Listener Feedback: Aliens and UFOs

Skeptoid digs into the feedback mailbag and answers questions about aliens and UFOs.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Aliens & UFOs, Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid #358
April 16, 2013
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

Today we're going to dip into the Skeptoid mail bag and answer some emails specifically pertaining to episodes about UFOs and aliens. A lot of people who believe that UFOs are most likely alien visitors take their belief very seriously, and I always get quite a lot of hostile feedback when I don't confirm that belief for them. But many of their arguments are well worth discussing, so I've collected a few representative emails to answer today.

David from St. Albans wrote in response to the episode on Men in Black, in which I pointed out that the phenomenon of intimidating government agents originates not from actual witness reports, but from a 1950s fiction author:

it is a pity that this whole article dismisses the men in black syndrome, by citing literally one example of the phenomenon. There are accounts from different countries. The MIBs are undoubtedly alien in origin. The weirdness seems to be part of their game... The aim of the sceptic is to ridicule witnesses, because he cannot countenance something that he cannot understand.

I gave four specific witness reports and cited a number of books and articles giving many more, so I can't agree with David that I cited "literally one example". I also can't agree that there was anything at all in the episode that could be reasonably construed as ridiculing anyone.

But David's main point is that the Men in Black are "undoubtedly alien", based on their weirdness, the number of witness reports, and their nature of being hard to understand. In order to make a positive identification of an alien based on the characteristics of the evidence, we'd logically have to have a known alien to compare it with. Lots of things are weird, widely reported, and hard to understand: lucid dreaming, Elvis sightings, odd coincidences. David's stated characteristics don't make any of those things alien. I don't understand Mongolians and I find some of their traditions weird; is the best explanation that they're from another planet?

Eric from Illinois responded to another aspect of the story:

The fact is while the stereotypical MIB may be a figment of hollywood and those with overactive imaginations, the govt DOES intimidate, threaten and overall try to silence anyone who wont follow the govt line. Here are some well documented cases. The rancher who reported the debris in the rosewell case. The radio reporter in the ketchburg PA case along with firefighters and general public.

I'm extremely familiar with the case of William "Mac" Brazel, the rancher who found the initial debris at Roswell, and I'm absolutely confident that he never expressed having been threatened, intimidated, or even approached in any way. However, there were stories that he spent a few days in Army custody, but those stories did not exist until they were "remembered" some 50 years later in a third-hand account by UFO proponents interviewed for a 2001 book.

The Kecksburg UFO case has to do with the US Air Force being on the lookout for the late December 1965 re-entry of a Soviet probe called Kosmos-96, which was intended to land on Venus. The launch failed and the probe never got further than a low Earth orbit, and when a bright meteor was seen all across Pennsylvania, Air Force personnel descended onto the scene. Their habit in the day was to dress in civilian clothes and claim to be from NASA. One reporter, John Murphy, later produced a dramatized radio documentary about the incident, saying that the government had confiscated all the best evidence.

Besides these two accounts which clearly don't support Eric's case, I'm unaware of any credible stories of the government threatening or intimidating UFO witnesses. If you have some, send them my way.

Another case involved a UFO that was chased by a couple of Iranian F-4 Phantoms in 1976. Clark from Indiana questioned one part of the story from one of the pilots:

I'm an amateur astronomer, and I can tell you from experience that planetary light does not behave like that. Even closer to the horizon, where stars tend to have maximum "twinkle," planetary light tends to remain steady. In all my years observing Jupiter, I've never seen it display the kind of color-changing behavior that was observed by that F-4 pilot. I'd be very interested to hear Brian tackle THAT part of the story. I'm not saying that there was an alien spacecraft cruising over Tehran that night, but UFO stands for "Unidentified Flying Object," and that seems to be exactly what we are dealing with here...not an unusually phosphorescent Jupiter and a relatively minor period of meteor showers.

Actually we did talk about that part of the story. The pilot, Lt. Parviz Jafari, had actually never flown at night before — ever. We have a popular account that his description of the light he was sent up to investigate was a strobe light that flashed colors so fast you could see them all at once. This was a second-hand description that the Iranian officers provided to a US Air Force section chief as a courtesy, which was not considered interesting and was never classified. It's of very little value to take what's now a third-hand report, which was filtered through the Iranian military, and treat it as a precise literal account that demands explanation. There's no video, no data, nothing that can be studied. So there's nothing there worth "tackling", as Clark said.

In the episode Are We Alone? I mentioned that most astrobiologists believe there is certainly life out there somewhere. An anonymous correspondent said:

I wanted to listen to this one just to hear the ridiculous excuses and disinfo propaganda Dunning came up with to tell me that we're the only creatures in the Universe, but as soon as I heard this: "Most astrobiologists think so. The physicist Enrico Fermi..." I had to stop. So now he's going to fully acknowledge that MAINSTREAM SCIENTISTS that he so worships say it's possible, and then go on to tell me there's no aliens? You skeptics take brainwashing to a whole new level. This is absolutely ORWELLIAN.

This person is simply wrong. At no point did I say there are no aliens, nor do I believe it. I said there's no compelling evidence that we've been visited by any, but that's an entirely different question.

Rodney from Melbourne made a similar comment in response to my episode on the Westall 1966 UFO:

Since my UFO encounter in 1971, I have experienced occasional ridicule when relating my story to others. Most people are open to the possibility of aliens visiting & others, like many of your readers, are totally dismissive. I cannot convince somebody with a closed mind. All I can do is relate my experience & ask that people keep an open mind to the possibility. You are doing yourself an intellectural injustice by dismissing every report of UFO's as nonsense.

I've never said every UFO report is nonsense, and don't believe it. So, again, argue against what I said, not what you'd like me to think.

Rodney brings up the age-old question of open-mindedness vs. closed-mindedness. No evidence exists that we've ever been visited by aliens, nor is it very likely that we could be, given physics. Open-mindedness is being willing to change your mind based on the evidence; and insisting upon the preferred explanation of "aliens" regardless of evidence is textbook closed-mindedness. I'm eager to see evidence of aliens and would love to have sufficient reason to change my mind. Would you?

Dezi from Freeman was similarly dismayed with that episode, and wrote:

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

This skeptic article states.."I don't know" does not mean "I do know, and it was a spaceship". That also applies to skeptics who must admit that they too "dont know" and that doesn't mean they do know and therefore cannot say that it WASN'T an spaceship. Skepticism is like a blind religion that "believes" blindly the negative of everything and just rationalises evidence away and comes up with theories that are just as bizzare as anyone elses and then pretends those theories are facts. That is largely close minded arrogance.

Dezi is absolutely right that "I don't know" means neither "I do know, and it was a spaceship" nor "I do know, and it was NOT a spaceship". Like previous writers, she puts words in my mouth that I didn't say. In fact, the rest of my sentence that Dezi omitted went on to say that this case "remains one of many question marks in the books." That's hardly a positive assertion that it was not a spaceship.

Without evidence of what the Westall 1966 UFO was, it would be impossible to determine that it was not a spaceship. It's impossible to come to any conclusion without having anything to analyze. The best we can do in a case like this one is to find probable matches among phenomena whose characteristics and properties seem to match what was reported. We've never seen something known to be an alien spaceship, so we don't know what characteristics and properties one might have; therefore, it cannot now be logical to make a probable match to one. It is not closed-minded to follow a logical method to seek answers. However, it's arguable that it is closed-minded to hold logical conclusions in contempt in favor of a preferred conclusion.

Keep the feedback coming. I always welcome comments to the episode transcripts on the web site, where there's often plenty of lively discussion. Contrary to appearances, it's not all insults thrown at me.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Editors. "Object Perhaps Balloon." The Age. 7 Apr. 1966, Newspaper: 6.

Klass, P. UFOs: The Public Deceived. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1983. 111-124.

Matson, J. "Alien Census: Can We Estimate How Much Life Is Out There?" Scientific American. 10 Feb. 2009, Volume 301, Number 2.

Muller, Richard. "Chapter 7." Physics for Future Presidents. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 7 Sep. 2007. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <http://muller.lbl.gov/teaching/Physics10/PffP_textbook/PffP-07-waves-5-27.htm>

Oberg, J. "http://www.jamesoberg.com/statement_nasa_kecksburg.pdf." JamesOberg.com. James Oberg, 7 Jan. 2008. Web. 4 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jamesoberg.com/statement_nasa_kecksburg.pdf>

Sherwood, J. "Gray Barker: My Friend, the Myth-Maker." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Jan. 1998, Volume 22, Number 3: 37-39.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback: Aliens and UFOs." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 16 Apr 2013. Web. 20 Sep 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4358>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 64 comments

It's not overwhelming at all, because it's not even true.

And constantly repeating such a statement in Skeptoid that science has predated modern humans by about 2 million years doesn't make it any more true.

If science is simply the study of nature, as the above poster asserts, then any "woo" definition of nature is also allowable as a bona fide explanation of a natural process or event, PROVIDING IT WORKS, not necessarily one that requires modern science.

In fact, "woo" explanations for natural processes and events predate modern science by thousands of years, and have worked well in the past to bring mankind to where he is today, as large institutions like churches and religions, political systems with their slogans, philosophies etc, prove.

Science is a self-expanding-generating material system of enquiry/production that in some minds has gained a religiosity of an unalterable ideology, despite it being a process, not a fixed institution.

It is also evident that some posters to Skeptoid exhibit their ideological bias by refusing to entertain any possibility of anything existing that isn't proven by science, despite evidence within science itself that the scientific process does not always explain everything.

Science, in fact, does not know everything.

It is a process constructed from mankind's Mind, not some primordial truth stumbled on by accident or design.

Much of Mankind's Mind will still cling to "woo" definitions of reality, for better or worse.

Macky, Auckland
November 9, 2013 8:41pm

nick cox (I found your comment interesting) - we have indeed discovered forms of life in extraordinarily harsh and disordered environments, which have stretched biology's concepts of habitability; what we have not found is any form of life that does not derive from one sole origin. My point remains: if the Universe is teeming with life, and producing it is as easy as throwing a bundle of proteins and chemicals together, why has it only ever - to our knowledge - happened once? If you throw a hundred tons of sausages into a generator and pass illoions of volts through them, and wait a squillion years - you still won't get a living, walking, snuffling pig.
I have the courage to believe that we may well be alone in a Universe that disdains the mad, irrational experiment of 'life'.

Rob Horne, Colombo, SL
November 16, 2013 2:47pm

I don't follow your point Rob.

" My point remains: if the Universe is teeming with life, and producing it is as easy as throwing a bundle of proteins and chemicals together, why has it only ever - to our knowledge - happened once? "

Our knowledge of extra-terrestrial life is constrained by sheer distance, even in our own galaxy. And it's not as easy as throwing a bundle of proteins and chemicals together, to make life, otherwise our scientists would probably already have done it decades ago.

Nevertheless, certain conditions on Earth combined to produced life, and just as importantly, those conditions continue to support life.

At the last, whether one is a creationist or supports the Big Bang theory, all life came from a single source universally, and with the limited number of elements, but the billions of galaxies with billions of stars each, and an uncountable number of planets, the idea that life only happened once (collectively) on one planet, could be taken as support for the Creationists, that God selected only this little astro- island to create life, and Mankind with it, perhaps reflecting a step back to the old geocentric view of the cosmos.

Either way, I have trouble with the view that life is a mad irrational experiment, unless this Earth is in fact a laboratory overseen by a more advanced life-form(s), as we ourselves oversee animal experiments etc.

Macky, Auckland
December 25, 2013 9:46pm

Love the comments both pro and con as much as the article . A million thumbs up Mr. Dunning.

Keith, Rocky hill,CT,USA
January 1, 2014 9:36pm

Firstly, I very much enjoy this show. Thank you for your time and efforts, Mr. Dunning. The listener comment/rant about the "Brainwashing" practiced by skeptics sounds like a line out of a Stanton Friedman speech or a selection from one of his texts. It rings with the sort of paranoiac ignorance he promotes and to which he so viciously adheres.

Vadig, Not-So-Dreamland
January 9, 2014 2:06pm

The expression of science resembling a fixed institution by some posters becomes evident when subjects such as aliens, and their possible existence throughout the universe, arises for discussion.

There is no reason to believe that there are no other forms of life and/or civilizations, just because science hasn't detected any.

Given that science itself is a progressive system, there may well be civilizations a thousand years ahead of us in their science, and given the rapid pace our sciences have progressed in even a hundred years, a thousand years is a very long time to be ahead of us.

Said civilizations may well have solved the problem of travelling around the galaxy, if not the universe, and if they are so advanced in that area, there is also no reason to doubt that they may already be here, or have been in comparatively recent times.

Such an advanced technology, coupled perhaps with generations of their evolution may well have given them the ability to hide themselves from us, perhaps in plain sight.

While the sighting of a UFO certainly does not automatically prove an alien ship, there are an ever-growing number of unexplained observations and "visitations" that are simply undefinable by any scientific analysis.

Given the enormous number of stars in our galaxy alone, it is far more probable that there are alien civilizations, than not.

Many may be well in advance of ours.

In this regard, our current scientific knowledge is very limited.

Macky, Auckland
February 13, 2014 11:43pm

it appears that there is no 1 skeptiod episode on animal mutations by aliens. so I have chosen this thread to share the events in my house tonight. I am watching a show discussing UFO's, aliens and live stock mutilations. I went up stairs where 2 of my teenage daughters (I have 4 in total, lucky me) are sitting and chatting. I inform them that I am planning on building a spaceship anf travel millions of light years into space and find a planet with life on it. land on the planet and mutilate their live stock, they booth looked at me and said "why in the hell would you do that" my reply was 'exactly'.
who said teenagers were dumb.
thank you for your time, yes I know I could have made it a FB status but where is the fun in that

Bubba, Gorokan the place to be ,OZ
February 23, 2014 3:08am

From a human point of view Bubba, quite a sensible story.

But why should human reasoning and the limits of its knowledge apply to an alien race that was presumably capable of travelling the vast distances between our/their home planets, arriving on Earth in one piece, and engaging in said livestock mutilations ?

If the story is true of alien mutilation of our livestock (and I'm not saying it is), why should human reasoning apply to what aliens may or may not do ?

After all, their thought processes may be so incomprehensible to humans that they are truly "alien" in all aspects.

In addition, cattle may be just the right animal that has a vital ingredient for their survival, and which we have no inkling about whatsoever.

Macky, Auckland
February 27, 2014 5:03pm

"The expression of science resembling a fixed institution by some posters becomes evident when subjects such as aliens, and their possible existence throughout the universe, arises for discussion."

I think the problem arises that this is not a scientific discussion. There is no evidence that there is alien life. There is no evidence there isn't either. Its an open ended question.

vvvvv, NYC
March 20, 2014 5:53pm

"I think the problem arises that this is not a scientific discussion. There is no evidence that there is alien life. There is no evidence there isn't either. Its an open ended question."

Exactly.

Macky, Auckland
May 16, 2014 9:49pm

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