Show Me The Evidence – Introduction
Many ideas or fads, be they in the sciences or the arts, don’t last long – theories come and theories go and actual clothing fashions and trends in pop music change yearly. What’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’ is often pretty fickle. A lot of what was popular in 1947 (the birth year of the modern UFO era) has fallen by the wayside now – but, interestingly enough, not the UFO ETH (Extraterrestrial Hypothesis). The UFO ETH is as popular as ever, maybe even more so now than in 1947 (or shortly thereafter – it took a while for the ETH idea to come to the fore), not that popularity equates of necessity to something factual. If a billion people believe a stupid idea – like an invisible friend who art in heaven – it’s still a stupid idea.
However, over six decades on, despite all the professional and amateur sceptics and the universal naysayer, the government denials, scientists professing the ‘no evidence’ mantra, the ‘giggle’ factor and the ‘silly season’ publicity, fodder only fit for the tabloids, the UFO ETH is alive and well thank you very much. Something must be driving this. Perhaps, at least for many of the great unwashed, there is some signal in the noise – some sort of evidence (albeit not physical enough to be acceptable to many professional scientists) that’s swaying the general public into believing that aliens are not only here, but here and now.
Of course it is not sufficient enough for visiting aliens and their interstellar craft (UFOs if you will) to just theoretically exist (since there’s no actual physics or engineering preventing this) – there’s got to be some kind of actual evidence – and it exists in spades as we shall see.
A History Lesson
The UFO ETH only exists, early 1950’s onwards, because for the first three to four years of the then ‘flying discs’ or ‘flying saucers’ phenomena, starting in the late 1940’s, ‘saucers’ or ‘discs’ were assumed to be terrestrial in origin – secret Soviet devices (to the Americans); secret American devices (to the Russians). When those ideas became untenable, the obvious conclusions were that UFOs was all in the mind (some sort of Cold War hysteria); misidentifications, hoaxes, hallucinations, etc. But that became as equally untenable as solid case after solid case came in and proved to be unexplainable by any and all acceptable terrestrial possibilities. By elimination – well according to Sherlock Holmes, ‘when you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’ – one was forced to at least consider the ETH a plausible alternative to the initial ‘manufactured by’ terrestrial hypothesis.
Once it became crystal clear that UFOs were not a national security issue, but a scientific issue, well what better way for those charged with investigating UFOs as a national security issue to bail out by having them investigated as a scientific issue instead? And so was contracted out a so-called ‘scientific investigation into UFOs’ to the University of Colorado under the directorship of one Dr. Edward U. Condon. The findings were never in doubt even before the study was completed.
The illogic of the scientific mind was made crystal clear in the ultimate debunking of the UFO ETH. The University of Colorado Scientific Study into UFOs [the Edward U. Condon study] concluded it (the UFO ETH) was all a lot of rubbish – except for the fact that very study, that very report, couldn’t explain away, with any terrestrial phenomena known, over 30% of the UFO cases it studied. It’s like a jury stating 1/3rd not guilty; 2/3rds guilty – well the majority ayes have it – let’s carry out the execution.
The Problem with Obtaining and Verifying UFO Evidence
The trouble with UFOs is that they won’t stand still! You can’t put them under a microscope, poke and prod them, or study and measure them at your leisure like you can most phenomena. You can’t predict in advance where and when and for how long they will appear.
Scientists and Evidence: The Double Standard
The majority of scientists, especially physical scientists, usually poo-poo the UFO ETH with a there’s ‘no evidence’ mantra. But such scientists leave themselves wide open to the double standard.
A prime example of how some scientists have their cake and eat it too is with respect to religion. There’s absolutely no evidence for any deity, yet many scientists have no trouble accepting on faith and having a belief in a deity (or deities) sight unseen by anyone and everyone. No one verifiable has seen the monotheistic deity and all the polytheistic deities are apparently, according to scholars, entirely mythological. Go figure. This essay could just as easily been constructed around a theme of ‘God: Show Me the Evidence!’
But there are valid cases within science of scientists not only ‘having their cake and eating it too’. Scientists need more than 20 fingers and toes to list all of the there-is-no-evidence-for- these-way-out-theories in science that ultimately had to wait years, decades, longer even for experimental confirmation. If scientists had put these in the too hard basket, or dismissed them with a ‘I just don’t believe it – it can’t be therefore it isn’t’ attitude, well we’d still all believe that the sun goes around the Earth, Black Holes would be confined to the pages of science fiction, and as for gravity bending electromagnetic radiation like light rays – forget it.
Now without meaning to accuse scientists of pure hypocrisy, there are lots of current concepts in science that have absolutely no evidence to support them, yet are taken quite seriously by physical scientists. A partial list would include concepts like the Multiverse (there are more than one universes within the overriding cosmos); the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum physics; particle physic’s string theory; the Higgs Boson; the possible existence of ten or eleven dimensions; the Ekpyrotic (two string theory [mem]branes colliding and accounting for the origin of the) Universe theory; and, shock-horror for those interested in SETI (that’s the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence), the total lack of any under-the-microscope, hardcore evidence whatsoever for any intelligent life forms other than intelligent terrestrial life forms. Yet it is acceptable for scientists to research these areas without being subject to having their sanity questioned. I fail to see why the UFO ETH is an exception to this. Even forget the UFO ETH – just the UFO phenomena full-stop is off-limits. Be that as it may, it is.
There are other case histories from the annals of science regarding ‘the nature of the evidence’ that have parallels with UFOs – physical phenomena that don’t stand still. You can’t poke and prod, put under the microscope, examine at your leisure and which are unpredictable in space and in time various phenomena. Ball lightning comes to mind; ditto Transient Lunar Phenomena (TLP); and you can’t rewind the clock and prepare for (instruments at the ready) and witness the one-off Tunguska event.
There seems to be a double standard for evidence here. UFOs have a ‘giggle factor’; ball lightning and TLP do not, yet both have theoretical underpinnings that make their existence plausible. In the case of UFOs, it’s the Fermi Paradox – that’s the ‘where are they, if they exist they should be here’ observation.
Nature of Evidence:
It is claimed by scientists and other UFO sceptics, with good scientific reason, that the whole issue of the UFO ETH must be judged on the basis of actual evidence. And, it is claimed, by those sceptics, that the evidence for alien visitation is so poor that very few scientists find it convincing, convincing enough to devote their time and energy into pursuing the matter. And that is true, at least the part that few scientists, publicly at least, find the UFO ETH more than somewhat lacking in solid evidence – the sort of evidence that can be laid down on a lab slab or at least put under a microscope. Since there’s no such evidence, the UFO ETH has garnered somewhat of an aura of being just a ‘silly season’ subject, unworthy of scientific study, though to be honest, I’d often like to survey academics / scientists for their private opinions!
I would ask the question whether by evidence one means a physical artefact that can be put under the microscope, or is human testimony, the sort that would convict someone of a crime and put them on death row enough evidence? I’m 99% convinced 99% of scientists would say the former, yet the evidence for the UFO ETH is 99% the latter (plus a few radar returns and films). Actually IMHO it is ludicrous for UFO ETH sceptics to poo-poo and give the thumbs down to eyewitness testimony. After all, it is accurate eyewitness testimony that enables the trained investigators to properly identify the vast majority of UFO reports, turning them into identified flying objects to the tune of around 95%. So, when sceptics need eyewitness testimony to be accurate and turn UFO cases into something with ordinary and mundane causes – that’s fine. But when the tables are turned, sceptics turn turncoat as well so as to re-enforce their already-minds-made-up point of view. That is, eyewitness testimony that turns a UFO sighting into an unexplained bona fide UFO case, even if only about 5% of the time, well then clearly the eyewitness testimony counts for nothing in terms of bona fide evidence.
I make one defense however for the UFO ETH since scientists counter that each of the threads that an extraterrestrial intelligence having been then or now on Earth are weak-in-the-knees when it comes to solid evidence? Roswell is weak; UFO abduction cases are weak; the UFO conspiracy or cover-up case is weak; UFO photographs and videos are weak; UFO radar cases are weak; the case for Erich von Daniken’s ancient astronauts is weak; the ghost rocket sightings (1946) are weak; contactee claims are especially weak; UFO eye-witness reports are unreliable, etc. But, put them (and much more besides) all together and like all good detective stories combine/integrate all the clues into one composite whole (after separating out the wheat from the chaff and eliminating the red herrings) then the whole is more than the sum of the parts. You get a fairly consistent pattern that emerges; not the radio signal patter-of-little-dots-and-dashes the SETI scientist wants but a nuts-and-bolts and a here-and-now pattern.
Now admittedly any one of a hundred different and independent threads might in itself be not all that convincing, but then all 100 or so threads are woven together – that’s a different duck of another color. It’s like if it looks like a duck – it may not be a duck. If it flies like a duck – it may not be a duck. If it walks like a duck – it may not be a duck. If it swims like a duck – it may not be a duck. If it quacks like a duck – it may not be a duck. But if it looks, flies, walks, swims and quacks like a duck – then it’s a duck!
The Actual Evidence
What’s the general evidence for UFOs and by extension the UFO ETH? Well, you have multi-tens of thousands of UFO sightings, probably six figures worth by now, many multi-witness sightings, more than a few multi-independent multi-witness sightings; sightings by people used to the outdoors and aerial phenomena (like pilots), films and photographs that have defied the best experts to explain them in conventional terms, radar returns, physical ground traces, physiological effects on biological tissues, including humans; often more than one of these categories applies per incident.
You have a global phenomena, where countries from Australia, the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, France, Russia, Mexico, etc. have devoted considerable resources to finding answers to what many see as a ‘silly season’ filler with a high ‘giggle’ factor. That makes little logical sense – the ‘giggle’ factor, not the official investigations. There are neither psychological, sociological or cultural reasons to explain the origin of UFOs in general, nor specific UFO reports. It’s all evidence, and grist for the mill. So, what part of the word ‘evidence’ don’t you understand? The crux of the matter is not lack of evidence; it is how that evidence is interpreted. So take the bona-fide UFO residue, that hardcore 5%. Now what is this residue and what happens if you apply Occam’s Razor to it? Well, maybe bona-fide UFOs are just ghosts, or angels, or the work of the devil, or some nation’s secret weapons, or craft from a terrestrial advanced civilization that inhabits our hollow Earth! Or, maybe the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) is the most plausible. I think Occam’s Razor would err on the side of the ETH when trying to come to terms with that hardcore unexplainable 5%.
Eyewitness and Evidence
Physical scientists won’t accept eyewitness accounts despite the double standards that entails in that if a physical scientist reports seeing something (like ball lightning or a ‘shooting star’, he or she expects to be believed. But not when it comes to UFOs.
Okay, so multi-tens of thousands of eyewitness accounts count for nothing, especially when many of those sightings were by trained observers, and multi-witness cases at that.
If eyewitnesses were the be-all-and-end all of the evidence, well that itself would be pretty suggestive IMHO. But eyewitness cases are often backed up by a radar tracking or ground traces or physiological effects or (electromagnetic) EM effects or motion pictures or still photographs. Radar, ground traces, EM effects also exist separate from eyewitnesses. UFOs are a global phenomenon that cuts across all age, sex, racial, cultural etc. boundaries. If UFOs were just the province of one country or region, or only witnessed by those with an IQ less than 90, well that would be suspect. But that’s not the case. UFOs have been taken seriously enough to be an official part of government programs from around the world, unlike say poltergeist events which aren’t part of official taxpayer-funded investigations. And expert military and scientific analysis can not explain, depending on where and time, between five and ten percent of all UFO reports. Just because 18 or 19 out of 20 UFO events are explainable in prosaic terms, doesn’t automatically translate into accepting that 20 out of 20 are.
Evidence versus Proof
What many of the UFO ETH skeptics or debunkers are confusing here is the concept of ‘evidence’ vs. the concept of ‘proof’. There are massive amounts of evidence for the UFO ETH as noted above. For example, I’d consider as part of legit evidence documents released under the FOI (Freedom of Information) Act that show that in 1947, the then Army Air Force (AAF) requested the FBI to assist in investigating ‘flying disc’ reports all as part of the developing Cold War hysteria at the time. The FBI (Hoover) responded that they would cooperate only if they were granted access to the “crashed discs”, something the AAF refused. While that’s evidence; it’s not proof. SETI has received one “WOW” signal – unverified. While that’s evidence; it’s not proof.
Sceptics would argue that the burden of proof that extraterrestrials are behind (at least some of) the UFO phenomena lies with the believers – those who claim such is the case. And that’ s true. But there’s another side to that coin. Sceptics need to look at what evidence is presented and not have a closed-mind-locked-away-in-a-closet attitude.
Lastly, something really needs to be said that there’s one set of standards of evidence for one set of phenomena, and another set of standards of evidence for other sets of phenomena. That is to say, if you want to be extraordinarily sceptical about some things, you claim you need extraordinary evidence to make you see the sceptical error of your ways!
There exists a phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”‘. I’ve seen that mantra in numerous books, articles, on the Internet, etc. I understand it originates from the late and great Carl Sagan. Were Dr. Sagan alive today I’d take my comments to him, but seeing as how he’s no longer available, this section of the essay will suffice instead.
Claims require evidence. That’s not in dispute. However, the word ‘extraordinary’ is in the mind of the beholder. What might be an extraordinary claim to you might not be an extraordinary claim to me, and vice versa. Murder is a more extraordinary crime than littering, yet the same evidence (say a security camera film) will convict in both cases. You don’t need twice the amount of evidence in a murder trial vis-à-vis being convicted of littering. So, claims, of any kind, require enough evidence to convince anyone with an open mind – no more; no less.
If I, one of the vast majority of laymen, were to make a claim that the double slit experiment beloved in quantum physics provides evidence for the existence of parallel universes, or that a positron (an anti-electron) was actually nothing more than an electron going backwards in time, that would be extraordinary. If a professional scientist, a physicist, were to make those same claims, it’s not extraordinary presumably because physicists know what they are talking about. Yet it’s the same set of claims. They can’t be both extraordinary and ordinary at the same time!
Many of the greatest and now accepted parts of science started out as an extraordinary claim – like quantum mechanics or relativity theory or the fact that the Earth goes around the Sun. But did these claims really need extraordinary (like double the experimental) evidence vis-à-vis other claims that are now equally parts of the accepted science we find in the textbooks? For open-minded people, especially scientists, such claims probably did not require extraordinary evidence. And how in fact do you quantify extraordinary over ordinary evidence? Is twice as much extraordinary or three times or ten times? If someone is really a true-blue skeptic, it might not make the slightest difference, they would always demand more. No amount of evidence is extraordinary enough for them.
Few scientists now dispute the (initially extraordinary) claim of the reality of ball lightning, yet not only is it far rarer than UFO sightings, it has less of a theoretical underpinning than the proposal that some UFOs have an extraterrestrial intelligence behind them. Ball lightning hasn’t been put under a laboratory microscope any more than UFOs have. There are lots of parallels between ball lightning and UFOs for the sociologists of science to ponder. Yet one has credibility, one doesn’t. Why? It makes relatively little sense.
It is said, and there is truth in this, that science and scientists do not have the time and resources to investigate every claim ever made about the natural world. There must be some ways and means of distinguishing reasonable from unreasonable (i.e. – extraordinary) claims. While I don’t have an easy answer to that – though I’ll give one immediately below – I’ll just initially observe that there’s been a lot of seemingly reasonable claims that are now only footnotes in the history of science, and a fair few unreasonable claims that are now part of the bedrock on which our sciences, technology and civilization rests.
However, instead of ordinary vs. extraordinary distinctions, I’d suggest important vs. relatively unimportant claims. Lots of claims, whether proven or unproven, aren’t going to set the world on fire. Others have the potential to make for paradigm shifts in our understanding of the world and the cosmos. The equation UFOs = evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence is such an example. The claim needs to be investigated, yet not requiring massive more investigations than any other sort of scientific puzzle would require.
So, we desire evidence for the extraterrestrial nature of UFOs, not extraordinary evidence since that word ‘extraordinary’ has too much philosophical baggage attached to be meaningful.
To sum up this section, that ultra overused phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is nonsense. Claims of course require evidence, but the word ‘extraordinary’ is in the mind of the beholder. What’s extraordinary to one is routine, boring, commonplace and downright bloody obvious to another. And speaking of the common phrase, another one is ‘absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence’, or in this context, absence of evidence for the UFO ETH (which I dispute) is not the same thing as evidence of absence of the UFO related alien here on Earth.
Summary & Conclusions
UFOs vs. evidence for the UFO ETH – there is no absolute smoking gun – yet. I’d be the first to acknowledge that. I’d suggest however that this is a case of where there’s smoke, there’s smoke. The fire has yet to be seen through the smoke. There however has got to be something suggestive about the nature of that smoke to drive lots of people, even some quite intelligent people, to accept the possibility, some say probability, of the UFO ETH. I mean the idea just didn’t pop out of the ether – out of thin air. Something very suggestive is driving it.
But there is a reason. There’s more than enough eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that would satisfy any court of law; any judge; any jury in just about any other set of circumstances to render a verdict of guilty. But the UFO ETH can not yet be rendered guilty, because though there’s not yet to date that smoking gun. There’s lots of evidence – no proof. There’s no absolute under-the-microscope, on the lab’s slab, proof positive of the UFO ETH. If any UFO ETH buff says they have proof, skeptics should tell them to ‘put up or shut up’. If however they say they have evidence in favor of the UFO ETH, ask them politely what it is.
Science librarian; retired.