Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Doing Science On UFOs

Introduction

For over fifty years, people have reported sightings, both distant and extremely close, of what appear to be extraordinary objects with extraordinary characteristics and performance. Initially, these reports attracted significant attention from the military, but as the objects demonstrated an equally extraordinary elusiveness and failed to demonstrate any specifically hostile propensity, military programs decayed into efforts to explain every occurrence by a natural cause, no matter how contrived.

The largest effort of this sort in terms of sightings examined, was the Air Force Project Blue Book. Yet that effort only made minimal use of the services of scientists, and, in many cases, those scientists came away frustrated at the resistance of the military to doing any real science on the reports that flowed through military channels. In 1968, responding to congressional pressure, in part generated by the Blue Book consulting scientist – astrophysicist Dr. J. Allen Hynek – the military handed their effort over to a university for a scientific appraisal of the subject. The was the so-called “Condon Committee” at the University of Colorado.

As chronicled in numerous references[footnote 1], and evidenced by the Committee report, the scientific work of the Committee was tainted by the bias of the project administrators and leaders. The methodology (attempting to prove or disprove the ETH by attempting to explain all sightings as mundane occurrences) was fatally flawed and barely scientific (though the National Science Foundation (NSF) approved the report and its methodology). It was also a failure in attaining its stated aim. Unlike the USAF, which, due to a perponderance of NL (Hynek “Nocturnal Lights”) class[footnote 2] cases, could claim that 90-95% of UFO reports could be explained, the Committee failed to explain 30% of their more selected reports[footnote 3].

However, the Committee did little in the way of science on the reports. A few experiments to attempt to reproduce vehicle failures were, perhaps, the most focused of their efforts. The Committee ultimately recommended against scientific interest in the subject, and though there were some efforts by Hynek and others to bring scientists into the field, this conclusion helped to destroy nascent scientific interest in the subject.

Since that time, as Vallee predicted[footnote 4], scientific interest has been largely destroyed by the influx of cranks and charlatans. The change in focus among the members of the active UFO community from sightings and hard evidence cases to the paranormal and abduction cases has also contributed to the basically moribund state of science in the study of UFOs. At the same time, the debunkers have done everything possible to discourage scientific interest in the subject, and have continued to use pseudoscientific attacks to discredit witnesses, investigators and analysts.

Why Even Try?

If we are ever to know whether or not UFOs exist, we must do science on the subject[footnote 5]. If we accept that UFOs are objectively existent, based on the evidence to date, then establishing the nature of the phenomenon and its technology (if any), will require science to be done on the subject. If we do not accept that UFOs are objectively existent, there is still much fascinating scientific work to be done in the areas of determining the genesis of these reports and the determinants of their structure, content, and the correlations between reports widely dispersed in time and space.

None of this has been undertaken in any broad sense to date.

Doing science on UFOs can have benefits for many other areas of science – even if UFOs are not an objectively existent phenomenon. And much of the needed effort can be done at low cost, by both professionals and serious amateurs.

What Kind Of Science?

There are many kinds of science – for instance, observational science, experimental science, theoretical / mathematical science and simulation science. All of these are potentially applicable to UFOs.

The first area of interest must be the witness. From the observations of witnesses come all of the data of UFOlogy, and since these observations are generally of relatively transient phenomena seen at night, we need to know the limits and errors of witness capability, and we need to know how to assess the accuracy of a specific witness. We also need to know the degree and kind of difference between false reports and true reports, and the influence of sociology on the content of reports.

The next area of interest is the nature of the reports. This must begin with the development of catalogs, which serve as the basis of classification systems derived from patterns in the data; in essence, the search for patterns and the generation of classification systems must go hand in hand, feeding each other as patterns emerge from the data. These efforts must be pursued for IFO and hoax cases as well as UFOs, to help support or refute the concept that IFO and UFO cases are similar or different, and the degree to which such a correlation or anti-correlation is interesting.

With this material at hand, we can begin some experimental science – attempts to reproduce or simulate observed effects, attempts to determine power, frequency, and other factors required to generate those observed effects. These must be based on the CE-II classification cases – ground traces, vehicle interference / EM Effects[footnote 6], and medical effects on witnesses.

And, finally, we need to determine if there are ways to look for UFOs, or to at least place restrictions on UFOs based on their not being observed with certain methods and devices. This moves investigation from its passive and reactive phase to an active program which has the potential to being the “UFO data on demand” required by many in the scientific community.

Gatherings and Rewards

Finally, it is necessary to establish gatherings to bring together the purely scientific workers in the field, the scientifically oriented investigators and the historical researchers. Their efforts must be clearly segregated from the efforts of paranormal investigators, crop circle investigators, mystics, cranks, and contactees. Highly selective conferences, symposia and workshops are needed to establish that segregation. The quality of these must be kept even, exclusive, high, and on-topic. A schedule of cyberspace, national, and regional conferences should be established, with high and explicit standards for submissions.

Some of the following might be appropriate gatherings:

  • Annual Workshop on UFO Photo and Video Analysis
  • Annual Conference on Physical Analysis of UFO Appearance and Behavior
  • Annual Conference on UFO Witness Cognitive and Perceptual Psychology
  • Annual Workshop on Field Investigation of UFOs – Methods and Experiments
  • Annual Presentation of High Probability UFO Cases
  • Annual Workshop and Conference on the Investigation and Cataloging of Historical UFO Reports
  • Annual UFO Science Award Conference (see below)

It is highly desirable to establish at least one annual award for the best scientific paper published (categories such as “referreed journal publication”, “web publication”, “non-UFO journal publication or presentation”, and “related non-UFO science” would be useful), perhaps with a small cash award, and certainly with some form of in-community and media recognition for the effort. This award process, like the workshops, conferences, and symposia, must be made a highly exclusive effort, so that the high value of the award and its image in the eyes of mainstream media and science can be maintained and grow over the years. Clear criteria must be established for such awards, and a highly regarded panel must be assembled to judge the entries.

Experiments

The list that follows is not intended to be exhaustive. The active mind of the scientist is no doubt capable of generating many ideas not found here. Furthermore, complete experimental designs are not provided, leaving room for the creativity of original researchers and analysts. Some of these experiments might be appropriate for collegiate studies or graduate work in sociology and psychology.

Witness Perception and Calibration Experiments

Angular Judgements

Witnesses estimate the angle to objects at known angular relationship to the witness. Error bounds derived from this allow us to better determine the confidence we can have in witness angular judgements which are the foundation of size, distance, and energy estimates. Horizontal and vertical angles need testing, as do short and long observations with and without reference points. Surprise and prepared observations should be subjected to test. Double-blind techniques should be used where possible.

Field techniques to rank witness accuracy on these scales can be developed based on some of the experimental designs.

Brightness Judgements

Witnesses estimate the brightness of light sources – point, areal, and diffuse – and compare that brightness to other sources with both sets of known brightness. Error bounds derived from this allow us to better determine the confidence we can have in witness brightness judgements, which are the foundation of identification and of power estimates. Surprise and prepared observations should be subjected to test. Double-blind techniques should be used where possible.

Field techniques to rank witness accuracy on these scales can be developed based on some of the experimental designs.

Color Judgements

Witnesses compare the color of an observed source to a reference source of known color. Brightness is varied. Error bounds from this allow us to better determine the confidence we can have in witness color judgements, especially when coupled with brightness. These judgements are the foundation of identification, and also may be useful in determining the frequency, power, or type of energy output. Surprise and prepared observations should be subjected to test. Double-blind techniques should be used where possible.

Field techniques to rank witness accuracy on these scales can be developed based on some of the experimental designs.

Multiple Parameter Judgements

Witnesses are presented with a variety of light sources of various colors, brightnesses, extent, distance, and angular positioning. These parameters are known to the experiment and can be compared with the witness estimate. Accuracy and congruence of witness performance can be assessed. Surprise and prepared observations should be subjected to test. Double-blind techniques should be used where possible.

Field techniques to rank witness accuracy on these scales can be developed based on some of the experimental designs.

Multiple Witness Judgements

Multiple independent and associated witnesses are presented with a variety of light sources of various colors, brightnesses, extent, distance, and angular positioning. These parameters are known to the experiment and can be compared with the witness estimate. Accuracy and congruence of witness performance can be assessed in the multiple witness context. Surprise and prepared observations should be subjected to test. Double-blind techniques should be used where possible.

Field techniques to rank witness accuracy on these scales can be developed based on some of the experimental designs.

Witness Sociology Experiments

Stories from children

Subjects are presented with the beginning of an open ended story – “You see something in the sky”, or “You see something strange in the sky” – and are asked to tell a story. They are asked to remember the story they tell. Then they are asked to repeat the story 1 day, 1 week, 1 month later, and differences are observed. Stories are also compared to actual UFO reports from children using degree of similarity to help understand how fabricated stories relate to reports believed true. Witness exposure to UFO influences should be explored AFTER the end of the experiment, and the nature of the experiment, in terms of its relationship to the subject of UFOs should be concealed until that time.

Stories from adults

Subjects are presented with the beginning of an open ended story – “You see something in the sky”, or “You see something strange in the sky” – and are asked to tell a story. They are asked to remember the story they tell. Then they are asked to repeat the story 1 day, 1 week, 1 month later, and differences are observed. Stories are also compared to actual UFO reports from adults using degree of similarity to help understand how fabricated stories relate to reports believed true. Witness exposure to UFO influences should be explored AFTER the end of the experiment, and the nature of the experiment, in terms of its relationship to the subject of UFOs should be concealed until that time.

Cataloging

Catalogs are an essential part of creating the reference baseline for research. Catalogs need to be created for almost every imaginable focus of interest in the subject. Some of the most critically needed catalogs are listed below (some of these are already in progress under the aegis of Project 1947):

  • Reports by effect type (such as EM Effects).
  • Reports by object / occupant appearance.
  • Reports by object / occupant behavior.
  • Reports by proximity.
  • A collection of all valid and hoax photos, with descriptions of how the hoaxes were performed. Differences and similarities between hoaxes and photos thought genuine.
  • Plasma types and photos of plasmas.
  • IFO photo / drawing catalog (stars, planets, a variety of aircraft and hoax objects).
  • Cases with quantitative data.

Classification Systems

Both a byproduct of the process of catalog creation and also lending itself to the designation of needed catalogs, the classification of reports into classification systems is essential to future development of the field. It is only from looking for patterns within classified reports that the true patterns of the phenomenon can be discerned

Some of the following are critical classification systems. Some of these have been developed but may need competition or critique or elaboration. Others do not yet exist.

Concerns about the creation of complex classification systems or classification systems which require special expertise to apply are misplaced. Such systems are a natural requirement of a maturing science, and reluctance to adopt or use them only restrains the development of the field.

  • Object Appearance (NICAP, Haines, Cashman Luminosity).
  • Object and Occupant Behavior (Vallee Original System, Cashman Behavioral Object).
  • Levels Of Contact (Hynek, Vallee New System, Cashman Level Of Contact).
  • Coupling (does the object approach the witness, the witness approach the object, etc.) (Cashman Coupling).
  • Ground Trace types.
  • Medical Effect types.
  • Vehicle Interference types (NICAP, Cashman EM Effects)
  • Other Effect types (wind, sound, etc.)
  • IFO Appearance.
  • Hoax Object and Occupant Behavior.

Literature Reviews

A significant body of literature which can have bearing on UFO studies exists but has rarely been referenced, much less brought within the field. Efforts to review this literature and bring surveys of it to the UFO community are essential if duplication of existing work is to be avoided or sensibly done. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of UFO studies, this work spans a wide variety of fields. A sampling is listed below:

Forensics

  • Ground trace sample gathering and analysis.
  • Witness perceptual and cognitive psychology.
  • Chain of evidence procedures.

Physics

  • NACA and NASA papers on hypersonic flight and the use of EM fields to shape plasmas[footnote 7].
  • General plasma literature.
  • EMP effects[footnote 8].

Biology

  • Effects of microwaves on plants and animals.
  • Evolutionary studies on bilateralism and bipedalism.
  • Allergic reactions and traces left by them in the bloodstream and organbs.

Botany

  • Plant disease and injury.

Medicine

  • Radiation and heat burns.
  • Effects of chemical exposure.

“Search for Patterns”

Given well-documented catalogs and classification systems, the search for patterns is possible. Obviously, the placement of catalogs in commonly accessible database formats can accelerate this effort. Some patterns of interest (a few of which have been examined already) include:

  • Diurnal patterns by appearance, behavior and level of contact
  • Color and appearance patterns
  • Behavior patterns
  • Correlations to variation in brightness of celestial objects
  • Demographics of witnesses
  • Correlation or lack of correlation with media events
  • Patterns of performance – acceleration, speed, power output
  • Color vs. brightness
  • Behavior vs. configuration of luminosity

UFO Effect Experiments

UFO effects, including ground traces, vehicle / EM effects, and medical or plant effects are, second to witness studies, the most amenable area of the UFO phenomenon to experimental science. The following is a non-exhaustive list of suggestions:

EM Effects

  • Subject old and new vehicle ignition systems or simulations of ignition systems to stationary / alternating magnetic fields, microwaves, electrodynamic and electrostatic fields of various intensities, x-rays, etc. Determine residues, if any, which might be used in testing vehicles and systems affected by UFOs.
  • Subject lighting systems of various types to stationary / alternating magnetic fields, microwaves, electrodynamic and electrostatic fields of various intensities, x-rays, etc. Determine residues, if any, which might be used in testing systems affected by UFOs.
  • Subject AM radio, FM radio and TV frequencies to a variety of interference sources and document the pattern of interference, and the strength required to eliminate the signal at known signal and interference strengths.

Ground Effects

  • Subject plants of various types (grass, trees, etc) to stationary / alternating magnetic fields, microwaves, electrodynamic and electrostatic fields of various intensities, x-rays, UV and IR, heat, particle bombardment and ultrasonics. Determine resulting appearance based on exposure intensity and duration. Determine residues, if any, which might be used in testing flora affected by UFOs.
  • Subject soils of various types (dirt, clay, mud, etc) to stationary / alternating magnetic fields, microwaves, electrodynamic and electrostatic fields of various intensities, x-rays, UV and IR, heat, particle bombardment, ultrasonics, pressure and friction. Determine resulting appearance based on exposure intensity and duration. Determine residues, if any, which might be used in testing soil affected by UFOs. Determine depth of effect.

Medical Effects

  • Undertake detailed study of and photo catalog of sequelae from UV, IR, heat, and radiation burns.
  • Determine and catalog energy levels required for various levels of effect on skin and eyes.
  • Develop a protocol for medical testing of witnesses showing eye and skin irritation after a UFO event and find doctors willing to perform such tests in controlled circumstances.

“Search for UFOs” Experiments

The ideal of UFO research has been the ability to find UFOs at will, or to predict their appearance. The essentially “wild” nature of the UFO has been a serious impediment to its study. However, efforts to find and track UFOs are also the most time consuming and costly.

Some efforts have been pursued and there are indications that some have met with a more or less verifiable level of success. The list below is comprised of investigatory paths which have supposedly had some success in the past, and those which it is suggested may offer other avenues. Nevertheless, these remain the most expensive and chancy efforts in UFO science. Some depend on specific hypotheses as to the nature of the UFO, and may not be reliable, but because of their potential to support or refute such hypotheses, they are also of great interest.

  • Magnetic field variation detection and localization.
  • Radiation level variation detection and localization.
  • Electrostatic field variation detection and localization.
  • Photographic / film / video detection by wide angle cameras; use of meteor patrol records.
  • Examination of lightning strike databases for traces which lack correlation with known storm activity[footnote 9].
  • Examination of orbital and aerial photos of ground areas for possible traces.
  • Examination of near earth and interplanetary space for uncataloged transient objects.
  • Expedition to Ubatuba for sea bottom examination and attempt to recover additional samples from claimed UFO explosion (only warranted due to the apparently unusual nature of those samples when examined by reputable scientists with high-quality equipment).

Handbooks

Practictioners in most fields have extensive handbooks available to aid their efforts. Some of the efforts described above will generate results which should be gathered in handbook form.

One or more handbooks for investigators and analysts should be developed and established as a standard. This effort has already been performed for basic field investigation by MUFON. In addition, further work needs to be developed on:

  • Calculations needed for investigation and analysis.
  • Commonly needed physical constants and material and optical properties.
  • Hypotheses advanced and tested and the results of those tests.
  • Resources available to the researcher and analyst.

Conclusion

There are many types of science which can be performed on an experimental, observational, or collecting basis to enhance the scientific content of the study of UFOs. Many of these studies are inexpensive and can be performed with volunteers or with relatively small amounts of equipment. There is no excuse for not doing this kind of science on UFOs.

Footnotes

1. Such as Hynek’s The UFO Experience, and Saunders’ UFOs? Yes!

2. Hynek, The UFO Experience

3. University of Colorado, Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects

4. Messengers of Deception

5. Whether UFOs can be studied scientifically is an appropriate debate.

6. A sample of these cases can be found in the Project-1947 EM Effects Catalog

7. Thanks to Joel Carpenter for this suggestion.

8. Thanks to Joel Carpenter for this reference.

9. Thanks to Joel Carpenter for this suggestion.

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