Thursday, July 14, 2005

A New Ufology?

Can Ufology be saved from itself? Should it be?

Ufology is typically defined as, "The study of unidentified flying objects". But this definition no longer applies. "Ufology" now includes alien abduction, exopolitics, secret bases (under and above ground), government coverups, "reverse-engineered" technologies, and a renewed attempt to debunk many classic cases. This fragmenting creates confusion among those outside, but interested in, Ufology, while it provides some sort of "legitimacy" for the fringe elements and their claims. If this trend continues, any semblance of "legitimate" Ufology will crumble away and die. But can this trend be reversed? And if so, should it be reversed? My responses are, "Yes...and yes".

Since the first human looked skyward, weird things have been seen there. As cultures emerged and stories of these weird things spread, discussion began in earnest. Ufology, as defined above, began with these early humans. They studied and pondered the things in the air which they could not explain. Fast forward to today...

Ufology today encompasses many diverse viewpoints, definitions, and personalities. The field has grown far beyond the study of "what's up there", and includes spiritual aspects, ghosts, government experimentation, and a host of "sub-UFO" studies like Orbs, Rods, Inter-dimensional entities, etc. Each of these areas has its own proponents, debunkers, promoters and detractors, and there is much overlap between them.

For someone outside the field but interested, there is a mine-field to navigate...fraught with incessant argument, side-taking, and ridicule...and even the most curious "newbie" is soon convinced to find another area of interest to investigate. The evidence of this is the paradox that polls show that the majority of people accept that alien life exists, while Ufology is a very small subset of the population at large. The polls also show that the more intelligent the person, the MORE likely that person will be to accept this proposition. If this is so, Ufology should be awash with bright, curious eager folk. Alas, this is not the case.

The state of Ufology is such that only a fool...or a true believer for or against...would wade into this "minefield". As a result, Ufology today has pretty much run off the more intelligent, open minded "newbies", and those that are remaining form one of three general, Anti-ETH, and the fringe on either side. The "fence-sitter" is reviled by both sides, and in the end, falls out of the debate and either observes in silence or leaves the field altogether.

The "pro-ETH" camp is convinced that (at least some) UFOs represent alien technology...that it is the product of ExtraTerrestrial intelligence...thus the ETH..."ExtraTerrestrial Hypothesis". This group is convinced that overwhelming evidence exists to "prove" the ETH. Among the luminaries of this group are Stanton Friedman and Richard Hall. Both these gentlemen have studied UFOs and UFO accounts...and written about them...for decades. By definition they are indeed Ufologists. They cite case after case which they feel (when considered in toto) conclusively proves the ETH. Some of this evidence is physical...documents, landing impressions or pieces of debris, radar, film and videotape of aerial vehicles exhibiting performance capabilities which are "impossible" with current technology. Some of it is anecdotal, i.e., multiple witness accounts, recollections by "insiders", etc. Some is circumstantial, as with Roswell, where more and more it is apparent that SOMETHING happened, while the details still remain elusive.
There is a large number of like-minded folk who revere Stan, Dick, and others. While they may not actively investigate UFO cases, their involvement constitutes their credentials as Ufologists, as well, i.e., they ARE engaged in the study of UFOs.

The "anti-ETH" camp is comprised of those unconvinced by the cases cited by pro-ETH camp, and are further convinced that ET life has not visited the earth. They scrutinize the cases cited by the ETHers and attempt to explain them as something more "down to earth". Among the staunchest of this group are Philip Klass and (to a lesser extent) James Randi. For decades, both of these gentlemen have stepped into the breach to "explain" a UFO case, or to "expose" what to them is an obvious hoax. They find the evidence extant of UFO as ET craft at best unproven, and at worst, utter nonsense. They point to atmospheric anomalies, photographic defects, hoaxes, and misidentified mundane objects, and more, to "prove" that UFO reports are not at all the product of ET life. They are convinced that every UFO case has a prosaic explanation, and that in time we will be able to explain the few cases that elude conclusive explanation today. There is a large group of "adherents" to this group as well. While they too, may not investigate or "debunk" cases, their interest and discussion again qualifies them as Ufologists. This group also includes various alternatives to the ETH, i.e., the PsychoSocial Hypothesis, the PsychoPathological Hypothesis, Religion-related ideas, and other physics and mathematics-based theories. Some of these "sub-groups" are adamant that the ETH is invalid, while their own theories have similarly little evidence to support them.

The third group comprising Ufology is actually more along the lines of "whomever does not fit into either of the other two". This includes those who feel strongly that ET life exists, but are not convinced that UFOs represent ET visitation; those that feel some UFO events are evidence of the ETH, but not conclusive evidence; those that find UFOs a curiosity, but have not formed an opinion overall; and those that think that neither side has proven their case regardless of the "truth". There are more opinions represented by this group, but these are among the more prevalent. Due to their interest in, reading about, commenting on, and just pondering of UFOs, they rightly qualify as Ufologists, as well. I believe (though I could be wrong) that this group represents the largest number of Ufologists.

As has been painfully demonstrated elsewhere, getting these disparate groups to agree on anything is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. The pro-ETH contingent is convinced of its validity, the anti-ETH contingent is just as convinced otherwise, and the fence-sitters are roundly castigated by both. Is there an answer to this conflict, a way to meld these positions into a grand "unified field"? I think so, yes.

With electronics becoming truly inexpensive...from digital imaging, cell-phones, night-vision, GPS and distributed computing, even ultra-light aircraft, among other is possible for civilian groups to possess technology approaching that of the military of only a few years ago. Our economy has abandoned many of the most adept at using such equipment, and those most capable of writing software to allow these technologies to inter-operate for a single purpose. Open Source software projects provide a means for under-employed IT professionals to pool their resources via the internet, leveraging a vast amount of expertise from far-flung locales without buildings, or conference rooms, or beaurocracy. Finally, we are beginning to realize the true dangers of near-earth objects, which could pose a collision risk, while science continues to try to locate such objects.

I think this previous paragraph provides the building blocks for a new Ufology.

Imagine this scenario...Under the guise of the search for near-earth objects posing a potential hazard, a group of distant hobbyists builds a network...a grid...of mobile sensor arrays, connected via wireless broadband, cell-phone, and GPS, including passive radar, high-resolution imaging, audio and video recording, telescopic cameras, night-vision, etc., and all connected to a distributed computing "cluster" for processing data. A software project such as SETI@Home could be created to split the task of data analysis to hundreds or thousands of interested individuals while simultaneously raising awareness and interest in the project. Such a group might even attract attention and funding from NASA, NOAA, and other organizations, as a "citizen science" project. Promoting such a project would increase the visibility of NASA as a "civilian" organization, and the credibility it could lend would help the project.

In this process, a virtual "net" could be created to monitor in real-time the goings on in our atmosphere and beyond. Citizens could participate by allowing their PCs to be used to help process the reams of data collected. With this data, two purposes could be served. One, to alert authorities when a near-earth object appears to be worthy of a closer look, but also to create a database of observed atmospheric phenomena from multiple sensors. This last is where Ufology could benefit.

Scientists faced with a citizen-reported asteroid on a possible collision course, would obviously be able to bring their more sophisticated equipment to bear on such an important subject. But also, if such a sensor array was to pick up evidence...from multiple sensors... of something much closer to our atmosphere...and record the data, NASA would be hard-pressed to ignore such data. Even if NASA declined, such a group could go public with such data, and attract interested scientists who would now...and FINALLY...have current hard scientific data about aerial phenomena, and would have no question as to the provenance of the evidence. The data could be reviewed quickly and perhaps even corroborated by other scientists...NOAA, etc.

With such a group in place, attracting intelligent forward-thinking people would be far more likely, and those not interested in a hands-on participation could STILL lend help by downloading the "@Home" software and help by providing processing cycles. Looking for UFOs could be marketed as "saving the earth"...not from ET, but from collision. Who wouldn't want to assist in such an endeavor?

As such activities spread and grew in popularity, there could even be competitions held between branches of the organization to see who can collect the most data, or giving the public a chance to see the gear in operation, perhaps inspiring younger children to "watch the skies".

This kind of project would need to focus on the "security" aspect of the search, as surely a UFO exhibiting far-advanced technology poses a potential threat as great as an asteroid. Therefor, it should not have the moniker "UFO" in its name or mission, since that would minimize the greater purpose. But to name the subject of the project "NEO" for Near Earth Object, would provide a "cool-factor", and be an explicit description of ALL phenomena occurring in our atmosphere and just beyond. Like the skywatchers of WWII, it could even be sold as a patriotic endeavor, what with unmanned drone aircraft and other unconventional aircraft posing a risk as well, for terrorist activities.

Such a project could be called "NEOS-GRID" for Near Earth Object Sensor Grid. The software for the distributed computing aspect could be called NEOS@Home or similar. Interested citizens could participate without rancor and debate, scientists would have data to analyze that was of great value and unquestioned provenance, Ufologists could finally agree on a "direction", and the rehashing of old UFO cases could continue unabated, while this new project would carry the younger crowd forward to new discoveries, and renewed interest in what buzzes around our skies.

The parts for such an organization or project already exist. Passive radar has already been suggested as a "Square One" starting point. As we have civilian "stormchasers" who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in equipment, vehicles and time, we could build a growing network of civilian "NEO-chasers", who instead of getting their thrills seeing tornadoes, would get their thrills searching for more esoteric phenomena and recording as much data on each as possible. The analysis would be much more valuable, since the data recorded would be from multiple sensors, and perhaps multiple locations.

Imagine what such an array could have done for the "Phoenix Lights". Imagine what such a civilian organization would have done with the "Belgium triangle flap".

Is NEOlogy the future of Ufology? It certainly could be. If so however, it will be best conceived by a small group, working quietly at first...a bloodless coup as it were. But the old characters with their varied agendas could and would still debate the old cases and no harm would be done. And the renewed interest in what's "up there" could perhaps save the planet...or find ET. :)

Good thoughts. I like Peter Davenport's idea of implementing a passive radar system but I worry that it might be quashed because of national security concerns. A civilian group capable of tracking the performance characteristics and flight paths of UFOs or NEOs (even if not in real time) would also be capable of same for advanced aircraft and satellites. I'm not sure what legal basis DHS (or whoever) would come up with to control such a project but I think they'd make a serious effort to prevent it from happening. I could be wrong here but given some of the recent examples of security restrictions run amock I personally think this is a serious concern. Any whitepaper that gets floated to kick-off such a project needs to address this point IMHO. Thoughts?

For me, the best way to study the problem is not from down here - but to get "out there." And by this I don't mean shuttle missions - I mean the Moon, and then Mars, and then... well, we'll see.

It's a long-term view, but the time to start is now (actually, it was 30 years ago, but that's water under the bridge).

And I don't mean just the government (i.e. NASA, or the ESA) - the private sector is going to have a very important role to play in years to come.

Former SETI guy Greg Klerkx's Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age, is excellent reading on the subject
Hi William -

Thanks for your comments.

I think it would be important to couch the organization's chief goal as being a civilian-based Homeland Security the Stormchaser groups or amateur astronomy groups.

Certainly these groups might come into contact with secret projects or their "products", and yet the organizations are not "hindered". As far as we know, anyway. :)

It would be necessary to report any significant findings to the authorities at any rate, and if the report was due to some secret project, there would be denials by the military as they felt necessary.

This method has been far more useful to the military than heavyhanded tactics.

I agree that this administration is guilty of some heavy-handed tactics, but this administration isn't long for this country or this earth, and such an organization would not likely field an actual monitoring vehicle or installation for a year or two, and that would only come after meetings and conferences (online) to determine the protocols to employ, determine scale, etc.

In the end, how could a government who states that UFOs are not a threat, logically thwart a grass-roots effort to patrol the skies we know cannot be patrolled by the government? We can't even keep our borders secure.

I appreciate your comments. Thanks for writing.
Paul -

I don't in any way disagree with such an idea. As the oprivate sector is already actively planning space missions with zero government involvement, there will soon come a need to establish "security" in space.

We may indeed find the answers to UFOs in space itself.

My suggestion is more as an aid to Ufology itself, as a means of attracting new young minds, and technical expertise, and applying it to UFOs BUT as a subset of securing our immediate surroundings rather than space.

Neither negates the other, but in fact they are cross-enhancing. {articularly if private sector space ventures take advantage of "NEOS-GRID"s data to determine space-borne threats to their "hotels", etc.

Thanks for writing. I appreciate your "big-picture" viewpoint, and look forward to it happening.


Your view is terrific and realistic!

This is the kind of thing that is achievable, and worthwhile in toto.

Your outline -- and it's actually more than an outline -- could actually be implemented and I think your idea should be pursued seriously.

(I'll make sure to point people to your blog entry, which is creative and truly interesting.)

Rich Reynolds
Rich -

I appreciate your comments. Thanks for writing.

I truly believe such a program could work, if polls about people's belief in ET life are accurate, and if it could be tied to the concerns for national security.

Visiting stormchasing sites, it became apparent that hundreds of volunteers spend thousands of dollars for equipment to detect and measure something they might never even actually see. (tornadoes)

If someone made a movie about civilian skywatchers...hmmmm. :)

Thanks again!

I concur with the general consensus - great idea. I disagree that the more intelligent are put off by the wide disparity and disagreement within the subject and would say that if anything, the reverse is true. It would be seen as challenging.

Would the authorities be "happy" allowing civilians to be fully aware of what was happening up in the skies? Would the project be allowed to continue unhindered?

And the $64,000 question; who's going to take the first step here? Who is going to set the infrastructure up? This is where we may fall down.

Sorry if I appear a killjoy but because Ufology _is_ filled with intelligent people, good ideas (and this is one) are not rare. But.....................

Despite pointed questions, I would be happy to take part, if only by donating my computer's down time.
Stuart -

Thanks for your comments. You are right that there are some exceedingly bright folks in the field.

My point was that the obvious and vociferous "believers" on both sides drown out those that feel challenged intellectually, and most of those most able to bring progress are watching from the sidelines...not actively participating. And who could blame them?

Any intelligently "challenged" person who wades into the debate without a pro or con "position" spends all his time justifying his "neutrality" on this or that old case. I speak from experience here. This is not progress.

What I am proposing is more of an "approach" change. Like Peter Davenport's excellent passive radar idea, but "packaged" so that the "billionaires" he talks to for funding might actually listen and pony up some bucks.

If we go to a "Paul Allen" with a UFO proposal, he balks. If we go to him with a populist, grass-roots near-earth-object monitoring plan which enlists young people, as well as those "silent watchers", and add in the promotional opportunities like SETI has done, we might very well attract begin in earnest.

Peter has only been suggesting his passive radar ideas for a decade.

As far as the government, how could they publically decry a civilian program to watch the skies? Why, we're under risk of terrorist attack via unmanned drone, hijacked airliners, crop-dusters, and perhaps even plague-filled balloons, and the government cannot watch the whole sky, or the whole border, or the whole shipping industry.

The only way they could legitimately complain would be to admit that whatever is up there is ours. That would NOT happen, in my opinion. More likely they would just watch, and if anything sensitive popped up, they would claim no knowledge just like they do now.

The focus of the program would have to be characterized as security against threats...not a search for secret US aircraft. How could THIS government squash such an effort and avoid major hypocrisy?

After all, the battle cry of the "post-911" government is "be vigiliant". What could be more vigilant than a volunteer effort to patrol the skies...OUR skies?

Obviously the powers that be are not capable of it now...unless you claim that ALL UFOs are government black projects... :)

Peter Davenport's passive radar idea, and his frustration at not finding funding, was the genesis of this idea. It is his approach that I feel is flawed, and an opportunity missed.

It's all in the approach... :)

Best Regards and thanks again for your comments!

I can't believe that the US Government would permit such a project -- no matter how distributed it might be. eDonkey and Napster only deal with intellectual property -- you're talking about something here which would, at least in theory, seriously interfere with the US Military's ability to launch attacks (both overt and covert) on an (assumed) enemy. Geraldo Rivera was chastised for having, perhaps inadvertantly, given away troop positions. How would we avoid that conflict? Would we want to?
Aion -

I read your words, and I appreciate your taking the time. But such programs are not created by people who begin by saying, "I can't believe".

You know, I can't believe the government helps fund SETI, when it has absolutely zilch to show for the dollars spent...except we kind of know where aliens AREN'T broadcasting radio from. :)

I'm quite certain that SETI picks up transmissions they aren't "supposed to". Does the government shut them down? Nope. A guy pays a little visit to them, and says "don't worry with those...", and SETI moves on.

I'm sure the government isn't terribly pleased that ham radio operators listen in on their "classified" frequencies to monitor HAARP, for example. Do they shut down hams? Nope.

Guys with telescopes see things all the time. If you are right, they MUST have seen some secret stuff. Does the military confiscate telescopes and incarcerate their owners? Nope.

This idea isn't about outing secret military plans or craft. It's about the PEOPLE doing what THEIR GOVERNMENT cannot do. Monitor every inch (potentially) of every piece of sky over American soil for intruders. Ours, theirs, ETs, meteors, whatever. We would be looking for terrorists and potential earth-killer meteors, etc. If we find evidence of alien spacecraft along the way, great. If not...well, we're another SETI. :) But at least legitimate, and a true science.

It is a patriotic calling (if couched properly), a scientific windfall, an opportunity for Ufology to MEAN something, and an opportunity to leave the bickering and incessant debate as it is and MOVE FORWARD.

It is also something that the government of "of the people, by the people, and for the people" could hardly attempt to thwart outright.

We might even attract military involvement and much to monitor the monitors as to determine what IS up there. We could add to, and further, the efforts of NASA, NOAA, astronomy, etc.

If you presume that the government already knows everything about what is up there, then this idea is nothing but a waste of time.

But if so, so is Ufology.

Large ideas do not spring from statements like "I can't believe".

Best Regards,

I believe in plenty of other sorts of things, but this most current administration has shown us exactly how powerful Uncle Sam can be when he wants to be. Don't confuse my disbelief in Government/politicos with a disbelief in your endeavors. If you find a way to circumvent the government's interferrence patterns, I think you will be off to a wonderful start. If you do not, your work will lack true credibility with most of the civilized world.
Great essay, Kyle. One point to remember -- and you underscore this -- is that the various "competing" hypotheses don't necessarily have to compete at all. For example, I think *some* UFOs might very well be ET devices. But I also think there is another intelligence, even more enigmatic, that uses the UFO phenomenon as a cover.
Aion -

Point taken. And I agree that if it was deemed an undue risk by the feds, it would be doa.

My optimism that it would be otherwise may be a little premature, but as I said, this administration isn't long for this earth. If this isn't the one top embrace the idea, perhaps the next one will be.

Thanks again for your comments.
Mac -

Thanks for the comments!

Your note about "another intelligence" is intriguing. Are you speaking of earthly, alien, or inter-dimensional intelligence, or something altogether different?
Something along the basic lines of Vallee's "multiverse."
Shoot 'em. When you see a UFO, just git yer gun and shoot. That'll solve the UFO mystery. ROFLMAO

---I'm not joking.

A. Hebert
Amy -

I can hear the teaser...

"Farmer proves existence of ETs...gets vaporized after firing upon at 11."

Of course, it could also go like...

"A man indicted for terrorism after firing upon secret military craft claims he was shooting at a at 11."

Either way, a lose/lose for gun-toting UFO vigilante. *S*
Nifty idea.

Though major participants should at some point be briefed on the cautionary tale of Paul Bennewitz. :)
jeb -

Definitely! A Bennewitz recap should be a part of the "Orientation" briefing.

In fact, we might even spawn a 12-step program for disinfo victims... :)

Thanks for your comments!
Much like any other great inquiries throughout the history of mankind,it is reasonable to assume that this matter will be resolved completely and accurately, one day, by a single man. How?...Call it intuition or whatever, this lonely researcher will bring forth the answers that the the rest of the people are questioning about with fear and despair. When?... Why not now? The time seems to be right for unsealing "the great secret", which is nothing more than a childish riddle that has been mocking our most brillant scientists for decades. Now who is the man capable of guessing what the heck is going on underneath ? ...
Well, I think you already guessed that I am the guy...
tea wrecks -

I'm not sure that the "great inquiries throughout the history of mankind" were resolved by one man "guessing what the heck is going on underneath".

I rather believe that it was perseverence, inspiration, perspiration, serendipity and a propensity for making "great inquiries". And a really thick skin helped a lot, too. :)

But if you got the goods, what the heck are you waiting for? As you said...
"Why not now"?

Thanks for writing!
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