Desperately Seeking Science

Charles F. Emmons. At the Threshold: UFOs, Science and the New Age. Wild Flower Press, 1997.

This is a book which promised to be interesting, a sociological study of ufologists and natural scientists and their differing reactions to anomalies; all the more so because Emmons is the author of a very useful study of supernatural folklore and memorates in Hong Kong Chinese Ghosts and ESP.

Sadly this work turns out to be a disappointment, based on small samples and hampered by Emmons own pro-New Age bias. In part he operates under the kind of sociological relativism which drives those working in the physical sciences wild. You get the feeling that it takes the relativists all their time to admit that the earth really is spheroid rather than flat, and revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. Thus Emmons argues along the lines that the differences between scientists and ufologists lie in differing social perceptions rather than one group being right and the other wrong. He also leaps on to the bandwagons that claim that the New (i.e. 70 years old!) Physics opens up all sorts of mystical and paranormalist possibilities, and seems surprised that even among the ufologists, those with a background in the physical sciences disagree. The thought escapes him that this might simply be because, unlike writers in the social sciences and humanities, they know what they are talking about on this topic .

Emmons draws attention to the fact that fewer people with advanced degrees are involved with ufology in Europe, but this may be due to the educational system. Until very recently in Britain, far fewer people attended university than in the States, and there were far fewer universities. Also, unlike the United States, British ufology in its formative years was totally dominated by antiscientific contactee fans, and by in parts by social snobbery. In fact in the 1960s a number of young scientists, including the well known science writer Paul Davies, did show an interest. They received a predictably hostile reaction, not least from BUFORA, whose journal editor, proudly displaying a fraudulent PhD awarded by a couple of clerical con-artists operating out of former Methodist Chapel in Seven Sisters Road, Tottenham, regularly denounced them as "white coated godlings of the laboratory". Some stuck it out for a couple of years but all eventually gave up.

Emmons is perhaps not too familiar in any case with non-American ufology, as his view of the subject is almost entirely based on the belief systems of the United States, where there is a much greater readiness to invoke non human intelligences, whether extraterrestrial or otherwise, as explanations for puzzling experiences. -- Peter Rogerson, Magonia 62, February 1998.


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