Pharyngula

Would you believe the NY Times published an op-ed today…calling for closer monitoring of UFOs? I think it’s intended seriously. It begins by suggesting that it — our neglect of will-o’-the-wisps and reflections of Venus — is a security loophole that terrorists might exploit, and then it gives several anecdotal accounts of unlikely events, such as this one:

On Dec. 26, 1980, for instance, several witnesses at two American Air Force bases in England reported seeing a U.F.O. land. An examination of the site turned up indentations in the ground and a level of radiation in the area that was significantly higher than ordinary. More witnesses at the same base reported the U.F.O. again on subsequent nights. The deputy base commander reported that the aircraft aimed light beams into the most highly sensitive area of the base — a clear security breach.

Apparently, we should be concerned that Al-Qaeda is piloting nuclear-powered flying saucers to fly through our defenses and peek into hangars.

Comments

  1. #1 david C.
    July 29, 2008

    I thought i read about this in the Weekly World News while waiting in line at the grocery store.

  2. #2 Bellerophon
    July 29, 2008

    Interesting. So all the UFO’s are stealth by default huh? Hubble misses, every single radar installation on the planet misses, absolutely nothing heard… Hmm… I can smell creationism there… Fiat UFO.!

  3. #3 Timothy Wood
    July 29, 2008

    Never underestimate the willingness of the American people to believe that they need to be protected.

  4. #4 Norman Doering
    July 29, 2008

    An examination of the site turned up indentations in the ground and a level of radiation in the area that was significantly higher than ordinary.

    What exactly is “a level of radiation in the area that was significantly higher than ordinary”? That sounds serious but you can’t know how serious until you know the exact levels.

    That’s what I hate about these reports, they’re vague in areas they have no right to be vague about.

  5. #5 Dave UH
    July 29, 2008

    I think Carl Sagan may have said it first. If there were violent conquering interstellar aliens, we wouldn’t even know what hit us.

    As for Al-qaeda’s fleet of hovering stealth bombers I’m not so sure.

  6. #6 Glen Davidson
    July 29, 2008

    Great. So they haven’t mastered nuclear fission, but they have mastered physics far beyond anything the advanced nations have.

    Let’s face it, if that is true we’re just screwed.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  7. #7 Bellerophon
    July 29, 2008

    Tim, #3: Well I don’t blame them.

    lim(x->infinity) x-1 of x movies with aliens in it either land in or attack the US. They’ve apparently decided to have a go at its overseas bases first. Oh well…

  8. #8 skept
    July 29, 2008

    I’m not saying I agree with the Op-Ed, but when did U.F.O., which merely indicates an unidentified flying object, become synonymous with flying saucer?

  9. #9 Bob L
    July 29, 2008

    A bunch of guys who have box cutters and dynamite strapped to their bodies now have atomic powered flying saucers. Right. Didn’t South Park just do a show were The Terrorist take over our imaginations? Sounds like South Park is right on target with this one.

  10. #10 Tater
    July 29, 2008

    Snark all you want, it sounds like a security breach at a supposedly secure, and presumably sensitive installation. It may not be UFO’s but it sounds like better security is not a bad idea.

  11. #11 Stark
    July 29, 2008

    Stupidity: It’s available everywhere.

    The sad part is, for over a decade the AirForce was indeed on alert for extraterrestrial UFO’s. Of course they never found any – every UFO they did find had a very terrestrial source. From Soviet satellites and spy planes to luminous swamp gas and rare (but not unusual) atmospheric effects every sighting for well over a decade was explained. Then the AirForce, rightly so, closed the book on non-terrestrial UFO’s and quite wasting time and money on the investigation.

    Still, I can all to easily beleive the NY Times would publish this – they seem to have lost the idea that journalism should be a responsible and factual venture. Ever since their readership (and the readership of all papers I might add) began to tank they have gotten more and more flighty in an unabashed effort to attract more readers. They are no National Enquirer yet but give ‘em a decade.

  12. #12 Tater
    July 29, 2008

    -meaning it may not be “little green men” though evidence of some sort of intrusion was evident… These bases house some very very nasty stuff….

  13. #13 Kryth
    July 29, 2008

    I for one welcome our nuclear-powered flying saucer peeping tom overlords.

  14. #14 anon
    July 29, 2008

    This guy seems to be a nutcase, but when you listen to him (yes on that latenight radio show) he’s the guy who a) worked for British Defense and b) and whose job it was to debunk ufo sightings and did so 99% of the time.

    I think he actually does understand security threats to airbases, and maybe even better than PZ!

    Then again, perhaps PZ doesn’t understand the history of Japanese balloon warfare, and how WWII Japanese balloons were able to start fires in the US and kill people with some pretty unsophisticated equipment.

    There’s also the guy in NZ or AU who has built his own cruise missile using about $5,000 of parts and put his plans on teh Intart00bs.

    Talking about our overdependence on radar may not be such a looney activity.

    Somewhat smart terrorists frequently have studied engineering in the US — who knows, it might be easier to dump your dirty bomb onto an airbase or the white house via a small r/c plane or small cruise missile than to drive your car up next to it and blow it up.

    All of PZ’s worthless snark aside, as Pope says, “It would not imply that the country has suddenly started believing in little green men. It would simply recognize the possibility that radar alone cannot always tell us what’s out there.”

    Is the guy interested in selling his books? Probably. Is PZ? Probably too. I bet PZ could get an interview and ask this guy intelligent questions and I bet most of the rest of us could not.

    Just saying, use the power of blog, but use it wisely.

  15. #15 James F
    July 29, 2008

    Don’t be so sure – it looks like the Martians are hiding bin Laden.

  16. #16 Paul Burnett
    July 29, 2008

    When creationists look up and see a metallic glint leading a contrail across the sky and can’t tell if it’s a 747 or an L-1011 or whatever, according to their internal logic, they’ve just seen an Unidentified Flying Object – because they can’t identify it. It’s a variation of the “Goddidit” logic fallacy – “I don’t understand it, therefore it’s a UFO.”

  17. #17 Kryth
    July 29, 2008

    Silly James F, that picture is of one of the Sand People from StarWars.

  18. #18 anon
    July 29, 2008

    The low cost cruise missile: http://www.interestingprojects.com/cruisemissile/

    The folks at /. probably don’t have the wealth of knowledge expressed at this blog, but they felt it was pretty realistic.

    A small cruise missile probably would be trackable by radar, except that:
    a) it’s small
    b) flies real low
    c) requires radar operators to be expecting that sort of threat

    Small airplanes can be tracked by radar, but not very well, it’s one reason why they require transponders on them.

  19. #19 Bob L
    July 29, 2008

    If it is just terrorist made cruise missiles then why bring up Terrorist UFOs Anon? Anyway wouldn’t it be much cheaper for Al Quida to rent a Yellow Rider Truck and park it next to the target, you know like they did the first time they tried to blow up the World Trade Center 1992?

    This article sounds like some defense contractor pushing their pet project nobody wants using the current hot buzz words.

  20. #20 PatrickHenry
    July 29, 2008

    I’m all in favor of a cabinet-level UFO Defense Agency. We must — at all costs! — protect the purity of our bodily fluids. And it’s certainly a good thing to guard against unwanted anal probes.

  21. #21 The Broilermaster
    July 29, 2008

    @20: I think you’re confusing Soviet Plots (water flouridation) and Alien Plots (“we’ve reached the limit of what anal probing can tell us”)

  22. #22 Bronze Dog
    July 29, 2008

    This hurts mah brane.

  23. #23 raven
    July 29, 2008

    Everyone missed the most important point.

    Do the UFO aliens have any oil? If they do, they are toast. After we liberate them, the survivors are on their way to Guantanamo.

  24. #24 CortxVortx
    July 29, 2008

    Hopefully, “anon” won’t be the only UFO-nut to grace the comments page.

    If we’re really lucky, Lin Liangtai from alt.atheism will present pictures from the Mars Phoenix lander of skulls, nerve cells, lymph nodes, brain tissue, and other signs of life on Mars. I’m talking Time Cube caliber!

  25. #25 CortxVortx
    July 29, 2008

    Re: #23

    Do the UFO aliens have any oil?

    From Johnny Carson: “I’ve got some bad news and some good news. The bad news is: The Martians have landed. The good news is: They eat garbage and pee gasoline.”

  26. #26 Dept of Homeland Security
    July 29, 2008

    Good job, Mr. Pope. Your check is in the mail.

  27. #27 Just Al
    July 29, 2008

    Snark all you want, it sounds like a security breach at a supposedly secure, and presumably sensitive installation.

    Until you actually read the reports sans the media hype, and find it sounds a whole lot more like drunk MPs. They’re referring to the “Rendlesham Forest Incident,” where not one bit of evidence, including the descriptions from the two servicemen who saw the object at the exact same time (and somehow didn’t agree at all) seemed the least bit relevant. The servicemen on patrol were so convinced of the magnitude of their sighting that they reported it hours later when they got off duty, despite the fact that they had access to a radio.

    It may not be UFO’s but it sounds like better security is not a bad idea.

    Yep! Better security would likely have eliminated the incident in the first place.

  28. #28 scooter
    July 29, 2008

    Ths is what happens when a yank switches from Bud to Bass.

  29. #29 skept
    July 29, 2008

    Re: #24
    Are you reading the same anon as I am?

  30. #30 Doug
    July 29, 2008

    I read the piece in the Times this morning & thought I was having a stroke or something. What the hell has happened to newspapers?

  31. #31 I am so Wise
    July 29, 2008

    UFOs should be scientifically studied. Doing this, and finding the correct answer the first time out, would combat the belief in UFOs and superstition generally.

    Also there are millions of people out there suffering ill effects from “UFOs”. While these problems are probably in their heads, given that most of them seem to be decent enough folks, I say help them out.

  32. #32 anon
    July 29, 2008

    If it is just terrorist made cruise missiles then why bring up Terrorist UFOs Anon? Anyway wouldn’t it be much cheaper for Al Quida to rent a Yellow Rider Truck and park it next to the target, you know like they did the first time they tried to blow up the World Trade Center 1992?

    This article sounds like some defense contractor pushing their pet project nobody wants using the current hot buzz words.

    Well as I suggested, Al Qaeda or the Michigan Militia may be worried the White House is on the lookout for “abandoned” trucks and cars and may even have portable radiation detectors able to scan them from a humvee as they drive past.

    As an engineer and aviation geek and coward myself, I would prefer to build a homemade UAV with GPS navigation based on a micro-ITX PC (running Linux) with a range of say 10 miles that would allow me to build it, test it frequently without suspicion as just a big RC plane (have you seen this one: R/C B29 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qg-aKlRcrQU — if that ain’t a cruise missile and UAV candidate, I don’t know what is) and then eventually launch it or something like it against an af base that I would not not not want to be anywhere around (my cowardice talking)

    Or it could be that Al Qaeda and the Militia want to be seen as mounting a really scary attack. A dirty bomb in a VW is one thing, think how much worse we would think it if it was launched at them from a homemade UAV.

    I disagree with your conclusion though. I think the op ed sounds like some guy who makes his living off of UFOs wanting to sell his books.

    But I think his point about being over infatuated with radar may be reasonable. Can we think of no other time when our military has been over infatuated with one thing or another (think Shock and Awe for example.)

    Actually in the past few years our military has been leasing a diesel submarine to play with as it has realized that its infatuation with nuclear subs and a nuclear sub enemy has made it vulnerable to “low tech” diesel subs.

    Hey, Mr. CortxVortx, sorry if this makes me a UFO nut, especially since I haven’t said one word about UFOs. Sadly, very very sadly, I am used to this level of argument at PZ Myers’ blog. There’s tons of snark and shouting but not much logic.

    I am hopeful PZ’s research papers are better, I am not qualified to judge, but often I find that sloppiness and laziness have a habit of spreading and his blog certainly suggests sloppiness and laziness in his arguments and arguments he links to.

  33. #33 CATS
    July 29, 2008

    All your base are belong to us!

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…

  34. #34 Nick Gotts
    July 29, 2008

    There’s also the guy in NZ or AU who has built his own cruise missile using about $5,000 of parts and put his plans on teh Intart00bs. – anon

    Following anon’s link, it’s true there is a Bruce Simpson in NZ who claims to have built a cruise missile for $5000. He hasn’t put plans online (if by “plans” is meant “plans of the cruise missile” rather than a description of what he intends to do). And if the NYT thought there was a serious point to be made about security risks, they were idiots to have it written up by someone who takes seriously the kind of UFO reports they refer to.

  35. #35 Skeeve
    July 29, 2008

    al-Qaida in Centauri is coming!

  36. #36 autofire372
    July 29, 2008

    NOW I know the reason for K’s line from Men in Black…

  37. #37 Neil B.
    July 29, 2008

    I would expect the crowd here to be sympathetic to the idea of alien visitors. After all, planet formation is empirically found to be commonplace, and life origination and evolution processes should produce some intelligent beings besides ourselves. It’s not a “paranormal” concept since the biology and physics are there, just with some difficulties. Sure, getting between stars is not easy but is it *so obviously bad* a technical hurdle (or maybe, social one since cross-generational travel is an option) that we should sneer at the idea of being visited? I would more expect creationists to object, for reasons such as “The Bible says Man is special” or “The UFOs are really demonic signs – from the Lord of the Power of the Air – of the immanent second coming.” Aliens are the perfect affront to Fundies, I would think. I don’t have a firm opinion, I just don’t get the resistance – what’s your excuse?

    I also know that described UFO behavior doesn’t fit what we’d expect, but if false IDs and reports were mixed in with a few real ones it’s hard to tell. Behavioral suppositions about non-humans are not a rock solid grounds for hard skepticism. IMHO, skepticism and especially derision about UFOs in these quarters is a psychological artifact and not well thought out: the intuitive “feel” that this is something weird, not part of the accessible realm in practice (even if reasonable in overall principle), the ad hominem issue of the sorts of people mostly attracted to it, etc.

    Finally, Edgar Mitchell said he’s been shown info that visitation is real. Yeah, he’s a little offbeat but I don’t think someone with his accomplishments can be just “blown off”, which is not the only alternative to “having to agree with”:

    http://www.reuters.com/news/video?videoId=87905&feedType=VideoRSS&feedName=TopNews&rpc=23&videoChannel=1&sp=true

  38. #39 Inky
    July 29, 2008

    Okay. I thought Bush said that Al-Quaeda was hiding out in caves.
    So now they have UFOs.

    GodDAMN, but these must be some BIG fukking caves.

  39. #40 Peter Camenzind
    July 29, 2008

    “? I think it’s intended seriously. It begins by suggesting that it — our neglect of will-o’-the-wisps and reflections of Venus — is a security loophole that terrorists might exploit,…”

    You’re damn right it’s serious.

    I guess you didn’t read the article to the end.

    “The United States is no less vulnerable than Britain and France to threats to security and air safety. The United States Air Force or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration should reopen investigations of U.F.O. phenomena. It would not imply that the country has suddenly started believing in little green men. It would simply recognize the possibility that radar alone cannot always tell us what’s out there.”

  40. #41 amphiox
    July 29, 2008

    Well, a real alien incursion would constitute a security threat. About the same level of security threat my inadvertent foot might constitute to an anthill.

    That said, as anyone who’s ever been stung by a bunch of angry ants can attest to, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’d be COMPLETELY helpless.

  41. #42 Skeeve
    July 29, 2008

    #24
    “If we’re really lucky, Lin Liangtai from alt.atheism will present pictures from the Mars Phoenix lander of skulls, nerve cells, lymph nodes, brain tissue, and other signs of life on Mars. I’m talking Time Cube caliber!”

    No, no, no, no…please no!

  42. #43 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 29, 2008

    Or it could be that Al Qaeda and the Militia want to be seen as mounting a really scary attack. A dirty bomb in a VW is one thing, think how much worse we would think it if it was launched at them from a homemade UAV.

    Or what about Al Qaeda using a remote control GPS guided robot labrador. Think about that!

  43. #44 Justin
    July 29, 2008

    I think this is hilarious in light of McCain’s rejected editorial last week based on the paper’s standards.

  44. #45 mathyoo
    July 29, 2008

    well, I suppose terrorists could buy one of these to attack a military installation: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20535980

  45. #46 anon
    July 29, 2008

    Nick, how hard do you think it is to make a homemade cruise missile?

    Off the shelf hobbyist jet engines are available anywhere from $1K to $10K (jetcatusa)

    Off the shelf hobbyist autopilots capable of wing leveling, altitude control, and “go to” are available for $2K (ez pilot)

    Cellphones that can be used as data modems are available for $200 (Palm Centro)

    3 pound smallish laptops are available for $400

    If you can provide the dirty bomb material and about $20,000, the building the cruise missile itself is a freshman exercise these days.

  46. #47 Nibien
    July 29, 2008

    Man, I almost would prefer the fundie-crazies to this anon guy we have.

  47. #48 Patricia
    July 29, 2008

    Can anyone tell yet if it’s the Borg or the Dalecks?

  48. #49 True Bob
    July 29, 2008

    Neil,
    I’m not closed to the idea that there are other, more advanced civilizations out there. That being said, the nearest extrasolar planet we’ve found is a mere 10.5 light years away. Assuming they can make near c, they could’ve selected a destination what, 40 years ago (Space Alien Rescue: Gilligan’s Isle) to allow for accel/transit/decel? OMG, they walk among us!!!1!1!!

    I’m still skeptical, but torn. Would the gummint lie to us? F yeah, if they could make a buck. But the proof is in the pudding. You show me a real space alien, and I’ll be right on board*.

    *Phase 1 Lure them out of their base in the Bermuda Triangle.
    Phase 2 ?
    Phase 3 Profit!

  49. #50 True Bob
    July 29, 2008

    Sorry, my bad. They would’ve had to select Gilligan about 30 years ago.

  50. #51 John Phillips, FCD
    July 29, 2008

    Anon: and yet if anybody planned such an attack the best chance we have of finding out about it is through standard police and intelligence work. All the rest is just guff or someone given the chance to plug their book or lecture tour.

    After all Anon, how is research into UFOs going to help us find terrorists planning UAV attacks or even detect an actual attack. The only thing to fear here is fear itself.

  51. #52 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 29, 2008

    The only thing to fear here is fear itself.

    And brown people. Don’t forget brown people. Especially if they dress funny.

  52. #53 Sven DiMilo
    July 29, 2008

    I have no problem at all with thorough investigation of UFO reports. That way we might be able to–y’know–identify them.

  53. #54 uncle frogy
    July 29, 2008

    Space aliens give me a break ?
    I have not read the OP-ed and do not intend to. If the security threat is the over reliance on radar then may be he has a point but what does he suggest we use to augment it with?
    If we are afraid of space aliens just what could we even do to “fight” someone who can cross interstellar space with a hostel intent?
    Seems to me that the suicide bomber is a cruise missile. If we are worrying about a nuclear bomb just how close does one have to be ,to be utterly destroyed, 100 feet, 500 feet, 2 miles or more?
    Or is it all just more fear mongering?

  54. #55 anon
    July 29, 2008

    John,

    Oh I agree. I said the guy is trying to sell his UFO books. But his point about our being over infatuated with radar may still be correct.

    We’ve the technology well within the hands of hobbyist r/c developers to make “cruise missiles”.

    I don’t mind him trying to sell UFO books, and from what I’ve heard from him, his basic experience has been debunking all of this. IIRC, he got his experience with the British military reluctantly (or so he said). His issue is with that 0.1% that seemed even to him, “spooky”

    I don’t mind his looking into that. And he may be right too, that if none of the governments have any official project to collect reports we may be overlooking a nice channel of “web 2.0ish” user provided content and intelligence on this.

    How likely is it? Beats me, probably very remote. Some folks (not I) thought a government funded SETI was ridiculous. Others thought a manned space program was too.

    Opinions differ. I don’t see him being the funny ha ha crank that oh so credible and serious pz and his minions make him out to be. Especially since PZ apparently hasn’t even picked up this guy’s book to read his biography.

    Well I can’t find the Feynman anecdote I was looking for, the one where Feynman realizes that when an elderly scientists says something can never happen, the scientist is probably full of shit.

  55. #56 CortxVortx
    July 29, 2008

    anon tries marrying UFOs to terrorists in the air. Sterling example of overthinking the problem.

    By water or across the Canadian border would be much simpler than hypothetical home-made cruise missles or heavy-lift R/C planes.

    But World Nut Daily would buy it.

    Besides, anon’s screed is completely off-topic to the NYT UFO article being discussed, so his attacks on PZ are gratuitous attempts to pump up his own ego.

  56. #57 bigjohn756
    July 29, 2008

    #8 – skept

    The abbreviation U. F. O. has been synonymous with flying saucers for a long time now. It’s part of the deterioration of the English language. At the present rate of uncaring sloppiness, it won’t be long before English will be reduced from, arguably, the most articulate language on the planet to a series of unintelligible grunts and snorts.

  57. #58 Michael J
    July 29, 2008

    I think that the article highlights one point and that we are only looking for certain things and as the computer between the radar and the display will filter out signals that could be taken advantage of by others.
    I was listening to a flight controller the other day on the radio and the announcer talked about seeing strange things in the radar and he remarked that his inputs purely consists of transponders.

  58. #59 the other adam
    July 29, 2008

    Sure, getting between stars is not easy but is it *so obviously bad* a technical hurdle (or maybe, social one since cross-generational travel is an option) that we should sneer at the idea of being visited?

    I Am Not An Astrophysicist, but I do believe that it is, we’re talking light years here, and those are really really big.

    But I personally sneer because Kenneth Arnold saw crescent shaped flying wing type objects moving like skipping saucers (the same as skipping rocks, I guess, I don’t waste saucers that way). They were misreported as flying saucers- and since then we’ve had 60 years of saucer reports.

    I live a few miles from an airport and planes on final approach can look really strange, especialy around sunset, or with the landing lights at night. It’s easy to think you’re seeing something else.

  59. #60 commissarjs
    July 29, 2008

    Oh you laugh now. But just wait until we are invaded by ARABS FROM SPAAAAAACE!

  60. #61 anon
    July 29, 2008

    CortxVortx, well, I’m new here, and I apologize if I broke a rule or two. Can you help me understand:

    Why are gratuitous and stupid attacks including name calling on PZ off limits when it is clear from his writings and his commenters that gratuitous and stupid attacks including name calling are perfectly fair game to apply to others?

    I think it’s lazy and sloppy on PZ’s part and I don’t think it is required for him when he makes his points. And I think it diminishes not only PZ and not only PZ’s arguments, but in fact, I think it diminishes most of the people PZ would claim to support.

    It provides rightwing thugs plenty of ammunition for their claims of “liberal hate”.

    And in the threads itself, it mainly provides a way to police thought and police speech. A more honest way to do that would just be to moderate the threads and delete people you dislike and replace their comment with: “this comment was deleted because I think what he said was wrong.”

    But if you can explain to me why PZ is allowed to make gratuitous attacks but is not allowed to be the subject of one, I shall try and follow.

  61. #62 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 29, 2008

    But if you can explain to me why PZ is allowed to make gratuitous attacks but is not allowed to be the subject of one, I shall try and follow.

    You obviously haven’t been here long. PZ (and everyone else here) is called all manner of things, and that’s fine. But just be prepared to be called on it if it is a lame or unwarranted attack.

    Or hell, just be prepared to back up what you claim in the face of heated opposition no matter how warranted you think it is.

  62. #63 llewelly
    July 29, 2008

    Some more about Nick Pope, who wrote the weird NYT op-ed.
    Nick Pope on a British MoD remote viewing study :

    Sceptics and cynics will doubtless say the whole project was a waste of time and money – details of the cost of this study have been withheld. But to me, such criticism shows a lack of imagination. When I ran the MoD’s UFO project I had to think the unthinkable. For three years I was in charge of the real X-Files. I discussed the possibility of carrying out a remote viewing project, but nothing came of it during my tour of duty. However, it now transpires that the study was eventually carried out. Even though we do not know whether the project continues to this day, I like to think it does. Drugs, bombs, criminals, terrorists – we live in dangerous and uncertain times. Sometimes the odds seem stacked against us. But maybe the strangest X-File in the MoD’s history has a final message for the bad guys: beyond your understanding and against all odds, we’re coming to get you. The psychic spies are on your trail.

    His ufo history contains some rather credulous bits:

    A British Crash Retrieval?
    Before we return to R. V. Jones, we will make brief mention of how US journalist Dorothy Kilgallen alleged that the British Government had recovered a crashed UFO. Writing in the Los Angeles Examiner on 23 May 1955 she said:
    “British scientists and airmen, after examining the wreckage of one mysterious flying ship, are convinced these strange aerial objects are not optical illusions or Soviet inventions, but are flying saucers which originate on another planet. The source of my information is a British official of cabinet rank who prefers to remain unidentified.”
    Writing in Flying Saucer Review (Volume 25, Number 4 and Volume 31, Number 1) Gordon Creighton, who had researched this story in detail, made it clear that he believed Kilgallen’s source was Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Indeed, it has been suggested that Kilgallen picked the story up at a cocktail party hosted by Mountbatten in May 1955. Kilgallen’s story has widely been dismissed as a hoax, but as we shall see, other events may put her claims in a new light.

    If that doesn’t set your kook meter going, I don’t know what does. But at least he’s dismissive of government conspiracy theories, claiming the British government is ‘indifferent’ or ‘incompetent’.

    (Note: I plan to cross-post this to BA’s blog.)

  63. #64 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 29, 2008

    (Note: I plan to cross-post this to BA’s blog.)

    splitter

  64. #65 Jams
    July 29, 2008

    The author clearly states he’s not talking about “little green men”. Nobody here with half a brain is evoking aliens seriously, or seriously implying that the linked article was about aliens (including PZ I would wager). The joke is that this article sounds like yet another symptom of a defense doctrine that seeks to defend America from all imaginable threats (a doctrine that’s legitimately come under fire for being mathematically impossible). The sloppy understanding of what a UFO actually is, provides us with the ambiguity on which the joke is premised. All that’s imaginable doctrine -> UFOs -> aliens -> all that’s imaginable doctrine -> hahaha.

    Yes, I just explained a joke. I’m sorry, but I felt it was necessary at this juncture.

  65. #66 dubiquiabs
    July 29, 2008

    The NYT article is devoid of traceable, testable info. It’s all hearsay, no measurements and not a shred of evidence that would justify the title.

    There is no mention of the problems with eyewitness testimony, no acknowledgment of the fallibility of the human cognitive outfit, especially under the influence of something or other, like too little sleep, too much gin & tonic or both.

    Amazing what passes for journalism. Sounds to me like some of Nick Pope’s buddies need work. Or, maybe some of Chertoff’s “minions” think Americans need to be scared a bit more before November.

  66. #67 anon
    July 29, 2008

    llewelly,

    Remote viewing has got to be the dumbest damn thing I’ve ever heard of. The best explanation I’ve heard of it yet is that it made tons of money for late night talk radio and Ed Dames. When I hear remote viewers on any show, it makes me want to start up a small cruise missile and fire away.

    But from the second quote itself and no more, I am not certain what you find wrong with the second quote or why that should set off our kook meters.

  67. #68 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    July 29, 2008

    to a series of unintelligible grunts and snorts.

    Funny parody. It’s the linguistic version of the creationists’ “mutations are always harmful” meme.

  68. #69 tresmal
    July 29, 2008

    Neil B.: I don’t think very many people here have a problem with the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence or even of alien contact. In fact I suspect that a majority of the posters here would think that a genuine incontrovertible visit by an alien craft would be just about the COOLEST thing ever. I know I would.
    But that is a piss poor reason for suspecting that it has or is happening. While it is true that we can’t know alien motivations, they still have to make some kind of sense.Given the enormous difficulties of interstellar flight and the complete lack of evidence-so far- of any intelligence within our detection range, the most likely conclusion, by far, is that unexplained UFOs have more prosaic explanations. The reason UFOs go unexplained is a simple lack of information. If I tell you that I saw a bright light in the sky low above the the horizon and it moved from north to south before disappearing behind some trees, could you use that information to tell me what it was? No. Is that mysterious? No, just insufficient information. This doesn’t prove that none of the UFOs is of alien origin, just that there is no reason to believe that any were. The burden of proof here is on the ET side. And all the unexplained UFOs in the world combined don’t add up to a down payment on that proof. UFO proponents disagree, claiming lack of prosaic explanations is evidence of alien visits. This an “ET of the gaps” argument and fails for the same reason the God of the gaps argument fails. Unidentified means unidentified, nothing more.

  69. #70 fyreflye
    July 29, 2008

    The posters above who keep calling for some kind of official investigation into UFO reports seem to be unaware that there were US, UK, French and Soviet government investigations into such reports stretching over a period of nearly 30 years and not a single sighting could be traced to anything more than birds, natural phenomena, lighted balloons, aircraft or causes other than alien space craft or enemy spy planes. If you’ve never heard of Project Mogul or the Condon Report start your education here: http://www.csicop.org/resources/#ufo

  70. #71 Sven DiMilo
    July 29, 2008

    Exceedingly off-topic (what was the topic again? barbecue? no, ET terrorists? doesn’t matter), and probably more appropriate for a personal e-mail:
    Rev. BDC:
    Are you aware that the URL associated with your comment-sig is missing the crucial “p”? I always have to add it in when I try to click over to argue about crappy sax players or something. I find that annoying.

  71. #72 fyreflye
    July 29, 2008

    That should read…”or other causes rather than alien space craft or enemy spy planes.”

  72. #73 John Phillips, FCD
    July 29, 2008

    Tresmal said:

    This an “ET of the gaps” argument and fails for the same reason the God of the gaps argument fails. Unidentified means unidentified, nothing more.

    Well said, I couldn’t have put it better if I tried.

  73. #74 Pierce R. Butler
    July 29, 2008

    anon @ # 55: Well I can’t find the Feynman anecdote I was looking for, the one where Feynman realizes that when an elderly scientists says something can never happen, the scientist is probably full of shit.

    Probably because you’ve confused Feynman with Arthur C. Clarke and his First Law:

    When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

  74. #75 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 29, 2008

    Are you aware that the URL associated with your comment-sig is missing the crucial “p”? I always have to add it in when I try to click over to argue about crappy sax players or something. I find that annoying.

    No I wasn’t, but it doesn’t surprise me.

    me fail typing? That’s unpossible

  75. #76 Crudely Wrott
    July 29, 2008

    I always thought it would be fun to build some UFOs. The ones that are like hot air balloons with a pie plate of burning alcohol suspended under a dry-cleaning bag.
    Never did, though. Pity. I hear they get lots of oohs and ahhs.

  76. #77 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 29, 2008

    I did that a few times with sterno as the fuel and garbage bags as the balloon.

    Works pretty well and is very cool until you realize you are sending flaming death from the skies all over your neighbors most expensive possessions.

  77. #78 Sven DiMilo
    July 29, 2008

    Works pretty well and is very cool until you realize you are sending flaming death from the skies all over your neighbors most expensive possessions.

    “until”??

    Oh, oh…I see…you weren’t really talking about my neighbors.

  78. #79 anon
    July 29, 2008

    Thanks Pierce R. Butler, that is almost certainly what I was thinking of, but I also recall Feynman had that actually happen to him, and for some reason I am thinking it involved his friend John Wheeler. Something on the order of someone told Feynman he was wrong, and Wheeler made the point about old scientists usually being wrong if they something can’t happen.

    But I am probably mistaken.

  79. #80 Paul Burnett
    July 29, 2008

    “I always thought it would be fun to build some UFOs. The ones that are like hot air balloons with a pie plate of burning alcohol suspended under a dry-cleaning bag.” – Crudely Wrott, #76

    Here’s a safe proof-of-concept experiment you can do safely indoors tonight – from NASA (!) – http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/TRC/Aeronautics/Hot_Air_Balloon.html

    More dangerous versions at http://www.overflite.com“Birthday Candle Balloons can rise over two thousand feet high, sail for miles, and shine like Big Orange Stars, for over ten minutes.”

  80. #81 Patricia
    July 29, 2008

    #61 – Anon – If you think that PZ isn’t the target of gratuitous and stupid attacks including name calling, then you haven’t been here long. Like – today. The 600 catholic priests called PZ what?
    And you have a problem with name calling? Where the hell have you been twerp? You just strolled into the arena of name calling as a sport. Can’t take it – run away. French soldiers, sluts, strumpets, turnips and really fucking smart people hang out here. I’m not one of the smart people, but you aren’t worth waving my ta ta’s at.

  81. #82 Neil B.
    July 29, 2008

    Actually, some governments’ or related investigations couldn’t find prosaic explanations. They didn’t find reason to believe it “was aliens” (how could they absent a landing with critters coming out to be taped), but check the following:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_UFO_wave

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UFO (Well, I don’t know who wrote it but these tend to have something behind them from the wise-crowd effect):

    *The 1999 French COMETA committee of high-level military analysts/generals and aerospace engineers/scientists declared the ETH was the best hypothesis for the unexplained cases.

    Various topics in http://exopolitics.blogs.com/

    Anyone who reads through reports knows that many are not mere lights but quite explicit (landings etc.) and many were part of “waves” in many nations (so cultural stimuli aren’t really good enough – lots of sightings in rural South America in the 50s, etc.) Yet as Jacques Vallée points out, there are “too many” sightings to make sense as “mere” alien visitors!

    Maybe you’re right, but to those who say “There’s no evidence for _____” – how does one go about finding out, whether there’s evidence found or written about of something like that? Do you just assume that something good enough would “get around”? Usually, it would. But in the case of marginal events where it might be debatable, or the “evidence” is more a sign of ordinary explanations being inadequate rather than a specific compelling show of force on behalf of a particular explanation – I don’t think we can trust that expectation.

  82. #83 Pierce R. Butler
    July 29, 2008

    … we should be concerned that Al-Qaeda is piloting nuclear-powered flying saucers to fly through our defenses and peek into hangars.

    Don’t worry, the problem has already been dealt with.

  83. #84 John Morales
    July 29, 2008

    Neil @82: So I looked at your link.
    Did you note this?

    Conclusions
    After appraising the evidence, the Belgian Air Force found it could offer no explanation for the sighting, but did reject the following possibilities:
    Balloons.
    Ultralight aircraft (ULM).
    Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
    Aircraft (including Stealth).
    Laser projections or holograms.
    Mirages or other meteorological phenomena.

    They do not reject a hoax.

  84. #85 Noni Mausa
    July 29, 2008

    Oh man, I turn my back for a couple of hours and you guys go all loopy.

    I read the op-ed of which you speak and thought it sensible. NOT because aliens are a serious threat (the Mother Thing hasn’t arrived yet, more’s the pity), but because the category “flying saucer” is currently like a big pocket into which unexplained aerial stuff WILL be stuffed away and forgotten, even if some poor sucker reports seeing them. So anon’s balsa cruise missiles could be deployed, and laser airplane-blinding cellophane dirigibles would be brushed off as mere fantasy.

    Suppose the Terrierists realized that in North America at midday, no one thinks twice about a big, furry orange and brown non-human faceless creature standing on the street waving at people. Heck, kids go up to have their pictures taken with them.

    When you establish a category of things you automatically dismiss as unimportant or even non-existent, there you have established a portal for thine enemies.

    Noni

  85. #86 Vinny
    July 29, 2008

    Don’t forget. This is the same air force that teaches christianity… (Religion and Its Role Are in Dispute at the Service Academies) Why would little green muslim men be such a stretch?

  86. #87 paul fcd
    July 29, 2008

    My plan for Iraq. Unidentified Flying Threats.

    Can’t tell the difference. No wonder the NYT is extinct.

  87. #88 Fernando Magyar
    July 29, 2008

    “Birthday Candle Balloons can rise over two thousand feet high, sail for miles, and shine like Big Orange Stars, for over ten minutes.”

    Pff. You should check out the Brazilian paper baloons. Here’s how you rain fire and brimstone down on your neighbors possesions.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIkmoTCsiUo

  88. #89 Patricia
    July 29, 2008

    Noni – We actually haven’t gone all loopy – we’re firing grills and hog pits.
    The chooks with beer cans shoved up their asses crowd have yet to be heard from.
    Nobody from the vegamiters has risen from their hangover to make a statement.
    It’s a tense international situation. I predict someone is going to just bust out all cockahoop and suggest steaming!

  89. #90 Nerull
    July 29, 2008

    As an astronomer, let me just add that after you get enough questions about the UFO with flashing red and blue lights on approach to the local international airport, or if the world is going to end because the moon is visible during the day, you start to take public “sightings” with a few mountains of salt.

  90. #91 Crudely Wrott
    July 29, 2008

    There is a serious side when considering a possible alien connection to Objects that appear to be Flying and are Unidentified.

    In order to become a space faring civilization that has the ability to undertake at least interstellar journeys that civilization would have had to overcome the same set of obstacles that we face in our bid to one day become a UFO in some distant sky. So, consider the obstacles, the challenges and the sheer heartbreaking distances and add the resulting factor to any calculations, Greenbank or otherwise, that you do concerning alien visitation.

    Not that it couldn’t happen, but the expense in time, energy, maybe even lives or generations of lives. Anyone, familiar or alien or middling, would have to be possessed by a powerful need to even begin such a trek, to say nothing of having the moxie to complete such mission. But I tend to think that the purpose of such a journey would reflect a noticeably more compelling motivation than an intent to suck people through walls and poke their hind ends.

    Or to exhibit a flight profile remarkably similar to a hub cap on a string. Or to confound a jillion perfectly good cameras.

    But still, think about it; contact . . .

    Now if I can think to mention such things, why the hell can’t the dad-burned New York Times? Shoot. Their writers get paid!

  91. #92 fyreflye
    July 29, 2008

    Neil@82: Did you follow this link http://www.skepticreport.com/ufo/belgian.htm from your referenced Wikipedia article?

    The most important point to be made is that there’s nothing less reliable than “eyewitness” reports of just about anything, but particularly of events which the witness has no previous experience of and which have already been “explained” by the pop media in a way that will increase readership, viewership, and advertising revenue.

  92. #93 Patricia
    July 29, 2008

    #90 – Nerull – Oh see how you are. As an astronomer you just haul this stuff out.
    HA!
    The BIBLE SAYS – It is the “Day of the Lord” – When the sun will become dark, and the moon will turn to blood. Joel 2-3.
    So there smarty pants. :)

  93. #94 Wowbagger
    July 29, 2008

    Patricia wrote:

    The chooks with beer cans shoved up their asses crowd have yet to be heard from.

    I’ve heard of this but have never tried it. I’m not much of a chef, though.

  94. #95 Steven Sullivan
    July 29, 2008

    The op-ed (and it was an OP-ED, not a news article, so those pissing and moaning about the decline of journalism at the NYTimes need to get a grip) was bizarre mainly for ‘framing’ a real issue in a kooky way (the real issue was stated above: if radar don’t see it, it ain’t there…we hope). I’m not sure what the author hoped to gain from the strategy of framing this in terms of ‘UFOs’, with all the unserious baggage that acronym has…which is why the op-ed seemed bizarre. He has a book to sell? Tie in to X-files? Beats me.

  95. #96 John Morales
    July 29, 2008

    Patricia, does it say anything about the preservation of angular momentum? Presumably the moon will do more than just appear reddish.

    Smarty pants!

  96. #97 davidlpf
    July 29, 2008

    so the guberment has balck helicopters and th muslims have black UFOs.

  97. #98 Patricia
    July 29, 2008

    #94 – Wowbagger – Dang, I’ll have to look for that YouTube episode for you. As I recall, you are an Aussie, which means you got some of the finest chooks for grilling.
    So what is that Vegamite? I’ve heard you gotta have Iron Tits or Balls of Steel to consume the stuff?
    *watch this!*
    Vegamite = grits.
    I’ll go find the beer can up the chooks ass link.
    *grin*

  98. #99 Wowbagger
    July 29, 2008

    Vegemite is a concentrated yeast extract in the form of a paste/spread. It’s somewhat maligned in terms of how unpleasant it is – while it’s salty and strongly-flavoured you don’t eat it in vast quantities – generally it gets used (sparingly) on bread, toast or crackers (hah!).

    Apart from anything else it’s full of Vitamin B and is very good for hangovers.

  99. #100 Patricia
    July 29, 2008

    #96 – Dammit – I’m doin bible quotin here. Facts do not apply.

  100. #101 John Morales
    July 30, 2008

    Ya, Patricia, good point.

    Besides, I meant tidal forces, so I stuffed up anyway.

  101. #102 DjtHeutii
    July 30, 2008

    Different flavors of nonsense for different people.

    What always interests me is that is the ability of people to tell that other people’s nonsense is nonsense, but they are unable to apply the same critical eye to their own personal nonsense.

  102. #103 Rick R
    July 30, 2008

    Pharyngulites! I’ve never requested Pharyngulization (sp?) of another blog before (and please forgive this OT plea), but there is a new thread at Americans United for Separation of Church and State regarding the RRR seeking a fundagelical VP nominee for McCain.
    For some weird reason an inordinate number of right wing fundagelical nutjobs have descended! This stupid is so strong, it burns like morning-after urine! Help stop teh tardation!

    Thank you. That is all.

    http://blog.au.org/2008/07/29/veep-veto-religious-right-seeks-to-pick-mccains-running-mate/comments/

  103. #104 Ichthyic
    July 30, 2008

    Suppose the Terrierists realized that in North America at midday, no one thinks twice about a big, furry orange and brown non-human faceless creature standing on the street waving at people. Heck, kids go up to have their pictures taken with them.

    shorter Noni:

    FEAR EVERYTHING!

    Terrorist Clowns will be planting bombs in your kids balloons!

    *sigh*

    He has a book to sell? Tie in to X-files? Beats me.

    nawww. he just misses getting paid for doing basically nothing.

  104. #105 Ichthyic
    July 30, 2008

    What always interests me is that is the ability of people to tell that other people’s nonsense is nonsense, but they are unable to apply the same critical eye to their own personal nonsense.

    with that logic, the overlapping coverage should assure a total lack of nonsense, if we just watch out for each other, right?

    …or is there really more to it.

  105. #106 Ichthyic
    July 30, 2008


    *The 1999 French COMETA committee of high-level military analysts/generals and aerospace engineers/scientists declared the ETH was the best hypothesis for the unexplained cases.

    compared to what?

    I think you would find that it makes more sense in context.

    Sounded to me more like “best” because it couldn’t be eliminated, like everything else, on the available information.

    so might not a lot of other things, right?

    Flying baby dragons come to mind.

  106. #107 Michael
    July 30, 2008

    The NY Times is so funny. My goodness, the paper is implying an alien invasion by so-called “evolved” beings from other planets which are much smarter than us, but pollute too much with the radiation…lol…I think the NY Times is more worried now because of climate change. Maybe they want the UFOs to take emissions tests too…lol

  107. #108 DLC
    July 30, 2008

    Wow. talk about crummy articles.
    This guy’s been bouncing around the UFO/Mentalism/Wacky-Woo-Weirdness circles for about a decade.

    Britain has it’s share of cranks.
    Perhaps the NYT published his Op-Ed as “see, we aren’t the only ones with crackpots” type counterpoint to Edgar Mitchell’s re-pop with the UFO business.

  108. #109 SEF
    July 30, 2008

    It looks like I’d better repeat the (reality-based) links I put on the previous recent UFO thread:

    http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/ufoindex.htm (including Rendlesham Forest page link)
    http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/astroufo1.htm
    http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/astroufo2.htm

  109. #110 SEF
    July 30, 2008

    Also as per that previous thread:

    PDF on what really lies behind alien abduction claims (and their predecessors).

    PDF (esp. Tables 4 & 7) on common hallucinations. Amusingly, “coloured octopus legs” made the list!

  110. #111 MarkW
    July 30, 2008

    Nick Pope seems to have swallowed the kool-aid these days. Sure, when he was at the MOD he may have debunked 99.9% of the bunk he received, but now that he’s making his money from selling UFO books, he seems to have taken the ET hypothesis hook, line and sinker. Maybe it’s just because that’s what sells.

    The Rendlesham Forest ‘incident’ (the ‘UFO landing’ on Dec. 26, 1980 referred to in the article) has been explained by serious UFO researchers as most likely a misidentification of a local lighthouse.

  111. #112 Fernando Magyar
    July 30, 2008

    I thought I saw a flying cracker…
    Ducks and runs for his life.

  112. #113 Radwaste
    July 30, 2008

    “Small airplanes can be tracked by radar, but not very well, it’s one reason why they require transponders on them.”

    No – it’s Air Traffic Control radars, designed to highlight transponders, which don’t show light aircraft as well by comparison. It’s a contrast thing. “Radar” tracks small planes very, very well.

    —–

    Two things about the UFO nonsense:
    1) If you want to claim that a UFO activated soil, you have to show the mechanism. Unless you claim a miracle – because the laws of nature apply to radioactivity, which is intensively studied – you have an emitter on the “spacecraft” that will light up every radiation detector in the USA.

    2) If you are going to claim the presence of UFOs here from other stellar systems, you must address the idea of “interstellar travel”.
    In normal space, traveling at more than about 1/3 C results in radiation exposure to your crew, from plowing into gas particles at speed producing gamma flux from their impact with your ship.

  113. #114 NanuNanu
    July 30, 2008

    Patricia #81:
    “French soldiers, sluts, strumpets, turnips and really fucking smart people”

    Best description of the Pharyngula comments ever.

  114. #115 Nick Gotts
    July 30, 2008

    If you can provide the dirty bomb material and about $20,000, the building the cruise missile itself is a freshman exercise these days. – anon

    If you’re right, why aren’t al-Qaeda already using versions loaded with ordinary explosives – say to attack the Green Zone in Baghdad?

  115. #116 shonny
    July 30, 2008

    Don’t be so sure – it looks like the Martians are hiding bin Laden.

    Posted by: James F | July 29, 2008 7:10 PM

    Oh, I thought they were called Pakistani.

  116. #117 Obrien
    July 30, 2008

    PZ, you seem suprised that this crap appears in the NY Times?

    I’m not, there credility is very low, and perhaps you are just realizing what many of us have known for some time.

  117. #118 PhillP
    July 30, 2008

    Unfortunately it is just a normal response for quite a lot of people (and I would have thought that people on this website would be far more openminded than they appear to be) that anyone who says they think that other creatures in the universe are able to travel through space and time are wierd and crazy etc. but the fact is that this is quite an arrogant stance as it has already been physically demonstrated that particles can be reconstructed in another place (quantum experiments)

    I think this is quite a disappointing attitude and somehow reminds me of the bigotry of religiosity but dressed up in another garb. It is like “I’ve not seen one and I don’t know anyone who has either so they must be all liars or loons” mentality and extremely shallow. I suppose if Einstein or Newton and many others similar to these innovative and rare people were around today then there would be the exact same response to their theories here on this website.

    It is almost as if human beings on this planet are the most superior beings in this universe (let alone this planet and that is bad enough in itself) and it proves how little people think about how humans have evolved and learnt about the technology that surrounds them today and that they take for granted It is only because a few people have “believed” and thought beyond current accepted ideas that we have evolved otherwise we would be still hacking away with flint tools and grunting no doubt.

    I agree with skeptics that it is despicable that many have jumped on the UFO bandwagon and used it to make money and duping people with false claims and this is just as bad but at the other end of the spectrum. I have often read the articles on this website and agree with most of what is said here but find extremely disappointing this particular article. I can’t understand anyone who is interested in science (whatever kind of science) having such an opinion. I did think science was all about discovery and how can anyone discover anything if they don’t have a goal? Lets all put blinkers on and remain in the 21st century forever then?

  118. #119 Noni Mausa
    July 30, 2008

    Patricia quoth: Noni – We actually haven’t gone all loopy – we’re firing grills and hog pits…

    Oooooh! Southern barbecue? The best BBQ in the world, I had it in the south, and once at the Purple Pig in Toronto (not bad at all). Save some for me, I’ll be there as soon as I clear Customs…

    Oh, wait…

    Dang Homeland Security all to heck, looks like I don’t get any. ~sob~

    Let the loopiness continue.

    Noni

    PS “Fear Everything”? No, silly. But LOOK AT everything — absolutely. –NM

  119. #120 John Morales
    July 30, 2008

    PhillP:

    1 I agree with skeptics that it is despicable that many have jumped on the UFO bandwagon and used it to make money and duping people with false claims and this is just as bad but at the other end of the spectrum. [...] I can’t understand anyone who is interested in science (whatever kind of science) having such an opinion. 2 I did think science was all about discovery and how can anyone discover anything if they don’t have a goal

    1. You realise you’re saying you’re not skeptical, right?
    2. Science does have a goal: to discover and try to explain natural phenomena.

  120. #121 John Morales
    July 30, 2008

    PS …human beings on this planet

    Heh, I know… I know. The qualification is supposed to, um, add rigor to the claim.

    …travel through space and time…

    Actually, I travel through space and time whilst sitting here typing.

  121. #122 True Bob
    July 30, 2008

    Right now, hunting for space aliens is a search for something we have not observed. How the hell would we even know what to look for on this planet? If they can fark around with space-time, maybe we wouldn’t even be able to observe them (as they observe us?) while they hang out orthogonal to our dimensions.

    Like I said before, show me a space alien, I’ll be right on board. In fact, if SETI finds something apparently like intelligent life, I’ll be thrilled to welcome our alien overlords. But going from “I don’t see anything unusual” to “ergo we should search for space alien craft on Terra” is, um, way out there. It’s a solution in search of a problem.

    I thank Radwaste for pointing out the speed limitations. Assuming “they” have physiology like ours (i.e. can’t stand the radiation, super-high acceleration, etc.), then even from the closest known planet, it’s a more than 30 Terran year voyage. Unfortunately, we do NOT know where the closest extrasolar planet with intelligent life is.

  122. #123 Murky
    July 30, 2008

    With all due respect professor, I think you’re wrong on this one. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We have discovered extra solar planets, evidence of water on mars and there are possible building blocks to life on other worlds. Is the possibility of alien life really so far-fetched that you think any investigation is a waste of time?

    Recommended reading:

    An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion. by Travis S. Taylor, Bob Boan, R.C. Anding, T. Conley Powell

    It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science by Graham Farmelo (Editor)
    -see the drake equation

  123. #124 Graculus
    July 30, 2008

    Small airplanes can be tracked by radar, but not very well, it’s one reason why they require transponders on them.

    Something which the US forces are well aware of, but there is more money in pushing “Star Wars”

    Maginot Line in the sky

    That article is 10 years old. The technology is a *lot* cheaper now.

  124. #125 Ray C.
    July 30, 2008

    Check out this genius, who called 999 to report a “bright stationary object” above his home.

    It was the moon.

  125. #126 Ray C.
    July 30, 2008

    @#122 True Bob: Due to time dilation, it is possible, given sufficient energy, to cross arbitrary distances in arbitrarily short times as experienced aboard the spacecraft. The catch is “given sufficient energy”: to slow time by a factor of N, you need energy equivalent to N-1 times the mass of the spacecraft and everyone and everything in it.

  126. #127 Patricia
    July 30, 2008

    Good morning!
    Here’s the chicken with a beer can up it’s ass BBQ YouTube piece:
    http://youtube.cm/watch?v=xS6R2IzDI10

  127. #128 L Kat
    July 30, 2008

    What hurts MY brain is the level of venom and incuriousness in most of these emails. Something is being reported (200 last weekend alone in the UK), whether ET or not, and most of the superior beings on this blog could care less. Now THAT’S what is unbelievable.

  128. #129 Jacques
    July 30, 2008

    PZ, you just better hope that it ain’t Catholics in these flying saucers. Cause you won’t need that colonoscopy next week, if you know what I mean.

    I need a cracker.

  129. #130 Paul Burnett
    July 30, 2008

    “…the world is going to end because the moon is visible during the day…” – Nerull, #90

    I take great delight in pointing out Venus, and occasionally Jupiter, when they are visible while the sun is also in the sky. Most folks have never seen this, and a few have indeed asked if there is any cosmic significance to this perfectly normal event – it’s rarely observed by those who don’t know / don’t care.

  130. #131 Elyse
    July 30, 2008

    “UFO” doesn’t have to mean flying saucers with little green men inside. It just stands for “unidentified flying object” (as we all know). It’s true that people do see UFOs (unidentified flying objects), but that doesn’t carry any implications that they are extraterrestrial. I could see people have security concerns about aircraft that is unidentified.

  131. #132 Elyse
    July 30, 2008

    “UFO” doesn’t have to mean flying saucers with little green men inside. It just stands for “unidentified flying object” (as we all know). It’s true that people do see UFOs (unidentified flying objects), but that doesn’t carry any implications that they are extraterrestrial. I could see people have security concerns about aircraft that is unidentified.

  132. #133 Your Name's Not Bruce?
    July 30, 2008

    Scientists would be the first to sign up for field work and exchange trips with any friendly, obliging ETs (“To Serve Man”, anybody?). Think of the opportunities to study exotic biochemistry, physics, anthro(alienthro?)pology. But I don’t think there’s any good reason for them to start packing their bags and writing up grant proposals. There has to be more to attract them than bad photographs and dubious eyewitness testimony, otherwise it’s a waste of their time.

    There is no contradiction between assigning a high probability to the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe (given the right planet, the right chemistry and time) and assigning a low (even a very low) probability to claims of current, continuous visitation by such life.

    Given our own track record of encounters between technologically advanced cultures with cultures that are somewhat less so, we can’t necessarily assume that an advanced alien civilization is benign. What if they have retained some sort of missionary zeal for their own Osiris/Zeus/Yahweh/Shiva/Jesus analogs? Think Cortes or Pizarro. With tentacles. Combine that with Alien Laser Death Rays (TM) and we’d be toast. Or learning to love the wrathful, imaginary deities of our Alien Overlords.

  133. #134 Peter Ashby
    July 30, 2008

    Bruce Simpson is a real guy, he used to post on nz.gen and soc.culture.newzealand usenet groups. He is a nice guy too and had to suffer a whole heap of shit over the low cost cruise missile thing. You would think the militaries would be grateful that he was open about it instead of selling it to Oz Quaeda over the ditch, but no such luck.

  134. #135 Peter Ashby
    July 30, 2008

    Oh and Bruce Simpson is just a kiwi bloke with an inventing inclination and a good kiwi attitude that just because they are a long way from anywhere doesn’t mean they can’t do something nobody else did. A kiwi, Richard Reid flew before the Wright Bros, only he did it in rural Otago and only his neighbours saw it. In MoTaT in Auckland they have his VTOL aircaraft on display, it has tilt rotors, only it never flew.

    We invented the jet boat, no kidding, two brothers. In the east of the South Island we have these braided rivers that run in gravel beds and are really shallow so hence not navigable with an outboard. Now they use bulldozers and make race tracks in the rivers and hold races in next to no water. It is really cool to watch, the water spray on the turns is fantastic.

    So with that heritage why the fuck shouldn’t Bruce Simpson see if he could build a cruise missile in his backyard in the South Pacific. Next someone will bring you a usable ‘jet’ pack….

  135. #136 Murky
    July 30, 2008

    There has to be more to attract them than bad photographs and dubious eyewitness testimony, otherwise it’s a waste of their time.

    Just because we don’t currently have a reliable way of providing empirical evidence concerning UFOs, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t investigate the possibility.

  136. #137 Your Name's Not Bruce?
    July 30, 2008

    Murky#136 sez;

    Just because we don’t currently have a reliable way of providing empirical evidence concerning UFOs, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t investigate the possibility.

    What I’m saying is that until there is empirical evidence, there is nothing for science to investigate. So far all the “possibilities” have resulted in mundane explanations: misunderstandings or frauds.There are zillions of things that are “possible”; only some are likely-only some are actual. Science, as I understand it, has to at least deal with the likely or the actual. UFOs-as alien spacecraft- haven’t earned the likely or actual rating. Not to say they can’t or won’t, just haven’t. But until that empirical evidence is presented….

    Listen to what this sounds like:

    Just because we don’t currently have a reliable way of providing empirical evidence concerning Bigfoot, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t investigate the possibility.

    Notice I used Bigfoot as an example rather than say leprechauns, fairies or unicorns,(Bigfoot is at least putatively a biological entity, and thus at least “possible”, rather than something mythological or imaginary) though I suspect they all are equally likely.

  137. #138 Neil B.
    July 30, 2008

    I thank everyone for polite and intelligent responses, and for checking my links and finding relevant stuff. (!) Despite the sarcastic tone of the OP (no big deal) and some comments, this is great and how a good discussion should be. Maybe my coming in politely is why it didn’t degenerate into a turd fight as often before, I’d like to keep it this way.

  138. #139 keithl
    July 30, 2008

    I hear too often the arrogant argument from sceptics that, it’s highly unlikely we are being visited due to various scientific factors regarding space/time/vast distances involved.
    Well,given that the scientific advances being made by the human race are going at a fair speed,isn’t it highly likely that a more advanced civilisation(s) have overcome many such obstacles and are capable of space travel with apparent ease compared to our tentative steps into space,so far?.

    Get with the program,please,accept the possibility that such things are possible if not probable,with such huge numbers of potentially life bearing planets throughout the known universe.
    It’s ignorant to think otherwise,actually.

  139. #140 Norman Doering
    July 30, 2008

    isn’t it highly likely that a more advanced civilisation(s) have overcome many such obstacles and are capable of space travel with apparent ease compared to our tentative steps into space,so far?

    Maybe, though the light-speed barrier may be unbreakable.

    However, the real problem with the UFO community is its self appointed experts. I use to write for UFO magazine and I reported on things like the Raelian movement, Whitley Strieber, quantum computers, time travel and such. I was skeptical but open minded when I went in, but I became increasingly close minded to most of the community’s so-called experts. They believe all kinds of woo besides the UFO stuff.

    Similar to the God phenomena, it has more to do with rejecting the people, the self appointed experts, who claim to know things that they don’t seem to really know.

    Maybe they’re here, maybe not. But if they are I seriously doubt that Rael, Strieber, Bob Lazar, George Noory, Budd Hopkins, Stanton T. Friedman, Richard C. Hoagland or John E. Mack know anything real about them.

    If they’re here, then I know of no one who can make a convincing case to knowing anything about significant them.

    The ET visitors from other worlds remain only a possibility.

  140. #141 Your Name's Not Bruce?
    July 30, 2008

    Two different claims, two different responses:

    Claim #1 There is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe whose technology is more advanced than ours. I think this is probably very likely. Heck, I imagine there are such beings in our own galaxy. Still, we have no proof.

    Claim #2 The Beings from Claim #1 ARE HERE VISITING/ABDUCTING/PROBING US RIGHT NOW!!!! And I have the anecdotes to prove it!

    I don’t think so. We have no proof. Agreeing to Claim the First in no way requires belief in #2. Until proof of #2 is forthcoming open minds may withhold acceptance.

  141. #142 John Morales
    July 30, 2008

    Murky @123:

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    This is disingenuous, because this is not a logical argument where argumentum ad ignorantiam applies.
    By your argument, anything unevidenced is possible.

    Ray C. @126:

    Due to time dilation, it is possible, given sufficient energy, to cross arbitrary distances in arbitrarily short times as experienced aboard the spacecraft.

    Do you know just how fast one must go before these relativistic effects become significant? Hint: Lorentz factor = 1 / (1-v^2/c^2)^0.5. Bringing up Windows calculator, I get 2.29 at .9c and 5.03 at .98c. At .3c, the time dilation factor is 1.05 (cf Radwaste @113).

  142. #143 truth machine, OM
    July 30, 2008

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    Carl Sagan was a prince, but he was quite wrong about that; absence of evidence isn’t proof of absence, but it certainly is evidence of it, and the harder one has looked the stronger the evidence is.

    We have discovered extra solar planets, evidence of water on mars and there are possible building blocks to life on other worlds. Is the possibility of alien life really so far-fetched that you think any investigation is a waste of time?

    That’s one heck of a strawman; no one said that alien life is far-fetched at all.

  143. #144 truth machine, OM
    July 30, 2008

    isn’t it highly likely that a more advanced civilisation(s) have overcome many such obstacles

    As much as it’s highly likely that they have found the largest prime or the rational square root of 2.

    Get with the program,please,accept the possibility that such things are possible if not probable

    Gotta love the intellectual dishonesty. There is no logical bridge from “possible”, which everyone here accepts, to “probable”.

  144. #145 truth machine, OM
    July 30, 2008

    Just because we don’t currently have a reliable way of providing empirical evidence concerning UFOs, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t investigate the possibility.

    So go “investigate the possibility” — whatever the heck that means — and report back when you’ve got something.

    Maybe we should “teach the UFO controversy”, too.

  145. #146 John Morales
    July 30, 2008

    L Kat @128:

    What hurts MY brain is the level of venom and incuriousness in most of these emails.

    What venom? And how curious are you about yet more reports of Bigfoot sightings?

  146. #147 tresmal
    July 30, 2008

    The problem here seems to be that the skeptics say one thing and the believers hear another. The skeptical position here seems to be that yes, THEY are out there (very probably) but that the evidence that THEY are visiting is weak. This isn’t hostile, closedminded or incurious; its just being rigorous.
    The standards of evidence aren’t unreasonable: unambiguous positive evidence *for* alien visitation. Hint: lights in the sky that “can’t be explained” aren’t even a beginning. Hypotheses do not win by default. Its not A, its not B, its not C, so therefore it must be D is not how it works.

  147. #148 llewelly
    July 30, 2008

    One thing that hasn’t really been addressed much in this thread. It’s not just investigations into accounts of alleged encounters or sightings of ETs that ought to be expected to reveal evidence for or against ET visits. A substantial proportion of scientific discoveries involve some degree of serendipity. To one extent or another, many efforts to understand any unusual astronomical or meteorological phenomena could potentially discover that the phenomena is due to ETs, and all investigations of unusual astronomical or meteorological increase the very understanding we require to distinguish an ET visit from something else. Consider, for example, investigations into near earth objects. Every time scientists determine that a near earth object has an orbit readily explained without recourse to it having intelligently directed self-propulsion, scientists have evidence that it is not a visiting ET – and by the same token, that scientists can distinguish ETs from unusual astronomical phenomena. If the Hubble doesn’t see any evidence of ET visits, that is evidence against them, to the extent that Hubble is used to examine other objects in our solar system, and would be able to detect many theorized kinds of ET spacecraft (yes, even ET spacecraft invisible to radar). The fact that tens of thousands of highly trained scientists, and millions of amateurs are engaged in the study of unusual astronomical and meteorological phenomena, and have yet to turn up hard evidence of ET visits is compelling evidence that there are in fact no visits.

  148. #149 John Morales
    July 31, 2008

    llewelly, good point.

    And when such fortuitous discoveries come up, they get investigated.

  149. #150 Murky
    July 31, 2008

    Good points everyone. I think the biggest problem with the field of studying UFOs is that it is lumped in with the unscientific and mysticism. If alien life does exists, it seems unlikely that there’s anything unscientific or mystical about it. If there good evidence, it’s so obscured in all the noise surrounding UFOs that it is impossible to prove. Who needs a cloaking device when every photo or sighting is automatically dismissed because too many people cried wolf.

  150. #151 Your Name's Not Bruce?
    July 31, 2008

    Murky #150 says:

    I think the biggest problem with the field of studying UFOs is that it is lumped in with the unscientific and mysticism…..If there good evidence, it’s so obscured in all the noise surrounding UFOs that it is impossible to prove. Who needs a cloaking device when every photo or sighting is automatically dismissed because too many people cried wolf.

    Well, until there is some evidence, it IS unscientific. I think that if there was really good evidence, it would soon come to light. Given the media’s predelection for sensationalist pseudoscience (see how often fringe stories and “psychics helping the police” make it to media reports, how much play “paranormal” nonsense gets in at least some of the media) I think that genuine evidence would stand an excellent chance of making it to public scrutiny if it existed. You seem to think that scientists are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Until there’s good evidence for a baby, scientists don’t need to bother even looking at the tub.

    I think that llewelly makes an excellent point; there are probably thousands of dedicated amateur and professional astronomers out looking at the skies every night. How do the aliens manage to sneak past these people and appear only to those who can’t tell the difference between Venus and the International Space Station or visitors from another planet?

  151. #152 Murky
    July 31, 2008

    I think that llewelly makes an excellent point; there are probably thousands of dedicated amateur and professional astronomers out looking at the skies every night. How do the aliens manage to sneak past these people and appear only to those who can’t tell the difference between Venus and the International Space Station or visitors from another planet?

    If some amateur astronomer did detect and report a UFO sighting, what are the chances of them being taken seriously? Since UFOs sightings are typically viewed with skepticism what possible proof could they offer? What would it take to demystify the existence of extraterrestrial spacecraft?

  152. #153 Radwaste
    July 31, 2008

    Hey, don’t be so eager to post that you forget the physics.

    Look up the density/arrangement of the local stellar neighborhood. Now, plot a course to visit the nearest 50 likely to have planets of our type, and see how long that takes.

    Now, what are the odds that you picked one with life on it?

    —–

    You also need to do more thinking about the construction of interstellar craft. What is the minimum volume for an ideal habitat? How much crew is required? Who do they send? Note: the US navy has done a bunch of this work for you already. Nuclear submarines are most of the way towards a long-mission spacecraft.

    And yes, use human terms. That will keep you honest – as opposed to thinking like a Star Trek director, where somebody pushes a button, or a character explains how stupid they all were, and then everything’s OK.

    —–

    More logical omissions: How many of you clamoring for robotic probes, because they are safer and cheaper, are assuming or insisting that “manned” probes would approach Earth?

    Why does anyone think that a probe landing here would be cloaked in some fashion? We don’t care about dropping stuff on Mars.

  153. #154 John Morales
    August 1, 2008

    Murky @152:

    What would it take to demystify the existence of extraterrestrial spacecraft?

    A: Convincing evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial spacecraft.

    You’ll know some has come up when it’s on the Web, TV, papers ad-nauseam.

    … Or, do you think there is such evidence, but the men in black suppress it.

  154. #155 truth machine, OM
    August 1, 2008

    If some amateur astronomer did detect and report a UFO sighting, what are the chances of them being taken seriously?

    The chances of them being taken seriously that flying object they saw was unidentified? Very high.

    Since UFOs sightings are typically viewed with skepticism what possible proof could they offer?

    No, the absurd claims that people make about them are viewed with skepticism.

    What would it take to demystify the existence of extraterrestrial spacecraft?

    As JM said above, convincing evidence — convincing to rational people with working brains, not blithering cretins with a very murky understanding of science, evidence, and even what “UFO” means.

  155. #156 truth machine, OM
    August 1, 2008

    Who needs a cloaking device when every photo or sighting is automatically dismissed because too many people cried wolf.

    Photos and sightings are not automatically dismissed, moron, they are examined and then debunked.

  156. #157 Murky
    August 1, 2008

    Photos and sightings are not automatically dismissed, moron, they are examined and then debunked.

    Moron? No need for personal attacks.

    Ironic that you called me that considering you are the one who missed the point.

  157. #158 truth machine, OM
    August 1, 2008

    Moron? No need for personal attacks.

    It’s never necessary to tell the truth, but it’s desirable.

    Ironic that you called me that considering you are the one who missed the point.

    No, retard, I did not.

  158. #159 keith l
    August 1, 2008

    One of the most astonishing and convincing cases of recent years that swayed me very much ‘in favour’ of the existence of ufo’s.
    I’d suggest any sceptics do a quick search for information on the Japanese airline flight number: JAL1628
    The experiences of the Pilot and flight crew together with radar confirmation,this single incident speaks volumes about this phenomenon,not hearsay or speculation,not mirage or delusion, but quite a frightening encounter with a large unknown airborne object(s) that lasted for rather a long time.

  159. #160 John Morales
    August 1, 2008

    keith l, if it hasn’t been convincing to skeptics since 1986, what has changed?

    All you’re saying is that you’re not skeptical.

  160. #161 keith l
    August 2, 2008

    Mmm,I see,well,I guess for me the shear weight of evidence is enough,with photos,radar contacts,and numerous sighting reports from highly trained observers and professional personnel,both military and civilian from all around the globe.
    We’ve currently even have a past ‘moon walking’ US astronaut and another,an ex-NASA operative stating these things exist!.

    For other’s I think they won’t buy into this as a ‘real deal’ until they see one land on the White House lawns.

    At the moment and until full official disclosure is made,(just why are so many of these incidents classified??),we’ll all just have to decide on what side of the fence we wish to sit.

    But if someone here has some genuine proof that ufo’s don’t exist?, then I’ll gladly rethink my position on this issue.
    I just wish some sceptics were as flexible in their approach also.

  161. #162 Skepticalifornia
    August 2, 2008

    But if someone here has some genuine proof that ufo’s don’t exist?, then I’ll gladly rethink my position on this issue.

    Impossible to prove a negative. Burden of proof is on you.
    UFO is an acronym, therefore capitalized. Plural of UFO is UFOs. No apostrophe. Question mark in the middle of a sentence–very strange.
    Nobody denies that Unidentified Flying Objects “exist.” I’ve seen flying objects I couldn’t identify myself. What skeptics deny is that any UFOs are spaceships from distant space-worlds, piloted by visiting ETs.

  162. #163 John Morales
    August 3, 2008

    keith @161, the sad thing is you could have (as some did) written that comment back in 1969.

    You’re indulging in wishful thinking.

    The saddest thing is, you don’t even have to be a skeptic to be dismissive of the purported evidence.

  163. #164 truth machine, OM
    August 3, 2008

    But if someone here has some genuine proof that ufo’s don’t exist?

    Haven’t we dealt with the retardation already? Of course unidentified flying objects exist. People who are so stupid as to talk about skeptics not believing that UFOs exist just aren’t worth bothering with.

  164. #165 truth machine, OM
    August 3, 2008

    not hearsay or speculation,not mirage or delusion, but quite a frightening encounter with a large unknown airborne object(s) that lasted for rather a long time.

    Bullshit. For an in-depth discussion of the JAL 1628 event, see
    http://www.physicsforums.com/archive/index.php/t-158668.html

  165. #166 truth machine, OM
    August 3, 2008

    Impossible to prove a negative.

    I wish people wouldn’t make this absurd claim. It’s impossible to prove a universal empirical negative, but it’s possible to prove empirical negatives (e.g., “Dick Cheney doesn’t really have horns and a tail”), analytical negatives (“the square root of 2 is not rational”), and even universal analytical negatives (e.g., “there is no greatest prime”).

  166. #167 keith l
    August 3, 2008

    Oh,dear!,when the skeptics resort to mud slinging and accusations of stupidity maybe it’s time to move on…hehe!.

    What incredible arrogance, to dismiss such a mountain of evidence and in the process to also dismiss the testimony of a multitude of military and civilian professionals who have witnesses this phenomenon first hand, and whose word in most other areas of life would be accepted in a court of law.

    Gotta love such a blinkered view of our universe,”I won’t believe you all unless you prove it to me without question,show me your so called ufo!”.
    Well now,for many of us we have long ago reached that point of acceptance by examining closely what is already available..d’oh!.

    It must be difficult to survive with such a deeply held and solid skepticism in an ever changing and wonder filled universe.
    I pity your sad tunnel vision,one that would drive you to insult strangers that merely take an opposing viewpoint,incredible!,how very open minded and impartial,..ha-ha,when in doubt,use abuse.

    How wonderful,to imply I’m so stupid as to not be worth bothering with and then bother anyway…priceless idiocy.
    I believe ‘retardation’ was a word you used,I’d check the mirror if I were you…heh.

  167. #168 John Morales
    August 3, 2008

    Yes, keith l, skeptics have incredible arrogance and tunnel vision; when in doubt, we use abuse – and it’s oh so difficult to survive with such skepticism.

    Right.

    There, there.

  168. #169 brightmoon
    August 6, 2008

    i just had to disabuse some woman about that recently ..she thought Jupiter was a UFO

    of course, the look of sheer delight in her eyes when she realized that she was looking at a planet, made up for the stupid UFO statement

    Jupiter is very very bright
    look south east at around sunset ..and planets dont twinkle

  169. #170 muhabbet
    March 26, 2009

    thanks..