Thursday, August 20, 2009

Here we go again.

Report: UFO Sightings Coincide with Popular Sci-Fi Films, TV

The British Ministry of Defense released 4,000 pages of documents detailing hundreds of UFO sightings between 1981 and 1996. A summary of the documents by UFO expert David Clarke comes as no surprise to scientists and skeptics: many of the sightings coincide with the release of popular sci-fi movies or television shows.

Frankly, so what?

There's doubtlessly a correlation between science fiction and UFO reports. But while pop culture's influence on potential UFO observers is a fascinating subject with important sociological ramifications, to flaunt Clarke's findings as a refutation of the phenomenon in general is to willfully ignore the evidence in its entirety.

UFO researchers aren't interested in "noise" cases -- the inevitable false alarms that plague efforts to study the phenomenon (whatever its origin). Indeed, scientists who have addressed the UFO problem have always been painfully aware of the disproportionately high volume of false returns. Clarke's study is a welcome reminder, but it comes as nothing particularly new to anyone even peripherally familiar with the UFO inquiry.

That the number of spurious reports rises in accordance with the popularity of alien-themed movies and TV series is scarcely surprising. Unfortunately, neither is it surprising that the mainstream skeptical establishment chooses to ignore the residue of anomaly that makes the UFO phenomenon such an enduring and woefully unremarked challenge to science.

[Follow me on Twitter.]


Rick MG said...

I'm not surprised to see Susan Clancy pushing this ridiculous meme as well: The willful ignorance of pseudoskeptics infuriates me, mainly because the media gobbles it up verbatim. In the fourth batch of MoD UFO files for example, there are more than 500 cases reported *before* Independence Day was released. The pseudoskeptics are also making the huge assumption that UFO witnesses were aware of scifi media like The X-Files -- seeing an advertisement or two during the ad breaks of a football match isn't going to influence their judgement when seeing something in the sky. Many UFO witnesses, before their encounters, believed UFOs to be hogwash anyway. If people are fantasising alien/UFO encounters because of watching too much scifi on tv, then shouldn't Generation Y be seeing bespectacled nerds flying around on broomsticks? There is a wealth of solid UFO and alien encounter data that refutes the arguments of Clarke, McNally, and Clancy. But don't bother the pseudoskeptics with the facts, because their minds are already made up.

Anonymous said...

I'd generally have to agree with Rick and Mac here--while it's an intriguing rhetorical suggestion that pop culture media fictions on TV and in the movies generate higher rates of ufo reports in general, I don't think such a simplistic theory is supported by fact and the actual historical record.

There may be some increase in, as Mac suggests, spurious or poor reports, but in my own informal study of the ufo phenomenon's history, the various U.S. and foreign waves and flaps of ufo activity and subsequent collective reports do not seem to correlate in time or thematic type to fictional popular media on the ufo subject very well at all.

Sure, you can always select out particular reports as coinciding with a particular periodic fad of ufo media interest, but that is not a scientifically valid methodology--it's the varying volume, kind, and geographical locale of ufo reports that would need to be compared somehow to varying levels of public media products and coverage over differing periods of time within the related culture that would need to be empirically quantified. Can anyone here cite such a reference to any actual studies of such a correlation?

Whenever I've read these articles about this alleged generic correlation, I've never seen a reference to or citation of a valid, thorough study of the supposed connection. Now why is that? Myth-making for memetic or ideological ends, or just presumptive belief, is so much easier than actual investigative research would be my guess.

Rather more interestingly, the patterns shown in the best cases in years with unusually high ufo activity being reported are typically not during or preceded by the cyclical periods when various ufo-related movie, TV, or other increased popcult interest or output has occurred.

The years 1947/52/65/73 in the U.S., for example, which were years when various fairly intense waves of reported ufo activity occurred over broad areas domestically, don't seem to correlate with such fictional media coverage or film/TV releases. In fact, such popcult output typically occurs after genuine waves, usually by a lag time of at least a year or two, indicating that the reverse of what the article alleges may be more accurate.

From the article: "Obviously, films and TV programs raise public awareness of UFOs and it's fascinating to see how that appears to lead more people to report what they see to the authorities," Clarke said. Oh, really? Appears? What is obvious is that this is Dr. Clarke's perception, but without substantiated evidence, this is deceptive speculation at best, and an example of what is termed "confirmation bias." I would suggest, in turn, that Clarke confuses cause with effect.

I'd like to see a citation or two from careful statistical studies of both the various domestic and foreign ufo waves over the last several decades with a corresponding analysis of media coverage and popular fiction/movies/TV covering the ufo/alien theme to see what that would actually indicate, although there may be none, as how any such study could or would quantify and qualify correspondence between ufo reporting patterns and ufo-related patterns of popular media coverage would likely be quite difficult to statistically determine with objective validity.

It's so easy to invent correlations and connections where there are none or very little of real statistical significance when one is attempting to make a false, dismissive argument based on just superficial coincidence without real mathematical correlations that can be proven when one is attempting to justify a false belief. Just consider the principle of the big lie, and of how health care reform, for example, is being derailed by lies and deceptive propaganda about "death panels," etc.

This kind of malignant strategy is often quite effective--see the following:

Dr. David Clarke bio:

Anonymous said...

BTW, Mac, your reference to "Clarke's study" or findings is something less than those terms would imply--see:

Excerpt from:

"BBC News Online ran a lead article and a more in-depth look at the connection between UFO sightings and science fiction in popular culture.

"My comments on this link were picked up by most of the media, which in itself demonstrates how easy it is to plant an idea and watch it germinate.

"As I had hoped, most of the commentators recognised that I was not suggesting UFO sightings were caused by "people watching too much sci-fi". What I'm saying is that the link with imagery in popular culture is more subtle than that: people see UFOs (whatever they are), but usually they tell only close friends and relatives. When UFOs are in the news - TV, film, whatever - they are more inclined to report them to outsiders (i.e. police, newspapers, MoD etc).

"This effect, I believe, is reflected in the figures showing numbers of reports received by the MoD from 1959 to present. But it must be remembered these statistics are distorted by other factors, and most importantly this is raw data as virtually none of these reports were subject to a proper investigation.

"Most TV news bulletins mentioned the link to UFOs in films and TV in the stories published yesterday and by the afternoon the key highlights had been picked up by leading agencies such as PA, AP and CNN."

[bold/italic emphasis added]

Anonymous said...

See also:

Are UFO sightings linked to sci-fi films?
[BBC News Online excerpt]

"David Clarke, an expert on UFO sightings based at Sheffield Hallam University, believes there is a link between sightings and science-fiction.

"The more that alien life is covered in films or television documentaries, the more people look up at the sky and don't look down at their feet.

"Maybe what they are seeing is ordinary, like an aircraft, but because they are looking for a UFO, they think it is one."

It's difficult to prove, he says, but there is a correlation between films and what people are reporting as strange objects in the sky.

The year with the most sighting was 1978, when Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in the UK, although the year that ET was packing people into cinemas, 1982, was a year when sightings dipped.

"The lows are also interesting. After 9/11, there were a few years when everyone was distracted by what was going on elsewhere in the world, and then the last couple of years there seems to have been more sightings, possibly due to Chinese lanterns being released at weddings and festivals."

The MoD figures should be treated with some caution, he says, because in later years they only refer to sightings passed to it by other authorities like the police, RAF or coastguards. So they are vulnerable to being distorted if one person or one group of people makes multiple reports.

Before 1973, the cases were investigated and in the preceding 14 years, 223 of the 2,310 sightings remained unexplained, which is one in 10.

The vast majority were discovered to be aircraft (960), satellites and debris (378), celestial objects like planets and stars (221) or freak weather (176).


Of the cases that remained unexplained, says Mr Clarke, most were difficult to investigate with accuracy because they happened long before the investigation.

"But within all this noise, there is a genuine unexplained phenomenon. I don't think it's aliens but there is something peculiar."

Possibly what people are seeing are atmospheric phenomena like ball lightning, he says, which are still little understood.

And maybe having mysteries like these is a good thing for everyone, because it generates an appetite for discovery.

"A lot of people believe in UFOs and want to believe in them as a reaction to scientists, who can now explain where we come from and the beginning of the universe.

"UFOS have become an anti-science symbol that people can rally around. Some things are unexplained and people love that mystery."

the chronic said...

Amen, Mack.

And happy birthday!

Anonymous said...

Final excerpt from Clarke's blog:

It's hugely ironic that while the so-called "disclosure" campaign continue[s] to call for the release of "evidence" they believe is being hidden about UFOs, here in Britain open government and freedom of information has already arrived.

Somewhere around 10,000 pages of information have already been "disclosed" and, like it or not, what "truth" there is lies in here, not hidden away in a some dusty hangar somewhere.

There will always be people who have decided in advance what they think is the "truth" and because they can't find it in these files, decide it must therefore be hidden away in more top secret files somewhere else.

But this is the type of conspiracy mongering that has got UFOlogy precisely nowhere over the past 60 years. It simply hands a weapon to those who dismiss the whole topic as the province of the deluded and the paranoid.

The opening of the UFO files has given the subject much needed credibility.

Let's make the most of it.

[bold emphasis added]

Red Pill Junkie said...

Am I the only UFO nerd who found incredibly ironic that, in a deleted scene of the movie CEIII, the location of the scene was the O'Hare airport —the SAME airport of the famous 2006 sighting??

It's almost as if the phenomenon is laughing at these skoftics' naive "explanations". Let's join in the laughter :-D

Anonymous said...

Credibility? Of what do these released British files give credibility to? That there is nothing to suggest other than a variety of phenomena prosaic or natural in nature? Or constituting evidence of the gullibility, venality, delusion, deception, or limits of perception on the part of all witnesses? And yet he has the gall to say ""But within all this noise, there is a genuine unexplained phenomenon. I don't think it's aliens but there is something peculiar."

Genuine. Unexplained. Phenomenon. Unknown, in other words, in a relatively small residue of case incidents. But not aliens. But definitely something peculiar. Probably an atmospheric phenomena. Like the Condign report suggests.

But that, too, then remains unproven, unidentified, and unknown, despite that presumption. Perhaps. But not exclusively. Logic and rationality demands nothing less than that conclusions made in lieu of proof or sufficient evidence are invalid by definition if so limited in scope as to rule out alternative possibilities. Ipso facto.

Yet Clarke also says:

"And maybe having mysteries like these is a good thing for everyone, because it generates an appetite for discovery.

"A lot of people believe in UFOs and want to believe in them as a reaction to scientists, who can now explain where we come from and the beginning of the universe."

[If this guy could only hear himself talk! How counter-intuitively elitist and unscientific--we can now explain where we come from and the beginning of the universe? No, in actual fact, we can't, except in a very general way, and even that is unproven, and best theories, which is what they are, could be wrong.]

Talk about "hugely ironic"!

So therefore, he cannot rule out the ETH or other hypotheses of some form of non-human intelligence or consciousness, nor presume an explanation of some form of unexplained or unknown natural phenomena like atmospheric plasma or ball lighting, can he?

Who here is being unscientific or truly anti-science?

I wonder if Clarke is aware of the irony that, considering almost all these files from the MOD are simply reports which were not properly investigated, he may be wrong. In other words, does he ever wonder if some cases involving national security issues of actual unknown cases involving the military may still remain classified, and that could have resulted in investigation, but that due to the findings or conclusions thereof, may remain undisclosed and classified? Does he seriously believe all UFO reports, evidence, and investigation has or will be publicly released regardless of national security implications?

He does not know what he has not been told or given access to, now could he? He only knows what he's been told or provided.

This strange, vastly contradictory, anti-scientific attitude or belief that apparently no cases or incidents just might involve some form of non-human intelligence is inherently subjective and illogical.

I think that would be very naive, to say the least, to assume all "disclosure" has or will occur since there is no evidence for non-human intelligence, but then, as he says above, "like it or not, what 'truth' there is lies in here, not hidden away in a some dusty hangar somewhere," and to suggest otherwise, that there could possibly be data and cases he will never be privy to, would make me a "deluded and paranoid" "conspiracy monger" I guess.

But my opinion that we are, in some cases, dealing with something other than "atmospheric phenomena like ball lightning" is based in direct experience, research, and multiple-witness observation of a phenomenon which displayed anomalous reactive behavior and apparent intent at very close range. If he only knew or had seen what I have, he might think quite differently. Or at least have an open mind as to the possibility he could be wrong, and that there just may be such things he does not know of. The arrogant, ignorant naif.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mac! 34th, isn't it?

Mac said...

Great comments, everyone!

Rick MG said...

It's also worth noting that these are just MoD files -- they don't represent the global UFO phenomenon. The files released also aren't a reliable representation of military reports, many of which remain classified. Military witnesses who have come forward have made it very clear that there are many, many more encounters that are never made public, for a variety of reasons ranging from national security to personal choice. And what of testimonies from pilots and their crew (military, commercial and civilian), such as the Channel Islands case? Quite a worry that people's lives are in the hands of pilots who watch too much scifi! ;)