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Bad UFOs: Critical Thinking About UFO Claims Paperback – December 31, 2015
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About the Author
Robert Sheaffer is a writer with a lifelong interest in astronomy and the question of life on other worlds. He is one of the leading skeptical investigators of UFOs, a founding member of the UFO Subcommittee of the well-known Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI, formerly CSICOP). He is also a founding director and past Chairman of the Bay Area Skeptics, a local skeptics' group in the San Francisco Bay area .
Mr. Sheaffer has written the "Psychic Vibrations" column in The Skeptical Inquirer for over 35 years, and his book "Psychic Vibrations" reprints some of those columns. He is also the author of "UFO Sightings" (Prometheus Books, 1998), and has appeared on many radio and TV programs. His writings and reviews have appeared in such diverse publications as OMNI, Scientific American, Spaceflight, Astronomy, The Humanist, Free Inquiry, Reason, and others. Mr. Sheaffer lives near San Diego, California. He has worked as a data communications engineer in the Silicon Valley, and has sung in professional opera productions.
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What are we to make of it all? In many ways, the phenomenon remains as much out of reach today as it did when Kenneth Arnold reported seeing objects that flew like a saucer skipping across the water. But amid all the claims, Sheaffer offers a much needed critical voice and is not afraid to take on some of the cases that are often touted: from Rendlesham Forest to the abductions of the Hills or Travis Walton.
For those who believe in UFOs as craft from another star or dimension, it is not enough to simply dismiss his work as being that of a "debunker" (the ultimate insult in many circles). Carl Sagan observed that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof, but regardless of the type of proof it is important to look carefully at any claim - even if that means challenging your own beliefs you will learn something in the process.
For those who who are intrigued about the subject but wonder who to believe, the book provides a good introduction that might spur your own thinking or lead to further research. Indeed, many of the topics that Sheaffer discusses are worthy of a book or two in themselves, so look upon it as a starting point for thought or discussion.
The book is written in a style that is easy to read and Sheaffer encourages your own research by suggesting Internet search terms with a bold typeface. I may not always agree with some of his conclusions - I am sure that he would not want you to accept all of his conclusions without further thought - but his research is solid and his point of view should be considered by all with an interest in the phenomenon.
UFOs have defied both skeptics and true believers but the beginning point should always be critical thought. Without that you will end up with a pile of nothing and will be exploited or manipulated in the process. To this end, Sheaffer is an interesting and entertaining guide.
It does owe a lot to the author's blog but since I don't read his blog that didn't matter to me. It might matter to others who can get the same material for free albeit in a less convenient format. The book, however, does arrange everything thematically with appropriate editing. The editing could have been better as a number of grammatical and syntactic slips creep into the text but nothing egregious.
The book proper gives a broad but rather uneven overview of the UFO scene of the past few decades. Some cases get a real deep dive (like the famous Hill case and the Phoenix lights), others get the "once over lightly" treatment. Sheaffer takes a skeptical viewpoint in much the same manner as his mentor, the late Phil Klass. His writing style is more engaging than Klass, however. Klass came off as somewhat of a prosecuting attorney while Sheaffer eschews obvious ax grinding.
Sheaffer does tend to overstate his case on occasion. His chapter on the difficulties of interstellar travel consider only rocket propulsion and ignore more recent proposals for beamed propulsion, for example.
I read the Kindle edition. This is very much a bare bones effort. While quite readable, it has no navigation features whatsoever. The reader is entirely dependent on bookmarks and search. There is a table of contents but not only is it not linked, it's an image! There are photos sprinkled throughout the book but they are low resolution with their captions as part of the image and occasionally cut off. There is an index but it is not linked and retains the print page numbers and hence it's virtually useless. Ebook readers deserve much better.
The book can be recommended to both skeptics and believers but I think the latter would get more value from the exposure to an opposing viewpoint. Books on controversial subjects are hard to review because one's own views on the topic make objectivity difficult. There haven't been many skeptical books devoted exclusively to UFOs recently so this one goes some way towards filling that gap.