Archive for the 'UFO’s / Aliens' Category

May 26 2017

Pyramid Homology vs Analogy

Pyramid nonsenseI saw this post on the Credible Hulk Facebook page today. It refers to an old claim by proponents of ancient astronaut theories that the fact that there are similar looking pyramids from different locations on Earth proves cultural contamination from an extraterrestrial source.

While this is a silly argument, it is interesting to explore exactly why it is silly. The underlying principles have to do with homology and analogy, and are exactly the same as they are applied in evolutionary theory. The displayed meme implies that because there are step pyramids in Mexico, Egypt, and Indonesia – countries too far removed to have had direct contact with each other – the idea of a step pyramid therefore had a common source.

This is similar to the evolutionary argument that because two structures look similar or serve a similar function, they must have had a common source, which means the feature was derived from a common ancestor. But we know that this is not always true. The wings of bats, birds, and pterydactyls have similar features, but not a common evolutionary origin. The eyes of vertebrates and cephalopods also have features in common, but evolved independently. But giraffes and humans both have seven cervical vertebrae.

So how do evolutionary biologists tell the difference? They try to determine if the features are homologous (derive from a common ancestor) or analogous (independent origins but similar structure). They can do this in a number of ways, either based on direct evidence or inference. Direct evidence would be finding a fossil of a common ancestor with the feature.

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10 responses so far

Jul 01 2014

Distribution of UFO Sightings

Published by under UFO's / Aliens

Scientists often take an epidemiological approach to a phenomenon to discover clues about its cause and nature. This is not limited to medical diseases, the basic concept can apply to any episodic event.

Take UFO sightings – the phenomenon in question is people reporting that they saw something unidentified in the sky. We can generate some basic hypotheses about factors that might influence UFO sightings: the presence of objects to be observed, viewing conditions, number of people available to make observations, and priming (the idea of UFOs in the culture, say following a movie about UFOs or a case reported in the media).

As reported by The Economist, the National UFO Reporting Center has released statistics on UFO sightings by state and by time of day. The Economist has conveniently placed this data in an infographic, depicted above. They helpfully labeled the three periods of the day as working hours, drinking hours, and sleeping hours. As you can see, UFO reports peak during the drinking hours.

I am going to assume the article is tongue-in-cheek, but it is being spread around social media, sometimes in a manner that seems credulous.

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7 responses so far

Jan 06 2014

The Salinas Crop Circle

I can’t resist this excellent example of the human capacity for ad-hoc reasoning and pattern recognition. The Salinas Crop Circle was discovered in late December, and instantly became famous in the crop circle world. It is an example of a complex design, that begs to be interpreted.

Crop circle believers – those who think the designs that are often found drawn in various crops around the world (curiously following cultural lines) are the product of aliens trying to communicate in their abstruse way with humans, like to find meaning in the crop circles. This becomes an exercise in pattern recognition, as they are often trying to find meaning where none exists.

Here is one example. The author, assuming the crop circle is an alien communication, comes up with an elaborate interpretation. He believes it refers to comet ISON, which recently burned up on its journey around the sun. This itself is a good example of “retrodicting.” I would be more impressed if a crop circle predicted something yet to be discovered.

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20 responses so far

Aug 19 2013

Area 51 Revealed

Published by under UFO's / Aliens

Area 51 is more than just a subject of UFO conspiracy mongering, it has graduated to a fixture in pop culture. Everyone knows what Area 51 is, or at least what it’s supposed to be. Mention crops up in movies, such as Independence Day.

According to the CIA this facility’s official name is the much less alluring, Nevada Test and Training Range at Groom Lake, a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. It is part of a 23 x 25 mile area of restricted air space. For decades there have rumors that Area 51 is a secret base where the US government has recovered alien spacecraft and conducts research on those craft.

The government denies these claims, but has never said what Area 51 is really for. It has never been mentioned in any public document, and documents obtained through any freedom of information act (FOI) request have never mentioned Area 51 (any possible mention being redacted).

George Washington University’s National Security Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson made a FOI request in 2005 for information on the U-2 spy plane program. He received a 400 page reports entitled, “”Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and Oxcart Programs, 1954-1974.” In this document the name Area 51 is no longer redacted – it is mentioned as the base at which the U2 was developed and tested.

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14 responses so far

Nov 30 2012

Another Journalism Fail on the Denver Bug-UFO

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a local Denver news report about “mysterious UFOs” caught on video. The news report includes several videos of blurry dark objects zipping past the camera and actually tried to make this into something interesting any mysterious. The report is an excellent example of a journalism failure when dealing with such topics.

In the age of the internet, such local news stories can now go internationally viral, which is apparently what happened here. This is a double-edged sword for the local news teams – they seem to revel in the widespread attention their local fluff news stories garner, but also seem a bit stung by the criticism it equally attracts.

Now, the news station, Fox 31 WKDVR in Denver, and the reporter, Heidi Hemmat, have decided to double-down on their original journalism failure, apparently concluding that negative attention is a good thing. Their follow up report is entitled: Insect expert: UFOs over Denver not bugs; images on video remain a mystery. Wrong and wrong. What they have offered us is another example of how journalists fail to properly cover controversial science stories.

Most of the videos in question clearly show some sort on insect close to the camera. A few of the videos show what is probably a bird flying by. Some have argued that there are also videos showing what might be a radio controlled plane – there is one quick shot of a video which might show this, but it’s not clear. What is clear is that the majority of the videos are bugs and birds (mostly bugs).

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6 responses so far

Nov 12 2012

Bugged by UFOs

Published by under UFO's / Aliens

UK UFO enthusiasts recently called a meeting to discuss the future of the UFO movement, specifically whether or not there is going to be one. Numbers of groups and members are plummeting as enthusiasm for talking about the latest Chinese lantern to be misidentified as a flying saucer is waning.

If history is any guide this is just a temporary generational downturn, and interest in UFOs will eventually rebound. It is possible, however, that the most recent decline is more than just the usual cycle. Perhaps the internet has changed the game, allowing for rapid turnaround of possible UFO stories. Before the ink would be dry on traditional print media, the new social media can debunk UFO stories and nip them in the bud.

Here is an excellent example: Mile High mystery: UFO sightings in sky over Denver. The beginning of the news report (it is just crappy local news, but it’s a Fox affiliate which means such stories can be picked up nationally) has all the red flags for sensational mystery mongering:

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23 responses so far

Mar 26 2012

Escape to Newage Mountain

Published by under UFO's / Aliens

Part of the human struggle is to understand the world around us, to understand ourselves, and to have some level of control of our lives by being able to predict at least the basic patterns and rhythms of the world. Ancient cultures made calendars and monuments to help them predict the seasons, for example. Accurate knowledge is difficult, however, especially since we live in a world that is far more complex than the one in which our poor monkey brains evolved.

One advantage of the skeptical world view is that it seeks to understand the weaknesses and biases of human cognition, and it respects accurate knowledge over our emotional desires and needs. Skeptics attempt to see the world as it actually is, not how they might want it to be. Examples of what can happen when you take an unskeptical view abound.

Take, for example, the people gathering at the small French village of Bugarach. In their attempts to understand the world and have a sense of control of their lives by predicting important events in the future, they have come to the come to the conclusion that the world is going to end on December 21, 2012. The end of the world is a pretty big event, and if you truly believed this was going to happen that would be very disturbing. It is no surprise, therefore, that this commune of New Age believers gathering in Bugarach have a second belief that is their salvation.

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15 responses so far

Mar 16 2012

UFO over Chilean Air Base

Published by under UFO's / Aliens

It seems the HuffPo, not content to promote medical pseudoscience, is branching out into UFO nuttery. UFO author Leslie Kean, blogging in the Huff Po Science section, give a breathless and completely gullible account of a recent apparent UFO encounter over an air base in Santiago. You can watch the video for yourself and decide how impressive it is. View the video before reading on, as it will put everything into context.

Kean gives us this quick summary of the UFO situation:

As agreed by authorities around the world, these truly unexplainable unidentified flying objects appear solid, metallic and luminous, able to operate with speeds and maneuvers that defy the laws of physics. And, most chilling of all, they often behave as if under intelligent control.

Let’s count the logical fallacies she packed into this one paragraph. First she opens up with an argument from authority (even using the term). I doubt there is any consensus among world governments or “authorities” (whichever authorities she is referring to) that UFOs are space craft. There is certainly no scientific consensus that this is the case. But even if your average politician thought that UFOs were alien craft – so what. Politicians are generally not scientists and not exactly authorities on such topics.

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30 responses so far

Dec 13 2011

Mercury UFO

The bright light in the center of this NASA photo is the planet Mercury. But what is the smaller light off to the right? This is from a video available to the public on the SECCHI website (Sun Centered Imaging package and Heliosphere Imager). This is an array of imagers studying the space around the sun – the heliosphere. This still is taken from a video showing a coronal mass ejection. Mercury happens to be moving through the field of view.

A short clip from the video was uploaded to YouTube and now has over 4 million hits. The person who uploaded it (pseudonym sinXster) does a voiceover in which he says:

“That is definitely some sort of manufactured object. It’s cylindrical on either side and has a shape in the middle. It definitely looks like a ship to me, and very obviously, it’s cloaked… There’s really absolutely no explanation for that other than it’s some sort of ship.”

I always worry with things like this that it’s a Poe – that it was created as satire. But because we have voiceover we can at least make a judgement about the sincerity of sinXster – he sounds sincere to me, and there are no red flags of a Poe. So – I acknowledge the possibility that it’s not serious, but will comment further as if it is.

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9 responses so far

Nov 08 2011

US Government Says There Is No UFO Conspiracy

While I welcome the disclosure, the fact that the US government has now officially stated that they are not hiding evidence of alien contact is not likely to change any minds.

The Obama White House has created a website called We the People in which anyone can write a petition for information from the administration. The current rules state that a petition has to achieve 150 signatures within 30 days to appear on the publicly searchable database, and then must reach 25,000 signatures within 30 days in order to trigger a response from the administration. This second threshold was just increased from 5,000. The two UFO petitions combined garnered 17,000 signatures, but I guess it beat the increase to the higher threshold.

UFO conspiracy theorists have been claiming for years that the US government has been hiding extensive knowledge of contact with aliens. The alleged crashed saucer at Roswell New Mexico is just one famous example. The conspiracy claims include the claim that the government maintains a secret facility, Area 51, in which they examine recovered alien craft, and that they are attempting (and perhaps even succeeded) to reverse engineer alien technology. Many claim that a shadow organization exists within the government, or perhaps is even transnational, such as the Men in Black, who swoop in and suppress any hard evidence of aliens when encounters occur. Some also claim that the government is in contact with aliens and is collaborating with them.

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14 responses so far

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