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Misconceptions About Skeptics - Part II

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posted on Aug, 27 2008 @ 11:27 AM
Here is Part II of a series regarding skeptics and prevalent misconceptions regarding them. Please refer to Part I for disclaimers and definitions. Part I covered a skeptics true stance and elaborated on the difference beliefs a skeptic may possess, while pointing out that said beliefs should be put to the side when analyzing the Alien Hypothesis.

2. All About Proof and Evidence

The dreaded proof question. Yes, it's true, us skeptics are sticklers for this and love to throw the word around. However, we're not doing this needlessly, but rather because this is the holy grail of the true skeptic's goal and mindset. A true skeptic is interested in fact, and something cannot be considered fact unless it has verifiable evidence that speaks to the veracity of the claim.

I should also note that when speaking of proof and evidence, skeptics are coming from a scientific frame of reference--not a legal one, which has often been referenced in ATS. The Alien Hypothesis is surely a scientific claim, and thus should be considered within the realm of science. Now, obviously there is some wiggle room here--it could be debated (and has been) that science itself is imperfect, tenuous, and those who wish to be quite literal might state that even current scientific fact is questionable. Be that as it may, we must have some frame of reference, some criteria and process by which we question reality, and science is the best we can do at present.

Obviously proof relies upon evidence, and the question of evidence is one of the greatest contention points between skeptics and believers. An oft-repeated complaint I've seen in ATS regarding this topic is that no amount of evidence will ever be enough for a skeptic to accept a claim. Another is that skeptics are vague in defining what, exactly, would be good enough to do the same.

While the quality of such evidence is in some part dependent upon the individual skeptic, I'm going to take the liberty to expound on this in a general sense. First, let's look at a broad list of the different types of evidence that is typically presented for the Alien Hypothesis:

  1. Eye Witness/Personal Testimony

    Perhaps the most common. This includes UFO sightings, claims of abduction/contact, and any other personal narratives involving the Alien Hypothesis.

  2. Recorded

    Photographs, video, and audio recordings. This could perhaps be classified as Physical evidence, but I think it deserves a class to itself.

  3. Physical (trace)

    The most rare. Implants, injuries, alterations to the physical environment, fragments, crashed and recovered UFOs, and alien corpses all fit here.

  4. Corroboration

    This is more of a "meta-category" that includes such corroborative evidence as ancient texts that describe witnessed phenomena, predictions, and claims from category A that are referenced to further back up other claims.

Now that we have evidence generally defined (and I won't pretend the list is exhaustive or perfect), let's turn to how skeptics weigh each category when scrutinizing presented evidence.

Category A, again the most common, is also the least reliable in terms of proving claims. The obvious sticky point with this type of evidence is that it's only as good as the credibility of the witness, and even when such credibility is quite high, it is still considered "soft" evidence because it usually cannot be verified by any outside means. One must also consider that many alternative explanations for supposed experiences can usually be provided. As an example, consider Whitley Strieber's famous accounts of abduction experiences: even the author himself refrained from attempting to define who or what exactly was interacting with him, hence his generic term "visitors".

This, of course, begs the question: when does personal testimony cut it? What if the President himself came out claiming to have had alien contact? It is my opinion that solitary testimony--while perhaps opening minds and doors to further investigation--is never enough for proof. If the President came forward with the above, would alien existence be treated more seriously? I'm sure it would. But in the end, I do not believe any scientist worth his or her salt would proclaim that the Alien Hypothesis is fact based upon that testimony.

Notice I said "solitary" above. What if multiple testimonies to the same event--or multiple individual events--all corroborated each other? While this lends more credence to the claim, and thus may be a stronger case for believing in the Alien Hypothesis, it still does not prove it as fact. Again, primarily because these accounts can not be externally verified.

Category B, Recorded Evidence, bears slightly more weight than A, but not much. The reasons for this are three-fold: 1) too many photos and videos have been proven to be hoaxes, and as technology increases, so too does the potential for hoaxing such things; 2) a failure to prove a recording is a hoax does not prove that it is not; and 3) recordings that can be assumed to be authentic generally do not prove anything other than unexplained or curious phenomena. The obvious example here are UFOs themselves--the best you can really get out of such recordings is exactly that: unidentified flying objects. A photo or video of such a thing says nothing about its true origin.

Category C--Physical or trace evidence--is the best thing going for proof, and unfortunately is the least common. This is where the scientific method can truly take hold, and skeptics feel like something substantial has been provided. The only real drawback here, however, is the same drawback that faces all evidence: even proving something is not of terrestrial origin doesn't prove where it came from or how it got there. I think this is the point that most believers get fed up with skeptics, and is most likely why they think nothing will be good enough for us. I can sympathize with such sentiments, but I'd like those who feel that way to understand that this is just part of a rigorous process. Scientifically speaking, we may draw certain conclusions personally, but empirically it is a step by step method, often frustrating, whereby one proof only leads to more questions, each of which in turn needs to be evaluated as before. While every part of one's intuition or reason may be screaming the obvious, we simply cannot afford to skip any steps or leap to any conclusions empirically. This is the only honest way to approach such things.

Category D--Corroboration--carries as little weight as Category A, for generally the same reasons. Again, corroborated accounts may be given more credibility, but in the end we still rely upon verifiable results.

This probably seems like a rather dim outlook regarding the evidence at hand, and unfortunately that is partially true. Most skeptics would say that there simply is not enough verifiable evidence today to claim the Alien Hypothesis is fact. I'm sure some are wondering, "What if you take the amalgam of all existing evidence? Surely you can't simply ignore all of it together?" And my response is, no, you cannot. What you have to be careful with, however, is what conclusions you draw based upon the totality of evidence. Something, undoubtedly, is going on. What that something is--well, that's the question of the day.

And back to the question of what, exactly, would be good enough to be considered proof for skeptics? While I don't have a list of common scenarios, I don't believe such a list is needed. Suffice it to say, if alien existence can be observed, verified, and reverified by multiple external parties (including, of course, scientists), then I'd say we'd be well on our way to that holy grail.

posted on Aug, 27 2008 @ 01:02 PM
reply to post by thrashee

You forgot the radar visuals. Those encounters were the ones that Dr J Allen Hynek thought were the more interesting ones. A witness, and a radar confirmation to back up the story. This is what clinches the deal that Betty and Barney Hill were abducted. Pease AFB had radar confirmations of an unknown object during the time of the Hill's sightings and abduction.
A great physical evidence case is the case in Canada where a man was burned by a flying saucer. He walked up to a landed craft and looked inside it. When it took off, he received mysterious burns. He was hospitalized and photos were taken of the burns. Here is a link to it:

Many cases also involve filmed craft that were confiscated by the government. The late Colonel Gordon Cooper wrote about a personal case that happened to him. While his men were making a film, they caught a saucer land and filmed it. The then Captain Cooper was ordered not to look at the film. He did look at the negative (they only told him film!) and saw the craft land on what was three legs. Col. Cooper was a highly regarded astronaut and would have easily made general had he stayed in the AF (he did not want to give up flying, so retired a colonel).

There are many cases like the above.

posted on Aug, 27 2008 @ 01:15 PM
Thanks for the info....yes, radar evidence is certainly important and falls somewhere between physical evidence and corroboration.

Yes, there are some cases of trace evidence, and these only make the Alien Hypothesis that much more tantalizing. These are the true golden gems of the whole debate, and without directly polluting this discussion with my own personal beliefs, suffice it to say we can only hope more of such cases can be verified.

posted on Aug, 27 2008 @ 01:22 PM
reply to post by thrashee

There are cases with very compelling evidence. It does get frustrating when debunkers dismiss them without even reading up on the facts. No matter what they bring up, there are many things they cannot just explain away.

posted on Aug, 27 2008 @ 01:36 PM
I think the true problem lies in the fact that, even if you accept the evidence, you're still not exactly sure what you're accepting. Let's take a case where a man is burned by an encounter with an unknown craft.

Does this prove alien life, or that a man was burned by an unknown craft?

Now, I'm a big proponent of not using a more tenuous explanation to explain a tenuous claim to begin with, so to be fair, I must apply that same logic when considering alternative explanations. Is it possible that an unknown craft that burnt a man is a secret military experiment, and has no extraterrestrial significance? Sure it is. If the man literally saw beings who in no way resembled humans in said craft, is it still probable to use this as an explanation? Not likely. Or more appropriately--not honestly.

The problem still remains, unfortunately. Unless a conference can be gathered where "experts in the field" can assemble to witness the exact same event, we're still left with a Category A/Category C occurrence. It opens the door, to be sure, for further consideration, but sadly proves nothing scientifically.

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