Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Doggerel #94: "U.F.O."

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

I'm sure everyone knows what those three letters stand for: "Unidentified Flying Object." Too often, however, believers in alien encounters seem to forget what the first letter stands for:

For a UFO to be a UFO, it has to be unidentified. That means you don't know what it is. For alien enthusiasts, however, UFO is synonymous with "alien spacecraft." If you've labeled a dot in the sky as a Romulan warbird, that means you've identified it, hence it is no longer an Unidentified Flying Object.

Sorry to go on about the definition so much, there, but I felt it had to be said.

One of the other things I often get in my dealings with ufologists is "You can't identify it with all your precious science, therefore it's an alien!" No. If we can't identify it, we can't identify it.
"Sir, the most elementary and valuable statement in science... the beginning of wisdom... is: 'I do not know.' (indicates the void in the viewscreen) I do not know what that is." -Lt. Commander Data, Where Silence Has Lease
It should be noteworthy that often, when a ufologist says something hasn't been identified, it may have already been. Mysteries are often preserved by people who don't want to look for answers. The unknown is a blank canvas where anyone can put their egotistical fantasies. Seeking out knowledge of the unknown removes that possibility, so they're often disinclined to do so.

Also, even if the skeptic hasn't identified a UFO, that doesn't mean it's remarkable. Ufologists will often ramble on about how an object 'maneuvers beyond the capabilities of any Earth craft' before they identify how far away it is. What appears to be a distant object zipping across the sky may actually be a fly passing in front of the camera. You can seldom tell. UFO videos are often shot from just one angle, which make range finding difficult. Multiple cameras with recorded locations would make triangulation easier.

The sky is often filled with weird and interesting things. The same is true for life in general. Pretending that every tiny little not-yet-explained oddity is proof of something that could profoundly alter humanity's perception of the world is just absurd. If you want to prove that something is an alien spacecraft, you have to do a lot more than just bring up mundane oddities.

23 comments:

Akusai said...

That's a good one.

My biggest problem with "U.F.O." is how incredibly useless it is when you break it down.

First off, there's the semantic problem that just because something is in the sky doesn't mean it is flying. To be charitable, however, I usually allow that because in that phrase, "flying" acts as an easy synonym for "is in the sky."

Then there's the problem of subjectivity. If I see a bright celestial body that I'm pretty sure is a planet, but not entirely sure, then it is an Unidentified Flying Object. Basically, any blinking light at night is an Unidentified Flying Object, because I can't identify it. It might be a plane, but who knows?

Perhaps I'm taking it too literally, but I do so as a counterpoint to people who have made a rather lackluster description synonymous with "Alien Spaceship." This has happened over years and I'm not sure anybody notices the difference anymore, and the "ufologists" use it to their advantage. Say "U.F.O" and people hear "Alien Spaceship."

Like you mentioned, it's no longer a U.F.O. if you decide it's a spaceship.

Bronze Dog said...

There's another term that hasn't gained a lot of acceptance: UAP: Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon.

Uapologist doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Maya's Granny said...

I once saw a UFO. And then, within five minutes had identified it as a balsa wood and butcher paper frame around a lit candle. Before I got the range on the thing it did look like something impressive off in the distance. Instead it was a totally understandable thing very close indeed.

Perspective is everything, whether it's physical or mental.

Bob said...

"For alien enthusiasts, however, UFO is synonymous with 'alien spacecraft.'"

That's what should have given me away, but my little joke became a little hoax instead. And I wasn't even trying to fool anyone.

Infophile said...

First off, there's the semantic problem that just because something is in the sky doesn't mean it is flying. To be charitable, however, I usually allow that because in that phrase, "flying" acts as an easy synonym for "is in the sky."

Well, the most common alternative to "flying" is "falling," which also works with the fuck-letter. Even planets are technically in freefall.

Uapologist doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

I must disagree; it's the perfect term to describe anyone who still claims that shit like this exists, but only when we're addressing them. (Come on, think about it.)

Bob said...

I just noticed that the editor of UFO Review has a link to my post today under the heading:

UAP's/Extraterrestrial Life

I'd say he takes this shit pretty seriously.

Anonymous said...

I could look at the Enquirer and reach the conclusion that anything printed on that type of paper must therefore be the result of overly-vivid imagination. I could also interpret the same thing from reading Newsweek or the NY Times.

Since bothe 'sides" of the UFO/UAP phenomena are likely to have perpetrated hoaxes over the years, isn't it a little narrow minded and foolish to assume that the government/skeptics/military "official" versions must be the truth?

Remember, George Bush II was shown on front page of NY Times under the banner MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ! How easy it is to fool the masses, when you have a little authority or official credibility backing you up. Yet, how then can the eyewitness claims of so many thousands have gained any acceptance as truth, when it has been "officially debunked" as mass hallucinations of swamp gas, Venus, airplanes, etc.?

Absence of proof is not proof of absence.....or else I can assume it is proven that ya'll are not intelligent life forms, since I have seen no proof to the contrary :>)

MSM

Bronze Dog said...

Since bothe 'sides" of the UFO/UAP phenomena are likely to have perpetrated hoaxes over the years, isn't it a little narrow minded and foolish to assume that the government/skeptics/military "official" versions must be the truth?

No one I'm aware of does that. Especially not me: I follow what the evidence tells me. So far, it's telling me that it's all bumpkis: All of the evidence in favor of aliens is always crap.

What does the government and military have to do with this? I've never given the government reports much thought. I sense poisoning of the well by trying to associate me and other critical thinkers with them.

Isn't it a little narrow-minded to think that we're exactly like the Hollywood skeptics?

Remember, George Bush II was shown on front page of NY Times under the banner MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ! How easy it is to fool the masses, when you have a little authority or official credibility backing you up.

"Authority" is on my Doggerel index. Science does not recognize it. All I care about is the evidence. And again, why the frell do you bring up the government? It's irrelevant to the discussion.

Yet, how then can the eyewitness claims of so many thousands have gained any acceptance as truth, when it has been "officially debunked" as mass hallucinations of swamp gas, Venus, airplanes, etc.?

Because people don't like to face up to the fact that human beings are fallible. Eyewitness testimony is one of the weakest forms of evidence because it's subject to the myriad of human biases and foibles. THAT is the issue, and I'd like to see ufologists stop avoiding it.

Absence of proof is not proof of absence.....or else I can assume it is proven that ya'll are not intelligent life forms, since I have seen no proof to the contrary :>)

Straw man! We aren't out to prove the absence of aliens. You're acting just like all those fundy nuts who think atheism is about disproving deities.

Absence of evidence is just that: absence of evidence. If there's no evidence, why should I waste my time believing? When you make an extraordinary claim, i.e. multiplying entities unnecessarily, the burden of proof is on you, not the skeptic.

Oh, and one thing you might want to familiarize yourself with: The Modus Tollens Exception: If your hypothesis predicts the existence of evidence, absence of that evidence falsifies your hypothesis.

Bronze Dog said...

Correction: "Authority" is on my prospective Doggerel list. I may step it up.

Ryan said...

I could look at the Enquirer and reach the conclusion that anything printed on that type of paper must therefore be the result of overly-vivid imagination. I could also interpret the same thing from reading Newsweek or the NY Times.

True. But which is more likely:

Murder in the Streets; 10 Dead or

Decepticons Loose in the Streets; 10 Robots Destroyed

Since bothe 'sides" of the UFO/UAP phenomena are likely to have perpetrated hoaxes over the years,

Are you insinuating that people who don't think that E.T is visiting and flying all over our heads are hoaxing it? Take the tin foil hat off dude.

isn't it a little narrow minded and foolish to assume that the government/skeptics/military "official" versions must be the truth?

Actually, a lot of phenomena in the sky go unexplained, a position held by your favorite diversionary tactic (the government). But just because we don't know what something is doesn't mean you get to make up whatever explanation you want.

Yet, how then can the eyewitness claims of so many thousands have gained any acceptance as truth, when it has been "officially debunked" as mass hallucinations of swamp gas, Venus, airplanes, etc.?

Seriously, if anecdotal evidence is good enough for you, then why don't you believe everything anyone ever tells you?

Believe in Bigfoot?

Leprechauns?

Jeebus?

Loch Ness Monster?

Evil Robots?

Ask youself why you don't believe in any of those things, and you'll know why we don't bleeve in aliens.

Rhoadan said...

Since my previous attempt apparently failed:

I've got UFO's all over my house... There's the 9/11 Charity Afghan, the bath mat, at least three doilies... Oh, you meant "Unidentified Flying Object," not "UnFinished Object." (Sorry, couldn't resist the crafter's joke there.)

On topic, I've had some interesting experiences with apparent UFO's that turned out to be something mundane. For example, some large balloons look remarkably like SF space craft when seen lit up at night, at least until you spot the tether.

My most remarkable experience, however, took place one foggy morning at approx. 5:30 as I was driving down a major highway near the local airport. I saw what I would have sworn blind was a spaceship darting across the highway and performing one of those infamous "impossible maneuvers." Then the pole that the flashing light was mounted on appeared out of the fog, and I realized that my "alien spaceship" was a light in the highway median. Its apparent motion was a combination of the highway curvature, my driving speed, and the lack of visibility from the fog. Your senses can fool ya.

Just Al said...

Boy howdy, this one is just chock-full of things to analyze!

anonymous msm said: I could look at the Enquirer and reach the conclusion that anything printed on that type of paper must therefore be the result of overly-vivid imagination. I could also interpret the same thing from reading Newsweek or the NY Times.

You are certainly within your rights to do so. But what's your point?

Since bothe 'sides" of the UFO/UAP phenomena are likely to have perpetrated hoaxes over the years, isn't it a little narrow minded and foolish to assume that the government/skeptics/military "official" versions must be the truth?

This is the one I love. It rates right up there with the crischin accusations of atheists or materialists following scientific "dogma." As the Dog said, who does that? Or more specifically, what is your evidence for claiming that anyone skeptical of the various alien explanations of UFOs/UAPs arrived at their opinion through gross generalizations, rather than being unconvinced by the flimsy support for "aliens" as a cause?

See, what you're basically trying to do with this is denounce the witness, and doing so by inferring actions for which there is no evidence. But the witness you're denouncing, the skeptic, isn't the one required to produce evidence - that's the job of the one claiming alien visitations. And until this has been done, skepticism is the only appropriate response.

Remember, George Bush II was shown on front page of NY Times under the banner MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ! How easy it is to fool the masses, when you have a little authority or official credibility backing you up.

Heh! Funny that you chose, as your example, one of the most lambasted public events of the administration. Who, exactly, was convinced by that banner? I think every media source I came across blasted it pretty seriously.

Yet, how then can the eyewitness claims of so many thousands have gained any acceptance as truth, when it has been "officially debunked" as mass hallucinations of swamp gas, Venus, airplanes, etc.?

Start with a false premise, and then try to disprove it? C'mon, dude, try harder than that.

What you're trying to say is, if it's been shown to be false, why then do so many people believe it to be true? And that one, my friend, is a psychological question of deep importance. You are, perhaps, trying to make some point about people always behaving rationally (and thus their belief is a rational act), but if you are, it's an ignorant approach - people are idiots. A truly stunning number of people have no grasp of logic whatsoever, and this is apparent even to children. Wake up. But if you want real reasons for people believing in such things, I'll be happy to provide some. I'm betting you won't like 'em though.

But then, in the same paragraph, we have the hyperbole, always a favorite! "Mass hallucinations of swamp gas, Venus, airplanes, etc." I will, for your sake, treat this as a clumsy sentence and not literally, since none of the three items you mentioned have ever, to my knowledge, been coupled to "mass hallucinations" - they are, instead, precisely NOT hallucinations but real world explanations offered for various sightings. And I have seen mass hallucination used but once in my
reviews of UFO reports - same with swamp gas. But UFO enthusiasts simply love bringing them up to show how stupid the proposed explanations are.

Mass hallucination, by the way, does not refer to false signals from our senses such as those caused by hallucinogenic drugs or too little sleep, but instead to suggestibility and unclear recollections of events. Briefly, an object in the sky becomes an "alien spacecraft moving faster than sound" when someone suggests that it is. Before that, the witnesses may not have even tried to venture an explanation or a velocity.

Absence of proof is not proof of absence.....or else I can assume it is proven that ya'll are not intelligent life forms, since I have seen no proof to the contrary :>)

Ah, we can't all provide such a stunning argument as yours ;-).

The "absence of proof" canard is also a favorite with the UFO enthusiasts. The problem with it is, it does not say anything more than its literal meaning. It does not, for instance, lend any credibility to any explanation at all, much less one lacking in physical evidence.

Again, if anyone wants to provide a possible explanation for any phenomena, it is up to them to show the supporting evidence for the explanation. Simply saying "You can't disprove it!" is a meaningless statement, and reveals both a lack of evidence and a lack of logical thought.

Bronze Dog said...

Well said, guys.

Briefly, an object in the sky becomes an "alien spacecraft moving faster than sound" when someone suggests that it is. Before that, the witnesses may not have even tried to venture an explanation or a velocity.

I recall one incident: Had some pilots reporting strange lights on the horizon. Nothing on radar. In the initial reports, they said they were stationary. Then the higher-ups decided to investigate further. Towards the end, the pilots changed their story to say that they wound up chasing and were chased by the lights, radar ghosts, and so forth.

It turns out that by looking at the original claims and directions, the most likely explanation was that the lights were the flames coming from some smokestacks. All the stuff about their movement was confabulation as the hype built up: The suggestion of aliens came up somewhere in the investigation, and their squishy, unreliable brains changed their story while the objective recording devices stayed the same.

Anonymous said...

Well, it looks like my last comments got a few people to take exception. Good ! Means people are thinking. But still, are all the clear-minded people writing their thoughts in here a good sample of typical US citizens? If so, are you all considering yourselves to be rational people? Who among you knows the difference of a mistaken object....after a few seconds, from a good, long hard look at a UFO/UAP ? And what makes your ability to perceive and discern so much greater than the thousands of reported eyewitnesses?

A lot of pretty intelligent people have gone on record with very unusual observances, and they all didn't mistake traffic lights in foggy conditions for flying discs, etc.

I have found some of the UFO info out there on the www to be pretty credible. Credible by source, observer, witness, and also with documented reports, radar, photo (video in more recent years). The remarks, offical staements and actions of numerous military & intelligence spokesmen, are highly unusual, if they were not acknowledging the reality of UFO's.

I think anyone who dismisses all UFO sightings as being akin to bigfoot, evil robots, etc., must not have enough of an interest in REALLY finding out the truth, or too short of an attention span to absorb the thousands of examples of alien visits. I say alien, because they ain't from here. So they are therefore by default, alien.

And if there were thousands of reports of bigfoot, world wide, for centuries, I think that phenomena would be pretty valid also. But, comparatively, reports of bigfoot, the abominable snowman, Yeti, etc., are far and few between.

I do know this for sure: Human knowledge of the universe is in its infancy. It wasn't all that long ago that many thought the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Maybe too many people still think their world revolves around them, and our progress as a species is stunted by self-importance, pride, fear of ridicule, and a general lack of understanding.

Ryan - by the way, it is a historic fact that Jesus was really a man. It may take faith to beleive he was who he said he was, but it is far from anecdotal that he existed. And when you get down to it, just about everything you know and accept as being true or real is based on how you absorbed "anecdotal" evidence. Think about it. Your whole education was anecdotal.....except for your experience getting hit in the face with a dodgeball. That stung first-hand!

If you are to learn more, you will be very limited if you discount any truth because you can't personally disect it, duplicate it at will, or go see it in the Smithsonian.

Let's see science actually create a tree from scratch, and then I'll put more faith in science. Until then, I know we just don't know it all yet.

Bob said...

"Who among you knows the difference of a mistaken object....after a few seconds, from a good, long hard look at a UFO/UAP ? And what makes your ability to perceive and discern so much greater than the thousands of reported eyewitnesses?"

Well, that’s easy. If we can’t identify it, then it’s a UFO. If we can identify it, then it’s something else. Stop trying to shift the burden of proof.

"A lot of pretty intelligent people have gone on record with very unusual observances, and they all didn't mistake traffic lights in foggy conditions for flying discs, etc."

Like who? Not that we care for appeals to authority.

"I have found some of the UFO info out there on the www to be pretty credible. Credible by source, observer, witness, and also with documented reports, radar, photo (video in more recent years). The remarks, offical staements and actions of numerous military & intelligence spokesmen, are highly unusual, if they were not acknowledging the reality of UFO's."

Links? Acknowledge the reality of UFO’s? There was an object in the sky that could not be identified. Or do you mean little green men?

"I think anyone who dismisses all UFO sightings as being akin to bigfoot, evil robots, etc., must not have enough of an interest in REALLY finding out the truth, or too short of an attention span to absorb the thousands of examples of alien visits. I say alien, because they ain't from here. So they are therefore by default, alien."

Oh, so you do jump to the conclusion that unidentified flying objects are extraterrestrial. And again, stop trying to shift the burden of proof.

"And if there were thousands of reports of bigfoot, world wide, for centuries, I think that phenomena would be pretty valid also. But, comparatively, reports of bigfoot, the abominable snowman, Yeti, etc., are far and few between."

The number of UFO sightings alone validates nothing.

"I do know this for sure: Human knowledge of the universe is in its infancy. It wasn't all that long ago that many thought the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth."

Doggerel #76

"Let's see science actually create a tree from scratch, and then I'll put more faith in science. Until then, I know we just don't know it all yet."

Doggerel #12

Ryan said...

Well, it looks like my last comments got a few people to take exception. Good ! Means people are thinking.

New Doggerel! "I Got People Thinking!"

Spouting a bunch of B.S only gets us thinking how shallow your comments were.

But still, are all the clear-minded people writing their thoughts in here a good sample of typical US citizens?

Did we claim to be?

If so, are you all considering yourselves to be rational people?

I'd make that claim for myself.


Who among you knows the difference of a mistaken object....after a few seconds, from a good, long hard look at a UFO/UAP ? And what makes your ability to perceive and discern so much greater than the thousands of reported eyewitnesses?

We've already told you - eyewitness accounts are the worst. Just because something is "unidentified" doesn't mean it's extraterrestrial.

A lot of pretty intelligent people have gone on record with very unusual observances, and they all didn't mistake traffic lights in foggy conditions for flying discs, etc.

Again, exactly what in that comment proves any unidentified object is extraterrestrial?

I have found some of the UFO info out there on the www to be pretty credible.[snip]...if they were not acknowledging the reality of UFO's.

Again, what leads you to believe it is extraterrestrial? I tire of repeating this.

I think anyone who dismisses all UFO sightings as being akin to bigfoot, evil robots, etc., must not have enough of an interest in REALLY finding out the truth, or too short of an attention span to absorb the thousands of examples of alien visits.

Then you have to provide the evidence of the aliens; something the bigfoot people, the evil robot people and the alien people have never done. Saying "people see aliens" is exactly the same as "people see bigfoot". Your brand of woo-woo doesn't get a free ride.

I say alien, because they ain't from here. So they are therefore by default, alien.

Yawn. Lame. Evidence puh-leeze?

And if there were thousands of reports of bigfoot, world wide, for centuries, I think that phenomena would be pretty valid also. But, comparatively, reports of bigfoot, the abominable snowman, Yeti, etc., are far and few between.

Are...are you serious? Maybe you aren't from Earth. Anyway, you're wrong. Start here and work your way down.

It wasn't all that long ago that many thought the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.

As Bob pointed out, Doggerel #12

Maybe too many people still think their world revolves around them, and our progress as a species is stunted by self-importance, pride, fear of ridicule, and a general lack of understanding.

Progress is stunted by Woos who see something unidentified and categorize it as magic - no need for research! We're positive it's aliens!

Ryan - by the way, it is a historic fact that Jesus was really a man.

Yawn. Do you have one credible reference from a contemporary historian? The rest of your gibberish demonstrates a misunderstanding of the words "anecdote" and "evidence-based".

If you are to learn more, you will be very limited if you discount any truth because you can't personally disect it, duplicate it at will, or go see it in the Smithsonian.

Present the truth. I'll be happy to examine it. If we can't examine it, what is the difference between your truth and nothing?

Let's see science actually create a tree from scratch, and then I'll put more faith in science.

Complete ignorance of what science is. Science is a process by which we evaluate claims and understand how the universe works. A method. I get you now.

I know we just don't know it all yet.

One of the great things about the universe!

Bronze Dog said...

Thanks for handling the guy while I was offline.

What it boils down to: He never read anything we said: He doesn't understand that "unidentified" means "unidentified."

I wonder how he'd respond to a woo who said that if we can't identify it, it must be ghosts/ angels/ fairies/ whatever, because it's obviously not natural.

What's worse, is that he commits the fallacy of assuming that we know all the possibilities.

Still worse, he's apparently incapable of understanding that EVERYONE is able to fool themselves, regardless of intelligence.

Reminds me of some recent cultist convert who became convinced of the leader's supernatural powers because he palmed a ring into existence. "I'm an intelligent person, and if I can't figure out how he did it, it must be supernatural!"

"Intelligent" is going on the doggerel list, by the way. Intelligent people are just as capable of being stupid as anyone. Heck, in some cases, intelligence is a boon to being a woo: Helps a person devise (still fallacious) ad hoc hypotheses and form all sorts of defenses. The problem isn't intelligence, it's the soundness of the reasoning involved, and our ufologist was being very fallacious, though in very predictable manner.

Anonymous said...

Anybody who needs a "contemporary" historian to validate the proof of existence of Jesus is clearly more interested in clubbing and hip-hop, where psuedo-intellectualizing may score points with one of the shallow thinkers in our society. I don't know of a single "historian", past or present, who doubts his existence. Even devout and/or extremist Muslims, who hate westernized christians, acknowledge his existence. I think that is why he picked a dozen guys to chronicle his teachings,....to satisfy the future skeptics, via cross referencing.

As to the proof seeker comments, at least those with the need to hold physical proof in their own hands, consider: With dozens and dozens of reported events that the military swooped in and grabbed all physical evidence, don't you think there has been something going on there to keep the very type of proof you seem to require out of sight of the public? Or is it a conspiracy of wildly disconnected and divergant people, all randomly deciding to invite ridicule, who claim to have seen crashed ET craft?

Perhaps the truth will be printed in a college text one day, then you can accept the full weight of the evidence to date, when your professor says it is now acceptable.

Go visit your local U of wherever astronomy department, or look into the physicists latest theories, if you need the collegiate support for the probability (not mere possibility) of extraterrestrial intelligent life. And when you cross analyze that data with the thousands of credible sightings of "intelligently controlled" ufos, there is really only one credible conclusion that can be derived.... assuming objective analysis of course. Because as soon as popular opinion determines truth from fallacy, then the driving motivation defines the seeker.

I am not a ufologist, by the way. I am a 47 year old teacher who enjoys seeing the look on peoples faces, when they join the real world and realize they did not have it all figured out. Nothing delights a teacher more than to see the occaisional student who wants to learn the truths of life, the world and all things of any importance. It is also saddening to see time and energy wasted.

Read a little Einstein, if you want a good undersatnding of where science falls short of explaining spiritual truths, and how both science and spiritulism are really just different perspectives or methods for attempting to understand the same reality.

Making fire or giving birth were thought of as demonstrations of "magic" long ago. In the context of use of the word in this blog, it simply is a convenient attempt to discredit things, the truth of which are not completely understood.

By the way, who ever decided that the burden of proof is on those who believe UFO's are visiting ET's? Seems to me that the most credible reports and sightings are afforded the most ridiculous "scientific" debunking claims. In my view, there has been ample opportunity for the scientific community to disprove the nature of ufo's or the existence of ET visitors, but the mainstream scientific community has failed to prove anything on this subject, except that most people behave like lemmings...regardless of higher education.

Finally, to all those who think that the government could not keep a secret like UFO's being of extraterretrial origin, and therefore that is implicit proof ET's have not been driving the UFO's, do you not see the contradiction of that assumption, when it is assumed that ufo's must be secret military craft? The truth is that the military and government have failed to keep everything from being leaked on both programs, but have largely succeeded in keeping most details secret for lengthy periods of time. Look into it. There have been plenty of military personnel who have spoken out on the facts of ufo encounters, and even ET contact. But to date, no one has grabbed the physical evidence and succesfully defected to a non-denial country (some governments acknowledge the fact of UFO/ET existence).

If you want to understand where mainstream US science has gone with legitimate study of the UFO phenomenon, google the following:

Science in Default:
Twenty-Two Years of Inadequate UFO Investigations, James E. McDonald.

Search with both open eyes and mind !

Man Called True said...

Annony: The burden of proof is on the "UFOs are aliens" side because you're the one making the claim. Not the skeptics. The skeptics are just saying "It's something, but we have no proof it's anything specific".

Extraordinary claims, as Sagan put it, require extraordinary proof. Try showing that instead of spewing insults.

Nes said...

I saw a UFO at night once. I got a good look at it, too. It was bright; easily brighter than the moon. Then the airplane turned and I could see the familiar red and blue flashing lights, and it was no longer a UFO. Oh well.

Go visit your local U of wherever astronomy department, or look into the physicists latest theories, if you need the collegiate support for the probability (not mere possibility) of extraterrestrial intelligent life.

Great. While you're there, learn about how impossibly hard it would be to travel the distances required to get even from the closest star to here in any reasonable time frame. (Hint: Over 4 years at the speed of light (which doesn't account for acceleration or deceleration at all, which I think more than doubles the length of the trip; I saw the calculations once, don't remember them though), and the energy requirements to do any folding of space-time (think either wormholes or warp drive) to avoid those limitations are even more ridiculous.) Basically, even if there is other intelligent life out there, the chances that A) they can get to us and B) they have found us in the first place (considering the enormous number of stars out there) are incredibly slim.

In my view, there has been ample opportunity for the scientific community to disprove the nature of ufo's or the existence of ET visitors...

Stop right there! By the very definition of U.F.O., these objects are unidentified! That does not automatically make them of alien origin; it simply means "we do not currently know what this is." It does not rule out mundane explanations. To somehow say that something that is unidentified is automatically alien, and "Ha, you can't prove it's not!", is absolutely batty! It's damn near the equivalent of saying that because someone claims there are invisible, intangible gnomes up their ass (and, hey, they're an intelligent person; they even have a blurry photo! (don't think about that too hard...)), and we can't prove there aren't any up there, then ass gnomes must really exist. Do you see how utterly preposterous that is?

Incidentally, I personally have a major problem with accepting anecdotal reports of lights in the sky. I once read an astronomer who worked at an observatory say that (if I recall correctly) roughly 80% of the calls they get about U.F.O.'s end up being... Mars. Yes, the vast majority of alleged alien spaceship sightings reported to this particular observatory were a planet. Unfortunately, I didn't bookmark it and can't find it with google, but hereand here are two other sites that make similar claims. Knowing that, it's really hard to trust people's observations about objects in the sky.

Bronze Dog said...

I saw that anonny comment in my inbox, but I wasn't in the mood to reply. Thanks for covering it, guys.

It seems none of the ufologist woos even bothered to read the main post. Unidentified means unidentified. That's it: We don't know. Until good evidence comes in, that's all we can leave it at. Of course, most of the time, it's unremarkable enough to not even bother.

Like Creationists, however, they make the argument from ignorance: "Because we don't know, we do know!"

Aliens in the gaps, instead of God.

I especially find the straw man he erected about the probability of alien life: Yeah, we know it's probable, given the size of the universe. Try learning and responding to our actual position.

As Nes points out, he doesn't take into account the monumental difficulties in interstellar travel. Unless he's got some well-described and evidentially supported hypothesis of FTL travel, or wormholes that don't take a thousand suns' worth of energy to form, he's not improving his position.

And he again made the unjustified leap from "we don't know" to "OMG! Everything we don't know MUST be aliens!!!!11!"

Oh, and I have a hard time seeing intelligent movement in UFOs. They tend to look stationary, straight line, or random. Barring knowledge of the aliens' motives, I don't see how we're supposed to detect intelligent movement. Maybe the ufologists should join up with that bastion of not-doing-research, the "Discovery Institute" and figure out how to waffle on allegedly objective, calculable measures of CSI or something.

If I were an alien, though, my flight patterns would be A) Directed towards the White House lawn, B) The nearest Super Bowl, if I couldn't see the significance of the White House, or C) high orbit where I couldn't be seen by casual observers and not waste energy resisting the atmosphere and observe like a satellite.

Tom Foss said...

Who among you knows the difference of a mistaken object....after a few seconds, from a good, long hard look at a UFO/UAP ? And what makes your ability to perceive and discern so much greater than the thousands of reported eyewitnesses?

Actually, that's kind of the point: a UFO is a "mistaken object." The vast majority of people don't have the necessary training to distinguish between objects in the sky; in the dark and without a frame of size or distance reference, they can't tell the difference between a star, a planet, a meteorite, a satellite, and a variety of planes and other terrestrial aircraft, not to mention weather balloons, varieties of different kites, and any number of other flying objects. This is why, as has been mentioned before recently, astronomers and their ilk have the lowest rates of reporting UFO sightings--their body of knowledge means there's a lot less to go "unknown."

Quiz the thousands of reported eyewitnesses, and chances are you'll find that not a one can tell you how to distinguish between a planet and a star by unaided eyesight, or that you can see satellites trucking across the night sky if your vision's sharp. The problem is that people see things in the sky that they don't understand, and they immediately assume that they're alien spacecraft, when there are hundreds of more prosaic explanations for the observed phenomena.

A lot of pretty intelligent people have gone on record with very unusual observances, and they all didn't mistake traffic lights in foggy conditions for flying discs, etc.

Intelligence has nothing to do with it, knowledge does. And psychology has a role in there as well. The first problem is that people see something that they don't recognize in the sky, in most cases because they lack the training and experience required to recognize it, whether it's a streetlight in the fog, or Mars, or a speedy satellite.

Second, they stop observing it, so they can report it or tell others, and their mind goes to work. Soon, instead of a little dot flitting about in the dark, they saw a full-fledged saucer hovering with no means of support. Any police officer who has ever talked to an eyewitness will tell you that human memory is incredibly fallible and incredibly malleable; witnesses often tend to alter their memories and convince themselves of details that didn't exist or that they couldn't have actually seen. When you're dealing with fuzzy observations of an unknown object, your mind tends to fill in the details to try to fit it into established frameworks.

It's not about the intelligence level of the people who witness these things, it's about the problems in human memory and observation, and the lack of knowledge and experience distinguishing between unfamiliar lights in the sky.

I think anyone who dismisses all UFO sightings as being akin to bigfoot, evil robots, etc., must not have enough of an interest in REALLY finding out the truth, or too short of an attention span to absorb the thousands of examples of alien visits. I say alien, because they ain't from here. So they are therefore by default, alien.

See, that's the problem. First, you throw in a word like "alien," though you know it'll get taken to mean something else. Why not "foreign" or "unknown"?
Second, what constitutes "REALLY finding out the truth"? Does it require hypotheses that invoke hypothetical entities? I've never seen a shred of evidence for the extraterrestrial nature of UFOs or the existence of aliens which wasn't better explained using known quantities. Occam's Razor tells us not to multiply hypotheticals without necessity; we can say that the vast majority of UFO sightings and abduction stories are the products of flawed memories, flawed observation, ignorance, and overactive imagination (along with a few other known quantities), or we can say that they are the product of unknown aircraft flown by unknown entities, either foreign to this nation or to this planet.

How is it that "the REAL truth" contains so many unknown quantities?

I'm going to recommend that you go down to the local library or bookstore, and pick up one of the finest books ever set to paper: Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Sagan was an astrophysicist who was an actual part of the government's Project Blue Book, which investigated UFO sightings. Over the course of several chapters, he explores not only the more prosaic explanations behind UFO phenomena, but he traces back the history of abduction stories, through the various sorts of popular aliens back to succubi and incubi and demons and angels.

Ryan - by the way, it is a historic fact that Jesus was really a man. It may take faith to beleive he was who he said he was, but it is far from anecdotal that he existed.

There are no contemporary records indicating Jesus's existence. He wrote nothing himself, and his disciples never wrote anything. Everything we know about him comes from decades after the time of his death, either through the early gospels that were passed down between a generation or two, or through the letters of Paul, who claimed only to have met Jesus in a dream. The only independent confirmation we have at all for Jesus's existence is the history of Josephus, which was written a lifetime after Jesus's death, and mentions him in passing as the subject of worship of the Christian cult. His existence is far from a matter of settled historical fact.

And when you get down to it, just about everything you know and accept as being true or real is based on how you absorbed "anecdotal" evidence. Think about it. Your whole education was anecdotal.

Um...no. While a large portion of education comes through textbooks and teachers, it's not anecdotal. Anecdotal evidence is based entirely on personal experience; what you learn in school is independently verifiable. If I ask a dozen math teachers, consult a hundred math books, do an extensive search of the available literature, and carry out mathematical proofs myself, I'll always find that 2+2=4. You can easily corroborate your education to see if it's true by seeking out independent verification.

Anecdotal evidence, by definition, cannot be corroborated.

If you are to learn more, you will be very limited if you discount any truth because you can't personally disect it, duplicate it at will, or go see it in the Smithsonian.

Actually, we've gotten very far by accepting only truths that we can dissect and independently duplicate. It's called "science," have you tried it? Science is based on independently verifiable observations of repeatable phenomena. If you manage to create cold fusion in the lab, it's not going to be accepted as "truth" unless you can do it again, and several other teams can do it again, and it can be done in different ways to make sure that it's actual factual.

Let's see science actually create a tree from scratch, and then I'll put more faith in science. Until then, I know we just don't know it all yet.

1. You don't put "faith" in science. Faith and science are essentially oppositional; faith is based on personal feelings, science is based on objective evidence.
2. A tree from scratch? What a strange criteria for trusting things. Do you ask that all pursuits create trees from scratch before you put your "faith" in them? If so, since I'm not aware of any pursuit in the whole of human history that has ever produced a tree "from scratch," I fear that you have no "faith" in anything.
3. Science doesn't claim to "know it all," and never will. Science accepts that new information may change established theory at any time; all scientific knowledge is tentative and subject to revision. Science is a method of evaluating claims based on evidence and observation, not a dogmatic system of truth.

Let's see the UFOlogists use spectrographs and telescopes to determine the precise size, distance away, and composition of UFOs, and then I'll put more "faith" in the alien nature of UFOs.

Anybody who needs a "contemporary" historian to validate the proof of existence of Jesus is clearly more interested in clubbing and hip-hop, where psuedo-intellectualizing may score points with one of the shallow thinkers in our society.

You misunderstand the meaning of "contemporary." Ryan's not talking about a hip new historian, he's talking about anyone who lived at the time of Jesus and wrote stuff down. And while there were lots of such people, writing stuff down in the 1st Century C.E., not a one mentions Jesus. Nothing was written about the man until decades after his death, and the only independent account of his existence comes from around 94 C.E., in a disputed reference by Jewish historian Josephus, in a book that our earliest copy of dates t 800 years later.

What Ryan, and anyone else, wants is testimony from the time of Jesus's life which proclaims his existence. We have no record of him from the Romans who killed him, the Jews who persecuted him, the disciples who worshipped him, or the people who were healed by him. No one thought to write down "hey, I saw Jesus today" and put it in a safe place to survive for the next 2000 years.

I don't know of a single "historian", past or present, who doubts his existence.

Earl Doherty, for one. And the other members of the small-but-prolific group which believes that Jesus was probably based on various Mediterranean and Middle Eastern myths. They pick up largely from 19th century historian Bruno Bauer. The group includes both historians like Doherty and theologians like Robert M. Price, and a host of other academics like Tim Freke and G.A. Wells.

Not that it really matters. It's not up to the doubters to prove their case, but to the believers to provide evidence that he existed. I, for one, think he probably did, but I don't think there's enough evidence to say that with any degree of certainty. People dispute whether or not there was a "William Shakespeare," who died only 400 years ago and actually wrote things and knew people who wrote things down about him at the time. And you think that the question of Jesus's historicity is a matter of established fact?

I think that is why he picked a dozen guys to chronicle his teachings,....to satisfy the future skeptics, via cross referencing.

If that were the case, then he should have said to them "hey, write this stuff down now, so you're not scrambling to do it at the end of the century!" Maybe he should have left the illiterate fishermen and carpenters behind (literacy was only common among the very wealthy and powerful at the time) and picked up a prince or a priest or something. The problem is, the earliest writings we have which attest to Jesus's existence are the letters of Paul to the early, established Christian churches. Those letters date back to, at the earliest, 49 C.E., 20 years or so after the death of Jesus. Paul himself, by his own admission, never met Jesus. All the other writings we have, including the canonical gospels, the Nag Hammadi library, and Josephus's Antiquities dates to long after those letters. The Gospel of Mark is the earliest Gospel we know of, and the later authors of Matthew and Luke used it as a source. It's not independent confirmation if you're copying your information.

Jesus could have done a lot better in getting corroboration.

With dozens and dozens of reported events that the military swooped in and grabbed all physical evidence, don't you think there has been something going on there to keep the very type of proof you seem to require out of sight of the public?

No, I don't trust the government to be able to keep that big a secret that well for that long. When the government can't even keep their secret prisons secret, how do you expect them to keep evidence of aliens secret? Conspiracies tend to collapse under the weight of the many, many people who would have to stay quiet, never gaining a conscience, for decades at a time. Not one whistleblower has come forward, not one UFO sighter has managed to sneak a piece of debris away from a site before the government arrived, and somehow the government has the manpower to listen to all your phone conversations and monitor UFO sightings around the country? And what of the sightings in other countries? Does every government have a crack team of first responders who swoop in and steal all the evidence of alien activity?

Or, maybe there's no evidence left because there's no evidence.

Perhaps the truth will be printed in a college text one day, then you can accept the full weight of the evidence to date, when your professor says it is now acceptable.

You keep flinging around words like "truth" and concepts like "authority" like we actually accept those. We're skeptics; it doesn't matter where you publish (but peer review helps), it matters what your evidence is. And until we have some evidence better than flawed eyewitness testimony to suggest the existence of a global multi-government conspiracy to keep the public in the dark about the existence of aliens with incredible technology who repeatedly visit us in spacecraft that are visible but leave no signs of having been here and abduct lonely people in order to probe their orifices, then leave them in bed having wiped their memories but having not done a particularly good job of it, there's no reason to believe it's any more than the product of overactive imaginations spurred on by a particular media culture.

Go visit your local U of wherever astronomy department, or look into the physicists latest theories, if you need the collegiate support for the probability (not mere possibility) of extraterrestrial intelligent life.

You think we haven't? You think we haven't read the works of Carl Sagan and Frank Drake (the founders of SETI)? You think we don't keep up with Phil Plait's excellent blog? We know the matter probably better than you do, because we trust the word of people who know what they're seeing when they look in the sky, over Joe Blow who wouldn't know a satellite from an asteroid. And while scientists are, by and large, optimistic about the existence of extraterrestrial life forms, most dismiss the idea of advanced alien life visiting us in UFOs and abducting people and mutilating cows as garbage outright, because there's no proof to suggest that the "alien" explanation is more plausible than any of the other explanations that deal with known entities right here on Earth.

Ask any Astrobiologist, go to the Astrobiology page on the NASA website, and take a look at what real scientists are doing and thinking about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. They're studying extremophile archaea around heat vents at the bottom of the ocean to see how life forms can survive in extreme environments. They're scanning the sky for radio transmissions that indicate some intelligent source. They're debating the unknown variables in the Drake Equation, trying to determine the likelihood of intelligent life. They're debating among each other about the possibility of intelligent life forming on other planets, largely agreeing that simple single-celled organisms might be common, but intelligence is basically an accident of evolution, and can't be expected to happen in other environments. But you look through the pages there, through the interviews and studies of real scientists doing real work on the real possibility of extraterrestrial life, and I guarantee you'll find that they recognize the dearth of physical evidence and the lack of credibility among UFOlogists and abductees.

I am not a ufologist, by the way. I am a 47 year old teacher who enjoys seeing the look on peoples faces, when they join the real world and realize they did not have it all figured out.

We're scientists and skeptics. We already know we don't have it all figured out yet. But we also know what constitutes good evidence, what explanations are likelier than others, and how to use tools like the scientific method and Occam's Razor to figure out things we don't know.

Nothing delights a teacher more than to see the occaisional student who wants to learn the truths of life, the world and all things of any importance. It is also saddening to see time and energy wasted.

I agree. Which is why budding young scientists ought to put down Mysteries of the Unexplained and pick up The Demon-Haunted World or some other book which shows the beauty and mystery of the natural world, rather than inventing lame mysteries like alien UFOs and crop circles. The universe is far more amazing, far more imaginative, than the woos will give it credit for.

Read a little Einstein, if you want a good undersatnding of where science falls short of explaining spiritual truths, and how both science and spiritulism are really just different perspectives or methods for attempting to understand the same reality.

Read a little more Einstein to figure out exactly where you went wrong with this thinking. Einstein wasn't a spiritual man, but a man who equated his awe and wonder at the natural universe with a "religious feeling." Or, in his own words:

"I have never inputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure thart we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism."

Or, better yet:
"If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

When Einstein said that "science without religion is blind," he wasn't talking about organized religion or Judaism or New Age mysticism. He was talking about this feeling of admiration and awe regarding the natural world as revealed by science.

Making fire or giving birth were thought of as demonstrations of "magic" long ago. In the context of use of the word in this blog, it simply is a convenient attempt to discredit things, the truth of which are not completely understood.

No, we use the word to describe explanations that people offer for unknown phenomena, which posit the existence of hypothetical entities. See, while we once thought that fire and birth were magic, and attributed their presence to unknown gods or unseen forces, we eventually discovered that their existence was more prosaic, governed by natural laws and made entirely out of things we experience here in everyday life. What happens is that people see some unknown phenomenon (fire, lights in the sky), come up with a magical explanation based on no evidence (given by the gods, alien spacecraft), and then further examination reveals a better explanation that fits with things that we know exist, rather than magical things that we have no proof of (heat energy, weather balloons and poor observation).

We use "magic" to describe precisely what it is: an explanation based on no evidence to act as a placeholder until more evidence causes us to discard it. Of course, we, being skeptics, are far more comfortable with looking at an unknown phenomenon and saying "I don't know" or "let me see the evidence before I make any conclusions" than "magic man/aliens done it."

By the way, who ever decided that the burden of proof is on those who believe UFO's are visiting ET's?

Dear FSM, I hope you're not a science teacher. In matters of science, the burden of proof is always on the person making the positive claim. If I say "unicorns exist," it's not up to you to disprove it. It would be impossible to conclusively disprove something like that. Instead, the onus is on me to show some evidence to back up my claim.

Or, as Sagan so beautifully put it, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

when it is assumed that ufo's must be secret military craft?

Wow, look at that strawman! He's freakin' flying!

1. No one said "all UFOs come from secret government craft." While that may be a decent explanation for some UFOs, most turn out to be "people with no training to distinguish between different lights in the sky mistake something prosaic for something amazing."
2. Keeping a new type of jet secret is relatively easy. Eyewitnesses, by and large, lack the training to distinguish between different kinds of aircraft, especially at night. They wouldn't know a B-2 bomber from a 747, for the most part. Second, the only people who need to know about the secret aircraft are the designers, the technicians, the pilots, and the officials on the ground, a relatively small number of people. In order to orchestrate a conspiracy to silence the evidence about alien visitation, there would have to be worldwide collaboration, large teams of quick-responding government agents with the equipment necessary to clear sighting areas of all debris, multitudes of scientists to study the evidence and keep quiet about it, and all the government higher-ups on up the ladder, probably to the level of world leaders. Every one of them has to keep quiet for an indefinite length of time.
And third, the big thing: secret aircraft only stay secret for so long, and are usually found out long before they're declassified. The Russians knew about the stealth bomber long before the US government admitted its existence. The fact is, even when it's something as simple as an experimental jet, there are uncontrollable leaks and espionage, there are satellite monitors and careful observations, that can expose the secret long before it's supposed to be exposed. Secret aircraft have a time limit on them, they only stay secret for a few years at most.
3. Even if the only two options were "secret government aircraft" and "secret alien spacecraft," Occam's Razor would tell us to pick the former. We know the government exists, we know they keep secrets, and we know they develop aircraft. Meanwhile, we don't know anything about these hypothetical aliens, and thus the alien explanation multiplies entities without necessity.

There have been plenty of military personnel who have spoken out on the facts of ufo encounters, and even ET contact. But to date, no one has grabbed the physical evidence and succesfully defected to a non-denial country (some governments acknowledge the fact of UFO/ET existence).

And in the meantime, better explanations exist for this behavior and these phenomena. If you want to see how science works and the root causes of the UFO phenomenon, read The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Sagan's an astrophysicist who helped found the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence and worked on the government's Project Blue Book. There have been few in history more qualified to talk on the subject than him. It's a fantastic book all around, and ought to open your eyes to the problems inherent in your argument.

Sorry again for the long comment. I seem to be in the habit of this sort of thing lately.

Bronze Dog said...

I'm really impressed, Tom. I always look forward to your long comments. I always learn something.