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Interview With J. Allen Hynek
Nature, October 4, 1975, Vol. 251, p. 369.
Ian Ridpath

America's first scientifically-based Center for UFO Studies, established by J. Allen Hynek after a wave of UFO reports across the States last year, is planning to ask the National Science Foundation and NASA for funds in the near future. The Center, a loose afiiliation of scientists from a dozen US universities, is currently funded by private donations, but feels that its stock in trade -- scientific credibility -- stands sufficiently high for approaches to be made to establishment bodies like NSF and NASA.

Hynek, professor of astronomy at Northwestern University, Illinois, and author of the best-selling The UFO Experience, has been interested in unidentified flying objects for years, and has developed contacts with what he calls the "invisible college" of qualified scientists who believe the UFO phenomenon to be worthy of investigation. In correspondence they agreed that it was time to set up a Center to provide reliable UFO information and to collect reports of events for investigation. Hynek rented the services of a toll-free telephone switchboard that is manned round the clock, seven days a week, and distributed its number to police throughout the United States. UFO reponts on this hot line average about one a day (or night). Depending on their importance, cases are followed up in person or by a questionnaire.

The scientists of the Center are preparing a report on the 1973 UFO wave in which 1,500 cases are listed. The sightings started in the southeastern states and, in Hynek's words, "spread along the river valleys". When published next spring, the report will be a valuable study of a major UFO event.

Hynek's work has started a steady shift in public and scientific attitudes to UFOs which are documented in a revealing hour-long TV programme being screened coast-to-coast in December by NBC. "I think the programme's impact will be considerable," says Hynek. "When the next wave occurs the Center will be there to serve." Hynek is impressed by the fact that the nature of the phenomenon itself is the one thing that has not changed. "The typical UFO report today is essentially the same as it was 10 years ago," he says. Yet he carefully points out that he does not support the idea that UFOs are nuts-and-bolts spacecraft from other worlds: "There are too many things against it. It seems ridiculous that any intelligence would come from such great distances to do reportedly stupid things like stopping cars and frightening people. And there are far, far too many reports."

For Hynek and the members of his "invisible college" there remains no doubt that the UFO phenomenon is real. But its explanation? He draws a parallel with early attempts at explaining what makes the Sun shine, which faltered through lack of knowledge of physics. Currently, all the UFO Center can do is to define the limits of the problem. Says Hynek: "We're setting down the things that any hypothesis will have to explain." And, returning to the conclusion of The UFO Experience, he adds: "When the solution does come, it's going to be one hell of a quantum jump." -- Ian Ridpath

 

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