Imagining Soviet Life in Space

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Vincze Miklós at io9 has recently posted some interesting images by Soviet artists showing how they pictured future life in space might be.

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While space exploration has historically fueled the imagination of artists and writers, it should also be noted that postwar space programs were often beneficiaries of popular cultural and political sentiments. As historian Slava Gerovitch explains in his recent book on the Soviet space program (Soviet Space Mythologies), communist party and state officials and propaganda tended to hail cosmonauts as heroic figures, while also extolling accomplishment in space as the epitome of Soviet science and engineering.

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Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!

The blog RussiaTrek has posted some images of Soviet propaganda posters (see here as well) about the space program that play on some of these very themes. In general, all these images demonstrate that space programs, science fiction, and popular cultural values have historically all had an impact on one another.

The Role of News Clippings in the History of Ufology

 

The pastime of researching UFOs dates back to the early years of the “flying saucer” phenomenon in the late-1940s. From the beginning, most ufologists had to conduct their research as a labor of love, curiosity, or both – in other words, their research efforts were unpaid. Widely shut out of formal academic and government investigative circles, even university-based enthusiasts had to conduct research, share ideas, write and distribute articles, and organize conferences on their own time and with little, if any, funding. This has remained the case up to this very day.

So, then, how did ufologists go about their research? The personal papers of ufologists reveal that many – perhaps even most – collected news clippings, for years and even decades. Throughout the world, ufologists such as Håkan Blomqvist, Murray Bott, Barry Greenwood, Kalevi Mikkonen, Patrick Murray, David Sankey, Luis Schönherr, Willy Wegner, and Kenny Young painstakingly tracked news of UFO sightings in newspapers, magazines, and UFO periodicals. Articles were clipped out and oftentimes placed in scrapbooks, which typically would be organized either chronologically or with reference to specific waves or flaps.

Ufologists were aided in their individual research by dedicated archivists like Roderick (Rod) Dyke. In 1969, at the age of 17, Dyke published the first issue of the UFO Newsclipping Service. Eschewing editorializations, Dyke and his associates Lou Farish, Chuck Flood, and Dave Marler, provided subscribers with news not only involving unidentified flying objects, but also regarding cryptozoology and general Fortean events. The last issue was published in August 2011, by which time, the service had passed on over 30,000 news clippings.

The news clipping collections of ufologists, thus, provide evidence of two important aspects of the history of the UFO phenomenon. First, it shows how inventive and ambitious ufologists historically have been in both finding and cataloguing evidence they deemed relevant to the study of unidentified flying objects. Second, the collections testify to the important role played by print media in helping to disseminate information and stories about UFOs.

Are They Out There? Two Very Different Takes Based on New Research

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So, do recent developments and discoveries in astrobiology, astronomy, and cognitive science give us reason to be more or less optimistic about the possibilities of encountering intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations? Here are two recent articles, reaching rather different conclusions: “Good-Bye, Little Green Men” by Susan Schneider and Seth Shostak and “The Fermi Paradox: Research Suggests Aliens Haven’t Contacted Us Because They’re Dead” from the online magazine Futurism.

New Article: A History of the Mistrust between Ufology and Academic Science

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In 1966, the University of Colorado became the home for an expert commission, headed by American physicist Edward Condon, to scientifically study UFOs. Already before the release of its report in 1968, the group’s work was being greeted by many with skepticism.

I have just published a new article on the history of the UFO phenomenon. The journal Public Understanding of Science has released the early online version of my piece, which is entitled “Making UFOs Make Sense: Ufology, Science, and the History of Their Mutual Mistrust.”

The focus and general argument of the article is summarized in the abstract below.

Reports of unidentified flying objects and alien encounters have sparked amateur research (ufology), government investigations, and popular interest in the subject. Historically, however, scientists have generally greeted the topic with skepticism, most often dismissing ufology as pseudoscience and believers in unidentified flying objects and aliens as irrational or abnormal. Believers, in turn, have expressed doubts about the accuracy of academic science. This study examines the historical sources of the mutual mistrust between ufologists and scientists. It demonstrates that any science doubt surrounding unidentified flying objects and aliens was not primarily due to the ignorance of ufologists about science, but rather a product of the respective research practices of and relations between ufology, the sciences, and government investigative bodies.

While copyright does not allow me to post the article here, I am happy to share it with those interested. Simply contact me via the email address listed in the “About” section of this blog.

The Decline in Newspaper Coverage of UFO sightings

One of the more striking features of the UFO phenomenon has been the emergence of voices from within the ufology community – particularly those of veteran investigators – claiming that organized interest in UFOs has been on the decline for some time now (for an interesting discussion of the subject, see Dr. David Clarke’s post from 2012, “Ufology: Dead Again?”). To be sure, this assessment is certainly not shared by all enthusiasts and researchers. But there is enough evidence out there (e.g., the cancellation of conferences, declining membership in organizations, etc.) to justify examining the question more carefully.

I recently decided to look at one small piece of this larger sociological question, namely: Is there evidence of a decline in newspaper coverage of UFOs? The chart below shows the results of my examination of coverage among 25 U.S. newspapers from 1985 to 2014. The newspapers were selected on the basis of (1) their being indexed by NewsBank with records dating back to at least 1985 and (2) their geographical and market diversity.

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Articles with headlines about UFOs or flying saucers in 25 U.S. newspapers, 1985-2014

The results are interesting, I think. They do, in fact, indicate a general decline in coverage. That said, there were three large spikes in interest – in 1987, 1997, and 2007 – that interrupted the overall pattern. Results like this raise as many questions as they provide answers. How do we account for the spikes (I have some answers, but feel free to chime in)? Is there anything behind the 10-year cycles? Why do newspapers appear to have lost interest in the subject since the late-1990s? What’s the relationship between this decline and the apparent setbacks being experienced by many UFO organizations?

I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of readers.

 

 

UFOs are Art: Finnish photographer Maria Lax Tries to Capture the UFO Experience

An article in Wired magazine features the work of Finnish photographer Maria Lax. As author Taylor Glascock explains:

In late 2013, Lax visited her hometown to see her parents and stumbled upon a copy of Pudasjärven Ufot. It’s a collection of first-person accounts of UFO sightings that her grandfather, Soini Lax, gathered in the ’70s while working as a journalist. Mr. Lax died earlier that year, and his granddaughter grew fascinated by the strange tales and her connection to them. She decided to reach out to some of the people her grandfather interviewed and began making these haunting images as a homage to their experiences.

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Posting her photos on Instagram, Lax does not attempt to recreate sightings and encounters, but rather tries to capture the feel, the mood, the experiences described by those reporting. It’s another interesting example of how the UFO experience has inspired artistic creations.

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