It's a Conspiracy, I Tell You

And Stanford's Dr. Peter Sturrock wants something done about it

A vacationing couple pick up their just-developed holiday snapshots only to find a flea-sized disc hovering motionless above a mountain peak.

Air Force pilots flying over the Canadian Rockies spot a brilliant orb flickering just above the clouds.

An Army helicopter's instrument panel goes haywire after it is buzzed by a bizarre, cylinder-shaped craft.

To date none of these incidents has drawn the attention of government-funded scientists.

A conspiracy is afoot in the halls of our most august scientific institutions. It has infected the chambers of our legislative bodies and impoverished the very public discourse that is freedom's flesh and blood.

We are talking, of course, about the U.S. Congress' mysterious refusal to fund the scientific study of UFOs.

"There's a great way of doing it. Congress says that it is done, and it is done. It would be easy. Congress could do it in an afternoon. It isn't a big deal," explains Dr. Peter Sturrock, Stanford professor of astrophysics and enemy No. 1 of the UFO cover-up conspiracy.

Sturrock has, for the past 25 years, campaigned to advance the fringes of science into areas his more sober colleagues consider flimflammery. His homespun "scientific journal," The Journal of Scientific Exploration, addresses questions such as whether groups of baby chicks can, through psychokinesis, influence the movements of a small, randomly operated robot; whether ghosts really exist; and, of course: whither UFOs?

Until recently, Sturrock's efforts had produced the journalistic equivalent of flint corn -- a National Enquirer article here, a few quotes in a newspaper story on UFOs there. But this summer, he reaped a bumper crop.

By rounding up friends and acquaintances in the UFO community, along with a group of nine scientists, some of whom are known for their interest in unexplained phenomena -- then distributing a press release saying that the whole lot of them believe UFOs deserve "further study" -- Sturrock achieved perhaps the greatest media coup UFOlogy has ever known.

Stories in the Washington Post, Newsday, the San Francisco Chronicle, on ABC News -- and in pretty much every other news outlet in the country -- declared that an "independent scientific panel" had called for astronomers, physicists, geologists, and other scientists to conduct serious research into UFO sightings.

Seeing as how serious research is what we do here at SF Weekly, we high-tailed it down to Sturrock's Stanford office to see how we might help out. To our astonishment, someone from the Sacramento Statehouse had beat us to the punch.

"Oddly enough I had a call from a representative of the California Legislature, who said a number of members of the California Legislature are very interested in this area and requested a copy of this report," Dr. Sturrock told us. "So obviously there was a sense there that it would be good for some serious investigation to go on. They just had a feeling that, 'Here's an area of pubic interest, and it might be good that a group that was responsible to the public would respond to it.' "

Unfortunately, Sturrock stumbled over the minor detail of the legislator's name: "I forget. I forget. I don't know his name. I forget."

Undaunted by the possibility that this nameless bureaucratic interloper might steal our thunder, we pressed ahead.

We discovered that Sturrock, leader of the Stanford physics department's Solar Theory Group, is a pink-faced Brit given to confusing bouts of animated nervous laughter. He is both well-mannered, as the British tend to be; and contemptuous of the unconverted, as committed UFO buffs tend to be. He says his quarter-century of experience as a UFO advocate has convinced him that most of academia is unfaithful to what he considers the underlying principles of science: curiosity, open-mindedness, and willingness to review hard evidence.

Sturrock acknowledges UFO hunting can be frustrating -- what with all the liars, hoaxers, and delusional wackos out there. But if the things people report seeing aren't guests from another planet, perhaps they represent previously unknown natural phenomenon, he argues. So wouldn't investigating them further the cause of all science? Furthermore, many UFO witnesses claim to have been injured by alien visitors, so UFOs could become the public health issue of the 2000s.

As a guide for further scientific UFO inquiry, Sturrock recommended we read his 50-page panel report -- the one that got the attention of those sharpies at the Post, Chronicle, et al. It consists of a dozen or so of the most compelling UFO sightings of the past three decades, chosen from tens of thousands of reported UFO "events" dating from the 1950s. In fact, the list was so carefully and scientifically parsed that the famous Roswell Incident didn't even make the cut.

"There's a very, very careful discussion of a photograph," Sturrock said, giving us a hint of the treasures to be found within. "And it turns out that the witness had not seen the object when she took the photograph. You know, it happens. There are a number of reports like that."

Thus enticed, we turned straight to aforementioned juicy bit, a color photograph of a mountain with a speck hovering to its side, accompanied by 17 pages of analysis by a certain Richard Haines -- who, it turns out, is a legend in the UFOlogy field. His monthslong study of the photograph is an example of the sort of UFO science Sturrock would like to see academia spend more time on.

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