Friday, September 19, 2014

SETI and UFOs


Just the other day I was reading a book about SETI and the author committed the error of appealing to an authority… which means he didn’t have a good argument other than to say that these prestigious people and organizations have weighed in and they say UFO phenomenon is all hogwash.

Sure, I know you’re confused so I’ll expand. He was writing about UFOs, which, if you’re going to discuss SETI you need to address, even if it is to dismiss the idea of alien visitation. He wrote that the Air Force began to study the problem with Project Blue Book in the 1950s and then with the University of Colorado study now known as the Condon Committee which ended official research.

Overlooking the fact that the Air Force investigation began in January 1948 (officially), and had the name changed a couple of times until they settled on Blue Book in the 1950s, anyone who has reviewed these files find them filled with inaccuracy, half-truth, smears of witnesses, explanations that are completely wrong (Portage County UFO chase began with the sighting of a satellite that, according to all records including those in the Blue Book files proved were not visible at the time) to documentation showing exactly what the mission evolved into and it wasn’t investigation of UFOs. To suggest that the Air Force investigated and found there was nothing important in the sightings was to miss the point. The real point of the Air Force investigation was to ensure that National Security was not compromised. It did not prove there was nothing important to UFO sightings and that nothing important would be learned by continued study.

There is documentation that shows the Condon Committee was a put up job. Condon had the conclusions written a year and a half before the end of the project. Those conclusions did not match the information contained in the research and in one case they “identified” the UFO as a phenomenon so rare it had never been seen before or since. If nothing else, the various investigations conducted by the Condon scientists suggested that something of scientific value could be learned through additional research.

Here’s the real point. The author of the book shouldn’t have dismissed UFOs for the reasons he cited. They are not valid. Had he looked into the UFO phenomenon himself, studied a few of the cases, and determined through that investigation that UFOs have nothing to do with SETI is one thing. To reject it because of the obviously biased research of someone else is something else.

Oh, you want to know what should be done. Easy. The SETI crowd should conduct an investigation into UFOs and decide for themselves if there is anything of value in the reports. They may well decide UFOs will provide nothing to further their research, but they shouldn’t allow the biased research color their thinking. There are other studies that have concluded the opposite.

32 comments:

Ross said...

What was the book about SETI that you were reading? Who was the author? No harm in supplying that information.

cda said...

Yes Kevin, I agree with Ross. Which book is it? Has this author ever mentioned UFOs before?

I accept the gist of what you say. This sort of complaint (against establishment science and scientists) was aired decades ago and is still valid, up to a point. However, it must be said the ufology has hardly progressed during this time, so it works both ways.

I recall Arthur C.Clarke's remarks about Project Blue Book shooting down UFOs as something like a "massive firing of Xerox machines".

Anthony Mugan said...

It is necessary for SETI researchers to take a very hard negative stance against UFOs or else they will not get funding.
It is OK to suggest an advanced ETC a long way off and at a similar stage of development to ourselves (radio SETI) but apparently not to note the probability that any ETC would be significantly older than ourselves. Of course it is inconceivable that any ETC would follow the path of development we are taking with studies of interstellar propulsion possibilities...and perhaps have got a bit further than us...

Many seem to genuinely be convinced of this illogical nonsense...Such is the amazing ability of the human mind to convince itself that black is white when told so by authority figures.

Paul Young said...

The findings of the Condon Committee were so obviously flawed and biased to the point of being laughable! Wasn't there any resistance, from the scientific world at large, to their report?

albertguitar.com said...

@Anthony

...If I may add to your first paragraph: ...and perhaps may already be in our Solar System!...
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I have a feeling that SETIs gov't funding has nothing to do with their stated mission.
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@Paul
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In the 50's, I can understand how folks might have trusted 'official reports'. We shouldn't judge those folks by today's standards, i.e., nothing originating with the gov't can be assumed to be true. In dealing with controversial issues, I find it convenient to assume that everything's a lie until proven otherwise.

Your question is a good one. Were any scientists interested in UFO phenomena back then?
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I gotta go...

Terry the Censor said...

> The real point of the Air Force investigation was to ensure that National Security was not compromised. It did not prove there was nothing important to UFO sightings

Are you saying the AF was concerned about national security but -- at the exact same time -- was not genuinely concerned if alien craft were (or were not) entering US air space?

KRandle said...

Terry -

National Security and their interest in these craft penetrating American airspace are the same thing. They were quite concerned about that... And they were worried about the public reaction to all this, manipulating the public data for a specific response. As time passed and it became clear that the invasion fleet wouldn't be arriving soon, and they realized tht gathering UFO reports was, for them, counterproductive, the emphasis of the mission changed.

cda said...

Kevin:

You say: "As time passed and it became clear that the invasion fleet wouldn't be arriving soon,..."

So Roswell was not part of this invasion fleet, but may still have been an early recconnaisance craft that came to grief? Is that what you are now saying?

Perhaps the Battelle nitinol research (supposedly based on analysis of the Roswell fragments) was enough to convince the USAF that the UFOs were of advanced technological design, but not dangerous enough to pose a threat to national security. Hence, after a brief period of doubt, the gathering of further UFO reports became counterproductive. Is this scenario really credible?

Obviously if you assert that Bluebook carried on without ever knowing the Roswell 'truth' then the above is perfectly credible.

And we are still awaiting the SETI author's identity.

Dave said...

@ Paul Young,

Several members of the Condon cmte quit before the report was published.

Most only read Condon's conclusion. But there are some interesting cases in the report which were ignored by Condon's concluding remarks.

KRandle said...

CDA -

I am saying only that there has been no invasion by alien creatures and am quite confident in that conclusion because there has been no invasion. I draw no other conclusions.

It is clear that there is nothing in the Project Blue Book files about the Roswell case other than a single paragraph in a story about another UFO event. There is no case file, no suggestion that the Roswell crash was a balloon or an alien craft, nothing to suggest that the military was interested in the event for several hours. Nothing at all. Draw your own conclusion.

I'm not sure what the big deal is about the SETI book, but for those who must know, it was The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies. The relevant information appears on pages 18 - 20.

The point was that a reliance on the conclusions of the Condon Committee and a suggestion that they had explained UFOs in the mundane was simply wrong. Even a quick survey of the literature today, simply done on line (or on the line for those of you who saw The Internship) would suggest that the Condon Committee didn't prove much of anything of a scientific sense.

Ross said...

Kevin,

Oh, no "big deal" about the title and author of the SETI book; I was just curious, that's all. Thanks for supplying the information.

cda said...

When you think about it, SETI enthusiasts and UFO believers are at completely opposite ends of the 'ET elsewhere' spectrum and will remain so.

One believes there is a possibility of intelligent life out there but that we have not managed to get in touch yet (but that we must try to). The other not only believes in ET life out there but that it has already arrived on earth. The extreme end of this latter group also believes ETs are not only arrived here but have been abducting earth inhabitants for at least 50 years.

So we have in effect three groups of people.

Is it conceivable that there exists any scientist who belongs to all 3 groups? Now that really would be VERY interesting.

Paul Young said...

"Several members of the Condon cmte quit before the report was published."
Thanks Dave... Just to clarify,is it known if they quit as in, "resign in protest" (as opposes to quitting for other personal reasons). If so, did any of them speak out later? I just find it amazing that such an obviously biased report could be railroaded onto the public without someone, with a bit of clout within the scientific community,not challenging it at the time of release. Thanks, Paul Y.

cda said...

Paul:

One of those who quit was Dr David Saunders. He then collaborated on a book (paperback) with a journalist Roger R.Harkins entitled "UFOS? YES, WHERE THE CONDON COMMITTEE WENT WRONG", published soon after the Condon Report itself, in 1969.

The other to quit was Norman Levine.

Actually both were fired, rather than resigning of their own will.

You can read the whole story in that book. Probably still available, somewhere.

In fact the book may have actually preceded the Condon Report, I just don't know.

Jim Robinson said...


Paul Young -

At least one of the Condon cmte who resigned wrote a book ("UFOS?Yes!" by David Saunders & Roger Harkins) about his experience even before the Condon report was published. Regards.

Paul Young said...

@ cda and Jim....Many thanks!
I'll try to get a copy of that book.

Glenn said...

Totally agree, Kevin. Whenever I hear anything about this SETI nonsense I cringe.

zoamchomsky said...

Now that we know the writer is an internationally known physicist with an in-depth knowledge of the entire subject of life in the Universe (as detailed in his book), his dismissal of the reality of visiting ET spacecraft--in which Condon figures minimally--is completely understandable.

Scientists have never taken "UFO" reports seriously because they're anecdotes of the extraordinary which leave no trace of occurring and are completely inconsequential. Over a century of "UFO" reports has produced no veracious evidence of an unknown of any kind, much less visiting ET spacecraft.

And we didn't need Condon to know that; there always was a much simpler explanation: the Psychosocial hypothesis. And I predict that no matter how long or who considers the ever-increasing catalogue of "UFO" reports, the ETH will always be the "least likely" explanation.

Don Maor said...

Amen zoam, Amen.

albertguitar.com said...

"...Now that we know the writer is an internationally known physicist with an in-depth knowledge of the entire subject of life in the Universe..."
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LOL
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Thanks for the laugh, zoam..

I gotta go...

zoamchomsky said...

Albert;

I knew some would like that. I also know it says "knowledge of the entire subject....

You know, what we do know....

Why not read the book?

"Contemplating a seriously alien intelligence, and the hallmarks of a multi-million-year technology, means we must jettison as much mental baggage as possible. Forget little green men, grey dwarfs, flying saucers with portholes, crop circles, glowing balls and scary nocturnal abductions. Embracing SETI means going beyond UFOs, beyond the stereotypes of human myth, beyond folklore, fable and science fiction. ... To fully comprehend the significance of the eerie silence compels us to embark on a journey into the truly unknown."

Reminds me very much of:

"Despite this apparent variety of extraterrestrials, the UFO abduction syndrome portrays, it seems to me, a banal Universe. The form of the supposed aliens is marked by a failure of the imagination and a preoccupation with human concerns. Not a single being presented in all these accounts is as astonishing as a cockatoo would be if you had never before beheld a bird. Any protozoology or bacteriology or mycology textbook is filled with wonders that far outshine them most exotic descriptions of the alien abductionists. The believers take the common elements in their stories as tokens of verisimilitude, rather than as evidence that they have contrived their stories out of a shared culture and biology.

Guess who, Albert.

KRandle said...

Zoom, All -

My point here, which I think might have gotten lost was simple that the samples he cited into UFO research, Condon and Blue Book are badly flawed. They were more propaganda than research with a specific agenda which had nothing to do with evidence. I have no quarrel with his belief, or lack of belief in UFOs as alien craft. I do have a problem with the sources he quoted as authorities on the topic.

Paul Young said...

@ zoamchomsky .... "The believers take the common elements in their stories as tokens of verisimilitude, rather than as evidence that they have contrived their stories out of a shared culture and biology."

A cute quote,and all that,but a lose,lose situation for the so called "abductee's"!
I expect the rough ride Travis Walton has had would have been infinitely worse if his captors resembled a fruit bat. If Alan Godfrey had reported that he was examined by something that looked like a rose bush, then the "looney farm" would have been his next port of call.

It would seem more suspect, to me, if the "abductee's" (and I'm not remotely convinced by the "abductee programme")were reporting their captors of all being completely different from each other.

If,in the distant future, humans made it to a planet inhabited by an intelligent but more primitive civilisation than ours...then surely (those that had not already lost their minds through fear)would be reporting that their tormentors ALL looked like, errrrrm, us!

zoamchomsky said...

"So it is tempting to conclude that if 95 per cent of sightings can be explained without too much effort, then so could the remaining 5 per cent if we had enough information at our disposal, because there is nothing to elevate that residue from the rest, apart from being more puzzling.

"This is certainly the position of many governments that have set up UFO research studies. ...

"For its part, the United States established Project Blue Book in 1950 to evaluate whether UFOs posed a threat to national security. Over twenty years, thousands of reports were sifted and hundreds investigated in detail. At the end of this mammoth analysis, Edward Condon, a well-known atomic physicist, was asked to provide an assessment. The resulting Condon Report concluded that about 90 per cent of the sightings could be explained in terms of normal phenomena, while the remaining 10 per cent didn’t contain enough of scientific value or defence significance to warrant Blue Book’s continuation. It was duly terminated. Blue Book employed an astronomer as scientific adviser – Allen Hynek from Northwestern University in Illinois. I met the amiable pipe-smoking Dr Hynek on a number of occasions when I was a postdoctoral researcher, and I even visited his home in Illinois, which contained a room full of dusty UFO files. That was in 1970. It was Hynek who sorted the reports into various categories and coined the familiar term ‘close encounters of the third kind’, which became a byword after Steven Spielberg adopted it for his famous movie.... Hynek was convinced after years of gruelling investigation that there was ‘something in it’, although he conceded that only a tiny fraction of cases presented evidence for anything seriously odd. For a while he almost convinced me too – I was at least prepared to keep an open mind. But over the years, as I thought more about these unexplained sightings, I came to see how deeply anthropocentric they were – bearing all the hallmarks of human rather than alien minds.

zoamchomsky said...

Kevin;

Davies says he took the ETH of "UFO" reports so seriously--forty years ago--that he was "almost convinced," but the totality of the evidence ultimately persuaded him otherwise.

I don't think he's so much appealing to authority as reviewing history--even if those studies are flawed and more propaganda than science. His considered opinion doesn't depend on those studies.

We know that Enrico Fermi guffawed at "flying saucer" reports in 1947. Scientists have never taken "UFO" reports (airships, phantom balloons and aircraft, ghost rockets or flying saucers) seriously because they're anecdotes of the extraordinary which leave no trace of occurring and are completely inconsequential. Over a century of "UFO" reports has produced no veracious evidence of an unknown of any kind, much less visiting ET spacecraft.

And that's Davies' position.

Thank you.

albertguitar.com said...

@zoam

"...bearing all the hallmarks of human rather than alien minds...."

Only a person "...with an in-depth knowledge of the entire subject of life in the Universe." could make such a statement.

A bit presumptive, I'd say.

Anthony Mugan said...

Zoam
I very much agree with your observation if the anthropocentric nature of much of the thinking on this topic...as indeed seems to me to be the case on more or less all subjects at this time.
I would also argue that the oft quoted figure of 5% unexplained is far to generous. A review of BBC unknowns left me with less than 40 with sufficient data to positively eliminate all known misidentifications. However these are not laboratory experiments and the policy context does not follow a scientific methodology so we have different conclusions as to the implications.

TBC (as I am out of time)

cda said...

Anthony:

"BBC unknowns"?

Please use a better phrase. The BBC have never conducted a UFO investigation of any kind!

Anthony Mugan said...

Don't you just love predictive text.
Other typo's ( to instead of too etc) entirely my own doing ( haste and a phone keyboard!)

Anthony Mugan said...

To briefly continue
The core assumption of SETI is that signals will be sent using technology similar to ours or that we will detect signs of civilisations based on an extrapolation of our current technology (e.g. waste heat etc.)
This approach ignores the implications of deep time in an inflationary cosmos. Any ETCs out there are most likely to astronomically older than ourselves. If one mastered FTL propulsion at any point in the last billion years or so then then physical transport of information may well be faster than EM signals.

The crux of this is if a reasonable sample of cases can be regarded as anything more than anecdotes. In most cases I would agree with Zoam...almost all so called unknowns lack sufficient information. In a small minority of cases there clearly is sufficient data to reach a conclusion. I shan't go through them here as that would be off topic. To be frank, as I don't expect to persuade any of the more ardently sceptical readers, I also can't really be bothered with an argument about it. I'm far more interested in the intent and capability of our visitors and the various interesting related developments in physics and engineering.

Rusty Lingenfelter said...

Anthony, it seems you are only considering the unintentional detection of ETC's. If they are so advanced, they will know how we communicate and if they want to talk to us will choose the appropriate means and medium.

Back to Kevin's point (oh yeah, this was supposed to be a discussion about a blog post) it seems like the skeptics are equally as guilty as the believers in heaping fallacy upon fallacy in hopes enough quantity sounds compelling.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hello Rusty
in terms of SETI I agree - if ETCs wish to unambiguously communicate with us they would have done so. Either the don't exist or the don't want to. SETI strategies do tend to be looking for an intentional signal - it allows for cheaper technology if you assume the gain is in the transmitter rather than the receiver. That strategy has evidently failed.

There is a wider question regarding the intentionality of contacts that is relevant for both SETI and ufology. This relates to border between incommesurability (see discussions on this by Vallee etc) and ambiguity.

A number of people have made the mistake of speculating on the intent of our visitors. I would prefer to restrict myself to noting the effect of their operations - some of which may be unintended.

Restricting the analysis only to a small core of ultra-high reliability cases (examples include early cases such as Fukuoka in 1948, Ellsworth 1953 etc through to Stephenville in 2008)there is a tendency for a certain pattern of behaviour to be common (but not universal) in these cases.

There is an approach to a target of interest (a plane or sensitive location), an interaction with the target of interest which may generate a response, followed by departure.
a) This is reminiscent of the probing reconnaissance operations conducted by both sides in the cold war (and still today if recent reports are correct).
b) The operations fall into the category of 'ambiguous warfare' (of a purely cold variety thank goodness). They remain below a threshold that would result in clear recognition by the wider society.

The effect (intentional or otherwise) is that their analyst can infer much useful information about response times, technical capabilities, tactical approaches etc. Our policy analyst can draw the appropriate conclusions (we do not want to annoy these people - tread carefully).

The adoption of a strategy that falls into the 'ambiguous' category (aka recent events in the Ukraine)is very interesting. it does make assessing the extent to which the sociological effects of these operations (such as us all talking about) are intentional or not very problematic.

Of course the actual motivation may be very different. The above analysis is based on how we operate as societies. If incommeasurability is a major factor then it may be very difficult indeed for us to infer intent from actions and effects.

SETI - if they ever got lucky which I very much doubt, may well face a similar dilemma in assessing the intentionality of signals