A report entitled "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects", almost universally referred to as the Condon Report, was released to the public
in 1969. It was conducted at the University of Colorado and funded by the United States Air Force. It is one of the largest and most controversial
studies of UFOs.
The United States Air Force's Project Blue Book closed shortly after the Condon Report concluded that "further extensive study of UFOs probably
cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby”.
A group was set up under the chairmanship of Dr. Brian O'Brien which was known as the "Ad Hoc Committee to Review Project Blue Book." This group
met on 3 February 1966 and produced a short report of its findings in March 1966. It recommended that “contracts be negotiated with a few selected
universities to provide scientific teams to investigate promptly and in depth certain selected sightings of UFO's”.
Following several UFO sightings in Michigan during March 1966, Dr J Allen Hynek suggested at a press conference that “swamp gas” may have been the
cause of some of the sightings. That explanation was widely ridiculed by commentators in the media. On 28 March 1966, Congressman Gerald Ford wrote to
the Armed Services committee criticising the Air Force UFO investigations and proposing that a Congressional committee schedule hearings on the
subject of UFOs.
A one day House Armed Services Committee hearing on Unidentified Flying Objects, chaired by H Mendel Rivers, was held on 5 April 1966. Witnesses at
the hearing were Harold Brown (Secretary of the Air Force), Major Hector Quintanilla Jr (Chief of Project Blue Book) and Dr J Allen Hynek. During the
hearing, Secretary Brown was asked about the O’Brien Committee’s report and he stated that he believed he “may act favorably on it”.
On 9 May 1966, the Air Force announced that it was seeking a contract with a leading university to undertake a program of intensive investigations of
On 6 October 1966, the University of Colorado signed a contract with the Air Force for the Condon study of flying saucers. The contract was announced
to press the following day.
The Condon study initially had the support of several high profile UFO groups and ufologists, including NICAP.
The Condon Report's conclusions
The Condon Report was released to the public on 9 January 1969.
The report submitted to the Air Force was over 1300 pages long. It was reformatted into a 965 page paperback edition which was subsequently made
available to the public.
Approximately half of the report was dedicated to discussion of various case studies. Most of the case studies related to cases that occurred during
the term of the Project (Cases 11-45). Only a very limited number of cases predating the study were examined (Cases 1-10).
The Condon study conducted field investigations with two-man teams, composed whenever possible of one person with training in physical science and one
with training in psychology. The Report notes that it “was always worthwhile to do a great deal of initial interviewing by long distance
telephone”, commenting that a “great many reports that seem at first to be worthy of full field investigation could be disposed of in this way
with comparatively little trouble and expense”. The general conclusion of the Condon Report is stated Section I of the report:
“… nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to
scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads
us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in
the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.”
That Section notes that it has been argued that the lack of contribution to science from the study of UFOs is “due to the fact that very little
scientific effort has been put on the subject”. The Condon Report disagrees, commenting as follows:
“We feel that the reason that there has been very little scientific study of the subject
is that those scientists who are most directly concerned, astronomers, atmospheric
physicists, chemists, and psychologists, having had ample opportunity to look into
the matter, have individually decided that UFO phenomena do not offer a fruitful
field in which to look for major scientific discoveries.”
The Consequences of the Condon Report
On 17 December 1969, the Secretary of the Air Force, Robert C Seamans Jr, announced the termination of Project Blue Book.
Prior to the public release of the Condon Report, a National Academy of Sciences (“NAS”) panel was appointed to provide an independent assessment
of the scope, methodology, and findings of the University of Colorado study.
The NAS Panel expressed the opinion that the Condon study “was adequate to its purpose: a scientific study of UFO phenomena”, and that “the
methodology and approach were well chosen, in accordance with accepted standards of scientific investigation”. The Panel reached the following
“On the basis of present knowledge the least likely explanation of UFOs is the
hypothesis of extraterrrestrial visitations by intelligent beings.”
The Report - Comments and criticisms
Even before the Condon Report was released to the public, numerous UFO researchers had started to criticise the Condon study.
Initial concerns were voiced when, on 26 January 1967, Condon was reported in the Elmira, New York, Star-Gazette as stating at a American Chemical
Society meeting the previous day that he was inclined to recommend that the government get out of the UFO “business”, but added with a smile that
he was not supposed to reach that conclusion yet. This comment caused considerable concern amongst some ufologists.
Concerns reached a much higher level when the so-called “trick memorandum” was revealed to several ufologists (see section below).
An article published in the January 1969 edition of NICAP’s “The U.F.O. Investigator” commented on the Condon Report, asserting that “some of
the chapters contain strange contradictions of what the project's director, Dr. Edward U. Condon, stated in his two opening sections”. NICAP’s
article asked “why were certain low-priority, easily-explained sightings chosen for investigation and discussion rather than cases such as those
listed below?”, before going on to discuss reports by various scientists, pilots and policemen.
A review of the Condon Report by Dr J Allen Hynek was published in the April 1969 edition of the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist” at pages
39-42. That article included the following:
“While devoted in the large part to exposing hoaxes or revealing many UFOs as
misidentifications of common occurrences, the book leaves the same strange,
inexplicable residue of unknowns which has plagued the U.S. Air Force
investigation for 20 years. In fact, the percentage of "unknowns" in the Condon
report appears to be even higher than in the Air Force investigation (Project Blue
Book) - which led to the Condon investigation in the first place. Every contributor to
the report finds in his particular area of examination (photos, radar-visual sightings,
physical evidence, etc. ) something that cannot be dismissed as a misidentification of
In November 1970, the UFO subcommittee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (“AIAA”) published a statement entitled “UFO,
An Appraisal of the Problem” in its journal, Astronautics and Aeronautics, criticizing the conclusions of the Condon Report and encouraged further
study of the UFO problem. It concluded that it found it “difficult to ignore the small residue of well-documented but unexplained cases which form
the hard core of the UFO controversy”.
Dr Thornton Page (a member of the CIA’s Robertson Panel on UFOs in 1953) wrote a review of the Condon Report in October 1969 which stated:
“In one sense, the Condon Report lives up to its title Scientific Study, because
physical principles and available data are applied meticulously to more than 56
selected, well-documented "cases" (UFO sightings), with the result that 33 cases are
explained. however, as several other reviewers have noted, this leaves unexplained a
larger proportion than the 10% or so which caused all the ruckus and forced the Air
Force to fund the Colorado Project in the first place. Hence, it may be argued that
Condon's carefully written conclusions (the first five pages of the Report) do not
logically follow from the case studies.”
In 1987, Peter A Sturrock published a lengthy critical review, entitled “An Analysis of the Condon Report on the Colorado UFO Project”. That
review concludes that:
“there are substantial and significant differences between the findings of the project
staff and those that the director attributes to the project. Although both the director
and the staff are cautious in stating conclusions, the staff tend to emphasize
challenging cases and unanswered questions, whereas the director emphasizes the
difficulty of further study and the probability that there is no scientific knowledge to
A different conclusion is reached by Philip J Klass in his article, “The Condon UFO Study: “A Trick or a Conspiracy?” (1986). That article
sought to defend Condon. He attacked James McDonald for allegedly being involved in a “well-orchestrated plot to discredit” Condon. He also
criticised various investigators on the Condon team for failing to be sufficiently skeptical . He commented as follows:
“In retrospect, it is clear to me that at least some, if not many, of the young
researchers who volunteered for the University of Colorado UFO investigation had
what might be called "UFO-stars-in-their-eyes" hopes and ambitions.”
The “Trick” Memorandum
Concerns regarding the Condon study reached a high level prior to the release of the report, due in part to the release of the so-called “trick
The relevant memorandum was entitled "Some Thoughts on the UFO Project" and had been written before the Condon study actually started. It was
written on 9 August 1966 by the University of Colorado Assistant Dean (Robert Low) to several University officials (E James Archer, dean of the
graduate school and Thurston E Manning, vice president and dean of faculties).
In that memo, Low said,
"..... Our study would be conducted almost exclusively by non-believers who,
although they couldn't possibly prove a negative result, could and probably would
add an impressive body of evidence that there is no reality to the observations. The
trick would be, I think, to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a
totally objective study but, to the scientific community, would present the image of a
group of nonbelievers trying their best to be objective, but having an almost zero
expectation of finding a saucer. One way to do this would be to stress investigation,
not of the physical phenomena, but rather of the people who do the observing – the
psychology and sociology of persons and groups who report seeing UFO's. If the
emphasis were put here, rather than on examination of the old question of the
physical reality of the saucer, I think the scientific community would quickly get the
message....I'm inclined to feel at this early stage that, if we set up the thing right and
take pains to get the proper people involved and have success in presenting the
image we want to present to the scientific community, we could carry the job off to
The memo was discovered by a member of the Condon study, Dr Norman Levine. Dr Levine was disturbed by the word "trick" and the phrase about making
the investigation "appear a totally objective study" to the public.
The memo was shared with another member of the Condon study, Dr David Saunder. It was later provided to various ufologists, including James E
On 31 January 1968, James E McDonald wrote a 7 page letter to Robert Low, Project Administrator at the University of Colorado, to detail his concerns
about the Condon study, including comments on Low’s “trick” memo.
On 9 February 1968, Dr David Saunder and Dr Norman Levine were dismissed from the Condon Committee team for alleged incompetence. On 25 February 1968,
Mary Loise Armstrong writes a letter of resignation from the Condon Study, citing “disagreement and low morale within the study”.
The controversy hit the newstands when an article entitled “Flying Saucer Fiasco” by John G Fuller criticising the Condon Study was published in
the 14th May 1968 edition of “Look” Magazine. That article concluded:
“the hope that the establishment of the Colorado study brought with it has dimmed.
All that seems to be left is the $500,000 trick.”
The Condon Report states that “the Low memorandum has acquired undue importance only because a copy was later stolen from Low's personal files and
given wide distribution by persons desirous of discrediting this study”. Commenting on Fuller's article, Low wrote in July 1968:
“The suggestion that I was engaged, along with Deans Archer and Manning, in a
plot to produce a negative result is the most outrageous, ridiculous and absurd thing I
ever heard of. My concern in writing the memo, was the University of Colorado and : its standing in the university world; it was a matter of attitudes
that the scientific
community would have toward the University if it undertook the study. It had
nothing to do with my own personal outlook on the UFO question.”
Complete text of the Condon Report
Alternative source of complete text of the Condon Report
Review by the National Academy of Sciences
Fuller, John G "Flying Saucer Fiasco" Look, Volume 32 (14 May 1968), pages 58-62
“NICAP Disputes Condon Report”, January 1969.
Review of the Condon Report by Dr J Allen Hynek, April 1969.
Review of the Condon Report by Dr Thornton Page, October 1969.
Review of the Condon Report by Sturrock,
Review of the Condon Report by Philip J Klass, 1986.
Relevant Discussion Threads
(Condon Report) Study of UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS