UFOs, Philip Klass and the Debate about Debunking

I am skeptical that any of the unidentified flying objects people report seeing are extraterrestrial spacecrafts piloted by aliens.  Now, I’m no denier, I just haven’t seen any good evidence, that’s all.  Though the vast amount of UFO reports have been explained by good scientific investigation and common sense, there are many folks who cling to the belief based on a few as-yet unidentified cases or personal anecdotes.  But it is typical in the paranormal community to forget what that U stands for in Unidentified.  Just because there is something we haven’t explained yet is no good reason to put forth the belief that the blurry image in so many photographs is a Little Green Man on a late-night cruise.

Recently, I’ve decided to dig deeper into the body of skeptical literature about UFOs.  In my years of researching and exploring the paranormal, I’ve come to the conclusion that, by and large, skeptics know their respective subject matter better than the believers.  So in this quest I’ve decided to start with the Dean of UFO Skeptics, the late Philip J. Klass.  I received one of his books by mail just today.

Klass was an interesting guy.  His earliest writing on UFO reports strangely seem to indicate that he thought a lot of cases were misidentifications of “ball lightning” or an unknown plasma caused by power lines.  Explaining one unknown with another?  Weak sauce, dude.  Weak as water.

But he did progress into quite a solid investigator, it seems.  I’ve read some of his case studies before, and his work on the Travis Walton “Fire in the Sky” incident is legendary in skeptical circles.  He was a guy who was relentless in his pursuit of the truth but, it seems, also quite unethical at times.  His penchant for personal attacks and other underhanded tactics against some of his critics are not something to be admired.

There is always a debate as to whether or not someone who has investigated and solved mysteries of a paranormal kind are truly skeptics or just debunkers.  The latter description implies that the person does little to no investigation and just seeks an easy way to undermine a witness or report.  Granted, I think a lot of times these charges are made by true believers with an emotional investment in extraterrestrials being real.  In other words, they’re sore losers.  But the truth is, I don’t know where on the skeptic-debunker scale Klass falls in.  I suspect he was a skeptic who may have occasionally fallen into similar traps that some of the most hardcore of believers do and resorted to pseudo-investigation.  But that’s just a guess, because I don’t know a whole lot about him.  In fact, that is one of the reasons I have purchased the entire Klass collection of UFO books, save the children’s tome he wrote.  I want to read and find out for myself.  I want to learn something.

So, I’m going to begin with his first and finish with his last.  I’m going to read what his supporters and his critics had to say about him.  And I’m going to draw my own conclusions.  Where I find myself supporting him, I will try to implement that particular quality or method into my own research and investigations.  And where I find that he behaved inappropriately, I’ll conclude that even respected skeptical investigators are human and perfectly capable of being total dicks, and I will reject that particular quality or method without prejudice.  The truth, regardless of where it leads, is paramount.

My journey begins.


More Klass books have arrived! Note my hairy knees and cat toy in the background.