It has become an article of faith among some that the Kenneth Arnold sighting with its misreported description of a flying saucer is the genesis of modern UFO shape. Arnold had said that the objects he saw moved with a “motion like that of saucers skipping across a pond,” which reporters took to mean that Arnold had seen disk-like objects. Skeptics have pointed out this error, suggesting that Arnold had not seen a disk, but crescent-shaped or heel-shaped craft. Others, coming after Arnold, used this error in their descriptions of UFOs because that was what had been so widely reported. Skeptics said, “Arnold didn't see a saucer--but the press reported that he did and thereafter saucers were pretty much the standard shape for UFO's. Denying the implications of this is just part of the reason that UFO belief falls outside scientific (or rational) interest.”
I had suggested a null hypothesis for this. If we found sighting reports in the months that preceded Arnold that would suggest that some were reporting what they had seen without contamination by the press reports of Arnold’s “flying saucers.” The response to that was:
I don't think so. It's a rather common shape and is documented in earlier science fiction.
It's the huge media frenzy and the resulting reports that followed that suggest that the shape followed the press report. We have no reason to think that all of those reports were anything other than at least the standard ~90% (and I suggest more like 100%) bunk that make up all UFO cases. So among those cases, it is strongly suggested that folks had learned that they should see saucers (not the off bat-wing/half plates that Arnold saw). And they dutifully began to "see" them.
Of course nothing social like this is open and shut and completely clear cut. There very well may have been earlier reports of a saucer shape. I don't think that matters.
I think there is plenty reason, particularly under media induced hysteria. I will mention the famous experiments done in the UK that David Clarke revisits in his excellent new book, "How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth" as rather clear evidence of this.
Again, ignoring or trying to feebly minimize this inconvenient truth hasn't served UFO believers well in trying to get folks outside the myth to take interest.
Or, in other words the null hypothesis was rejected because there were other influences that could account for the reported shape of these objects. The suggestion that it was documented earlier in science fiction might be seen as a corollary to the null hypothesis, or that science fiction images influenced the description of the flying saucers rather than the misreporting in 1947. It seems to me that this would nullify the idea that Arnold’s sighting was the driving force here because you couldn’t have it both ways. Either science fiction was responsible or the reports of Arnold’s flying saucers were.
I made a survey of science fiction magazine covers for the 1940s and didn’t find the saucer shape to be there. I was thinking that most people in the 1940s wouldn’t be reading science fiction and any exposure to the concepts would have come from seeing the magazine covers on the newsstands. When spacecraft were represented, they fell into the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon rockets with tail fins. A saucer shape behind the alien spacecraft just wasn’t seen all that often.
The same can be said for the representations in science fiction movies and serials that would have had a wider audience. The few that had a space theme again fell into the rockets seen in Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon arena. When the saucer
appeared, it was post Arnold and could be said that the flying saucers being
reported influenced the look of alien craft in the movies. The 1950 classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of
the best examples of this.
|The Day the Earth Stood Still.|
I would suggest at this point that one of the null hypotheses has failed. Science fiction did not influence the shape of the objects reported in 1947. There were simply too few, if any, examples of saucers as spacecraft in the literature or the movies. If there was an influence, then the reports would have been of rockets rather than saucers.
That leaves the idea that there were saucers or disks reported prior to Arnold. Looking at the literature, there are many examples. Biron Savage said that he had seen a flat, disk-like object in May 1947. That was documented in the press on June 26, 1947.
And that illustrates the problem for many of those earlier sightings. Project Blue Book mentioned a number of pre-Arnold sightings, but it seems they were reported after Arnold. Any reports that had been gathered prior to Arnold disappeared when the official investigation of UFOs began. (And yes, that can be proven. Sightings mentioned in both Project Sign’s and Project Grudge’s final reports mention sightings that are not found in the Blue Book index but indicate they had been gathered.)
I did find other pre-Arnold sightings that mention disks or saucers. On February 28, a formation of disks was reported near Lake Mead. In March 1947 a Los Angeles woman said that she’d seen a disk. Also in March a disk was seen early in the morning in Putnam, Connecticut. On March 30, two women and a young girl saw several silvery disks. On April 11, a woman watched a disk-shaped object for two minutes. On June 2, a circular object was seen in Shreveport, Louisiana. Well, you get the point. Many sightings but the problem is that the documentation for these all come from sources published after June 24, 1947.
The exception for this might be the Minczewski case from Richmond, Virginia in April. This is one of those sightings that was apparently investigated by the Army prior to the Arnold sighting. There is no record of it in the Blue Book files, but it is mentioned in the Project Grudge final report. That suggests to me that there would have been documentation for it prior to Arnold but the case file was removed from the “regular” files at some point. In all fairness, I must note that I have found no documentation dated prior to Arnold about this sighting. I merely have a suspicion that it does exist if we could access the proper records… which means we haven’t asked the right agency to review their files.
Without being able to document that these sightings were reported prior to Arnold, it can be said that they were contaminated by the press after Arnold. There is no proof of that, but then, without some sort of documentation, that is a possibility and that means the null hypothesis is unconfirmed at this point. Not that it is in error but it is unconfirmed.
There is another factor in all of this. I noticed, as I surveyed the newspapers from that era that flying saucer or flying disk was used to describe objects even when the witness used other words. In an article headlined, “Carpenter Reports ‘Discs’ in Midwest.” The last line in the article said, “He added that he could not describe the shape of the objects since he could not see them clearly.”
In an article that was headlined, “Flying Saucer Story Grows,” it was reported that George Glover, in Bellingham, Washington, said that he had seen several shiny objects that were shaped like kites. In another sighting reported in that article, the object was described as round, like the sun.
In a case that underscored this point, the article, headlined, “AKRON, O., July 5 (AP) — ‘Flying saucers’ made their appearance here Friday night,” when it was reported, “Dr. Forrest Shaver said the silvery disc he saw ‘looked like a balloon with a light inside.’ Larry E. Hoertz described it as ‘a light with a propelling device.’ Both men said they saw the ‘saucers’ about 8:30 P. M. while driving near Akron.” This suggests that the term had become generic, describing any strange thing in the sky regardless of shape.
In the end, we have a theory, that the error made by reporters in the Arnold case drove the shape of the objects seen in its wake. But what a review of the newspaper articles show is that flying saucer and flying disk became the generic term for all unidentified objects including those that were not circular or round. A review of the literature shows that many of the reports were of lights in the sky, bright flashes of light that had no shape behind them, star-like objects, streaks of light and cigar-shaped objects.
What is interesting is the claim that even if it was proven that saucer-shaped craft were seen prior to Arnold, it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters because it nullifies the theory that people saw saucers because that was what was reported by the press after Arnold.
As it stands right now, the null hypothesis is unconfirmed and the theory is unproven. Additional information and documentation can solve this riddle but it will take some in depth research. My survey of newspaper articles wasn’t as extensive as it could have been, but even though limited, I found many examples suggesting shapes other than saucer and articles that mentioned “disk sightings” but the object see was not disk shaped.
This discussion seems to be one that we all could end by simply surveying the newspaper articles from June 24 to July 9 (when the press seemed to mostly stop reporting saucers at the request of the Army and Navy). One of the places to begin would be Ted Bloecher’s Report on the Wave of 1947. We can actually apply some science here and reach an intelligent and proper conclusion.