Monday, November 21, 2005

The Late, Great UFO

Here is a delightful short article from Tech Central Station about the UFO phenomenon; as in, where'd it go?? I think the author, Douglas Kern, is certainly right that it seems to be gone, or at least banished back to the fringes. It's hard to imagine The X Files being as big a hit today as it was ten years ago, though of course it will never really disappear, not as long as cable TV is with us.

Kern's theory is that what the Internet might have given, it instead has taken away. There was a point, as the Internet was developing, that UFO enthusiasts were rubbing their hands with glee, certain that the net, with its power to route around censorship as though it was damage, would finally let them break through the sinister conspiracy of silence the The Gummint has been foisting on us since 1947. Instead . . . nothing.

Consider this: the golden age of UFO photos was the 1950s and 60s, and the most famous of them, grainy and blurry as they are, date from this period. At that time, nobody but professional photographers carried cameras around with them all the time. Many people had cameras for vacations or snapshots of the kids growing up, but when they'd shot a roll they had it developed by somebody else. Very few had advanced darkroom skills, and so very few were qualified to evaluate the authenticity of an image. People were easy to fool.

Nowadays, millions of people around the world constantly carry cell phones capable of taking a picture in an instant and sending it to everyone they know. Just about every computer sold comes packaged with image processing software that would make the CIA's best photographic analysis labs of 1960 look like an elementary school science project. So where are the photos? It was an article of faith among the true believers that if we could just get enough people out there with cameras on the lookout, sooner or later they'd have their proof. Well, the cameras are out there right now, everywhere, and the proof is conspicuously failing to appear.

Also, we've learned to be much more careful now. Every blogger knows that if you quote someone or something in order to comment on it, if you don't include a link to the original so your readers can check on whether you're playing fair or not, well, pretty soon you won't have any readers. Even without the link, any suspicious reader can use Google to get to your source, and if you've pulled a fast one you will hear about it in your comments section.

The Internet has both made us more suspicious and given us the tools to check things out, follow up on our suspicions. The UFOs didn't stand a chance.

Read the article. And note that Kern, in true blogger style, has peppered his article with links to info on such things as the Mantell Incident and the Majestic 12 documents. Following those down is a lot of fun.

BTW, I'm going to make sure my Dad sees that article. It will vindicate everything he's been trying to pound into my head for nearly a half century.


Don said...

Elsewhere you said I

searched it out and photographed it

but Haloscan doesn't tell me what post this comment was attached to. So I'd like to know what I searched out and photographed. I do not remember.

Jean Lafitte said...

Whaaa? I have no idea what your're talking about. More details please, if you want to jog my memory.

Don said...

You left a comment yesterday at my blog. I don't know what post it was in conection with. Hey, have a good Thanksgiving.

Jean Lafitte said...

Well I can't even check up on that, because Haloscan on your blog is refusing to open up a comments window at all. Just sits there and goes click. Maybe it doesn't like me.

Jean Lafitte said...

Found the problem. Norton Anti-Virus was blocking pop-up windows. Still don't know what you're talking about, though.

Harry said...

Regarding UFOs and Kern's article.

The article is the usual semi-pompous celebration of the perceived end of the UFO phenomenon. These things come out every so often. Kern seems basically delighted, which leads me to wonder what it is about it that bothers him so much. Is he threatened by it?

This quote is utter nonsense:

"If UFOs and alien visitations were genuine, tangible, objective realities, the Internet would be an unstoppable force for detecting them."

The internet is no more "unstoppable" in its time than the lack of good photos was back in the Sixties. No one will ever believe ANY kind of documentary evidence if they simply don't want to believe in something. The Internet didn't suddenly bring about the downfall of anything. It just put it in a new frame. In fact, the UFO phenomenon has received quite a boost from the internet, has not disappeared, even though X-Files has, and won't disappear any time soon. My question is, what is it about UFOs that lights people up so strongly?

Jean Lafitte said...

Harry: Define your terms. What is the "UFO phenomenon"? Is it that aliens are visiting us? Or that some people believe they are?

I think you underestimate scientists if you really believe they WOULD NOT under any circumstances change their minds if presented with sufficiently hard evidence. But the evidence isn't there, so far as I can tell. And it is accepted practice in science that if you look and look and look for something, with all your best resources, there comes a point when you can conclude that if it really existed, you would have found it by now. And the scientific method does not require you to extend your search beyond the bounds of reason. If you search your house for an intruder, and go through every room and closet and hiding place and find nobody, you can conclude there is no intruder. You don't have to check your sock drawer, as it's not reasonable to think that a burglar could hide there.

Look, I confess, I'd love it if UFO's were alien craft, well, at least if they were benevolent. I think that addresses your question of why people get so worked up. It would be so comforting to believe that alien minds of great wisdom are coming to solve all our problems, and that attracts a lot of people. (It's been noted that belief in UFOs as alien ships has increased as belief in God has decreased. We seem to have a need to feel that SOME-one's at the controls.) Others get upset because they feel they're seeing people wasting time waiting for someone to come fix things, someone who will never come, instead of solving our problems ourselves.

Because I'd love to meet the aliens and shake them by the tentacle, I have to remind myself that extraordinary claims require extraordinary justification, extraordinary evidence. I haven't seen it yet.

Harry said...

Monsieur Jean, I'm not arguing for the existence of UFOs, I'm arguing for the existence of the phenomenon, and taking issue with the tone of Kern's piece. I'm interested in it, mostly from an imgination standpoint. The farthest I go is "Well, one never knows." Those who follow a strictly scientific paradigm might say that we DO know because we have no concrete proof, just a bunch of, at best, suspect films and photos. Well, OK for those who think that way. I'm still curious as to why the issue invites such an overwhelming blast of scorn. Things that are not proven to exist, that some people believe do, seem to cause a reaction way out of proportion to the issue. It's basically harmless stuff.

Harry said...

Oh yeah, I would define the UFO phenomenon as the widespread belief in existence of UFOs as something not explained by swamp gas, Venus, etc.... and the interest in evidence provided through photos, videos, stories, etc.... The phenomenon is fueled by people across the spectrum of human reaction to the unknown.

Old Scientist said...

At 6:25PM Harry seems to claim that scientists who do not believe in the existence of physical UFOs claim they know that they do not exist. No scientist that I know (and I know a lot, of all kinds) would claim that she could prove a non-existence. The evidence may be overwhelming, and I believe it is in this case, but the non-existence of UFOs is not proved for anybody, scientist or not.
Old Scientist

Harry said...

Read it again, Old Scientist. What I said was "might say." I'm not claiming anything. Just speculating, you might say. I HAVE heard scientists say things to this effect, and I basically agree with you.

My main point is, what's the big deal if someone wants to believe in UFOs, or extraterrestrials, or what have you? If it's no big deal, then why pieces like Kern's?