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Politicking and Paradigm Shifting:
James E. McDonald and the UFO Case Study
by Paul McCarthy, Ph.D.

Introduction to the Internet Edition

John Stepkowski, Sign Historical Group Jim Giglio, National Capital Area Skeptics

Preparation of this on-line version is a collaboration between the (SHG) and National Capital Area Skeptics (NCAS). SHG and NCAS have joined forces here since both share an interest in presenting primary source documents relevant to the history of the UFO issue.

Politicking and Paradigm Shifting chronicles the activities of Dr. James E. McDonald in a series of UFO-related controversies between 1966 and 1970 that mark a critical period of scientific and political decision-making concerning the UFO issue. This was the period when the Colorado UFO project was being conducted in which the final report to the Air Force recommended that further scientific study of UFOs should not be supported. Also, on July 29, 1968, the Committee on Science and Astronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives organized a public hearing on the subject of Unidentified Flying Objects. The Symposium represented a variety of diverse views on UFOs by a number of scientists who had taken a serious interest in the phenomenon.

The two consequential documents mark opposing positions:

  1. The report of the Colorado project, Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, [1] often referred to as the "Condon Report" after its Scientific Director, physicist Edward U. Condon.

  2. The record of the Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, [2] a hearing conducted by the Committee on Science and Astronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives. This record is often referred to as the "Roush Symposium" after Rep. J. Edward Roush of Indiana, who chaired the session.

From the historical perspective, Dr. McCarthy's dissertation provides considerable background to these documents and essentially links them by telling the story of Dr. McDonald's involvement in both. For example, in Chapter three we find Dr. McDonald working to influence the Air Force sponsored Condon Project at the University of Colorado and in Chapter four engineering the 1968 Symposium by the Committee on Science and Astronautics of the United States House of Representatives.

In telling the story, Dr. McCarthy relies primarily on the voluminous correspondence of Dr. McDonald, supported by additional papers and correspondence of other participants in the events of 1966-70. These documents do more than simply chronicle who communicated what to who at any particular time, but reveal a thoroughly human "cast of characters" who are by turns inquisitive, passionate, ambitious and on occasion, stubbornly devious. Dr. McCarthy presents them "warts and all."

In the preface, Dr. McCarthy describes how he began as a self-described "believer" with a perspective that led him to accept the "Extraterrestrial Hypothesis" (ETH); that this planet is regularly visited by extraterrestrial vehicles under intelligent control. He alerts the reader to his support for the ETH while laying out how he structured the work in an effort to prevent this bias from influencing his approach to the issues in political science and history of science that lie at the center of the study.

Further, Dr. McCarthy proposes the intriguing thesis that what Dr. McDonald attempted was nothing less than a fundamental "paradigm shift" in the Kuhnian sense, [3] in which an entire field of science goes through a revolutionary alteration of intellectual outlook and theoretical structure.

It remains for the reader to judge whether or not Dr. McCarthy supports his thesis adequately. But whatever the reader's decision, we are confident that the presentation of the story will be of considerable interest to all serious students of the UFO issue.

Both Sign Historical Group and National Capital Area Skeptics wish to express our appreciation to Dr. McCarthy for allowing us to bring his dissertation to the Internet.

  1. Condon, Edward U. and Daniel S. Gillmore, Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York, Bantam Books, 1969 (paper), New York, E.P. Dutton Inc., 1969 (hardcover). On the web at and other mirror sites. - Back to Text

  2. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, July 1969. Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office. On the web at and other mirror sites. - Back to Text

  3. Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1970. - Back to Text

Note on Commercial Availability: The Colorado report can be found for sale on internet auction sites, as well as other sites specializing in out-of-print works, with some frequency. Kuhn's work is available both used and new, on-line and in stores; it is still in print. The Roush Symposium appears on auction sites that feature out-of-print works, but only rarely.

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