Twitter’s UFO enthusiasts have been abuzz in recent days after the rediscovery of an old textbook used in an elective physics course at the Air Force Academy from 1968 to the early 1970s. The book, volume 2 of Introductory Space Science, edited by Maj. Donald G. Carpenter was an internally developed anthology of chapters on aerospace matters from an assortment of authors. Chapter 33 covered Unidentified Flying Objects and therefore inspired UFO enthusiasts to claim that the Air Force was “teaching” UFOs. But there is so much less here than meets the eye.
The chapter in question has been reproduced in part or in its entirety many times, including in a number of UFO books over the past two decades, and even, of all places, in the Chaosium Book of Dzyan tie-in for the Call of Cthulhu game. It found new popularity on Twitter this week thanks to tweets and a podcast.
As should be obvious from the book’s date, by the late 1960s, UFOs were everywhere in popular culture and the subject of an ongoing Air Force investigation, Project Blue Book, with a major media presence. It is hardly surprising that a textbook would make mention of a subject the Air Force had been involved in investigating for two decades. But what is surprising is how awful the chapter is.
Things get off to a very bad start when the author opens with a discussion of the ancient astronaut theory and makes quite plain that his information comes from paperback UFO books. “Let us start with an intriguing story in one of the oldest chronicles of India . . . the Book of Dzyan.”
As should obvious, the Book of Dzyan is a hoax invented by Helena Blavatsky. But more bizarre than relying on a hoax is that the author has mislabeled as coming from Dzyan a set of cherry-picked and mangled passages from the Mahabharata presented in Morning of the Magicians as supposed evidence of a nuclear strike in ancient times, a topic I have discussed many times before. The discussion makes plain that the author was working from a pro-UFO article or book. I can’t identify the exact source, since the author didn’t cite sources for specific claims, only sources for further reading—almost all credulous pop-science UFO paperbacks. The author cites two of Jacques Vallée’s early books, which are almost certainly the source for most of the ancient astronaut claims made in the chapter.
I posted the ancient astronaut section of the chapter in my Library. A rough scan of the whole chapter is available here.
The other evidence presented for ancient astronauts is pretty standard ancient astronaut fare, using incidents common to the various UFO and ancient astronaut books of the 1950s and 1960s. The chapter also makes use of modern encounters, including the Betty and Barney Hill abduction, quite obviously derived from The Interrupted Journey (1966), listed in the references.
The chapter ends with the bonkers conclusion that “three or four” species of aliens are regularly visiting Earth, based on uncritical acceptance of UFO contactee and abductee claims.
The stunning lack of critical thinking on display should give us pause about the quality of the government’s efforts to investigate UFOs. The reliance on Jacques Vallée—a feature also found in other government reports of the era, including an NSA analysis of UFOs—once again confirms Vallée’s dispiriting 1973 comment in his diary after learning that the government relies on paperback UFO books like his for “research”: “Hal [Puthoff] said his high-level contacts walked around with UFO books in their briefcases, particularly mine. I found this depressing: Doesn't that imply that they know less than I do?”
Yes, yes it does.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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