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Nothing But Swamp Gas? – The J. Allen Hynek Story

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posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 01:51 PM
Here are the specifics of my criticism of one aspect of his cultural bias, in believing that 'people like me' [astronomers] make the best UFO witnesses. It's from the October 1982 issue of the MUFON 'UFO Journal', linked here

arguing that a report by Soviet astronomers [led by Lev Gindilis] proved UFOs were genuine, when the report unwittingly proved exactly the opposite.

ADD: The report presented a statistical case for the reality of the UFO phenomenon. But neither the Soviet astronomers, or Hynek, realized that the 1967-8 cases the study was based on were almost ALL actually public sightings of a thrusting descent of a space-to-ground nuclear warhead delivery system called FOBS by the Pentagon [Moscow denied it even existed]..."fractional orbit bombardment system"

In light of these findings about the true nature of the Gindilis report, it may be instructive to review how the document was originally described by other leading Western UFOlogists when it was first published in 1980.

The May 1980 CUFOS Associate Newsletter (Volume 1 Number 1) carried an article by Dr. Hynek entitled "Yes, Virginia, There Are UFOs in Russia." Therein he inaccurately described the document as a "a study of 256 UFO reports from which the IFOs (Identified Flying Objects) have been eliminated" -- which is pure wishful thinking, unsupported even by claims in the Soviet text. A few months later, Hynek modified his assertion to read, "The objects in the Soviet data were carefully selected with presumably most of the IFOs excluded... These had presumably been eliminated before the study proper began." Hynek's presumption in this regard was totally unjustified.

In his own introduction to the pirated English-language edition published by CUFOS, Dr. Richard Haines particularly stressed the importance of the Soviet study: "It should prove to become a standard reference on the library shelves of those who seek to identify the core identity of the anomalous atmospheric phenomena" - but in the two years following its publication, there is no evidence that even a single Western UFOlogist was ever really interested in finding the "core identity" (instead, they concentrated on the more attractive "statistical results").

The UFOs in the Soviet study were nearly all genuine, Haines insisted: there was a "lack of evidence for the reports being based on hallucinations or other misperceptions.. .The reports represent currently unknown phenomena, being completely different in nature in an 'overwhelming majority of cases' from known atmospheric optics effects or technical experiments in the atmosphere." As for the proportion of IFOs (such as hallucinations or false reports), "their percentage is small, so that they have little effect on the statistical properties of the sample under consideration." But as has been shown, these "false reports" actually must comprise an absolute majority of the cases and they thus clearly overwhelm the parameters of any "true UFO" residue. Haines had absolutely no justification for making the sanguine assertions which he placed in his foreword.

Hynek in turn again enthusiastically embraced the report at the Smithsonian UFO Symposium in Washington, D.C., in September 1980, where he stressed the qualifications and scientific credentials of the witnesses: "Forty two percent were made by scientific workers and engineers, and an amazing seven and a half percent were made by astronomers. ...It becomes very much harder, in fact from my personal viewpoint, impossible, to find a trivial solution for all UFO reports, which of course is the contention of the skeptics, if one weighs and considers the caliber of some of the witnesses."

(to be continued)

edit on 5-3-2016 by JimOberg because: add excerpt

edit on 5-3-2016 by JimOberg because: add FOBS link

posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 01:57 PM
fabulous presentation. thank you.

posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 02:02 PM
Hynek quote part 2

In light of the realization that the most spectacular misperceptions of the FOBS pseudo-UFOs came from astronomers at the Kazan and Kislovodsk Observatories, Hynek's assertion is exposed as unjustified at best and self-delusion at worst. "Impossible" is what Hynek considered it to be for the Gindilis data to have trivial solutions - but most of it did so have.

(This point is worth pursuing a bit farther since it apparently is one of Hynek's most controversial and questionable attitudes towards UFOs. Later he said, "It was actually the nature and character of many of the witnesses I personally worked with over many years that finally caused me to change my mind about UFOs. As a scientist I resisted the evidence and felt impelled to seek a normal explanation at all costs." But with the Gindilis data, Hynek evidently concluded that the qualifications of the witnesses -- fellow astronomers in particular! -- relieved him of the respoonsibility to seek just such normal explanations (that is, to be a scientist). It was "impossible" for them to be mistaken - but they were, and he was, too. He did not have to wax so enthusiastic over the unverified cases, but he did, and now must face the consequences.)

An article jointly authored by Hynek and Haines appeared in the Journal of UFO Studies, volume II (1980). It stressed the "similarity of results" of the Soviet statistical study with other Western studies. Despite the concentration of 1967 cases (JEO: i.e., mostly IFOs!), "The essential agreement of the Soviet study with those made in other countries shows that this does not seem to have introduced a temporal bias." However, it turns out that this conclusion proved exactly the opposite of what Hynek and Haines thought it proved, to wit, that a statistically manipulated collection of IFO cases (which actually comprise the heart of the Gindilis Report) gives numerical results absolutely indistinguishable from similar manipulations of allegedly true-UFO cases. Ergo, the class of UFOs and the class of IFOs are really statistically indistinguishable, a conclusion which skeptics (and Allan Hendry) have been asserting all along.

Naively, Hynek and Haines interpret the significance of the Soviet study as proving mathematically that UFOs are real, or that "A heretofore unrecognized (by science) phenomenon exists and is worthy of serious study," in their own words. "The conclusions of the Condon Report," they continued, " are thus totally reversed and the UFO phenomenon at one stroke becomes a legitimate subject for serious scientific attention. It is a great blow to the bastion of ridicule which has heretofore been so effective a barrier to the exercise of proper scientific curiosity in this area." Brave words indeed - and as we have seen, once the true nature of the Gindilis Report is revealed, absolutely baseless words as well.

Sadly, the only truly ridiculous aspect of this whole affair is the touchingly naive but tragically misplaced trust exhibited by Hynek and Haines in the faulty keystone assumption that the Soviet data had been carefully and honestly "scrubbed," an assumption which conveniently relieved them of any responsibility to critically examine the data themselves (they clearly did not, nor did anyone else in the UFOlogical community).

"It seems incredible that the curiosity of the scientific fraternity has not been aroused," they complain, in a closing paragraph bordering dangerously on satire -- since after all, they themselves exhibited no such curiosity about the true nature of even the meager raw data presented in the paper, but chose instead to innocently misrepresent it for what it was not. Their unintentionally ironic closing quotation was from LaPlace: "The harder it is to acknowledge the existence of phenomena, the more we are obligated to investigate them with increasing care."

This is an obligation at which Hynek and Haines, together with the rest of the Western UFOlogical fraternity, have themselves miserably failed in regard to the Gindilis Report. Once again the intuitive skepticism of "Establishment Science" toward the scientific validity of UFO studies

posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 03:23 PM

originally posted by: CardDown
Great thread on a key figure in UFO history. It's interesting that Hynek was taken in by several hoaxes, which may indicate that he wanted to believe, or maybe he wasn't a very good judge of character.
Another thing about Hynek that's mostly forgotten is that he did not support the extraterrestrial hypothesis. He believed that witnesses were reporting genuine things, but thought that alien space ships were not the answer.

I am so glad you popped in. I notice you used some of Hynek's Omni interview comments on the Cash-Landrum case in your blog :

CardDown's Blog Link here

Obviously he was looking at the case from a 1985 perspective. But his line of thinking was that the helicopters in that case were holograms. He didn't believe that 23 helicopters could or would be out on exercise that night. Nor did he doubt the claims that there actually were that many helicopters.

Knowing your in depth knowledge of that case do you think Hynek was way off here?

posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 03:38 PM
a reply to: Kandinsky

Nice to hear from you again Kandinsky.

Hynek was like all of us. Subject to our own biases which are shaped by our experiences. I think he was a very fortunate man to be able to have worked in the field, been paid a consultancy fee and had access to Air Force data. But he was also limited by the knowledge and contemporary thinking of the times he lived in.

Just as we are today.

posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 03:49 PM
a reply to: 111DPKING111

Hello DPK,

I haven't researched the Levelland Case in great detail. It does seem that a number of witnesses reported their vehicles engines were affected by the UFOs. Blue Book scientists actually tested electro-magnetism on a vehicle and it did not shut down the engines.

However a couple of years ago it seems we actually have the technology to do it ourselves :

As the vehicle entered the range of the RF Safe-stop, its dashboard warning lights and dials behaved erratically, the engine stopped and the car rolled gently to a halt. Digital audio and video recording devices in the vehicle were also affected. "It's a small radar transmitter," said Andy Wood, product manager for the machine. "The RF [radio frequency] is pulsed from the unit just as it would be in radar, it couples into the wiring in the car and that disrupts and confuses the electronics in the car causing the engine to stall."

Source :

I have also driven through a certain area on a number of occasions and noticed the dashboard 'die' for a second or the LED clock reset to sometime in the future. (No I don't own a 1985 De Lorean either!). What caused it? I have no idea. There were no obvious lights in the sky either.

I'd need to read up on the fine details of that case to give you my opinion of what was going on. But it seems that vehicles can be affected by magnetic fields and Blue Book got it wrong.

posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 04:14 PM
a reply to: JimOberg

Thanks for those thoughts Jim.

...he introduced a degree of respectability into the subject, and he hired Allan Hendry, a brilliant choice.

I think that is an important point. There have been a lot of people in the UFO field down the years who have lacked 'respectability' for one reason or another. Hynek, was certainly not one of them.

And seeing as you mentioned it :

I won the world 'UFO Science Essay' contest sponsored by Cutty Sark London

I remember that well . My school library used to receive a copy of New Scientist magazine back in the day.

By the wonders of internet technology I am now communicating with you and there is a copy of the article on Google Books as it appeared in October of 1979.

New Scientist Oct 1979 - The Failures of Ufology by James Oberg

There is also an easier to read version here :

It's disappointing to have to report that your criticisms of Ufology' back then are still as valid today.

posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 04:53 PM
Wonderful topic.

Regardless of anyone's pet theories or speculations with regard to hidden agendas or disinformation (and I have my own, too) people like Hynek, Friedman, Ruppelt (who never gets enough credit imo,) Stringfield, Maccabee, Vallee and others, are why we have as much information today as we do. They are the Mt. Rushmore of Ufology, and no matter what else may be said of any of them, the legacy of their work is pretty much required reading, and invaluable.

Just as I might not always agree with Philip J. Klass, but he's still required reading for the full depth and breadth of what's going on, to the extent such a thing is even possible, at least in terms of perspective. And just as Richard Dolan's books might contain some cases I feel satisfied have been adequately explained away and I may not agree with all of his conclusions or characterizations of some things... his books are still some of the best chronological compilations of reference material available and, likewise, required reading imo.

As I age and mature, I find myself a lot less suspicious of people like Hynek (though some suspicion exists to be sure,) and a lot more inclined to attribute a lot of things simply to human nature. Case in point: Skeptics study UFOs too! Not every person who sees the data is going to conclude it's really happening. It's such an amorphous set of phenomena, and there's such tantalizing evidence in some cases, yet so little to hang our hat on in terms of real certainty... it's inevitable opinions will exist across a wide spectrum running from absolute belief, to absolute denial. Hynek fell somewhere on that spectrum, as do we all.

And his statement is a true one. "We don't have UFOs only UFO reports." That's a legendary quote, and concisely sums up the whole phenomenon. We have reports of sightings, and photographs of sightings, and radar tracks of sighted objects, and all kinds of things that suggest something is going on... but no good, solid, testable, falsifiable hypothesis as to WHAT, and no definitive proof that is irrefutable. Only the vague sense that, "Something weird is happening."

Which, in and of itself, should warrant some study imho. I mean... what is stopping it from being a valid field of scientific inquiry? I mean there are only so many things it can be. If it's a psychological or cultural phenomenon, then that should be studied - REALLY studied, conclusively - by flocks of sociologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, historians, and others. If it's an extremely rare geomagnetic, chemical, or meteorological issue that is witnessed so rarely there's insufficient data to understand it fully and such that it's shocking to witnesses, then that should be studied and proved. And if people contend it's actually something intelligently controlled yet anomalous... then THAT should be studied, theories that can be scientifically tested formulated, and that should keep getting worked on until real answers are found. And only then, barring ALL of those finding any answer, can we finally just say, as physicists and cosmologists do about the meaning of life, "That's not a question for science. That's a question for philosophy, theology, and personal experience and understanding."

But it has never felt like UFOs got their fair turn up at bat in the scientific dugout. There were attempts at studies to be sure, but they largely consisted only of data collection and brainstorming - albeit some very intelligent and well qualified brainstorming. It feels like there have been more scholarly studies by archaeologists, historians, geneticists, biologists, and linguists into the reality or lack thereof of Christ's existence, than there have been of UFOs by relevant disciplines. After 70 years, that's astounding and - in and of itself - highly suspicious imo.

And it's why so many of us do wind up going down rabbit trails, because we just say, "Screw it! I'll just read everything - no matter how fanciful and unsupported - because maybe, just maybe if I read enough, a pattern will emerge, and I'll get something like a workable hypothesis out of this mess." (I do this as well. With a more skeptical eye than some, but I do it all the same. And I DO feel the pull of subjective gnosis. Even while resisting it due to skepticism.) Because there have yet to be studies of sufficient objectivity, size, and value to drastically advance our understanding of these events.

In any event... Hynek is one of the reasons I have for even knowing what questions to ask in the first place. He was a luminary in his field as far as I'm concerned, for better or worse.

Great thread.

edit on 3/5/2016 by AceWombat04 because: Typo

posted on Mar, 5 2016 @ 11:40 PM
Great Presentation! And as a side-note; I have lived in, hunted, fished, and explored Michigan in all 4 seasons for almost 50 years. I have never, ever, seen "Swamp Gas", nor has anyone I have ever known. UFO's may or may not exist, but "Swamp Gas" in Michigan does not.

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 02:19 AM
I remember as a young man I read Project Bluebook in paperback from cover to cover a few times, I remember clearly feeling that a great many cases were simply buried because they seemed to give credence to the whole subject, it was at that time I felt Hynek was a stooge and to this day I feel the same. I personally think he simply played the field to stay in the loop, I personally don't think he ever believed in UFO's as more than just craft but allowed himself to be seen as a 'born again believer' as it fitted his purpose.

If you read between the lines he simply went with the flow....

And yes, the swamp gas incident was a true low point not only in HIS history but in the whole handling of the UFO phenomenon, the way the witness responded about the treatment of his case truly showed a man destroyed for daring to say what he saw and impacted so many other cases that most likely never saw the time of day because of the ultimate ridicule that Hynek impacted on that one case.

He may well have been a scientist but he failed the code of science with his utter disrespect of investigating the cases, he went for the easiest and most convenient official rhetoric....


posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 03:17 AM

originally posted by: 111DPKING111
a reply to: Kandinsky

Hardened skeptics find the failings of people, materialists find 'secret technology,' conspiracists uncover sprawling psyops by Intel agencies and so it goes on. Spirits, demons, aliens or people - we can't help seeing what our brains are pre-wired to see.

Honestly I hope there is a mundane explanation for all of it, doesn't seem that way to me though. I would think we have all made been mistaken at some point in our lives and subsequently re-adjust our thinking, but I do agree, the pre-wired tendency seems to win much of the time from the posts I see.

Same here. *If* there's something like Folk from Elsewhere, I'm not sure we're capable of truly 'seeing' them. A lot of that is our inability to get past our own mindsets or to stop framing everything with references that are subjectively meaningful but with no universal meaning.

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 03:25 AM
a reply to: Mclaneinc

And yes, the swamp gas incident was a true low point not only in HIS history but in the whole handling of the UFO phenomenon, the way the witness responded about the treatment of his case truly showed a man destroyed for daring to say what he saw and impacted so many other cases that most likely never saw the time of day because of the ultimate ridicule that Hynek impacted on that one case.

Poor Frank Manner and his 'hullaballucinations.' It tugs at the heart-strings seeing his heart right out on his sleeve. I had a similar sensation watching Jesse Marcel back out there at the Roswell debris field. The poor fella seemed to be battling with his memory and full of angst.

I saw something in the 1990s with two friends. Neither of them remember the incident so I'm left with a crystal clear memory and no supporting witnesses lol. It literally makes you doubt your own recollections. To be fair, I only asked them in passing because I didn't want to impose or be too suggestive. If I mention it again, who knows??

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 05:12 AM
a reply to: Kandinsky

Poor Frank Manner and his 'hullaballucinations.' It tugs at the heart-strings seeing his heart right out on his sleeve.

From the day I first saw the interview with Frank Manner to this day I believe he saw what he says he saw , he's always struck me as the honest as the day is long type and yeah even today seeing the interview again I have to feel for him.

As I remember it Hynek was said to have received a phone call at the local police station the night before he came up with the swamp gas explanation , I still wonder who the call was from and for what reason the swamp gas explanation was proposed ...what were they hiding ?

Perhaps Michigan is the Holly Grail of Ufology and somewhere in a vault lies the explanation as to why the frankly ludicrous swamp gas explanation was proposed .... it's the fine thread I still cling to.

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 05:25 AM
a reply to: gortex

From the day I first saw the interview with Frank Manner to this day I believe he saw what he says he saw , he's always struck me as the honest as the day is long type and yeah even today seeing the interview again I have to feel for him.

Same here

It's part of my understanding of the unusual that, often, people do see what they say they see. It's a difficult position to justify because it doesn't lead to answers and is only useful for people with a high tolerance for ambiguity. In that Marcel video, I think his brain is recollecting something that his critical thinking side actively doubted. He's in the throes of cognitive dissonance.

Poor old Frank. He was like the tip of the iceberg and a scarecrow to others who ever intended to go public about a strange experience (mixing metaphors ahem).

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 05:46 AM
a reply to: AceWombat04

Great addition to the thread my friend. There is an amazing body of work on the whole UFO topic from the hardline debunking to works of science fiction passed off as fact. It's all out there as part of our history. But you won't find it being taught in any history lessons at school.

The problem seems to be that it's a high cost endeavour ,with a low probability of getting meaningful results and evidence.

So we come back to that great soundbite from Hynek "We don't have UFOs.....only UFO reports"

Nothing has changed 30 years later.

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 05:58 AM

originally posted by: Mclaneinc

And yes, the swamp gas incident was a true low point not only in HIS history but in the whole handling of the UFO phenomenon, the way the witness responded about the treatment of his case truly showed a man destroyed for daring to say what he saw and impacted so many other cases that most likely never saw the time of day because of the ultimate ridicule that Hynek impacted on that one case.

He may well have been a scientist but he failed the code of science with his utter disrespect of investigating the cases, he went for the easiest and most convenient official rhetoric....


I seem to recall Vallee writing that Hynek was under pressure to comment to local press and that he mentioned swamp gas as a possible explanation for some sightings, which was then taken out of context - I'll dig it out and repost.

If anyone knows whether there is an exact transcript of his comments at the time it may set the record straight ?

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 06:03 AM
a reply to: chunder

Could it be over here?

Page 173

Page 175

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 06:14 AM
a reply to: Kandinsky

You just reminded me that despite Hynek working very closely with the Air Force, Roswell, was not a case he seemed to ever discuss. Even after it went public in the late 1970s.

There was a comment on the UFO Updates Archive made by the late Mac Tonnies. He says Hynek had discussed a UFO crash in Roswell with a USAF colonel back in 1976 and bodies were recovered. Hynek was said to have been very disturbed by the story.

But then Roswell seems to be a story that sucks many people in so much that all they ever talk and write about is 'Roswell' like it was the only UFO story to have ever happened.

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 06:18 AM

posted on Mar, 6 2016 @ 07:55 AM
a reply to: mirageman

Good observation. It might have been the case that he wasn't interested. It's one of those cases that doesn't interest me much either. In fact, the best angle, imo, to Roswell was that surrounding Nick Redfern's Bodysnatchers book. Not saying I believe in FUGUs laden with little people, but the suggestion we could have been covering up something politically embarrassing like genetic experimentation was provocative.

Vallee didn't care for Roswell either and regarded it as a waste of time. He was saying that years and years ago and it's hardly gotten any better since being incorporated into 3-4 recent stories.

The crash mythology alone is quite fascinating. There are so many arising from sources within the military branches that it bemuses me as to why? Old Len Stringfield drew in plenty of them and then they have a loose tie-in with the legendary Holloman landings reports. The myth-makers were busily inputting these accounts and, apparently, no longer have the need. Crashes and bodies.

I've mentioned it before, an ex-military guy claimed that he and a few others were shown bodies of little fellas and parts of an exotic machine; they were inside a building. When they were led out, they were given paper and pencils and asked to draw and/or write down what they'd seen. That little story is mouth-wateringly interesting.

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