Skeptic - One who practices the method of suspended judgment, engages in rational and dispassionate reasoning as exemplified by the scientific method, shows willingness to consider alternative explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and who seeks out evidence and carefully scrutinizes its validity.
The above definition of ‘skeptic’ comes from astronomer and astrophysicist Bernard Haisch. This is in opposition to ‘hard’ skepticism or what sociologist Marcello Truzzi calls ‘psuedo-skepticism,’ which is simply an unwillingness to even consider the reality of a controversial subject like UFO’s.
I’ve got to admit that I’ve been in the ‘hard’ skeptic class most of my adult life. I’ve had to modify that skepticism recently, in the face of recent developments. I need to point out, before anyone labels this as ‘woo,’ that I’m still a ‘skeptic’ using the definition listed above; not a true believer, and I’ve never seen anything in the sky I couldn’t identify.
Unmitigated Flippin’ ‘Orrors
Supposedly, the Royal Australian Air Force refers to UFOs as ‘Unmitigated Flippin’ Orrors.’ (Horrors), apparently expressing their frustration that the Damned Things just won’t go away! A lot of people wish the whole phenomenon would just go away – the U.S. Air Force, government in general, hard core ‘skeptics, and debunkers like James Oberg (Col. USAF, ret). But the Damned Things just won’t go away; actually there’s a renewed interest in the subject due to:
You Might be a Redneck, But........
Jeff Foxworthy jokes that “You might be a redneck if the UFO hotline limits you to 3 calls a day;” but, rednecks in trailer parks aren’t the only people reporting UFOs. The list includes:
Add to that list police officers, and respected military and commercial pilots.
OK, What About the Book?
The UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record is authored by independent investigative journalist Leslie Kean. Ms Kean has submitted articles to. Some of these are: Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Providence Journal, International Herald Tribune, Globe and Mail, Sydney Morning Herald, Bangkok Post and The Nation, as well news services like: Knight Ridder/Tribune, Scripps-Howard, New York Times wire service, Pacific News Service, and the National Publishers Association. So, why would an author who spent decades building up a reputation as a reliable journalist risk that reputation by taking on a subject as ill-regarded as Unidentified Flying Objects?
It started when a “colleague in Paris” sent her a copy of the COMETA report, a White Paper detailing research by thirteen noted French military officers and scientists. The COMETA report treated the subject of UFOs seriously and maintained that the best hypothesis for their origin was “the extraterrestrial hypothesis,’ i.e. that the objects originated beyond the Earth. The copy mailed to Ms. Kean was the first English copy of the report.
At first, Ms. Kean kept her growing interest in the UFO phenomenon a secret from her fellow co-workers at the radio station where she was working:
”I knew that I was exploring something most journalists considered ridiculous, or titillating at best; but otherwise irrelevant to the life-and-death struggles of human beings, issues that should be the focus of any responsible progressive reporter. As the months passed and I became increasingly concerned about keeping my expanding interest quiet while producing and hosting a daily investigative news show, I began to feel as if I were covering up something shameful and forbidden, like the use of an illegal drug. In retrospect, the intensity of my worry and insecurity was overblown; but, the taboo regarding UFOs had power over me, and it took a while before I felt armed with enough facts and insight to handle the attitudes of those I worked with so compatibly in every other respect.”
Ten years of those ‘facts and insights’ went into her book. Some of the people Ms. Kean interviewed contributed to the book, including:
Ms. Kean has of course, received a great deal of media attention including interviews on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Show, The Colbert Report, Fox News and many other media outlets. Her book has received favorable comments from people as varied as Miles O’Brien, former CNN science correspondent, Dr. Rudy Schild of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Dr. Michio Kaku, host of the Science Channel’s Sci-Fi Science and professor of physics at City College of New York City.
As you might expect, she’s come in for a great deal of criticism from professional ‘debunkers’ like James Oberg, Col. USAF Ret, now a space analyst for MSNBC. Ms. Kean answered Col.. Oberg’s criticism in another MSNBC Online article.
My Own Story and Conflict
Since the late ‘70s, I have been involved with various pro-space organizations, starting with The L5 Society. I even organized a chapter of L5 in Tulsa, OK and frequently attended annual International Space Development Conferences. The general tendency by the public to conflate UFOs and anything space related was a constant source of irritation; it’s like starting an astronomy club and having people show up asking you to do their horoscope.
The media were even worse! In the early ‘80s, KOTV, a Tulsa TV channel did an interview: “Two members of the Tulsa L5 Society here to talk about UFOs.” OK, fact: neither of the two was a member of Tulsa L5. One of the individuals had attended a meeting and – fortunately – never showed up again. By the way, this was one of the events that formed my ever-growing contempt for the “mainstream media.”
More facts: most members of L5 and the later National Space Society are skeptics on the subject of UFOs, at least the people I talked to at ISDCs were. The aforementioned James Oberg, a noted ‘debunker’ of UFO sightings, was on the Board of Governors of the L5 Society,.
Here’s were the conflict, cognitive dissonance, call what you will, comes in. If you’ve done any reading on SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, you know that SETI focuses on searching for radio, or coherent light (laser) signals from extra-terrestrial sources. The great majority of SETI researchers, like Dr. Seth Shostak, simply reject UFO sightings out of hand. The reasoning goes: “Interstellar travel is impossible, or at least incredibly difficult, and the speed of light is an ultimate limiting factor, so it’s impossible for aliens to be here.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum are many of my former colleagues in the pro-space movement; most of who assume that interstellar travel is possible, at least at ‘sublight’ speeds. Most of these people are still very skeptical about UFOs being extra-terrestrial; they tend to cite the Fermi Paradox.
This arose from a conversation that physicist Enrico Fermi had in 1950, with his colleagues: Edward Teller, Emil Konopinski, and Herbert York. Fermi proposed that, if another technological civilization arose in the galaxy, and if they were capable of space travel at even 1% of the speed of light, they should be able to colonize the entire galaxy within a finite time, perhaps a few million years.
There are a number of suggested solutions to the Fermi Paradox. Frequently, the assumption is that we may be the only technological civilization in the galaxy, or even the whole universe. Quite a few astrobiologists make the assumption that simple, unicellular life may be very common; but, life rarely evolves up to creatures ready to join the large brain – opposable thumbs – camera eye club.
Another grim possibility is that the life of technological cultures is relatively short; this is usually referred to as “The Great Filter” hypothesis. Honestly, the jury is still out on the intelligent species on this planet.
And of course, the people citing Fermi’s Paradox simply dismiss UFOs.
OK Gang, Here’s Where It Gets Really, Really Interesting
I got to meet and hear some really interesting people at International Space Development Conferences. At the ’98 ISDC, I sat in on a talk by Marc Millis, formerly head of NASA’s Breakthrough Physics Program. The talk, titled “Warp Drive When” dealt with possibilities for actually achieving Faster-Than-Light (FTL) speeds.
Believe it or not, NASA actually funded studies of FTL. Actually, this was a small office at the NASA Glenn Research Center located in Cleveland, OH, which received relatively little funding, about $1.6 M. The output of the program was a series of 16 peer-reviewed papers published in respected physics journals. Funding was withdrawn in 2008, with the emphasis on returning to the moon.
Marc Millis is now involved with the Tau Zero Foundation, which continues much of the research he did at NASA Glenn.
OK, let’s review: In one corner, we have the SETI community which says, in short: “It’s impossible for aliens to be here, so they aren’t here.” On the other hand, we have a group that says: “If they exist, they should be here; but, they aren’t so they don’t exist.” See the contradiction? Examining all this, isn’t at least more intellectually consistent to at least take another look at the UFO evidence?
Actually, that’s all Leslie Kean is asking for. She wants a small, dedicated agency to do objective, scientific study of UFO reports. That agency could be under NASA or the FAA (Since UFOs can be a possible hazard for aviation.). France has had such an agency for years GEIPAN (Study and Information Group on Aerospace Unidentified Phenomenon), which operates under the French national space agency, CNES.
Klaatu Barada Niktu, of course, refers to the 1951 film: The Day the Earth Stood Still. The theme of the original movie was an alien ambassador, played by the late Michael Rennie, coming to Earth to warn humans to change their warlike ways. A lot of people have expectations of an alien contact, and that the aliens will solve our problems for us, or at least tell us “Get it together, Apes, before you destroy yourselves.”
Some SETI researchers have similar hopes. The late Dr. Carl Sagan hypothesized that the first signals from life elsewhere would be a marker, leading us to an “Encyclopedia Galactica.” containing the gathered wisdom of all sentient races in the galaxy.
I really wouldn’t count on it. Dr. Michio Kaku among others, has stated that they may not be all that interested in us, other than just observing us. One possible outcome of all UFO studies may be the conclusion that, yes, they probably are extra-terrestrial; but, with still no real contact.
Then again, maybe we are being prepared for first contact. The famed incident at Malmstrom AFB in 1967 where nuclear missiles went ‘offline’ while UFOs were in the vicinity may indicate they do take an interest in human affairs.
The point is that waiting for an alien ‘Big Daddy’ to come down and solve all of our problems for us puts us in the same boat as the ‘rapture-ready’ fundamentalists. It takes attention away from our own attempts to solve our problems.
Contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, whether by radio, laser, robot probe or UFO landing will of course, change us forever. Professor Allen Tough of the University of Toronto has addressed the issue of What Role Will Intelligent Life in the Universe Play in Our Future. In the linked article, he addresses possible issues of hostility or benevolence, non-interference or assistance, and what types of assistance they might offer.
What If I See a UFO?
It really would not be a good idea to call your local police or the media. Definitely NOT the media; you will risk your reputation and career. There are organizations set up to handle UFO reports. If you’re a pilot or other aviation professional, the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomenon has online reporting forms you can use. For the general public, fill out |online Report Form at the National UFO Reporting Center website.
Leslie Kean has another website: The Coalition for Freedom of Information, which provides additional resources for those wanting to do a serious study of UFOs. After all this, Ms. Kean still styles herself as an agnostic on the subject, meaning she has not made up her mind one way or the other, while remaining open to all new evidence. That comes close to the definition of Skeptic at the beginning of this article. I also think of myself as an agnostic on the subject; I’m more open than I was, although I still want more evidence. I suggest that everyone approach any UFO claims with an open mind, balanced with a healthy skepticism and a sense of humor – which is a good way to approach any subject.
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