CORVALLIS, Ore. - An increasing number of highly-credible UFO sightings are being made around the world, one scientist says, though much of it goes unrecognized by the general public due to disdain by scientists, the military, political leaders and the news media.

What's underway may be a carefully orchestrated plan by extraterrestrial beings who know they must gradually prepare a backwards culture - humans - for news of their presence while providing "deniability" to those who can't yet handle that fact, said Jim Deardorff, a professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at Oregon State University.

Deardorff spoke today at a meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, reviewing studies done in this area, including his own, about the possibility of an alien presence.

The 50th anniversary is nearing of the famous "alien spaceship" controversy in Roswell, N.M. The city of Phoenix, Ariz. is buzzing about a mile-wide UFO that thousands of people reportedly saw last March, and other claims of ET sightings continue to stream in.

It's time to take a fresh look at a taboo topic, Deardorff said.

"Personally I'm convinced that an extraterrestrial presence here on Earth is a fact, not a theory," Deardorff said. "It's time for the government, the science community, the news media and others in a position of power to stop ignoring these issues as if they were hogwash, and do some real studies."

But in all likelihood the public will have to provide its own leadership in investigating this phenomenon, he said, because people in positions of authority feel most threatened by powers that clearly transcend their own.

"And another point we have to face, which most people don't realize, is that we are not the ones who are in charge," Deardorff said. "Aliens with the technology to come here, conceal their presence and be seen only when they choose are clearly the ones in control. They are implementing a strategy."

Since retiring from OSU in 1986 as a recognized expert in atmospheric science, Deardorff has spent years reviewing volumes of evidence about an extraterrestrial presence and developing theories about their behavior.

The topic is now hotter than ever, he said, as evidence of new planets and the possibility of life elsewhere continues to mount.

An assumption generally made, he said, is that aliens millions of years more advanced than humans can travel through space with technology beyond our comprehension. But a leading question, he says, is if extraterrestrials have already come to Earth, why don't they make themselves known?

Many theories have been hypothesized to explain this, he said, which variably describe aliens viewing humans as a zoo, nursery, laboratory or in a state of quarantine or embargo - by this reasoning, if we're so barbaric we can't get along with each other, how could we possibly get along with them?

Deardorff's own contribution is what he calls the "leaky embargo" hypothesis, which argues that the aliens in charge are more ethical than we and wish to let us know of their existence and presence, but not too suddenly lest it threaten the governmental, financial, cultural and religious foundations on which we depend.

"If in fact extraterrestrials are using this strategy, they reveal themselves to enough people, over a period of time, that the idea of their existence becomes accepted by those people whose belief system can handle it," he said. "But they keep the contacts remote and infrequent enough that people who need to deny their existence can still do that if they have to."

"It's a little bit like the 'prime directive' of Star Trek fame that forbids interference with other civilizations," he said.

Reputable scientific research on UFOs is still rare, Deardorff said, largely because government and scientific leaders fear ridicule and criticism, or are reluctant to admit the existence of scientific knowledge greatly beyond that of present-day humans.

"Meanwhile, studies show that roughly half of the people in the U.S. believe UFOs are real objects and not just someone's imagination," Deardorff said. "And some 70 percent believe there is life elsewhere in the universe."

Thousands of UFO sightings each year pass screening by groups who attempt to rule out hoaxes and natural phenomena, Deardorff said. And just recently, some of the most profound sightings in years have taken place.

In a case in South Africa investigated by a professor from Harvard University, actual alien beings were witnessed. And the recent case in Phoenix triggered hundreds of reports from people who described a huge V-shape in the sky which variably hovered, cruised slowly, was silent and had large lights.

Airline pilots, businessmen, truck drivers and engineers saw it, and many videos were made.

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James Deardorff, 541-757-8905