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Sad news in the January MUFON journal: pioneering UFO researcher James McCampbell passed away last month.

I have the sad responsibility to tell you of the passing of one of NARCAP’s National Technical Specialists, Mr. James M. McCampbell. He passed away Sunday afternoon, December 7, 2008 in Belmont, California after a relatively short illness.

Jim had many professional accomplishments that included his project management of a significant part of the Alaskan pipeline with the Bechtel Corp, San Francisco and also serving as MUFON’s Science Director for many years. He wrote and published the book Ufology: New Insights From Science And Common Sense in 1973.

He was an experimentalist and carried out studies on the effects of microwaves on various substances and apparatus components and magnetic fields on compass needle rotation, among others. But Jim had many other ‘extracurricular’ interests as well.

He prepared a rather comprehensive catalogue of impact craters all over the Earth and studied ancient religious sites looking for spatial patterns in both.

In my opinion, some of the core points in McCampbell’s work are hugely under-rated. In his book Ufology: New Insights From Science and Common Sense (which is freely available online), he used the commonalities found in UFO witness reports to “reverse engineer” the physics of UFO encounters – that is, things like luminosity, sounds heard (hence my interest), vehicle interference and physiological effects. While I don’t agree with all his conclusions (and certainly believe he was being over-enthusiastic/naive in facets of his investigations), his work was (and still is) ground-breaking in noting the possible causes of strange effects when it comes to UFO reports (e.g. strange tastes in the mouth). And he definitely had some foresight when it came to the possibility of using computers to look for the ‘recurrent regularities’ in the data, writing in 1976:

Previous attempts at analyzing the UFO phenomenon have been badly frustrated by the task of cross-correlating the enormous volume of recorded data. As has been emphasized before, the data must be stored in a computer to speed up the search for critical information… The initial collection of cases to be logged in the computer should be the catalog of close-encounters that has proven to be so helpful in this book, because the breadth of information contained in that collection far exceeds any other of comparable size. Other compilations would be required for studies such as geographical and temporal correlations, flight characteristics, and electromagnetic interference. Much sophistication will be required of the computer programs. In effect, they must have an essentially unlimited ability to search for correlations. At the beginning, no investigator can be clever enough to foresee all the possible correlations… The computer software must also be a masterpiece of flexibility, because the routine scanning of files is not at all sufficient. The equipment must be able to handle language with all its nuances.

The trouble is, has anyone managed to do so in the intervening 33 years?