On Friday, MacDonald and dozens of like-minded individuals filled an Irvine hotel conference room to discuss the finer points of investigating the inexplicable or at least that which cannot be explained in terrestrial terms. As part of the network's annual symposium, attendees were given a crash course on what it takes to become a certified field investigator.
Approach all alleged sightings objectively, they were told, and with the precision of a scientist. Pack recording devices, a Geiger counter and a respirator.
The would-be UFO investigators were also urged to follow protocol: Always have the "percipient," or witness, sign proper paperwork. Ask thorough questions. Document everything. Always carry the Mutual UFO Network badge a laminated identification card. And, most important, always be professional.
Many of the unidentified flying objects reported to the network can be easily explained satellites traveling through the night sky, atmospheric reflections, or even a paraglider with a peculiar parachute. But there are occasions when no answers can be found. That's when it just might be a visitor from beyond.
Of course, one of the occupational hazards UFO investigators face is a certain lack of respect.
The common lament among many symposium attendees was that they were viewed as being on the fringe. "We do have what we consider evidence, but the scientific community doesn't want to consider that as evidence," said Barbara Lamb, a psychotherapist who works with "experiencers" those who say they've been abducted. "There's a kind of booga-booga about ETs and UFOs."
Richard Dolan, a leading UFO researcher and author of several books, added: "Just below that level of snicker, snicker is fear."
The question of what happens if and when extraterrestrials visit Earth was the symposium's main topic of conversation, but other lectures included "Secrets of Antigravity Propulsion," "Time Travel Is a Fact" and "Mars, the Living Planet."
Many of the few hundred attendees were baby boomers, children of the space race who grew up casting an eye to the heavens and never stopped questioning what could be out there. Others came with a more spiritual outlook. They view extraterrestrials as omnipotent protectors who often beckon them in the night.
Cynthia Crawford, 61, an artist who sold sculptures of aliens, said there was no reason to fear contact by extraterrestrials. She said she has a spiritual connection to her alien guides, who have made medical ailments disappear and once manifested a crisp $20 bill.
She told others they could experience the same.
"Send the light and the unconditional love, and they will come to you," she told one young man. "When you start seeing your star family oh my God you'll love it."