The Mutual UFO Network recently announced its latest change in executive directors. David “The Captain” MacDonald is vacating the position to be filled August 1 by Jan Harzan, a longtime member of the MUFON board of directors. Offered is a two-part post exploring recent MUFON history and circumstances, including comments provided by scientists, UFO investigators and MUFON members, both past and present.
The French Connection
Alejandro Rojas reported the MUFON leadership change in an article published July 23. The article also stated there was a “partnership” between MUFON and GEIPAN, a French organization dedicated to investigating aerial phenomena.
According to its website, GEIPAN consists of two full-time staff: a manager and an assistant. The small agency is funded by The National Center for Space Studies (CNES) and depends on external support for such resources as investigations and monitoring cases.
“National Defense operates at several levels in the operation of GEIPAN,” the site states, including representatives from the French Air Force, National Gendarmerie and National Police who act as consultants and sit on steering committees. Details of the relationship between MUFON and GEIPAN are unclear, as are the nature of specific talks conducted, proposed activities and methods of measuring success.
Four Executive Directors Since 2009
James Carrion was the designated leader of MUFON from 2006 until 2009, at which time he left in a storm of turmoil. A great deal of the controversy surrounded an unsteady alliance between MUFON and Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies. Mr. Carrion accused members of the MUFON board of directors of several questionable actions, including enabling Mr. Bigelow to move funds and act on behalf of undisclosed financial sponsors. Many of the issues raised at the time remain unexplained.
Clifford Clift briefly took control of the MUFON bridge before passing the responsibilities to Mr. MacDonald at the beginning of 2012. Mr. Clift's term was largely characterized by the complaints of disgruntled volunteers, disappointed members and a distrusting public.
Unfortunately for MacDonald, his time as executive director will likely be most remembered for ill advised sensationalizing and what many refer to as sham inquiry, or the misrepresentation of nonscientific activities as science. Prior to the 2012 MUFON Symposium, MacDonald made a series of statements in which he encouraged the public to attend in order to witness “major” and “blockbuster” announcements. He explained that the announcements involved information and material so sensitive that “proper security protocols” were required. It all turned out to be about the journals of deceased researcher Leonard Stringfield and the work of investigator Harry Drew concerning an already known story of an alleged 1953 UFO crash.
The circumstances were widely interpreted as insults to intelligence, and universally viewed as damaging to the credibility of MacDonald and MUFON. He defended his actions and denied he exaggerated the importance of the announcements, informing this writer that importance was in the eye of the beholder.
MacDonald and his organization arguably took sham inquiry to new ufology lows when the 2013 MUFON Symposium and its theme, “Science, UFOs and the Search for ET,” included a number of speakers that could be reasonably described as scientific embarrassments. Dumbfounding to even remotely discerning members of the UFO community, Harzan told the Las Vegas Sun just before the conference that science and ufology are “one in the same.”
MacDonald was emailed in preparation for this post. He was offered opportunities to comment on aspects of his position as executive director that he found most and least rewarding, as well as additional thoughts he might choose to express. He did not respond.
Executive director elect Jan Harzan is currently the MUFON Southern California assistant state director. Some are hopeful he will ring in a new era of scientific investigation, functional public relations and organizational accountability. Others, however, are much less optimistic due to such circumstances as Harzan's long standing position on the tumultuous board of directors and questionable situations originating out of MUFON Southern California. Harzan did not respond to multiple requests to answer a few questions for inclusion in this post.
Purported Scientific Study of UFOs
Mr. Sheaffer is a writer, maintains the blog Bad UFOs and is a retired Silicon Valley data communications engineer. He was a presenter at The Amazing Meeting 2013, an annual conference for skeptics, and is well known for such activities within ufology as being a founding member of the UFO Subcommittee of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
“The first organized scientific body in the world,” Sheaffer explained, “the Royal Society of London, took as its motto a Latin phrase that translates as 'take nobody's word for it.' That's what made them scientific: they stopped listening to stories about witches, ghosts, etc., and insisted on solid evidence. This allowed science to advance. Today we know that 'reliable eyewitness testimony' really isn't, so if all you have are stories about UFOs, instead of UFOs themselves, you really don't have anything.”
To the credit of MUFON, the keynote speaker at the 2013 MUFON Symposium, Dr. Francois Louange of IPACO, a company specializing in photo and video analysis, may very well significantly contribute to the future of ufology. Dr. Louange has indeed demonstrated a history of championing sound investigation principles and science within UFO research.
The invitation extended to Louange, however and as Sheaffer illustrated, does not exempt MUFON from warranted criticism concerning the inclusion of some scientifically reprehensible speakers. It should be noted that the circumstances not only occurred while the conference was misleadingly marketed as a fundamentally scientific event, but such incidents can be cited consistently taking place and spanning many years within an organization claiming to be dedicated to “the scientific study of UFOs for the benefit of humanity.”
“Conjectures are fine,” Frank Purcell explained, “but they are not science.”
Mr. Purcell is a retired process design engineer and holds a number of science-related degrees, including a Masters of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelors in Computer Science. A long time content contributor to The UFO Trail, Purcell wrote:
“Generally, for something to be considered for scientific study, controlled laboratory experiments are needed, but, not always; the example of the theory of evolution comes to mind as an empirical, fact based science. And another counter-example is astrophysics. While much is known, say, of stars, we don't have the ability to experiment with them. However, for stars and for evolution, and for other non-laboratory examples, there is a body of laboratory-based knowledge that supports theories of evolution and of astrophysics, i.e., biology in the case for evolution and physics for the astrophysics case.
“Turning our attention to ufology, while UFOs haven't been experimented on in laboratories what we do have are anecdotal reports, sometimes with physical evidence such as radar reports, photographs, film and even, occasionally, medical information from people interacting with UFOs. But an important distinction needs to be made if we contrast ufology with, say, evolution and astrophysics. With UFOs there is no body of laboratory based knowledge from which to draw reasonable theories. The best people can do is make conjectures.
“A scientific approach is to collect data and to develop many hypotheses with the goal of the hypotheses developed to fit the data. And it cannot be stressed enough that any conclusions or even a credible theory without direct evidence or a supporting background of knowledge are premature and not to be taken very seriously in any scientific sense.”
Perhaps the public is tiring of such tactics as employed at the 2013 MUFON Symposium and their popularity will subsequently decline. After all, it is only when the demand for sensationalized sham inquiry subsides that the supply will follow. The MUFON treasurer, Thomas Whitmore, who is also a member of the board of directors, was emailed twice and asked to provide figures for the symposium. The attendance, revenue generated and cost of the event were specifically requested. No replies were received from Mr. Whitmore.
Whatever the financial bottom line may have been for the 2013 symposium, Harzan will have several challenges to address, and slowing the trend of dwindling membership will certainly be among them. The organization reported some 6,000 worldwide members in 1994. More recent reports include the MUFON Orange County website, which states “over 5,000” members, the main MUFON website puts the current figure at 2,800, while MUFON Georgia says there are “about 2,500” global members.
Steve Murillo and what used to be MUFON LA recently announced they were pulling down their shutter and forming a new group, the UFO and Paranormal Research Society. Founded July 15, the upstart's Meetup page indicates over 700 members. The UFO Trail offered Mr. Murillo an opportunity to comment for this post and inquired about MUFON LA jumping the fence. He replied July 27:
“Thanks for asking. The reason we split was pretty simple. My boss, the State Director for Southern California, began to meddle in the affairs of MUFON LA, and this after 12 years of autonomy where she was basically the 'invisible woman'. Recently, and for whatever reason, she decided she needed to insert herself into the day to day affairs of MUFON LA and my Field Investigators. She began sending them strange, rambling, unsolicited emails and a few even received phone calls. As a result of her uninvited communications, several of my best investigators quit. Then she had my Director of Field Investigations transferred. This guy had been with me for 10 years, and then suddenly, without consultation with me or any warning, he was moved.
“After all of this, I asked Jan Harzan, who will soon be the head of MUFON (if not so already) if after he took office would she still be my boss. He said yes, and I said 'in that case, I must tender my resignation'. I had originally intended to simply disband the organization and not continue with the monthly meetings. But my Board surprised me and almost all wanted to continue on with the meetings. So, we came up with the name and intend to carry on.”
The MUFON Southern California state director, Georgeanne Cifarelli, was subsequently emailed and offered an opportunity to comment on the circumstances surrounding Mr. Murillo and his peers at former MUFON LA. Ms. Cifarelli was also encouraged to provide comment on MUFON purporting to conduct scientific investigation. She stated, among other things, that she had no knowledge of the MUFON LA situation in the following July 28 reply:
“Please go to mufon.com and explore the world's largest international scientific organization composed of people seriously interested in studying and researching the phenomenon known as unidentified flying objects by combining their mutual talents, areas of expertise and investigative efforts. You may also order the Field Investigative Manual to understand MUFON'S CODE OF ETHICS.
“MUFON is a fine organization due in great part of the efforts by the volunteers. Field Investigators are trained and high standards of professionalism are required by MUFON. Ufology has a long history of fragmented relationships and research efforts due to political infighting, personal attacks, perceived competition, etc. MUFON is a team and it is important that you work as a team member in meeting MUFON's three primary goals of investigation, research, and education. All state officers are held to the highest standard in protecting the reputation of the organization and all of its projects and research programs. Denigration of anyone within MUFON or other UFO organizations is not acceptable behavior. MUFON appreciates that everyone is respectful, courteous, and professional.
“I have had a long run with MUFON since 1988 and have been fortunate to maintain a strong Chapter in MUFON. Everyone long involved in my Chapter is still involved. They are still here standing. I have also been fortunate to appoint experienced and skilled people to positions in Southern California that have dedication. There was only one unskilled volunteer whom I appointed in hopes they could be taught and become learned, however, that was not successful. Some positions are filled by MUFON members who although start off with good intentions, do not adequately perform the responsibilities of their position and is unfair to the vast majority of MUFON leaders and investigators who take their position seriously and work hard to fulfill responsibilities.
“I have no information on Journal Subscriber, Steve Murillo, nor have any interest to know. He has not been involved with my Los Angeles County Section for quite some time now. I also am not aware of his 'peers' you wrote about. I have no clue who they might be, so I can not comment, nor do I know about this new group you speak about, although I happen to know of the other smaller organizations in California if you'd like to know how to contact them for your articles.
“I am most pleased with the incoming new International Director. I am most certain he will excel. Should you come out my way perhaps I can arrange a dinner? You might want to interview our new International Director sometime in the near future.”The state director's response was most appreciated. The UFO Trail replied July 29, supplying Ms. Cifarelli with a link to an article about MUFON LA disbanding and forming the UFO & Paranormal Research Society, in the event she should ever become inclined to acquaint herself with the circumstances. She was also informed that if she would care to act as a liaison to Director Harzan, her services would be most appreciated, as numerous attempts to obtain comment from the man, including for this post as well as circumstances concerning an appearance by Barbara Lamb at MUFON Orange County (which will be explored in Part Two), were not acknowledged by Harzan.
While The UFO Trail was most grateful for the time and attention Ms. Cifarelli invested in composing her comments, it was noted that she did not directly address the issue of MUFON purporting to conduct scientific investigation. She was subsequently asked to please provide a direct reply to how an organization claiming to be dedicated to scientific research could consistently participate in such activities as promoting the existence of ET-human hybrids as claimed by Barbara Lamb, inviting David Jacobs to present his unsubstantiated assertions and providing a venue for publishing misrepresentations contained in Filer's Files. Ms. Cifarelli did not immediately respond.
Antonio Paris is the founder and director of Aerial Phenomena Investigations (API), an organization aiming to revive ufology and bring more science to the subject. Mr. Paris recently launched a new API website and maintains a Twitter account with over 82,000 followers. According to his Amazon bio, Paris is a former US counterintelligence officer, holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems and holds a Masters of Science in Planetary Science.
Paris is a certified MUFON STAR Team investigator and advocates cooperation between UFO organizations, researchers and the public. Among the more active figures in ufology, Paris consistently attends events and frequently conducts speaking engagements. Fresh off participating in a MUFON Maryland meeting where he discussed potential areas of improvement for MUFON, he offered the following comments for this article:
“As is the case with any enterprise, organizational change is critical to survival. MUFON today, in my opinion, is struggling with an identity crisis. If MUFON hopes to remain relevant in the UFO community, I sincerely hope Mr. Jan Harzan can revive MUFON back to the organization it was decades ago.
“After two years at MUFON, I quickly realized several problems that can be easily fixed by Mr. Harzan. The first and most important mission for Mr. Harzan is to ensure MUFON recalibrate its compass. After attending dozens of MUFON conferences nationally, for example, it is clear that MUFON has been inundated with topics that have nothing to do with Ufology – it is intoxicated with conspiracy theories, hoaxes, junk science, new age claptrap and a level of sensationalism that would make The National Enquirer envious. His first goal, therefore, should be to drain the swamp of all this garbage and bring the science back to the subject.
“Additionally, lackluster cooperation within MUFON itself and, more importantly, with other UFO organizations has derailed cooperative investigations. UFO investigations at MUFON are compartmentalized both within the organization and outside. Recently, the Director of Investigations for MUFON directed Field Investigators not to cooperate or work on team investigations with other UFO organizations. This directive, which in essence prohibits cooperation with the UFO community, will likely derail MUFON and lead to its demise. As a former Special Agent for the Department of Defense, I can assure you that not sharing investigative data with sister agencies (that have a need to know) will derail the investigation.
“Mr. Harzan, in my opinion, has the ability to revive MUFON. His dedication to MUFON, as exemplified in his years of service, clearly indicates he is committed to MUFON.”...........................................................................................................................
MUFON, Science and Deception, Part Two