|18 Jul 2005 @ 17:15, by Craig Lang
A couple of days after watching CNN: The Great UFO Debate, I read with amusement, Seth Shostak's article in the SETI Thusrday tab on the space.com website. It was also entitled: "The Great UFO Debate" and in both cases, he decries what he claims is the lack of evidence for UFO's. He essentially demands that proof be waved in his face before he will accept any UFOlogical evidence as valid.
In his article, he says that "UFO Believers" who demand that he do his own investigation before making this claim are treating him unfairly. It reminded me of the proverb "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones".
In his article, Seth Shostak demands that UFO "believers" present him (personally, I presume) with proof that UFOs are extraterrestrial in origin. In the article he writes:
"The bottom line is that the evidence for extraterrestrial visitors has not convinced many scientists. Very few academics are writing papers for refereed journals about alien craft or their occupants. Confronted with this, the UFO experts usually take refuge in two possible explanations:
- [CL Note: first one refers to coverup theories - not addressed here...]
- "Scientists have simply refused to look carefully at this phenomenon. In other words, the scientists should blame themselves for the fact that the visitation hypothesis has failed to sway them."
He further writes:
"Not only is this unfair, it’s misguided. Sure, rather few researchers have themselves gone into the field to sift through the stories, the videos, and the odd photos that comprise the evidence for alien presence. But they don’t have to. This complaint is akin to telling movie critics that films would be better if only they would pitch in and get behind the camera. But critics can compose excellent and accurate evaluations of a movie without being participants in the business of making films."
Let's examine this statement, and see just how it violates Shostak's own logic.
Seth Shostak often quotes Carl Sagan's cliche "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence". If he stuck with the statement that he (personally) was unconvinced, then I would accept that - as long as he indicated that there was the possibility that he COULD be convinced. However, the claim being made by Shostak is essentially that there is no (convincing) evidence for UFOs being extraterrestrial in nature.
Seth Shostak is, in effect, claiming a universal negative: that there are no instances of something. Logic 101 teaches us that such statments are intrinsically unprovable as any single counterexample in an infinite space of possibility would disprove his statement. If one exists, then we have to ask, would he be convinced? I must assume that he has heard of the Sturrock Report, and other such evidence. So why does he still claim that there is no evidence, when it is clearly available for him to see.
He then makes the claim that it is up to the UFO believers to convince him that such evidence exists. Doesn't this run counter to the statement that extraordinary claims requrie extraordinary evidence? And doesn't such a universal claim that there is no evidence qualify as extraordinary? Furthermore, doesn't his statement that he is not required to investigate such claims in order to refute them strike one as being counter to the attitude of a scientist? Isn't curiosity supposed to be the mother of science? Where is the inquiring mind that seeks out the unknown?
Shostak compares the statement that scientists should investigate UFOs to the assertion that film critics should participate in moviemaking. In fact, we are talking about science here - not film-making. And while Seth is certainly not REQUIRED to believe in UFOs, his credibility becomes compromised if he makes counter claims without first having backup for them. To learn about the nature of the universe, be it astronomical, biological or UFOlogical, one must "get behind the camera" and explore the curiosities of the world. This includes things that might not fit one's current world-view - such as UFOs.
Shostak also writes that there have been (very) few articles published in peer reviewed journals regarding UFOs. In fact, this statement neglects some important examples of just such literature. The Journal of Scientific Exploration contains many such articles and is peer reviewed by such notables as Bernard Haisch and Peter Sturrock - PhD credentialed and either full or emeritus professors. In addition, an excellent paper entitled: Inflation-Theory Implications for Extraterrestrial Visitation, was published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. This paper argues the likelihood of E.T. visitation to Earth. And these are just a few examples that I found by a quick Google search.
Shostak further writes: "In the course of a recent TV broadcast in which I participated, guest experts who have long studied UFOs argued the case for their alien nature..."
But is this actually the claim that scientific researchers in the UFO community makes? In all fairness, many of us have informally referred to the Visitors as being extraterrestrial in nature. But is the scientific UFO community formally claiming that they are nuts and bolts visitors from another star system? Even Budd Hopkins, who has spent much of his career studying UFO abduction, sometimes admits that we know very little about the Visitors. And much literature within the UFO community itself (ref: the many works of Jacques Vallee) is devoted to the very very point that we can not claim an E.T. origin for the UFO phenomenon.
In fact, during the show, Bruce Macabee and Rob Swiatek both stated that we really don't know - and therefore can't make any claims about - any specific origin of the UFOs or close encounter phenomenon. At its most conservative (and in the science world, conservative is the order of the day), all we can claim that the evidence clearly shows the presence of an unexplained phenomenon - period.
There is ample evidence for such an unexplained nature to at least some UFO events. Read The Sturrock Report, The COMETA report, and Richard Hall's book, "The UFO Evidence". Even the Bluebook files and the Condon Report, so often cited as evidence for the nonexistence of UFOs, contain a large number of unexplained cases. So whether or not UFOs are spaceships from another star system, the UFO phenomenon is indeed a mystery.
But perhaps the biggest fault of Seth's argument is the fact that SETI suffers from the same issue as UFO studies. And this is that it can offer no proof of any success. Like UFO studies, it offers theoretical arguments. But while UFO studies offers some evidence (arguable in his view) for an unexplained phenomenon, SETI doesn't even offer that. By their own statements, their success rate to-date is zero. And yet, Shostak claims that there are indeed aliens out there. So where is HIS proof? Or is HE simply stating an article of faith - the same thing he accuses UFO "Believers" of?
To be fair, we all have to admit that SETI and UFO studies are both seeking a similar goal - evidence of extraterrestrial life. Yet they approach the question from different angles, evaluating different hypotheses. SETI is designed to test the theory that there are one or more E.T. civilizations "out there" that we can detect via radio or similar means. UFO studies is basically the test of the hypothesis that one or more unexplained airborne phenomena are visiting our realm - from source or sources unknown. And it is one hypothesis that the source of these anomalies is extraterrestrial in nature. Thus, both approaches endeavor to do the same thing, but from different angles. The two hypoteses are complimentary - not mutually exclusive. Thus, rather than hammering away at UFO studies, wouldn't Seth be better off to look into a few sighting reports - and to keep an open mind?
Seth Shostak is certainly entitled to his opinion. And in one sense, as a critic, he does UFO studies a service by keeping us on our toes. However, his claim of a lack of evidence is invalid. And in that I tar him with his own brush. I challenge him to show me the lack of evidence. Prove to me the absolute claim that there is NO evidence for the unexplained nature of UFOs. And in so doing, I invite him to look at the evidence that is there.
Then, Seth, start rebuilding your glass house...