Sunday, October 3, 2010
The 1954 French UFO wave
This post proposes a mini case study of the 1954 French UFO wave. It is in part inspired by the work of Aimé Michel in his book Flying Saucers and the Straight-Line Mystery, published in English version in 1958 . However, instead of analyzing the events as recollected by Michel through his orthoteny hypothesis, the Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI) will be used as a background model . Furthermore, some interesting parallels can be established with the previously posted case studies of the 1952 Washington D.C. events and the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67.
In an online article , Donald A. Johnson uses the UFOCAT catalogue and note that the number of UFO sightings for the year 1954 is 3,015, of which about 58% occurred in Europe. The wave was indeed worldwide, but it had a particular peak in October with nearly a third of all sightings (961) in Europe alone. Of those 961 European cases, 750 occurred in the skies of France, with one particular peak on 3 October and another one on 15 October with about 80 sightings for each date. Hence, it is fair to say that the wave was centred over France, although it was not exclusive to France.
If one looks at the report using the Hynek classification, then it is nearly 28% of all sightings for 1954 that can fit the close encounter (CE) category. According to Johnson, the number of CE1 in October for France and Belgium was 96, 53 CE2, and 78 CE3, for a total of 227 CEs. In other words, almost one-third of all French UFO cases for October 1954 were CEs. This proportion is comparable to the one found in the previously posted case study about the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67 where just above one-third of cases where CEs. However, in the Canadian cases there was more CE2 than CE3.
These numbers are interesting because it is always difficult to identify what constitutes a UFO wave. In both the Canadian and French cases, the number of CE is around 30-35%. This provides an interesting benchmark to assess the intensity of a UFO wave. From that point of view, UFO wave are getting very rare because CEs are almost completely gone from sightings as Chris Rutkowsky noted on his blog recently.
The overall 1954 UFO wave as well as its French portion were following the usual pattern of a slow start ramping up in August and September, peaked in October and steep drop in November. The numbers for Europe and France, based on Johnston’s figures, are as follow:
Month / Europe / France
Jan / 24 / 15
Feb / 9 / 4
Mar / 5 / 1
Apr / 12 / 7
May / 24 / 5
Jun / 22 / 7
Jul / 45 / 12
Aug / 109 / 42
Sep / 305 / 217
Oct / 961 / 750
Nov / 193 / 84
Dec / 47 / 15
Year / 1,756 / 1,159
This distribution is similar to the 1952 wave where in that case the peak was in July. This distribution also replicates von Lucadou’s findings about RSPKs. This general tendency for recurrent anomalistic phenomena can be explained in part by social factors. As a phenomenon is reported in the general press, an accumulation of news clipping can create a sense that there is something going on. Then natural phenomena are reported as UFOs, and hoaxers feel compelled to do their part as well. The mass media can create such snow ball effect, but also can create the demise of a phenomenon by expecting more and more until it cannot “give” anymore, then the press and its readership looses interest. This usually leads to a quick decline in sightings. This effect is well known to those who in communication studies under the name “bandwagon effect” .
The key here is to remember that the bandwagon effect can explain the reporting effects and overall distribution, but it cannot explain the relatively high number of CEs. To see a strange light in the night (NL) or a far away object in the sky during the day (DD) has a different qualitative nature than seeing “things” up close. Mistakes are quite possible when it comes to NL and DD, but much less likely for CEs. The only way that the bandwagon effect would extend to CEs is to imply that they are hoaxes and lies. Interviews with multiple witnesses, coming from a wide variety of background and who have no objective reasons to lie, do not warrant such speculations. Hence, a significant number of CEs, assuming they are properly investigated and classified, constitutes a key indicator for the “paranormal” variable in the case of UFOs.
As stated in many previous posts, both Fodor about RSPKs, and Batcheldor  for group PK, found that hoaxes and tricks can actually help inducing psi effects by making them unconsciously believable. From a parasociological standpoint, the variations in intensity of paranormal phenomenon and the level of public interest for such phenomenon should be seen as co-variations (or inter-dependent variables) rather than as a zero-sum game. This is where the “true” believers in the psycho-social hypothesis fails to explain anything by speculating that a phenomenon must be either true or false; empirical evidence shows that anomalistic phenomena are mixed realities.
One or two (or more) systems
One of the interesting findings of my analyses of the 1952 events over Washington D.C. and the 1966-67 Canadian UFO wave is that there seems to be more than one system at play when it comes to UFO waves. Given that all these waves, including the one of 1954, are more or less worldwide, it seems that there are global conditions for UFO wave to emerge. These conditions also enable events to occur in sub-systems, like the concentration of sightings in France in October 1954, that develop their own dynamics. It is not possible to determine if the UFO worldwide events are caused by a dynamics of the same nature as the ones more local, nor is it possible to determine if they interact. In other words, the reasons for a concentration of sightings in France can be enabled by the worldwide conditions, while still having its own independent dynamics. In any event, as for the Canadian wave, a multi-system approach appears to be suited for understanding complex phenomena that are both local and global.
The issue of dates
The dates in a UFO wave appear to be even more important in light of the events of October 1954. October 1954 is the month when the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) was created by a group of anti-colonial insurgents in Algeria. As we now know, the FLN waged an extensive political and armed struggle to free Algeria from French colonial rule. This led to a bitter conflict involving more than 500,000 French soldiers, countless victims in Algeria and something that shook deeply the French society. Although the French Army won on the ground, the FLN won the political battle about immorality of colonialism and Algeria gained its independence in 1962. What happen in October 1954 was not known to the French public, and even the FLN actions of November 1954 did not appear to be anything threatening.
Hence, like what was found in the Canadian case studies, intense UFO sightings occurred while key decisions are taken that will have a very significant impact for the collective future but that they are not yet known to the larger public. It is also possible to note that the Global Consciousness Project observed serious deviations in their networked random generators in the hours prior to 9/11. These various cases can be interpreted as the collective unconscious made aware of impeding threat and uses paranormal means to express it.
Some may argue like Kottemeyer  that it is the lost of collective self-esteem that is behind major UFO waves. He noted that the French defeat in Indochina was the likely source of the French 1954 UFO wave. But the dates do not add up for Indochina. The battle of Dien Bien Phu was in May 1954, and the war was officially over by July. The war in Indochina was far from the preoccupations of French people, while Algeria was another story. Algeria was administratively part of metropolitan France, and had over 1 million of non-Muslim citizens who eventually became refugees in France. As well, in Indochina the French Army was made of volunteers and colonial troops, while in Algeria it was mostly made of conscripts and reservists. The Algerian conflict was, in many ways, very close to home. Kottemeyer’s hypothesis is interesting but it does not fit the 1954 French wave.
Going beyond RSPKs
If collective precognition of decisions leading to major social and political events is an important condition to have large scale paranormal events, then the analysis of the 1952 wave would require some adjustment. This is one of the implications of the findings from the 1954 and 1966-67 UFO waves. There are, however, no apparent major decisions taken in the United States in July 1952 that would have substantial consequences for the future (and the same can be said about the 1957 American UFO wave). The only significant event in 1952 that is synchronistic to the phenomenon remains the Democratic convention. Maybe a more general condition of “what cannot be said publically” either because it is a premonition or some people are muzzled would be more accurate. It would not contravene with the general principles upon which the MPI is built, but it would require generalizing the findings of the MPI. The implications are that paranormal events remain linked to social dynamics, be it small or large scale, but the dynamic for RSPK is just a particular application of the MPI. The reason as to why pragmatic information cannot be expressed through normal means (e.g. angry and unable to express emotion teenager) should not lead us to create special models for every occasion. Hence, UFO events may not be large scale aerial RSPKs after all, but rather they are non-normal expressions of unconsciously held information.
 Michel, Aimé. (1958). Flying Saucer and the Straight-Line Mystery. New York: Criterion Books.
 For a good overview of the MPI please see, Lucadou, Walter von and F. Zahradnik. (2004). “Predictions of the Model of Pragmatic Information about RSPK”. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association Convention 2004.
 Johnson, Donald A. (2009). “The Worldwide UFO Wave of 1954”. On Internet at http://www.ufoinfo.com/onthisday/papers/Worldwide%20UFO%20Wave%20of%201954.pdf.
See the references at the end of this entry on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandwagon_effect
 Fodor, Nandor. (1958). On the Trail of the Poltergeist. New York: Citadel Press.
 Batcheldor, Kenneth J. (1984). “Contributions to the theory of PK induction from sitter-group work”. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 78(2): 105-122.
 Kottmeyer, Martin. (1996). “UFO Flaps”. The Anomalist 3 (1995-1996): 64-89.
Eric Ouellet © 2010