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Brookings Report Re-examined

From: "Keith Woodard" <qwoodard@worldnet.att.net>
Date: Sun, 30 Nov 1997 06:28:45 -0800
Fwd Date: Sun, 30 Nov 1997 10:20:05 -0500
Subject: Brookings Report Re-examined

The 1960 Brookings Institution Report is these days on the lips
of everyone from aging ufologists to Johnny-come-lately Art Bell
listeners.  The popular impression, partly rooted in
sensationalized press reports of the time, is of a document
prepared for NASA's 'Committee on Beings in Space', part of
NASA's "research project to look into UFO phenomena".  According
to conventional ufology, Brookings concluded that society could
well "collapse" were the public to learn of intelligent aliens,
and warned that all such evidence must be suppressed for the sake
of civilization itself.

The truth is quite different, albeit to some degree open to
interpretation. The Brookings Report was actually prepared for
NASA's Committee on Long-Range Studies. (I feel confident no
'NASA Committee on Beings in Space' ever existed, despite its
mention in a UPI dispatch.) The report's purpose was to assist
in the development of  "a comprehensive and long-term program of
research and study regarding the social, economic, political, and
international implications of the use of space for peaceful and
scientific purposes."

It is large: 219 pages, with another 100 pages of footnotes.
(The full text can be extracted from:




A direct route exists, but can't be here revealed because of a
conflict between the posting rule on line length and that on
complete URL's.)  In the report is a section, occupying scarcely
a page and a half, entitled, 'The Implications of the Discovery
of Extraterrestrial Life'.  (There are also three-and-a-half
pages of footnotes to this.  All the relevant portions of the
report body and footnotes are conveniently found on Richard
Hoagland's website at:


What the report actually recommended with regard to these
"implications," was "continuing studies to determine {the
public's} emotional and intellectual understanding and attitudes
-- and successive alterations of them if any -- regarding the
possibility and consequences of discovering intelligent
extraterrestrial life." It did raise the possibility of
withholding information, but took no position on its
advisability.  "Questions one might wish to answer by such
studies," intoned the report, "would include: how might such
information, under what circumstances, be presented to or
withheld from the public for what ends?  What might be the role
of the discovering scientists and other decision makers regarding
release of the fact of discovery?"  Those two sentences comprise
the report's entire commentary on the subject of covering up the

Lamenting the paucity of data on which to base predictions, the
report pointed out that public reaction could become both extreme
and transformational.  However, the authors did not view this in
purely unfavorable terms.  "The knowledge that life existed in
other parts of the universe," they observed, "might lead to a
greater unity of men on earth, based on the oneness of man or on
the age-old assumption that any stranger is threatening."

The report did find the POSSIBILITY of severe disruption
worrisome, most forcefully expressing this with the remark,
"Whether earthmen would be inspired to all-out space efforts by
such a discovery is a moot question.  Anthropological files
contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the
universe, which have disintegrated when they have had to
associate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing
different ideas and different life ways; others that survived
such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes
in values and attitudes and behavior."

It seems to me this passage contains much room for
interpretation. Was the dissolution of primal cultures invoked
only to dramatize the disruptive potential inherent in first
contact, or were the authors actually considering this a
realistic possibility for our own civilization?  I find it
significant that this sentence (and one summarizing it, if we
consider the report and the report summary) contains the sole
reference in the entire report to any sort of large-scale
calamity menacing the public.  (Ironically, the authors, in a
footnote, seemed more anxious about the "devastating"
psychological effects "it has been speculated" might befall
scientists and engineers rather than risk to the public at large.
Including this latter concern, then, I count three sentences.  In
a fourth, a footnote predicts that fundamentalists would find the
news "electrifying.")

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