Feature: Ufos; then & now

In 1990 the British UFO scene was dominated by two warring groups (BUFORA and YUFOS), still in a state of conflict over the Cracoe Fell incident. BUFORA defined the more rational side of British ufology, while YUFOS were ETH and conspiracy theory orientated. Interest in UFOs was notable, but hardly electric. Both factions also had glossy magazines – a significant factor then and a demonstrable indication of progress.

In BUFORA Jenny Randles was Director of investigations. Several years earlier BUFORA had taken the brave decision to support a moratorium on the use of hypnosis in UFO abduction claims. this was a major step in proving the subject had adopted a degree of maturity; and that British ufologists were not going to repeat the ‘Stateside error of allowing recovered memories to dominate the course of UFO investigation in this country. And given most Ufologists were in BUFORA it was enforcible.

But things started to go wrong soon afterwards. People were threatened with legal action, or removed from positions of authority due to long-standing disagreements. YUFOS’ magazine (UFO) went to the newsstands and became a UK conduit for some very extreme trends within American ufology.

Even worse, Chris Carter’s “X Files” embodied those same ideas (in the medium of fiction which ironically very few people writing for the show actually believed). But some new researchers took the show as their mantra and ethos despite the fact Carter’s nightmare was just a work of fiction.

Thus was the British rationalist consensus forged in the1980’s broken.

Things then went from bad to worse. In the late 1990’s within certain members of it’s (then) council decided to believe in conspiracy theories over the words of their own press secretary (David Clarke), in relation to the so-called and now notorious “Sheffield Incident”. People left the association as a consequence.

This was aided by a chilling and total loss of interest in the subject following 9-11. Where people once speculated about UFOs and aliens they instead debated why the long-promised “golden future” never materialised… why all this war and death? The answers were soon forthcoming; the New World Order, the Bilderberg Group.. the Reptoids (the latter were seemingly “alien” but didn’t need UFOs all that much).

After the end of the X-Files no one seemed to love UFOs any more and the subject went into decline.

But British Ufology was then in too much turmoil to seemingly notice. YUFOS became UFO magazine (UK) and forgot it was ever once a group… and seemingly also forgot the groups that supported it. But soon, by 2005 UFO magazine and it’s editor were dead. Along with much of British Ufology, all so it seemed to some commentators.

And thus was the fragmentation of our subject complete.
So, in 2010 what do we have? Lots of local groups…and lots of failed efforts to unite them. Lots of independent researchers unwilling to commit themselves to either a regional group or a national society.

Result; continued fragmentation. The conspiracy theories took hold of everyone’s perspective and reinforced a totally American perspective on the subject.

People became less interested in UFOs and more interested in the “aliens” that supposedly resided within them. Soon the UFOs began to vanish – replaced by the regressionists’ couch. If anyone did see a “UFO” they were now triangular shaped… bye bye flying saucer, you are an outmoded and boring concept! Sightings still happen, but most are fairly boring and easily explained affairs (esp. thanks to the Internet).

A notable trend is how groups now often admixture paranormal topics; a trend that started in the late 1990’s. Societies once purely Ufological in intent now study a wide range of paranormal claims. This trend has been reinforced by the massive media coverage of ghosts … albeit in a manner detrimental to serious psychical research.

While having a society based on other phenomena that just UFOs is helpful in some respects, it can also be baleful. Who cares about UFOs when the more sexy topic of ghosts beckon – along with the media interest they are associated with. There have also been a few horror stories – people neglecting UFO reports – and alienating the witnesses who report them- to chase after so-called “alien big cats”

To my mind Big Cat research has been the most pointless and silliest topic to waste the time of researchers since crop circles. How are these cats “paranormal”, and why should paranormal researchers be bothered with them to start with? While they may or may not exist there is no evidence they are paranormal. I guess people in the UK are starved of cryptoids such as Bigfoot….

Admittedly, some progress has been made – but only when researchers have adopted a critical mindset. The most significant breakthrough has been the Freedom of Information Act releases, largely enacted through the effort of that so-called “government asset” Dr. David Clarke.

Thanks to this development, British Ufology can now be studied as an academic subject Ironically, these releases – from the MoD of all possible sources- provide the only public source of UK UFO data…. the UFO groups either continuing to horde their private collections or unable to retrieve it for easy use, given much exist as “grey literature”. So, it was true there were Grays in Ufology.. and they were just as baleful as those reputedly encountered on UFOs!

The Internet provides numerous information resources and technology continues to generate further IFO types. Most significant of these have been the Chinese lantern, now the main cause of UFO events in our now heavily light-polluted skies.

I think it’s important for British Ufologists to remember the achievements of those researchers active in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. They forged a critically-minded UFO consensus that was a model for ufology throughout the world. But for some people this was too boring and undermined their fantasies.

But Carter came and showed that people didn’t really care about the truth (even if it was “out there”) – they really wanted conspiracies and aliens. Few cared about the boring truth about IFOs and inconclusive inexplicable case studies. Or serious research that could never find those elusive saucers. But the conspiracy theories showed the saucers were hidden by the government … focus on Roswell and all too soon the truth will out.

But the truth was always out there. UFOs exist… as something. But mankind wants their space-age era fantasies to be clad in flesh and to fly the skies (when they could be bothered to dream of “spaceships” to start with).

With the publication of Mirage Men by Mark Pilkington et al., I personally feel it’s now time to dump Roswell, Rendlesham, baseless conspiracy theories (even those focused around bases!) and recovered abduction memories. Not only is the focus on the “big” (mostly American) cases futile but it also proved to be a false hope.

Let us go back to studying UFO reports!

Let us return to the old, but sound approaches that was producing results, even if those results bored some people. The “Conspiracy Based” UFOlogy of the past 15 years has been a testament to wasted effort and empty dreams.

Let us hope the next 15 years are more productive. And less fragmented.


About Hayley Stevens

Hayley Stevens is a podcaster, blogger, writer, public speaker and ghost geek. She likes tea, cake, sci-fi books and being a humanist.

Posted on September 15, 2010, in feature, irrational, misattribution, pop culture paranormal, rational, ufology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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