Edward McDonald (May 7, 1920 June 13, 1971) was
an American physicist. He is best known for his
research regarding UFOs. McDonald was
senior physicist at the Institute
for Atmospheric Physics and
professor in the Department of Meteorology,
University of Arizona,
campaigned vigorously in support of expanding UFO studies
during the mid and late 1960s, arguing that UFOs represented
an intriguing, pressing and unsolved mystery which had
not been adequately studied by science. He was one of
the more prominent figures of his time who argued in favor
of the extraterrestrial hypothesis as a plausible, but
not completely proved, model of UFO phenomena.
dedicated and tireless UFO researcher and scholar, McDonald
interviewed over 500 UFO witnesses, uncovered many important
government UFO documents, and gave important presentations
of UFO evidence. He testified before Congress during the
UFO hearings of 1968.
McDonald also gave a famous talk called "Science
in Default" to the American
Association for the Advancement of Science
It was a summary of the current UFO evidence and a critique
of the 1969
Condon Report UFO study.
life and career
was born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota. He served as
a cryptographer in the United States Navy during World
War II, and afterwards, married Betsy Hunt; they would
have six children.
studied at the University
of Omaha, the
Institute of Technology, and
earned his Ph.D. at Iowa State University.
He taught at the University
of Chicago for a year, then in 1953, he
was invited to help establish a meteorology and atmospherics
program at the University
of Arizona as a professor of meteorology.
McDonald eventually became the
head of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics,
but resigned as its administrator after about a year because
he preferred to teach and research rather than oversee
the department. He taught courses from introductory
to graduate levels, received good evaluations, and was
fondly regarded by his students.
specialty was cloud formation and physics, but his natural
curiosity led him to read widely in many other scientific
fields. McDonald was a widely recognized authority of
atmospheric phenomena: he published many articles in peer
reviewed journals, and contributed to several standard
meteorology textbooks. He was a member of the National
Academy of Sciences and the American
a leading atmospheric physicist, McDonald was one of many
experts who testified before congress in the 1960s against
the development of supersonic transport airplanes, for
fear that they would damage the ozone layer.
of McDonald's life is known through the authorized biography
Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight For UFO Science
(2003) by Ann
1954, while driving through the Arizona desert with two
meteorologists, McDonald spotted an unidentified flying
object none of the men could readily identify. Though
a rather unspectacular sighting of a distant point of
light, this sighting would spur McDonald's interest in
UFOs. By the late 1950s, he was quietly investigating
UFO reports in Arizona, and he had also joined NICAP,
then the largest and most prominent civilian UFO research
group in the nation. Given his training in atmospheric
physics, McDonald was able to examine UFO reports in greater
detail than most other scientists, and was able to offer
explanations for some previously unexplained reports.
Using his security clearance with the US government, he
also uncovered a number of well-documented UFO reports
from the US Air Force's Project
Blue Book, which he judged deeply
puzzling even after stringent analysis.
the mid-1960s, McDonald began speaking about UFOs more
openly. McDonald's first detailed, public discussion of
UFOs was in a lecture given before an American Meteorological
Society assembly in Washington D.C. on October 5, 1966.
Problem of UFOs", McDonald's speech
was the first of many given to an overflow audience. McDonald
declared that scientific scrutiny should be directed towards
the small number of "unknowns", which he defined
as a UFO reported by a "credible and trained observer
as machine-like 'craft' which remained unidentified in
spite of careful investigation." He noted that
the vast majority of UFOs could become Identified flying
objects, and, in his estimation, only about 1% of UFOs
were true "unknowns". McDonald also lambasted
the U.S. Air Force for what he saw as their inept handling
of UFO studies.
1967, the Office
of Naval Research granted McDonald a small
budget in order to conduct his own UFO research, ostensibly
to study the idea that some UFOs were misidentified clouds.
He was able to peruse the files of Project
Blue Book at Wright
Patterson Air Force Base, and eventually
concluded that the Air Force was mishandling UFO evidence.
Following the Robertson Panel's recommendations in 1953,
the Air Force was following a debunking directive towards
UFO reports, and only discussing UFO cases which were
considered solved by a mundane explanation. All unexplained
UFO cases were classified "secret" and not released
to the public (see Robertson Panel for further information).
was particularly disturbed that astronomer J.
Allen Hynek, had not alerted the scientific
community to the fact that Project
Blue Book was withholding some of the most
anomalous and compelling UFO reports. Hynek argued that
if he had exposed this, the Air Force would have dumped
him as Blue Book's
consultant; Hynek was the only scientist formally studying
UFOs for the government. This was the beginning of a rift
between the men that would never be entirely reconciled.
the mid-1960s, McDonald devoted much of his time to trying
to persuade journalists, politicians and his colleagues
that UFOs were the most pressing issue facing American
science. He gave dozens of lectures, and wrote volumes
of letters to newspapers, to his peers (especially at
scientific journals) and to politicians. McDonald wrote
to the Air
Force Office of Scientific Research, arguing
that they needed to radically shift what he saw as their
superficial perspective towards UFOs. In response, the
Air Force determined that they needed to "fireproof"
themselves against McDonald's statements because of his
unquestionable qualifications and credibility.
knew that promoting the extraterrestrial hypothesis could
damage his credibility, but he was so convinced of its
viability that he plowed ahead, regardless of consequences.
He managed to secure limited support from a few prominent
figures, such as United Nations Secretary General U Thant,
who arranged for McDonald to speak to the UN's
Outer Space Affairs Group on June 7, 1967.
Additionally in 1967, McDonald noted, "There is
no sensible alternative to the utterly shocking hypothesis
that UFOs are extraterrestrial probes."
his Statement on Unidentified Objects to the House Committee
on Science and Astronautics, McDonald made the following
remarks regarding types of UFO accounts.
"The scope of the present statement precludes
anything approaching an exhaustive listing of categories
of UFO phenomena: much of what might be made clear at
great length will have to be compressed into my remark
that the scientific world at large is in for a shock when
it becomes aware of the astonishing nature of the UFO
phenomenon and its bewildering complextiy. I make that
terse comment well aware that it invites easy ridicule;
but intellectual honesty demands that I make clear that
my two years' study convinces me that in the UFO problem
lie scientific and technological questions that will challenge
the ability of the world's outstanding scientists to explain
- as soon as they start examining the facts."
the same statement, he said he had "become convinced
that the scientific community ... has been casually ignoring
as nonsense a matter of extraordinary scientific importance."
often used guarded wording in his discussions of the extraterrestrial
hypothesis, such as once describing the extraterrestrial
hypothesis as the "least unsatisfactory" explanation
for UFOs. He seemed to regard the extraterrestrial hypothesis
not as unimpeachable fact, but as a working model. McDonald's
acquaintance, George Early, a prominent engineer with
the United Aircraft Association and also a NICAP
member, said, "I don't think Jim was 100% sold
on the UFOs being extraterrestrial spacecraft with beings
in them ... His essential thrust was that here is a topic
worthy of scientific study which has not been studied
scientifically, and we should find out what the answer
is. He had a definite commitment to the truth, and if
the truth turned out to be something else [other than
the extraterrestrial hypothesis], he wouldn't have backed
away from it."
The Condon Committee Controversy
a widely-publicized series of mass UFO sightings in southern
Michigan in 1966, McDonald became one of several scientists
to urge various authorities in the federal government
and scientific community to undertake a formal study of
UFOs. This public pressure, combined with pressure from
some members of Congress (such as then-Congressman Gerald
Ford), led the federal government
to create the Condon Committee in late 1966. Based at
the University of Colorado at Boulder, and named after
Committee Chairman Dr.
Edward Condon, a prominent physicist, the
committee was advertised as an unbiased, objective, and
thorough investigation into the UFO phenomenon.
McDonald shared the early general enthusiasm towards the
Condon Committee, and given his scientific credentials
and interest in UFOs he offered to serve on the committee.
When he was denied a position on the committee, McDonald
still agreed to assist in other ways with the committee's
work. However, McDonald and other UFO researchers soon
became disillusioned with the committee, and in particular
with its chairman, Dr. Condon, and his chief assistant,
Dr. Robert Low. Condon's public comments to reporters
ridiculing UFO eyewitnesses and his generally dismissive
attitude towards the subject led many UFO researchers
to doubt whether the investigation would be as neutral
and unbiased as it proclaimed. McDonald formed alliances
with those on the Condon Committee who disagreed with
Condon's leadership and who wanted to undertake long-term
inadvertently played a major role in the controversy regarding
the Condon Committee when one of the committee's investigators
- who disagreed with Condon's attitudes - privately gave
him a copy of the so-called "Trick Memo". The
memorandum, which was written by Condon's chief assistant
Dr. Robert Low, outlined how the Committee could reach
a predetermined conclusion that all UFO cases were explainable
in mundane terms, while simultaneously appearing neutral
during the actual investigation process. To many UFO investigators,
including McDonald, the "Trick Memo" seemed
to confirm their worst fears about the Condon Committee's
bias regarding the UFO phenomenon. Following McDonald's
release to the public of the now-infamous "Trick
Memo", Project Chair Edward
Condon tried unsuccessfully to get McDonald
fired from his tenured faculty position at the University
the Condon Committee issued its final report in 1969,
Dr. Condon wrote in the foreword to the report that, based
on the committee's investigations, his conclusion was
that there was nothing unusual about UFO reports; thus
further scientific research into the UFO phenomenon was
not worthwhile and should be discouraged. Condon's conclusions
about UFOs were generally accepted by most scientists
and the "mainstream" news media. McDonald, however,
became one of a small number of prominent scientists and
researchers who wrote detailed critiques and rebuttals
of Condon's conclusions regarding UFOs. McDonald was particularly
disturbed by the fact that, while Condon in his foreword
had claimed that all UFO reports could be explained as
hoaxes or misidentifications of manmade or natural objects
or phenomena, the Report itself actually listed over 30%
of the cases it investigated as "unexplained".
Other Research Papers and Written Material
ON UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS
July 29, 1968
- An International Scientific Problem
- Extraterrestrial Probes?
and the Condon Report
PROBLEM OF THE UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS
OVER LAKENHEATH IN 1956
1957 GULF COAST RB-47 INCIDENT
KIRTLAND AIRFIELD UFO
FLYING OBJECTS: GREATEST SCIENTIFIC PROBLEM OF OUR TIMES?
Technology, and UFOs
to the United Nations Outer Space Affairs Group
Factors in Unidentified Radar Returns