On UFOs

There has been some low level of discussion over Hillary Clinton’s claim she would declassify all of the UFO-related data the U.S. government has. Personally, I don’t care one way or another; I don’t think this has any political significance at all.

But what I find interesting is how little UFOs ‘matter to the zeitgeist’ or what have you. If you search Google’s ngrams (for whatever that’s worth), “UFO” peaked in 1998 and has declined ever since.

What used to be a pop culture reference point has pretty much vanished–and I don’t think it’s just the end of the X-Files. The key thing is ubiquitous photography and video in the form of cell phones (and digital handcams). If UFO visitations were real (for sake of argument), with all of the recording power the average citizen has at her disposal, we should have had some pretty conclusive evidence by now. As Nadia Drake notes, we don’t. At all.

In a sense this is similar to the movie Mementotechnology has utterly shattered the premise (although that’s not stopping attempts at a remake).

Not to worry, we’re still incredibly irrational fantasists. But the UFO fantasy really seems to have receded.

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4 Responses to On UFOs

  1. David says:

    The decline in UFO sightings is caused by a decrease in funding support for exploration that is provided to the aliens, by their own alien NSF. Budgets are tight everywhere, not just here on earth.

  2. MarkK says:

    This point was made starting when all the videos of re-entering debris from spacecraft and passing meteors and of course big things like the Siberia meteorite started to appear. Now when someone can see something, someone is recording it.

  3. It is rare for a form of woo to go away entirely. Astrology, psychics, homeopathy – they’re all still going strong. The Bermuda Triangle nonsense seems to have gone away.

  4. Our species is only a couple of hundred thousand or so years old. We know from cosmology and stellar-evolution theory that it’s possible that somewhere out there an intelligent civilization could exist that is billions of years older than our own. Even if only a few million years older, their technology might be so much more advanced than our own as to appear to be magic to us. Hence, I wouldn’t get too smug about being an ultra-rationalist because your cell-phone camera has disproved the silly notion that aliens are visiting. They might be able to beat that technology. Michio Kaku has pointed out that people generally aren’t very good at imagining how much more advanced an alien civilization could be. Although there is no compelling evidence that we are being visited, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. After all, given our current knowledge of the universe, it would be more difficult to explain why we are alone than why we aren’t. The scientific thing to do is to keep an open mind with the caveat that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

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