UFOs: A Skeptics Primer
The paranormal phenomenon which receives the most media attention year after year is almost certainly UFOs…..
The term "UFO" was introduced after World War II to refer to an Unidentified Flying Object. It is wonderfully ironic that popular culture has made "UFOs" synonymous with "alien spacecraft" since this identification technically makes them IFOs, Identified Flying Objects.
Throughout history there have been "sightings" or reports of unidentified "lights in the sky" whose frequency and interpretation is strongly culturally dependent.
It is estimated that 95-98% of all sightings have straightforward explanations which include astronomical phenomena (meteors, planets or bright stars low in the sky), atmospheric phenomena (clouds, lightning in all its forms, mirages, and a host of effects which science hasn't even cataloged let alone understood), and man-made phenomena (aircraft, balloons, blimps, kites, etc.). The remaining fraction is largely attributable to a variety of psychological phenomena. Illusions and outright hoaxes constitute a small fraction of UFO reports.
The modern UFO era began in 1947. In June of that year, while flying a plane near Mt. Rainier, Kenneth Arnold noticed 9 UFOs which the media later incorrectly quoted as "saucer shaped." Thus began society's fascination with the "flying saucer." Less than a month later, Mac Brazel found unexplained debris spread out over a wide area near a ranch close to Roswell, New Mexico where he was a foreman. Over the next fifty years, UFOlogists and others with a penchant for conspiracy theories and government cover-ups have sworn that Brazel found the remnants of an alien (extra-terrestrial) craft which had crashed during a violent storm. Moreover the US government, they have argued, quickly had the "saucer debris" removed to a secret location and has used almost every trick in the book to prevent witnesses from revealing the truth to the world ever since. The claim that alien bodies were also found at the crash site wasn't part of popular UFOlogy until nearly a generation after the event.
Roswell is the seminal event for modern UFOlogy. UFOlogists often try to down-play it, expressing far more interest in a number of other sightings which they allege furnish better evidence for an extra-terrestrial origin. But because the public's fascination with Roswell continues unabated, UFOlogists happily oblige. In many ways, fifty years is an ideal time-span for those intent on promoting this as an extra-terrestrial event: fact and fantasy have by now become difficult to distinguish for most people. The myth has taken on a life of its own.
Informed skeptics, however, are well aware that Roswell was indeed a crash site, but rather of a "weather balloon" which was part of the classified Project Mogul run by the US Air Force. Many documents related to this project and which furnish incontrovertible proof that this wasn't an alien crash site were only made available in 1994 under the Freedom of Information Act.
The USA after 1945 was deeply concerned that the Soviet Union might develop nuclear weapons. But how could the USA monitor the vast expanse of Siberia for evidence of nuclear testing? (Recall this was an era well before the U2 plane and satellites.) One promising idea was to send very high-flying balloons over the Soviet Union carrying pressure-sensitive devices capable of detecting above-ground detonations from great distances. The Roswell debris was in fact from one of the first test flights in this top-secret project. Virtually every credible piece of evidence collected from the crash site is explainable as part of this souped-up weather balloon... except the alien bodies, of course. As for the latter, UFOlogists have never been in agreement as to the number of bodies found or their exact description. Skeptics view the introduction of alien bodies as an embellishment necessary to sell a story short on facts and long on conspiratorial conjecture.
While Roswell may be thoroughly discredited as an extra-terrestrial event, what does one make of the numerous photographs and even videos of "lights in the sky" from all over the globe; are these not sufficient evidence to prove an alien connection? Unfortunately, no. A scientist requires compelling proof before accepting what would amount to a radical shift in his worldview. No amount of anecdotal evidence, even with photographic support, can ever be sufficient in a world in which powerful graphics and animation software exist for the home computer capable of bringing virtually anything imaginable to life.
It is important to realize that all extra-terrestrial intelligences will share certain traits. In particular, what we call "rationality" is a pan cultural characteristic common to all intelligent species. Rational analyses of the UFO paradigm and alleged alien behavior, therefore, are valid and highly appropriate. One of the simplest, yet most powerful challenges to the UFO paradigm is captured by the following question; if UFOs are alien craft, then why are they invariably equipped with lights? Indeed, the bulk of all UFO sightings occur between 9pm and 3am local time and it is only because of these lights -- often of a variety of colours and intensities -- that they are detected. But such lights are neither useful for interstellar travel nor for maneuvering within our atmosphere. Terrestrial craft have lights for two reasons; for safety so they can be visually detected by other planes, and so that people aren't frightened by sounds from the night-time sky. Why should aliens, after travelling hundreds of trillions of kilometres to reach Earth, suddenly have an urge to flick on pulsating, coloured lights upon reaching our atmosphere as if to satisfy FAA or Transport Canada regulations?
Any civilization which can negotiate interstellar distances will be far more advanced in science and technology compared with Homo sapiens. It is only reasonable that such a civilization would adopt one of two limiting strategies when it comes to interacting with humankind; either it would monitor us while remaining undetected -- something which it would easily be capable of -- or it would contact us and plainly let us know "we are not alone."
According to the UFO hypothesis, however, aliens follow a curious strategy; their injudicious use of lights gives them away, yet they never resort to direct contact. This makes little sense.
It is not generally appreciated how much further advanced alien technology would be compared with humankind's. A military analogy is in order: imagine a single 1997 US Navy aircraft carrier transported back in time to World War II. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to suggest that, at least while its supplies lasted, today's carrier could easily handle virtually everything the world's combined forces could throw at it. And that's with only a fifty year lead. It is sobering to realize that any alien civilization capable of interstellar travel must be thousands and probably millions of years in advance of our own. (A significant fraction of all stars in our Galaxy are older than the Sun. Consequently, if extra-terrestrial life is commonplace, many extant intelligent civilizations will be much further advanced than our own.)
A skeptical response to UFOs is invariably met by the challenge, "with so many stars in the Universe and potential worlds on which life could have evolved, how can one deny that UFOs exist?" But simply because scientists do not find compelling evidence for an extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) behind UFO sightings, this does not mean they reject the possibility for the existence of ETI. In fact, scientists, particularly astronomers, are among the most anxious to discover and communicate with an ETI. But science has high standards of evidence and cannot put much stock in anecdotal evidence when deciding the truth of a claim. Instead, scientists approach the search for ETI in a systematic way by listening for radio signals from stars with characteristics similar to the Sun. No signals to report just yet, but we're still looking.
The past generation has seen the rapid growth of a new form of alien manifestation in our world, alien abduction. A typical abduction involves a human (abductee) who is taken aboard an alien craft against her own volition, often passing through walls in the process. The abductee is interrogated, physically examined or experimented on, advised that humankind better "shape up," and then returned home. Abduction symptoms allegedly include unexplainable (scoop) marks on the body, missing or unaccounted for time, repressed memories, nightmares, and even body implants. A significant fraction of abductions are discovered only through hypnotic regression therapy.
The seminal abduction story of the modern era involves Betty and Barney Hill. Although allegedly abducted by aliens in 1961 while driving home, it wasn't until 1965 after hypnotic regression therapy that the couple was able to recount their experiences in some detail. What "believers" find so convincing about this incident is that as the first of its kind, it could not be a "copycat" account, as well as the striking similarity of the Hills' stories. What they neglect to mention, however, is that this entire episode has a prosaic explanation; Betty read science fiction accounts involving aliens and flying saucers prior to the onset of her nightmares which led to her seeking therapy, and husband and wife discussed their stories thoroughly with one another before obtaining professional help. When viewed in this light, suddenly this incident is not nearly so remarkable.
Since 1961, thousands of Americans claim to have been abducted by aliens. The following lists briefly some of the difficulties skeptics have with the abduction phenomenon as evidence for ETI on our planet:
· Evidence obtained through hypnotic regression is not admissible in most courts of law, and for good reason: It is well known that memories recovered under hypnosis are not always accurate and can be strongly influenced by the therapist's questions (especially through "leading the witness").
· Abductees' descriptions of aliens and their craft are very strongly tied to the prevailing popular culture, especially the science fiction culture. For example, after 1947, UFOs became overwhelmingly "saucer shaped"; with the introduction of stealth technology in the past several years there has been a preponderance of triangular-shaped sightings; after "Close Encounters" and "ET," reports of alien craft and alien bodies were remarkably like those portrayed in these movies; in the 1960s, aliens were warning abductees about impending nuclear holocaust... in the 1990s they preach about environmental holocaust, etc. The description of the alien abductors is also heavily influenced by what we imagine advanced intelligent beings should look like, hence the androgynous appearance with the disproportionally large head and, by implication, brain.
· Every human being has marks on his body the cause of which he cannot recall, or gaps of time for which she cannot account. As well, hallucinations -- sometimes involved and frighteningly real -- are rather common during the transition state between waking and sleeping.
· Some abductees are introduced to human-alien hybrids while on the alien craft, presumably the reason behind the abduction and physical experimentation in the first place. Generating a hybrid from two species with radically different DNA, however, is so highly improbable it is effectively impossible.
· For all the reports of alien implants, not a single "device" has been proven to be of extra-terrestrial origin. This is far more devastating than it sounds. Our Sun and its planets formed from a gas cloud whose composition was strongly influenced by an unidentified supernova several billion years ago. Any other planetary system would have a slightly different chemical composition, having formed from another cloud and supernova. Thus, an "isotopic abundance" test could determine whether something is from another star system. All the recovered implants as well as all purported pieces from "alien craft" have tested "terrestrial." Material which differed from terrestrial ratios would furnish strong proof in favour of its alien origin.
Crop circles and cattle mutilations are often touted as evidence in favour of the extra-terrestrial nature of UFOs and the reality of alien abductions. But if this constitutes evidence, it is terribly weak. Nearly every skeptic must be aware that crop circles, intricate swirling patterns which appear in grain fields, are hoaxes; ie., are made by terrestrial pranksters. This phenomenon essentially began in
Britain and was soon exported to North America. Even though two Englishmen admitted they created the original circles and subsequently showed the media how it was done, some people still refuse to believe that all circles are hoaxes. They reckon some circles as simply too complicated to be of human origin.
But this is exactly the condescending attitude shared by people such as von Däniken who reject the possibility that the ancient Egyptians could have built the pyramids without extra-terrestrial assistance, or that the Nazcans (ancient Peruvians) could have made the figures on the Plains of Nazca on their own. Of course they could have. Many ancient people were very clever in many respects and their accomplishments should never be underestimated.
Why would ETIs take the time to make patterns in grainfields? (Presumably, they could land where they wouldn't leave evidence if they wanted to.) The most frequent answer to this question is "to indicate to us that we are not alone." A civilization does not develop interstellar travel without knowing a thing or two about communications and information theory. Drawing a picture in a wheat field is a woefully inefficient means of conveying information, particularly information such as "we are here." A picture is worth a thousand words, regardless of the culture. Dropping off a video from their home planet at the White House or leaving our scientists the equations behind the Unified Field Theory would be infinitely more direct, efficient and convincing!
In order to clarify the cow blood statement - It is the hemoglobin from the cows that can be used by humans.
The cows’ hemoglobin is extracted from the red blood cells, purified, stabilized, mixed in a saline solution and then used by humans. The advantage in using cows is that they are so plentiful, and each cow supplies between 20 and 30 liters of blood. Hemoglobin can be used from some but not all mammals. The hemoglobin of primates can be used just as well as cows', its just more expensive to process. The purity of the hemoglobin is what affects the chance of clotting, heart attacks and embolisms. The purer the hemoglobin the less chance of these. This research was done by Dr. Mario Fiola at the Texas Tech University in Lubbock,Texas.
Cattle mutilations are bizarre indeed. Apparently, cattle are sometimes found cut open with various organs and tissue removed. Satanic cults or aliens are often implicated. Why, one might ask, would aliens do such a thing? The best guess seems to be that the aliens need genetic material from cows for some reason. But a civilization which travels the stars could synthesize cow DNA as easily as human. They could clone thousands of animals of their own and harvest all the organs they require. At the very least, they could abduct selected cattle into their ship, kill them, remove their organs, but show respect for our environment by not returning a rotting carcass to Earth. After all, the aliens should be consistent.
Cattle Mutilations and Crop Circles
There is a more prosaic answer to this mystery, however. It turns out that cattle can die prematurely for a number of reasons, some of which an insurance company will not cover. In these instances, the rancher must pay to haul the carcass away, unable even to sell it to a renderings plant. But if county law-enforcement officers and the insurance company can be convinced this was the work of aliens or a Satanic cult, the rancher may be reimbursed. Thus, the fact that cattle mutilations closely follow county boundaries is a dead giveaway that some ranchers in counties with "soft" policies are a lot more clever than they're normally given credit for!
Area 51 is perhaps the second most famous site in modern UFOlogy. This actually refers to an air force base near Groom Lake in Nevada. Area 51 is the classified site where some of the most famous high-powered aircraft in recent times have been tested including the SR71, B1, B2, and F117A. According to some UFOlogists, this is also the place where the US military is storing flying saucers it has acquired over the years. Here, the US is allegedly trying to uncover the secrets behind the alien propulsion system. Other UFOlogists consider Area 51 to be a UFO landing port sanctioned by the US government. A joint pact has apparently been signed in which aliens are permitted to have free reign of America's skies and permission to abduct citizens as necessary in return for revealing technology secrets to the US.
The "Area 51 myth" is cloaked in government conspiracy and cover-ups, and as such is immune to counter-arguments based on facts. It does no good whatsoever to point out that over the past fifty years the USA hasn't developed a single technology which wasn't based on solid, terrestrial-based science. Moreover, a civilization this advanced wouldn't require anyone's permission to fly Earth's friendly skies or to abduct its citizens
Finally, a word on the "alien autopsy film". Even most UFOlogists have declared this film, which purports to show autopsies carried out on alien bodies found at Roswell, a hoax. Numerous medical and special-effects experts have testified to this effect. Period.
When challenged with a clearly articulated claim, particularly one which runs counter to a prevailing paradigm, a skeptic is trained to study carefully all the evidence for and against it, and then determine whether a more prosaic explanation will suffice. This methodology is rather analogous to what happens in a (criminal) court of law. The onus is on the challenger, the prosecution if you will, to prove that its claim is better -- at once simpler and has greater explanatory power -- than the incumbent's or defence's beyond a reasonable doubt. It comes as no surprise that in science the challenger usually fails. But on occasions, it wins its case in spectacular fashion as the revolutions of relativity and quantum mechanics attest.
Making contact with an ETI would rank among the greatest discoveries in the history of our species. Virtually overnight, there would be immeasurable changes to politics, science, technology, religion, philosophy, etc. But before science alters its worldview to include the existence of alien life, it has to have compelling proof. Society relies heavily on science; it just cannot be any other way. This is why skeptics are so adamant about "proof" when it comes to UFOs and related paranormal phenomena.
Why are there so many believers in UFOs, alien abductions, and the associated trappings such as crop circles and cattle mutilations? There is no simple answer to this perplexing question. Who can understand the subtleties of the human mind where belief resides deep within?
When confronted with the unknown, human beings instinctively search first for a "magical" explanation. Thus, the pre-scientific or magical worldview is replete with spirits, demons, fairies, angels, witches, etc. Such explanations are simple to assimilate, even if they don't bear up under scrutiny. Rational explanations, however, often require an effort to understand, but as science has conclusively demonstrated, they are well worth the investment.
We have all at one time or another experienced "transcendental urges," yearnings for something beyond this world. Major religions hold that such longings will only be truly satisfied through a union with God, who is the creator of the world but also exists outside the empirical world. The vast majority of humans over the past millennium has professed a belief in God. Yet the last forty years has witnessed an unparalleled crisis of faith in western society and an attendant loss of respect for authority in our culture, from politicians to religious leaders. But this hunger for a sense of purpose, comfort, belonging, meaning--something which transcends the mundane--persists unabated.
How we satisfy this hunger is influenced by our culture in which science plays a prominent role. Science, particularly astronomy, has opened up a universe with unlimited possibilities to the average person. It is in some sense natural then that humans now seek transcendental solace "out there," "salvation in/from the stars" if you will. Thus, instead of demons and fairies, we prefer their magical 21st century counterparts, UFOs and alien abductors.
But belief in UFOs and aliens would not be so widespread were it not for widespread science illiteracy and a general distrust of authority, particularly scientific authority within the public. How else can one understand the tremendous popularity of the paranormal in the popular media? Most reasonably educated adults are hard-pressed to separate fact from fantasy in the numerous paranormal dramas on TV or blockbuster movies. Networks and studios know promoting government conspiracy theories and cover-ups fills more than our need for mystery and intrigue; it fills their bank accounts. No matter that conspiracy theories almost never pan out in real life. No matter that the probability that the US government and "evil scientists" have conspired to successfully hide alien bodies from the public over the past 50 years is essentially zero given that a true piece of an alien craft or fingernail would fetch tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on the open market.
Is there a solution to the widespread belief in the paranormal, including UFOs, which currently plague our society? The late Carl Sagan thought so. His answer---one which I endorse---is contained in the subtitle of his last book; Science as a Candle in the Dark. That is, reduce science illiteracy and you'll reduce society's hunger for the paranormal. Make no mistake, it will require an enormous effort to make a difference, but it is a challenge in which the Skeptic delights.
Here are some principles he developed over the years:
UFOlogical Principle 1: Basically honest and intelligent persons who are suddenly exposed to a brief, unexpected event, especially one that involves an unfamiliar object, may be grossly inaccurate in trying to describe precisely what they have seen.
UFOlogical Principle 2: Despite the intrinsic limitations of human perception when exposed to brief, unexpected and unusual events, some details recalled by the observer may be reasonably accurate. The problem facing the UFO investigator s to try to distinguish between those details that are accurate and those that are grossly inaccurate. This may be impossible until the true identity of the UFO can be determined; in some cases this poses an insoluble problem.
UFOlogical Principle 3: If a person observing an unusual or unfamiliar object concludes that it is probably a spaceship from another world, he can readily adduce that the object is reacting to his presence or actions, when in reality there is absolutely no cause-effect relationship.
UFOlogical Principle 4: News media that give great prominence to a UFO report when it is first received subsequently devote little, if any, space or time to reporting a prosaic explanation for the case after the facts are uncovered.
UFOlogical Principle 5: No human observer, including experienced flight crews, can accurately estimate either the distance/altitude or the size of an unfamiliar object in the sky, unless it is in very close proximity to a familiar object whose size or altitude is known.
UFOlogical Principle 6: Once news coverage leads the public to believe that UFOs may be in the vicinity, there are numerous natural and manmade objects, which, especially when seen at night, can take on unusual characteristics in the minds of hopeful viewers. Their UFO reports in turn add to the mass excitement, which encourages still more observers to watch for UFOs. This situation feeds upon itself until such time as the media lose interest in the subject, and then the “flap” quickly runs out of steam.
UFOlogical Principle 7: In attempting to determine whether a UFO report is a hoax, and investigator should rely on physical evidence or the lack of it where evidence should exist, and should not depend on character endorsements of the principals involved.
UFOlogical Principle 8: The inability of even experienced investigators to fully and positively explain a UFO report for lack of sufficient information, even after a rigorous effort, does not really provide evidence to support the hypothesis that spaceships form other worlds are visiting the earth.
UFOlogical Principle 9: When a light is sighted in the night sky that is believed to be a UFO and it is reported to a radar operator, who is asked to search his scope for an unknown target, almost invariably an “unknown” target will be found. Conversely, if an unusual target is spotted on a radar scope at night that is suspected of being a UFO, and an observer is dispatched or asked to search for a light in the night sky, almost invariably a visual sighting will be made.
UFOlogical Principle 10: Many UFO cases seem puzzling and unexplainable simply because case investigators have failed to devote a sufficiently rigorous effort to the investigation.
UFO Research: Findings vs. Facts
Senior Space Writer
For decades now, eyes and sky have met to witness the buzzing of our world by Unidentified Flying Objects, termed UFOs or simply flying saucers. Extraterrestrials have come a long way to purportedly share the friendly skies with us.
UFOs and alien visitors are part of our culture—a far-out phenomenon when judged against those "low life" wonders Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.
And after all those years, as the saying goes, UFOs remain a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Why so? For one, the field is fraught with hucksterism. It's also replete with blurry photos and awful video. But then there are also well-intentioned and puzzled witnesses.
Scientifically speaking, are UFOs worth keeping an eye on?
There have been advances in the field of UFO research, said Ted Roe, Executive Director of the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), based in Vallejo, California.
"The capture of optical spectra from mobile, unpredictable luminosities is one of those innovations. More work to be done here but [there are] some good results already."
NARCAP was established in 2000 and is dedicated to the advancement of aviation safety issues as they apply to, what they term Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).
Roe said that a decade from now, researchers should have even better instrumentation at their disposal and better data on UAP of several varieties. His forecast is that scientific rigor will prevail, demonstrating that there are "stable, mobile, unusual, poorly documented phenomena with quite unusual properties manifesting within our atmosphere," he told SPACE.com.
NARCAP has made the case that some of these phenomena have unusual electromagnetic properties. Therefore, they could disrupt microprocessors and adversely effect avionic systems, Roe explained, and that for those reasons and others UAP should be considered a hazard to safe aviation.
"It is likely that either conclusion will fly in the face of the general assertion that UAP are not real and that there are no undocumented phenomena in our atmosphere," Roe continued. That should open the door, he said, to the realization that there's no good reason to discard outright the possibility that extraterrestrial visitation has occurred and may be occurring.
"Physics is leading to new and potentially paradigm shifting understandings about the nature of our universe and its physical properties," Roe said. "These understandings may point the way towards an acceptance of the probability of interstellar travel and communication by spacefaring races."
Sacred cows to the slaughter
As UFO debunker Robert Sheaffer proclaims, he's "skeptical to the max." He is a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and a well-known writer on the UFO scene.
Being an equal-opportunity debunker, Sheaffer notes that he refutes whatever nonsense, in his judgment, "stands in the greatest need of refuting, no matter from what source it may come, no matter how privileged, esteemed, or sacrosanct … sacred cows, after all, make the best hamburger."
Sheaffer says, in regards to the cottage industry of UFO promoters, there's a reason there are still so many snake-oil sellers.
"It's because nobody, anywhere, has any actual facts concerning alleged UFOs, just claims. That allows con-men to thrive peddling their yarns," Sheaffer said. "UFO believers are convinced that the existence of UFOs will be revealed 'any day now'. But it's like Charlie Brown and the football: No matter how many times Lucy pulls the football away—or the promised 'disclosure' fails to happen—they're dead-certain that the next time will be their moment of glory."
Trash from the past
"I would have to say that we're stuck in neutral," said Kevin Randle, a leading expert and writer on UFOs and is known as a dogged researcher of the phenomena. There's no real new research, he said, and that's "because we have to revisit the trash of the past."
Randle points to yesteryear stories, one stretching back in time to a supposed 1897 airship crash in Aurora, Texas, long proven to be a hoax by two con men—yet continues to surface in UFO
Then there's the celebrated Thomas Mantell saga, a pilot that lost his life chasing a UFO in 1948. There are those that contend he was killed by a blue beam from a UFO, Randle said "even though we have known for years that the UFO was a balloon and he violated regulations by climbing above 14,000 feet without oxygen equipment. I mean, we know this, and yet there are those who believe that Mantell was killed by aliens."
Randle's advice is to the point: "We need to begin to apply rigorous standards of research … stop accepting what we wish to believe even when the evidence is poor, and begin thinking ahead."
Paucity of physical evidence
"I've no doubt that UFOs are here to stay," said Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. "I'm just not convinced that alien craft are here to stay … or for that matter, even here for brief visits. "First, despite a torrent of sightings for more than a half-century, I can't think of a single, major science museum that has alien artifacts on display," Shostak said. "Contrast this paucity of physical evidence with what the American Indians could have shown you fifty years after Christopher Columbus first violated their sea-space. They could have shown you all sorts of stuff—including lots of smallpox-infested brethren—as proof that they were being 'visited,'" he said.
When it comes to extraterrestrial visitors in the 21st century, the evidence is anecdotal, ambiguous, or, in some cases, artifice, Shostak suggested.
Calling it "argument from ignorance", Shostak pointed to the claim that aliens must have careened out of control above the New Mexico desert simply because some classified government documents sport a bunch of blacked-out text. "How does the latter prove the former?"
Sure, the missing verbiage is consistent with a government cover-up of an alien crash landing, Shostak said. "But it's also consistent with an infinitude of other scenarios…not all of them involving sloppy alien pilots," he added.
Shostak said that it is not impossible that we could be visited. It doesn't violate physics to travel between the stars, although that's not easy to do.
"But really, if you're going to claim—or for that matter, believe—that extraterrestrials are strafing the cities, or occasionally assaulting the neighbors with an aggression inappropriate for a first date, then I urge you to find evidence that leaves little doubt among the professionally skeptical community known as the world of science."
Residue of sightings
Why is there precious little to show that world of science that UFOs merit attention?
"Obviously there is not a simple answer, but part of it is reluctance of the scientific community to support such research," explained Bruce Maccabee, regarded as a meticulous researcher and an optical physicist using those talents to study photographs and video of unexplained phenomena.
Why this reluctance?
"In my humble opinion it is largely a result of 'tradition'…tradition set by the U.S. Air Force in the early years when they publicly stated that everything was under control, they were investigating…and finding nothing that couldn't be explained," Maccabee said.
Nevertheless, Maccabee observed, work on the phenomenon will carry on.
"UFO studies will continue until all the old cases have either been explained or admitted to being unexplainable—meaning a residue of sightings that could be ET related—and/or until people stop seeing unexplainable UFO-like events throughout the world," Maccabee concluded.
…nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge...further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.
–Edward U. Condon
A UFO is an unidentified flying object which has been identified as a possible or actual alien spacecraft. Such objects include meteors, disintegrating satellites, flocks of birds, aircraft, lights, weather balloons, and just about anything moving within the visible band of electromagnetism. So far, however, nothing has been positively identified as an alien spacecraft in a way required by common sense and science. That is, there has been no recurring identical UFO experience and there is no physical evidence in support of either a UFO flyby or landing.
There are as many photographs of UFOs as there are of the Loch Ness Monster, and they are of equal quality: blurs and forgeries. Other physical evidence, such as alleged debris from alien crashes, or burn marks on the ground from alien landings, or implants in noses or brains of alien abductees, have turned out to be quite terrestrial, including forgeries. The main reasons for believing inUFOs are the testimony of many people, the inability to distinguish science fiction from science, the willingness to trust incompetent men telling fantastic stories, the ability to distrust all contrary sources as being part of an evil conspiracy to withhold the truth, and a desire for contact with the world above. Belief in aliens in UFOs is akin to belief in supernatural beings.
UFOlogy is the mythology of the space age.
[T]he reported perception of an object or light seen in the sky or upon land the appearance, trajectory, and general dynamic and luminescent behavior of which do not suggest a logical, conventional explanation and which is not only mystifying to the original percipients but remains unidentified after close scrutiny of all available evidence by persons who are technically capable of making a common sense identification, if one is possible.
These mystifying words seem to say that when you see something which intelligent people cannot rationally explain, then you are seeing a UFO. Witnesses to such sightings often claim that what they saw could not be explained by the known laws of physics.They claim to have witnessed a violation of a law of nature, i.e., a miracle.
What Hynek considers to be "all available evidence" may be much less than what a skeptic would require. For example, the evidence appealed to by UFOlogists consists of (1) the testimony of people who claim to have seen aliens and/or alien spacecraft; (2) facts about the type of people who give the testimony; (3) the lack of contrary testimony or physical evidence that would either explain the sighting by conventional means (weather balloon, prank, meteor shower, reflection of light, etc.) or discredit the reliability of the eyewitness; and, (4) alleged weaknesses in the arguments of skeptics against the UFOlogists. The last item is irrelevant to the issue, yet it plays a disproportionately large role in UFOlogy.
Attacking an opponent's arguments or motives, instead of presenting positive evidence in defense of one's own view is common among defenders of the claim that UFOs are alien spacecraft. Of course, there is nothing wrong with attacking an opponent's argument and exposing weaknesses and faults thereby. But refutation is no substitute for support. It is simply faulty logic to assume that because an opponent’s reasons are flawed, one’s own reasons are valid. One’s own reasons may be just as flawed as an opponent’s, or even more flawed.
Another common tactic of UFOlogists is to claim that the skeptic cannot prove that what was seen was not an alien craft. One is supposed to infer from this fact that the perception probably was of an alien craft. This kind of reasoning is known as the argumentum ad ignorantiam. A claim does not become true or reasonable if a contrary claim cannot be proved to be true. With arguments for UFOs there are two distinct moves here. One is to claim that no logical explanation is possible because some scientist, pilot, Air Force Colonel, or Ph.D. cannot think of one. The other is to point to the lack of contrary evidence: no counter-testimony of other eyewitnesses, no proof that there were not aliens or alien spacecraft. Here, too, there is a logical error. The fact that some genius cannot come up with an explanation for something is irrelevant to deciding whether the correct explanation should be couched in terms ofvisitors from outer space. The choice is not either (A) we know this conventional explanation is correct , or (B) we must conclude thataliens have visited us.
It seems more reasonable to believe that the only reason we cannot explain these sightings by conventional means is because we do not have all the evidence; it not because these sightings are probably due to alien visitations. If we had all the evidence, we would probably be able to explain the sightings by some conventional means. The fact that we cannot prove that Mr. and Mrs. Barney Hill were not abducted by aliens, does not support the hypothesis that they were abducted by aliens.
Many UFOlogists think that if eyewitnesses such as Whitley Strieber, Betty and Barney Hill, or other alleged alien abductees are not insane or evil, then they cannot be deluded and are to be trusted with giving accurate accounts of alien abduction. Yet, it seems obvious that most sane, good, normal people are deluded about many things and not to be trusted about certain things. While it is generally reasonable to believe the testimony of sane, good, normal people with no ulterior motive, it does not follow that unless you can prove a person is deranged, evil, or a fraud that you should trust his or her testimony about any claim whatsoever. When the type of claim being made involves the incredible, additional evidence besides eyewitness testimony is required. Would it be reasonable to convict a paraplegic of a crime on the basis of the testimony of ten pillars of the community who said they saw the defendant flying naked with angel's wings and snatch the purse from a little old lady? It is much more reasonable to believe that good people are doing evil things, or that they are deluded, than to believe a paraplegic could sprout wings and fly.
UFOlogists would rather follow their faulty logic than accept the conclusions of Project Blue Book, the U.S. Air Force report which states that "after twenty-two years of investigation...none of the unidentified objects reported and evaluated posed a threat to our national security." (It was in this Blue Book that Edward Ruppelt coined the term "UFO.") UFOlogists are unimpressed with the Condon Report, as well. Edward U. Condon was the head of a scientific research team which was contracted to the University of Colorado to examine the UFO issue. His report concluded that "nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge...further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby."
It is assumed by UFOlogists that the government, especially the CIA, is lying and covering up alien landings and communication. However, there is no evidence for this other than a general distrust of the government and the fact that many government officials have lied, distorted the truth and been mistaken when reporting to the general public. The CIA, however, has shown little interest in UFOs since about 1950, except to encourage UFOlogists to believe that reconnaissance flights might be alien craft. UFOlogists prefer another kind of lie to the government lie. They support the work of NBC, for example, which produced two dozen programs called "Project UFO," said to be based on Project Blue Book. However, unlike the Air Force, NBC suggested that there were documented cases of alien spacecraft sightings. The programs, produced by Jack Webb of Dragnet fame, distorted and falsified information to make the presentation look more believable. No UFOlogist took NBC to task for lying. To the skeptic, NBC was pandering to the taste of the viewing audience. Government agents lie for all sorts of reasons, but covering up alien landings does not seem to be one of them.
Most unidentified flying objects are eventually identified as hoaxes or astronomical events, aircraft, satellites, weather balloons, or other natural phenomena. In studies done by the Air Force, less than 2% of UFO sightings remain unidentifiable. It is more probable that with more information those 2% would be identified as meteors, aircraft, etc., than that they are alien spacecraft.
The reason no logical explanation seems credible to UFOlogists is probably because those making and hearing the reports either do not want to hear a logical explanation or they make little or no effort to find one. In any case, the fact that some pilots or scientists claim they cannot think of any logical explanations for some perceptual observations is hardly proof that they have observed alien spacecraft.
Finally, it should be noted that UFOs are usually observed by untrained sky watchers and almost never by professional or amateur astronomers, people who spend inordinate amounts of time observing the heavens above. These untrained observers have been aided by the availability of inexpensive video cameras, yet despite the enormous increase in volume of such cameras, there has been a drop in the number of UFO observations. Anyway, one would think that astronomers would have spotted some of these alien craft by now. Perhaps the crafty aliens know that good scientists are skeptical and inquisitive. Such beings might pose a threat to the security of a story well told.