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Yes, it IS debunking nonsense...
on January 7, 2003
Philip Klass (1919-2005) was for many decades the "arch-debunker" of the UFO phenomenon. By day he worked as an editor of "Aviation Week" magazine, but in his free time he "investigated" dozens of previously unsolved UFO cases. As the chairman of the UFO subcommittee of CSICOP, the leading anti-UFO organization in America, Klass became a bonafide hero to his admirers, a "lone voice of reason and science" in the UFO wilderness. He took positive delight in debunking all UFO incidents, criticizing UFO witnesses and researchers as con artists or fantasy-prone people whose judgments were unreliable, and generally arguing that the entire UFO mystery was nonsense. To Klass, there are no unexplained UFO cases - the unsolved cases simply haven't been adequately investigated by UFO "skeptics" such as himself.
Unfortunately for his admirers, such as the posters listed below, Klass was just as extreme, narrow-minded, and flawed in his UFO "research" as those "true believer" ufologists he so loves to critique. While I would freely admit that many ufologists are indeed "true believers" who treat the subject more as a religion than a science, it is also true that Klass's explanations for UFOs are themselves often implausible or run contrary to the known evidence. One famous example is the 1964 UFO case in Socorro, N.M. in which Lonnie Zamora, a respected local policeman, was chasing a speeder when he said he saw a bright flash and heard a loud roar coming from over a nearby hill. When Zamora crossed the hill, he saw a large egg-shaped object with a strange symbol on it, and two men in some kind of spacesuits outside the craft. When they saw him they boarded the craft and it took off, rocking Zamora's patrol car and burning nearby bushes. This case was thoroughly investigated by the staff of Project Blue Book (the Air Force's official group which investigated UFO reports from 1948-1969). Despite Blue Book's strong anti-UFO bias (they debunked sightings as much as Klass), even they admitted that Zamora was an honest witness, that he had seen something strange, and listed the case as "unsolved".
Klass, however, offered two different explanations for the event - his first explanation was that Zamora had seen some kind of "plasma ball" caused by nearby power lines. However, that theory was shot down by scientists who stated that plasma of the type Klass described was simply impossible to create in such conditions. Undaunted, Klass then claimed that Zamora had lied and that the entire event was a hoax. His proof? That a man who lived only a thousand feet from the UFO landing site hadn't heard any strange noises, so no UFO could have landed. What Klass doesn't mention (and he was notorious for conveniently leaving out any contradictory evidence) is that the man was hard of hearing, he lived next to a busy highway, and that there were strong wind gusts blowing away from the man's house which could easily have drowned out the noise. Klass also claimed that Zamora was put up to the hoax by Socorro's mayor, who owned the land where the UFO sighting took place. Klass claimed that the mayor planned to turn the landing site into a tourist attraction to bring business into the isolated little desert town. However, Klass was wrong - the mayor didn't even own the land as Klass had claimed, and Klass never offered any evidence that the mayor or Zamora hoaxed the event. Additionally, no such tourist trap as Klass described was ever built in Socorro. The UFO landing site remains almost exactly as it was 46 years ago - nothing but desert shrub and cactus, and the rough gravel road leading by the site is still undeveloped. Klass also ignores the fact that there were other witnesses who reported seeing a large, unusual object flying in the desert near Socorro on the day of Lonnie Zamora's sighting, and that the Air Force officer who first arrived at the scene just a few hours after Zamora reported his sighting was later interviewed and stated that he was convinced that Zamora was an honest witness who had seen "something well outside his experience", and that he had seen the burned bushes and physical damage caused by the object. It is more logical to assume that Klass simply made up his "explanation" out of thin air than to believe he has really solved the Socorro case, especially given his near-total lack of evidence. In addition to Klass, other UFO debunkers have also offered numerous explanations for the Socorro UFO landing, including that Zamora saw a hot-air balloon (James Easton); that he saw a "dust devil" (Donald Menzel); and that Zamora saw an early version of the moon lunar lander (US Air Force). However, none of these debunkers have offered any evidence for their theories either. In fact, one could say that the wide variety of "explanations" is actually evidence that the debunkers have no idea of what really happened to Lonnie Zamora at Socorro.
The Socorro UFO incident is only one of numerous cases in which Mr. Klass offers "explanations" that were as poorly researched and biased as those of the UFO "true believers" whose work he loved to ridicule. In fact, Klass actually did very little field research, and he rarely did interviews with the UFO witnesses. Instead, Klass's research was usually of the "armchair investigator" variety, and much of it was done over the phone from his office in Washington. In short, my problem with Mr. Klass is that he is no different from the people he criticizes - he simply goes to the other extreme. Hopefully, someday the UFO mystery will be examined by experts who will take a fresh and objective approach to the phenomenon. Until then, however, the debate over UFOs will continue to be defined by the two current extremes - those who approach UFO cases with a preconceived belief that UFOs are alien spacecraft, and whose "research" not surprisingly indicates that this belief is true; and those debunkers such as Mr. Klass who approach UFO cases with the preconceived belief that "UFOs can't exist, therefore they don't", and then arrange their "evidence" to prove that point. I have given this book three stars because Mr. Klass does do a credible job of proving that some of the UFO cases he describes do have a mundane, conventional explanation. But, in my opinion, anyone who believes that Mr. Klass is a lonely voice of honesty, reason and open-minded skepticism in the UFO field hasn't seriously examined the evidence. I would recommend that those who read this book also read the works of some "serious ufologists" (and although rare, they DO exist). Among these are Dr. J. Allen Hynek's "The UFO Experience" and "The Hynek UFO Report", Jerome Clark's "UFO Encyclopedia", and Leslie Kean's "UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record."