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
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
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.
The Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York is available on
the World Wide Web at: http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/ 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.
COMMENT FROM BILL B.
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
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.