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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, September 2017

Why Do Ufologists Largely Ignore the Most Scientific Field Study of UFOs Ever Conducted?

by: Dr. Greg Little

Note: Portions of this article were included in the 2012 book LightQuest.

Few ufologists and even fewer people with a causal interest in the UFO phenomenon are familiar with what could have arguably been the most scientific and thorough field study of UFOs ever made. In some ways it is odd that this research is so obscure in ufology, but the reasons become increasingly clear when the findings and psychological aspects of it are understood. Ufologists who begin with the assumption that UFOs are extraterrestrial craft are those who have mostly ignored the findings of this extraordinary research. In fact, this amazing series of field studies could be the best evidence ever put forth that something physical (and operating outside the known laws of science) does move around in the sky, occasionally lands, and interacts with human observers. In brief, the studies about to be described did not evaluate UFO "reports" (witness accounts given after the event) but rather observed, measured, recorded, and scientifically studied UFO cases as they actually happened. Only a few similar investigations have ever been done and those were quite limited in scope and had almost no scientific members on the research teams.

This UFO field research took place over a 7-year span and included over 35 physical scientists, engineers, university students, and many others serving on observation teams. A total of 158 different viewing stations were employed in the research with 620 total observers. During the 7-year study there were 157 documented sightings of 178 different UFOs (unidentified flying objects—most typically viewed as anomalous "lights"). But in many reports, these "lights" were observed close-up, and revealed more than simple balls of light. Equipment that was used included binoculars, varying sizes of telescopes and lenses including university-quality telescopes, many cameras and light-sensing devices, a magnetometer, sound recorders, Geiger counters, a spectrum analyzer, field meters, radios, and other measuring equipment.

The Beginning of "Project Identification"

The large UFO study, dubbed "Project Identification" by the university physicist who initiated it, traces its inception to a series of UFO cases in Missouri. In 1967 scattered reports of strange lights and disc-shaped objects hovering and moving over the Mississippi River along southeast Missouri were made to local and other authorities. The areas where the most reports were made stretched from New Madrid, Missouri to 70-miles north at Cape Girardeau. New Madrid is in extreme southeast Missouri and sits on the banks of the Mississippi River. Local and state newspapers published articles about the 1967 events, but national media and UFO investigators took little notice. But the reports kept coming in from a wider and wider area. By early 1973, more UFO activity to the west of this area had increased to such an extent that virtually all the state's newspapers and television stations were routinely issuing stories about UFOs. In the region around Piedmont, Missouri (about 75-miles west of Cape Girardeau) literally hundreds of people were seeing odd, multi-colored lights darting around in the sky, popping on and off, changing colors and shape, and instantly changing directions. Ufologists with the ET belief system tend to ignore most anomalous "night-light" reports, but none of the mainstream ufologists dug deep enough to understand the more intriguing aspects of the reports from this area. But many people also reported these lights came close to their homes and when closely viewed, they looked like "craft," sometimes saucer-shaped.

It has been estimated that several hundred witnesses saw small balls of glowing and pulsating light moving over towns, farms, homes, roads, police stations, and even tv and radio stations. Transmitter towers were knocked off line by many of these events, including at least one police radio tower. Many reports of scrambled reception of radio and television signals were made. Several newspaper reporters actually witnessed many of the events leading to a brief visit by Dr. J. Allen Hynek in March 1973.

Hynek saw nothing in the sky during his brief stay but interviewed several "excited people" leading him to conclude that the "power of suggestion" was at work and that the cases were "uninteresting stuff." Hynek left almost as soon as he arrived and just before the most impressive reports and photos were made. The oddest reports were never investigated by Hynek and he never went to the area where the activity was taking place. Hynek did, however, mention that one report, made by Coach Reggie Bone and 5 players on his high school basketball team, was inexplicable. That case was a pivotal report leading to Project Identification.

The Coach Bone Report

In 1973 Bone was considered to be "the best-known and most popular person in the area." He was the highly successful basketball coach of Clearwater High School and was idolized in the entire region. On February 21, 1973 Bone and his team were returning to Clearwater after playing in a tournament in Dexter. It was a dark night, with the moon well below the horizon. As they drove through agricultural areas, several of the players spotted a light hovering above a tree line across a field and called Bone's attention to it. The light was rotating rapidly and changing colors from red, to green, to amber, and white after which it repeated the same cycle. They also saw an intense light shining down on the ground from the hovering and rotating object. Bone recalled that they first suspected the object was some sort of aircraft, but as it hovered they simply concluded that they didn't know what it was. The group kept driving and soon turned their conversation back to their earlier game. About 30 miles further (a half-hour later) the group encountered another object, which they immediately recognized as the same odd form that they had seen earlier. The object was now hovering over an open field next to the road. Bone stopped their vehicle and everyone got out of the car. The object was now less than 200 yards away, hovering silently about 50-feet above the field. It was rotating and showing the same varying light pattern as the object they had previously observed. After watching the object hover for a full 10 minutes, the group saw it rise, and in complete silence, it quickly flew over a nearby ridge out of sight. Bone asked the players to keep the event secret, but several players immediately told others about it and the media was soon informed. After he was contacted by several reporters, Bone reluctantly verified the details. All of the players and Bone gave the same descriptions and details about the event. (As a footnote, Bone tragically died from a rare disease in 1977 at the age of 48, but his story never wavered.)

In 1976, True Magazine's Flying Saucers & UFO's Quarterly ran two articles describing many of the cases that occurred in Missouri during the early 1970s. Piedmont Police Chief Gene Bearden stated that in early 1973 his office had received "over 500 reports during the first month of sightings." Bearden continued, "There's no doubt there's something up there, we just don't know what it is." On March 22, a student took 8 infrared photos of the objects while accompanied by KPWB news reporter Dennis Kenny. Kenny reported, "It looked like a big orange light, glowing from white to orange." Another odd report on the same day came from 80-miles away. The operating engineer and another employee at the Grand Tower power plant witnessed an object hovering over a transmission tower. The engineer reported, "There it was, hovering about 1500 feet in the air and about 200 yards away. It was a round-shaped object, about 25 to 30 feet in diameter. It looked like a high-intensity red light, with lots of light coming out of what seemed to be portholes. The lights were flashing and causing a spinning effect. ... I looked at it for two or three minutes until it darted behind the power plant, almost like a blur."

In April, after Hynek's visit, Coach Bone witnessed two more objects. With him during the event were 5 other adults. One of the witnesses was Radio station KPWB's manager, Dennis Hovis. Two silent glowing lights, orange in color, were watched as they floated silently over a nearby tree line. Another curious report came from a housewife three days earlier within 20 miles of Bone's April sighting. She was driving home in the daytime and was slowed by another car. Looking off to the side she was stunned to see an object hovering over trees. "It was round, with the exception of three domes on the top, one on top of the other. It appeared to have a dull band or something going around the center. ... The craft emitted no sound, and looked like aluminum... and was at least 40 feet across."

Around the same time that Bone's interview of his first encounter was reported in newspapers and on broadcast media, two physics students at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) went to Dr. Harley Rutledge, Chairman of the Department of Physics, and told him they had observed a large silvery disk in the sky during the daytime. Rutledge, then in his 10th year at Cape Girardeau's SEMO was well-aware of all of the UFO reports being made in the region. Rutledge personally knew Coach Bone and the students, and found their reports credible. Rutledge did not believe in UFOs, nor did he disbelieve. He simply decided to see if he could observe, measure, and hopefully identify what the many people were reporting.

Rutledge started by convincing SEMO astronomer Milton Ueleke to accompany him to the Piedmont area to take a cursory look at the events and talk to a few local officials who had been involved in the events. Rutledge informed the University President (curiously named Dr. Scully) of his plans and added another physicist, Dr. Sidney Hodges, and two senior students to his initial team. On April 6, 1973, the project began. Eventually the scientific team was greatly enlarged. The full details of the 7-year study were published in Rutledge's 1981 book, Project Identification: The First Scientific Field Study of the UFO Phenomena (sic). Only some highlights of the study will be presented here.

Project Identification Findings: In Brief

The UFOs observed by the team peaked in 1973 when 106 different cases were witnessed by the team and recorded. In 1974 there were 26 cases. The years of 1975 to 1979 (inclusive) totaled only 25 cases (averaging 5 per year). Thus, it is clear that the phenomenon they were observing and recording essentially dropped precipitously before 1976.

In the 157 total sightings the project team recorded, they counted 178 different UFOs, meaning that some cases had multiple objects. For example, one case recorded 10 different objects at once. A typical case was a light that blinked on far in the distance above the horizon. The light would usually be an orange or amber ball that would eventually move rapidly in one direction and then make a sudden 90-degree turn. The light would them often move rapidly up and down and then take off suddenly for some distance and then immediately change directions. In some cases the objects would rapidly fly directly over the observers. Some sightings included rectangular lights sometimes numbering four, which were observed close-up with telescopes. The team reported these as looking like "windows" with light shining through. Triangulation and timing equipment was used to measure the speed, distance, and size of the objects. Many of these calculations showed that the objects accelerated instantly to thousands of miles an hour and made sudden, impossible right angle turns.

Another type of sighting made by the team was called a "pseudostar." Occasionally one of the astronomers on the team would notice a "new" and bright star in a constellation—a star that shouldn't have been there. Often, when the pseudostar was being watched and photographed, it would take off rapidly, sometimes blinking its light. The group also recorded numerous instances of disk-shaped objects both at night and in daytime, although they were never able to get a single photo of these where the objects were visible on film. A military presence was noted in several of the most spectacular cases. Numerous fighter jets and helicopters were occasionally noted in areas where the phenomenon was actively being observed and photographed. It was never decided if the military presence was causing the light ball phenomenon or investigating it, but contacts with the military revealed that no experiemental craft was being tested. The consensus was that the military was also trying to determine the origin of the light phenomena. Some years later I asked the Adj. General of the Missouri National Guard about it and was told the military had no idea what had caused the reports and was trying to find out the source.

Rutledge, who lived in Cape Girardeau, eventually began seeing UFOs frequently from his yard and sat up an observation team there on several occasions. In one quite peculiar case, he watched a 200-foot long "bullet-shaped" object silently fly over the Mississippi River. Rutledge wrote, "It was not like anything I had seen before. I looked at the craft. It had no wings. I did a double-take: It had no tail structure either. ... A slight feeling of nausea overcame me. Any lingering doubt I had about the existence of UFOs had vanished with the object." He even speculated that the many objects that had been observed during the project had a propulsion system that was "electromagnetic radiation in the form of microwaves."

While he was generally noncommittal on the nature of the UFOs his team recorded, Rutledge did relate that the discs and lights observed in the daylight by the teams were obviously plasmas. In his summary he wrote, "The plasma balls seen in daylight certainly suggest remote control."

Perhaps the oddest finding of all was that everyone on the research team was convinced that the objects responded to being observed. The project cites 32 cases where the UFOs directly responded to the ground station observers. Rutledge and his team concluded that the objects were aware of their presence and would interact with them, sometimes seemingly toying with them.

As the project began to wind down, Rutledge noted in later interviews that some balls of plasma, 2-6 inches in diameter, would actually follow him around and even appear inside buildings. He found, as do many people who become intrigued by the UFO phenomenon, that the deeper you go into it, strange things begin happening. An observation once made by John Keel seems appropriate. Keel mentioned that if you notice and become interested in the phenomenon, it can notice you and become interested in you. That is essentially what Rutledge concluded. Rutledge retired from SEMO in 1992 and died at the age of 80 in 2006. He did give a presentation at a MUFON conference and his work was occasionally noted in MUFON publications, but essentially his statements about plasmas and overall work is dismissed by ufology, which prefers to believe in something else entirely.

Why Is Rutledge's Work Ignored By Ufologists?

Certainly mainstream ufologists are aware of Rutledge's work, but it's just as certain that Project Identification is essentially ignored by nearly everyone. Many ufologists have made top 10 and top 100 UFO case lists. The site www.abovetopsecret.com has such lists compiled by 31 top ufologists. Nearly all of the ufologists cite the Roswell and the Socorro, NM cases in their lists, but both of these cases are certainly not what they purport to be. The Socorro case has recently been shown to be a hoax perpetrated by university students and Roswell was precisely what the Air Force has said it was. Of the 31 "top ufologists'" lists on the internet, only one person cites Rutledge's work. That person is Hilary Evans, a British ufologist best known for supporting the earthlight theory. Rutledge was a physical scientist and an active professional physicist. He deliberately excluded ufologists, UFO believers, and most lay people from his research team. He neither believed nor disbelieved in the ET hypothesis. All he knew was that something unusual was being seen and reported and that it fell outside of normal events. And to Rutledge, unless one was professionally trained in the physical sciences, that person was not a scientist. And because of his quick dismissal of almost all the Piedmont reports, Rutledge seems to have seen Hynek as a ufologist, not a genuine scientist. On the whole, ufology is focused on the hoaxed crashed saucer "cases."

Perhaps the greatest irony in Rutledge's project team composition was that he did not view behavioral scientists as scientists either. But in the last chapter of his book he related, "Unbiased, disinterested physical scientists usually measure the properties of inanimate matter. Biological, medical, and behavioral scientists, on the other hand, study intelligences less than or equal to their own. In this Project, we dealt with an intelligence equal to or greater than that of man. We interacted with the phenomenon under study."

A careful read of Rutledge's book shows that if he truly began as an "unbiased and disinterested" physical scientist, that's not the way it ended. Rutledge discovered that there is an unknown phenomenon that it embodied by the term "UFO" and that it defies simple, rational explanations. He was convinced that manifestations of plasma were at work in many cases, but as for the rest, he was as befuddled as anyone. Plasma explanations are the bane of mainstream ufology and that largely explains why so few ufologists dismiss or simply ignore his work. What Rutledge observed and measured was not a crashed saucer, it couldn't easily be explained as an extraterrestrial craft, and it showed that whatever the phenomenon really is, that it does in fact, interact with observers at what Rutledge himself called a "psychic" and "telepathic" level. Nuts-and-bolts ufologists, who make their fame and fortune from selling concocted stories of crashed saucers, want to support cases that verify the physical nature of the phenomenon and its extraterrestrial origin. What Rutledge found was that something unknown really is there, but we don't have a complete explanation yet. And that's why his work is ignored. And that is why ufology remains mired in a morass of lies, deceit, faked documents, faked film, and utter chaos. My observations about ufology, dating to my own interest starting in the early 1970s, is that most people who have an interest in the subject do not really want to know the truth, they want something that confirms what they already believe—and what they want to believe. In psychology it is called "perceptual bias." Carl Jung wrote this important observation summarizing his work about UFOs: "Something is seen, one doesn't know what." And aside from Rutledge finding that some of the objects were plasmas, his conclusion was the same as Jung's: something is there, but what it actually is, isn't known. Nuts and bolts ufologists say, "Physical craft from other worlds are here. Buy my book or pay to hear my talk and you'll see the proof." And that is where it stands today.

The Missouri UFO lights essentially shut down after 1976. In March 1976, a 5.0 earthquake hit the New Madrid fault zone. It was the largest earthquake in that area that had taken place in some time.


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Friday, September 22, 2017