UFOlogy: Dead Again?

On 4 November The Sunday Telegraph posed the question that has been asked many times before: What is the point of UFOlogy (the ‘study of UFOs’).

UFOlogy – Dead or alive? (credit: Wikipedia)

“Having failed to establish any evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life, Britain’s UFO watchers are reaching the conclusion that truth might not be out there after all,” writes Jasper Copping. “Enthusiasts admit that a continued failure to provide proof and a decline in the number of ‘flying saucer’ sightings suggests that aliens do not exist after all.”

This lack of proof, according to the Telegraph, could spell the end of UFOlogy as a subject by the end of the decade. But of course if you set out to prove either that UFOs are alien craft or don’t exist and spend years chasing a chimera you will inevitably end up either a ‘believer’ or a skeptic. As there is no evidence for visitations from aliens the only way to get around this problem is to believe, so making it a matter of faith rather than of evidence.

Which brings me back to the whole point of the article.  The peg is  that a special “summit on the future of UFOlogy” will be held at the University of Worcester on 17 November. Organised by the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), a panel of speakers will ask if there is anything to be gained from rehashing the same old cases over and over and if not, whether the subject really is in terminal decline. So it is dead? Most seasoned observers will agree the numbers of significant and evidential UFO events have declined in the past decade as the debate has become increasingly focussed upon the twin myths of “saucer crashes” and alien abductions. As the obsession with abductions has died away, we have seen the resurrection of tired old sacred cows such as Roswell and the new Roswell (Rendlesham), both endlessly revived and re-revived for new audiences.

Meanwhile the closure of many long-standing UFO magazines and groups that once provided a platform for discussions on a range of alternatives to the ETH has reduced the subject’s internal pluralism. In its place, whole UFO communities have migrated online where discourse has grown increasingly polarised and extreme. UFOlogists have always been obsessed with government cover-ups but the influence of conspiracy theories and the arrival of Exopolitics have taken these ideas into more extreme and alarming directions.

One beacon of light is the venerable British UFO Research Association (BUFORA) which held its 50th anniversary conference in London in September.  According to founder member Lionel Beer it was “standing room only” at the association’s first conference in 1962, when the subject was fresh and exciting.  Membership may have dwindled since then but according to blogger Andrew May most of the British UFOlogists who attended were less single-mindedly fixated on the extra-terrestrial hypothesis than their American counterparts. Officially, BUFORA styles its approach as “scientifically factual” and lectures included references to “political, cultural and social influences” on UFO reporting. Investigations chief Heather Dixon pointed out that 95% of the 500-plus sightings received each year have rational explanations. But in a perceptive feature, BBC journalist Jon Kelly noted that scientific UFOlogy was its own worst enemy as the rank and file membership don’t want to hear about misperceptions and IFOs: “Questions from the floor tend to concern whether they think a spacecraft landed at Rendlesham Forest or if the American government is covering something up at Area 51.”

Is UFOlogy dead or alive?  I predict ASSAP may be posing the same question in 2022 but as far I’m concerned the subject remains interesting as an example of living myth. The question ‘do aliens exist’ is actually nothing to do with ‘do UFOs exist’. Of course UFOs exist, in that people see unidentified things in the sky. Their stories and interpretations of what they have seen remain interesting for a whole series of reasons, none of which have any bearing on the existence of extraterrestrials. The bottom line is that UFOs = aliens is a dead end.

Postcript:  The Sun published a by-lined version of my argument under the headline ‘Closed Encounters: Is it time to admit aliens don’t exist’ on 7 November. Ironically, the standfirst introducing my article says, “…here National Archive UFO expert argues why he has concluded aliens are little more than a myth.”  The implication being that myth = false. My argument is actually far more nuanced. UFOs are a modern myth but a myth is simply an explanatory system of belief to which people turn to explain phenomena they don’t understand. Journalists habitually equate myth with falsity, but that’s not the original meaning of the word. I think that may have been lost somewhere in translation!

A far better exploration of the issues raised by the conference, quoting Dave Wood of ASSAP, Jenny Randles and myself, was published by The Huffington Post on 14 November. The comments received by journalist Lee Speigel following publication are worth reading. They reflect the central position the UFO myth plays in the lives and belief systems of many people. The mere suggestion that interest in UFOlogy may be in decline has been interpreted – wrongly – as an attack on an article of faith. The comments simply validate my opinion that the UFOlogy is a religion not a science.

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18 Responses to UFOlogy: Dead Again?

  1. Elsie Conner says:

    The bottom line is that UFOs = aliens is a dead end.

    Awesome! I’ll try to remember that the next time “they” show up to disrupt my life and the lives of my family. Good to know…..

    • Hi Elsie. Well next time “they” show up, send ‘em round to see me. I’d like to meet them.
      bests
      Dave

    • gari says:

      Elsie, do ‘they’ ever show up in broad daylight when other people are around, or are you part of a unique club that they only visit in the small hours?

      What is so special about you that ET travels across the galaxy just to disrupt your life? Seems a mighty expensive project with a limited outcome to me.

      Wouldn’t they really have a more important reason for visiting Earth than making the lives of a few humans miserable?

      Wouldn’t they want to visit Mr Obama and set up a contact protocol? Or perhaps warn us not to destroy ourselves like in all the old scifi B movies?

      From my own mental health problems, I am very guarded in anything I don’t have physical evidence for, you wouldn’t believe the things I believed…it’s easy to get obsessed with something that exists only within our minds.

      There was a guy a while back genuinely believed that he channelled the spirit of lost aviatrix Amelia Earhart every day. He spoke with authority about her life, of course now we could check the facts, but he seemed honest and genuine to most folk. Then when folks started asking him where her plane crashed, he got all defensive and said that Earhart was enjoying the notoriety and didn’t want the world to know where the plane is but she told him on condition he said nothing. He lost credibility then.

      • Elsie Conner says:

        With all due respect, your post demonstrates a total ignorance of the subject. The entire tone of your post in regards to me is snarky and demeaning.

        I would not presume to dictate to you what you went through with your mental health problems and I would not make debasing and inaccurate comments regarding your experience. I always find it interesting when people post comments like this regarding alien abductions, it demonstrates a total lack of knowledge about the subject.

  2. Melanie says:

    I’ve just got to say it. What a load of rubbish. Just because someone can’t get the evidence they want don’t mean ufology is dead. Ufology is alive and kicking more than ever.

    • Thanks Melanie, I think that’s pretty much the point I was trying to make!
      The media seem to be obsessed with whether UFOs exist as aliens. If there is no “evidence” for aliens then, as far as they are concerned the subject must be a load of old rubbish.
      My point is regardless of whether they exist or not, UFOlogy remains interesting. To me at least because UFOlogy is a human phenomenon. If a third of the population believe aliens exist, despite no proof, that has got to be interesting in itself.
      And UFOlogy will continue to soldier online regardless of whether magazines and groups are in decline.
      But I think this is all a little too nuanced for the Sunday Telegraph!

  3. daniel says:

    hello im french and i would say that ufololy is good alive in france. You can see in this web site: http://www.forum-ovni-ufologie.com/
    Many topics, many actions, many documents…
    David you are welcom in this forum
    sorry for my english

  4. Ross says:

    As long as people like Elsie continue to report experiences involving seemingly “extraterrestrial” entities, then the “extraterrestrial hypothesis” (ETH, or “UFOs=aliens”) will remain a viable line of inquiry, whatever the state of the “evidence.” This statement should not be interpreted as BELIEF in “alens” on my part.

    Pronouncements by outsiders that UFOlogy is dead (or will soon be dead) only show their failure to understand the wonder, awe, and sense of high strangeness that drive the UFO phenomenon and UFOlogy. Sadly, if they don’t get it by now, they likely never will.

    • gari says:

      Ross, jJust because people believe they are an alien experiencer does not mean that they are experiencing aliens. For one, NO ONE knows what an alien looks like, so seeing an ‘unknown’ creature does not mean it is an ET, we have no ‘Type Specimen’ to compare it with.

      I have had a breakdown in the past with a full psychosis, believe me the mind can imagine practically ANYTHING!! I suffer with sleep paralysis and years ago thought it was some kind of metaphysical event, until I opened my eyes and educated myself. I know people who claim ‘visitation’ who are describing a SP event.

      Of course it hurts peoples ego for folks to imply they are having some kind of illusion or delusion, they seem to think any question of mental ‘frailty’ is tantamount to being sectioned!! There is a lot of ego and self-righteous self-belief in UFOlogy, as there is in most fields of interests, and even if it were proven impossible for aliens to exist – not something science can do – some folks would still be totally genuine in their belief that Klatu visits them at 3AM and anally probes them.

      It’s like the crop circle believers, even though a lot of folks admit they hoax them, some believers claim that it is still aliens manufacturing them by using the minds of the hoaxers. How can you beat ‘reasoning’ like that? I can remember a video of a circle being made, even when the hoaxer admitted to it, the believers said they were either not the guy that filmed it or that he was bought off by the government SMDH

      Again, with any of this metaphysical paranormal stuff, it’s for the believers to produce evidence that is beyond that of their mind, people are waiting, I know I am. I would so dearly love for my childhood belief of alien visitation to be true and prove this sceptical chap he is wrong.

      • Ross says:

        Evidently you didn’t read my post carefully. I did not say that people who claim to have experienced contact with aliens have necesssarily actually done so. I just don’t rule out the POSSIBILITY that some of them actually have, that’s all. That’s why I mentioned the ETH HYPOTHESIS as a “line of inquiry.” I emphatically stated that my words should not be interpreted as BELIEF in “aliens” on my part. And stop bandying your psychosis about as a badge of expertise. Yes, people hallucinate (and lie), but that doesn’t mean that we can assume a priori that all alleged contactees are deluded.

  5. Josh says:

    The telegraph appear to be just another mainstream media source doing what they have always done in regards to this subject (any many others which are, shall we say world view changing): Dismiss, Debunk, Disregard and Downplay. Its so obvious nowadays that these propaganda pieces are nothing more than attempts to manipulate and misinform the perceptions of the masses. In case of point, these last few years have shown substantially more sightings and experiences documented from not only testimonials but from video and image. – Start paying more attention to the NASA SOHO camera feeds for instance for anomalous activity. Sure theres plenty of fakes out there – many of high sophistication, which is most likely part of developed pseudo-debunking campaign. And of course, unless you have spent any decent amount of time looking into the intrigues of previous behavior of the authorities, then you may dismiss that statement as paranoid. Again, this is just another example of how uninformed naysayers actually are. or rather, how ignorant they depend on everyone else on being.

  6. gari says:

    Sure UFOlogy lives!!! All the time folks are reporting unidentified flying stuff in the sky its future is safe.

    Whatever is going on psychology, meteorological effects or whatever is interesting in itself, I find that the main problem with UFOlogy is the folks who so desperately want to believe the ETH over all others. We know that the mind can play tricks so we have some ‘form’ for a psychological explanation. We know that things meteorologically speaking are not what they seem, high altitude sprites being one of the surprises. But we do not know that ET exists at all, so why are they even in the running?

    When I were a nipper I so believed that UFOs were alien piloted craft, I filled my head with all the cases, read everything I could in the libraries – the Internet being many years away and really had a belief, not a knowing of course, the aliens were visiting Earth. Then as an impressionable young ‘un I read stuff by van Daniken and thought ‘Wow, they been coming here for years.’

    Then I started to look at things more rationally and maturely as I got older. Experience taught me to doubt humans, many are liars, also doubt eye-witness accounts, I have seen things and other people interpret them entirely differently. That evolves to the point where you want physical evidence to support an account. The ETH has no such evidence, so for me, until someone has such evidence the explanation lay with things we know do exist.

    I think in part UFOlogy has lost some popularity because some folks, like me, believed in ETH and now think there is nothing to it, making UFOs pretty mundane compared to meeting the aliens. I dare say that the crazier adherents have also driven some people off too, the perception of UFOlogists seems to be of some lonely, fringe group of socially awkward people has stopped some folks from being associated I am sure. I know myself when I talk about UFOs people tend to either pay attention expecting me to confirm their belief in ET or they roll their eyes expecting another tale of abduction and anal probing. Many are quite surprised to hear I am not an ETH believer!!

  7. dandare says:

    i thank you for your frankness on the subject of ufology….. it is a shame that the whole subject is standardised by the media and the press, especially ” The Sun” who make no effort in analising any of the information, and just want a ufo story sensationalised at any cost… this is the cost to ufology. But to the other extent we have believers who make just the same claims with no proof.
    If i could make a wish on this ….. it would be that we could get some serious money and study on the topic (ie could there be unknown natural phenomena out there creating some of this and so on). But it will never happen- to much in fighting and people stuck in their niche of skeptic and believer… I for one, will always look into data, and try to come to a positive conclusion. But if i cannot answer it, then i can always say that it is indeed a UFO and move on.
    Hopefully we can move on ….

  8. BC says:

    Yawn. Back here again eh? UFOlogy 2012 RIP. Now then, I seem to remember a certain chief physicist making a similar proclamation about UFOlogy in 1969. Funny old game isn’t it?

    So, because I don’t see my own face looking back at me – that must mean there is nothing to see huh? Stephenville never happened then? And what exactly did Gary MacKinnon find again while he was causing all that, err, ‘damage’ on the DoD and NASA networks? (Y’know I have looked in all the BBC reports and can’t find anything at all on that subject – kind of strange isn’t it? Anyway, I’ve filed it under social myth so I can forget about it now – after all BBC would never hide the truth from the public ;)

    There are problems with UFOlogy alright and they’ve been brewing for a long time. It’s not that the subject is dead, however, it’s that the traditional UFOlogy organisations may well be. What exactly is the point of MUFON in 2012? Or, for that matter, the point of BUFORA – collating more reports? Filing them away with the other half a million or so we already have? Or is it to simply tell us nothing is possible? It’s all a big dream? How can a subject such as UFOlogy be made to appear so dull and lifeless lol? We already have enough report based data to fill volumes and what have we done with that?

    Sure the Web has fuelled a lot of ‘discussion’ (ahem) but this is exactly what detractors of the subject rely on. After all it is much better to let people willingly wander off down the path of discrediting themselves, providing easy targets for sceptics who RELY on that cultural connection between UFO experience and ‘aliens’. The community has been controlling itself for ages, that is true, but this control is neither a killing blow or even fair representation: the map is most definitely not the territory here. So is UFOlogy dead? That really depends on how much life is in the eyes of the explorer. IMO one of the things that organisations should be doing now is working on the reframing of the debate – long, long overdue – there is more than enough data already to allow for meaningful lines of scientific enquiry. Indeed, there always has been.

    The point is a simple one: if you aren’t getting results, change your methods and see what happens. So… over to you guys… change something…. How about stop the shoe-gazing and stop feeding the believer/non-believer science/anti-science garbage debate in the media? And anyway, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s all just a myth anyway, isn’t it…David?

    • Hi BC – Pretty much agree with most of what you say here. And yes, UFOs are a modern myth because a myth is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary “a traditional narrative sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.”
      No one can seriously argue that UFOlogy isn’t ‘a traditional narrative’ ?
      And regardless of what theory you are fond of, none of them have been authenticated.
      So not ‘just a myth’, a very important myth indeed. In fact possibly the most important myth of the 21st century.

  9. Simon says:

    Well, UFOlogy is all about patience, and keep looking for new information. Well, lack of people submitting new ufo files, it may up-sad some researchers, but it’s not the end of UFOlogy.

    Oh, I have something to tell you guys. Something strange happened at national archive.
    Remeber the ufo files released in Augest 2012. About week ago, I went back there, and
    notice something wrong there, the web page title changed to “Files released in July 2012″,
    and all filenames are totally different from the files released in Augest 2012.

    Those are new files. But, all file links are dead. I’m wondering what’s going on?

    • Hi Simon, I’ve just checked TNA UFO files page and I can’t see the problem. These are not ‘new’ files, the files listed are the ones released to the public on July 12. I haven’t tried to download them but I know TNA charge a small download fee (I believe around £3 UK Sterling) after the first month in which they are free of charge. If you are having problems with the website or downloads I suggest you contact The National Archives directly for advice. bests, Dave

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