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More Challenges for the Volunteer Ufologist

In a previous issue of UFO Encounter (issue # 207 Aug/Sept 2003) I explored four of the sometimes annoying and often disheartening aspects of Ufology that face all UFO researchers at some time, namely – lack of funding, egotism, extreme idealism and burn-out. Quite stressful at various stages in one’s own development as a researcher, over a period of time these challenges often cause us to stop and question why we do what we do and if it is even sane to keep doing it? Although many people from mainstream society hold the notion that those who inhabit the UFO community are probably on their way to developing some form of mental health problems, it is when we call ourselves into question that we can feel quite uncertain and hesitant about our role.

Researchers can often be plagued with doubts about their contributions and achievements and whether it all makes a difference, with the most pressing doubt of all being: is it really worth the sacrifice? My advice for anyone who gets to this point, as many have done, is to either take a vacation or go do something else for a while. Once you get back on track you can prepare yourself to face the challenges once again.

Of course the best way to shortcut any of the previous mentioned situations would be to receive more spontaneous acts of appreciation from our peers, particularly by those the younger generation of Ufologists may consider as mentors. Up and coming researchers need to receive a pat on the back (preferably publicly) when they make valuable contributions and a gentle and kind suggestion out of public view when they might be venturing down a shadowy path. However, traditionally the UFO research arena is not like this at all. Most displays of back patting are done privately and suggestions of people falling short of the mark are very public indeed. So here we have our fifth challenge – the need to grow a “thick skin”.

This is not a field for those who have low self esteem and look for encouragement at every turn as they will not get it. Unfortunately when this doesn’t happen there are those who will resort to slapping themselves on the back, which is very discouraging – particularly for those new to the field, something the subject just cannot afford.

One should also be aware that although many derisive public comments about fellow researchers appear to be ego driven, there are those who set themselves up as researchers that are actually members of the cover-up brigade, whose intention it is to discourage us from pursuing certain paths of inquiry or collaboration. Since Disclosure witnesses have spoken out, some have confirmed what researchers always expected: there are debunkers peppered within the UFO community whose job is not only to throw shadows of doubt over the UFO subject but also to create division where possible. Researchers need to be aware of this and observe those within the UFO community that may be creating the most division. This may just be their goal and another reason why we need to develop a thick-skinned approach in our work.

The sixth challenge we are faced with is a lack of skills and training. While it is not imperative for UFO researchers to have a background of professional training, it is appropriate for us to cultivate some skills or expertise that will help us understand the object of our research more clearly. This will also help us decide whether we feel it useful to cooperate and/or collaborate with those who do have relevant training. If we choose to do so we may possibly develop a deeper appreciation for those skills and work harder to attract people who have them. Unfortunately those who underestimate contributions from a professional perspective are often those who least understand what they can offer. Consequently, this leaves Ufology suffering generally from “professional cringe”, particularly towards scientists. Although some scientists may be deserving of this attitude, it does not change the fact that a scientific model serves us well as a starting point.

Although there is consensus among some that to bring this subject into the public’s awareness it will be necessary to adopt scientific models, and while those models may be useful, we also have to maintain a holistic approach to this often times bizarre subject. Hence the added need to read broadly and develop an eclectic knowledge-base complete with its own set of tools that, when brought together with mainstream tools, will aid in making breakthroughs in the UFO arena. Researchers need to grow their own tools so they can quantify the basic hard evidence but also deal with the subjective evidence that may be of an esoteric nature. The current piecemeal approach of many researchers only serves to keep this subject in the dark longer than necessary.

The seventh challenge is the “extremist” sub-culture that exists in Ufology. There are those in this field that are easily led into fuzzy thinking by randomly gathered and often unsubstantiated pieces of information that only serves to set up the gatherer as the “in house” guru on a particular subject. Those who follow their guru jump onto the swing of a pendulum that carries them to an extreme way of approaching this subject, with very little or no evidence to back up their newly adopted “belief”. Often they fool themselves into thinking they have discovered the “latest and greatest” in understanding, yet have really only cast off one set of unquestioned beliefs to take on another. Attempting to “get through” to these people is usually a waste of time as their minds have been narrowed and objectivity abandoned while they “buy into” what appears to serve a purpose in their lives. Sadly, those of guru status often have quite a strong following, which creates division within the UFO community and breaks down any form of consensus that might serve to move our understanding forward.

Then there is the reverse swing of the pendulum where others have a completely opposite objective, that is, to stubbornly refuse to look at anything new. These types adopt great “scientific” scepticism and turn a blind eye to the paranormal nature of the UFO phenomenon. When we view the phenomenon from a perspective that goes beyond the hard data only, we are left with the question – what does it all mean? We cannot answer this without exploring beyond that data. Refusing to go beyond the scientific approach will also leave us in a state of confusion, chasing our tails and getting nowhere, which is precisely what has happened over the last five decades.

The eighth challenge is that of the UFO community’s “high consumption rate.” For the last few decades there has been a prolific amount of writing on this subject, which has left many in the habit of demanding new information to satisfy their “hunger”. However, recently the amount of new literature available has dwindled, at least in Australia, and the provision of new information has decreased. This has caused a tremendous pressure on researchers to “come up with the goods”. Consequently this has seen the emergence of “infotainment” within the UFO community.

While infotainment offers “knowledge-through-sensationalism” under the guise of keeping people informed, this trend causes one to wonder about its impact on the UFO community at large. Although the idea of educating and entertaining people simultaneously is not a new idea, when applied to UFO research it sometimes falls short of being done well. As an example, a conference in the US recently advertised two speaker topics as “Vampires From Outer Space” and ” Goodbye Mermaids Hello UFO Crop Circles.” Is it any wonder the public does not take the subject seriously? Could it be that the human intrigue with unending sensational story lines such as above, or alien abductions and conspiracies is beginning to take its toll?

There is no doubt that the UFO community has a lingering fascination with these stories and they are never in short supply. There is hardly a UFO conference today that does not include a hearty smorgasbord of these morsels. If we want people to take this subject seriously, then perhaps the UFO community might have to consider making some compromises to achieve some of it’s goals.

Although infotainment may bring some people to the UFO subject that otherwise may not pay attention to it, one wonders whether its emergence may have accelerated the decline of interest in the UFO subject, at least here in Australia. This causes one to ponder at what price good material is displaced for “bums on seats” at UFO conferences or increased readership of UFO magazines, and whether we are infotaining the subject to death?

Such a steady stream of tabloid UFO news items will eventually have adverse effects on public perceptions of the subject, creating distorted perceptions, levels of distrust, widespread confusion, perpetrating ignorance rather than learning and possibly further creating a diminished public interest, which basically is what has happened in recent times. Long-term interests in this subject are maintained not by entertainment or for its shock value but through a balanced reporting of all aspects of Ufology. An interest in the UFO subject takes years to cultivate and years to diminish, but once diminished it is not easily restored. This is why UFO researchers, UFO magazines and UFO conference organisers need to look at their subject matter and present it in a balanced way so the UFO “consumer” will stay with its reality.

So here we have more challenges that constantly fall across our path, whether we like them or not. Perhaps one day when we truly gain an extraterrestrial perspective of this third rock from the Sun we might actually be able to overcome them.

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