Reports of the repeated landing of an alien spaceship near Moscow recently has once again stirred up the public debate about UFOs. Although the reports about 10-foot-tall aliens have been dismissed as nonsense by most people, there are many who would argue that UFO landings can and have occurred not only in the USSR but in the U.S. and other countries. Have UFOs been given a fair shake by science, journalism and the government? Investigative reporter George Knapp explores whether the subject has been treated fairly by the establishment in Part 1 of “UFOs: The Best Evidence.” Originally aired Nov. 6, 1989, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.

Billy Goodman’s radio talk show was heard nightly in 10 western states stretching from Canada to Mexico. Previously the topic of choice was Elvis Presley’s whereabouts, but the focus drifted into UFOs and Goodman’s phone lines have been lit up ever since.

Three hours a night, six nights a week, the calls come in. Some callers claim to have been abducted by aliens. Others say they are aliens.

George Knapp: This is pretty wild stuff.

Billy Goodman: Tell me about it. But this is what we get. And it goes on and on and on.

KVEG radio host Billy Goodman. (KLAS-TV)

The popularity of Goodman’s show is one indicator of the persistent public hunger for UFO lore. Despite discouragement by government, science and religion, this is a story that will not go away. Is it the most pervasive and long-standing mass delusion in human history? Or is something else at work here? Prominent sociologists argue that even if there are no flying saucers or extraterrestrials, the stubborn durability of the UFO legend makes it worthy of study.

Series logo for 1989’s
“UFOs: The Best Evidence”
Read the entire series here.

Some people might object to the use of the words “UFOs” and “evidence” in the same sentence. But there is now a staggering amount of information on this subject, collected not by crackpots, but by respected, mainstream, level-headed people who want to know what if anything is going on.

The human fascination with extraterrestrials is reflected in our most popular films, and in popular TV programs.  ET books are often perched atop bestseller lists. UFO updates grace the pages of mass circulation magazines. There are UFO hotlines and ET newsletters. Flying saucers have invaded the comic strips. UFO researchers like John Lear play to packed houses at library lectures. UFO organizations stage annual symposiums at which conventioneers can buy UFO tapes and UFO key chains, hats, booklets and more.

Professional ufologist Stan Friedman. (KLAS-TV)

Flying Saucers are big business, but the profiteering seems incidental to the enduring interest among millions of people who have nothing to gain by believing in UFOs. In November 1989, a Gallup poll showed that nearly 60% of college educated American adults believe that UFOs are extraterrestrial craft. The higher the education, the more likely the belief in UFOs.

Professional ufologist Stan Friedman said, “We have a society today which accepts the basic notion of space travel, visits by different kinds of beings. to other places, that’s a big step in just one generation.”

It’s also not merely a matter of blind faith. More than 20 million Americans say they’ve seen a UFO and 70,000 new UFO sightings are reported each year. Even the most ardent UFO converts will concede that up to 90% of the sightings are mistakes, misidentifications of planets, conventional aircraft, military flares, weather balloons, or other little-known natural phenomena.

While it’s true that 9 of every 10 sightings are probably wrong, it’s also true that only 1 in 10 sightings is ever reported at all. In general, these sightings are made by normal well-balanced people who have nothing to gain and much to lose by stepping forward.

An image purported to show a UFO.

Take these witnesses for instance, and their sincere recounting of their experience:

Witness No. 1: “It was dark, there were three or four of us were alone … all of a sudden it was daylight. Just brighter than all get out, and yet you could see over yonder, that it was dark.”

Witness No. 2: “A tremendous streak just shot out of nowhere from the right and basically tailgated this plane and then followed the plane for a very short period. And then it just stopped.”

Witness No. 3: “No noise, nothing. The same bright red color. And it wasn’t blinking or nothing. Was just like a ball of light.”

Witness No. 4: “What I saw were these balls of light traveling from the west, to the east all the way across the sky.”

Witness No. 5: “And there was lights all around it the same color as the ship. And it was rotating. They were doing all kinds of maneuvers. Zig-zag movements, go fast this way and then that way. And then it would flip over.”

Witness No. 6: “And I saw this huge saucer-shaped vehicle which … it was brightly lit. And it appeared to have dark areas — portholes of some sort.”

Witness No. 1: “Did you see that? You know everybody’s, ‘Did you see that?’ You know, everybody saw it. But nobody had an explanation.”

Witness No. 2: “I do know what I saw. It wasn’t a plane, wasn’t a helicopter, it wasn’t a weather balloon. Wasn’t a satellite, wasn’t swamp gas. It wasn’t any kind of light by itself. There was an actual object.”

Many UFO sightings occur in broad daylight. Many involve multiple witnesses. The witnesses include pilots and policemen, even the president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, people who are trained to be observant and whose judgment is trusted. UFO sightings date back to the dawn of recorded history in every country and every culture. UFOs have been around much longer than conventional aircraft and much longer than science fiction writers. There are even references in the Bible to what could be considered UFO sightings.

Some of this might count as evidence in a court of law, but it means very little to establishment science. Most scientists have little regard for UFOs, although few have studied the subject to any significant degree, which is odd considering that mainstream science now vigorously believes that intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is a virtual certainty. Even UFO skeptic Carl Sagan estimated there may be more than a million advanced civilizations in our galaxy alone.  Congressional hearings have delved into the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe and millions of dollars are spent each year listening for radio signals from deep space. But organized science declines to peek over the fence into its own backyard.

Dr. Dale Etheridge of the Clark County Planetarium. (KLAS-TV)

“The probability of there being another civilization, both near us and sufficiently close to us in evolution that they would either can or would be willing to communicate, you know, seems to be a fairly rare thing,” said astronomy professor Dr. Dale Etheridge

“You know, just the probability suggests that would be a very rare thing,” Etheridge said.

Walt Andrus, international director of MUFON. (KLAS-TV)

“Any scientists that takes the time to look at the data and the facts and the evidence accepts the fact that we have UFOs,” said Walt Andrus, international director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). “You have to have an open mind. If you simply make the statement, ‘There’s nothing to this thing’ and ignore it … but people like Carl Sagan, who’s a brilliant astrophysicist, he’s never bothered to read UFO material that, to him, there’s nothing there. So … don’t bother me with the facts.”

However, Phil Klass is the unofficial leader of all UFO skeptics.

“In more than 22 years as a hobby of investigating famous mysterious UFO cases, reports, I have never found one that cannot be explained in prosaic earthly terms,” Klass said.

UFO debunker Phil Klass. (KLAS-TV)

Phil Klass bills himself as the Sherlock Holmes of UFOs and is the world’s pre-eminent debunker. Klass shows up at nearly all of the UFO conventions, a fly in the ET ointment.  Phil Klass dart boards are best-selling items at many of those same conventions. Klass takes that as a compliment. His success at belittling or ridiculing UFO sightings is beyond question. However, his research has been called into question. Even UFO doubters say Klass has been dead wrong in his explanations of some sightings, that he distorts astronomy for his own purposes, that he accuses UFO witnesses of being liars, or hoaxsters, even though he rarely investigates any sightings personally. “Even experienced airline pilots, military pilots, can be grossly in error in what they think they’ve seen,” Klass says.

Many UFO researchers are convinced Klass is a government agent. His years of work as editor for the well-connected aerospace mouthpiece Aviation Week and Space Technology is suspicious to some.

“I cannot believe that anybody could so persistently be wrong,” said Stan Friedman, a nuclear physicist and professional ufologist.

“Over and over again making claims which are false, demonstrably and so forth. Without having been told or doing something that he feels is in the patriotic best interest of the country. He’s not so stupid,” Friedman said.

“In the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was standard practice for the intelligence agencies to recruit journalists.  Mr. Klass is the outstanding example of that. Was, after all, unmarried, very fast typewriter, electrical engineering background, in Washington D.C., all kinds of contacts. A perfect person to be a spy for either side for that matter. And so if he wasn’t recruited, somebody goofed,” Friedman said.

Klass denies he has ever been paid by the government.

Never, never, never been paid a penny except when my dear mother died and I got a Social Security benefit.

Phil Klass

Phil Klass and other debunkers don’t have to work very hard to create doubt about UFOs.  The subject has attracted more than its share of crazies over the years.  The U.S. government has officially decreed that UFOs are bunk, and science has followed suit.

Knapp: Have they been studied to the extent that they need to be?

Etheridge: I don’t think they have been studied to the extent they need to be. There really should be more study, but again the problem is most credible scientists have other things that they feel safer doing, just because of the fringe elements associated with UFOs.

Knapp: The funding thing hanging over your head, too.

Etheridge: You apply to the National Science Foundation saying you want to study UFOs, they are going to laugh and throw it out.

Without question there is a strong streak of wacko within the UFO field. Consider the tabloid headlines where psychics invite aliens to a Monday Night Football game, or a girl gives birth to 52 UFO babies, right there alongside the capture of a green Bigfoot and ‘Wild Bill Hickock was gay’ expose. Also, psychics and channelers advertise that aliens speak to us through them. 

Robert Shapiro claims he can channel a discussion between you and an alien.

Robert Shapiro claims to channel aliens. (KLAS-TV)

Knapp: I tell you what, I’d like to see this sometime.

Shapiro: Okay. That’s why I’m here, bud.

Knapp: You mean you could do it now?

Shapiro: Right now.

“I want to ask for whatever information comes through to be of interest, perhaps even amusing if that’s what’s called for. And whatever energy that comes through to not affect the taping,” Shapiro said.  “Alright, Hoopa is speaking. I will respond to questions,” grimaced Shapiro.

Shapiro seems sincere enough but admits there’s no way to verify his claims and he doesn’t care much whether people believe him or not. This approach is a bit too casual for scientists.

Aviation pioneer John Lear. (KLAS-TV)

Aviation expert John Lear says, “It’s something that people just don’t want to deal with. The press doesn’t want to deal with. And people aren’t going to listen to something unless Dan Rather or any of your big press people are going to tell them about it. And they’re just too spooked. The Air Force has made an art form of ridiculing people who have talked about this thing.”

The seeming reluctance by journalism, science, government and religion to fully explore the possibility of extra-terrestrial visits has left the job in the hands of untrained, underfunded private organizations and individuals. Invariably, such private efforts attract people whose minds are already made up and whose approach is far from professional or scientific. Ufology has made important strides in recent years. But, when you consider that contact with an alien civilization would surely rank as one of the most significant events in human history, it would seem that a more organized type of study might be warranted.

If we know anything about science it is this: the truth is always changing. What is science fiction today is science tomorrow. For instance, back in the 1800s, the scientific establishment scoffed at persistent reports from peasants and farmers and other country folk about rocks that fell from the sky. It took more than 100 years for the French Academy of Sciences to finally concede that meteorites were real.

And just one generation ago, most scientists would have argued that life beyond the earth is impossible. That is no longer the dominant viewpoint.

In the days ahead, we will take you inside the government’s own files to examine previously secret studies of the UFO phenomenon. We will also try to find out if there is any connection between UFOs and the mutilations of cattle and other animals taking place across the West. We will explore what impact an alien landing might have on religion and other social institutions. And we will reveal the identity a man who says the government has already established contact with aliens and is testing technology right here in Nevada.

Mary Ruth Carleton: George, you said that UFO groups have made improvements. Is ufology a real science?

Knapp: Well, they call it ufology, but even they will concede it’s not really a science. It is making strides. If you take MUFON for example, the mutual UFO network, they restrict their membership to only people who are invited, so you weed out some of the crackpots, their membership has doubled in the last two years. They have 75 PhDs who serve not only as members but as consultants. You know, there have been college courses taught on UFOs now on several campuses, and PhDs and have been written on the subject. So it’s not a science, but it’s moving in that direction.

Gary Waddell: A lot of people aren’t going to believe it until they see absolute proof. What would be proof?

Knapp: We’ll be talking about it through the course of the week. If millions of eyewitnesses count as proof in other in other kinds of proceedings … you’ve got photos, you’ve got movie footage, you’ve got video, you’ve got all kinds of physical manifestations — radiation, landing sites, things of that nature — it’s the totality that you really have to look at. We will be taking a look at what constitutes proof through the course of the next several days.

Next Story:
UFO truths masked by hoaxes, secrecy of Roswell ‘crash’ – Part 2