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UFOs are laughed off because of the lunatic fringe who are attracted to the subject and because the media cannot bring themselves to take the subject seriously. But it's a serious subject. The lack of respect in the media feeds back into popular culture, so that if you're an academic looking for funding you're not going to get yourself involved in UFOs and their study because it's career suicide.
I've tried to apply for funding to study this subject and it's taboo. Nobody's interested in it because it's got this image. It's a real shame, because there's massive amounts of interesting material, but we're too close to the material in time. It's perfectly acceptable for historians to study witchcraft mania in the Middle Ages, but because this is happening here and now, and these are people we can go and speak to, it's a little too close. When you begin to talk to someone about UFOs, they start to question your own motives for being involved.
If you look at the discussion there's been in the media as a result of the release of the government's UFO files, you can't get away from the question: are they alien visitors? It's tired. There's a lot more of interest to academia in these papers than this business about whether or not there are aliens. There are two or three hundred sightings reported to the Ministry of Defence each year, and that is only the people who report things to the MoD. Extrapolate that across the world and you are talking about hundreds of thousands of sightings across the world every year.