Michel Bougard, Président
That’s all folks !
Ite, missa est…
There are thousands of ways to tell that we have reached the final destination… And here we are…we have reached it! On the 11th of June, during the last General Assembly, all members decided, unanimously, the splitting-up of the non-profit association SOBEPS. This is said to the point… like the blade of a guillotine putting the life of a thirty-six years-old person to its end.
Someone will probably someday write the history of SOBEPS. I will not be that person. We cannot write the history when we are both critic and actor. SOBEPS was launched in May 1971. Among the Founding Fathers, only Lucien Clerebaut and Patrick Ferryn remain on board. I joined the ship only two months later, in July 1971.
When someone is announcing the death of a person or the vanishing of a structure, it is commonly accepted to give an eulogy, underlining all the qualities of the deceased. It is hard to stay unbiased when we have strong feelings, plenty of memories, and sometimes regrets.
Leaders of the SOBEPS carried on many battles during those thirty-six years. Our main purpose was to give to the UFO file the biggest credibility possible to allow it be taken into consideration seriously by the scientists. To reach this objective, we had contacts with specialists, we could establish a reliable method of investigation, in full independence and without any preconceived idea. That reflects the time of total empiricism with its number of original discoveries but also mistakes and dead-ends. I recalled bitterly wrong debates with "sceptics" for whom witnesses are always persons making errors, being subject to confusions or being liars. I would like to tell to those adversaries that intellectual honesty was never synonym of reductionism or systematic critic.
Another of our fights was to undertaking a real educational action toward the Public with the objective to explain that, with the current data available, it is impossible to conclude anything about UFOs. We had also to be polemical with strong UFO believers for whom a tiny light in the sky seems to be the proof to announce any alien landing.
When we study UFOs, I believe we are in the same position that blind Indians. A story explains well difficulties encountered in research but also dangers to conclude too quickly from partial data. Her is the story. Once upon a time, in an Indian village, blind people heard that something strange was discovered in their old people's house garden. One came to the thing and touching it, discovered something strait and rough : "It is only a old tree!" he said. Another one came closer and held in his hands a long liana, supple and moving : "It is a huge rope or a liana". A third one touched another place and felt like huge leaves, like a fan. A last one was surprised to hold long and sharp smooth stems, like a post made harder by fire. Everybody described a real part of what was in front of them, without being able to see the entire object nor able to understand they were in front of… an elephant. The first person held a leg, the second took the tail, the third took the trunk, the fourth the ear and the last one held tusks. People often tell this story in a philosophical and religious context to help to understand that nobody solely can do anything. This story is also used in epistemology to underlines difficulties to understand phenomena from which we have only a partial knowledge and parts because data are incomplete and missing (like for UFOs) or because the "reality" is inaccessible (like the tiny structure of atom).
To convince the ones about the scientific interest of UFO observations, to restrain gullible enthusiasm of the others: the carrot and the stick! According to our small means I believe we succeeded to do everything we can do in the framework of our objectives. But at present we arrived at a turning point : the time for amateurs is gone, official structures (private of public) should be put in place (see GEPEAN in France) and serious means should be available to reach what should be one of the main objectives for the future: to be able to act "in real time" with scientific devices when someone has seen something in order to collect measures and physical data, which are the last barrier to prevent scientists to study together UFOs.
Communication technologies have been developed quickly and it changes the situation. During the Belgian Wave (1989-1991) we organised observations during night and we carried enquiries at the time observations occurred. We had portable phones at our disposal, in a suitcase weighting several kilos and with a limited autonomy. Few years later, mobile phones were available everywhere. I cannot imagine what those mobile phones could have bring to us during this Winter of 1989-90.
Internet changed the spreading of information. Before we had to wait several days, or weeks, before knowing one observation which happened abroad. Today, we are able to know it at the same time it occurs. The speed of this spreading of information is not only positive. We do not stand back in order to assess an event. Images and speeches are more important in comparison to the text carefully chosen. The huge number of internet websites dedicated to ufology is an example. We can find the best and the worst (as it is on the web) but, most of the time, information is put on line without any verification. Despite the number of new witnesses, few can reach the level of credibility as it was at the end of the last century. Another aspect is that the most serious persons studying ufology spend time and energy to make a list and classifications, underlining a special aspect in one observation, one detail without making any new brainstorming. It illustrates the stagnation in the research.
Recently, due to the increasing scarcity of important observations, due to the stagnation of studies on the subject, due to the impression that we can learn more and better using internet, we have seen a fall in our members and volunteers. SOBEPS never received any subsidies from any public entity or any gift from any private sponsor, therefore our savings were getting empty. We gathered our last euros to offer you the last edition of Inforespace. Closing our activities, we should think about the keeping of our archives…
This is not an easy issue. Regarding our library, we have decided to sell all books. You will find in this issue of Inforespace the list of books available for selling. Revenues will allow us to pay last expenses (printing, rent, etc)
Regarding thousands of reports collected (during the Belgian Wave, 25 thick binders were assembled for a total of about 20,000 pages) no decision has been taken yet. We would like this “war chest” being available to all researcher, to the condition to respect few rules, the main one being that witnesses have to remain anonymous.
SOBEPS's leaders want to thank all associates and contributors who contributed to a large extend to reinforce our action during the thirty-six years. They spent lot of their time, often their funds, to help us, on a voluntary basis, to carry all tasks which contributed to the success of our association: administrative tasks (often boring), translations, page design, long travels to make an investigation and dozen of other activities. Thanks to all of you who supported us.
Time is over and we need to lay down one's arms. We have the true feeling that we did all we could in respect with our means. Once more, with the limited means in our possession, we could create a positive perception and give credibility to the issue of UFOs, to attract the attention of several scientists and to be a recognised interlocutor by several Belgian authorities.
At the same time, we have never neglected our teaching mission towards the Public. We have to thank journalists who often understood the specificity of the SOBEPS and who were the necessary link about UFOs in the news. When you are reading those lines, I guess you had (or will have soon) the opportunity to see the last television report about our activities in the framework of the Belgian Wave. Made by journalist Franck Istasse for the TV magazine ‘Questions a la une’ (RTBF - Belgian TV, Oct. 24, 2007), this programme is for us the last opportunity to explain our methodology.
What is next? The UFO phenomenon will maybe demonstrate itself on a more decisive manner later on, through scientific data, more than a-posteriori enquiries. Research techniques are more and more improving, for example for the discovery of the Universe, and will lead to discoveries changing the way people are thinking about extraterrestrial life. We had paradoxically devoted more funds and energies to the quest of intelligent signs in Universe and developing exobiology instead of studying UFOs. It was pure speculation only ten years ago but it is now getting certain at experiment level: plenty of planets exist in the Universe and the moment is close when we will be able to see small planets like Earth. In April 2007, the Very Large Telescope in the European Southern Observatory based in La Silla, Chile, discovered at a distance of 20.5 light years a telluric planet which is only five times bigger than the Earth. This exoplanet is close to the small star called Gliese 581 and its temperature on the surface might be comprised between 0 and 40°C which allows the presence of water and life.
Other discoveries of this dimension will lead inevitably to reconsider the question of extraterrestrial life and its contacts with us. It will be the time when ufology will become an integrated sector to exobiology and when we will understand, according a sentence of Pierre Lagrange, that our planet Earth is visited since ages by intelligences coming from outer space and who in front of what they observe must probably behave like “primatologists facing baboons”.
Many thanks to all of you who gave ideas to the Inforespace and allow this periodic to become en exemplary publication, considered by many as the best one in the French language. Thanks to those who are the last members of SOBEPS, loyal subscribers and sympathisers to our projects. We would have given it up sooner without you… We pay tribute to all of you.
And now, let's the curtain fall…
« C’est à cause que tout doit finir que tout est si beau »
[Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, Adieu à beaucoup de personnages – Les Cahiers Vaudois, 1914].
Translation: Daniel Van Assche