Thoughts on UFOs

Seeing the congressional hearing about UAPs was a fun diversion. I prefer to use the original name “UFO”, because switching to “UAP” is clearly an attempt to dodge the stigma that “UFO” has accumulated, and I don’t think “UAP” deserves to get away with it so easily.

What’s funny about the current UFO discourse is just how unimaginative it is, even after all this time. We’re well into the 21st century, but UFO evangelists are still stuck in the 1950s Hollywood conception of UFOs, i.e. a literal flying saucer piloted by aliens that are basically humanoid with long limbs and an enlarged head. Oh sorry, it’s not a flying saucer, it’s a “tic-tac” now:

And, sorry, it’s no longer a saucer, but a “black cube inside of a clear sphere.” A huge improvement, to be sure.

I’m not an expert in aeronautics, and I don’t claim to have an “explanation” for the tic-tac footage, but I am an expert in bullshit (giving it and taking it), and can offer a rough guideline for inoculating yourself against these UFO claims:

  • Take the probability of extraterrestrial vehicles being able to travel interstellar distances and reaching our planet.
  • Multiply by the likelihood of them looking and behaving exactly like we’ve always wanted them to.
  • Multiply by the likelihood of them proceeding to clumsily float in mid-air, enough to be considered an airspace hazard by the military pilots who have “seen” them, but never seen by commercial pilots or anyone on the ground.
  • Multiply by the likelihood of them being clumsy enough to crash occasionally, so that their “biologic” tissues could be collected, without anyone else noticing.
  • Multiply by the likelihood of the U.S. government being competent enough to cover up anything related to these phenomena, for an indefinite amount of time, in a culture that’s desperate for these claims to be true.
  • And now, consider how powerful, how incontrovertible, how convincing the evidence for such a UFO would need to be, to make up for the infinitesimal likelihood of each of the above points. But what do we have instead? Verbal testimony, hearsay, and grainy sensor footage (of course!), in an age of ubiquitous smartphone cameras, quadcopters, and satellites.

This is why I’m squarely in the Michael Shermer camp of capital-S skepticism regarding UFOs. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and telling everyone that “We know people who have seen things!” doesn’t quite meet the Sagan standard, even if it’s told under oath to Congress.