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Dr. James E. McDonald and the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis, Part II

By Raymond A. Keller, a.k.a. “Cosmic Ray,” the author of the international awards-winning Venus Rising Trilogy (Terra Alta, West Virginia:  Headline Books, 2015-2017)

Scene above from sci-fi classic movie, This Island Earth (Universal International Pictures, 1955):  Before entering the stasis chamber preparatory to interstellar flight aboard a flying saucer from the embattled planet Metaluna, space scientist Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) turns to her associate, electronics wizard Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason), to inquire, “Tell me again, Cal, whose lame idea was it, in the first place, to research UFOs?”


        In the closing years of the 1960s, scientific mindsets were slowly changing with respect to the UFO phenomenon.   In the previous installment, we came to see how the extraterrestrial hypothesis became firmly embraced by Dr. James E. McDonald, a prominent American physicist and tenured professor in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Arizona at Tucson.  The doctor took a long-range view of UFOs, declaring at the 26 January 1968 meeting of the United Aircraft Research Laboratories in East Hartford, Connecticut, that: 

        “After about eighteen months of study and direct interviewing of about three hundred witnesses in important UFO cases, I can say to you that I see the UFO problem as one of extraordinary scientific importance.

        “I regard the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) as the most probable hypothesis to explain the UFO evidence.  To go from that expression of hypothesis-preference to a position of claiming adequate proof is no small step, needless to say.  That step will not be taken until quite large financial resources are behind monitoring and observation programs, supported by budgets that will probably dwarf the NASA budgets.  And that step will not be taken until large numbers of scientists in many disciplines begin to confront the enormously intriguing questions posed by the UFOs.   If my remarks to you today serve in any small measure to increase the number of scientists and engineers seriously concerned with the UFO problem, I shall consider my time well spent.”

Staying Clear of Cults

        Dr. McDonald was aware of competing theories with the ETH.  He found the following grouping of these theories to be quite useful in his scientific investigations:

  1. Hoaxes, fabrications and frauds.
  2. Hallucinations, mass hysteria and rumor phenomena.
  3. Lay interpretation of well-known physical phenomena (meteorological, astronomical, optical, etc.).
  4. Advanced technologies (test vehicles, satellites, re-entry phenomena, etc.).
  5. Poorly understood physical phenomena (rare atmospheric-electrical effects, cloud phenomena, plasmas of natural or technological origin, etc.).
  6. Poorly understood psychological phenomena, and lastly
  7. Messengers of salvation and occult truth.

From year to year since the Air Force began officially investigating UFO reports in 1948 under the auspices of Project Sign, and subsequently under Projects Grudge and Bluebook, the batting average for explaining away most UFO phenomena was varying between 88 and 90%.  But there were always at the end of each year a persistent number of cases truly remaining in the classification of “unidentified.”  These are the ones that Dr. McDonald considered as the best prospects for finding a true visiting spacecraft of extraterrestrial origin.  For the most part, Dr. McDonald did not dispute that all of these categories offered viable explanations for the vast majority of UFO reports; but he was particularly miffed with category eight, messengers of salvation and occult truth, because in his estimation, as a scientist with a materialist philosophy of looking at the universe, anything smacking of the supernatural would only cloud and detract from the application of the ETH to the  encounters and sightings falling into the unidentified slot.  The physicist felt that persons subscribing fervently to such a supernatural hypothesis “undoubtedly contributed in a significant way to discrediting the UFO problem.” 

But you may be wondering, “How so?”  In answering that question, Dr. McDonald declared that, “Cultist and crackpot ideas abound in a garish ‘literature’ of paperbacks and magazine articles….  This all-too-visible group is frequently identified by scientists as constituting the totality of those who take seriously the UFO problem.  To lump serious students of the UFO together with the cultist-crackpot fringe is an error that results simply from limiting one’s examination to a superficial, armchair approach to the UFO record.  One can, in fact, easily and quickly separate the crackpots from the serious investigators.”

Dr. McDonald truly regretted that so few scientists had yet taken the trouble to carry out such a sifting process. 

The editors of UFO Contact, Ronald Caswell in the United Kingdom and Major H. C. Petersen in Denmark, were openly puzzled as to why Dr. McDonald was submitting articles for publication to them and sharing information on his scientific UFO investigations.  UFO Contact, after all, was the official publication of the International Get Acquainted Program (IGAP), whose very purpose of existence was stated to be a dissemination of “the philosophy brought to the world by Mr. George Adamski” as an aid in helping humankind uncover the truth of its celestial origin and future destiny among the stars. 

George Adamski was the most prominent contactee in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s.  He maintained that the Venusians and other extraterrestrials were here on Earth, living and working clandestinely, for the express purpose of saving us from ourselves.  Our development of fissionable nuclear devices, along with our continued progress in fabricating the technology to deliver such deadly payloads, threatened the continued existence of all life on Earth, as well as the destabilization of the orbits of the planets within our solar system.  Since Dr. McDonald had previously pinpointed some contactees who had spoken about “Space Brothers from Venus, Mars and Saturn” coming here to save us from such hazards, as being “cultists,” Caswell and Major Petersen questioned, “Are we among the ‘crackpots’ and ‘cultists’ of Dr. James E. McDonald?  Are we of the lunatic fringe?”

The editors answered this rhetorical question by asking the readers of UFO Contact to look through all of the back issues and see if they could find any articles in the magazine that give any indications of “cultish leanings.”  Caldwell and Major Petersen wrote, “Or has it not, time and again, brought forth strong evidence for its reasoning?  Has it appeared as an eccentric magazine with no set purpose except a willy-nilly pushing of outer space contacts, or has it tried to bring inquiry where inquiry was needed, pressure where pressure should be brought to bear, in the interest of all?”

When Alan T. Weston and I co-edited the Flying Saucer Report in Bedford, Ohio, from 1967-1972, we exchanged publications and carried on a correspondence with Major Petersen at the International Get Acquainted Program.  The magazine was always first-rate, in my estimation.  Each issue of UFO Contact kept its international readership well informed in all aspects of the UFO phenomenon.  George Adamski, in all of his writings, stressed the fact that his mission did not include the propagation of any new religion; and he made it a point for the attendees at his lectures and the readers of his books to stay in the ranks of their own religion and continue to strive and live up to its highest principles.  Adamski also stressed that his extraterrestrial friends were not “space gods” and did not need for anyone to worship them, or pay them homage.  He was not a prophet, just delivering cosmic telegrams.  “And basically,” emphasized the editors, “we have tried to do what George Adamski did during his lifetime:  tell the world about flying saucers, entertain no ideological ideas, offer no nationalistic portrayal of events, and fear no man.”

The “Cosmic Ray” Keller on George Adamski:  “He was not a prophet, just delivering cosmic telegrams.”  Photo first appeared in Real magazine, special Flying Saucers Pictorial edition, 1967. 


        Dr. McDonald was himself a subscriber to my own Flying Saucer Report, however; so I know from correspondence with him, albeit from more than 50 years ago, that he did not lump Adamski in with some other contactees, who more or less described their encounters with extraterrestrials as having taken place on the psychic plane.  Following his initial and physical contact with Orthon on 20 November 1952, out on the Mojave Desert, Adamski became more cautious with respect to any forms of psychic communication with space people. 


According to the premier Swedish ufologist and foremost European authority on the contactee phenomenon, Hakan Blomqvist, it was well known that later in his life, Adamski “was very much against any form of psychic communication with space people and strongly objected to the esoteric interpretation of his physical contacts given by Meade Layne and Riley Crabb of Borderland Sciences Research Association (BSRA).”  See Hakan Blomqvist’s blog dated 29 October 2013, “George Adamski Correspondence,”   Although Adamski suspected there might be some kind of metaphysical interplay taking place in his encounters, he wasn’t ready to fully commit himself to the explanations proffered by the BSRA contingent. 


The two BSRA leaders regarded the craft and space people as belonging to a world in an ethereal dimension that was normally invisible to us.  Adamski was relatively sure that his encounters occurred in the physical universe; but he wasn’t quite ready to completely dismiss any possible metaphysical connection to his unique experiences.  Moreover, given the subjective nature of the contactee conundrum, committing to the confining explanations of the BSRA would limit Adamski’s options in interpreting it within his own cultural and personal context.  That Adamski, Crabb and Layne were all members of the Theosophical Society decidedly shaped their philosophy with regard to the possible nature of extraterrestrial life; but this was no guarantee for the emergence of any consensus on the details of ultra-dimensionality. 


Dr. James E. McDonald was intelligent enough to detect and respect these nuances.  Insofar as Adamski was in the ballpark of a physical universe for the vast portion of his life as a contactee, and not caught up in living an illusion, then Dr. McDonald could make the time to work as a strong ally with the members of the International Get Acquainted Program.  The IGAP membership honored the continuing legacy of George Adamski.  Perhaps we should, as well. 


(Note:  Continue reading this blog site for the third and concluding installment of the Cosmic Ray’s “Dr. James E. McDonald and the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis.”  Dr. Keller will delve into the alliance of Dr. McDonald and Dr. Hynek in challenging the University of Colorado at Boulder’s so-called Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, in addition to the unusual circumstances leading up to the alleged suicide of Dr. McDonald.  You will definitely not want to miss it!  -The Editors)

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