Listener Feedback: Aliens and UFOs
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.
Alien Men in Black
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:
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?
Government Intimidation of UFO Witnesses?
Eric from Illinois responded to another aspect of the story:
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.
The 1976 Iranian UFO
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:
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.
Are There Aliens Out There?
In the episode Are We Alone? I mentioned that most astrobiologists believe there is certainly life out there somewhere. An anonymous correspondent said:
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.
Open vs. Closed Minds
Rodney from Melbourne made a similar comment in response to my episode on the Westall 1966 UFO:
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?
Science as an Arrogant Religion
Dezi from Freeman was similarly dismayed with that episode, and wrote:
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 website, where there's often plenty of lively discussion. Contrary to appearances, it's not all insults thrown at me.
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