The truth about UFOs?
The truth about UFOs?
November 4, 2010
By THANE BURNETT,
Up in the sky.
Itâ€™s a bird. Itâ€™s a plane. No, we still donâ€™t know what the heck it is.
After a series of puzzling stories in 2010 concerning UFOs â€” publicized sightings from Newfoundland and Montreal to China and the U.K. â€” QMI Agency, in a three part series, has looked at how humans continue to contemplate mysteries in the heavens.
And in the discussion, Canadians overwhelmingly â€” an exclusive Leger Marketing poll revealed yesterday â€” believe UFOs could be connected to alien visitors. But in this final day of the series, we thought it might be worthwhile to get a grounding in facts.
So we invited renowned American skeptic and debunker Robert Sheaffer and Canadian UFO-buff Chris Rutkowski â€” a Winnipeg-based astronomer who helps keep track of Canadian sightings â€” to debate the known realities.
QMI - Do you believe aliens are visiting our world?
Chris - The UFO question is not about aliens visiting Earth, but about sightings of UFOs, which are not necessarily extraterrestrial. But since you asked, I would say there is no incontrovertible evidence to prove that aliens are visiting Earth. All we can say, scientifically, is that astronomers haven't detected any large interstellar craft heading for Earth during the last century or two. However, it would be presumptuous to think we have the ability to recognize, let alone detect a technology that might be hundreds or thousands of years ahead of ours. Robert - No. Nor do I believe in Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or sightings of Elvis. Just because some people think they see something strange doesn't mean it's real.
QMI - Whatâ€™s your best theory behind a long history of UFO sightings around the globe?
Chris - The simplest theory is that not everyone can identify what they see in the sky. Nevertheless, UFO sightings represent a historical, persistent and global phenomenon, and for that reason, it seems reasonable that science should be studying it in more depth. UFOs are either physical phenomena, or psychological or sociological phenomena, so that in either case, scientists should be studying UFO reports.
Robert - It began in the frenzied post-War and early Cold War atmosphere of rapid progress in aeronautics and rockets, and of the atom bomb. Exciting and sometimes frightening new things were happening all the time. Once a certain percentage of the population believed that UFOs were something real, reports of UFO sightings in the mass media were enough for the phenomenon to feed on itself. Every time people saw something in the sky that looked a little strange, "It's a Flying Saucer!" became the conclusion.
QMI - What would it take to make believers lose faith?
Chris - In my opinion, it wonâ€™t happen easily, if at all. Belief is something that cannot be changed without a paradigm shift. Pronouncements by â€œexpertsâ€ that something is not possible or deserving of study likely only reinforce long-standing beliefs held by people who may be looking for affirmation or validation beyond authorities' insistence. And to someone who has seen a UFO, skepticsâ€™ insistence that belief in UFOs is nonsense only reinforces a distrust of science. Itâ€™s like Columbus being told by skeptics not to waste his time looking for the New World because it couldnâ€™t possibly be there. Oh, wait. They did tell him that. My bad. Sorry.
Robert - I don't think that ever could happen, since most of them have a strong emotional attachment to the "faith." It's much like a religious faith, and not based on logic. No matter how many UFO sightings are shown to have a rational explanation, believers resist accepting the explanation, and claim there is a government "cover up" of UFO secrets.
QMI - What would it take to make skeptics believe?
Chris - Again, I doubt it will happen. By definition, skeptics are doubters to the end. A debunker, on the other hand, refuses to consider evidence against his or her belief system, in direct but diametrically opposite analogy to a â€œbeliever.â€ Itâ€™s their version of religion. Some have the attitude: â€œDon't bother me with the facts; my mind is already made up.â€ Some debunkers state that no scientific studies show UFOs are worth the effort, but donâ€™t mention relevant literature, such as Blue Book Special Report 14, or the annual Canadian UFO surveys, or NARCAP reports on pilotsâ€™ sightings. Sometimes a debunker says that a piece of metal with a non-terrestrial isotope ratio would be convincing proof of alien visitation, but Iâ€™m sure that the testing and analysis of such a piece, if ever offered, would be so clouded in doubt and accusations, it wouldnâ€™t be worth a plugged Martian nickel.
Robert - Obviously if a UFO landed on the White House lawn, that would suffice. But it need not be something so dramatic. If hundreds or even thousands of people independently sighted, and many photographed, a large flying structured craft in daylight (not some little dot in the sky), and all these photos were consistent with a real object, it would be very difficult to say that object wasn't real. Especially if the people had no connection or common link beforehand. Or if a reported UFO would stay around long enough for a local TV news crew to arrive and get an unmistakable, clear video of it (again, very detailed and not just some light in the sky), that would also be pretty convincing. But that never happens. Why not? Some UFOs are reported to hang around for an hour or more. Isn't that enough time to get a TV news crew to the site, even just once?
QMI - Do you believe world governments are withholding important information on UFO sightings?
Chris - I often receive UFO reports through official government and military channels, so I know that Canada is a bit more transparent than the USA in this regard. But I am sure I donâ€™t get all the cases reported. Most countries' governments withhold some information from their constituents. Why should the subject of UFOs be exempt? History tells us that military intelligence secrets can be kept for long periods of time, such as the Manhattan Project and the Corona satellite program. It is reasonable to think that data on certain UFO cases would have been collected through intelligence channels that are classified, and for that reason would be withheld from public scrutiny. There are many circumstances under which FOIA (or in Canada, AI) requests about would be denied, and we wouldnâ€™t even know the documents existed.
Robert - No. There undoubtedly are a few reports in the secret files from pilots or military personnel on a special mission who think they've seen a UFO. Stuff like that. But documents that "reveal" the "startling truth" about what UFOs are, where they come from, etc. â€” nope.
QMI - Is it reasonable to conclude a UFO â€“ something that was beyond our comprehension and understanding â€“ has ever crashed on Earth?
Chris - It's not reasonable to conclude a UFO crashed on Earth in 1947, as those who hold to the Roswell legacy believe. We don't have enough definitive evidence to conclude anything like that happened, but there is enough evidence to suggest that something very unusual occurred there. The fact that the official story changed from â€œweather balloonsâ€ to â€œcrash-test dummiesâ€ to â€œnothing at allâ€ and back again, suggests some kind of cover-up took place, but whether this was about aliens or an American V-2 accident (or something else) remains to be seen. My guess is that it happened so long ago and because the original witnesses have passed away, we will never know for sure. â€œDisclosure,â€ as popularized by some UFO experts, simply isnâ€™t going to happen.
Robert - No, because no one has ever produced any proof of any extraterrestrial technology being retrieved, despite many claims. Talk is cheap, show us the evidence.
QMI - People know you hold strong opinions on these otherworldly phenomena. Whatâ€™s the counter-argument your critics most often use on you to try to change your mind, and whatâ€™s your response?
Chris - They usually say there hasn't been any proof that aliens have visited Earth or that any UFOs are extraterrestrial spacecraft. There're two problems with that. First, the issue is not necessarily that UFOs are alien spacecraft, but that a real phenomenon exists and deserves serious study. Secondly, previous â€œscientificâ€ studies were not unbiased and transparent, so we really don't have enough good analyses on which to base any statement about â€œproof.â€ There are several hundred UFO reports filed in Canada each year (in 2008 there were more than 1,000), and a small percentage each year is unexplained. Given adequate resources for investigations, itâ€™s possible that science could obtain data on unusual natural phenomena, psychological or sociological effects or something else that is being perceived by witnesses as UFOs.
Robert - I frequently hear some statement like, "Why do you think we are the only intelligent species in the universe?" Now, I don't believe that at all, but just because some other intelligent species likely exists far off in the vastness of space, it does not follow that they must be here, playing peek-a-boo with our civilization. People don't realize what a logical fallacy they're arguing. The universe is unimaginably vast, and the best estimates are that intelligent civilizations would be thousands of light years apart. That implies traveling for thousands of years at the speed of light, which you cannot do, so it actually means traveling tens or hundreds of thousands of years at speeds slower than light. That's pretty implausible, in my book. Would you set out on a journey that's going to take ten thousand years to complete? It's just as hard for ETs to come here as it is for us to go there.
QMI - We seem to be going through one of those periodic up-swings in the number of UFO news stories. What should people take away from these reports?
Chris - Well, for one thing, this tells us there are many qualified observers who have seen and reported UFOs. Itâ€™s been said that pilots make mistakes of observation as much as anyone else, but letâ€™s face it: Their observational abilities are relied upon every day for making judgments that keep our lives safe. If a military pilot with 10,000 hours in the air says he saw something that mystified him, it's worth talking about.
Robert - That even trained personnel can mistake ordinary phenomena for something strange and exotic. They're human, just like the rest of us. And none of these people have any actual proof that they witnessed something mysterious, it's just their interpretation of what they saw. So many sightings, so little evidence.
QMI - In your lifetime, will the debate over UFOs be resolved and come to an end?
Chris - I doubt it. The subject of UFOs is still too much of a taboo for most mainstream scientists to risk their reputations by openly declaring their intentions to research it. That in itself is odd, because I canâ€™t think of another popular subject so embraced by society yet avoided by science. As for the possibility of alien visitation, even if we do make contact with possible inhabitants of Gliese 581g or whatever planet on which we finally detect an extraterrestrial civilization, Iâ€™m sure that skeptics will still insist that the UFO seen over Montreal a few weeks ago must have been something other than an alien space shuttle.
Robert - No. The belief that UFOs are some great-unknown mystery is an unfalsifiable one. Nothing could refute it, no matter how many famous UFO cases are shown to be bogus. The only way that the UFO debate would likely be ended would be if people eventually got tired of it, and moved onto something else, like ghosts or monsters. Or if a "real UFO" landed on the White House lawn. But I really do not think that will happen.