Why are UFOs and Aliens Back in the News?
Are we alone?
Hi, this is Ari, welcome back to my newsletter! While I often focus on news, law, politics and culture, today we get into UFOs. For real. As always, you can subscribe here for the entire newsletter, and use this button to share it:
UFOs and Aliens in the news
Is there intelligent life in the universe outside of Earth? It's an ancient question that has perplexed humans from early societies to today.
The issue is back in the news, from 60 Minutes documenting some fascinating UFO videos to a recent report we did on The Beat. One reason is that the government is taking the question more seriously: The Pentagon just released an unclassified report on unidentified flying objects (thanks to a recent Congressional COVID bill).
That report does not claim to conclude whether there are aliens out there or not, but it does note that largely in the last two years, there were 18 observable events in our sky that simply cannot be explained after exhaustive review.
That alone is a shift. Historically, and especially over the Cold War period, the U.S. government was more secretive about these discussions. It tried to project a perception of control of the airspace (not musing about losing control to flying saucers).
Interestingly, there is also some stigma.
Some Navy pilots who saw (and even recorded) UFOs say they were reticent to come forward. They feared they might lose credibility with their commanding officers for even raising the incidents. And the topic is bound up with jokes and conspiracy theories. But asking the question, or reviewing evidence, is not rooting for one outcome.
Even if the evidence is limited, a sound approach to finding facts requires being open to possibilities based on evidence—not to ignorantly dismiss things or worry about mockery. (I think that’s true for science, journalism and certainly government bodies that we fund to do research and protect public safety). The alternative is more conjecture and even excessive secrecy, which can be counterproductive.
Stories versus videos
The other thing that’s changed here is video.
Decades ago, many UFO debates turned on the people recounting the stories. Were they credible? Were they confused?
Now, we have a proliferation of video equipment on our phones. And something funny has happened along with that—the “democratization” of video does cuts both ways. Some fascinating footage can no longer be dismissed by ‘attacking’ the messenger. But on the other hand, if everybody from Navy pilots to kids have cell phone cameras, why aren't we getting any better, closer footage?
Video also seems to have cut into the stories where people asserted they saw actual alien beings get near Earth, or land and engage with people. There are no credible videos out there claiming that. In other words, why does the UFO phenomena close to the land seem to dry up right when it might ‘finally’ be recorded?
This is an important dynamic to confront, (for people interested in taking this seriously). As the technology to record grows by leaps and bounds, skeptics ask:
Why do these so-called phenomena take their own leaps away from our cameras?
Take scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has surveyed these new videos.
He responded by noting:
“I'm thinking, if we were being visited, somebody would have some good footage. If we were being visited, I'm thinking we'd have something better than fuzzy, monochromatic video of objects that apparently reveal themselves only to Navy pilots.”
DO WE KNOW MORE ABOUT UFOS NOW?
So the search for better, serious information about UFOs is yielding some results. We have more videos. We have more transparent government information. We have more ways to fact-check people who say they saw UFOs. We have a more rigorous, less ‘conspiratorial’ public debate.
And what are we learning?
It seems like the evidence provides for seeing three main theories of the case:
Natural phenomena that look unusual but are not from aliens
Secret government technology made by humans (not aliens)
Alien technology of some kind
Misidentifying natural phenomena could possibly explain all genuine sightings. Researchers have found people easily confused by glowing gas and optical illusions. And videos are not immune to such effects, especially when recording faraway items in the dark.
The second option makes a lot of sense now, as technology develops faster than any time in history. Imagine finding an iPhone prototype in 1990. You might wonder if it's from outer space. It was actually from the near future. So reports of a ‘floating tic tac’ or ‘glowing saucer’ could be very close to what it looks like—advanced technology that people think does ‘not exist’ on earth, when actually it’s a secret government operation (be that U.S. or China or whatnot).
“They saw something”
Then there's the big one, the theory that some people have witnessed alien technology. The evidence does not point to this yet. But it’s being treated more seriously, in public, than before.
“I think there is an obligation, certainly on the part of the U.S. government, to try to understand what these unexplained phenomena are,” former CIA Director John Brennan told me. “U.S. Navy pilots are not making up or fabricating these observations—they saw something.”
He’s not saying there’s evidence of aliens. He is saying the phenomena remain completely unexplained, and you don’t rule out possibilities during research.
That point is also where some skeptics and open-minded researchers overlap. Here’s how deGrasse Tyson put it:
“I simply want better evidence. That's all… Go catch the aliens. Do it!”
P.S. To see my full interview with Degrasse Tyson and Brennan about this, click here.
From a nat-sec perspective, it doesn’t look good when we can’t identify new tech, whether it was generated by Russia, PRK, Uncle Cletus in his RFID bunker, or Gleebnix from Zebulon V. It’s in our best interests to remain curious and open-minded. But we should probably look for rational explanations before leaping to the fantastic.
Well put and I agree totally. We don’t know what we don’t know and possibilities in life are endless. Thanks.