Remember his original comments about this?
I argued that amateurs do report UFOs. As I mentioned in a response to a posting in the original articles, in a survey of 1800 amateur astronomers, something like 25% of them, or just over 400, had, in fact seen a UFO which, Plait is quick to point out is not the same as a flying saucer. UFO simply means they have seen something they can’t explain but that it is not necessarily an alien ship. Flying saucer is, well, an alien ship.
Amateur astronomers, of course. They are dedicated observers, out every night peering at the sky. If The Truth Is Out There, then amateur astronomers would be reporting far and away the vast majority of UFOs. But they don’t. Why not? Because they understand the sky! [Emphasis in original] They know when a twinkling light is Venus, or a satellite, or a military flare, or a hot air balloon, and so they don’t report it.
That, to me, is the killer argument that aliens aren’t visiting us. If they were, the amateur astronomers would spot them.
I’m tempted to say, Well, duh. We’ve known that for 50 years. We know that people can’t identify bright planets on cold nights, or are fooled by the landing lights of airplanes, or strange atmospheric conditions and extraordinarily bright meteors and a host of other things.
But then we reach a core of sightings, many by professionals, college-educated scientists, or police officers, or military and civilian pilots that aren’t easily explained. As I’ve said before, the higher the level of education and the longer the object was in sight, the less likely it’ll be identified in the mundane. And when you have a daylight sighting of a disk-shaped object no more than a hundred feet away, then many of the explanations fail.
I believed we had disposed of the nonsense that amateur astronomers don’t see UFOs but Plait countered this argument, writing, "The problem is, this doesn’t show me wrong. It misses the point entirely, which is the majority of UFO reports would be made by amateur astronomers if these were in fact alien spaceships. I don’t care if you can find a handful of reports from astronomers. This shows conclusively that the majority of UFOs reported are not flying saucers, but misidentified mundane objects."
This strikes me as a fairly arrogant statement. It changes the conditions of the argument by adding a new element, not that amateurs don’t report UFOs but that they don’t report flying saucers. And he says that he doesn’t care if we can find a handful of reports from astronomers. Well, didn’t he say that astronomers don’t report these things and now when that is shown to be inaccurate, he says he doesn't care. He wants reports of spacecraft and not reports of UFOs.
And he suggested that amateur astronomers would make the majority of those sightings because they are (a) familiar with the sky so what they report won’t be mundane and (b) they are looking into the sky more than anyone else...
Except, of course, pilots, who spend a great deal of time looking at the sky, both during daylight hours and at night. Wouldn’t you expect a large number of reports from pilots? And of those, wouldn’t most of them be of mundane objects that are misidentified rather than of alien ships? And finally, what do we do with that core of sightings in which a structured craft that resembles nothing built on Earth and that maneuvers outside the capabilities of a craft manufactured on Earth?
In fact, the Air Force, which investigated UFOs (and flying saucer) reports for 22 years was most interested in the sightings by pilots, especially military pilots. Their reasoning was the same as Plait’s, except they applied it to pilots. Pilots would be familiar with the sky and since they spend much of their flight time looking at the sky, they would report spaceships, as opposed to UFOs, at a higher rate than the rest of the population, including amateur astronomers. Or so the Air Force would argue, from it’s logical position.
Except this argument, for either amateur astronomers or pilots is based, not on evidence, but on an assumption of evidence. Plait argues that if some UFOs are alien spaceships, then amateur astronomers would be reporting them. The Air Force argues it would be pilots... and neither uses any facts to back up the premise.
We can point to amateur astronomers who have seen something that could be classified as an alien spaceship based on the eyewitness description of it. And, there are hundreds of reports from pilots, including fighter pilots, who have given chase to objects that would be classified as alien spaceships based on the eyewitness descriptions of them.
Oh, yes, I forgot. Plait won’t accept eyewitness testimony... he wants physical evidence that he can hold in his hand and that is available for independent testing. He doesn’t want cases where the craft interacted with the environment, was tracked on radar, multiple witness cases, or photographs and movie, as opposed to video.
Friedman is no fan of me, either. A few years ago I wrote an article for Sky and Telescope magazine about UFOs, basically making the same claim I made here last week: http://skepticblog.org/2008/11/26/abducted-by-logic/if all these UFO sightings we hear about were real, the majority of them would be seen by amateur astronomers.
Friedman took exception to that (shocker, I know). In his internet newsletter//www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2004/apr/m28-013.shtml) subscription required), he said: "Plait among other gems says about Amateur [sic] astronomers [sic] ‘Logically, they should be reporting most of the UFOs’. This is logic?"
Um, yeah, Mr. Friedman, it is. Maybe you should acquaint yourself with it. Note that this is all he said, just dismissing my point without actually saying anything about it. I know, it’s hard to believe that someone with such stature in the UFO community would make a claim with no evidence, and dismiss a claim that does have evidence!
Far be it for me to defend Stan Friedman here, but I don’t really get the logic of Plait’s statement either. I have seen him offer nothing in the way of evidence that amateur astronomers don’t make flying saucer reports (as opposed to UFO reports). Stan certainly could have offered some evidence as well, as I attempted to do in the last couple of postings. We all should be arguing from the evidence at hand, not from what we believe that evidence to be.
As a single example, I offered some of that evidence, including a very good sighting made by an atmospheric physicist using instrumentation... yes, I know it was only eyewitness testimony, but was using instrumentation, it was multiple witness, and it suggests that this claim about amateur astronomers is absurd.
But having taken care of Stan Friedman, which seems to be a logical argument to me, given that Friedman offered no evidence to support his claim, Plait goes after Chris Rutkowski. He wrote:
Mr. Friedman has company, too. I got an email from a reader named Chris Rutkowski, who also posted his thoughts to an internet newsletter [which, of course, I’m doing here though I think of this as a blog rather than a newsletter]. http://www.hyper.net/ufo/vs/m05-017.html He does Friedman one better (just barely) by actually addressing my claims about amateur astronomers, but blows it when it comes to logic. Rutkowski basically says that amateurs do in fact report UFOs, and so I am wrong.
And then he gets nasty, which sort of surprises me because so much of his stuff seems to be reasoned. He wrote:
I have said this, over and over, very clearly, but the "UFOologists" can’t seem to understand it. And then they accuse me of being closed-minded. That part slays me. They cannot imagine that aliens aren’t visiting us, and every light in the sky is a spaceship, and I’m the one who has a closed mind.
And, yes, we know that the majority of UFOs can be identified in the mundane. We all have said the same thing. We also say that there is some very persuasive evidence that some UFOs are alien spaceships. What’s so hard to understand here? We get it, and I haven’t, as far as I know, labeled anyone with a derogatory title in this little dust up.
In fact, I’ll add a note here, once again and that is a bias against reporting a flying saucer. Does he really think that an amateur astronomer who reported a flying saucer would be trusted in any other observations? Didn’t J. Allen Hynek, in his survey of professional astronomers, learn that none of them wanted to admit to seeing anything unusual based on their perception of how their peers would react? In other words, there is a self-policing that keeps the amateurs from offering the descriptions that Plait would want... but then he would reject them all as eyewitness testimony anyway and not be impressed.
I’ll let Rutkowski respond to this and I believe that Plait will be surprised at Rutkowski’s credentials as an amateur astronomer himself. I will just add this because Chris Rutkowski was involved with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and was even the president of one of the chapters. He has also received the RASC’s Simon Newcomb Award for science writing and education. So, his words do carry some weight when speaking about amateur astronomers and what they see and what they report. I suspect that Plait didn't know this about Rutkowski.
My point here is that Plait rejects, without evidence the idea that amateur astronomers see flying saucers and used his assumption to prove that there are no flying saucers. (Isn’t this a circular argument?) He believes that amateur astronomers should report flying saucers at a larger number than the general population if there is anything to this alien visitation, but overlooks the number of reports of flying saucers by all categories of pilots. And rejects sightings of flying saucers by professional astronomers for some reason that I don’t understand... except, of course, that they are eyewitness testimony.
Since he is unaware of those reports, then they simply don’t exist. My point is that they do exist, and therefore, you can’t use that as evidence that there is no alien visitation. And yes, before we go on, I understand that this interpretation, that these amateur astronomers see flying saucers, could be in error... I’m merely saying that there is a body of eyewitness testimony that proves the theory, that they don’t see flying saucers, wrong. Believe or don’t believe, but you can’t dismiss the phenomenon with this argument. You need something grounded in reality.