science, Skepticism

CBC, U.F.O!

How many folks out there expected a post on this doozy? Hands?

Ok, quite a few. Just goes to show how dependable we here at the ‘Kog are at keeping you informed as to where the idiots are. We need to go out into the world, like Mutual of Omaha (along with some guy like that poor bastard who used to get gnawed by the critters while the old guy sat in the helicopter oblivious and un-gnawed), and tranquilize and tag the idiots in the wild. This will be the text of our eventual billboard campaign: “Blevkog. Tagging the idiots, so you don’t have to.” Now, back to our regularly scheduled screed.

So, the CBC and others are reporting that Canadians spotted a record number of UFO’s in the sky (well, where else?) in 2006. A report on the subject explains that there were 736 sightings last year, an average of two per day. Chris Rutkowski, a UFO researcher, had this to say:

“The fact that these numbers are so high at all suggests that it’s a very real phenomenon…Whether it’s something that’s tangible, like a flying saucer from another planet, or something a little less so, perhaps psychology-driven, it still is fascinating, and I think science should be paying a little more attention to it.”

Certainly, any scientist with an interest in fantasy-prone individuals should be paying attention – there’s a research grant in there somewhere. As for other scientists, who are interested in other planets, or the exploration of space, or the design of space vehicles…not so much.

Just because something is unidentified does not mean it is inexplicable. In fact, the very title ‘unidentified flying object’ starts off with the admission that you don’t have any idea what you’re seeing. I eagerly await the supplementary annex to this report that details every hallucination experienced by a Canadian last year. Now that’ll be good readin’.

I don’t expect that everyone who sees what they think is a UFO are necessarily mentally ill – but unfortunately, it’s one of the easier explanations. Some very normal, very sincere individuals see these types of unexplained phenomenon, but the point has to be that it is unexplained, not unexplainable, and sometimes mental illness is the most likely explanation.

There is a scientific precept known as ‘Occam’s Razor’ that basically tells us that no matter what the phenomenon, the simplest explanation is in nearly every case the best one. The more conditions you place on the occurrence, the less likely that explanation will be the correct one. For us to accept uncritically that UFOs are in fact visitors from other worlds, we have to accept the following conditions:

  1. There is life on other planets (not a problem, I’ll buy that as statistically probable)
  2. They have developed space travel (ok, we have, so why not them?)
  3. Their mode of space travel is able to exceed the speed of light, which is the only way travel between galaxies, or even solar systems  is practicable (Oops. First sign of trouble – this is impossible under the laws of physics as we understand them)
  4. They have to be interested, technologically or anthropologically, in humanity (Why? And why not make contact in order to exchange information?)
  5. These visitors would have to let themselves be seen (Think about it – you’ve got the capability of warp speed, or teleportation, or whatever, and you can’t remember to turn on the cloaking device? I can’t cross a street in Halifax and be guaranteed that drivers will see me – a spaceship in the vastness of the sky? I doubt it, unless you really really want to see it).

So if, alternately, the explanation is a satellite, or a cloud, or a hallucination, or a planet, or a shooting star…well, you get the picture. All of these things are much more likely to have occurred, because we know they happen all the time. They require no leaps of faith or logic.

In all honesty, I would accept this report if it were titled “How People Can Be Mistaken or Wish For Things to Happen that Might Be Happening But Probably Aren’t”. It would be an interesting psychological study. But that’s all it is. Nothing to see here, no Hyperspace Bypass will be built by the Vogon Constructor Fleet, move along, please.
Shame on the CBC on this one, and any other media outlet that treats this as even resembling ‘news’ – believe me, there’s enough complex and wonderful processes and patterns happening in nature to keep us enthralled without making stuff up. We can imagine a lot as human beings, we can be creative, and we can be creatively mistaken, but I don’t necessarily want to read about it on the news.

(You can put your hands down now.)

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3 thoughts on “CBC, U.F.O!

  1. I think science should be paying a little more attention to it

    I doubt anything and everything uttered by anyone that mistakes scientists and science in this kind of simplistic personification. You know, like science is another of those cute girls in this guy’s high school that paid absolutely no attention whatsoever to him.

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  2. Exactly – the use of the word science in this way (like the way it was shouted by the old guy in the Thomas Dolby song) completely ignores the range of activities that legitimately fall under that rubric. Which is probably too complex a concept for this guy.
    I think he should name his dog Science and dip the report in gravy, so Science would actually pay attention to it.

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  3. I am reminded of a statement by Stephen Hawking to the effect that, if there is a superior intelligence in the universe, and they have travelled to Earth, why do they only reveal themselves to cranks and oddballs?

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