Preface: Many readers are doubtless more interested in the tax overhaul than the customary focus of this blog, foreign relations. So it’s as good a time as any to take up a subject considered silly by some. This is a serious look. References:
- (CNN Opinion) Keep looking for UFOs.
- (Politico) The Pentagon’s Secret Search for UFOs
- (NY Times) Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program
AATIP, (Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program) was canceled in 2012. It has been stated that the activity continues more secretly. The fate of it resembles that of the program’s historical predecessors, Sign, Grudge, Bluebook, etc. The $22M went to fund the efforts of Harry Reid’s friend, Robert Bigelow. Atypically, Mr. Bigelow seems more interested in spending money on space research than making it. Appearances to the contrary, AATIP was not pork barrel.
But in the five years that it ran, AATIP could not escape the fate of prior investigations, lack of convergence to a conclusion. Since the inception of systematic study in 1947, after 70 years, nothing more is known about UFOs except that there is a residuum of events that have no explanation. The only “advance” that might have occurred is that “whatever it is” defies increasingly sophisticated instrumentation. Quoting Politico,
The former staffer said that eventually, however, even Reid agreed it was not worth continuing. “After a while the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance,” he recalled. “They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find. It all pretty much dissolved from that reason alone—and the interest level was losing steam. We only did it a couple years.”
How does a scientist investigate the unknown? Rene Descartes precedes everyone. But the modern scientific method was devised by Francis Bacon. First comes the hypothesis, an explanation of what’s going on, untested, but with some rational basis. Then comes the experiment, which either supports or negates it. A hypothesis that cannot be proven false is not science. Later, it became accepted to challenge the hypothesis by multiple repetitions, and entirely different experiments, building a consensus view that shields science from individual error.
AATIP lacked a testable hypothesis. Sometimes you can get somewhere just by counting, which is what AATIP did. If you want to know how common white crows are, you can ask people to report them. But your numbers won’t be accurate, because a white crow is more likely to be reported than a black one. No many how many observations you receive, your numbers will never converge to the right ones.
The Telegraph has an interesting gallery, 140 years of UFO sightings – Part I. Some are astonishing, others hokey. All the sharable records, then and now, are photographic film, the eye that pointed the camera, and the mental interpretation. But any magician will tell you, seeing is no cause for believing.
For observations of the general public, elements of the below would appear in the checklists of a report:
- Glowing, the UFO is a light source.
- The UFO is illuminated like most of the things in the natural world, by reflected light.
- Light from other objects is focused by the atmosphere to resemble something we are inclined to see, creating an illusion.
- Lens flare. Light from outside the “field of view” of a camera lens reflects in the lens, creating the appearance of bright objects where none exist. Early photos, before anti reflection lens coatings were developed in the 1930’s, are particularly suspect. Early films, with little exposure latitude, give lens flare a solid appearance.
- Sensing something beyond the limits of sharp vision, the observer mentally fills in the details.
- A phenomena that lacks solidity, such as combustion of methane in a swampy area, is interpreted as something solid.
- Psychological suggestibility.
- The report was intentional fraud.
The focus of AATIP on military pilots, who are trained observers, and better technical tools of observation, push the noises in the above list way down. But the irrational still occurs, a major part of aircraft accidents, as loss of situational awareness.
Throughout, rumors of secret investigations have been the stuff of conspiracy theories. The myth is of a “black program” complete with captured spacecraft, frozen aliens, and, of course, Area 51 and Wright-Patterson. It’s always been baloney. But this time (NY Times) Elizondo asserts the activity continues:
So it’s possible that AATIP has been succeeded by another black activity. This time, the reasons are completely logical, if not mundane, and have nothing to do with conspiracies. We’ll explore them in Part 2.