UFOs: If 19 Out Of 20, Therefore 20 Out Of 20
The fact is, as most UFO sceptics readily acknowledge, between 5 and 10 percent of all reported UFO incidents remain unidentified after investigation by those qualified to do so. This fact apparently excites the scientific, astrobiology, and SETI communities not one jot. Now I would maintain that a 5 to 10% level of hardcore UFO unknowns, over six decades on, worldwide, is a major scientific anomaly. It amounts to at least several thousand unexplained UFO incidents. I was under the impression that it was the role and duty of scientists to research the unknown, but apparently not when it comes to this subject.
On the 26th and 27th of December 1969, the American Association for the Advancement of Science held a symposium on UFOs. The papers were edited by Carl Sagan and Thorton Page and published by Cornell University Press. One of the contributors was the late James E. McDonald*, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Arizona. McDonald’s basic theme was to send a rocket up the proverbial butts of the overall scientific community for their near neglect of what he (and many laypeople) consider to be one of the top scientific anomalies of the 20th Century (and now of the 21st as well) – Unidentified Flying Objects.
Unfortunately, Dr. McDonald must surely be turning over in his grave because nothing has really changed since he presented that paper. Scientists and UFOs tend to party together in much the same way as oil and water mix.
Now any scientist with an open mind, albeit even a skeptical mind, has to acknowledge that between five and ten percent of all UFO reports remain bona fide UFO reports after investigation and analysis by those qualified to do so. Let’s make life simple and say the bona fide UFO unknown rate is 5% (or 19 out of 20). Let’s call these the hardcore UFOs – the residue that has been sifted out from the larger picture. Now is the hardcore UFO glass 95% empty and evaporating (if 19 out of 20 of UFOs are explainable, then 20 out of 20 are) or is the hardcore UFO glass 5% full (if 19 out of 20 are explainable, then it’s just 19 out of 20 that’s been explained, full stop)?
One of the main scientific arguments against UFOs being of any scientific interest is that if the substantial majority of UFO reports can be adequately explained (95%) then surely all could be if there was only sufficient information. Well, the USAF (as a typical government agency that was responsible for solving UFO sightings) had a category for ‘insufficient information’, as well as ‘possible’ this or ‘probable’ that. They also had a separate and apart category for ‘unknowns’. That is to say, they had sufficient information regarding a UFO sighting but hadn’t a clue as to what the object(s) were. That’s why they were tagged as ‘unknowns’. And that amounted to roughly five percent of all UFO sightings.
Okay, 19 out of 20 UFO reports prove to have prosaic explanations. Therefore the twentieth one has one as well. Sorry, the logic just isn’t there. The first and most obvious argument is that the 20th UFO sighting has been singled out as being different because it is different. It’s like having one green apple in a basket of 19 red apples. If all you see on the surface are red apples, that don’t mean there’s not a green apple buried below, yet that’s what those who should know better conclude. Yet in reality you can’t conclude anything about the color of the apples out of sight in the apple basket until such time as you investigate and examine the color of all the apples present.
Other examples where 19 out of 20 don’t equate of necessity to 20 out of 20: If you recover from the flu nineteen times in a row, that doesn’t mean you’ll recover the twentieth time. If the N.Y. Yankees will nineteen baseball games in a row, that doesn’t mean they’ll win number twenty. If you toss a coin and it lands heads nineteen times in a row, that’s no reason to believe the twentieth toss will be heads. Taking an example from real science, if 193 species of primates have fur, surely the 194th will have fur too. Alas, we’re the 194th – “The Naked Ape”.
Here’s a bit of an experiment that helps demonstrate that the 20th case can be the odd one out. Say you want to find out if relatively nonporous solid objects sink in fresh water. So you have a large bucket of fresh water, and into that bucket you toss an ordinary coin; a lump of glass; a lump of coal; a rock; a plastic comb; a brick; a lump of gold; a diamond; a china plate; a ball bearing; some copper wire; a piece of bone; a bit of cloth; a bowling ball; a CD; some lead shot; an aluminum ingot; a large salt crystal and a clam shell. That’s 19 items – they all sink, therefore you conclude that the next solid item you toss in will also sink – an ice cube. Oops; it’s back to the drawing board.
Of course the reluctance of scientists to come to terms with the bona fide UFO hardcore is really an issue central to the sociology of science. In particular, the negative findings of the University of Colorado (Condon Committee) report (1968) have been cited as a decisive factor in the generally low level of interest in UFO activity among academics since that time. That’s despite the fact that that report couldn’t adequately explain 30% of the UFO cases it investigated. Despite that historical anomaly, UFOs for better or worse acquaint to aliens and the ETH (extraterrestrial hypothesis). There’s something about aliens that translates into little green (or gray) men, fodder for the tabloids that has an overall aura as a ‘silly season’ filler when there’s no real news around. That’s not the sort of fodder scientists like to feed on.
But these UFO unknowns don’t have to be of necessity something that equates to alien intelligence therefore the UFO ETH.
Okay, maybe the hardcore UFOs are time travellers from our future – that’s one alternative. But then hardcore UFO unknowns aren’t clustered around significant historical events that would be must sees – the bread-and-butter of that time travel industry – to tourists and historians from our future.
An early UFO ETH theory was that UFOs were actual living but non-intelligent organisms that lived in outer space but now and again would dip into our atmosphere. No biologist could actually explain how such creatures could survive, far less thrive, in the harsh conditions of outer space. So, fluffy critters from outer space without benefit of a spaceship aren’t a likely option.
Some suggest that the hardcore represent some sort of totally new natural phenomena, except there’s no even theoretical underpinning for new natural phenomena, and after six decades, well that’s a total failure to come to terms with an easy way out of the hardcore mess. However, natural phenomena wouldn’t exhibit intelligent behaviour in any event, which the hardcore UFOs do. That’s why they often tend to be the hardcore. Yet, still there’s this observation about one UFO case studied by the University of Colorado under government contract to the USAF, headed by Dr. Edward Condon. The Condon Report, as it became known had this to say: “…this unusual sighting should therefore be assigned to the category of some almost certainly natural phenomenon, which is so rare that it apparently has never been reported before or since.” You’d think that would whet the appetite of any scientist eager to make a major discovery that leads to the road to Stockholm (and a Nobel Prize). Apparently that’s just not the case. Hardcore UFO sightings, even as an apparent natural phenomenon are taboo.
Regardless, ET, space critters, time travellers, unknown natural phenomena, whatever, scientists cannot claim the hardcore UFO issue settled while those unknowns remain. They are derelict in their duty by ignoring them, hoping they’ll just ‘go away’. It’s not good enough for scientists to say ‘if 19 out of 20, therefore 20 out of 20, and go on their merry way washing their hands of the otherwise reality that that logic is faulty. They need to prove that assertion, not ignore it. Translated, they’ve got to put up or shut up.
Some might claim that it’s the alleged nature of the unknowns as claimed by the believers that puts the onus on them to prove their case. That would be so if they claimed the hardcore UFO unknowns were proof that UFOs were piloted by ET. However, while a few sprout that line (and if they do they should put up or shut up), a majority of pro-UFO people, believers if you will, just point to the unknowns as evidence (not proof – evidence and proof are two different things) that supports the UFO ETH. Unfortunately, if the UFO ETH is really true, proof of that tends to be out of the hands of the believers since if ET doesn’t want to be caught out, he/she/it won’t be – that’s the advantage of having advanced intelligence. You outsmart lesser intelligence. So the lesser intelligence needs the cooperation (or an unintended slipup – Roswell?) of the greater alien intelligence, and we’re not getting it. Of course if there is really no ET associated with the hardcore UFO residue, then that explains that.
But nearly all UFO believers just really believe that there’s a case to be answered for that lone 20th hardcore UFO event, regardless of what the explanation turns out to be. And the best people to find out that explanation(s) are scientists, yet scientists ignore the challenge as they did in Dr. McDonald’s day; as they continue to do well into the 21st Century.
*McDonald, James E.; Science in default: twenty-two years of inadequate UFO investigations; (in) Page, Thornton & Sagan, Carl (Editors); UFO’s: A Scientific Debate; Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York; 1972; pages 52-122.
Science librarian; retired.
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