Condon Committee

Condon Committee

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The Condon Committee was the informal name of the University of Colorado UFO Project, a group funded by the United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 from 1966 to 1968 at the University of Colorado
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university located in Boulder, Colorado...

 to study unidentified flying object
Unidentified flying object
A term originally coined by the military, an unidentified flying object is an unusual apparent anomaly in the sky that is not readily identifiable to the observer as any known object...

s under the direction of physicist Edward Condon
Edward Condon
Edward Uhler Condon was a distinguished American nuclear physicist, a pioneer in quantum mechanics, and a participant in the development of radar and nuclear weapons during World War II.-Early life and career:...

. The result of its work, formally titled Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, and known as the Condon Report, appeared in 1968.

After examining hundreds of UFO files from the Air Force's Project Blue Book
Project Blue Book
Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects conducted by the United States Air Force. Started in 1952, it was the second revival of such a study...

 and from the civilian UFO groups National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena
National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena
The National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena was a civilian unidentified flying object research group active in the United States from the 1950s to the 1980s.-Overview:...

 (NICAP) and Aerial Phenomena Research Organization
Aerial Phenomena Research Organization
The Aerial Phenomena Research Organization was a UFO research group started in 1952 by Jim and Coral Lorenzen.The group, which was based in Tucson, Arizona but had many state branches, remained active until 1988....

 (APRO), and investigating sightings reported during the life of the Project, the Committee produced a Final Report that said the study of UFOs was unlikely to yield major scientific discoveries.

The Report's conclusions were generally welcomed by the scientific community and have been cited as a decisive factor in the generally low level of interest in UFO activity among academics since that time. According to a principal critic of the Report, it is "the most influential public document concerning the scientific status of this UFO problem. Hence, all current scientific work on the UFO problem must make reference to the Condon Report."

Background


Beginning in 1947 with Project Sign
Project Sign
Project Sign was an official U.S. government study of unidentified flying objects undertaken by the United States Air Force and active for most of 1948....

, which then became Project Grudge
Project Grudge
Project Grudge was a short-lived project by the U.S. Air Force to investigate unidentified flying objects . Grudge succeeded Project Sign in February, 1949, and was then followed by Project Blue Book. The project formally ended in December 1949, but actually continued on in a very minimal capacity...

 and finally Project Blue Book
Project Blue Book
Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects conducted by the United States Air Force. Started in 1952, it was the second revival of such a study...

, the U.S. Air Force conducted formal studies of UFOs, a subject of considerable public and some governmental interest. Blue Book had come under increasing criticism in the 1960s. Growing numbers of critics—including U.S. politicians, newspaper writers, UFO researchers, scientists and some of the general public—were suggesting that Blue Book was conducting shoddy, unsupported researchor perpetrating a cover up
Cover Up
Cover Up is an American action/adventure television series that aired for one season on CBS from September 22, 1984 to April 6, 1985. Created by Glen A. Larson, the series stars Jennifer O'Neill, Jon-Erik Hexum, Antony Hamilton, and Richard Anderson....

. The Air Force did not want to continue its studies but did not want a cessation of studies to provoke additional charges of a cover up. UFOs had become such a controversial issue that no other government agency was willing to take on further UFO studies.

Following a wave of UFO reports in 1965, astronomer and Blue Book consultant J. Allen Hynek
J. Allen Hynek
Dr. Josef Allen Hynek was a United States astronomer, professor, and ufologist. He is perhaps best remembered for his UFO research. Hynek acted as scientific adviser to UFO studies undertaken by the U.S. Air Force under three consecutive names: Project Sign , Project Grudge , and Project Blue Book...

 wrote a letter to the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (AFSAB) suggesting that a panel convene to re-examine Blue Book. The AFSAB agreed and the committee it formed, chaired by Brian O'Brien, convened for one day in February, 1966, and suggested UFO studies could be undertaken "in more detail and depth than had been possible to date" and that the U.S. Air Force should work "with a few selected universities to provide scientific teams" to study UFOs. The Committee suggested that about 100 well-documented UFO sightings should be studied annually, with about 10 man-days devoted to each case.

At a Congressional UFO hearing on April 5, 1966, Air Force Secretary Harold Brown
Harold Brown (Secretary of Defense)
Harold Brown , American scientist, was U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1977 to 1981 in the cabinet of President Jimmy Carter. He had previously served in the Lyndon Johnson administration as Director of Defense Research and Engineering and Secretary of the Air Force.While Secretary of Defense, he...

 defended the Air Force's UFO studies and repeated the O'Brien Committee's call for more studies. Hynek repeated his call for "a civilian panel of physical and social scientists" to "examine the UFO problem critically for the express purpose of determining whether a major problem exists." Shortly after the hearing, the Air Force announced it was seeking one or more universities
University
A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is an organisation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education...

 to undertake a study of UFOs. The Air Force wanted to have several groups, but it took some time to find even a single school willing to accept the Air Force's offer. Both Hynek and James E. McDonald
James E. McDonald
James Edward McDonald was an American physicist. He is best known for his research regarding UFOs. McDonald was senior physicist at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics and professor in the Department of Meteorology, University of Arizona, Tucson.McDonald campaigned vigorously in support of...

 suggested their own campuses, Northwestern University
Northwestern University
Northwestern University is a private research university in Evanston and Chicago, Illinois, USA. Northwestern has eleven undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools offering 124 undergraduate degrees and 145 graduate and professional degrees....

 and the University of Arizona
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona is a land-grant and space-grant public institution of higher education and research located in Tucson, Arizona, United States. The University of Arizona was the first university in the state of Arizona, founded in 1885...

, and others suggested astronomer Donald Menzel. All were judged too closely allied with one position or another. Walter Orr Roberts
Walter Orr Roberts
Walter Orr Roberts was an American astronomer and atmospheric physicist. He received his doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University in 1943. He taught online for the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in the mid-1980s, and also published an online weekly column entitled "Provocations"...

, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research
National Center for Atmospheric Research
The National Center for Atmospheric Research has multiple facilities, including the I. M. Pei-designed Mesa Laboratory headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. NCAR is managed by the nonprofit University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and sponsored by the National Science Foundation...

, and Menzel suggested physicist Edward Condon
Edward Condon
Edward Uhler Condon was a distinguished American nuclear physicist, a pioneer in quantum mechanics, and a participant in the development of radar and nuclear weapons during World War II.-Early life and career:...

 of the University of Colorado
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university located in Boulder, Colorado...

.

In the summer of 1966, Condon agreed to consider the Air Force's offer. He was among the best known and most distinguished scientists of his time. Condon's tenacious encounters with the House Unamerican Activities Committee and other government Loyalty Boards in the 1940s and 1950s made him "almost legendary" among fellow scientists. On Condon's behalf, Robert J. Low, an assistant dean of the university's graduate program, explored faculty reaction to the proposed project and found it mixed and wary. He tried to reassure those who found the enterprise unworthy of scientific investigation. Low told the Denver Post that the project had met the University's acceptance threshold by the narrowest of margins and was accepted largely because it was difficult to say no to the Air Force. Some have suggested that finances were factor in Colorado's decision to accept the Air Force's offer of $313,000 for the project. Condon dismissed this suggestion, noting that $313,000 was a rather modest budget for an undertaking scheduled to last more than a year with a staff of over a dozen.

On October 6, 1966, the University of Colorado agreed to undertake the UFO study, with Condon as director, Low as coordinator, and Saunders and astronomer Franklin Roach as co-principal investigators. The Air Force announced its selection of Condon and the University of Colorado in October 1966. Other Committee members included astronomer William K. Hartmann; psychologists Michael Wertheimer
Michael Wertheimer
Dr. Michael Wertheimer is a cryptologic mathematician. From October 31, 2005 until June 2009, he was the Assistant Deputy Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for Analysis...

, Dan Culbertson and James Wadsworth, a graduate student; chemist Roy Craig; electrical engineer Norman Levine
Norman Levine
Norman Levine was a Canadian short-story writer, novelist and poet. He is perhaps best remembered for his terse prose. Though he was part of the St. Ives artistic community in Cornwall, and friends with painters Patrick Heron and Francis Bacon, his written expression was not abstract, but concrete...

; and physicist Frederick Ayer. Several other scientists or experts served in part-time and temporary roles or as consultants. Public response to the Committee's announcement was generally positive

When the Project was announced, The Nation, commented: "If Dr. Condon and his associates come up with anything less than the little green men from Mars, they will be crucified."

Committee work


In November 1966, Keyhoe and Richard Hall, both of NICAP, briefed the panel. They agreed to share NICAP's research files and to improve the collection of UFO reports. The Committee also secured help from APRO, a civilian UFO research group. The Committee moved slowly, hampered by disagreements about the use of funds and methodology. By hiring people with no prior position on UFOs, the Committee staff lacked expertise and subject matter expertise. As they began their analyses, Committee members usually worked without coordination with one another. Individuals embraced diverse approaches, especially with respect to the extraterrestrial hypothesis
Extraterrestrial hypothesis
The extraterrestrial hypothesis is the hypothesis that some unidentified flying objects are best explained as being extraterrestrial life or non-human aliens from other planets occupying physical spacecraft visiting Earth.-Etymology:...

 (ETH).

In late January 1967, Condon said in a lecture that he thought the government should not study UFOs because the subject was nonsense, adding, "but I'm not supposed to reach that conclusion for another year." One NICAP member resigned from NICAP in protest and Saunders confronted Condon to express his concern that NICAP's withdrawal would eliminate a valuable source of case files and produce damaging publicity.

Low memo controversy


In July 1967, James E. McDonald
James E. McDonald
James Edward McDonald was an American physicist. He is best known for his research regarding UFOs. McDonald was senior physicist at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics and professor in the Department of Meteorology, University of Arizona, Tucson.McDonald campaigned vigorously in support of...

, a confirmed believer in the validity of UFO sightings, learned from a Committee member about a memo Low had written on August 9, 1966, in which he reassured two University of Colorado administrators that they could expect the study to demonstrate that UFO observations had no basis in reality. McDonald, after locating a copy of the memo in the project's open files, wrote to Condon, quoting a few lines from it.

In response to the memo, on April 30, 1968, NICAP severed its ties with the Committee and Kehoe circulated copies of Low's memo. Press coverage included an article in the May 1968 issue of Look, "Flying Saucer Fiasco", that presented interviews with Saunders and Levine, detailed the controversy, and described the project as a "$500,000 trick." Condon responded that the article contained "falsehoods and misrepresentations." Scientific and technical journals reported the controversy. Representative J. Edward Roush
J. Edward Roush
John Edward Roush was a U.S. Representative from Indiana.Born in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, Roush graduated from Huntington High School, Huntington, Indiana, 1938.A.B., Huntington College, Huntington, Indiana, 1942....

 said the Look article raised "grave doubts as to the scientific profundity and objectivity of the project." He held a hearing dominated by critics of the Project. Low resigned from the Project in May 1968.

Some later critics of the Committee's work saw little reason to make much of the memo. Committee member David Saunders wrote that "to present Low as a plotter or conspirator is unfair and hardly accurate." Project investigator Roy Craig's later wrote that the memo did not trouble him because Condon had not known of the Low memo for eighteen months and it did not reflect his views. Condon wrote in the Project's Final Report that the memo's description of the Project as emphasizing the "psychology and sociology" of those who report UFO sightings showed how completely Low misunderstood the Project when he wrote the memo.

Final months


Despite the withdrawal of NICAP from the Project, members of its Early Warning Network continued to report sightings to the investigators, as did journalists.

Scientists who anticipated the Committee would recommend against continued government UFO research rushed their own refutation into print in advance of the Committee's Final Report. Called UFO's? Yes! and written by Fuller, it questioned whether the CIA wanted to divert public attention from UFOs. It used three cases to make the case for extra-terrestrial activity. Project investigator Roy Craig later described each of the cases as "utter nonsense," "highly suspect," and unexplained but very weak.

Committee Report


The Committee delivered its Report to the Air Force in November 1968, which released it in January 1969. The Report, 1,485 pages in hardcover and 965 pages in paperback, divided UFO cases into five categories: old UFO reports from before the Committee convened, new reports, photographic cases, radar/visual cases, and UFOs reported by astronauts. Some UFO cases fell into multiple categories. Condon authored 6 pages of "conclusions and recommendations," a 43-page "summary," and a 50-page history of UFO phenomena and research over the preceding twenty years.

In his introductory "Conclusions and Recommendations", Condon wrote: "Our general conclusion is that 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." He also recommended against the creation of a government program to investigate UFO reports. He also described the problem that confronts the scientific community, that each scientist must evaluate the record for himself, and that the Reports recommendation against further research "may not be true for all time." He advised that government agencies and private foundations "ought to be willing to consider UFO research proposals...on an open-minded, unprejudiced basis....[E]ach individual case ought to be carefully considered on its own merits." In particular, the Report noted that there were gaps in scientific knowledge in the fields of "atmospheric optics, including radio wave propagation, and of atmospheric electricity" that might benefit from further research in the UFO field.

The Report detailed 59 case studies, though for legal reasons their locations were changed. New York Times science editor Walter Sullivan
Walter S. Sullivan
Walter Seager Sullivan, Jr was considered the "dean" of science writers.Sullivan spent most of his career as a science reporter for the New York Times...

, in his introduction to the published version of the Report, said the series "reads like a modern, real-life collection of Sherlock Holmes episodes. The cases range from the eerily perplexing to the preposterously naive. The reader is given a taste of scientific method, even though the cases are often such that they defy anything approaching deductive analysis." Six chapters covered field studies of such physical evidence as electromagnetic affects, and visual and radar images. One treated the observations of U.S. astronauts.

Even before its completion, the Air Force had asked the National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

 to "provide an independent assessment of the scope, the methodology, and the findings" of the Committee. A panel chaired by Yale astronomer Gerald M. Clemence studied the Report for six weeks and concluded that "on the basis of present knowledge the least likely explanation of UFOs is the hypothesis of extraterrestrial visitations by intelligent beings" and that "no high priority in UFO investigations is warranted by data of the past two decades."

In response to the Report's findings, the Air Force closed Project Blue Book
Project Blue Book
Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects conducted by the United States Air Force. Started in 1952, it was the second revival of such a study...

, established in March 1952, on December 17, 1969.

Assessments


The Report earned a mixed reception from scientists and academic journals, while receiving "almost universal praise from the news media". Many newspapers, magazines and journals which published approving reviews or editorials related to the Condon Report. Some compared any continued belief in UFOs as the belief that the earth is flat. Others predicted that interest in UFOs would wane and in a few generations be only dimly remembered. Science, the official publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said "The Colorado Study is unquestionably the most thorough and sophisticated investigation of the nebulous UFO phenomenon ever conducted."

The March 8, 1969 issue of Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

 offered a generally positive review for the Condon Report, but wondered why so much effort had been expended on such a subject: "The Colorado project is a monumental achievement, but one of perhaps misapplied ingenuity. It would doubtless be inapt to compare it with earlier centuries' attempts to calculate how many angels could balance on the point of a pin; it is more like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, except that the nuts will be quite immune to its impact." On January 8, 1969, the New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

 headlined its coverage: "U.F.O. Finding: No Visits From Afar." The article said that based on the Report, the ETH could finally be dismissed and all UFO reports had prosaic explanations. It noted that the Report had its critics, but characterized them as "U.F.O. enthusiasts."

Critics made their case repeatedly without obtaining the government support they sought. One described the Report as "a rather unorganized compilation of independent articles on disparate subjects, a minority of which dealt with UFOs." Hynek described the Report as "a voluminous, rambling, poorly organized" and wrote that "less than half...was addressed to the investigation of UFO reports." In the April 14, 1969 issue of Scientific Research, Robert L. M. Baker, Jr. wrote that the Condon Committee's Report "seems to justify scientific investigation along many general and specialized frontiers." In the December 1969 issue of Physics Today
Physics Today
Physics Today, created in 1948, is the membership journal of the American Institute of Physics. It is provided to 130,000 members of twelve physics societies, including the American Physical Society...

, Committee consultant Gerald Rothberg wrote that he had thoroughly investigated about 100 UFO cases, three of four of which left him puzzled. He thought that this "residue of unexplained reports [indicated a] legitimate scientific controversy." Critics charged that Condon's case summaries were inaccurate or misleading with enigmatic reports "buried" among the confirmed cases.

In December 1969, physicist James E. McDonald
James E. McDonald
James Edward McDonald was an American physicist. He is best known for his research regarding UFOs. McDonald was senior physicist at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics and professor in the Department of Meteorology, University of Arizona, Tucson.McDonald campaigned vigorously in support of...

 called the Report "inadequate" and said "it represents an examination of only a tiny fraction of the most puzzling UFO reports of the past two decades, and that its level of scientific argumentation is wholly unsatisfactory." In a 1969 issue of the American Journal of Physics, Thornton Page reviewed the Condon Report and wrote: "Intelligent laymen can (and do) point out the logical flaw in Condon's conclusion based on a statistically small (and selected) sample, Even in this sample a consistent pattern can be recognized; it is ignored by the 'authorities,' who then compound their 'felony' by recommending that no further observational data be collected."

In November 1970, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics is the professional society for the field of aerospace engineering. The AIAA was founded in 1963 from the merger of two earlier societies: the American Rocket Society , founded in 1930 as the American Interplanetary Society , and the Institute...

 generally agreed with Condon's suggestion that little of value had been uncovered by scientific UFO studies, but "did not find a basis in the report for [Condon's] prediction that nothing of scientific value will come of further studies."

Principal critics


Astronomer J. Allen Hynek wrote that "The Condon Report settled nothing." He called Condon's introduction "singularly slanted" and wrote that it "avoided mentioning that there was embedded within the bowels of the report a remaining mystery; that the committee had been unable to furnish adequate explanations for more than a quarter of the cases examined." Hynek contended that "Condon did not understand the nature and scope of the problem" he was studying and objected to the idea that only extraterrestrial life could explain UFO activity. By focusing on this hypothesis, he wrote, the Report "did not try to establish whether UFOs really constituted a problem for the scientist, whether physical or social."

Astrophysicist Peter A. Sturrock wrote that "critical reviews...came from scientists who had actually carried out research in the UFO area, while the laudatory reviews came from scientists who had not carried out such research." As an example, Sturrock noted a case in which an allegedly supersonic UFO did not produce a sonic boom
Sonic boom
A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves created by an object traveling through the air faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms generate enormous amounts of sound energy, sounding much like an explosion...

. He notes that "we should not assume that a more advanced civilization could not find some way at traveling with supersonic speeds without producing a sonic boom."

Sources

  • Final Report of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Edward U. Condon, Scientific Director, Daniel S. Gillmor, Editor, available online, accessed May 25, 2011; paperback edition, Bantam Books, 1968

  • C.D.B. Bryan
    Courtlandt Bryan
    Courtlandt Dixon Barnes Bryan , better known as C. D. B. Bryan, was an American author and journalist.-Biography:...

    , Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Alien Abduction, UFOs and the Conference at M.I.T., Alfred A. Knopf, 1995
  • Jerome Clark, The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial, Visible Ink, 1998
  • Roy Craig, UFOs: An Insider's View of the Official Quest for Evidence (University of North Texas Press, 1995)
  • Steven J. Dick, The Biological Universe: The Twentieth Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Richard M. Dolan, UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Cover-up 1941–1973, 2002
  • David Michael Jacobs, The UFO Controversy in America, Indiana University Press, 1975
  • David R. Saunders and R. Roger Harkins, UFO's? Yes! Where the Condon Committee Went Wrong, World Publishing, 1968
  • Peter A. Sturrock, The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence, Warner Books, 1999

External links and Sources