Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Brookings Institution and Walter Sullivan

As I was looking into the history of the Brookings Institution report about their investigation into alien life and what would happen if we learned there were aliens out there, I made a somewhat startling discovery. Walter Sullivan, one time science editor of the New York Times had written a book, We Are Not Alone, in 1964, and he quoted from that report. He was writing about the short section that suggested that communication with an alien race might not be a good thing for the people of Earth… might not be bad, especially if it was only through radio astronomy, but there could be negative consequences.
He quotes exactly a long section from the report about what is found in “anthropological files” and how societies, “sure of their place” suffered from a variety of fates. The implication is that those societies were altered, often for the worse. I say just look at the history of contact between the old and new worlds to see what is meant.

Anyway, after these precise quotes (which I have not reproduced here) Sullivan begins to paraphrase. He wrote, “Such studies, the report continued, should consider public reactions to past hoaxes, ‘flying saucer’ episodes and incidents like the Martian invasion broadcast.”

But the report doesn’t say, “flying saucers.” The line paraphrased in the report says, “Such studies would include historical reactions to hoaxes, psychic manifestations, unidentified flying objects, etc. Hadley Cantril’s study, Invasion from Mars (Princeton University Press, 1940), would provide a useful if limited guide in this area.”

The structure of Sullivan’s quote seems to suggest that flying saucers belong in the hoax category and is somewhat dismissive of the idea of flying saucers. But the report used the term “unidentified flying objects” and it wasn’t next to the word, “hoaxes”, but separated from it. This seems to indicate Sullivan’s personal bias.

Now, let me say that my interpretation might be off base here. I just noticed the changing of the words and I remembered Ed Ruppelt explaining that the Air Force used the term, flying saucer, in a derogatory sense as in, “You don’t believe in those flying saucers do you?” Sullivan, by changing the term, was engaging in the same dismissive attitude… which, of course, is his right… except…

The way his sentence is structured, and the use of quotation marks around “flying saucer” suggests that the term was lifted from the Brookings Institution report. But the document doesn’t use the term, and the structure of that particular paragraph seems more benign to me.

Oh, I know, this isn’t a big thing. It was just something that I stumbled over and thought enough about it to mention it here. But it does, sort of, reveal an attitude that is found throughout the MSM and that is something that shouldn’t exist. They should keep the sneering attitude to themselves… and not only when writing about UFOs.


David Rudiak said...

The New York Times has a long history of UFO debunkery or failed reporting, stretching back to at least Roswell. I don't think they ever reported Kenneth Arnold, nor the even much more widely reported United Airlines crew sighting of July 4, 1947.

For Roswell, it got on the front page, but the article was written by their "color" man, Murray Schumach, who played it for laughs:

"Celestial crockery had the Army up in the air for several hours yesterday before an Army officer explained what a colleague thought was a 'flying disc' was nothing more then a battered Army weather balloon... However, none of the previous or subsequent reports of strange heavenly bodies created as much confusion as the startling announcement from an Army lieutenant that "a flying disc" had been found on a ranch near Roswell N.M., near the scene of atomic bomb tests... Then phones began to buzz between Washington and New Mexico and the 'disk' was well on the way to showing how the circle could be squared. One by one, as the rank of the investigating officers rose, the circle lost arcs and developed sides until it was roughly octagonal."

Several hours before the New Mexico mystery had been solved, a Canadian meteorologist had suggested the same answer in connections with rumors of 'flying saucers' in Circleville, Ohio. This was soon after a couple in the Ohio town jubilantly proclaimed their 'capture' of a mysterious disc."

Followed by several examples of hoaxes or stupid ideas:

"However, the midwest was spurred in its hunt by offers of $3,000 rewards for "proof" that America was not succumbing to an epidemic of hallucinations. One of the first to put in a claim for the prize was an Iowa salesman, who produced a steel disk, nearly seven inches in diameter. He said he found it in his yard in the morning after hearing it 'crash through the trees.' According to The United Press, reporters thought the disk was playing truant from an ash tray. Then there was the Nebraska farmer who added a bucolic touch to the story. He said the heavenly bodies were 'flaming straw hats' that careened through the night sometimes pausing for a rest..."

This is straight, front page reporting?

When the AF put out their 1995 debunkery report on Roswell, the NY Times through their "science" editor William Broad uncritically reported the Mogul balloon party line in great length, only allowing Walter Haut a single line at the very end of the article saying that all the AF gave us was another balloon story.

This is balanced, in-depth reporting?

There are many more examples of highly biased reporting and editorializing by the NY Times against UFOs, such as when Eisenhower was asked to comment on them in a 1954 press conference. He said nothing but a sentence or two that had no import. Eisenhower's nothing comments were totally buried in a full page transcript of his press conference on the inner pages that few people would ever read. Despite this, the Times also chose to run a lengthy "straight" article on the front page reminding the readers that studies had supposedly shown there was nothing to UFOs. Why even bother? They also had their "science" editor the next day mocking the saucers in a long column on the editorial page.

It's the old story of protesting too much. Again the question is why bother?

cda said...

I don't think Kevin was having a dig at the NEW YORK TIMES specifcally. More likely a dig at Walter Sullivan who, among other things, did write the introduction to the Condon Committee Report.

Sullivan uses the term 'flying saucers' in that intro, enclosing it in quotes. In general he was skeptical of UFOs and supported Condon, although I have not reread it in full. He also talks about the NAS review of the Condon report.

Needless to say, in those seemingly far off days, there was zero mention of Roswell. I doubt that a single member of the Condon Committee had ever heard of the case. Yet this was an official investigation, spanning nearly two years.

There was an earlier science editor of the NY Times called Jonathan N. Leonard. Somewhere I have his review of one of Keyhoe's early books, and he tore it to shreds. He was not kindly disposed towards Ruppelt's book either.

Kurt Peters said...

...this is OLD news, Randle.

..had you been around the UFO field in the 1970s, and worked with both MUFON and Hynek's scientist group, you would have learned all this about 38 years ago....

KRandle said...

Peters -

You're being very rude, addressing me by my last name. Reminds me of Chuck Finley...

Had you read the posting, you would have realized it is not about the Brookings Institution's 1960 report for NASA, which we have all known about for decades, but about Walter Sullivan changing a term. It was about Sullivan's bias, which shows in the changing of the term, the benign unidentified flying object to the more prejorative flying saucer... and I defy you to find anyone who has made that point until now.

And, I will note here, again, that it is a little thing. I just wanted to mention it.

cda said...

I believe your colleague (of sorts) Stan Friedman uses the term 'flying saucer' to denote a genuine alien spacecraft, but the term UFO to denote anything that is initially reported as unidentified in the skies. Hence it is only the genuine 'flying saucers' that he is interested in. These are the true ET craft, according to him.

KRandle said...


I do the same thing, but in the context of the 1960s, when Sullivan wrote his book, the term was prejorative. It is clear that Sullivan changed it to belittle the idea of alien visitation and while he was paraphrasing the Brookings' report, he changed the tone of the discussion.

As I said, this is a minor thing that I caught as I was working on something else... and this is a matter of my opinion of what Sullivan was doing in this particular discussion. I believe Sullivan is guilty of a cheap shot on this and really is all I'm saying here.

Ross said...

I like the term "flying saucer," but, even today, it has a kind of silly, B-movie connotation. It is probably best avoided in serious discussions of UFOs, even though is a handy term for denoting UFOs of extraterrestrial origin as opposed to mundane UFOs. For that purpose, what term could replace it?

Ross said...

I'll answer my own question: the term "alien spacecraft" could replace "flying saucer" in serious discussions of UFOs. Of course, the very idea of a "serious discussion of UFOs" is a joke to some people. So I guess it doesn't really matter what you call the things: UFOs will always raise a smirk with some people. There's no point in trying to please them.

Daro said...

Did you change the font type? Seems hard to read. Comments section is OK, though.

Barcroft said...

Mr. Randle,
I'm glad to have found your blog; having read some of you books, I'll be a frequent visitor.
Hope to keep up!