Extraordinary Claims?

Over the last week, I’ve been asked privately about the recent flurry of interviews about UFOs – now revised to UAPs – and the pending report to Congress, and I’ve commented here and there. For what it’s worth, here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

I’ve seen the videos and heard the interviews and testimony. The people speaking are credible and I accept they saw things that appeared extraordinary and were beyond their ability to effectively explain. Yet public memory is short – we’ve been here many times before.

Every time there’s a flurry of media activity around the UFOs/UAPs, the speakers always say they’re uncomfortable in the spotlight or frightened of undefined consequences for saying ‘too much.’ I just don’t buy it. If you think you’re sitting on irrefutable proof of spacefaring extraterrestrials, which would perhaps be the most significant scientific discovery in human history, you are duty bound as a human being to tell all you know to everyone – but especially to the people who understand the subject best – the scientists whose work relates to the subjects that potentially describe what you saw.

But that’s not what happens. Mainstream media gets the nod and softball interviews multiply. Admittedly, it’s a little hard to blame media for their credulous approach because we know they are generally no better intellectually equipped to rigorously question witnesses than the 535 politicians scheduled to hear an apparent bombshell report on the subject next month – the vast majority of which have zero background in science.

I might get more excited if fellows and chairs at JHUAPL, JPL, MIT, etc. are called to consult – and they agree because there’s enough presented to be interesting. Maybe that will happen, I don’t know.

I love things that place our existence in proper cosmological context. 13.8 billion years of universal natural history allows for a lot of evolution in a lot of places. My leap of faith is that I think there must be other life out there, from the humblest microbes to technological and spacefaring civilizations – the latter of which must have learned to live with their high technology without it destroying them, which would also mean there’s still hope for us. Are they here? Possibly! But…

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And the evidence will likely come with margins of error, which is going to frustrate those who think the path to objective truth is an arrow from grainy hypothesis to clear conclusion. No, the reported facts must face rigorous and ruthless skeptical inquiry. This is not just asking any old question because you personally disagree or doubt something, but informed questions from expertise and experience, questions from competing and viable alternative explanations, questions that probe every conceivable chamber of the heart of the subject. It will not be comfortable for those who are emotionally invested in a particular outcome, and may actually appear conspiratorial to those unfamiliar with the process.

Ultimately, science is a way of thinking more than a body of knowledge, and the method is more important than the findings. We must be faithful to its methods or we’re liable to fool ourselves.

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