Scroll Top
Mt Shasta Ca. 96967, USA

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

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)

Scientists on Earth decipher a cosmic message of doom imparted from a mechanical intelligence on Venus.  It was encrypted onto a cylinder found inside a spaceship that crashed in a taiga forest of Siberia.  Scene above is from First Spaceship on Venus (1960), produced by the East German-Polish VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb and directed by Kurt Maetzig.   


        In the previous installment, it was noted that Dr. James E. McDonald of the Meteorology Department of the University of Arizona at Tucson, began to have some misgivings, early on, about any degree of objectivity coming out of the then ongoing government-contracted University of Colorado at Boulder’s so-called Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects.  This was popularly known as the Condon Report, because it was directed by the University of Colorado theoretical physicist, Dr. Edward Uhler Condon. 

        In 1966, following the so-called “swamp gas” sightings fiasco in Michigan, the United States Air Force reluctantly bowed to public opinion and invited the brilliant Dr. Condon, well known for both his candor and courage, to undertake an independent investigation of the UFO phenomenon.  Unfortunately for the Air Force and all concerned, Dr. Condon made no secret, from the very outset of the $496,155 taxpayer-funded UFO investigation, that at least so far as he was concerned, “No substantive evidence for extraterrestrial visitation was liable to result.”  The study only lasted for two years, and for the most part, the American scientific community accepted the Condon committee’s apparently negative conclusions about UFOs.  With an immediate rubber stamp on the Condon Report from the National Academy of Sciences in 1968, the Air Force closed up shop on Project Blue Book, its official UFO investigation, in the following year.

        At the 26 January 1968 seminar of the United Aircraft Research Laboratories in East Hartford, Connecticut, however, with a half a year of investigations still remaining for the University of Colorado UFO project, Dr. James E. McDonald sounded a rather pessimistic note.  In Dr. McDonald’s opinion, the Colorado group was “doing an entirely inadequate job” in its UFO study. 

“Condon,” said the Arizona professor of atmospheric physics, “is ignoring scientific reports and instead is concerned with the ‘crackpot’ and ‘cultist’ aspects.  I am troubled by his whimsical preoccupation with the crackpot and cultist aspect of the UFO problem and his evident lack of attention to the scientific side.”  Dr. McDonald added that, “I find it difficult to justify his interest in the crackpot aspects to exclusion of consideration of reports of pilots, scientists, engineers, law enforcement officers, and all the credible witnesses whose testimony has been so impressive to most who have been willing to examine it firsthand.”

It seems that Dr. McDonald’s harsh criticism of the Condon Committee was being echoed from other unexpected quarters in the American scientific community.  According to an article that appeared in the January-February 1968 edition of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) UFO Investigator, none other than the Air Force’s own Project Blue Book chief scientific consultant, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, declared that, “If the Colorado Project’s conclusion is completely negative- denying the UFO reality- I will take the wraps off his personal files of good, unexplained cases and make them public.”

The NICAP article noted that Dr. Hynek had investigated over one thousand UFO cases that he personally considered as “unresolved.”  Like Dr. Condon and Dr. McDonald, Dr. Hynek’s specialty was physics, or astrophysics, to be more precise.  Coupled with twenty years of investigating UFOs for the Air Force, one would certainly be impressed by anything concerning the phenomenon that Dr. Hynek would care to venture.  

In the early months of 1968, Dr. Hynek was the director of the Dearborn Observatory in Chicago and was still serving as the Project Blue Book Chief UFO Consultant, a position he had held continuously for the past 18 years.  While up to that time, Dr. Hynek was considered to be an absolute skeptic when it came to UFOs, he nevertheless could not just stand by and let the Condon Committee continue to hoodwink the American people in its subjective and unscientific approach to the subject of UFOs. 

The truth about the Condon Committee was coming out.  The Colorado Daily of Friday, 9 February 1968 reported that on the previous day, “Condon said David Saunders and Norman E. Levine were both notified Thursday ‘of the termination of their positions on the staff of the project.’

“He (Condon) said the two men were dismissed because of incompetence, but refused further comment.

“Saunders was co-principal investigator for the project and Levine was a research associate.

“Neither Levine nor Saunders were available for comment.  Also not available was UFO Project Director Robert Low.”

Personnel Problems

Of this situation at Boulder, Dr. Hynek would later write:  “Almost from the start, the Condon Committee ran into troubles.  The foremost of these stemmed from the personalities of the director, Dr. Condon, and his chief administrator, the late Robert Low.  These are detailed best in Dr. David Saunders’ book, UFOs?: Yes! ,[1]and in less detail in my own book, The UFO Experience. [2]  The committee never worked as a coherent body and was torn by much internal strife

[1] David R. Saunders and R. Roger Harkins, UFOs?:  Yes! (New York:  New American, Library, 1968)

[2] J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience (London:  Abelard-Schuman, Limited, 1972)

As one of the Cosmic Ray’s Venusian friends might say, “Let’s face the facts about flying saucers!”  See

Hynek-McDonald Friendship Tested

     Dennis Stacy was the editor of the prestigious Mutual UFO Network Journal from 1985 to 1997.  During his first year in the capacity of Journal editor, Stacy secured an interview with Dr. Hynek, then known as the “Dean of Ufology.”  Dr. Hynek, being unusually frank in his responses to Stacy’s questions, despite his twenty years experience with the Air Force, acknowledged his long-lasting friendship with Dr. James E. McDonald, and also pointed out those aspects of the Condon Report of which they failed to arrive at a consensus.  The following is an excerpt from the Stacy-Hynek exchange:

STACY:  What began to change your own perception of the UFO phenomenon?

HYNEK:  Two things, really. One was the completely negative and unyielding attitude of the Air Force. They wouldn’t give UFOs the chance of existing, even if they were flying up and down the street in broad daylight. Everything had to have an explanation.  I began to resent that, even though I basically felt the same way, because I still thought they weren’t going about it in the right way. You can’t assume that everything is black no matter what. Secondly, the caliber of the witnesses began to trouble me. Quite a few instances were reported by military pilots, for example; and I knew them to be fairly well-trained; so this is when I first began to think that, well, maybe there’s something to all this.

The famous “swamp gas” case, which came later on, finally pushed me over the edge. From that point on, I began to look at reports from a different angle, which was to say that some of them could be true UFOs.

STACY: As your own attitude changed, did the Air Force’s attitude toward you change, too?

HYNEK:  It certainly did, quite a bit, as a matter of fact. By way of background, I might add that the late Dr. James E. McDonald, a good friend of mine who was then an atmospheric meteorologist at the University of Arizona, and I had some fairly sharp words about it. He used to accuse me very much, saying, “You’re the scientific consultant to the Air Force.  You should be pounding on generals’ doors and insisting on getting a better job done.”

I said, “Jim, I was there.  You weren’t.  You don’t know the mindset.  They were under instruction from the Pentagon, following the Robertson Panel of 1953, that the whole subject had to be debunked, period, no question about it.  That was the prevailing attitude. The panel was convened by the CIA; and I sat in on it; but I was not asked to sign the resolution.  Had I been asked, I would not have signed it, because they took a completely negative attitude about everything.”

 So when Jim McDonald used to accuse me of a sort of miscarriage of scientific justice, I had to tell him that if I had done what he wanted, the generals would not have listened to me. They were already listening to Dr. Donald Menzel and the other boys over at the Harvard Astronomy Department as it was.  


        Dr. Menzel, it should be well noted, was the world’s premier UFO skeptic before the arrival of Dr. Edward U. Condon and the publication of his University of Colorado study. 

Someone stole Dr. McDonald’s briefcase from an airplane and then walked off with his slides for a UFO lecture.  He was under constant surveillance by intelligence operatives following his investigation of a flying saucer incident at the China Lake Naval Weapons Station out in the California desert.  See

Red Flags Go Up

        Following the release of the nearly 1,500 page Condon Report, Dr. McDonald carefully poured over its contents, looking for every discrepancy he could find.  He immediately hit the lecture circuit, speaking out against Dr. Edward U. Condon and his biased study at every opportunity afforded him, at civilian UFO groups, fraternal organizations, radio and television programs, and university lecture halls.  He urged his audiences to rally Congress and support increased federal funding for the investigation of UFO reports.  The physicist also wrote a series of magazine and newspaper articles about the reality of UFOs, noting that many of the cold case UFO reports in the Condon Report might be revisited by a team of more objective scientists from a wider variety of specialties. 

It was about this time that everything started to “go south” in Dr. McDonald’s life.  Friends, as well as work associates at the university, began to notice some erratic behaviors and personality quirks.   Dr. McDonald was having an extremely difficult time in dealing with the public ridicule coming in his direction from some of his colleagues in the scientific community.  This barrage of denunciation was focused exclusively on the doctor’s pro-stance with regard to the reality of UFOs and his suggestions that some of the reports of these ever elusive objects might be attributable to the visitation of extraterrestrial spaceships. 

In May 1969, Dr. McDonald suddenly dropped out of his California lecture tour and returned to his home in Tucson, Arizona.  While he was lecturing in the evenings out in California, he was investigating a series of UFO sightings that occurred around the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station during the day.   Apparently, he uncovered something spectacular and needed to get back to the university to conduct further research on it in the laboratory facilities there.  But during the flight home, his briefcase disappeared.  It was chock-full of sensitive, taped interviews and documents related to some fantastic event that took place out on the desert at China Lake. 

Everyone around Dr. McDonald began to think he was becoming paranoid.  He insisted that almost everywhere he went, he was being followed by men in dark suits driving unmarked cars, without license plates.  His wife, Betsy, was known as a social activist and supporter of many leftist and revolutionary causes.  At one time, Betsy even had two leaders of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense from Oakland, California over at their home while they were giving a discourse in the Political Science Department at the university.  At that time, the McDonalds had noted that the militants appeared to be under surveillance by government intelligence operatives, but they themselves had never been approached for questioning.  Dr. McDonald was sure that he was being tailed and dogged by the government, however, for an entire carousel of valuable UFO slides had been taken from the projector at one of his bigger speaking engagements out on the East Coast. 

All of this pressure was too much for Betsy; and in March 1971, she filed for a divorce.  On top of the doctor’s inclinations toward paranoia, Betsy was feeling neglected due to her husband’s many trips and long hours away from home.  Dr. McDonald was then at the breaking point.  On 9 April 1971, the physicist made an unsuccessful attempt at taking his own life, shooting himself in the head with a pistol, severing an optic nerve and leaving him partially blind.  He soldiered on, however, and returned to work and UFO investigations.

The pistol that Dr. McDonald had used in the initial suicide attempt had been confiscated by the police.  On 12 June 1971, however, the doctor took a taxi cab from his university office to a pawn shop in downtown Tucson, where he purchased a .38 caliber revolver.  That was the last time that anyone had seen of Dr. McDonald alive.  On the next day there was a family walking along a creek that came across his body under the Canada Del Oro Bridge spanning a wash in Tucson. 

Interestingly, in between Dr. McDonald’s two suicide attempts, one of America’s top ufologists wrote a piece for the May 1971 edition of Saga magazine entitled “Liquidation of the UFO Investigators.”  Perhaps Binder penned this piece in light of Dr. McDonald’s failed try, which had so caught the attention of the world’s ufology community. 

In the groundbreaking article, Binder noted that, “All of this is not meant to frighten anyone who takes an active part in the UFO field.  In fact, another and very startling viewpoint can be taken in regard to the ‘premature’ deaths of the ufologists.

“Can it be than when such important ‘UFO evangelists’ as Frank Edwards, Morris K. Jessup, Mark Probert, and others have ‘fulfilled their task’ in behalf of ‘preaching’ ufology, they are ‘taken away’ deliberately for their own sake?  That is, having met the scorn and blind opposition of the unheeding world long enough, are they then mercifully removed from the ‘battlefront?’

“This, you see,” explained Binder, “puts a different light on the deaths of ufologists.  Maybe they are being rewarded, not punished.  Maybe they are ‘taken within the fold.’  Who knows?”

Something was afoot accounting for the higher death rate among ufologists.  Binder was sure of this.  “That something,” wrote Binder, “may either be the secret machinations of the UFO hierarchy who decides which Earth people ‘know too much about flying saucers,’ or the planned removal of UFO crusaders who have done their job nobly.  Take your choice….”

Many thanks for your magnificent work, Dr. McDonald.  I’m sure you’ve finally found your happy place among the twinkling stars.  –Cosmic Ray

For an outstanding biography of Dr. McDonald, your attention is invited to Ann Druffel, Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald’s Fight for UFO Science (Columbus, North Carolina:  Wild Flower Press, 2003). 

(Note:  Dr. Keller will be appearing at the “From Venus with Love” world conference, along with Frank Chille, Omnec Onec, George Filer, and many others intimately connected to the planet Venus and all her mysteries, 27-29 July 2018, at Mt. Shasta, California.  For information on attending and meeting the Cosmic Ray and other outstanding speakers in person, please contact Rob Potter through  See you up on the sacred mountain!  -Cosmic Ray)

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

    NOTE: Please, accept the first opt-in email you receive, otherwise you will not be added to the mailing list. Do check your Spam/Junk folder incase.