Skeptical Inquirer's take on UAPs


Valued Senior Member
I have the Sept/Oct 2021 Skeptical Inquirer in front of me.

The cover art shows an astronaut in what might be an EVA space suit watching a television, while both are being "beamed" up into a flying saucer in a beam of light. Alongside that are the words "UFOs (or uaps) hit the news" along with a list or related articles in this SI issue on the other side of the cover: "Keeping your brain grounded", "credulous media coverage", "the new yorker article" and "CSI statement on UFOs"

There's also a "From the Editor" statement about the contents of the issue on page 4. As such it seemingly communicates the position of the publication (and perhaps CSICOP) on the UAP issue better than individual articles that reflect the views of their particular authors. That editorial reads, in relevant part (my critical/skeptical remarks will follow):

"Every generation, it seems, must have its own UFO "flap"... After a lull, now we've been in the midst of another, mostly manufactured mystery pushed by UFO enthusiasts. They even got a Pentagon report, issued June 25 by the office of the director of national intelligence. But for them, what a disappointment it must have been. Only nine pages, no case studies, no details. Unidentified blips in the sky, but not one word - not one, nothing! - about aliens or extra-terrestrials.

Author Guy Harrison begins our special "UFOs in the news" feature section with an insightful overview, "How to keep your brain on solid ground during this latest UFO excitement". Veteran UFO skeptic and longtime SI contributor Robert Sheaffer contributes two articles. The first critiques the new yorker's disappointingly naive fifteen-page article that helped fuel the public excitement. The second details other credulous media coverage. Investigator and writer Mick West, whose proposed explanations for at least four of the most widely seen navy UFO videos helped keep things in needed perspective, starts a new SI column, The Practical Skeptic", with his analysis showing how almost all UFO beliefs contain an element of conspiracy thinking. Amid all this, our Committee for Skeptical Inquiry issued a statement, prepared by several fellows, urging greater caution in reporting on UFO claims and offering nine constructive tips. We publish the complete statement. It has been a fun ride, this 2021 flap - if a bit frustrating for we science-minded skeptics to see all this happening again. But in the end, perhaps it's been a sobering lesson for the wider public."

OK, now for my own comments.

The magazine's cover art is well done and even a little witty. I have no strong objection to it. But a less charitable observer than me might condemn it as 'poisoning the well' by trying to associate the latest UAP reports with purported alien abductions. The editorial begins in the same way by trying to associate the UAPs with past UFO "flaps", instead of examining them on their own merits. The idea there seemingly being that the public has been taught to dismiss earlier UFOs, so they should do the same with the UAPs too.

The editor suggests that the UAP matter is a "mostly manufactured mystery pushed by UFO enthusiasts".

Then the editor addresses the UAP Preliminary Assessment which doesn't seem to be consistent with that dismissive assertion at all. Strikingly, this is the only place in the issue where this document is even mentioned. I can try to be charitable and speculate that they weren't trying to ignore it because it hurt their skeptical case. Perhaps this issue was close to its completion deadline before the Assessment came out and it was too late to commission an article directly discussing it. In which case, I hope that they run an article discussing it in a future issue.

I have a totally different reaction to the Preliminary Assessment than the editor's. He chortles, "what a disappointment it must have been". My own view is that it was anything but. It was an epochal transformative document. Page 3 of the Assessment includes this: "Most of the UAP reported probably do represent physical objects given that a majority of UAP were registered across multiple sensors, to include radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapon seekers, and visual observation." That's an extraordinary statement. What it seems to be most consistent with is my own position that something seems to have been there and they don't know what it was. That's reinforced by this (p.3) "UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security" and by their repeated assertions in the assessment that more information and further research is needed. If the UAPs were just ignorant fantasies by people less skilled in "critical thinking" than the skeptics, the Assessment wouldn't have said those things. The Assessment doesn't appear to be at all consistent with a purely dismissive "skeptical" stance.

The editor points out that it's only nine pages with no case studies. That's true, but misleading. This nine page document was only an unclassified public summary of a much longer classified report. Those that have seen the classified document say that what it contains are detailed analyses of multiple UAP sightings. The reason that it remains classified is that it contains technical information about the capabilities and weaknesses of various military radars and sensors that they don't want in the hands of potential adversaries. Of course those who have seen the classified report also say that it contains nothing about crashed flying saucers or alien corpses in freezers at Area 51.

And the relevant part of the editorial ends with "skeptics" trying once again to make the word 'science' into an honorific particularly applicable to them ("science-minded skeptics") and by prematurely declaring victory ("But in the end, perhaps it's been a sobering lesson for the wider public.") Again, I get the impression that last was written before the UAP preliminary Assessment came out and takes a far more dismissive line than the Assessment does.

This is getting too long, so my reactions to the articles themselves should follow in subsequent posts.
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It's like they didn't even read the report. Rather, like all skeptics resort to doing, they are attempting to construct a distractive narrative of "nothing to see here" and "the ufonuts are blowing this out of proportion". But the report has nothing to do with that. It isn't about a media event. It's about the event itself, and apparently 143 other similar and unexplained UAP/military encounters.

"Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion," the report said, in describing those incidents. "In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings," the report added."
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