JULY 1995

Date : 950701aa july /~sofkam/ISUNY /Journal/vol1_7.html
Journal of
The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York
Volume 1, Issue 7
The UFO Skeptic.

As you know, I am very skeptical of claims that UFOs are real. I feel that evidence showing that UFOs are real is sorely lacking, and it surprises me how fervently people will believe in cases that have little substance. When I heard Stanton Friedman speak, I was quite surprised that he considered the Barney and Betty Hill case part of the proof that UFOs are real and we are being visited by alien spacecraft on a regular basis. To me, believing that Barney and Betty's abduction was a real event seems to rely more on wishful thinking than on anything of substance.

Does it matter if people believe in UFOs even though they are not real? Yes, it does. Devoting one's life to a fictitious belief is a terrible and unproductive waste of time and energy. There are so many interesting and exciting things in the real world and our time here is limited.

Being overly credulous may hide some real and unrecognized phenomena from view, or at least delay its recognition. Scientists tend to be reluctant to devote time and energy pursuing claims or ideas that seem farfetched or unlikely to be true. Much of this attitude is probably due to the large number and wide range of unusual claims and the overly credulous attitude of many people making such claims. It is likely that some real and interested phenomena may be buried in the noise.

A good example is a recent discovery about lightning. Lightning has been studied for about two centuries, and scientists felt that it was fairly well understood. Recently and unexpectedly a whole new class of lightning was discovered. Flashing upward from thunderheads are two new types of lightning---red sprites and blue jets. The red sprites, which may be pink or red, are many miles wide and rise to heights of 60 miles. Blue jets are cone shaped with their apex atop the clouds. They extend to heights of about 20 miles. While red sprites appear all at once, the blue jets move upward from the cloud tops.

The new class of lightning was first photographed by accident in 1989 when a retired physicist, Dr. John R. Winckler, was helping a friend try out a new low light video camera. A check of videos of thunderstorms taken by the space shuttles revealed more examples of this new and strange lightning. Soon searches for the phenomena were easily succeeding and it is now being widely investigated.

These forms of lightning eluded science because they are not as obvious as common lightning. They are rarer, fainter, and faster than normal lightning. They were, however, reported before they were recognized as something real. Airline pilots had sometimes seen them, and the May, 1995, issue of Sky & Telescope contains a letter from Stuart L. Becher. He writes that he is personally gratified that the sprite phenomena has at last been recognized as real, and then relates witnessing them twenty-five years ago when he was serving in Vietnam. Although he reported his observations to physicists and atmospheric scientists, most were indifferent.

People who are interested in anomalous phenomena claim scientists should take such phenomena more seriously, and should not be indifferent to reports such as that of Mr. Becher. Such reports might be taken more seriously if people interested in unusual phenomena would take science more seriously and become more critical. The perception that they will believe almost anything hurts their credibility, makes it unlikely they will be taken seriously, and may well slow the recognition of new and unrecognized phenomena.

Your comments, thoughts, or questions about this or other UFO topics are most welcome. Please address e-mail to 72724.2270 a compuserve.c om or phone me at 374-8460.

-Alan French

The Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York is available on the World Wide Web at: ISUNY/.

Articles, reports, reviews, and letters published in the Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York represent the views and work of individual authors. Their publication does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York or its members unless so stated.


Beware of leaping to the conclusion that, because reports from the general public are often misguided, this caused scientists to be closed-minded regarding airline pilots' reports of sprites and jets.

In fact, T. Kuhn found that scientists are typically closed-minded about any amazing new idea, even if the ideas come from fellow scientists of the highest reputation. They'll often ignore them, or sometimes even fight fiercely against accepting them. History abounds with examples, but this part of history is not usually taught in science classes because it's so embarrassing. The widespread resistance to new ideas even led physicist M. Plank to state that "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

For major revolutionary ideas, if scientists would rather die than accept them, then for more minor revolutions they simply ignore them.

If a physicist is hounded out of his department and has his reputation destroyed for predicting the possibility of black holes (S. Chandrasekhar 1930), how much chance then does a non-scientist airline pilot have when reporting an amazing phenomenon which is not even predicted by centuries-old thunderstorm theory? Such pilots would just open themselves to embarrassment. A similar thing happened with reports of Ball Lightning prior to the 1980s: disbelieving scientists ignored and even ridiculed such reports, and as a consequence, genuine reports from expert observers were kept quiet through fear of laughter. Then even further, scientists later assumed that Ball Lightning didn't exist since, if it was real, there would be occasional reports from fellow scientists. Yet this was a self-fulfilling prophecy caused NOT by scientists' distrust of the general public, but by their tendency to ridicule new discoveries.
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