UFO Conjecture(s)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

UFO skeptic Robert Sheaffer once believed in fairies?

Going through my UFO magazine collection, I came across an article in the issue pictured here [October 1977] by Robert Sheaffer, Cottingley Photos: Winged Ufonauts? [Page 40 ff.].

Could this be the arch-UFO skeptic, Robert Sheaffer?

Mr. Sheaffer, in the piece, opens with “Some of the most remarkable photographs of all time were taken near a small village in the English countryside [Cottingley Glen, in Yorkshire, England] beginning in the summer of 1917.”

These are the photographs:
Mr. Sheaffer supports the photos in many ways throughout his piece:

“If the only evidence we had for the authenticity of the Cottingley photographs was the testimony of the girls themselves, one might be justified in presuming the photos to be hoax … But the Cottingley photographs have been exhaustively investigated, and pronounced to be authentic, by one of the most learned and respected men of his day, none other than the celebrated Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.” [Page 41]

“The girls who took the photographs were incapable of concocting a sophisticated hoax.” [Page 41]

“We also know that ‘temporal provincialism’ (a form of arrogance that has always proved annoying to posterity) often causes people to interpret strange phenomena in a way that fits in with the popular ideas of their time. For example, the mysterious ‘airships’ that were sighted in 1896-97 were described as Jules Verne-type contraptions because that was the idea then popular of unknown flying objects. Of course, we now know that they must have been UFOs …” [Page 42]

OMG! This can’t really be the Robert Sheaffer we all know, can it?

As for the Cottingley fairy photos, you can read about them at Wikipedia:

The Wikipedia article says this:

In the early 1980s Elsie and Frances [the young “photographers”] admitted that the photographs were faked.



  • You see this happen quite a lot; an overly credulous believer in the non prosaic becomes an utterly incredulous debunker.

    By Blogger Ross, at Wednesday, June 17, 2015  

  • Are some of the best skeptics not ex-magicians, former 'psychic-mediums' and such?
    They know better than most, even better than me, how easily people are fooled, how easily a bit of skilled palming or cold-reading creates magical stories which are embedded in their memories to be retold as truth.

    All the best,

    By Blogger Woody, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • It's true, it's all true. I wrote that article!

    By Blogger Robert Sheaffer, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Hard to say. Some of it is so sarcastic, it makes you wonder if he's trying to be ironic:

    "After all, the sceptics keep reminding us how easy it is to fabricate hoax UFO photographs, and perhaps these closed-minded naysayers do have a valid point."

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Well I was about to post the story for the slide discussion.
    currently I am reading "Think like Sherlock Holmes " by Maria Konnikova and there is a whole chapter about this story and the involvement of Arthur Conan Doyle.
    I think ACD did a similiar mistake as the sliders did.His family originated in Ireland and his Celtic heritage was populated by many stories about the 'little people'.
    He wanted this story to be true. This affected his whole investigation.

    By Blogger Zak McKracken, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Ross,
    Google is your friend.
    As they are people who dont verify the source proposed in the moment it is atatcking skeptics... Credulous yourself, then.

    "He also wrote there about my own hoax article suggesting that the Cottingley Fairies were Winged UFO Occupants: “It was printed in Official UFO magazine, October 1977, by editors too stupid to realize that Sheaffer had his tongue in his cheek.”"




    By Blogger Gilles Fernandez, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Yes Gilles is right. That article is a spoof (and I say this without having even read it!). There is a hint of this in the title, with the phrase "winged ufonauts".

    At no time has Robert Sheaffer ever believed in 'winged ufonauts', or even unwinged ones for that matter.

    Were the editors taken in or did they participate in the spoof? Also, what did readers say in letters that followed?

    By Blogger cda, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Robert:

    I am glad that it is true that you wrote the article. Just as, presumably, it is true that you wrote the post above stating that it is true that you wrote the said article.

    By Blogger cda, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • CDA:

    I could not find and letters to Official UFO dealing with the article.

    (However, I gave a batch of UFO magazines to Nick Redfern for his MIB book and maybe the November/December 1977 issues of the mag were among those in which the article was noted.)

    I'll continue to look -- I have a gazillion UFO magazines, not in any chronological order I'm afraid.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • > editors too stupid to realize that Sheaffer had his tongue in his cheek.

    They may have known, but not cared. In the January 1978 issue, the feature was a report of the MIB kidnapping the editor for getting too close to "the truth" and ransacking the offices for UFO evidence!

    Looks like by the time of Robert's hoax, Official UFO already had made its transition to a hoax magazine.

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Well,

    I was only reacted on Ross's comment. Her/his comment made me laught when you understand she/he have been traped and wanted to give a lesson to the "skeptics", not realizing it was a spoof. Wow!
    Excellent for the SPH/CRT. She/he have been able to establish a portrait of UFO-skeptic(s) from... a spoof! As did Rich Reynolds?!?

    In France too, some reacted to RR blog article: See how Robert Sheaffer was a credulous believer!

    Very interesting social experiment. Thank you Ross for your participation, and mainly to Robert Sheaffer participating in order we realize how this community is credulous, doesnt verify or go beyond the source they quote, etc.





    By Blogger Gilles Fernandez, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Terry is right about this. The early issues of OFFICIAL UFO were very good; but then the editorship changed (either once or twice, don't recall).

    I have 1,500 UFO and related magazines, and the later issues of Official UFO are as bad as it gets.

    By Blogger Daniel Transit, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Gilles:

    You are familiar, surely, with Aesop's fable of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf?


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • Yes, as I list all false alarms the ufologists sent to us for decades now (probably the greatest catalogue/corpus of FA ever offered from a microcosm/protagonists however continuing to defend an hypothesis despite the tons of FA they have already offered ;)

    Well, that's ufology, after all.


    By Blogger Gilles Fernandez, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

  • The point I made stands and as proof I offer up Michael Shermer.

    By Blogger Ross, at Thursday, June 18, 2015  

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