Let me start by saying I am not sure how to answer that headline question. Not at all.
Since someone recently told me that they had never heard the term, "ufologist," I'll give brief...albeit shaky and far from comprehensive...definition: "one who studies UFO phenomena."
A logical follow-up question might be "How does one become a ufologist?" Well it's really interesting to see the various roads that the best UFO researchers traveled to lead them to their studies. There are scientists who specialize in disciplines such as metallurgy, physics, and astronomy. These include people such as Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Stanton Friedman. Then there are those trained in journalism, where the rigors of research and follow-up served them well and helped them to do great work. A prime example of this would be Leslie Kean. Others still even take a psychological approach such as with Jacques Vallee. As with many other subjects, I am passionate about how interdisciplinary involvement can yield tremendous findings.
But a common complaint from skeptics is that the findings of UFO researchers cannot be accepted as there is no formal or accredited process to becoming a ufologist. One can't say, "Well, when I studied Ufology at Princeton..." Therefore, in the eyes of academics, there is no evidence for any kind of validity to the studies. It might also surprise you to know that there are those who pursue the phenomena who likewise decry the term "ufology" and bemoan the presence of "UFO nuts." That latter camp it seems is somewhat akin to the antebellum dogma of far right fundamentalists of Christianity; true believers who might or might not dress in costume, attend conventions and festivals (think of pictures you see from Roswell in July), and believe every conspiracy story that's out there to be true no matter how daffy and if you disagree with them, well, then you sir or madam are a heretic. To the stake with you. Either that or you are part of the government's nefarious "disinformation plan."
There is an argument to be made that the presence of this kind of attitude and behavior further de-legitimizes the field. At the same time, I can't help but feel a bit of sympathy towards these people because I'm not that different from them. In terms of "ufological validity" anyway. Like them, my "credentials" in the realm of UFOs amounts to a lifelong interest and having done a great amount of reading on the matter. I don't have a degree in ufology.
But then who does? What exactly does make someone qualified to talk about the phenomena? Do you need to have a degree in science or do you actually need to have had a UFO encounter? If it's either of those criteria then I'm afraid I'm screwed. I just happen to have a strong interest and a fair amount of knowledge, but never would I tout myself as an expert. It's easy to see how, just like in academics, exclusionary devices can be constructed thus barring all points of view and even further dissuading more people from taking an interest.
Meanwhile, UFO and related sightings continued and we get no closer to an answer. Feel free to fight amongst yourselves.
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