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Guest Editorial

UFOs - Hoping For The Proof
by Seth Shostak
Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute

From SETI Institute Journey eNewsletter,
5 August 2020, used by permission

Is it vindication at last? The New York Times has recently reported that a supposedly canceled Pentagon project to investigate strange aerial phenomena is still showing a pulse. The clandestine effort, originally known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, was said to have ended in 2012. But, apparently, it’s still doing its thing under the auspices of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

So, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right? If the feds are still forking over tax dollars to delve into odd goings-on in the sky, it must be because they’ve got convincing evidence for extraterrestrial visitors. At least that’s the hope of the 100 million Americans who seem willing to swear on the Good Book that UFOs are, at least in some cases, alien craft.

But hang on a minute. Before you order that on-line course in Klingonese, consider what might really be going on here. When the Times first reported on this subject in 2017, it was talking about some puzzling videos taken by Navy fighter pilots over the Pacific. They showed unidentified objects ahead of the jets, objects that seemed to maneuver in bizarre ways. So perhaps the controversial program is simply an additional effort to finally nail down what these objects are. After all, the military has always wanted to know about anything that can fly, and for obvious reasons.

That’s the most straightforward explanation for why the Navy has continued the Pentagon program. It’s also what they’ve said.

But isn’t it possible that what’s really going on here is not an investigation into unknown aircraft or drones, but a distraction to keep us from a more disturbing truth – that UFOs aren’t enemy flying machines, but alien flying machines? Maybe the government doesn’t want to admit this, because they figure we’d all go nuts.

Mind you, it’s hardly clear why extraterrestrials would hie themselves many trillions of miles through the dangerous voids of space simply to pirouette above our heads and occasionally play cat-and-mouse with the Navy. But – full disclosure – we really don’t know what the aliens find interesting to do. Maybe they have their reasons.

This story has an additional fillip. It speaks of “retrieved materials” that are “not made on this Earth.” This claim seems both surprising and suspect. The pilots didn’t report picking up pieces of spacecraft or strange metal alloys (at least not publicly), so it’s unclear where these “materials” were found. In addition, unless an artifact is clearly highly complex – like a Reptilian cell phone – how can you know that it’s not from this planet? This is a case where seeing might be believing, but no one has let us see anything. Which is convenient, if less than fully convincing.

There’s an intriguing facet of this story that I think helps point to the truth. Not only do the extraterrestrials (if that’s what they are) spend time teasing our Top Guns, they also seem to hang out above our military bases. This is an aspect of their uninvited presence which, according to the Times article, has especially disturbed Senator Marco Rubio.

Well, if you’re a sci-fi fan, you’re well acquainted with the idea that hostile aliens need to pay attention to our armament. After all, it might be used to drive them off. And perhaps it’s what’s lured them to Earth in the first place. They’ve come as saviors from on high, keen to separate us from our own weapons of mass destruction. That would, at least, be a reasonable explanation for their apparent interest in our combat capabilities.

But truth be told, it’s totally unreasonable. If the aliens can actually come here – whatever their motivation – then they have technology that’s enormously beyond our own. Comparing their weaponry to ours would be like comparing the U.S. Air Force to an Australopithecus raiding party. Put another way, do you honestly think Captain Picard would ever spend time checking out piles of slingshots or pikes on some primitive planet because, after all, those are state-of-the-art weapons for the local residents?

If whatever it is that the Navy is investigating is real, it’s supposed interest in our military suggests Russian aircraft, Chinese drones, or something else terrestrial. It’s actually an argument against visitors from another star system.

Humans have always been tempted to ascribe strange phenomena to the workings of superhuman beings, much as the Greeks argued that lightning bolts were javelin tosses by Zeus. But science demands that any hypothesis be supported by detailed, repeatable, and impartial observations. Those are lacking here.

The Office of Naval Intelligence will supposedly make regular reports on at least some of their findings. That sort of disclosure sounds as if it would be good news for those who, like Fox Mulder, “want to believe.” But in fact, it might actually work the other way. Disclosure could rob the believers of their best piece of evidence – which is to say, a dearth of good evidence.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

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