Portrait of a Researcher

Maurizio Verga
Magonia 19, May 1983

The unknown produces an irresistible call which few people escape; it gives rise to a mixture of glamour and fear that – beyond its psychological origins – acts as an ‘escape valve’ from reality. The anxieties and dramas of everyday life vanish when one involves oneself with something beyond ‘everyday reality’: the search for mystery allows one to escape completely to a new dimension where one moves in the role of protagonist.
Holding such a role is very stimulating, it represents an effective means of revaluing oneself, and feeling somehow superior to others. In fact the student feels to be the potential discoverer and teacher of the solution of the mystery.

The kind of mystery we are dealing with always concerns questions which are able radically to change our present culture and knowledge. In itself this would justify the ‘importance’ students of such mysteries ascribe to themselves.

The passion for mystery can becomes a nearly indispensable ‘drug’. One sometimes notes in such students situations comparable with unwholesome states of attachment and identification with the subject, sometimes assuming typically fideistic features. It is obvious that the chief an of these ‘pioneers of the unknown’ should be the solution of the mystery, and secondly the diffusion of that solution. But the researchers themselves don’t want the solution of mystery at all, because this would involve the end of their own self-image, their illusions and their personal drug. So one is confronted with the contradictory co-existence of the (illusive?) attempt to explain the mystery, and the strong wish that it remain such.

It’s obvious that when the show ends, the amusement ends too. This is a real danger which has always conditioned anomaly students’ thoughts and activities, directing them to particular choices and attitudes in the development of their thought. Attempts at explanation of the major mysteries have suffered greatly through such an ambiguous situation, such attempts always remaining at a vague and contradictory level.

Anomaly students suffer from the necessity of making others believe what they already accept as fact. They do not content themselves with probing the problem without concern for the layman (i.e., mass media and the technical/scientific ‘establishment’); rather they strive to acquaint the ‘external world’ with their beliefs, squandering most of their available energies. If this ‘external world’ did accept and recognise the validity of their arguments, and therefore the existence of the phenomena under study, such researchers would rise to the rank of ‘science pioneer’.

The continuing attempt to convince the ‘others’ of the existence of the problem (in the case of the ‘UFO mystery this largely takes the form of the search for physical evidence) essentially represents the search for a personal revenge against the denigrators – the ill-famed sceptics.

This attitude in understandable, within limits, but in some people in develops a pathological form; others assume such an attitude passively, without becomeing aware of it. Notwithstanding this, many students consider the rearch for the decisive proof and the persuasion of the public to be a real mission, moved and justified by their own belief in the phenomenon. They consider themselves the bearers of a truth, usually masked under technological motifs, that has to be propogated and accepted. The sole method of achieving such a goal is than imposed by the prevailing culture – which generally means ‘material proof’, an argument which is a thorn in the side of ufologists, in particular.

Material Limits.

We have looked at major psychological characteristics of those persons studying mysterious matters as an object of enquiry. But there are also some material aspects we could call ‘logistical’ ones: unpreparedness about fundamental scientific doctrines; lack of means; impossibilty of full-time and professional researches and planning incapacity. These problems condition, indeed identify, the students of the field. It is opportune to say a few words on this subject.

Technical/Scientific Unpreparedness.

Although many people are involved in research in these subjects, only a very few are persons carrying out activities directly linked with disciplines useful for a cognitive approach to the problem. Others attempt autonomous understanding of the subjects, striving to deal with their own ‘researches’ in the light of their own study. Inevitably, there reseults are devalued by their preparation, which is fragmentary. Additionally, some students will devote themselves to mysterious phenomena trusting only to their original knowledge and education: nearly always this is inadequate, and so useless for any serious cognitive approach.

A direct consequence of this lack of will and capacity to develope a rational research system can be noted in the emphasis (very noticable in ufology) on outward appearances of the subject. Another effect of this lack of preparation is the continuous reductionist effort. For example, ufologists will collect reports relating the observation of phenomena with similar characteristics for the purpose of extolling a belief which consigns all UFOs as having a common origin. More generally, researchers will draw conclusions from a specific group of events (entity reports, for example) which are extrapolated to the complexities of the whole phenomenon.

In such a way one makes the problem considerably easier, so rendering it more accesible; but besides the reductionist effort, there is also the attempt at circumscribing the peculiarities of its manifestations for the sake of making it more ‘rationail’ and consequently more accepatble.

Lack of Means: Impossibility of full-time researches.

As anomaly research does not have professional characteristics, there are inherent faults in both organising the enquiry and data collation. For nearly all UFO, anomaly and paranormal researchers the study of mystery is only a hobby, to which is devoted the (restricted) available spare time. Resources are so limited that they do not reach essential objectives which need conspicuous economic efforts, over and above regular intense study in terms of time.

The co-operation of several isolated individuals in a association would lead to a remarkable increase in the available means. But things proceed in a different way, tending to maintain the dispersion of the few available forces: this is both because such groups are inclined to make use of their resources in useless activities (propaganda, conferences, varied trinkets), and to limited nurnbers of supporters, as many people prefer to remain independent to preserve their own individuality.

Often the financial investment of the m Urvrdual research jiidy be considerable. otter) the student neglects other kinds of diversion or occupation to concentrate on the purchase of materials or attending nieetrngs. It is a passion that often assumes the features of a drug: In order to establish the figure of the competent professional researcher in this specific field, adequate funding, apart from any other considerations (it is enough here to mention the question of the choice of the right person, or their training), would be needed. This is unimaginable in most aspects of anomaly research.

Organising and Planning Incapacity.

There are two basic elements, connecting with the two previously mentioned points, which contribute to this negative factor. The first one can be found in the lack of prepared specialised enquirers who would be capable of managing a programme of researches.

Secondly, there is a certain spirit of strong independence, couple with an unwillingness for collaboration, among those who represent the focal point of this work – in particular, ufologists. Generally they like to operate alone, wishing to gather all possible results and benefits of their own activities around themselves. Too often the advantage of being part of a well-known Organisation is irresistible: many students (‘fans’ might be a better word) join it for the status that membership is thought to bestow. In reality this is an illusion, as such ‘fans’ keep intact all their individualistic characteristics. Such researchers are still reluctant to co-operate with others, for fear of supplying ‘precious’ information to them – the possession of such ‘valuable’ data is seen as a method of assuming further status.

Some Considerations on Ufologists and Research Groups:

When the problem of ‘flying saucers’ came on the scene in 1947, there arose, almost immediately, the first ‘ufologists’. The interest in such a matter was remarkable, owing to the strong emotional state it provoked. Hundreds of anrateurs began to collect information and news on the subject. There was a clear cut division between those who thought such sightings really unexplainable, and those who instead presented identifications in conventional terms. The former put forward various interpretations, following mystical or occult themes, that with the passing of time and increasing number of sightings, assumed a more and more fantastic tone.

The conviction that the remarkable floss of cases his something real, and the developnnent of conjectures that promised an ‘explanation’ of the UFO phenomenon; as Well as the particular psychological and cultural conditions of that period, contributed to the increase and diffusion of interest in the phenomenon.

Since then innumerable people throughout the world have become students (or, again, ‘fans’) of ufology, even though those who have discussed and dealt with the problem on a serious and objective level are probably only measured in a few hundreds. An anolagous pattern can be developed for the clubs and groups which have arisen practically everywhere. This activity has led, for rnany people, into the growth of the ‘ufologrst’, who for many people has a precise placing in society, holding a certain status as a function of his work.

First published in Magonia 21, December 1985

In the first part of this article I discussed ufologists and other anomaly researchers in general, discussing their behaviour and the material limits to their activities. In this second part I will look more closely at the figure of the individual researcher and, marginally, at the ‘classic’ UFO group.

Illustration by Dominique Huban
The Private Researcher:

The figure of the so-called ufologist is fairly complex and controversial. In some ways the term ‘ufologist’ is a rather flattering misnomer, suggesting as it does a member of the scientific community, comparable to a ‘chemist’ of physicist’. It would be more accurate to speak perhaps of the UFO or anomaly ‘student’. This student is a person particularly attracted by mystery, who has decided to deal with the UFO question, perhaps coming from previous approaches to other unusual themes. An enquiry carried out by the French magazine Lu mieres das la Nuit reveals that not less than 81% of respondents were attracted my mysterious topics in general, whilst only 57% reported an interest in science fiction. This datum could be explained by ufologists’ fear of seeing UFOs wrongly associated with science fiction.

The first stage of interest in the topic is as a hobby, such as philately. Some however develop their interest further, from a variety of motives. One of these is certainly narcissism; ambition linked to the wish to rise above others in a field easily accesible to such an aim. It is at this stage that the study ceases to be a simple hobby, often being developed to the prejudice of other activities, through considerable economic and psychological committment. In general those who deal with the subject proceed along a fairly defined path, that includes all the various possible stages of development of the student’s ideoloogy and interest. Hendry proposes a six-stage sequence. Only a few individuals succeed in reaching the top of this ‘evolution’.

Some researchers, during their development have come to a sceptical, or at least critical, position. In the past these (few) ‘ex-ufologists’ have left their field of interest owing to mistrust produced by loss of belief. More recently however, these new ‘sceptics’ have not left the field of anomaly research, as noticed by Greenfield, but go on dealing with the question, if from a new viewpoint. These people have tended not to unite in distinct factions opposing the ‘UFO believers’, to try to persuade their former colleagues to change their minds. I think there are two reasons for this:
A. Their belief was very deep rooted, and the conversion to scepticism may have brought about a crisis of values. They may feel reluctant to inflict this on others.
B. They fear a negative, even hostile, response from their previous friends, particularly felt if they have been deeply involved in UFO and anomaly research over a long period, developing a large number of social ties.
But these ‘moderate sceptics’ are only a part of the restricted group of critical students. Others are more prepared to try to spread their own sceptical theses. Such ‘radicals’ show themselves as the advocates of a rational truth, obscured by the fideistic or anti-scientific beliefs of those they dismiss as ‘eager believers’.
All these ‘researchers’ are directly or indirectly responsible for all that happens within the ambit of their subject. By their own actions and characteristics they thenselves represent a research topic worthy of the highest interest. One comes to the contradictory situation where where, as Caudron says, ufologists behave like objects, not subjects, giving rise to a new, and no less mysterious study, ‘ufologistology’.

The figure of the amateur researcher, unprepared and disposed to emotional behaviour and ideology has dominated (Indeed, been the predominant feature of) that abstract doctrine known as ufology. These attitudes have help to make the ufologist (and indeed the resaercher in many others fields) a generally negative factor in developing a scientific research programme attached to any of these topics.

This is the present situation, but what of the future? What will be the ufologist’s function in any desirable research developments? To answer this it is necessary to presume that there is indeed any real research possible – this in itself leaves a lot of doubt and perplexity. I would suggest that the attitudes of students has not developed greatly during the last 40 years, and will not change greatly in the future. Indeed, the response to the LDLN poll, which shows that 72% of respondents think there have been positive developments in that period suggests that researchers do not feel excessively spurred on to change their course.

However recent trends do suggest that there will be more and more people arriving a sceptical or highly critical positions, who will help to reshuffle as much as they can of all the assorted rumours, myths, stereotypes, illusions and assumptions that surround the field. So it is possible that there will be some revision of the whole question, which may lead to a strictly rationalist approach, and the demolition of much of the ‘mystery’ of the subject.

It is the attraction of the ‘mystery’ that has produced most interest in the subjects. The most immediate consequence of any ‘demystification’ will be a massive desertion from the field.

The ‘eager believers’, ‘ufomaniacs’ or whatever will exist in a sort of ghetto, where revolutionary novelties disturbing the traditional order are not accepted. One of the reasons for this is the wish to remain in touch with a particular ambience, a feeling of fraternisation and community, apart (and an object or derison, or at laeast of incomprehension) from ‘ordinary people’. This produces a strong social link between the members of this community. This is characterised by the organisation of meetings and conferences, and the development of a wide range of social contacts.

The Groups:

At a certain point in the evolution of their interest many amateurs join a group. Some feel that being a member of a ‘centre’ or ‘society’ raises their own image considerably. Apart from the inevitable internal publication, most members receive, as benefit for their payment, an automatic acknowledgement in the ufological or paranormal ambit. Unfortunately most of these members make no effective contribution to investigation, forming the background against which the few people who really work, operate. In fact this is not necessarily a bad think – the majority of passive members should be able to provide the resources, largely financial, for the minority of active researchers.

Unfortunately this does not happen, as the more usual practise is for this passive membership also to use up most of the group’s resources with projects that provide only surface benefits: the provision of a journal of the highest possible press-quality, perhaps not justified by the contents thereof, and intense popularisation work amongst the general public.

The less glamourous aspects of group work – planning of investigations and organisation of research have always been neglected. Additionally, too much effort is wasted in the provision of bureaucratic structures more suited to international firms than small voluntary groups. This manifests itself in the production of an enormous quantity of trivial items – headed paper, superb monograms, stickers, posters, membership cards – produced by groups both to spread their image, and above all exalt it.

Alternatively local groups may be dominated by one individual, brought to life by one, usually rather charasmatic, figure. This type of group is accurately and ironically illustrated by the late lamented Leuba. On the Italian scene UFO ‘research groups’ developed in a macroscopic way (more than 500 small associations:) in the mid-seventies, largely with the support of a commercial magazine, Il Giornale dei Misteri (Journal of Mysteries). It put a considerable proportion of its pages at the disposal of these groups. The spur of seeing ones own name and writing in a professionaly produced magazine gave good results. In the course of a very few years, with little activity and with negligable results, nearly all these groups disappeared from circulation. Very few survived, in even a nominal form, and now all have vanished.


This short consideration of some aspects of the figure of the ufologist has demenstrated enough characteristics to allow us to form an image, albeit fragmentary, of the people concerned. He may be seen as the creation, perhaps the victim, of the UFO myth, which often entirely dominates his life. He has considerable limits – his involvement in the subject is essentially ‘play’, a pastime to contrast with an essentially humdrum everyday life.

After all, ufology as carried out for the past 40 years represents nothing but a new kind of escape from reality, even if sometimes led by special motivations. It is an innocuous process, essential to the participant. Thos who wish to remain at the limits of ‘escape’ are free to do so. Others, who are not so satisfied with this attitude, must try to develop a much more serious approach. Maybe even so this work will prove to be ultimately futile, and they will be frustrated at having to spend so much time and money on it, but at least they too will have satisfied their own personal ambitions, even if negatively.