My Response to Jerome Clark

 

The following are my responses to Jerome Clark's charges against me, as posted by him here in February 2001. I just discovered them on August 7, 2003.

Direct quotes from Clark appear << bracketed in bold >>, followed by my response.

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<< . . . a self-serving screed from militant debunker Gary P. Posner, who once threatened to sue CUFOS because of an editorial I wrote critical of debunking excesses. >>

If anyone can explain how the word "militant" applies to my writings, as opposed to Mr. Clark's, please e-mail me.

My "self-serving screed" about this matter can be found here.

Clark's editorial in International UFO Reporter, which is published by the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), singled me out by name (along with a few other members of CSICOP) as one for whom ". . . it is not enough to say that those with whom it [CSICOP] disagrees are wrong. It must also depict them as loathsome human beings." When personal correspondence proved fruitless, I hired an attorney to request from Clark a retraction, apology and clarification of his reckless and defamatory charge.

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<< . . . I note that in 1992, in an interesting Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research paper on CSICOP's history of excesses, George P. Hansen -- who is no more a friend of mine than Posner is -- also mentioned the "ambulatory schizophrenia" assertion Posner made in a letter published in a 1978 issue of CSICOP's magazine. >>

My "ambulatory schizophrenia" letter can be found here. A discussion of its context can be found here and, as revealed later on that page, Hansen's editor, Rhea White, had this to say in a personal letter to me dated 10/6/93: "Sometimes I think I must be crazy because I can see your point and others apparently can't, but I'm too far gone now to change. I still remain confident that any sensible person reading your letter is bound to see your point no matter what Hansen writes. Otherwise blue is red and up is down. I plan to stick to the view that up is up." (Emphasis in original.)

Interestingly, in his 2001 book The Trickster and the Paranormal, Hansen comments on the mental stability of UFOlogists and paranormalists, according to David Perkins' book review in issue #80 of the British publication Magonia (January 2003): "Hansen counsels that ufologists and paranormal researchers must have an extremely high tolerance for ambivalence, ambiguity and paradox to avoid disillusionment and personal destabilisation."

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<< Posner's curious claim was widely remarked on at the time among observers of the newly organized CSICOP. I recall conversations in which even skeptics laughingly or concernedly cited it as evidence of extremism in CSICOP's ranks and as evidence there might be problems down the road (as there were). If memory serves, it was no less than CSICOP co-founder (and early defector) Marcello Truzzi who first drew the letter to my attention. No wonder, in retrospect, Posner found it so embarrassing and sought to silence anyone who reminded the world of what he had written, one hopes (charitably) in the enthusiasm of the moment. >>

I know nothing of this "extremism" reaction. I do recall Ken Frazier, the highly respected editor of CSICOP’s Skeptical Inquirer and whose decision it was to publish my letter, telling me at the time that he agreed with me.

"It was no less than CSICOP co-founder . . . Marcello Truzzi" implies that Truzzi was one of CSICOP’s pillars. While he was one of several co-founders, he lasted about a year before realizing that his brand of "skepticism" was out of place at CSICOP, and went on to found his own "skeptical" organization. The term "Truzzi skeptic" was later coined (I think by CSICOP's Philip Klass) to describe one who claims to be a "skeptic" but whose actions indicate neutrality toward, or even a tendency toward belief in, as-yet-unproven paranormal claims, as opposed to assuming the "null hypothesis" as demanded by science (i.e., the as-yet-unproven paranormal claim is assumed not  to be genuine until such time as extraordinary evidence compels otherwise).

I am so "embarrassed" by my letter that I resurrected it in the chapter I contributed to the book Skeptical Odysseys (see here). However, let me make clear that unless Mr. Clark believes himself to be in contact with space aliens via the use of a Venus flytrap, or holds some other belief of comparable deviation from reality, I do not mean to imply that his disordered thinking and behavior are suggestive of a variant of schizophrenia.

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<< IUR, with the attorney's vetting, drafted a nonretraction/retraction, essentially stating that because of legal threats we could not publish a defense or rejoinder to Posner's letter. >>

As I explain in my article cited above, the non-rejoinder stipulation was a compromise I proposed after Clark ("with the attorney's vetting") reneged on his prior offer to "insert a paragraph into our next editorial stating Dr. Posner's concerns and making it clear that he does not consider 'pro-paranormal activists,' including ufologists, to be 'loathsome human beings.'"

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<< Even Phil Klass and CSICOP refused to back Posner and encouraged him to drop the matter. >>

Phil Klass did offer me his counsel, as he told Clark in a letter dated September 10, 1993: "I recall telling Gary that while I felt he had grounds for legal action, I thought it would be quite costly to pursue his grievances via litigation, adding that I doubted whether he could even hope to recoup his own legal expenses from CUFOS's meager coffers. But I added that the decision was his to make. . . . [A]t the next CSICOP [Executive] Council meeting . . . [p]ossibly because CSICOP was up to its ears in litigation, the word of Gary's plan evoked scant comment and certainly no 'vote of endorsement.'"

In response to a 9/25/93 follow-up letter from Clark, Phil's 9/28/93 reply contained the following: "It is my hope that some day someone . . . will utilize litigation to teach you to be more cautious, and more accurate, in your published charges."

And in response to Clark's response to that letter, Klass added on 10/11/93, " . . . However, during the recent MUFON conference, on three different occasions pro-UFOlogists -- two of whom are extremely well known and respected in UFOlogy -- posed essentially the same question: 'Has Jerry Clark lost his marbles? Previously he only said dreadful things about you, Phil. Now he's making the same kind of wild charges against Walt Andrus [head of MUFON] and others in the pro-UFO camp.' . . . I only hope that the Grim Reaper will be kind enough to allow me to see you in court, defending yourself against libel and defamation. And that I will be invited to testify as a witness, quoting from my voluminous Clarkamada files."

Clark wrote back on 10/16/93 accusing Phil of creating "literary fictions . . . I shall presume that the remarks attributed to them are in fact yours, since they typify your loose approach to fact." Phil's reply on 10/22 contained the following:

In response to yours of Oct. 16, this is to inform you that one of the three "extremely well known and respected . . . pro-UFOlogists" who volunteered a comment on the troubled state of your mind was Walter Andrus. Another was George Hansen. The third is too closely affiliated with CUFOS [Clark's employer] to be identified.

. . . I plan to send my bulging Clarkamada files to the Philip J. Klass UFO collection at the American Philosophical Society library in Philadelphia. A fitting finale will be your letter of Sept. 25 in which you grossly distort the obvious, clearcut meaning of the 4th sentence of my letter of Sept. 10 about what I said to Dr. Gary Posner. When your error was brought to your attention in my letter of Sept. 28, instead of admitting your error you launched a typical Clarkamada attack.

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<< In fact, CSICOP, which was the subject of the sentence to which Posner objects but in which he nowhere figures, indicated in an unsolicited letter (from executive director Barry Karr, September 3) to Clark that it found nothing in his editorial (reprinted in the July 5 issue of Saucer Smear) to merit legal action. >>

As previously stated, I was singled out by name in an earlier paragraph as one of the members of CSICOP to whom Clark's reckless charge was addressed. And as I explain in my article cited above, "To make certain that Clark did indeed consider me among those CSICOP members who 'must depict [those with whom we disagree] as loathsome human beings,' I reinitiated our correspondence and asked him. Clark responded: 'From all available evidence . . . you consider ufologists to be a loathsome lot . . . moral lepers. . . . I hate to tell you this, Doc, but the shoe fits. Wear it in style.'" Since I could not reason with Clark, I decided to have an attorney reason with his attorney.

Re: Barry Karr, as my attorney told Clark in a letter dated December 16, 1992, "Dr. Posner has spoken with Mr. Karr as recently as December 12, 1992. I assure you that Mr. Karr disputes your characterization of CSICOP as vigorously as Dr. Posner, though CSICOP is 'loath' to become embroiled in any more litigation, especially when its chances of recovering any substantial monetary reward is nil."

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<< In a June 29, 1979, letter to Ron Westrum, Posner asked rhetorically, "Is [Allen Hynek] dishonest? . . . I do not know the answers to these questions." In other words, he deemed ufology's most prominent proponent's dishonesty at least an open question. >>

Though Hynek believed that UFOs represent a "quantum leap" phenomenon, he had expressed serious doubts that they were actually "nuts and bolts" spacecraft, given the vast distances between solar systems. Yet, in his books he endorsed UFO cases that seemed -- if genuine -- to have no other possible explanation. Thus, in my 6/29/79 letter to Westrum, I wrote: " . . . [I]f one is supposed to be able to infer from his pronouncements that he has profound doubts about the 'nuts and bolts' spaceship theory (in the face of his expressed belief in the reality of cases such as Hill, Father Gill, Pascagoula, etc.), doesn't this say something very important about, at the very least, his ability to communicate his thoughts? Is he simply intellectually sloppy? Is he dishonest? Schizophrenic? Does he expect logicians in the scientific community to take him seriously? Is he content to be taken seriously by the readers of the National Enquirer? I do not know the answers to these questions. Do you?"

In response, Westrum's 7/9/79 reply to me included the following: ". . . I think it would be fair to say that Hynek often appears inconsistent in his pronouncements, and this inconsistency is not entirely the fault of the press. Hynek's problem is that he tends to say what he thinks at the moment, rather than any pre-arranged policy. I think that he is excessively honest rather than the reverse."

And years before Clark posted his diatribe on the net, he knew my feelings about Hynek. From my 8/26/92 letter to Clark: "I believe that Hynek was basically a very nice and naive/trusting man who (as I so eloquently expressed to him in my letter of January 23, 1978) boxed himself into a corner when he chose to become the head of the pro-UFO advocacy movement."

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<< On September 9 of the same year he referred, again in a letter to Westrum, to Philip J. Klass's "repeated demands for some semblance of honesty and professional morality among ufologists," implying that such are in short supply in ufologists' ranks. >>

Clark knows very well the context of that selective snippet. On September 30, 1968, Klass had sent a 10-page memorandum to Dr. Robert A. Frosch, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research and Development, concerning Dr. James E McDonald, a Navy atmospheric physicist and prominent UFO proponent. The "Subject" line of the memorandum was: "Use of Navy Funds for Flying Saucer Investigations." The following are but a few quotes from that memorandum:

In reality, the reference letter [from McDonald, dated September 25, 1968] reveals that McDonald did indeed spend Navy atmospheric physics research funds for his UFO investigations and that this was done with the cognizance and approval of his ONR [Office of Naval Research] contract monitor, James Hughes.

McDonald's letter implies that there was nothing clandestine in his use of Navy funds for flying saucer investigations. It seems odd that McDonald has never once credited ONR for even partial support of his UFO work in any of his published papers on the subject, or in any of his talks that I have heard. It is customary to give credit to the sponsoring agency. Failure to do so normally brings a quick reminder from the contract monitor . . .

Was any effort made to pro-rate his air fare to Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, or was it all charged to his ONR contract? . . . McDonald's letter claims that his two years of [travel and] effort have produced new methodology for analyzing sub-suns and near-tangent geometry. . . . He admits that he has not yet gotten around to publishing these results because he has been too busy with his "continuing efforts to get the UFO problem out into the full light of scientific inquiry." . . . But the critical question is whether these were merely chance by-products of McDonald's determined efforts to show that UFOs are extraterrestrial spaceships. . . .

For nearly two years after McDonald and I crossed viewpoints on our respective theories on UFOs, I attempted no rebuttal of his many talks around the country in which he resorted to half-truths if not outright falsehood. I sought to excuse these on the grounds of lapses in memory. Then early in May of this year, we both appeared on a TV program together. . . . McDonald proceeded to deny statements which he had earlier made, despite my reminding him that I had tape recordings of these statements. This forced me to make a new appraisal as to the reasons for his departure from fact.

Given the above context, Westrum's letter to me of 9/2/79 contained the following: "My question is simply this: Is there any other case in which Klass has exerted himself as a private citizen . . . to expose other fudging on government contracts? If not, then it is hard to believe that his motive in the McDonald affair was his generalized public concern rather than his private jealousy."

Thus, in my September 9 letter of response, I asked, "Isn't it just possible that Klass' interest in redressing McDonald's UFO-related errors and falsehoods, and preventing his further misuse of ONR funds for his private UFO-related travels, is fully consistent with Phil's repeated demands for some semblance of honesty and professional morality among Ufologists, rather than merely being a manifestation of some 'private jealousy'?!?"

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<< In a January 26, 1978, letter to Hynek, he said, "If you continue your present course, your personal finances may remain sound, and you may even eventually get your own TV show, but I assure you that your credibility among the 'logical' segment of the population (no matter how few of us there may be left) will erode to zero, if it has not already done so." The implication, of course, is that Hynek's UFO interests were motivated by profits and publicity rather than scientific curiosity. >>

The context (as Clark well knows): I had just written Hynek six pages of point-by-point refutations of claims made by him both in personal correspondence to me and on a nationally televised TV program. My four-page letter is referred to in this portion of my chapter in Skeptical Odysseys. The additional two pages followed three days later and dealt mostly with comments he made about the Betty/Barney Hill UFO case on the previous night's edition of the PM Magazine television show. Some passages from that letter:

You find the "astronomical distances extremely formidable, as [you] do the plethora of UFO reports and the reported actions thereof extremely hard to reconcile with the ETI [extraterrestrial intelligence] hypothesis" (from your letter to me of 6/1/76), yet you state to national TV audiences that you accept the Hills' abduction story. . . .

You stated on the same program that if the Hill case had been unique, you might be able to accept that a "seizure" was responsible for their story, but that because there were hundreds of such stories, they cannot be so easily dismissed. . . .

Just as you dismiss Klass' detective work (in cases of apparent UFO hoaxes) as 'resorting to hoaxes and hallucinations,' you seeimgly disregard Dr. [Benjamin] Simon's medical opinion of the Hill case [he was their psychiatrist] when you state to a national TV audience that a "seizure" is the alternative to accepting the story as genuine. Just as you seem to fail, time after time, to note the "soft spots" in stories, which constitute the clues which ultimately lead to their explanation, you seem to have failed once again in this case. [As Dr. Simon determined,] although both Barney and Betty recalled under hypnosis similar details up until the supposed abduction took place, Barney could recall almost no detail at all about the abduction, whereas Betty recalled all of the many details with which we are familiar. This important observation, along with the dream-like qualities of Betty's recollections, including sexual symbolisms, led Dr. Simon to conclude that Betty had simply dreamed of the "abduction," and that Barney passively acquired his knowledge of it as a result of constantly hearing his wife retelling the story to friends and neighbors.

Thus, I concluded my two-page letter as follows:

Thanks to TV GUIDE, I have been able to view many of your recent TV appearances, as you well know, and have found them to be quite distressing. Even if UFOs do represent a "quantum jump" phenomenon (and as I've said before, I hope they do), your illogical statements only serve to alienate (no pun intended) persons such as myself. If you continue to pursue your present course, your personal finances may remain sound, and you may even eventually get your own TV show, but I assure you that your credibility among the "logical" segment of the population (no matter how few of us there may be left) will erode to zero, if it has not already done so.

[Note: See my subsequent 2013 article in Skeptical Inquirer about that letter to Hynek.]

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<< In a September 19, 1979, letter to Clark, Posner went beyond innuendo to state bluntly his belief in the unsavory character of UFO proponents: "In a field in which the purported evidence is so flimsy and subjective, one would be very foolish to trust the opinions and judgment of anyone with an established pattern of deceptive and evasive behavior -- hence my present mistrust of virtually all of the prominent UFO proponents." >>

I accept Clark's previously stated view that Dr. Hynek was "ufology's most prominent proponent." At the very least, when confronted with uncomfortable questions (as in my personal correspondence), Hynek was evasive and factually incorrect with his responses. His misleading pronouncements on television and elsewhere, as discussed in my aforementioned two-page follow-up letter to him, could be explainable in a number of ways, with deceptiveness as one possibility, though he was less deceptive than many others in the field and, I think, an overall well-intended (if misguided) personality. I believe that I am entitled to that opinion, and to express it in personal correspondence. I do not believe (nor did my attorney) that Mr. Clark has the right, in response, to recklessly charge in a magazine that "it is not enough to say that those with whom [I] disagree are wrong. [I] must also depict them as loathsome human beings."

Another reason why I grew to mistrust Dr. Hynek's pronouncements is detailed here.

Mistrust of one's pro-paranormal pronouncements in no way implies a belief that the person "must be a loathsome human being." From my 8/17/92 letter to Clark:  " . . . This is not to say that I would not trust an Allen Hynek with my car, or with my child. But, having learned the hard way, I can no longer trust 'the opinions and judgment' of an Allen Hynek with regard to the nature of the UFO phenomenon."

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<< Posner expressed a comparable sentiment to Tom Zucco, a reporter for a Florida newspaper, Naples Daily News. In its May 31, 1992, issue Posner is quoted as indicating that ufologists researching UFO abductions have questionable motives. They have created a manufactured mystery because of their "interest in promoting UFO stories or selling books." In other words, ufologists are not interested in truth-seeking but in creating a sensation and making money from it. >>

I don't think I have ever been quoted entirely accurately in any newspaper article. But certainly those "UFO abductionists" who have written books have an interest in promoting "abduction" stories and selling more books. Though some (perhaps all) of them might sincerely believe the "abduction" stories, if their primary interest was in determining the actual truth, it seems to me that they would heed, rather than dismiss, the warnings of psychologists (and others) regarding their implanting of false memories through their leading questions and misuse of hypnosis.

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<< In an October 11, 1985, letter Clark asked Posner to cite five "points of disagreement" he might have with fellow debunker Klass. Posner said on October 16 that "I cannot think of any" such disagreements -- a point repeated in a November 5 communication. On August 26, 1992, Posner reaffirmed his entire agreement with Klass's pronouncements and on September 2 wrote, "I cannot think of any substantive UFO issues with which I disagree significantly with Phil." A third affirmation appears in a September 10 letter. In short, Posner indicates that, among other things, he has no problem with anything Klass says about the character of persons with a sympathetic interest in UFOs.

In his many writings Klass has accused ufologists of a variety of social crimes . . . >>

I had read all of Phil Klass' books and had known him personally since 1977, and could not think of any substantive UFO issues about which I disagreed significantly with him. That does not mean that I personally vouched for every word he had ever written in his voluminous correspondences with various ufologists. In fact, in my September 2 letter to Clark, in the sentence immediately following the one from which he selectively quotes, I said, "Contrary to Clark-logic, this does not necessarily mean, of course, that we 'agree absolutely,' or that I necessarily 'embrace and endorse with no reservations whatever [Phil's] views.' I am not even aware of all of Phil's views." And, as Clark knows full well, I had a "sympathetic interest in UFOs" well into my 20s, and was even a pro-UFO activist for part of that time, as recounted in my chapter in Skeptical Odysseys.

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<< He [Klass] has accused ufologists of working for the same ends as the Soviet Union (while stopping short of calling them conscious agents of international Communism). In early 1984 Klass circulated the transcript of a phone conversation he had with University of Nebraska administrator Robert Mortenson. In it Klass says, referring to ufologists who believe the U.S. government is concealing significant UFO secrets: "[A]s a patriotic American, I very much resent the charges of 'coverup,' of lying, of falsehoods, charged against not one Administration, not two, but eight Administrations . . ."

In this instance Posner's endorsement of a Klass charge -- in this case that reckless and irresponsible ufologists are doing such damage to their country that a "patriotic American" feels compelled to protest -- was not just implicit but explicit. In the April 25, 1984, issue of Saucer Smear, Posner discussed the matter and praised Klass as a "highly respected journalist and editor with a well-earned reputation for scrupulous honesty and factual accuracy (among all but the 'pro-Weirdness' crowd)." Referring to Klass's statements to Mortenson, Posner declared that if he were Mortenson, he "would have appreciated Phil's efforts to educate" him and other university officials responsible for sponsoring a conference organized by ufologists. >>

This has to rank as one of the great "Clarkisms" of all time. My letter in Saucer Smear contained no reference whatsoever to Klass' charge as described above, much less an "explicit endorsement." The following two paragraphs contain the entirety of my letter as it appeared in the April 25, 1984, issue of Saucer Smear (bracketed information added for clarity at this time, but emphases/underlining in the original):

The title of your March 1st editorial ["If Phil Klass Didn't Exist, Ufologists Would Have to Invent Him!" and dealing with the Mortenson/University of Nebraska affair] almost hit the nail on the head. The "Phil Klass" that you describe as "the epitomy of the anti-Everything" is indeed an invention of the Ufologists. The real Phil Klass is a highly respected journalist and editor with a well-earned reputation for scrupulous honesty and factual accuracy (among all but the "pro-weirdness" crowd). His views, rather than being "anti-Everything," are in fact "pro-science."

Similarly, there is no credible evidence of a "Cosmic Watergate" U.S. Government cover-up of UFO evidence, as Phil so painstakingly documents in his recent book. If I were an official at the University of Nebraska, I would have been personally and professionally embarrassed by the promotional literature and subject content of the pro-UFO conference, and would have appreciated Phil's efforts to educate those responsible for organizing and promoting such a bizarre spectacle.

Klass's explanation of the Mortenson/Nebraska affair can be found here. Mortenson did express to Klass his appreciation for being made aware of the fact that no skeptics had been invited to present at the university-sponsored UFO conference.

As for Klass' journalistic reputation, it is stellar, as evidenced by the many awards he has won, which include:

  • Aviation/Space Writers Association Award: 1972, '74, '75, '77, and '86.
  • Aviation/Space Writers Association's Lauren D. Lyman Award (its ultimate tribute) for a career distinguished by "the qualities of integrity, accuracy and excellence in reporting": 1989
  • Royal Aeronautical Society (London)'s Boeing Decade of Excellence Award for lifetime achievement in technical journalism: 1998.

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<< In its early days (especially the late 1970s) CSICOP defined its mission as no less than defense of democracy, allegedly imperiled by irrational cults such as ufology. The historical analogy most often cited was Weimar Germany, in which occult groups (some of which included Nazis in their membership) proliferated. That is where James Oberg's reference -- in a 1981 book -- obliquely linking ufologists and fascistically inclined occultists came from. The analogy was so brazenly bogus that CSICOP, after criticism from within its own ranks, dropped it. After my IUR editorial appeared, Oberg sent me some near-hysterical letters alleging that I had misrepresented his views, which I hadn't. Like Posner, rather than admit that he'd been wrong or that he had since changed his mind (which actually would have made both men look good, since everybody makes mistakes), he tried to silence the critic who'd pointed to the unfortunate claim. >>

To be likened to James Oberg is an honor. Oberg's explanation of this matter can be found in this portion of my aforementioned article, which notes (in the next-to-last paragraph) that Clark promised to publish Oberg's letter. If Clark ever honored that promise, Oberg is unaware. Bets, anyone?


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