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opposing points of view – one a strong defense of the
Colorado group’s findings, the other a searing blast at
its methods, techniques and findings
TRUE Report on Flying
Page 22, Vol. 3, 1969
Above, Robert Rinker, a field technician at the mountain laboratory
weather station on Chalk Mountain near Climax, Colo.,
this UFO on his negative after he shot a roll of film in the area
and processed it months later.
Rinker said, "I haven’t said it’s a
Photo above by McMinnville, Ore., farmer Paul Trent in 1950 could
not be satisfactorily explained by the Condon Colorado team.
factors investigated appeared to be consistent with the two
Another sighting that baffled the Condon group was the Aug. 3, 1965,
photo taken by Orange County (Calif.)
Highway Investigator Rex
Heflin, still the clearest set of photos yet taken by a mature
Heflin got three shots with his Polaroid camera before
object moved out of sight. UPI photo
“There is Pay Dirt in
a UFO Study – But Quicksand, Too….
- Dr. J.
by David Daniels
When the long-awaited Condon Report on
Unidentified Flying Objects was issued early this year (1969), it was
accompanied by a vitriolic rebuttal. For on that same day Dr.
David R. Saunders published his own version of what went on behind the
scenes at the University of Colorado, where the project was
headquartered under the Directorship of Dr. Edward U. Condon.
Saunders’ "expose" is titled "UFOs? YES" Its subtitle was,
Condon Committee Went Wrong/The Inside Story By An Ex-Member Of The
Official Study Group."
Dr. Saunders is a professor of psychology at the University of
Colorado and assistant director of its Department of Testing and
Counseling. He holds a Ph.D. (Illinois) in psychology. Yet he was
fired from the Project by Dr. Condon for "incompetence" about a year
before the scientific UFO study was completed.
The apparent reason for Saunders’ discharge, which he describes at
length in his book, was that he and Dr. Norman E. Levine, an
electrical engineer (also fired) were so appalled by a memo they had
discovered in the project files that they made copies of it and gave
these to individuals who, although on an unofficial basis, were
seriously interested in the scientific aspects of UFO research. One
of these persons, a physicist, showed a copy of the memo to John
Fuller of The Saturday Review, who had published two highly
successful books about Flying Saucers. The result was an article in
Look Magazine by Fuller, called "Flying Saucer Fiasco."
The article infuriated Dr. Condon and Robert J. Low, Coordinator of
the official UFO project. It also created quite a stir in Congress
because it made no bones about the fact that Mr. Fuller felt
strongly that the American taxpayer’s money was being wasted on the
University of Colorado UFO study.
Robert Low was the author of the now-famous memo. Written before the
project got started, it was to present the pro and con arguments on
whether or not the University of Colorado should accept an offer
from the U.S. Air Force to finance a scientific study on UFOs - when
UFO’s were considered by a vast majority of scientists to be a
kooky, nonscientific subject. The University, naturally, did not
want to have its reputation tarnished in the scientific community.
Low’s memo seemed to suggest a way out of the dilemma, the dilemma
being that science should help the Government when asked to do so
but in the process not give the impression of being unscientific,
thereby exposing a particular scientific group to be the
laughingstock of all other scientific groups.
The memo made its case strong enough so that the University finally
decided to take on the UFO project.
Other universities and
scientific organizations that had been approached previously by the
Air Force refused to have anything to do with such a project. The
Air Force was desperate because they were being widely and publicly
accused of hiding the true facts about UFO’s. Whether this was the
actual case or not, their public image was deteriorating. So they
tried to set up an absolutely objective scientific study of the UFO
There were to be no strings attached. The Air Force
would cooperate by supplying UFO case histories, but would not even
be advisors to the project. They were, in fact, not even to see any
interim reports from the project. The Final Report would bypass them
completely and be released directly to the public by the scientific
team that ultimately took on the project.
This is a fact: L/Colonel Hector Quintanilla, Jr., head of
Blue Book, the official Air Force UFO evaluation group, often asked
friends from time to time what progress the Condon-Colorado Group
was making. On the day that the Final Report was released, Col.
Quintanilla was asked his opinion of it. He did not have a copy
Returning to the memo, the complete copy is included in Dr.
Saunders’ book as "Appendix A." It stunned him and his colleague
Levine. (See Page 23 for excerpts.) (Inserted below)
The Controversial Memo
“The trick would be, I
think, to describe the project so that, to the
public, it would appear a totally objective study
but, to the scientific community, would present the
image of a group of nonbelievers trying their best
to be objective but having an almost zero
expectation of finding a saucer.
One way to do this
would be to stress investigation, not of the
physical phenomena, but rather of the people who do
the observing – the psychology and sociology of
persons and groups who report seeing UFO’s.
emphasis were put here, rather than on examination
of the old question of the physical reality of the
saucer, I think the scientific community would
quickly get the message.
Did Dr. Condon, along with his staff and scientific consultants,
really misuse the American taxpayer’s money to "whitewash" the Air
Force and mislead the public? Did he follow Mr. Low’s concept as
expressed in that preliminary memo to deceive both the people and
scientists of this country?
Dr. Saunders vehemently believes the
answer is "Yes" - despite the fact that the University of Colorado
psychologist admits in his book that Condon did not even know of the
existence of the memo until a few days before he was fired for
having passed out that memo to others. Saunders concedes he would
have acted differently on the project if he had known of Dr.
Condon’s ignorance of the memo.
At the beginning of his book, which was written in collaboration
with R. Roger Harkins, a Boulder, Colorado, newspaperman, Dr.
Saunders acknowledges Dr. Condon as an eminent man of science who
has contributed much to American science and thus to the American
people. He laments the unfairness to Condon when so noted a
scientist was caught up, without cause, in the spider-web Communist
witch hunt during the heyday of the late Senator Joe McCarthy.
by the time Dr. Saunders reaches page 236 of his book, he blows him
"One great weakness in the Colorado
Project was the very thing that was supposed to be its greatest
strength - the selection of a man to head it on the basis of his
outstanding record of past scientific achievement, Edward Condon
was a finger-pointer, and it happened to be psychology that
caught his eye. When the social scientists seemed unable or
unwilling to accept Condon’s assumption that they held the
answers, he became increasingly frustrated - until it showed.
From that point on, his record speaks for itself.
"That weakness was probably unavoidable, but the greatest
weakness of all was the avoidable selection of Robert Low as
Project Coordinator. Low is neither an outstanding scientist nor
an outstanding administrator. With the right man in Low’s job,
many of our problems would have been solved instead of
"The monument to all the effort of the University of Colorado
Project will be a Final Report... it is inconceivable that it
can be anything but a stone stew. No matter how long it is, what
it includes, how it is said, or what it recommends, it will lack
the essential ingredient of credibility."
Dr. Saunders goes on:
credibility was the primary goal when the UFO Project was first
conceived and established, the University of Colorado Study can only
be regarded as a failure. I would call it an 'essential failure’
rather than a `total failure,’ because I do feel the study catalyzed
a few worthwhile things despite itself. These things have more to do
with the problem than with its immediate solution, but are
"At the head of this list, perhaps
surprisingly, I would suggest that the scientific study of UFO’s
is more respectable today than it was two years ago (when the
Condon study began). Respectability is measured by consensus,
and I am simply observing that the scientist interested in UFO’s
now has an easier time than ever before in identifying his
"Lower on the list, I would suggest that a limited number of
highly remarkable facts can even now be recognized as belonging
to the UFO puzzle. These facts are still too few in number and
still too limited in variety to justify any attempt to formulate
an explanatory theory.
However, it is clear that a new theory
will be needed, and it is clear that a theory based on some
definition of extra-terrestrial intelligence apparently could do
the job. It is clear, for example, that the sightings have been
going on for too long to explain in terms of straightforward
terrestrial intelligence. It is in this sense that ETI (Extra
Terrestrial Intelligence) stands as the `least implausible’
explanation of `real UFO’s."’
Dr. Saunders cites two UFO cases as good
examples to support a theory of extraterrestrial intelligence being
involved, but he adds:
"There are many other cases that seem
potentially as good as these, and some of them are already regarded
as quite substantial by people whose scientific judgment I respect."
One of the cooler heads in the whole Condon Report flap belongs to
Dr. J. Allen Hynek of Northwestern. He probably summed it up best
when he wrote:
"I have a hunch that there is
scientific pay dirt in a UFO study, possibly very important pay
dirt, but there may also be scientific quicksand."
The ETI Hypothesis - that UFO’s are
spacecraft guided by intelligent creatures from another world,
perhaps from another solar system proved to be the quicksand for
Saunders in his dealings with Low and Condon. The course of that
battle makes fascinating reading in Saunders’ book.
It would be instructive to evaluate the two opposing points of view
through one of the cases that Dr. Saunders calls one of "the best
available (UFO) cases."
This sighting was unique in that fragments of "UFO hardware" were
recovered. It occurred near the town of Ubatuba in the province of
Sao Paulo, Brazil, sometime in September of 1957. It was doubly
unique because the anonymous observer claimed that he and his
friends who were fishing together saw the UFO explode, scattering
metallic fragments over the water and shore.
He sent some of the
fragments to Ibrahim Sued, a newspaper society columnist of Rio de
Janeiro, with a letter that read, in part:
". . . I sighted a flying disc. It
approached the beach at unbelievable speed and an accident, i.e.
a crash into the sea seemed imminent. At the last moment,
however, when it was almost striking the waters, it made a sharp
turn upward and climbed rapidly on a fantastic impulse. We
followed the spectacle with our eyes, startled, when we saw the
disc explode in flames.
"It disintegrated into thousands of fiery fragments, which fell
sparkling with magnificent brightness. They looked like
fireworks, despite the time of the accident, at noon, i.e. at
midday. Most of these fragments, almost all, fell into the sea.
But a number of small pieces fell close to the beach and we
picked up a large amount of this material - which was light as
paper. I am enclosing a sample of it. I don’t know anyone that
could be trusted to whom I might send it for analysis... I am
certain the matter will be of great interest to the brilliant
The letter was signed, but the signature
was illegible. Apparently there was no return address on it.
Mr. Sued, the columnist, or perhaps even someone else, apparently
turned the sample fragments over to an agency of the Brazilian
Government for chemical analysis. The analysis showed the fragments
to be of magnesium, but so pure that Earth man at that time did not
have the technology to achieve its equivalent. Therefore it was
considered to be the product of an extraterrestrial civilization.
Some years later, a few of the same magnesium fragments found their
way to the United States and finally the Condon Committee was able
to borrow one for analysis by a newly developed nuclear technique.
As Dr. Condon states in his Final Report:
"If this [the purity of the
fragments] proved to be true, the origin of the fragments would
be puzzling indeed. If it could then be established that the
fragments had actually been part of a flying vehicle, that
vehicle could then be assumed to have been manufactured by a
culture unknown to man."
Dr. Condon then continued in his bylined
summary of the Report:
"We arranged to have it [the
magnesium fragment] studied by the method of neutron activation
analysis in a laboratory in Washington, D.C. [it was the FBI
The result, which is presented in detail in Chapter
3 of Section III [of the Final Report], was that the magnesium
metal was found to be much less pure than the regular commercial
metal produced in 1957 [the same year as the Brazil sighting] by
the Dow Chemical Company at Midland, Michigan. Therefore it need
not have come from an extraterrestrial source, leaving us with
no basis for rational belief that it did."
Dr. Saunders, who wrote his book before
the Condon Final Report was completed, stubbornly contradicts the
"During ’the second week of
February, 1968, Roy Craig [a physical chemist on Dr. Condon’s
UFO Investigation staff] flew to Washington to run the Neutron
Activation Analysis [of the magnesium fragment] at the FBI
Laboratory. We learned that he had some interesting results. The
sample actually was not pure magnesium, but the pattern of
impurities was very odd.
"A Congressional Symposium on UFO’s was held in Washington,
D.C., on July 29, 1968. At that gathering, Dr. James A. Harder
of the University of California Civil Engineering Department
disclosed the FBI Lab findings concerning the sample:
"-The sample is 99.9 percent pure magnesium; the impurities
total only about one part per thousand.
"-The major impurities are about 500 parts per million of
and lesser amounts of barium, manganese, and chromium.
"More significant, however, is what the sample does not contain.
If the fragment were ultra pure terrestrial magnesium, one would
expect to find one of four conditions existing:
"-If the sample were a terrestrial alloy of magnesium, it might
have contained aluminum or copper or both. There was no aluminum
and only a trace of copper.
"-If someone had made a serious effort to purify the sample, the
element most difficult to remove would have been calcium. There
"-If someone had done an unusually fine job of removing the
calcium, he would almost certainly have done it using a quartz
vessel. This would have introduced minute amounts of silicon
into the sample. The FBI tests showed that no silicon was
"-If someone had used the best techniques available to purify
magnesium in 1968, he would have employed repeated sublimation
of the metal under a very high vacuum. A mercury-vapor pump
would be required to produce this vacuum, resulting in mercury
contamination of the product. There was no mercury in the Ubatuba sample...
"-In 1957, the alloy was apparently unknown on this planet - the
world’s metallurgists might well have been unable to duplicate
"-I can only say that if the Brazilian fishermen did not really
collect fragments from a space ship, then someone did perpetrate
one of the most sophisticated scientific hoaxes in history."
And I might add that if it was a hoax,
perpetrated to build a Brazilian newspaper columnist’s fame, then
Dr. Saunders’ argument for extraterrestrial intelligence falls flat
on its face.
One thing bothers me among his listings of why the
magnesium sample could not be of terrestrial origin: he uses the
qualifying word "might" when referring to aluminum and/or copper
content. I have emphasized that word for the reader’s judgment. The
other emphasis is his.
It should also be mentioned that when Dr. Saunders refers above to
the alloy as being "apparently unknown on this planet," he means
almost 100 percent pure magnesium.
The Condon Report is guilty on other counts.
How can Dr. Condon on the one hand recommend abandoning any future
formal investigation into UFO’s, and then, on the other, lend truth
to their existence by admitting that in the two years’ allotted time
and with a budget $525,000 and untold consultants at his disposal,
he was still unable to explain at least a dozen cases.
One of the classic instances of leaving himself a convenient "out"
was in the wording of the 1950 Great Falls, Montana, sighting.
The Condon Report concludes:
"Witness one, General Manager of a
Great Falls baseball team, and Witness two, his secretary,
observed two white lights moving slowly across the sky. Witness
one made 16mm motion pictures of the lights. Both individuals
have recently reaffirmed the observation, and there is little
reason to question its validity. The case remains unexplained.
Analyses indicates that the images on the film are difficult to
reconcile with aircraft or other known phenomena, although
aircraft cannot be entirely ruled out."
Wouldn’t you think a case such as this
deserved some greater serious scientific consideration?
Three different sightings by astronauts in three different
Gemini-Titan flights would certainly make one question The Condon
Report’s smug conclusion. The Condon Report’s own consultant
"The training and perspicacity of the
their reports and sightings [of UFO’s] in the highest category of
credibility. They are always meticulous in describing 'the facts,’
avoiding any [biased] interpretations...
"The three unexplained sightings
which have been gleaned from the great mass of reports are a
challenge to the analyst. Especially puzzling is the first one
on the list, the daytime sighting of an object showing details
such as arms (antennas?) protruding from a baby having a
noticeable angular extension. If the NORAD listing of objects
near the GT-4 (Gemini-Titan-4) spacecraft at the time of the
sighting is complete, as it presumably is, we shall have to find
a rational explanation or, alternatively, keep it on our list of
Whether the Condon Report is a whitewash
or not, one fact comes through loud and clear: What Dr. Condon and
David Saunders had here was a lack of communication.
As co-author Harkins, an old friend of Dr. Condon’s, says in his foreword:
"I could make excuses for his [Dr.
Condon] allowing someone else to direct his project; I could
defend his right to fire anyone he pleased; but there is no way
to defend his attempt to discredit Dave Saunders. Unable to
answer the serious charges that Saunders and others had raised
about his investigation, Condon attacked Saunders in the good
old American way. He labeled him a "nut" in an attempt to
silence him forever.
"The real tragedy of this story is that Condon and
both legitimate scientists who have dedicated their lives to the
same principles, and yet they wound up at odds with each other.
It is doubly tragic in that Condon, nearing the end of his
career, winds up supporting the very things that he spent his
lifetime fighting. Condon crucified Saunders with the very
tactics that were unfairly used against Condon when he fought
his historic battle with the House Un-American Activities
Committee. Ed Condon was not a Communist; neither was Dave
Extensive Study Cannot Be Justified’
Dr. Edward U. Condon
by Lloyd Mallan
During the first week of October 1966,
the U.S. Air Force announced that one of the nation’s most eminent
physicists had agreed to become Scientific Director of a project to
evaluate the existence or non-existence of Flying Saucers.
contract was signed by the University of Colorado, where Dr. Edward Uhler Condon, the physicist, is Professor of Physics and
Astrophysics as well as being a Fellow of the joint Institute for
Laboratory Astrophysics. Two years plus three months and $525,905.00
later, he released his Final Report of a "Scientific Study of
Unidentified Flying Objects." The Report, released through the
august National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of
Defense contained a massive 1,485 pages.
Up to the time of its public release the Report’s contents and
findings were kept tightly secret. The reason for this was that Dr.
Condon wanted the National Academy first to approve the scientific
methodology used in the UFO study. He felt, I am told, that Academy
approval was necessary if the Report were to be taken seriously by
the scientific community and Government.
The Academy appointed a special Review Panel of 11 members, including its chairman,
Gerald M. Clemance of Yale University. Other universities
represented on the Panel by one or more members were the University
of Rochester, the University of Michigan, the Rockefeller
University, the University of California and Stanford University.
In his covering letter submitting the Review Panel’s report on the
Report, Dr. Frederick Seitz, President of the National Academy of
Sciences, wrote (in part) to The Honorable Dr. Alexander H. Flax,
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force:
"The Academy accepted this task
because of its belief in the importance of making available to
the Government and the public a careful assessment of the
scientific significance of UFO phenomena which have been
variously interpreted both in this country and abroad.
"Substantial questions have been raised as to the adequacy of
our research and investigation programs to explain or to
determine the nature of these sometimes puzzling reports of
observed phenomena. It is my hope that the Colorado [Condon]
report, together with our panel review, will be helpful to you
and other responsible officials in determining the nature and
scope of any continuing research effort in this area."
The Review Panel members agreed 100
percent with Dr. Condon’s findings, conclusions and scientific
"In our opinion the scope of the
[UFO] Study was adequate to its purpose: a scientific study of
"The [Condon] Report is free of dogmatism on this matter.
"We think the methodology and approach were well chosen, in
accordance with accepted standards of scientific investigation.
"The range of topics in the [Condon] Report is extensive and its
various chapters, dealing with many aspects of the [UFO]
subject, should prove of value to scholars in many fields.
"We are unanimous in the opinion that this has been a very
creditable effort to apply objectively the relevant techniques
of science to the solution of the UFO problem."
But has the Colorado/Condon Report
actually solved the "UFO problem?" The men of the Review Panel who
so unanimously suggest that Dr. Condon’s Final Report is the answer
to the problem include a Nobel Prize Winner in biophysics (1967),
two professors of physics, a professor of psychology, a professor of
mathematics, a physiologist, a professor of geology and geophysics,
an astronomer, the Director of the Radio Science Laboratory at
Stanford University and a former head of the U.S. Weather Bureau.
The Chairman of the Academy Panel, now a professor at Yale
University, was a former Scientific Director of the U.S. Naval
This is an impressive list of
scientists, yet Dr. James E. McDonald, an atmospheric physicist at
the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, University of Arizona, claimed
publicly that they were "not adequately prepared to assess the
And SCIENCE, official weekly journal of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, had this to say:
"Thus the UFO controversy seems
unlikely to end, despite the Colorado Report’s massive
documentation . . . and its undoubted contributions to an
understanding of the UFO problem."
I phoned Dr. David Saunders at the
University of Colorado for his opinion of the National Academy’s
He told me:
"My feeling about the panel is that
its members were put in an impossible situation. They are all
fine scientists - and this is no criticism of them. They had
only the [Condon] Report itself to look at and they had a
limited time to do that.
Even though there were ten or eleven of
them, they certainly did not represent all of the areas [of
scientific specialization] that should have been represented in
order properly to review the work. And I kind of draw the
analogy here between this situation and the case in which
somebody might be charged in medicine with malpractice.
"A major observation at this point would be that the [Colorado]
Report is Condon’s Report. The work of his Committee is
reflected in chapters that they have put into it. But his
recommendations do not rest very firmly on the data in those
chapters that were written by the rest of the Committee."
In Section I of his "Scientific Study of
Unidentified Flying Objects," Dr. Condon writes his "Conclusions and
Recommendations," as follows:
"As indicated by its title, the
emphasis of this study has been on attempting to learn from UFO
reports anything that could be considered as adding to
scientific knowledge. Our general conclusion is that nothing has
come from the study of UFO’s 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 UFO’s probably cannot be justified in the
expectation that science will be advanced thereby."
A few paragraphs later on, he qualifies
"Scientists are no respecters of
authority. Our conclusion that study of UFO reports is not
likely to advance science will not be uncritically accepted by
them. Nor should it be, nor do we wish it to be.
it is our hope that the detailed analytical presentation of what
we were able to do, and of what we were unable to do, will
assist them in deciding whether or not they agree with our
conclusions. Our hope is that the details of this Report will
help other scientists in seeing what the problems are and the
difficulties of coping with them."
Dr. Condon’s next words were entirely
overlooked by the press, which gave the impression in their news
stories and reviews that Condon had given UFO’s a categorical
thumbsdown. I will italicize those sentences that express a Condon
attitude which was, for some odd reason, missed by the nation’s
"If they [the scientists] agree with
our conclusions," Dr. Condon continued, "they will turn their
valuable attention and talents elsewhere. If they disagree it
will be because our Report has helped them reach a clear picture
of wherein existing studies are faulty or incomplete and thereby
will have stimulated ideas for more accurate studies. If they do
get such ideas and can formulate them clearly, we have no doubt
that support will be forthcoming to carry on with such clearly
defined, specific studies. We think that such ideas for work [on
UFO’s] should be supported ...
"Therefore we think that all of the agencies of the federal
government, and the private foundations as well, ought to be
willing to consider UFO research proposals along with the others
submitted to them on an openminded, unprejudiced basis. While
we do not think at present that anything worthwhile is likely to
come of such research, each individual case ought to be
carefully considered on its own merits."
In his plea for a rigorous scientific
approach to the UFO problem, Dr. Condon adds:
"The subject of UFOs
has been widely misrepresented to the public by a small number of
individuals who have given sensationalized presentations in writings
and public lectures. So far as we can judge, not many people have
been misled by such irresponsible behavior, but whatever effect
there has been has been bad.
"A related problem to which we wish
to direct public attention is the mis-education in our schools
which arises from the fact that many children are being allowed,
if not actively encouraged, to devote their science study time
to the reading of UFO books and magazine articles of the type
referred to in the preceding paragraph.
We feel that children
are educationally harmed by absorbing unsound and erroneous
material as if it were scientifically well founded. Such study
is harmful not merely because of the erroneous nature of the
material itself, but also because such study retards the
development of a critical faculty with regard to scientific
evidence, which to some degree ought to be part of the education
of every American.
"Therefore we strongly recommend that teachers refrain from
giving students credit for school work based on their reading of
the presently available UFO books and magazine articles.
Teachers who find their students strongly motivated in this
direction should attempt to channel their interests in the
direction of serious study of astronomy and meteorology, and in
the direction of critical analysis of arguments for fantastic
propositions that are being supported by appeals to fallacious
reasoning or false data."
While this last recommendation may
appear at first glance to be biased and high handed, Dr. Condon is
not actually saying that school children should be discouraged from
reading anything at all about UFO’s.
Rather he is saying that they
should be taught to evaluate critically whatever they may read.
There are some good objective books about UFO’s although these are
in the minority, and these should be searched out for comparison
with the more kooky UFO literature.