15 Reasons Why Science Should Re-Examine the UFO Phenomenon
By Chris Rutkowski
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was; scientists seem to have dismissed the latest Canadian UFO Survey without bothering to read and understand its analyses of UFO data. Our study was quite straightforward; we collected UFO reports from a variety of agencies, including civilian UFO groups, the Internet and also government records, all for the year 2001. We have been collecting this data for 12 years, and each year have noted a slight increase in the number of UFO reports. Last year, however, we found an unexpectedly large increase: 42% over the previous year. We reported our findings and published our data to allow anyone interested to review the information here: Canadian UFO Survey We tried not to make any assumptions, but merely reported the data and noted correlations and trends. We emphasized that UFO reports do not necessarily mean alien visitation, and in our study, we were reporting observational data only. In other words, we were highly objective in our approach, using appropriate scientific methodology.
There was wide media coverage of the study, but two debunkers reacted very strangely. One mocked the study of “aliens,” which suggests he didn’t read the report itself. (Aside: I have been called a debunker by some ufologists, by the way. My writings have also been included on some skeptical websites and I have been called a UFO skeptic on more than one occasion. If a scientist is skeptical of another skeptic, does that make him a believer?) The other scientist dismissed the study’s results by saying that he knew for a fact that UFO reports are actually decreasing, not increasing. Of course, he did not cite his reference or source for that fact. That shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Perhaps I was expecting scientists to use the data and the rigourous, statistical study as a basis for forming their own opinions. At any rate, I thought about how the scientific community is said to be predisposed against ufology because of the perceived connection to aliens. That’s too bad, because even without the possibility of aliens as an explanation, there are still many reasons why UFOs are worthy of scientific study, contrary to Condon. Since I’m slated to be a guest speaker at a UFO conference this summer, I thought one of my panels might be on this subject. I thought I’d throw this out to see what you think of these suggestions as I prepare my talk:
15 Reasons Why Science Should Re-Examine the UFO Phenomenon
(Without Ever Mentioning Aliens)
1. Earthquake Lights: Geophysicists have been examining reports of luminous phenomena associated with major seismic events. The mechanism for these odd lights is not fully understood, and there are many questions about their propagation, energy source and movement. Many UFOs are seen near seismically active areas, including those classified as nocturnal lights. Are these actually earthquake lights in disguise?
2. Earthquake Prediction: This idea follows from #1, but is quite a separate issue. Researchers of earthquake precursors have noted very disparate phenomena as possible indicators of impending seismic events. These include sudden increases in the number of lost pets, electrical interference and also unusual lights in the sky. If these lights are reported as UFOs, then they may be related to earthquake prediction. One cannot underestimate the importance of studying possible earthquake precursors.
3. Tectonic Strain Theory: Much has been made of Michael Persinger’s TST concept that underground crustal strain causes electromagnetic fields which either: a) affect the brain directly and cause people to think they have been abducted by aliens, or b) create luminous phenomena that are perceived as UFOs by unsuspecting witnesses. Curiously, the TST seems to have few supporters outside of Persinger’s Laurentian University laboratory. Other scientists should independently test the TST for its viability. After all, if Persinger is right, the TST has implications well beyond UFOs; if EM fields can affect the human brain so profoundly, what other human behaviour can be manipulated?
4. Ball Lightning: This is another poorly understood and rarely observed natural phenomenon. Some UFO cases may be due to ball lightning discharges. It is only through a detailed examination of UFO data that possible candidates for ball lightning can be located. Geophysicists should be gathering UFO data as a matter of course, trying to learn exactly how often plasma discharges can occur in nature. Why don’t they occur during every thunderstorm?
5. Dissociative Disorders: Dissociation has been described in the psychological literature as a tendency to have periods of time missing from one’s life. Chronic dissociation such as multiple personality disorder has been evoked to explain UFO abductions. But what really occurs in DD episodes? How widespread is “tuning out” in our society? If DD episodes are caused by trauma, can the trauma be accurately identified? Surely this has implications in many professions.
6. Fantasy-Prone Personality: This psychological condition is also sometimes cited as an explanation for abduction experiences. People with such personalities have a tendency to imagine elaborate scenarios and have, literally, “flights of fancy” during their waking hours. How prevalent is this trait, and what are the implications in our culture?
7. False Memory Syndrome: This condition is the subject of intense debate. Victims of the FMS defense in a court of law vigourously oppose its use on the grounds that there is no incontrovertible evidence that it exists at all. However, FMS proponents argue that it is a profoundly important phenomenon that may bring criminals to justice. So does it or does it not exist? If it does, to what extent? Again, this would have implications far beyond ufology.
8. Perceptual Ability: Why do people report that stationary nighttime lights such as stars and planets are actually “dancing” and “jumping around?” While autokinesis and autostasis are well-known to perceptual psychologists, much more study on people’s abilities to judge distance, altitude and movement would be useful.
9. Media Influence: Ever since Strentz’s thesis on how newspaper reporting can create a UFO flap, the media has always been suspect in its coverage of the subject. We can still wonder, however, how the advent of tabloid TV and UFO-themed programs like the X-Files are affecting public opinion in this field. And recently, if (as it has been noted) newspapers are carrying fewer UFO sightings as news, why are there more UFO reports? (Or are there?)
10. Group Behaviour: What, exactly, are the dynamics of UFO reporting? Can one person’s sighting and subsequent report really become contagious and influence others to report banal phenomena as something more mysterious? Is a UFO flap nothing more than an updated version of the “Windshield Pitters of Mattoon?”
11. Aerospace Development: If, as many believe, UFOs represent observations of secret tests of highly advanced technology, then records of such observations can provide information to avionics experts as to what and where such technology is under development. Aviation insiders have long been using data from professional aircraft spotters to determine the characteristics of aircraft under development.
12. Search for Meteorites: The search for meteorites is very important to geologists and xenobiologists. Astronomers and meteoriticists await reports of brilliant fireballs in the hope that a recovery may lead to an important find. Some countries have used all-sky cameras to monitor bolides and meteors in order to assist meteorite hunters in their quest for cosmic debris. Given the preponderance of objects now in orbit around the Earth, a network to track space objects entering the atmosphere seems needed – beyond NORAD.
13. Epilepsy Research: It has been suggested that some abductees have actually experienced petit mal or even grand mal events and interpreted them as something more exotic. Are there any indicators for epilepsy or temporal lobe epilepsy that would unequivocally prove that some abduction experiences have this medical condition as the cause?
14. Psychopathology: Mack and others insist that abductees are “normal” with respect to the rest of the population. That is, their MMPI and other psychological tests find them no different from those who have not claimed abduction experiences. Is this assertion true? Some debunkers argue otherwise. Can independent tests on larger samples of the population support this contention?
15. Belief Systems: Why is it that UFOs elicit such impassioned debate? Public opinion is highly polarized, and yet people’s belief in the “reality” or “non-reality” of UFOs seems to be largely unchangeable. Why do skeptics and believers attack one another with such vigour when arguing their contentions on this subject? Why is a belief or disbelief in UFOs so similar to religious fundamentalism, unlike other belief/nonbelief views in other subjects which may seem less provocative?