1. A very impressive-looking new book on UFOs by journalist Leslie Kean is coming out with impressive endorsements: ufosontherecord.com...
2. I've been fascinated with the subject all my life, from a skeptical but puzzled point of view -- and although most cases (even most FAMOUS
cases) seem to have prosaic explanations, I think there could well be phenomena of significant interest to science, theology, national security, law
enforcement, meteorology, perceptual psychology, dianetics, whatever, lurking among the weeds.
3. I'll be writing a longer commentary on the book for the msnbc.com website in a few days, but this can't wait.
4. Kean's book, in my view, suffers from major shortcomings and misunderstandings that render its conclusions -- "UFOs are real physical objects
that deserve high-level government respect" -- invalid.
5. Nobody is in any position to "prove" that "UFOs do NOT exist" or that (for one typical theory) "alien civilizations can NOT be visiting
Earth." Such arguments are only opinions without logical foundation. And if aliens really are here, they can be as invisible as they like.
6. The REAL question is this: is there a subset of UFO reports that cannot be explained in ANY earthly/prosaic terms, but instead are undeniable
proof that some NEW stimulus, some entirely unknown phenomenon (or phenomena) causes them?
7. Kean says YES. I say MAYBE NOT. Here's why.
8. Kean claims that pilot testimony of strange aerial events is the best ever, they are the most reliable human eyewitnesses to any events in the
9. Au contraire, I say that pilots have been shown by studies to react based on the dangers they expect, so they are very safe to fly with, but
they 'worst case' fleeting glimpses into the kinds of aerial situations they have reason to fear most. That 'first impression' can then persist
over any long and complicated subsequent pilot interaction with the apparition or others that follow. A 'false positive' (mistaking something
harmless for a hazard) has no cost, but a 'false negative' (NOT recognizing as hazardous something that really IS so) can be fatal -- so 'rather
safe than sorry' is a good rule.
10. Both statistical studies (eg, by Hynek, 'Professor UFO' of the 1960s) and case after case of actual pilot reactions, support this surprising
assessment. Pilots often misperceive even astronomical phenomena as collision-course aircraft.
11. Kean claims that explainable 'UFO reports' are useless once the prosaic cause is determined, but experts can separate out a distinct subset
of all reports which can be proven to have no earthly explanation -- these are the "true UFOs".
12. Au contraire, I claim that there is a 'slippery slope' of "solvability" of cases, which get harder and require more 'lucky breaks' in
finding out the prosaic cause, but no SHARP boundary on which one side is all the solvable cases and the other, the unsolvables.
13. Kean actually provides supportive evidence for MY assertion in her book (p. 136) where she refers to a list of 1300 pilot UFO cases collected
by French researcher Dominique Weinstein, asserting that the cases are all 'true UFOs" because they have been investigated by experts and determined
to be unsolvable.
14. But a cursory review of the list reveals at least a dozen cases in my own technical specialty, missile and space activity, where the solution
was found and published years ago. But Weinstein ignored the published solutions and Kean declared that no such explanations even existed.
15. And Kean then provides involuntary support for my assessment that pilots perceive ambiguous apparitions in terms they have been trained to fear,
for their own safety. On page 137 she asserts that the 'true UFOs' recognize the nature of the pilots who are observing them and tailor their
behavior to the pilots -- threatening collisions for civilians, and mimicking dog fights for the military, based on the markedly different
descriptions that the two categories of pilots give for their own UFO encounters.
16. Think about this: to explain how the different categories of pilots perceive the UFOs each in terms of their own special experiences, Kean
proposes that the UFOs are deliberately behaving differently for different types of pilots.
17. A much simpler explanation makes more sense: the pilots, when faced with ambiguous, rapid, short-lived apparitions, receive the raw data and
process it in terms they are already familiar with. Which is what I argue from the beginning.
18. But for Kean, the UFO reports are gospel and since they have been validated (in her imagination only), they can be absolutely relied on.
Skeptical investigations of these or any other case she uses simply, to her, do not exist. Published prosaic explanations, even those widely accepted
by serious ufologists, do not exist.
19. This allows her to use as evidence cases such as Jimmy Carter's 'UFO', one that was solved decades ago. And others.
20. By declaring that all 'solved' UFO reports are useless garbage, she can avoid facing the difficulty that the pilot cases she highlights do
not in any essential aspects differ from them, from cases known to have been caused by prosaic stimuli perceived through the pilot's pro-survival
21. By falsely declaring all 'non-UFO' reports as garbage, she also can argue (p. 449) that military interest in UFO reports (which she defines
as reports that have NO earthly explanation) is proof the government treats them as genuine. A more complete understanding of such interest is that
many of the prosaic stimuli behind many pseudo-UFO reports are themselves of genuine and justifiable interest to specialists. Missile launches, for
example, or warhead reentry tests -- the stimuli for a number of the 'true UFO' stories in the Weinstein list that Kean declares totally genuine and
22. None of these arguments can prove that the reports Kean promotes cannot be genuinely unexplainable, even alien in nature. The only logical
assertion a skeptical view can establish is that the reports don't HAVE to be caused by aliens or unknown phenomena. Plenty of examples exist to show
that pilots have made and doubtlessly will continue to make similar reports, even in the total absence of any genuinely unexplainable stimulus.
Further, solving the last few percent of the stories can't be expected since the fewer that remain the harder they get to find the explanation for.
This is a feature of the human 'explaining process', not necessarily a feature of the stimulus.
23. In real life, the same is true for murders, kidnappings, accidents, illnesses, all the catastrophes that befall humanity. We don't need to
conjure up alien murderers or kidnappers to account for unsolved crimes, we realize that life's like that. Not finding Jimmy Hoffa isn't proof he
must be on Mars.
24. The 'maybe not' assessment makes it even MORE important to keep eyes and minds open to vigorously observe, accurately perceive, and
precisely relate unusual aerial perceptions, both for the chances something really new COULD be discovered, and for the chances that something
critically important is masquerading, by accident or design, in a manner that might prompt too many people to pay too little attention to the
sighting. Rejecting it ALL, or jumping to a blind alley's wild goose chase, are equally harmful.