James E. McDonald

James E. McDonald

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James Edward McDonald (May 7, 1920 – June 13, 1971) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

. He is best known for his research regarding UFOs
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...

. McDonald was senior physicist at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics and professor in the Department of Meteorology
Meteorology
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

, 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...

, Tucson.

McDonald campaigned vigorously in support of expanding UFO studies during the mid and late 1960s, arguing that UFOs represented an intriguing, pressing and unsolved mystery which had not been adequately studied by science. He was one of the more prominent figures of his time who argued in favor of 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:...

 as a plausible, but not completely proved, model of UFO phenomena.

A dedicated and tireless UFO researcher and scholar, McDonald interviewed over 500 UFO witnesses, uncovered many important government UFO documents, and gave important presentations of UFO evidence. He testified before Congress during the UFO hearings of 1968. McDonald also gave a famous talk called "Science in Default" to the American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization with the stated goals of promoting cooperation among scientists, defending scientific freedom, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting scientific education and science outreach for the...

 (AAAS). It was a summary of the current UFO evidence and a critique of the 1969 Condon Report UFO study.

Early life and career


McDonald was born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth is a port city in the U.S. state of Minnesota and is the county seat of Saint Louis County. The fourth largest city in Minnesota, Duluth had a total population of 86,265 in the 2010 census. Duluth is also the second largest city that is located on Lake Superior after Thunder Bay, Ontario,...

. He served as a cryptographer
Cryptography
Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

 in the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and afterwards, married Betsy Hunt; they would have six children.

McDonald studied at the University of Omaha, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

, and earned his Ph.D.
Ph.D.
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 at Iowa State University
Iowa State University
Iowa State University of Science and Technology, more commonly known as Iowa State University , is a public land-grant and space-grant research university located in Ames, Iowa, United States. Iowa State has produced astronauts, scientists, and Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, along with a host of...

. He taught at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 for a year, then in 1953, he was invited to help establish a meteorology and atmospherics program at 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...

 as a professor of meteorology
Meteorology
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

. McDonald eventually became the head of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, but resigned as its administrator after about a year because he preferred to teach and research rather than oversee the department. He taught courses from introductory to graduate levels, received good evaluations, and was fondly regarded by his students.

His specialty was cloud
Cloud
A cloud is a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water and/or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body. They are also known as aerosols. Clouds in Earth's atmosphere are studied in the cloud physics branch of meteorology...

 formation and physics, but his natural curiosity led him to read widely in many other scientific fields. McDonald was a widely recognized authority of atmospheric phenomena: he published many articles in peer reviewed journals, and contributed to several standard meteorology textbooks. He was a member of 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...

 and the American Meteorological Society
American Meteorological Society
The American Meteorological Society promotes the development and dissemination of information and education on the atmospheric and related oceanic and hydrologic sciences and the advancement of their professional applications. Founded in 1919, the American Meteorological Society has a membership...

.

As a leading atmospheric physicist, McDonald was one of many experts who testified before congress in the 1960s against the development of supersonic transport
Supersonic transport
A supersonic transport is a civilian supersonic aircraft designed to transport passengers at speeds greater than the speed of sound. The only SSTs to see regular service to date have been Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144. The last passenger flight of the Tu-144 was in June 1978 with its last ever...

 airplanes, for fear that they would damage the ozone layer
Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone . This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth...

.

Most of McDonald's life is known through the authorized biography Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight For UFO Science (2003) by Ann Druffel
Ann Druffel
Ann Druffel is an American UFO researcher and author of UFO books and articles as well as a researcher and author in various aspects of parapsychology such as paranormal photos, apports and psychic archeology. She and her husband, Charles K. Druffel, raised their five daughters and live in their...

.

UFO studies


In 1954, while driving through the Arizona desert with two meteorologists, McDonald spotted an 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...

 none of the men could readily identify. Though a rather unspectacular sighting of a distant point of light, this sighting would spur McDonald's interest in UFOs. By the late 1950s he was quietly investigating UFO reports in Arizona, and he had also joined NICAP, then the largest and most prominent civilian UFO research group in the nation. Given his training in atmospheric physics, McDonald was able to examine UFO reports in greater detail than most other scientists, and was able to offer explanations for some previously unexplained reports. Using his security clearance with the US government, he also uncovered a number of well-documented UFO reports from the US 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...

, which he judged deeply puzzling even after stringent analysis.

By the mid-1960s, McDonald began speaking about UFOs more openly. McDonald's first detailed, public discussion of UFOs was in a lecture given before an American Meteorological Society
American Meteorological Society
The American Meteorological Society promotes the development and dissemination of information and education on the atmospheric and related oceanic and hydrologic sciences and the advancement of their professional applications. Founded in 1919, the American Meteorological Society has a membership...

 assembly in Washington D.C. on October 5, 1966. Entitled "The Problem of UFOs", McDonald's speech was the first of many given to an overflow audience. McDonald declared that scientific scrutiny should be directed towards the small number of "unknowns", which he defined as a UFO reported by a "credible and trained observer as machine-like 'craft' which remained unidentified in spite of careful investigation." He noted that the vast majority of UFOs could become Identified flying object
Identified flying object
Identifying Unidentified Flying Objects is a difficult task due to the normally poor quality of the evidence provided by those who report sighting the objects. Nevertheless, most officially investigated UFO sightings, such as from the U.S...

s, and, in his estimation, only about 1% of UFOs were true "unknowns". McDonald also lambasted the U.S. Air Force for what he saw as their inept handling of UFO studies.

In 1967 the Office of Naval Research
Office of Naval Research
The Office of Naval Research , headquartered in Arlington, Virginia , is the office within the United States Department of the Navy that coordinates, executes, and promotes the science and technology programs of the U.S...

 granted McDonald a small budget in order to conduct his own UFO research, ostensibly to study the idea that some UFOs were misidentified clouds. He was able to peruse the files of 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...

 at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and eventually concluded that the Air Force was mishandling UFO evidence. Following the Robertson Panel
Robertson Panel
The Robertson Panel was a committee commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1952 in response to widespread reports of unidentified flying objects, especially in the Washington, D.C. area. The panel was briefed on U.S...

's recommendations in 1953, the Air Force was following a debunking
Debunker
A debunker is an individual who attempts to discredit and contradict claims as being false, exaggerated or pretentious. The term is closely associated with skeptical investigation of, or in some cases irrational resistance to, controversial topics such as U.F.O.s, claimed paranormal phenomena,...

 directive towards UFO reports, and only discussing UFO cases which were considered solved by a mundane explanation. All unexplained UFO cases were classified "secret" and not released to the public (see Robertson Panel
Robertson Panel
The Robertson Panel was a committee commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1952 in response to widespread reports of unidentified flying objects, especially in the Washington, D.C. area. The panel was briefed on U.S...

 for further information).

McDonald was particularly disturbed that astronomer 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...

, had not alerted the scientific community to the fact that 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...

 was withholding some of the most anomalous and compelling UFO reports. Hynek argued that if he had exposed this, the Air Force would have dumped him as Blue Book's consultant; Hynek was the only scientist formally studying UFOs for the government. This was the beginning of a rift between the men that would never be entirely reconciled.

From the mid-1960s, McDonald devoted much of his time to trying to persuade journalists, politicians and his colleagues that UFOs were the most pressing issue facing American science. He gave dozens of lectures, and wrote volumes of letters to newspapers, to his peers (especially at scientific journals) and to politicians. McDonald wrote to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, arguing that they needed to radically shift what he saw as their superficial perspective towards UFOs. In response, the Air Force determined that they needed to "fireproof" themselves against McDonald's statements because of his unquestionable qualifications and credibility.

McDonald knew that promoting 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:...

 could damage his credibility, but he was so convinced of its viability that he plowed ahead, regardless of consequences. He managed to secure limited support from a few prominent figures, such as United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 Secretary General U Thant
U Thant
U Thant was a Burmese diplomat and the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, from 1961 to 1971. He was chosen for the post when his predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, died in September 1961....

, who arranged for McDonald to speak to the UN's Outer Space Affairs Group on June 7, 1967. Additionally in 1967, McDonald noted, "There is no sensible alternative to the utterly shocking hypothesis that UFOs are extraterrestrial probes".

In his Statement on Unidentified Objects to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, McDonald made the following remarks regarding types of UFO accounts.
The scope of the present statement precludes anything approaching an exhaustive listing of categories of UFO phenomena: much of what might be made clear at great length will have to be compressed into my remark that the scientific world at large is in for a shock when it becomes aware of the astonishing nature of the UFO phenomenon and its bewildering complextiy. I make that terse comment well aware that it invites easy ridicule; but intellectual honesty demands that I make clear that my two years' study convinces me that in the UFO problem lie scientific and technological questions that will challenge the ability of the world's outstanding scientists to explain - as soon as they start examining the facts.


In the same statement, he said he had "become convinced that the scientific community ... has been casually ignoring as nonsense a matter of extraordinary scientific importance."

McDonald often used guarded wording in his discussions of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, such as once describing the extraterrestrial hypothesis as the "least unsatisfactory" explanation for UFOs. He seemed to regard the extraterrestrial hypothesis not as unimpeachable fact, but as a working model. McDonald's acquaintance George Early, a prominent engineer with the United Aircraft Association and also a NICAP member, said, "I don't think Jim was 100% sold on the UFOs being extraterrestrial spacecraft with beings in them ... His essential thrust was that here is a topic worthy of scientific study which has not been studied scientifically, and we should find out what the answer is. He had a definite commitment to the truth, and if the truth turned out to be something else [other than the extraterrestrial hypothesis], he wouldn't have backed away from it".

The Condon Committee Controversy


Following a widely-publicized series of mass UFO sightings in southern Michigan
Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

 in 1966, McDonald became one of several scientists to urge various authorities in the federal government and scientific community to undertake a formal study of UFOs. This public pressure, combined with pressure from some members of Congress (such as then-Congressman Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford
Gerald Rudolph "Jerry" Ford, Jr. was the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977, and the 40th Vice President of the United States serving from 1973 to 1974...

), led the federal government to create the Condon Committee
Condon Committee
The Condon Committee was the informal name of the University of Colorado UFO Project, a group funded by the United States Air Force from 1966 to 1968 at the University of Colorado to study unidentified flying objects under the direction of physicist Edward Condon...

 in late 1966. Based at the University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university located in Boulder, Colorado...

, and named after Committee Chairman Dr. 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:...

, a prominent physicist, the committee was advertised as an unbiased, objective, and thorough investigation into the UFO phenomenon.

Initially, McDonald shared the early general enthusiasm towards the Condon Committee, and given his scientific credentials and interest in UFOs he offered to serve on the committee. When he was denied a position on the committee, McDonald still agreed to assist in other ways with the committee's work. However, McDonald and other UFO researchers soon became disillusioned with the committee, and in particular with its chairman, Dr. Condon, and his chief assistant, Dr. Robert Low. Condon's public comments to reporters ridiculing UFO eyewitnesses and his generally dismissive attitude towards the subject led many UFO researchers to doubt whether the investigation would be as neutral and unbiased as it proclaimed. McDonald formed alliances with those on the Condon Committee who disagreed with Condon's leadership and who wanted to undertake long-term UFO studies.

McDonald inadvertently played a major role in the controversy regarding the Condon Committee when one of the committee's investigators - who disagreed with Condon's attitudes - privately gave him a copy of the so-called "Trick Memo". The memorandum, which was written by Condon's chief assistant Dr. Robert Low, outlined how the Committee could reach a predetermined conclusion that all UFO cases were explainable in mundane terms, while simultaneously appearing neutral during the actual investigation process. To many UFO investigators, including McDonald, the "Trick Memo" seemed to confirm their worst fears about the Condon Committee's bias regarding the UFO phenomenon. Following McDonald's release to the public of the now-infamous "Trick Memo", Project Chair 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:...

 tried unsuccessfully to get McDonald fired from his tenured faculty position at 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...

.

When the Condon Committee issued its final report in 1969, Dr. Condon wrote in the foreword
Foreword
A foreword is a piece of writing sometimes placed at the beginning of a book or other piece of literature. Written by someone other than the primary author of the work, it often tells of some interaction between the writer of the foreword and the book's primary author or the story the book tells...

 to the report that, based on the committee's investigations, his conclusion was that there was nothing unusual about UFO reports; thus further scientific research into the UFO phenomenon was not worthwhile and should be discouraged. Condon's conclusions about UFOs were generally accepted by most scientists and the "mainstream" news media. McDonald, however, became one of a small number of prominent scientists and researchers who wrote detailed critiques and rebuttals of Condon's conclusions regarding UFOs. McDonald was particularly disturbed by the fact that, while Condon in his foreword had claimed that all UFO reports could be explained as hoaxes or misidentifications of manmade or natural objects or phenomena, the Report itself actually listed over 30% of the cases it investigated as "unexplained".

Conflict with Philip Klass


McDonald engaged in an often savagely adversarial relationship with aviation journalist and skeptic Philip J. Klass
Philip J. Klass
Philip Julian Klass was an American journalist and UFO researcher, known for his skepticism regarding UFOs. In the ufological and skeptical communities, Klass tends to inspire strongly polarized appraisals. Klass has been called the "Sherlock Holmes of UFOlogy"...

, who argued in his first book that nearly all UFOs can be explained by ball lightning
Ball lightning
Ball lightning is an unexplained atmospheric electrical phenomenon. The term refers to reports of luminous, usually spherical objects which vary from pea-sized to several metres in diameter. It is usually associated with thunderstorms, but lasts considerably longer than the split-second flash of a...

. At first, the duo exchanged cordial letters on the subject. Klass was rather guarded in his application of the plasma theory at the time, and McDonald agreed that it might explain a small portion of UFO reports. However, Klass quickly expanded his hypothesis arguing that most if not all UFOs, and even cases of alleged alien abduction, could be explained as plasmas. McDonald thought this was absurd, and offered a detailed rebuttal against Klass's thesis.

In late 1967, McDonald secured a modest grant from the Office of Naval Research
Office of Naval Research
The Office of Naval Research , headquartered in Arlington, Virginia , is the office within the United States Department of the Navy that coordinates, executes, and promotes the science and technology programs of the U.S...

 in order to study cloud
Cloud
A cloud is a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water and/or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body. They are also known as aerosols. Clouds in Earth's atmosphere are studied in the cloud physics branch of meteorology...

 formations in Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

. While in Australia, McDonald conducted some UFO research on his own time. Klass mounted an extended, concerted campaign against McDonald, arguing that he had squandered government funds. The ONR responded by announcing that they knew of McDonald's UFO interests and had no objections to his personal hobbies. The University of Arizona came to McDonald's defense, announcing that McDonald's UFO research was done on his own time, and had no adverse impact on his regular teaching and research duties at the university.

Klass then demonstrated that McDonald was spending at least small sums of government research funds on UFO research, and the ONR, apparently fearing controversy, decided to no longer fund McDonald's cloud research.

1968: Congressional UFO testimony


McDonald spoke before the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 for a UFO hearing in 1968. In part, he stated his opinion that "UFOs are entirely real and we do not know what they are, because we have laughed them out of court. The possibility that these are extraterrestrial devices, that we are dealing with surveillance from some advanced technology, is a possibility I take very seriously". McDonald emphasized that he accepted the extraterrestrial hypothesis as a possibility not due to any specific evidence in its favor, but because he judged competing hypotheses as inadequate.

James McDonald did not accept the conclusions of the Condon Report because 30% of the cases studied in the report remained unexplained. The evidence provided in the final report could have substantiated the opposite conclusion (that UFOs warranted much more scientific study) rather than the official conclusion, which was to recommend no further study. Firestorm, a biography of McDonald by UFO researcher Ann Druffel, gives a detailed account of McDonald's tireless efforts promoting scientific UFO research.

1969: "Science in Default"


In 1969, McDonald was a speaker at an American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization with the stated goals of promoting cooperation among scientists, defending scientific freedom, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting scientific education and science outreach for the...

 UFO symposium. There he delivered a lecture, "Science in Default", which Jerome Clark
Jerome Clark
Jerome Clark is an American researcher and writer, specializing in unidentified flying objects and other anomalous phenomena; he is also a songwriter of some note....

 calls "one of the most powerful scientific defenses of UFO reality ever mounted". McDonald discussed in detail a handful of well documented UFO cases which seemed, he thought, to defy interpretation by conventional science.

Late life and death


McDonald's tireless UFO efforts were exacting a toll: he was becoming professionally isolated, and his marriage was faltering. Beyond Klass and Condon, McDonald butted heads with many other prominent figures, including Donald Menzel of Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

. McDonald's personality may have been a factor in these confrontations; even his friends described him as sometimes forceful and impatient, while others, less charitably, called him blunt and abrasive. Additionally, McDonald suffered a public humiliation when in 1970, he agreed to appear before a committee of the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 to provide evidence against the development of the supersonic transport
Supersonic transport
A supersonic transport is a civilian supersonic aircraft designed to transport passengers at speeds greater than the speed of sound. The only SSTs to see regular service to date have been Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144. The last passenger flight of the Tu-144 was in June 1978 with its last ever...

 (SST) plane. Like many other atmospheric physicists who testified with him, McDonald was convinced that the plane could potentially harm the Earth's vital but fragile ozone layer
Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone . This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth...

. During his testimony Congressman Silvio Conte of Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 - whose district contained factories that would help build the SST - tried to discredit McDonald's SST testimony by switching the hearing to a discussion of McDonald's UFO research. Although McDonald defended his UFO work and noted that his evidence regarding the SST had nothing to do with UFOs, Conte bluntly stated that anyone who "believes in little green men" was, in his opinion, not a credible witness. McDonald was deeply humiliated by Conte's mocking attitude, and by the open laughter of some committee members.

In March, 1971, McDonald's wife Betsy told him she wanted a divorce
Divorce
Divorce is the final termination of a marital union, canceling the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage and dissolving the bonds of matrimony between the parties...

. McDonald seems to have started planning his suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

 not long afterwards. He finished a few articles he was writing (UFO-related and otherwise), and made plans for the storage of his notes, papers, and research. In April 1971 he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head. He survived, but was blinded
Blindness
Blindness is the condition of lacking visual perception due to physiological or neurological factors.Various scales have been developed to describe the extent of vision loss and define blindness...

 and was wheelchair bound. For a short period, McDonald was committed to the psychiatric ward of a Tucson, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
Tucson is a city in and the county seat of Pima County, Arizona, United States. The city is located 118 miles southeast of Phoenix and 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The 2010 United States Census puts the city's population at 520,116 with a metropolitan area population at 1,020,200...

 hospital. He recovered a degree of peripheral vision
Peripheral vision
Peripheral vision is a part of vision that occurs outside the very center of gaze. There is a broad set of non-central points in the field of view that is included in the notion of peripheral vision...

, and made plans to return to his teaching position. However, on June 13, 1971, a family, walking along a creek close to the bridge spanning the Canada Del Oro Wash near Tucson, found a body that was later identified as McDonald's. A .38 caliber revolver
Revolver
A revolver is a repeating firearm that has a cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. The first revolver ever made was built by Elisha Collier in 1818. The percussion cap revolver was invented by Samuel Colt in 1836. This weapon became known as the Colt Paterson...

 was found close to him, as well as a suicide note
Suicide note
A suicide note or death note is a message that states the author has died by suicide, and left to be discovered and read in anticipation of suicide....

.

Four of McDonald's peers from the University of Arizona wrote a reminiscence of their colleague, calling him "a man of great integrity and great courage. He was loved and admired by a great many people ... he made a lasting impact on many facets of atmospheric sciences ... and he will be missed much more than we now realize".

External links