Tuesday, July 19, 2005
UFO, UAP, NEO, WTF?
A proposal has been brought forth to move to a new moniker for the collective phenomena we now lovingly(?) refer to as UFOs. First, is this desired or necessary, and second, what are the choices?
UFO is a term which conjures up a vivid mental picture in most of us. Whether it manifests with rolling of eyes or with awe is an individual thing. It is clear however that the term has grown far beyond "something weird flying through the air".
It has become a "brand" of sorts as well. We can go to "UFO conferences" and hear about abductions, pyramids, alien/human hybrids, mutilated livestock, and of course crop circles. Such a conference might not even include a true UFO case or presentation.
UFO is a self-conflicted term which means less and less(by including more and more) with each passing year. So clearly, a change is in order if only to describe specifically (again) what one who studies such things (weird flying things) should rightly be called.
When trying to come up with a name for a field of study I think it's important to be conscious of the popular culture and its love of "labels". A good example of a group with a name which appeals to this culture is SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence). SETI invokes images from history (Seti was a pharaonic name) AND it recalls science fiction (Tau "C"eti is a star in Star Trek's Federation...the spelling being less relevant than the "sound" of it). SETI sounds...in a word...cool.
Add to this "cool" factor SETIs idea of inviting the public to assist in processing the millions of bits of data collected by providing for download a "cool" screensaver, which includes an application that uses the PCs idle time to process packets of this data. The initiative, "SETI@Home", has been an unqualified success. Teams of SETI@Home participants even compete to see who can process the most packets of data, for which they are rewarded via a point system. The project could not have expected such rabid involvement. Was it due to the "panache" of sifting through radio signals? No. SETI@Home looked cool (the screensaver presents a real-time 3D graphical display of the packet processing), and it sounded cool. This method of "distributed computing" has now been adopted by at least one other processing-intensive project...to great effect. Witness "Folding@Home". Even the term "@Home" is perceived as "cool".
Another example of this cool factor is when internet technology is used to graphically demonstrate concepts like "remote sensing". This movie clip illustrates an elementary inter-connected sensor array (in this case, webcams), and how such an array can be used to inform, while also being visually amazing. It's worth the load-time.
So a new name for UFOs should be something "cool" if its wide adoption is desired. This "coolness" should not be confused with "dumb". Quite the contrary, more intelligent people tend to like "clever", or even humorous names for things. Science, the military and even the corporate world is well known for crafting "creative" acronyms. What makes the success of SETI as a BRAND in the public eye easily discernible is the fact that they have not found a single example of clear alien transmission in their history. They have failed to date, and yet they enjoy wide acceptance, and their organization is considered by many very intelligent people to be "cool". Ufology by contrast has succeeded in collecting lots of evidence of "something', yet has grown more and more to be thought of as "fringe" or "pseudo" or "kooky". Change is definitely in order.
So...what to call the phenomena? What are our options?
One proposal offers not a new acronym, but an older term not so commonly used of late...UAP(Unidentified Aerial Phenomen/on/a). This term was/is preferred by organizations like NARCAP, an organization which catalogs reports of "aerial phemonena". Some contemporary Ufologists also use this term. It certainly describes the field of study, but could we reasonably expect it to be adopted by current AND future participants? Anything is possible, but I think such a term would have trouble gaining wide usage and acceptance. As I said, it isn't new, and I think it falls far from the "cool" factor required to spur wide adoption, particularly among the young.
Another proposal, offered by this writer, is NEO (Near Earth Object). This encompasses not only objects in our atmosphere, but just beyond into the near reaches of space. It encompasses natural phenomena (meteors, weather effects, "swamp gas", plasma discharges, etc.), structured craft (satellites, air and spacecraft of any origin, and perhaps space debris), and misidentified things (birds, balloons, clouds, etc.). The term explicitly excludes objects on the ground, their inhabitants, their motives, their purpose, and their intent. The goal of a "NEOlogist" is to identify that which exists above, regardless of implication.
But does NEO qualify with regard to popular culture? I think it could. Like "SETI", NEO conjures up images in people's minds, too. It literally means "new". This is a positive, particularly as we work to "redefine" the field. NEO is also a name from science fiction, as evidenced in the Matrix. "Neo" is the "saviour" or "the One". Ufology could do worse than be associated with a saviour...indeed, one reason for Ufology should be to "protect" us from being blindsided by an "alien" invasion. :) But it could be even more than that.
NEO as a brand offers a multitude of opportunities. From the ease of saying the phrase, "I saw a NEO", to the concepts of creating NEO@Home, and even NEO@School, where schoolkids can create their own "sensor grids" with other schools, and perhaps compete. Education is one area where the UFO field falls far short. I think kids would embrace something called NEOlogy before UAPology. NEO also offers marketing opportunities for the field that currently are rather...well...tawdry by scientific standards.
So, imagine you are at a conference, and there are two booths. One promotes NEOlogy and the other promotes UAPology. While the opportunities for successful promotion are easily discerned with the former, the easiest opportunity with the latter lies in sarcasm...i.e., "Oh, you're a U-apologist"...or in appealing to those already in the field who are familiar with the term. I don't see the "cool" in that. I don't mean to denigrate the term, but to place it into a popular culture context. It's fair game, like crop circle researchers being called "cereologists". Despite its utility and accuracy it remains the butt of breakfast jokes. It might be "out of the frying pan and into the fire". Ufology has been the butt of jokes for too long.
I am not directly involved in the decision about what term best represents what true Ufologists do. I can also not afford to invest the time and work necessary to implement my idea. It is just an idea. But I feel very confident that if UFOs are to be legitimately "renamed", said name had better be useful, clever, and "cool" if it is to succeed in the lexicon.
In closing I know that Paul Kimball, noted filmmaker and brilliant Ufological theorist, supports UAP. I applaud this support because to many, UAP DOES retain a more "legitimate" aura than UFO... and it has a history. Unfortunately this history is little-known outside the mainstream of Ufology...which is decidedly outside the mainstream of the...mainstream. :)
I should also add that I don't think ANY term will supplant UFO for the existing field of researchers. This is another reason why I think a "new" term is a good idea. A new science with a new way of looking at a phenomena. I don't think it invalidates or replaces Ufology, but rather extends it, in meaning, purpose and...one hopes...in longevity.
Whatever the result, I hope just talking (and writing) about the field will in itself elevate the rhetoric and kindle the debate. In the final analysis, the debate IS the field...for now.
Peace to all...comments are WELCOME.
Neology is just right, for the very reasons you cite.
We should be pushing that term all over the place.
It resonates and it will sell!
As a brilliant ufological theorist - ahh, sarcasm :-) - I firmly, in a theoretical way, support the use of UAP, because it is the most accurate description of the study. However, practical Paul also recognizes that it is never going to supplant UFO in the mainstream. Frankly, I don't think anything is. It is too ingrained now.
Neology just doesn't work for me. Sometimes you can be too cool. And the linkage with a notable sci-fi film is just too close for comfort.
Now your plan for the study of the UAPs, on the other hand, makes a great deal of sense, although there are a plethora of obstacles to overcome. Still, I see it is gaining some currency at Updates, which is a good start.
I think you may be right about the naming. I have been corresponding with James Smith, and he suggested that NET (Near Earth Threat) might be an even better choice, and I tend to agree. We avoid the "cutesy" aspect of the Matrix allusion, while still maintaining a "cool" factor.
It would also carry the perception of the project goals further from the direct association with UFOs, while adding additional impetus to the stated goals of providing security. And the metaphor of monitoring or "catching" air- and space-borne potential "threats" using a "NET" appeals intellectually as well.
At any rate, I'm not married to a particular name, but feel it important that whatever it might be, it should be phonetically appealing if possible. Smart, clever people just tend to like smart, clever acronyms. I guess it saves time or tickles a little intellectual itch, like a pun. :)
Thanks for your comments. You, you, you brilliant Uapoligical theorist, you! *LOL*
I have been too busy to read the latest at Updates. I'll check out the archives. Thanks too for the "Update".
NET would certainly play into the current climate of security-itis, and might even help get us Canadians to agree to sign on to BMD (which, I suspect, is not your intent - haha), but it wouldn't play well with the Exopolitics & Disclosure types, who think that the aliens are our friends, so I guess I'll have to disag...
Hmm... It'll tick off Exopols and Disclosies?
EXCELLENT! I love it!!
Consider me a strong supporter of NETology.