aircraft, and extraterrestrial spacecraft. Despite the abundance of such reports, and despite great public interest, the scientific community has shown remarkably little interest in this topic. This may be due in part to the fact that there are no public funds to support research into this issue, in part to the assumption that there are no data worth examining, in part to the belief that the Colorado study that led to the Condon Report (Condon & Gillmor, 1969) has effectively settled the question, and possibly in part to the perception that the topic is in some sense "not respectable." The relative importance of these four causes is unclear, but it seems likely that each has had some impact in dampening the interest of the scientific community in this subject.

The general perception in the scientific community is that, if UFO reports pose a scientific problem at all, it has more to do with psychology and the science of perception than with physical science. Indeed, most reports simply comprise narrative accounts of what someone saw or thought he saw in the sky. Sometimes the reports involve more than one witness, and sometimes an event is witnessed from two or more different locations. However, the fact is that physical scientists cannot get involved in the UFO problem unless there is physical evidence. The purpose of this workshop was to assess whether or not there is any such evidence. If the answer is no, then there is no way that physical scientists can contribute to the resolution of this problem. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes, then it should be possible for physical scientists to contribute to the resolution of this problem.

It should perhaps be stressed that it would be unreasonable to ask a panel of nine scientists, meeting for only a few days, to do much more than make a preliminary assessment of some limited category of evidence related to this complex and controversial topic. It would certainly be highly unreasonable to expect such a panel to solve, in only a few days, a problem that has remained unsolved for fifty years. Science advances by the development of an informed consensus on well defined questions (see, for instance, Ziman, 1968), but scientists can arrive at an informed consensus only if (1) sufficient research has been carried out, and (2) the results of that research have been presented to and evaluated by the scientific community. For the UFO problem, these first two essential steps have yet to be taken.

A workshop to review claims of physical evidence related to UFO reports was held at the Pocantico Conference Center at Tarrytown, New York, from September 29 through October 4, 1997. The organization responsible for this workshop was the Society for Scientific Exploration. The Society was responding to an inquiry from Mr. Laurance S. Rockefeller, Chairman of the LSR Fund. Plans for the workshop were in the hands of Dr. Peter A. Sturrock, Professor of Applied Physics at Stanford University, who served as Director of the workshop. In developing plans, Sturrock was assisted by a steering committee comprising Dr. Thomas E. Holzer of the High Altitude Observatory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder; Dr. Robert Jahn, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University; Dr. David E. Pritchard, Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. Harold E. Puthoff, Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Austin; Dr. Yervant Terzian, Professor of Astronomy and Chairman of the Astronomy Department at Cornell University; and Dr. Charles R. Tolbert, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Virginia. Mr. Henry Diamond of Washington, DC, provided administrative advice and support. Puthoff and Pritchard served as moderators of the scientific sessions.

Seven experienced UFO investigators were asked to review specific categories of evidence. Dr. Richard F. Haines of Los Altos, California, undertook to review photographic evidence and also reviewed aircraft equipment anomalies; Dr. Illobrand von Ludwiger of Feldkirchen-Westerham, Germany, discussed radar evidence; Dr. Mark Rodeghier of the Center for UFO Studies in Chicago discussed automobile engine anomalies; Mr. John F. Schuessler of Houston discussed injuries to witnesses; Dr. Erling Strand from Ostfeld, Norway, presented evidence involving video records and spectroscopic data; Dr. Michael D. Swords, Professor in the General Studies Science Department at Eastern Michigan University discussed inertial anomalies; Dr. Jacques F. Vallee of San Francisco presented energy estimates and also discussed material evidence; and M. Jean-Jacques Velasco of CNES, Toulouse, France, presented evidence concerning radar events, ground traces, and injuries to vegetation.

Evidence presented at the workshop was studied by a Scientific Review Panel comprising Dr. Von R. Eshleman, Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University; Holzer; Dr. J. R. (Randy) Jokipii, Regents' Professor of Planetary Sciences and Astronomy at the University of Arizona in Tucson; Dr. Francois Louange, Managing Director of Fleximage, Paris, France; Dr. H. J. (Jay) Melosh, Professor of Planetary Science at the University of Arizona in Tucson; Dr. James J. Papike, Head of the Institute of Meteoritics and Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque; Dr. Guenther Reitz of the German Aerospace Center, Institute for Aerospace Medicine, in Cologne, Germany; Tolbert; and Dr. Bernard Veyret of the Bioelectromagnetics Laboratory at the University of Bordeaux, France. Eshleman and Holzer served as co-chairs of this panel.

The review panel and director met in executive session in San Francisco from November 28 to 30, 1997.

Sections 3 to 13 contain brief summaries of the material presented at the workshop together with brief comments by the panel. Section 14 presents a summary of ideas that have been advanced by workshop participants as to how some of the panel's suggestions might be implemented. The appendices comprise correlative information and discussions. Supporting documentation may be found in articles cited in the reference list and on the web site [http://www.jse.com] (see Section 15).

It is necessary to refer frequently to the official French research program that was set up in 1977 as "GEPAN," and restructured in 1988 as "SEPRA" (see Appendix 1). To avoid confusion, we refer to this project throughout (except in Appendix 1) as "GEPAN/SEPRA."

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