Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Is ufology still about UFOs?

UFOIs ufology concerned with UFOs any more? That was the question posed by Hilary Evans (well-known anomaly researcher and one of ASSAP's founders) in the early days of ASSAP. He noted that ufologists had become more interested in alleged alien abduction experiences than actual 'lights in the sky'. He wanted ufologists to return primarily to examining reports of puzzling aerial objects.

There were reasons to question whether abduction cases were even related to traditional reports of lights in the sky. For instance, many abductions showed strong similarities with near sleep experiences. And the content of some experiences displayed signs of being influenced by well-publicised prior reports and even science fiction. Hilary's call for ufologists to return to studying contemporary UFO reports was largely ignored. Instead, the field has become increasingly concerned with re-examining a few 'classic' cases. One reason for this may be the apparent lack of dramatic UFO incidents being reported these days, in itself a matter worthy of discussion. Nowadays UFO reports are dominated by sightings of Chinese lanterns and toy balloons!

Looking at old cases, whether of UFOs, ghosts or any anomalous phenomenon, seldom reveals new reliable information. Memories fade and change while occasional re-discovered contemporary records still have to be assessed for reliability and accuracy. Just because someone wrote something down at the time it doesn't mean it was necessarily accurate (we only have to look at contemporary cases to see that)! In addition, the sites of well-known incidents change over time, sometimes out of all recognition, making any contemporary reconstruction pointless. In most cases, there will be NO reliable new information revealed. The only new thing to emerge will be speculation!

One preoccupation of modern ufology is the popular idea that governments hold lots of information about UFOs, much of it unknown to the public. Personally, I doubt this. UFOs appear pretty much everywhere in the world and by no means all are reported to government agencies. Many are investigated by ufologists - the ones still interested in investigating 'lights in the sky' - who make their findings public! So, given the large number of UFO reports held by ufologists, we can assume they have a reasonably large proportion of the total number of UFOs reported to all agencies, including governments. Given such a large sample, it is highly unlikely that the range of UFO reports investigated solely by government agencies differs significantly to those researched by ufologists. It therefore seems highly unlikely that governments hold any important information about UFOs that ufologists do not already have in their own records.

Of course, you could argue that governments have access to specialist equipment, like radar and military aircraft, that ufologists cannot possibly use! However, there are many 'radar' cases and accounts from commercial aircraft personnel in the public domain. Again, it seems unlikely that cases investigated by governments using such equipment are going to be hugely different to public cases. That is certainly the impression you get looking at the cases released by the UK's MOD. There may be SOME specialist information held by governments that the public don't know but I doubt it makes any material difference to the overall picture of UFOs that ufologists already have from the vast number of public cases.

Ufologists probably already have the information they need to come to a few provisional conclusions about the nature of UFOs (for instance, many reports are clearly the result of misperception). You could say something similar about ghost researchers, many of whom still insist that ghosts are spirits, despite the lack of any compelling evidence. There is no obvious evidence, as yet, that UFOs are extra-terrestrial spacecraft but, as with spirits and ghosts, that will not change such a strongly-held belief.

What would Hilary have made of the state of ufology in 2012? Who can say but if you want to know, you should go to the ASSAP conference Seriously Unidentified at the University of Worcester on 17 November 2012 - details here.

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