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Dr. James McDonald's Fight For UFO Science

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sat, 12 Nov 2005 09:44:39 -0500
Fwd Date: Sat, 12 Nov 2005 09:44:39 -0500
Subject: Dr. James McDonald's Fight For UFO Science

Source: FATE Magazine -  Lakeville, Minnesota - USA


November 2005 =09

Dr. James McDonald's Fight For UFO Science
by Ann Druffel

Dr. James E. McDonald was a bold and articulate scientist who
publicly entered the UFO research field in the spring of 1966.
He had studied UFO reports privately in his home town of Tucson,
Arizona, from 1958 to early 1966, and had come to the conclusion
that UFOs were "a serious question that was being neglected by

In April 1966, McDonald put his career, scientific reputation,
and personal life on the line for the cause of UFO research. He
pursued the subject for the next five years, tapping his
numerous high-level contacts in science, government, and the
military. He made great strides among the scientific community,
persuading many highly-placed authorities that UFOs must be
treated as a serious problem.

Respected Scientist

In 1966 McDonald was at the peak of his scientific career. He
was only 45, yet he was respected internationally as an eminent
atmospheric physicist with impeccable credentials. He was chief
physicist at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) on the
campus of the University of Arizona at Tucson, as well as a
brilliant professor of meteorology. He was also a valued member
of the U.S. Navy's Stormfury Project, and served on the National
Academy of Sciences Panel for Weather and Climate Modification.
His distinguished list of publications in top-rated, refereed
scientific journals was second to none. Yet he still found time
for his wife Betsy and their six children.

McDonald had a sense of responsibility to the public that few
scientists shared. He believed that science existed to serve the
people, not to live in ivory towers, and he often spoke out
boldly on scientific problems that impacted the public. He was
an ecological pioneer, one of the first scientists to sound the
alarm regarding damage to Earth's fragile ozone layer.

McDonald was a cordial man who made friends easily among the
scientifically-oriented lay researchers in UFO community. In
turn, he was admired for his carefully-crafted hypothesis
regarding UFOs: that some UFOs were physical, unidentified
aeroforms from unknown sources.

McDonald was interested in "occupant sightings" also, which
involved unknown creatures viewed by reliable witnesses near
landed UFOs, but realized that such sightings involved
psychological aspects that he did not feel qualified to
research. He reasoned that the scientific community must first
be convinced of the existence of those unidentified aeroforms
that resembled physical craft. Afterwards, well-funded
interdisciplinary study could address what he called "these
peripheral aspects."

Something Even More Bizarre

His prominence as an atmospheric physicist made him a logical
source to receive UFO reports from a curious public. Puzzled
witnesses found him to be a gracious, interested professional
who did not disregard or laugh at their reports. Like all
conscientious researchers, he found conventional explanations
for most, but a certain residue of unexplained sightings puzzled
and intrigued him. It was the unsolved one-half of one
percent=97the true "unknowns"=97that he came to regard as the
greatest scientific problem of his time.

McDonald explored all possible hypotheses to explain the most
puzzling sightings, and he came to the very tentative conclusion
that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was the "least
unsatisfactory hypothesis." Early in 1966, he presented eight
possible hypotheses, including the suggestion that UFOs might be
some type of unknown parapsychological phenomenon. This was an
era when the very words "parapsychology" and "psychic phenomena"
were anathema in the halls of science. McDonald's impeccable
reputation protected him, but he took the advice of trusted
colleagues and dropped the tentative parapsychological
hypothesis. Later on, however, he stated in his public talks
that, if UFOs were not extraterrestrial, they could be something
"even more bizarre."

Three Problems

In the 1950s and '60s, objective UFO researchers faced three
main problems: convincing policymakers that UFOs were worthy of
serious, funded study; dealing with the wild tales of contactees
that took attention away from serious research; and coping with
the possibility of an official government coverup of UFO

With McDonald's help, documentation surfaced to prove that the
Air Force's Project Blue Book, ostensibly engaged in studying
UFO reports, was in fact a public relations scheme whose main
purpose was to convince the public that UFOs were all
misidentifications of conventional objects. Unlike most of his
UFO colleagues, however, McDonald was never convinced that a
true coverup existed, preferring to think of government inaction
as a "grand foul-up." Nevertheless, he joined forces with his
colleagues in attacking the problem on all three fronts.

Working with contacts forged by the research organization NICAP
(National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena),
McDonald was instrumental in putting together the first and only
public congressional hearing on the UFO problem. He testified
personally with five other scientists, including J. Allen Hynek,
Leo Sprinkle, and Carl Sagan. McDonald urged government funding
of a national monitoring network of radar, satellite, and other
advanced technology to determine beyond a shadow of a doubt
whether unidentified aeroforms were invading earth's atmosphere.

McDonald met the contactee problem head-on as well. Regarding
contactees as "promoters," he ignored them whenever he could,
but spoke out boldly against them when the situation warranted
it. With unfailing logic, backed with engaging humor, he
participated in a few public debates with those who told wild
stories of encounters with blond-haired UFO occupants and
exciting rides to far-off planets. McDonald slowly lured media
attention away from the contactees and back onto objective
researchers like himself.

Science and Politics

McDonald received funding for his conventional studies from the
Office of Naval Research. Remarkably, he was briefly permitted
to use one of his ONR contracts for UFO research. No working
scientist up to that time (or since, to our knowledge) had
received government funding to conduct UFO investigations.

McDonald concentrated on cases that held out promise of
empirical evidence: radar-visual cases, confirmed photo cases,
and landing traces. However, his ONR contract was taken away in
1967 through the efforts of skeptics such as Philip J. Klass,
who protested that the Navy and Department of Defense "was using
public funds for fringe subjects."

Klass, an arch-skeptic, hassled and disputed McDonald at every
turn. Dr. Donald Menzel, a prominent Harvard astrophysicist and
author of books debunking UFOs, was another powerful enemy.

But McDonald continued on undaunted, with a minuscule, one-year
NASA grant and his own private funds. Through his direct
efforts, a UFO study group was formed in the prestigious
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and a
major scientific UFO symposium was held by the renowned American
Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Then the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) agreed
to fund McDonald in a one-man study. For the first time, the
scientific establishment seemed on the verge of accepting UFOs
as a subject for serious study. The government UFO coverup
seemed to be cracking.

But on the very day his funding was to begin, the U.S.
government announced a broad-based, half-million-dollar UFO
study to be conducted by university teams, on which neither
McDonald nor Hynek were asked to serve. The NAS abruptly
withdrew its offer.

The government study, led by eminent physicist Dr. Edward
Condon, at first seemed to be a serious attempt to solve the UFO
question. Very soon, however, it became evident that the Condon
Committee was to be another debunking program. McDonald's public
statements disclosing this made Condon another mortal enemy.

Objective scientists on Condon's staff had done competent
investigation into good UFO reports, and McDonald discovered
that they had managed to slip 30 good "unidentified" cases into
Condon's Report when it was published in 1969. He attempted to
access the Committee's files, but Condon deceptively insisted
that he had burned them. McDonald redoubled his efforts,
determined to write a book about the false conclusions in the
Condon Report and also to point out the importance of the 30
"unidentified" cases.

Surveillance and Harassment

=46rom 1968 through 1970, inexplicable occurrences vexed McDonald.
On airline trips his luggage was frequently "lost" and returned
later, rifled through. A briefcase containing sensitive reports
by military UFO witnesses was stolen off an airliner under
mysterious, unexplained circumstances. McDonald was followed
around Tucson by curious unmarked cars, and other signs of
silent surveillance puzzled him. His persistence and
perseverance brought him through these trials, but he began to
privately suspect, with good reason, that government agents
might be monitoring him. He confided his concerns only to a few
close friends.

In September 1969, one of McDonald's daughters was raped and
nearly murdered on the Harvard campus. The details of the attack
were unexplained, and McDonald's repeated attempts to clarify
them led to intense frustration.

In December 1969, NICAP was destroyed as an effective UFO
research organization through infiltration by the CIA and FBI.

Through all these frustrations, McDonald continued to doubt that
an official government coverup existed. Because of his own
scientific honesty, he refused to believe that the United States
would let a scientific question of such stunning proportions go

In his private journals, discovered by his wife, McDonald wrote:
"If any competent scientists & engineers took a close look at
UFO phenomenology they'd immediately know it's futile to figure
it out with anything less than all the world's scientific
resources=85. Hence, long since [they] would have brought in large
blocs of hi caliber talent, and they'd break it out into the
open scientific arena, since [science] --wouldn't stand for
nationalistic secrecy on UFO's! And always I come back to =91Why
not competent coverup?' =91Why No Talent?' [The] Only sensible
answer is that authorities lost track of the whole problem years

Public Humiliation

On March 2, 1971, the full force of government ridicule was
abruptly brought against McDonald in the most public arena of
all=97an open hearing before the House Appropriations Committee at
which McDonald was testifying against government plans to build
fleets of supersonic transports (SSTs). McDonald's research had
convinced him and a few other scientists that fleets of SSTs
would irreparably damage earth's ozone layer, leading to higher
levels of skin cancer. Three of the Committee members,
particularly Rep. Leon Conte, taunted him about his interest in
UFOs, misrepresenting his research and provoking open laughter
among attendees.

This devastating public ridicule affected McDonald deeply; to
some of his colleagues he seemed despondent. However, he quickly
regained his equanimity and continued researching the ozone
question, retaining the support of scientific peers. He even
wrote an eloquent letter to Conte, endeavoring to persuade him
to accept UFOs as a valid scientific problem.

A few weeks before these hearings, McDonald had told two close
colleagues in the UFO field that he was very close to learning
the answer to UFOs, and was holding discussions at "the highest
level" of government. He explained that he was not free to
discuss the details, but would soon be able to reveal what he

McDonald's handwritten UFO journals contain notations up to
March 17, 1971. Project Blue Book had been disbanded, and the
best of its radar-visual UFO files had been declassified.
McDonald had promptly traveled to Maxwell AFB in Alabama to
study and copy them. He was amazed at the of information they
contained: empirical evidence, the precious seeds of proof,
which seemed to have been ignored by the government for 24

McDonald's Death

McDonald departed the UFO field as suddenly as he had entered.
In June 1971, this intrepid, tireless man died, apparently by
his own hand, under circumstances that have never been fully

McDonald was still interviewing UFO witnesses shortly before his
death, but it was evident that something had happened. He no
longer confided to chosen colleagues that he was privy to high-
level information about UFOs, and as a result he did not seem so
sure of an imminent solution. Had he himself been the victim of
a cruel government hoax?

McDonald made his first suicide attempt on April 9, 1971, but it
went awry, leaving him virtually blind. He fought his way back
with the aid of his family and colleagues, and learned to cope
with the affliction. He returned to work. But on June 12, he
apparently tried suicide again and succeeded.

Although his death was blamed on depression, McDonald remained
rational up to the very end. He continued his work and left
detailed plans outlining projected academic projects for a full
year, including the writing of two books. UFO researchers have
hypothesized that he was assassinated by covert forces in
government. If this is true, his own disbelief in a government
conspiracy may have helped bring about his tragic death.

Though the physical UFO phenomenon continues to this day, an
aura of ridicule still surrounds the subject. A new type of
contactee abounds, and their stories of abductions,
hybridizations, and secret underground bases are accepted
without proof by a portion of the public and some prominent
researchers. The sudden loss of McDonald, ufology's most
credible exponent, made it untenable for the scientific
community to continue giving it credence. It is still a
scientific question crying out for solution.

McDonald's Legacy

McDonald's last request was that his voluminous UFO files be
kept together until a proper repository could be located. Few
researchers were given access to them until the 1990s, when
Betsy McDonald authorized a biography of her late husband. Betsy
worked closely with me on this project, granting access to
heretofore unknown materials and clarifying questions that had
puzzled the UFO field since 1971.

McDonald's UFO journals, his personal notes on classic cases,
and his lengthy letters to government, military, and scientific
authorities show the man in all his brilliance. A collection of
his talks, interviews with witnesses, and other recordings have
survived the years in audiocassette form. These are presently
being converted into CDs and archived in the University of
Arizona Library at Tucson with the aid of a FUFOR grant. All of
McDonald's UFO records are now in the Personal Collections
Section of the University of Arizona Library at Tucson,
available to the public.

James McDonald's research and careful hypotheses are now part of
ufological history. He is with us once again, and we can
listen=97and learn.


Ann Druffel is a freelance writer and researcher who lives in
Pasadena, California. She is the author of Firestorm! Dr. James
E. McDonald's Fight for UFO Science.

[Thanks to Stuart Miller of http://www.uforeview.net for the lead]