UFOs no laughing matter for investigators

UFOs no laughing matter for investigators
August 7, 2009
By John Moore

Chuck Zukowski was in the middle of discussing Colorado cattle mutilations when he paused.

The Colorado Springs UFO researcher had just recounted an investigation he conducted in March near Walsenburg in which a cow turned up dead with its udder missing and the animal’s newborn calf was found nearby, unharmed.

“What kind of predator would go after an 1,100-pound cow and leave a calf?” he continued. “(The ranchers) bottle-fed the calf to keep it alive.”

But the livestock owners, like many others Zukowski has met, were less willing to talk about the case publicly.

“The reason ranchers don’t talk about (cattle mutilations) is the giggle factor (concerning UFOs),” he said. “And we all know about the giggle factor.”

Several people in the audience nodded knowingly, and a few smiled faintly, but no one laughed. It was a moment that illustrates the no-nonsense — dare we say down-to-earth? — attitude that Zukowski and other UFO researchers who spoke Thursday at the 40th Annual International UFO Symposium in Denver bring to their work.

The lectures were meant to teach the audience of about 60 fellow researchers how to be better volunteer field investigators for the Fort Collins-based Mutual UFO Network, a national, nonprofit group that studies sightings of unidentified flying objects and is hosting the four-day conference at the Denver Marriott Tech Center hotel. Topics the first day ran the spectrum from photo analysis and basic astronomy to evidence collection and interviewing techniques.

As one speaker put it, the presentations were designed to show investigators how to “discern the normal things from the abnormal things.”

Granted, the speakers belong to an organization with “UFO” in its name and many of them said flatly that they believe extraterrestrials exist. But they also spoke passionately about not wanting an investigator’s belief in flying saucers, or the beliefs of a witness, to cloud a case and lead it somewhere that the evidence doesn’t.

“The public is very good at observing things; they’re not good with scientific things — we have to be the scientific people in this community,” said Jan Harzan, MUFON’s assistant state director for Southern California, who led a discussion about the organization’s formal investigation process. “There are about 5 percent of the cases where we really don’t know what happened.”

Keeping UFO researchers safe while gathering evidence was also a recurring theme in the presentations. Field investigators face health risks that include wild animals, hantavirus and other diseases, and radiation even from human-made objects that might have fallen from orbit, the speakers said.

Swine flu has been added to the list of threats for researchers working around livestock, said Zukowski, who, when he isn’t investigating cases for MUFON, is a computer chip designer and volunteer El Paso County sheriff’s deputy.

“You’ve got to be masked; you’ve got to be gloved, and they’ve got to be good gloves,” he said. “You don’t know what killed the animal — what if it’s a virus? … Do whatever it takes to see that sunrise tomorrow.”

Many of those at the conference freely admitted another obstacle they face: The public doesn’t always greet the topic of UFOs with the level of seriousness that they do. They said it can make witnesses reluctant to talk about what they might have seen.

“People are fearful because they see what the press does to people who report UFOs — they make a laughing stock out of them,” Harzan said. “That is changing … but that is still out there with a lot of people.”

Famous UFO researcher Stanton Friedman, the symposium’s keynote speaker, echoed Harzan’s words in an interview with the RMI during a break at the conference. He said he is amazed by the number of people who will tell him they saw something strange but didn’t report it.

“‘They’d think I was some kind of a nut’ is the most common answer,” he said.

But Friedman, a former nuclear physicist who lives in Canada, said the study of UFOs is in transition and that several things are coming together that could boost MUFON’s work and the credibility of “ufologists,” perhaps making it easier for the public to come forward.

He pointed to younger, Web-savvy leadership at MUFON; an increased potential for wealthy donors to begin paying the organization’s volunteer investigators; and better technology for exploring space.

“(Astronomers have) discovered 350 planets outside of our solar system, and before, it was zero,” he said. “We’re finding them because our ability to detect them has improved.”

Friedman also pointed to the Internet and an increase in cable-television programs about UFOs that help investigators share their findings.

“The word is getting out in a lot of places,” he said. “Is it all true? No. But you aren’t going to get the truth on a lot of subjects — not everything the newspapers report is true, either. … But the climate is changing to get your message out.”

Friedman, 75, said he likes to think it will all add up to government acknowledgment that extraterrestrials “are real” in his lifetime.

“Times are changing,” he said, “and I hope I’m around to see it.”
Rocky Mountain Independent
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