I would like nothing more than the proof of various cryptids, alien civilizations, even alien visitors to be found. But that proof will come only through rigorous science and objective analysis, and by holding evidence to the highest standards of scrutiny. Born in south eastern Pennsylvania, i have found myself at one time or another living in Chicago, Cleveland, Raleigh-Durham, on the island of Kaua'i and finally landed on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. I have turned my hand to various professions from early work in 3d graphics to historic building restoration, carpentry and log home building to working in a bronze art foundry on the WWII Veterans Memorial. Currently I am a writer, script writer and working for a non profit organization called Empowerment Through Connection which is involved in equine assisted therapy for veterans, at risk teens and women.

Seth Shostak is a respected researcher and commentator on the subject of the search for alien life. He has written a very well thought out article on the hunt for UFOs, and about the people who report them, for the Huffington Post. I thought I would share it here.

Seth Shostak
Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute
RSS feed

You may not see massive UFO exhibits at your local science museum, but there’s no dearth of saucer stories infesting my email. Every day I receive several reports of alien sightings, extraterrestrial plans for Earth, and agitated screeds about the reluctance of scientists to take the whole subject seriously. Plenty of people think they have convincing evidence for other-worldly visitors, and they want me to know.

Allow me to first note that this is a phenomenon worthy of attention. If aliens are really hanging out in our ‘hood, it’s hard to imagine any other fact more worthy of study. If not, then why does such a large fraction of the populace insist on believing they’re here?

Note that few, if any, of these emails are penned by hoaxers. The correspondents are sincere, and many simply wish to help us in our search for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Others are ticked off, usually at me.

It’s a fire hose of correspondence, but stepping back a bit from the massive electronic corpus, it strikes me that virtually all of it falls into one of four categories. For the curious and interested, I list these subject areas below, together with a modestly elaborated description of each.

Sightings. The majority of my UFO diet consists of reports describing suspected encounters. This is not surprising, as there are thousands of sightings annually. The emailer has seen something unusual in the sky that he interprets as probable evidence of alien presence. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say much about these stories. After all, I wasn’t there.

I much prefer the photos and videos that are sometimes offered. The UFOs generally appear small, but contrary to frequent assumption, this doesn’t prove that they’re at high altitude moving at high speed (consider bugs and birds).

Many of the images are artifacts of photography. One gentleman sent me dozens of nighttime photos of city streets, featuring big, blobby and bright UFOs. But these luminous aliens only showed themselves when there was a street lamp in the shot. I suggested that they were internal reflections in the camera lens, and not alien ships behaving like moths. He disagreed…

Suggestions. Some people just want to feed the suggestion box. They’ve got information on how we can do our job better, such as telling us to swing our antennas in the direction of a particular star system where they’re sure aliens are awaiting discovery. A favorite suggested target is the star system Zeta Reticuli, a locale made popular by the famous UFO case of Betty and Barney Hill. As it happens, we have examined Zeta Reticuli with our antennas — not because of Betty and Barney, but because it’s close (39 light-years). We didn’t hear any Reticulans.

Other mails ask why we still look for radio signals when advanced aliens would surely communicate via hyperdimensional physics. Whatever that is. Others urge us to tune our receivers to the “frequency of DNA.” Whatever that is.

Strange stuff. Why are we wasting time hunting for signals, say some correspondents, when extraterrestrials have left calling cards all over the planet? Virtually any pointed edifice is considered a candidate for alien engineering. After all, how could the Egyptians or Mayans have possibly stacked up stone blocks into pyramids? The Washington Monument — also pointy — is not considered an alien artifact as it was built by Americans who, of course, can manage this sort of project without extraterrestrial contractors.

Another story I get several times a month is that Homo sapiens is a deliberate creation of other-worldly beings. We’re E.T.’s science fair project. The fact that our DNA is 98 percent the same as that of chimps implies that either the aliens must have also created our simian pals, or they were content to make us only very slightly better than what Nature had already served up.

A final category of strange stuff includes the correspondents who repeatedly claim that they are aliens. I wonder if they enjoy equal protection under the law.

Slams. While the above correspondence is interesting, it’s not particularly unnerving. That cannot be said for those folks who like to excoriate me for being skeptical about alien visitation. They generally argue that the only reasons that few scientists give much credence to the visitation idea are these: (1) The government is keeping all the good evidence under wraps, and (2) Scientists are knee-jerk debunkers, unwilling to take any of this stuff seriously.

It’s hard to believe that the aliens have cleverly arranged things so that only governments can find convincing evidence of their presence. And, of course, if you accept that premise, it follows that all the UFO reports by ordinary citizens are inadequate to establish the truth of aliens-on-Earth (a bummer of a message for organizations like MUFON).

As for the idea that scientists are either dumb or deliberately mum — well hey, that’s a slur both silly and personally wounding.

Imagine if Bigfoot enthusiasts blamed their failure to convince zoologists of the existence of these elusive beasts on (1) the state of Washington, which was deliberately covering up the really good evidence, and (2) forest rangers, who were derelict in their duty because they don’t relentlessly investigate these hirsute hominids. Would such arguments convince you that Bigfoot was afoot?

The fact is, if you’re certain that our planet is hosting alien visitors, the way to gain acceptance for your point of view is to prove it, not insist that the problem lies with third parties. The blame game is a cop-out.

I think he sums it up pretty well. Warts and all, UFO phenomena is as much about our desire to prove something as it is about the search for proof.

  • Kevin

    Very interesting article he wrote. And yet, there are some things he says that I agree with and some I do not. 

    Yes, I do think we put the blame a lot on the government for cover-ups or for them hiding the truth. Though, I believe sometimes the government tries to hide stuff that we’d rather look into more deeply. The last 2 years have had some very interesting mass sightings, but almost all were followed by the much overused “missile launch failure” excuse. So at the same time, if any government had nothing to do with it, they should do there best to STAY OUT of it and try and compose some “logical” explanation for it. Some things in this world just don’t need an explanation. If events such as these are indeed some form of ET contact, then at least dub the event as “unexplained” not, “flares dropped by a jet in a training exercise.” 

    The problem with today’s society is that the majority of the populace seek authorities for an “official” answer. Which, unfortunately, results in any sighting provided by an average person on a particular event or experience lacking severe credibility. Now sure, most “sightings” may be hoaxes, but when you have an entire town/region witness something they cannot explain when they rule out every possible explanation deserves front page of world news.

    To some argument, I believe our method of searching for radio waves is becoming and extremely difficult medium to use in search of aliens. According to what Dr. Michio Kaku says, we may in the middle of a galactic conversation right now, and we wouldn’t have the slightest clue. We expect our primitive form of galactic communication (Antennae) to be sufficient enough to pick up a conversation or a message. When we send an email, it breaks up into pieces and gets beamed all over the internet. The person receiving it gets a complete message after it reassembles on the other side. If you were to get a fracture piece of the email, you would get just useless gibberish. Likewise, why could this not be the same case for communications in space? Maybe the hits on antennae are indeed a part of another “galactic email” but the part comes out to be nothing more then gibberish because we are not equipped to fully assemble the whole message? Hell, what if the message is not for us?

    It is also ignorant and naive to believe that all races (if there are any) in the galaxy are around the same age as us. If some races are Tier 1, 2, or 3, then inevitably they would have their own form of super-advanced communication that simply too advanced for us to conceive at this point in time. Basically, our situation is like a monkey trying to listen in on an email conversation between 2 countries using a banana- obviously not going to work.

    At this rate, Intelligent aliens either don’t want to be found, like keeping their business underwraps, or simple don’t want to be found. I honestly believe we are going to be the intelligent race that discovers a more primitive one on another planet first. Only time will tell. 

  • The Oshmar

    “Some things in this world just don’t need an explanation” but you asked for a logical explanation, when they gave you one you rejected it saying it was “overused”. What you really want is the government to say, Possibly an alien.

    The internet uses many paths because it HAS many paths to use, if a link is broken or slower data is redirected, it doesn’t do it for no reason. With space the distances are massive, any data from another location has to be broadcast in either a beam or a general broadcast to reach a destination, it can’t just bounce off a location because another location is broken. you are talking about massive distances to cover, dozens to thousands of light-years. Radio is used because it goes through the dust in space and doesn’t lose signal very much doing it, it’s also used because any species that can broadcast will most likely have developed the technology themselves, we also broadcast with math rather than a spoken language, because math would be developed elsewhere as well.

  • DavidDCSA

    Radio wave energy diminishes at a rate of the inverse square of distance, a considerable rate of loss.

  • Dung Particle

    “I honestly believe we are going to be the intelligent race that discovers a more primitive one on another planet first.”

    Thanks for stating something that I’ve never considered. After reading the entire article and your entire response, the second-to-last sentence was a gem. Really.

  • Rmon

    So do all waves (electromagnetic energy).
    The point is, radio waves transmit a lot better through space than visible light or x rays etc. Look at the centre of our galaxy and in all wavelengths it looks like a big blob. But using radio waves, ou can see all the fun stuff. There is a lot of dust in the universe.

  • Wgalison

    “Scientists are dumb or deliberately mum”…. 

    No, Scientists are scared… or more accurately cowardly, self deceiving and supremely arrogant.

    I used to think that Seth Shostak was merely dumb or deliberately mum, but that is too generous an estimation.

    Scientists tend to fall into three categories:

    – Scientists who have actually studied the UFO phenomenon, and have publicly stated that the phenomenon is real. 

    This group includes scientists such as:

    Michio Kaku
    Allen Hynek
    Edgar Mitchell

    see: http://www.ufoevidence.org/documents/doc1744.htm

    – Scientists who have never studied the UFO phenomenon, but do not take it seriously due to media and academic ridicule surrounding the subject.

    -Scientists who have studied the subject and know it to be real, but for various reasons choose to discredit it. I now believe that Shostak is in this category.