The Condon Report

In the late 1960’s, the United States Air Force issued a contract to the University of Colorado to carry out a scientific study of evidence concerning the UFO phenomenon. The director of the project was Prof. Edward U. Condon, a distinguished and influential physicist who made no secret of his opinion even at the outset that no substantive evidence for extraterrestrial visitation was liable to result. The study was relatively brief (2 years) and had a notably low budget (app. $500K) for a serious scientific study. When the Condon Report was released in 1968, the American scientific community accepted its negative apparent conclusion concerning evidence for extraterrestrial visitation in a generally uncritical way, and to some extent even an enthusiastic way since it offered an end to a troublesome situation. An endorsement of the Report by the National Academy of Sciences took place following an unusually rapid review and the Air Force quickly used the Report as a justification to terminate any further public involvement with the topic of UFOs. Project Blue Book closed up shop.

The negative conclusion of the Report is more apparent than real however, since there is a substantial discrepancy between the conclusion in the “Summary of the Study” written by Condon singlehandedly, and the conclusion one could reasonably draw from the evidence presented in the body of the Report. Such a dichotomy was possible because the study was a project for which the director, Condon, had sole authority; it was not the work of a committee whose members would have to reach some consensus conclusion. An analysis of the Condon Report by Prof. Peter Sturrock, a distinguished plasma physicist at Stanford University, details the many disagreements between Condon’s dismissive summary and the actual data. Given the thousand-page length of the Report, one can safely assume that very few in the scientific community would have devoted the time necessary to read the entire document. The impact of the Report was thus largely due to Condon’s leveraging his prestigious scientific reputation into an acceptance of his own personal views as representing the apparent outcome of a scientific investigation. Indeed, as Sturrock documents, Condon actually took no part in the investigations and indicated the conclusion he intended to draw well before the data were properly examined.

That is my skeptical view of the Condon Report, but the whole document is now on line, posted by the National Capital Area Skeptics group, with their own take on it, of course, so the best thing to do is to read it for yourself (but don’t stop with Condon’s “Summary of the Study”).

The Condon Report Online