I N F O R M A T I O N   Q U A L I T Y
T H E   I T A C A T   E X A M P L E  
 
 by Maurizio Verga
 
 
The catalogue of Italian close encounters  has been  taken  as an example for  a  preliminary  
discussion  about  the  quality  of  available documentation for present UFO cases. Even what  
everybody recognize as the best phenomelogy on record  is  founded on  scarce  and  generally  
unreliable  information.  Some  considerations have been developed about the origins and  the
consequences of such a situation.  
  
 
	ITACAT  is  the  acronym  of  Italian  Catalogue  of  Type-1  
sightings,  that  is  a comprehensive  collection  of  all  close  
encounter cases taken place in Italy. It has been started in 1977  
along  the  trail of Peter Rogerson's INTCAT,  the  catalogue  of  
international  close encounters once published  on  MUFOB/MAGONIA  
and  other  national  works as well. Material  was  collected  by  
checking  groups  and investigators' archives,  old  listings  of  
cases and the Italian UFO literature as a whole. The result was a  
first 400-page manuscript prepared in 1985: it has been published  
only  last month due to the several problems in finding  a  cheap  
press style. 
 
     The  ITACAT  monograph published by  Centro  Italiano  Studi  
Ufologici  (C.I.S.U.)  includes  about  430  cases  ranging  1912  
through 1984. Beyond a long presentation of the whole work (where  
explanations  about definitions and methodology  were  presented,  
as  well  as three complete bibliographies about  catalogues  and  
studies  on  close  encounters) there is a  first  large  section  
devoted  to the abstracts of all collected cases and  their  main  
Italian and foreign sources. A second section refers to  comments  
about   the  quality  of  each  single  case  (that  is   further  
information  about  the source, the eventual  investigation,  the  
witness,  etc  ...) and evaluation of possible  explanations.  Of  
course,  most of such comments have been produced by  a  personal  
point  of view, even though grounded on data and quite  objective  
interpretations.  
 
     In  the  headline  of each case you can see  an  attempt  of  
evaluation about its quality and identification. I am  completely  
aware this work is limited by one person's judgement, so it could  
be  questionable. But, as in nearly all projects of such a  kind,  
it  wasn't possible to establish an actual panel  of  differently  
minded researchers to express a common evaluation.  Particularly,  
I  established  some  different evaluation labels  which  can  be  
freely  combined  together.  Each label  has  been  processed  in  
relation to the following definitions : 
 
 
 
NSUFFICIENT DATA   :    refers  to  the lack of  important  data  
                         necessary  to a complete  evaluation  of  
                         the reported story. Typical examples can  
                         be   weather  conditions  and   in-depth  
                         information   about  the   witness   and  
                         sighting environment. 
 
 
UNRELIABLE          :    the  source  of the case  is  completely  
                         unreliable for a serious use of the case  
                         itself. To avoid this label it must have  
                         been investigated by balanced and expert  
                         investigators producing a  comprehensive  
                         report.  Anyway, a case not labelled  as  
                         "unreliable" offers only a better 	
			 information  quality and doesn't mean that  
			 a really  unexplained phenomenon  actually  
			 has been seen by somebody.  
 
APPARENTLY UNEXPLAINED : cases which seem to offer no  well-known  
                         explanation to their reported  phenomena  
                         and a high information quality. They are  
                         the best UFO cases on record, as regards  
                         ITACAT.  I use "apparently" because  our  
                         experience is showing as a lot of strong  
                         cases  could  be  explained  after  some  
                         time,  thank to additional  details  and  
                         knowledges. 
 
POSSIBLE EXPLANATION :   cases where available information allows  
                         to  propose a possible  explanation  for  
                         the reported phenomena.                  
 
PROBABLE EXPLANATION :   cases     which    interpretation     by  
                         conventional  arguments is  probable  or  
                         even nearly sure. Unfortunately, alleged  
                         investigations don't offer those  checks  
                         able      to      confirm      suggested  
                         identifications. 
 
 
 
     As  said before, ITACAT is a file of close  encounters.  But  
apart from the old general definition given by the late Dr. Hynek  
there  is  quite  confusion  about  what  one  means  for  "close  
encounter". Many researchers proposed their own definition, so  I  
could but propose mine ! 
     The  catalogue  includes all cases which can be  defined  as  
follows : 
 
" Any  experience  where  the witness states  the  sighting  of  a  
phenomenon  at less than 30 meters of altitude and associated  to  
the common idea of UFO by himself or other people " 
 
     Sincerely  I  don't  like the  altitude  limit  inside  this  
definition,  but  I accepted it as something like  a  "historical  
compatibility" with past works. 
 
     You   can  immediately  realize  that  ITACAT  is  a   great  
file of any kind of stories, all related to what commonly  people  
refer  as "UFO". You can find everything from simple  rumours  to  
detailed  investigations  reports, passing through  an  ocean  of  
newsclippings.  It's the usual problem: as we don't know what  we  
are looking for, we have to consider everything. What's important  
is to label each of them accordingly. 
 
     The  catalogue doesn't include the so-called  fringe  cases,  
most of which have an indirect relation with what we usually name  
"UFO  phenomenon",  that is a concept difficult  to  be  defined.  
Bedroom visitors, lonely entities, traces without UFOs, telepatic  
contacts with presumed ET beings, contactee tales and so on  have  
been  separately  filed, just beacuse they don't fit  the  second  
point  of  ITACAT's close encounter definition.  Moreover,  well- 
known  hoaxes or very probable faked cases haven't been  recorded  
in the file. 
At  moment, I have collected nearly 500 cases which  are  so  
distributed: 
 
50.8 %  C.E. 0 (wihout any effect) 
15.2 %  C.E. 1 (temporaneous effects, like E.M. and physiological) 
13.0 %  C.E. 2 (physical traces and other permanent effects) 
19.5 %  C.E. 3 (entity cases) 
 1.5 %  C.E. 4 (abductions) 
 
     Please note that the percentages of C.E. 1 and C.E. 2 aren't  
exact  as  several  cases  concerning  temporaneous  effects   or  
physical  traces have been reported among the other higher  rated  
classes.  This  a  great limit of most  catalogues  currently  on  
record,  including  mine: as a consequence, we  haven't  a  clear  
picture of the real distribution of the different kinds. 
     As  you  can  see  at first  glance,  the  so-called  "high- 
strangeness  cases"  count  for  about one  third  of  the  whole  
file.  The  quantity  isnt's so high and  the  quality  as  well.  
Abductions  are  a  rare kind of experience in  the  Italian  UFO  
scene:  only  five events, of which only one is  relatively  well  
documented. 
 
     A  few comments on the yearly distribution too. As  you  can  
see  by the alleged transparency, the peak has been  produced  by  
the  late  '70s and particularly by 1978, rating  more  than  110  
different close encounters. Such a record year was the production  
of a series of factors and situation we don't know exactly,  even  
though  we  have  some  suspects:  
 
(1)   a  late effect of the "Close encounter of the  third  kind"  
movie.  
(2)  the unusual coverage given by mass media to the re-entry  of  
an artificial satellite which produced hundreds of sightings  and  
some "mysterious" phenomena seen by fishermen in the Adriatic sea  
(phenomena  recently  attributed  to activities  related  to  oil  
research). 
(3)   the special psycho-social situation of the  Italian  people  
(1978  was a black year due to the red terrorism and the  massive  
press coverage to UFOs could have been an inconsciuos reaction to  
reduce the high tension of the time). 
(4)   the top result of a special hystorical period  (the  '70s),  
when occult and mysterious matters were fashionable and practised  
by thousands people. 
 
     Practically 1978 is the peak year of a longer wave,  started  
in 1973 and ended in 1979. After that year, a new "dark age"  got  
the Italian ufology: people interested in ufology decreased  more  
and  more and sightings became more and more less frequent,  even  
though with some exceptions. 
 
     The second remarkable peak inside the yearly distribution of  
Italian  close encounters is the 1954 one: it is the  product  of  
the big wave taken place in Italy in that year so special for the  
international UFO scene. But it is like a small island before the  
exceptional  '70s.  Seeing the next transparency  ( 3-D  GRAPH  OF  
CLOSE  ENCOUNTERS ), it is interesting to remember that  1954  has  
the highest percentage of C.E. 3, 18 events of such a kind out of  
39  recorded cases. This is quite strange and maybe it is just  a  
special feature of that wave we should carefully consider. In the  
graph  years have been plotted from left (1947) to right  (1984),  
while in the X axis the rear position takes for C.E. 0. 
 
     Getting  a  quick look at the time distribution  we  have  a  
further  confirmation of the phenomenon's nightly attitude:  this  
is not so strange if we remember that UFO cases come from  visual  
observations  and that witnesses' perception is easily  distorted  
during  the night. Moreover, darkness leads people to  a  special  
emotional  and  psychological state able to bias  the  witnesses'  
reporting   abilities.  Of  course  this  is  not  the   ultimate  
explanation  for  the clear majority of UFO  stories  in  nightly  
hours, but only a simple consideration. 
 
     I  wouldn't like to bore you with other comments  about  the  
well-known frequency distributions we are used to read about: all  
of  us  know  them and their actual meaning.  I  am  still  quite  
skeptical  about  the value of such a kind  of  approach  towards  
these very simple data and, generally, about all data originating  
from  the  tales  we  receive.  If we  want  to  study  the  very  
interesting phenomenon of the tales themselves (that is a psycho- 
sociological survey in order to understand why so many people are  
saying to see so strange things in the sky), we can trust all the  
collected data in spite of their sources. The tales would be  the  
object  of  the study and they would be enough. But I'd  like  to  
approach  my collection of cases in order to verify the  eventual  
presence  of  something objective behind the pure  tale  of  each  
witness or, better, try in understanding what they report to have  
seen.  This  ambitious  aim absolutely needs to  work  with  sure  
checked data, that is a good information quality. 
 
     This is a fundamental point of UFO research I would like  to  
stress. It is not serious to analyze cases based on newsclippings  
and then process hypotheses or even simple conclusions about what  
you think to be behind the cases themselves. Unfortunately,  most  
UFO  stories we have just come from not checked  sources:  press,  
rumours, direct reports, news collected by UFO fans and so-called  
"investigations",  enough  to make Sherlock Holmes  turn  in  his  
grave.  We should always remember that a lot of our  UFO  culture  
has been founded on all these uncontrolled sources. 
 
     I  think we should begin to consider a new actual  parameter  
in the critical evaluation of the great mass of data we have: the  
quality  of information. It is not possible to go on  recognizing  
that well-investigated reports are only a small percentage of the  
whole   documentation   we  have  and  then  accept   that   same  
documentation  as  a basis of discussion for any  kind  of  work.  
Unless  we aim to a sociological survey of stories, which is  not  
the main interest of most ufologists. 
 
     It is difficult to define the concept of information quality  
related to the special UFO case. I would like to argue only a few  
simple  considerations,  hoping  that  international  researchers  
could establish a concrete set of features describing  thoroughly  
the  concept  itself (a partial attempt in such a  direction  was  
accomplished  by our French friends, Michel Figuet  particularly,  
inside the search for requirements able to define really "strong"  
cases).  Anyway,  I don't want to deceive myself, as I  know  how  
difficult is to propose standards to our colleagues and make them  
accepted. 
 
     First  of  all we must consider information quality  as  the  
result  of  an  evaluation of how many and what  data  have  been  
produced  by the source and the nature of the source  itself.  It  
isn't so important the presence of a lot of detailed  descriptive  
features  about the appearance of the phenomenon sighted  by  the  
witness.  It's also very important to know exactly this guy,  the  
environment where the sighting took place, weather conditions and  
geographical  coordinates. These are only examples of data  every  
investigator needs to judge correctly a tale in order to evaluate  
its  reliability and objectivity. I repeat once again:  we  could  
take  it  at face value in case of a survey about  what  men  are  
saying to see in the skies, but we would like to know if they are  
actually seeing something real and what, if possible. 
 
     Certainly,  there are remarkable problems in being  able  to  
get  those information: investigator should ask the  witness  for  
embarassing questions on his personal life, as well as to collect  
data requiring a hard search. Ufologists are generally dilettanti  
people  who  do what they are able to do, so we  cannot  humanely  
expect too much from their generous effort. This situation  could  
explain  the  scarcity of basic data even in  most  investigation  
reports.  This  certainly explains the huge  quantity  of  ITACAT  
cases labelled as "Insufficient Information" and "Unreliable". 
 
     We  should  always  take  in  mind  that  such  a  loss   of  
information produces two serious consequences at least : 
 
*    a misknowledge or no knowledge at all about details able  to  
stress eventual causes having produced the reported phenomena. 
 
*     only  the usual details concerning the  witness'  tale  are  
collected,  so you haven't elements to judge the whole case by  a  
point of view other than a "simple" story. 
 
     The  control over the source is another fundamental  element  
for the information quality. Who is the producer of the case ?  A  
journalist  ?  The  witness  itself  ?  An  unidentified   rumour  
collected  by somebody ? A super-enthusiast young UFO fan ? Or  a  
skilled investigator ? Who knows ! I don't know even this  detail  
for  many Italian cases, as their available news are  scarce  and  
confused. The situation should be the same everywhere, but  worse  
in  countries  where there aren't researchers able  to  recognize  
such  a situation. Of course, the weights of a  well-investigated  
case and a newsclipping-generated event are different. Beyond the  
quantity  of data supplied by them, the alleged reliability  does  
the  difference. This doesn't mean that a ufologist is much  more  
reliable  than  a journalist, but that the latter  is  proned  to  
report the episode quickly and unseriously. 
 
     Sometimes  I  am asking myself how it has been  possible  to  
produce so much literature and theories on the ground of so  many  
unchecked sources or rumours. I don't consider a hypothesis built  
on  newsclippings  to be serious. It seems a consequence  of  the  
power of the myth and the wonderful dream of ET visitors ! Unfor 
tunately, this situation remains and myth is always feeding these  
far and uncontrolled information. 
  
 
 
     Beyond  these  very simple considerations, I would  like  to  
show some data produced by a quick analysis on the ITACAT sample.  
Let's start with the kind of available sources. Four of them have  
been considered for the analysis: 
 
*    PRESS (newspapers and magazines) 
*    INVESTIGATION (any kind of report produced by a ufologist or  
     another person) 
*    DIRECT  REPORT (practically a tale directly supplied by  the  
     witness) 
*    OTHERS  (letters  from other people,  rumours,  unreferenced  
     books) 
 
     Several  cases have different kinds of sources, for  example  
both  press and investigation: I have always taken the  best  one  
into consideration (generally the investigation, even though such  
a choice could be sometimes questionable).  
 
     Seeing the alleged graph (KIND OF SOURCES) we may realize  a  
lot  of  cases  are just coming  from  ufologists:  this  doesn't  
actually mean that quality of this kind of source is better  than  
the  others. Most cases labelled in the investigation class  have  
been  reported  in a terrible way, with few data and  very  short  
papers.  A further selection between "good" and  "bad"  enquiries  
would  be necessary, but it would produce some judgment  problems  
and consequent reactions. 
Anyway,  it  is clear how most available cases take  origin  from  
completely  unchecked  sources, without any real  possibility  to  
evaluate the alleged sighting tale correctly. 
 
     In the next graph (NUMBER OF SOURCES) the number of  primary  
sources for each single case has been processed. We should expect  
the  more different sources an event has, higher its  information  
quality  is. In fact, we could compare different  approaches  and  
maybe  different  data  so  to get a better  look  at  the  case.  
Unfortunately, more than 80% of the whole ITACAT file  originates  
from  one  single  source. Well-documented  cases  are  a  little  
fraction of the whole but they offer a quite good quality, as two  
out of the three or more sources are different investigations  at  
least. Our attention should be caught just by such small group of  
cases. 
 
     I  think the TIME OF SOURCE RELEASE (see alleged  graph)  is  
another interesting parameter to evaluate the quality of our  UFO  
documentation.   The  later  is  the  date  when  the  case   was  
communicated to someone for the very first time the more probable  
is the loss or inconscious change of the witness' memories. It is  
clear that an interview about the description of whatever  visual  
event  taken a long time lapse since its occurence  can't  supply  
reliable  information. The time of source release may so  suggest  
us  a  first  rough  indication  about  the  reliability  of  our  
collected cases. More than half ITACAT entries have been released  
after  one month or more their actual occurence: this means  that  
more  than  half  ITACAT  entries can't  be  taken  into  serious  
consideration, as they ground on not "fresh" tales. 
 
     Parallely,  we  may  look  at  the  next  graph  ( CASES  AND  
SOURCES ), where the dates of cases' occurences have been compared  
with  dates  of release of their sources. It's evident  how  most  
sources  have  been  located after 1972. That's  not  casual.  As  
said  before, the '70s caused a great interest for ufology  among  
the  people (the youth, especially) and the  natural  consequence  
was  the production of a huge amount of UFO cases. Then  we  must  
remark  that  Italian ufology was practically born in  the  early  
seventies,  when there was a great diffusion of local groups  all  
over  the country. Then, around 1978, the national Italian  group  
founded  in 1966 actually got a national size,  coordinating  all  
activities  and promoting serious investigations. In the  fifties  
and  sixties, the Italian UFO scene was featured by few  enthusi 
asts  and some small groups: strangely the first real  investiga 
tion  was carried out in 1966 and enquiry activity became  common  
only after 1972. This could help us in explaining the  remarkable  
difference between cases' occurence and source release. Moreover,  
we  have a clear demonstration of the proportional  link  between  
people and mass media's interest in the matter and the number  of  
disclosed UFO cases. 
 
     A  last graph must be devoted to the survey  of  evaluations  
given  to ITACAT events. I repeat they are  personal  evaluations  
developed  on the ground of two main groups of parameters: 
 
*    the   quantity   and,  above  all,  quality   of   available  
     documentations at moment of the analysis (later  information  
     could change or enhance the evaluation itself). 
 
*    suggested  interpretations about the reported phenomena,  if  
     available data allowed it. 
 
     The  consequent results aren't advisable for true  believers  
being  weak  in  the  heart. Maybe I really was  too  bad  in  my  
judgements,  but  I  actually tried to think  like  a  researcher  
before the available evidence. The picture coming out from such a  
survey  is really depressing: four fifths of the whole  file  has  
few  and unreliable information. This means that most cases  have  
grounded  on newsclippings, rumours, low quality  investigations,  
direct  reports and so on. Data are so scarce and unchecked  that  
no  serious attempt of interpretation about the  alleged  unusual  
phenomena  can be accomplished. What about the remaining  part  ?  
Another   3.2%   has  insufficient  details,   but   hypothetical  
explanations were suggested all the same. Nearly 5% offer  enough  
details, but it is completely unreliable, while 8% of cases could  
be  hoaxes.  Well, we remain just a little bit less  than  1%  of  
Apparently Unexplained cases. Maybe an evaluation accomplished by  
a guy less drastic than myself could lead to some more cases, but  
I  think  the  final global result were just  the  same.  
 
     Really  good  trustworthy  reports are very few,  due  to  a  
series  of  problems  related both to  ufologists  and  the  myth  
itself.  The UFO lore allows and make easier the  development  of  
unchecked sources, because what they report belongs to that  same  
universe  of  stereotyped motifs and expectations  producing  the  
mythology. As a consequence, UFO myth increases more and more its  
own  power thanks to rumours and low-quality information. So  the  
circle  closes on itself. We could question if the myth  develop  
ment is a negative thing, but this will need an in-depth  discus 
sion.  Maybe,  we  would prefer to  study  high-quality  reports,  
offering  excellent documentation and description  of  apparently  
unexplained  phenomena. This would be a search towards  the  sup 
posed  physical component of UFO phenomenon. There are two  prob 
lems: 
 
(1)  the selection and the small quantity of resulting incidents 
(2)  what to do   
 
     As  the ITACAT sample showed, the sample of "perfect"  cases  
able to justify the search for an original stimulus (whatever its  
origin  could be) behind the witness tales is reduced. Much  more  
all  of us have been using to believe. What is the cause  ?  Mis 
knowledge  or  a secret wish to avoid stopping  our  interest  in  
ufology ? 
 
     Please  consider what I am saying as some  free  provocative  
considerations  coming out from a critical survey of a sample  of  
UFO phenomelogy. 
 
     What's  important  is  a  thoroughly  reflection  about  the  
quality  of  information we deal with. We must try  to  define  a  
meaning for the term "quality" and establish a set of  standards.  
Of  course  this  won't solve the problem at  all.  We  must  ask  
ourselves  if ufologists, that is some enthusiasts, will be never  
able  to reach those standards. Certainly, we could  improve  the  
investigator's  trainging  and  knowledges, but a  lot  of  other  
limits  will remain. But I prefer don't be worried: sometimes  it  
is better to avoid some questions to enjoy with ufology.  
 
     At   last,   two  final  considerations.  Firstly,   a   bad  
information  quality doesn't necessarily mean that all cases  are  
hoaxes  or have a sure explanation. Ufologists' dilettantism  and  
the  omnipresent myth let cases to be reported in an  uncompleted  
or even wrong way, but more witnesses actually refer  interesting  
genuine  sightings  of  what they think to  be  anomalous  aerial  
phenomena. Secondly, most UFO cases are only supported by rumours  
and hardly reliable sources. There is a lot of noise produced  by  
somebody, that is people who speak about something: this  doesn't  
necessarily  involve  the presence of a truly  strange  objective  
phenomenon.  On  the  contrary, it surely means that  we  have  a  
social phenomenon. A phenomenon about which we only have tales. 
 
     The search for a serious quality information can surely help  
us  in  finding  a truly scientific dimension  for  our  studies.  
Without a checked concrete base we cannot do anything, only enjoy  
ourselves.