Mar 20 2023

UFOs and the Pandemic

Did UFO reporting increase during the pandemic? A group of researchers set out to answer that question, and recently published their results. Their hypothesis was two-fold, including the notion that people had more free time during the shutdown and perhaps spent more time out doors, and therefore had a greater opportunity to see anomalous things in the sky. I would add that more free time might also mean a greater chance of bothering to report what they saw to one of the national UFO networks. The second hypothesis is that the pandemic was associated with an increase in anxiety, and anxiety makes people more alert and attentive. People might therefore be checking out their environment more and noticing anomalies that would otherwise have escaped their attention.

It’s interesting that their hypothesis (the pandemic lead to more UFO reporting) is agnostic toward the question of what UFOs (using the traditional term, as the study does) actually are. It treats them as just unknown anomalies. Whether or not UFOs generally represent terrestrial phenomena or alien phenomena, sightings might increase for the above reasons. To answer that question we need other information.

In 2000 I proposed the term the psychocultural hypothesis to explain what UFO sightings and related phenomena represent. The PCH posits that the UFO phenomenon is caused entirely by cultural and psychological factors and not by anything alien or even truly anomalous (meaning that it represents an entirely unknown phenomenon – no psychic bigfeet from the future or Atlantean ghosts). There is the background of mundane activity, including weather, astronomical, and human technological phenomena. This is the background noise, which people often misperceive and then overlay a cultural belief system. People never see spaceships – they see blobs, lights, indistinct images, or something at the edge of perception, and then they fit that experience into their pre-existing cultural beliefs.

They may say explicitly that they think it is aliens, or they may do the, “I’m not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens” thing. In other words, they may not specifically claim that what they experienced or the evidence being presented is definitely alien, they will just say that it is “anomalous” or “unidentified” or somehow mysterious. They will then often go from unexplained to unexplainable. The psychological game is to just leave it at that, but what they are really doing is creating the space in which aliens might exist. At the end of the day, it’s all about the aliens.

If, however, we lived in a culture with equal levels of belief (for whatever reason) in technologically advanced travelers from the future, then the entire body of UFO “evidence” could be used to argue for time travelers from the future. This is because the evidence, by definition, is ambiguous – the ambiguity is the phenomenon. If the sighting were unambiguous it would be a plane, mylar balloon, or floating lantern, not a UFO.

The debate about aliens, however, could be largely settled with one unambiguous piece of evidence. Even one would change the conversation – one truly alien artifact, one encounter resulting in multiple pieces of corroborating amateur video, the kind that cannot be faked without a major studio, that hold up to expert scrutiny. I truly believe that if we ever did actually encounter alien visitors, everyone would unambiguously know. And no – we do not have this kind of evidence now. The crap the Pentagon has is all ambiguous, and they state, none of it is evidence for alien phenomena.

The question we face now is – how do we interpret the fact that after decades of alleged sightings and encounters, we still lack smoking-gun evidence of alien visitors? This is true even as cameras and high definition video is now in the hands of most of the public. Cameras are everywhere. The simplest explanation is that – we are not being visited by aliens. The ambiguity is the phenomenon, and we will never have actual proof of alien visitors (until, you know, we are actually visited), no matter how many cameras are out there. Alien believers have an alternate hypothesis, that the aliens are deliberately only allowing us to have ambiguous evidence in order to tease us with their presence but maintain plausible deniability. This is supposed to give us time to adjust to the notion of their presence, but they will be revealing themselves any day now (or so I have been told for the last 40 years). This hypothesis violates Occam’s razor, and is also extremely weak. It really is nothing more than special pleading.

While we can never prove a negative, such as there being no aliens in the vicinity of Earth, we can say, as of now, there is no smoking-gun evidence of aliens. Further, the more time that goes by without such evidence, the stronger the argument for the PCH becomes, and the weaker the alien hypothesis becomes.

Getting back to the study (I think I kept you waiting long enough), what it found was that there was an increase in UFO report during the early days of the pandemic compared to prepandemic. However, the authors found that there was no correlation between these sightings and any pandemic variable, such as cases, or shutdown measures. So their hypothesis was not supported. But they then checked into the data further to see if they could explain why sightings increased. It turns out that the sightings do strongly correlate with anther phenomenon – the launching of Starlink satellites. The sightings could be be correlated to happening just after each launch. And, when you remove the bump in reports caused by the Starlink launches, there was no increase in UFO reports during the pandemic.

This is what we find generally. UFO reports correlate nicely with human activity. They are higher around military air bases, for example. They have generally increased as humans have been putting more stuff up into the sky. The Starlink satellites are just the latest example.

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