Philip Klass: The person UFOlogists loved to hate passed away in 2005

Philip Klass's 10 principles for investigating UFOs

Tim Printy 1999

Philip Klass is considered the chief skeptic against UFOs being extraterrestrial spacecraft. Philip has written several books on the matter and in UFOs Explained and UFOs: The Public Deceived he discusses ten principles for investigating UFO reports. I do not agree with every explanation Philip has proposed for events but Mr. Klass brings up very interesting points in many of his critiques of cases. Pro-ETH (Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis) investigators often ignore many of the points he brings up about an event. This group often ridicules him because they consider his explanations absurd. However, one must realize that the ETH is equally absurd. The ETH is a conclusion of last resort by UFO investigators. They state that the witnesses could not be wrong and the only explanation left is the ETH. However, it is well known that witnesses make mistakes no matter how technical their background. Hoaxes do happen and even experienced observers do mistake the planet Venus and other common phenomena for UFOs (During the Condon study, a PHD scientist misidentified a daytime sighting of the planet Venus for a UFO). Once one realizes that these things exist, one must turn that skeptical eye towards these "extraordinary events" and wonder are they just misperceptions of unusual events or are they really alien spacecraft? When hearing a UFO reports, it is best to keep in mind these ten basic principles Mr. Klass outlined in his books.

1. Basically honest and intelligent persons who are suddenly exposed to a brief, unexpected event, especially one that involves an unfamiliar object, may be grossly inaccurate in trying to describe precisely what they have seen. (Klass UFOs: The Public Deceived 303)

This is a known fact. One must examine the number of cases of UFOs which were identified to realize how easily an individual (or even group of individuals) can become excited to the point of misperceiving a known phenomena. One can examine case history after case history. CUFOS (Center for UFO Studies) investigator Allen Hendry determined this to be the case in the over 1000 cases he investigated. R.V. Jones also noted this in his talk, "The Natural Philosophy of Flying Saucers",

...witnesses were usually right when they said that something had happened at a particular place, although they could wildly be wrong about what had happened. (Condon et al. 925)

2. Despite the intrinsic limitations of human perception when exposed to brief, unexpected and unusual events, some details recalled by the observer may be reasonably accurate. The problem facing the UFO investigator is to try to distinguish between those details that are accurate and those that are grossly inaccurate. This may be impossible until the true identity of the UFO can be determined, so that in some cases this poses an insoluble problem. (Klass UFOs: The Public 303)

Information provided by witnesses is subject to human error. What a witness perceives an object to be may not actually be what was observed. If there is a prosaic explanation for the "sighting", some of the information provided by the witness may be so misleading that it may appear that the explanation does not fit the "sighting". A perfect example is during the Zond IV incident in March 1968. According to Dr. William Hartmann,

Of course, the important question in a case such as the Zond IV re-entry is not the quality of the worst observations, but rather whether the observations taken together did define and clarify the phenomenon. My own judgment is that, together, the reports would suggest a re-entry to anyone who was familiar with the phenomenon...Nonetheless, it must be said that only a fraction, about a quarter, of the reports point directly in this direction while about another quarter are misleading and the remainder insufficiently detailed to be diagnostic. A reporter or investigator coming upon the case in innocence would be hardput to distinguish the good from the bad reports. (Condon et al. 575)

Clearly, if only a quarter of the reports were accurate of an event that was known, what would one say about reports of a UFO sighting from only one individual? Mass sightings are a bit easier to resolve. In these sightings, one can separate the exaggerations from the real data by listening to all the witnesses. However, many UFOlogists wish to concentrate on the exaggerations to refute prosaic explanations rather than assume a witness was mistaken on a certain point.

3. If a person observing an unusual or unfamiliar object concludes that it is probably a spaceship from another world, he can readily adduce that the object is reacting to his presence or actions when in reality there is absolutely no cause-effect relationship. (Klass UFOs: The Public 303)

Many cases of this nature do occur. A good example is how witnesses often attribute characteristics to the planet Venus, when they attempt to pursue it. In October 1967, the Condon Committee's Dr. Roy Craig went to Georgia to investigate the case of a UFO that would seem to evade pursuit and also pursue police officers. In this case, even an aircraft attempted to pursuit. The object seemed to accelerate away from the pilot and always kept it's distance. Dr. Craig writes,

The apparent pursuit of moving vehicles, or flight from them, is characteristic of any distant object which is imagined to be close to the observer. Because of the object's great distance, it remains in essentially the same direction from the observer as the observer moves. Compared with trees or terrain nearby which change in direction as the observer moves past them, the object, retaining a constant direction, does seem to be moving the same speed and direction as any observer who thinks it no more distant than the reference terrain.(Craig 47)

Another case is the Arizona UFOs of 1997. Tim Ley attributed many characteristics to his sighting and felt that there were psychological effects exerted by the UFO. He wrote,

When it first began to pass over, I felt a nervousness in my body, almost like stagefright. The craft itself wasn't doing anything threatening other than being so close. It just stayed silently on its course without deviation. I think this nervousness which I felt in my body was probably some kind of reflection of the energy of the craft passing over us. Somehow I was "feeling" the craft in my nervous system; and so was my family. It was as if there was some type of field extending beyond the edge of the structure, and we could sense it. At first when the field came upon us, the kids started jumping up and down talking about how there was no sound and mentioning the movie "Independence Day" and exhibiting symptoms of hysteria. They were even backing away as if they would run into the house. (Ley)

Mitch Stanley, only 4-5 miles to the east of Tim, had observed the "UFO" at the same time. He noted that each of the lights on the "Flying triangle" was actually an aircraft. There was no solid object behind the lights and the UFO was identified.

4. News media that give great prominence to a UFO report when it is first received, subsequently devote little if any space or time to reporting a prosaic explanation for the case when all the facts are uncovered. (Klass UFOs: The Public 303)

A good example is the case of the Arizona UFOs. In June 1997, three months after the event, many nationwide newspapers gave front-page headlines to the exotic claims of UFO investigators. However, at the same time the national media was getting a hold of the story, a small independent newspaper printed the story that told the truth about the events. This was the Phoenix-Newtimes. In their June 26, 1997 edition, we read about Mitch Stanley, who saw the lights through his telescope. He was able to determine that each light was an aircraft. However, the Arizona Republic never carried any story about Mitch despite being contacted by Jack Jones, another amateur astronomer, who knew of Mitch's observations. The July 25 edition of the Arizona Republic did publish the facts about the 10PM flares being a source for all the videos that were widely shown on television. The republic ran their story simply because the facts were there. However, the Republic never ran Mitch's observations and one year later, only mentioned it in passing. The real fact concerning news media coverage of these events is that science writers do not cover the stories. Entertainment writers, who have no experience in dealing with events in the skies, usually write UFO reports. Dr. William Hartmann points out the most obvious answer to this problem,

Many writers in our culture, from fanatics and hypocrites to sincere reporters, are not, after all, committed to complete investigation and understanding of the subject, but to telling and selling a good story. Unfortunately there is a selection effect; if a "flying saucer" story is investigated too completely, and is found to be a misperception or a hoax, its interest and sales value are reduced. (Condon et al. 583) 

5. No human observer, including experienced flight crews, can accurately estimate either the distance/altitude or the size of an unfamiliar object in the sky, unless it is in very close proximity to a familiar object whose size or altitude is known. (Klass UFOs: The Public 303)

A common problem experienced by all investigators. Pro-ETH UFOlogist John Keel wrote,

Estimates of altitude are much more difficult to make, even for experienced pilots. And at night it is almost impossible to judge the altitude of an object (usually just a light) of unknown size...Therefore, estimates of UFO speeds are usually inaccurate and altitude estimates are questionable unless the object appears near something of a known altitude - such as a mountain or a conventional aircraft. (Spencer and Evans 187-188)

Even the astronomer turned Pro-UFO supporter, Dr. J. Allen Hynek wrote: is obvious that it would usually be impossible for observers to make reliable estimates of the speed, distance, or size of such stimulus objects. It is not possible to estimate accurately the distance of small bright objects viewed against a clear sky, unless the object is identified first...It must be concluded, therefore, that most of the statements of speed, distance, altitude, and size are entirely unreliable and should be disregarded. This is doubly true of observations made at night. (Steiger 228)

6. Once news media coverage leads the public to believe that UFOs may be in the vicinity, there are numerous natural and man-made objects which, especially when seen at night, can take on unusual characteristics in the minds of hopeful viewers. Their UFO reports in turn add to the mass excitement which encourages still more observers to watch for UFOs. This situation feeds upon itself until such time as the news media lose interest in the subject, and then the "flap" quickly runs out of steam. (Klass UFOs: The Public 303-4)

During the Ed Walters Gulf Breeze sightings there were many people, who suddenly appeared stating they saw UFOs. Videotapes of strange lights in the Gulf Breeze area usually turned out to be nothing but flares tied to balloons or simple aircraft. People never would have seen these events had their eyes not been directed upward by the news media coverage. Once people choose to look up into the night sky they are greeted with a myriad of objects that look strange to the uneducated. People are just not knowledgeable about the night sky to determine what they are looking at is not a UFO. There are satellites, bright planets, highflying aircraft, bright meteors, and other phenomena that the casual observer just does not understand. Once it is planted in their minds that strange objects in the sky are probably UFOs, then it does not take much for individuals to link the event with the newspaper stories. 

7. In attempting to determine whether a UFO report is a hoax, an investigator should rely on physical evidence, or the lack of it where evidence should exist, and should not depend on character endorsements of the principals involved. (Klass UFOs: The Public 304)

Probably the biggest UFO hoax presented in regards to UFO sightings occurred in Gulf Breeze, Florida. There, a man named Ed Walters, claimed to have photographed UFOs with his Polaroid camera. Ed was considered a very reputable individual to many in the area. However, forensic expert, Wiliam G. Hyzer determined one of his photographs (No. 19) to be a fake. He stated, "There was no UFO present and the photo is a product of multiple exposure techniques" (Randle 78). The photograph itself is not the only evidence presented to indicate a hoax but it is key. If one photograph is hoaxed, then all of them are probably hoaxed.

During the Condon study, a seemingly irrefutable slide of a UFO had been submitted to the committee. Dr. Craig stated the slides were very realistic in appearance and were submitted by a retired Air Force pilot. However, after investigation of the slides, it was determined that the photographs were not taken when this gentleman claimed. The further the committee dug into the story, the worse it became. Eventually, they had to return the slides to the Major (whom Craig just called Major Y) after the Major admitted there were inconsistencies in the story he told and the photographs presented. Dr. Craig writes,

Major Y had appeared to be the most reliable of witnesses. His claims of past experience were confirmed in his military records. There was nothing on file in his medical records to cast doubt on his veracity. His present and past associates considered him hones, reliable, and credible. He remains among the set of anonymous people who have not photographed a real flying saucer. (Craig 93)

8. The inability of even experienced investigators to fully and positively explain a UFO report for lack of sufficient information, even after a rigorous effort, does not really provide evidence to support the hypothesis that spaceships from other worlds are visiting the Earth. (Klass UFOs: The Public 304)

The Condon committee experienced this, as did the US Air Force. Allen Hendry, the CUFOS investigator, was very adept at identifying the source of UFOs but he could not identify all of them. Of his 8.6% of unidentified, he determined that many had possible explanations but he lacked the data to confirm their source. The remaining 1.5%, he stated were, "strong reports with only a minimal chance of a prosaic explanation" (Klass UFOs: The Public Deceived 86). However, Hendry later lamented:

How can I be sure if my remaining "UFOs" aren't simply IFOs misperceived (sincerely) to the point of fantasy? The emotional climate about the subject (as revealed by IFOs) appears to be adequate to support such a hypothesis for a great many UFO situations, if not all...with our current inability to fully draw the distinction between real UFOs and IFOs, fantasies or hoaxes, coupled with a heated emotional atmosphere, I can only assert that it is my feeling that some UFO reports represent truly remarkable events...[But Hendry acknowledges that] while science may be initiated by feelings it cannot be based on them. (Klass UFOs: The Public Deceived 87)

9. Whenever a light is sighted in the night skies that is believed to be a UFO and this is reported to a radar operator, who is asked to search his scope for an unknown target, almost invariably an "unknown" target will be found. Conversely, if an unusual target is spotted on a radarscope at night that is suspected of being a UFO, an observer is dispatched or asked to search for a light in the night sky, almost invariably a visual sighting will be made. (Klass UFOs: The Public 304)

During the Condon study, an incident near Santa Barbara, California produced a Radar-Visual case. Here lights from ships off the coast were seen through a mirage as odd stationary lights. Once seen, the requests for radar checks were made. These produced numerous targets with various speeds. It was later determined that these lock-ons were due to birds and Anomalous Propagation (AP) conditions. Once the mystery had been solved, one of the scientists involved made the following observations:

I think that the...incident could be a landmark case in the whole area of UFO studies. It combines so many factors. Firstly the incident involved a whole complex of associated events, which were reported by the most respectable observers. It combined multiple radar and multiple optical sightings. It occurred very recently and a substantial amount of recorded data is available...It was sufficiently strange to cause interceptor aircraft to be sent off to investigate it in the heat of the moment, and also to cause the local and visiting experts considerable perplexity even in the cool light of day...

It would seem that most of the inexplicability of the events in this case (and possibly in many others) arises not from the facts themselves, (i.e., the specific sightings, etc., at any given instant) but in the interpretation made and significance attached to them when they were considered in inappropriate juxtapositions. The way in which this was done at the time under operational pressures and even subsequently provided, in my opinion, a most important object lesson. (Condon et al. 365)

Interesting enough to note is that the Radar-Visual sighting is no longer considered evidence of ET. Now UFOlogists are more apt to accept that our alien visitors employ radar stealth (since we possess this technology) in their travels. Also, radar in the 1990s is much more accurate in filtering out AP than thirty years ago.

10. Many UFO cases seem puzzling and unexplainable simply because case investigators have failed to devote a sufficiently rigorous effort to the investigation. (Klass UFOs: The Public 304)

Again, this is true. Despite the claims of thoroughly investigating a UFO case, many pro-ETH investigators will ignore important points and make serious mistakes and assumptions. Perhaps a good case is the example of the Trent Photographs. These photographs were taken in 1950 and were examined by the Condon Committee. Dr. William Hartmann, who performed the analysis of the photographs determined,

This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological, and physical appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses. It cannot be said that the evidence positively rules out fabrication, although there are some physical factors such as the accuracy of certain photometric measures of the original negatives which argue against a fabrication. (Condon et al. 407)

However, skeptic Robert Sheaffer investigated the photographs and pointed out one major inconsistency in the photographs. The witnesses claimed the photographs were taken in the evening but shadows on the walls indicate that the photograph was taken in the morning. The shadows are so sharp that they could not be due to reflection of light from a cloud as some pro-ETH investigators claim. Sheaffer discovered that the photometric measures, which gave Dr. Hartmann the data to endorse the photographs, could have been the result of the smudging of the lens and conducted an experiment that exposed how this could happen. His conclusions on this matter were:

If we admit the possibility that the lens was smudged or otherwise impaired when the McMinnville photographs were taken, then we no longer need attribute the seemingly anomalous brightness of the UFO to atmospheric scattering resulting from a large distance. The generally hazy appearance of the photographs tends to support the contention that the lens was dirty or otherwise impaired. (Sheaffer)

When coupled with the inconsistencies made by the witnesses, Sheaffer concluded:

There exists no factual basis for rejecting the following hypothesis: at approximately 8:20 in the morning of May 11, 1950, a small asymmetrical model was suspended from overhead telephone wires by two very thin threads. It was photographed once, then reoriented either by hand or by its assumption of a pendulum-type motion, and photographed again. (Sheaffer)

His information concerning the time of day and the experiment conducted with the lens made Dr. Hartmann change his mind on how strong the case was. He was quite impressed by Sheaffer's efforts and stated, "I think Sheaffer's work removes the McMinneville case from consideration as evidence for the existence of dislike artificial aircraft" (Klass UFOs Explained 150). He also added that this case, "proved once again how difficult it is for any one solve all the cases. Perhaps no one has the experience for that, because there area too many phenomena and methods for hoaxing"(Klass UFOs Explained 150).

Works Cited

Condon, Edward U., et al., eds. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Bantam, 1968.

Craig, Roy. UFOs: An Insider's View of the Offfical Quest for Evidence. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1995.

Klass, Philip. UFOs Explained. New York: Random House, 1974.

---. UFOS: The Public Decieved. Amherst: Prometheus, 1997

Ley, Tim. FLYOVER EVENT CALLED "PHOENIX LIGHTS" Online. Internet. Available WWW:

Randle, Kevin. The Randle Report: UFOs in the 90s. New York: M. Evans and Company inc., 1997

Sheaffer, Robert. "An Investigation of the McMinnville UFO Photographs" Online. Internet. Available WWW:

Spencer, John and Hilary Evans ed. Phenomenon: Forty Years of Flying Saucers. New York: Avon. 1988.

Steiger, Brad, ed. Project Bluebook. New York: Ballantine, 1976.


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