UFOs: Pentagon to release report
Last December in the US House of Congress passed an omnibus bill that included a strange requirement: the Pentagon and other intelligence agencies had to report everything they knew about UFOs. They’re expected to release that report at the start of June. This has sparked an enormous wave of interest in UFOs in America, coinciding with new videos of supposed sightings leaked from the US Navy; even former president Obama confessed in an interview that records of them do exist. So what’s really going on? Chris Smith heard from Kate Dorsch - she’s a historian of science, and pseudoscience - at the University of Pennsylvania…
Kate - The sightings that were focused on here, and are drawing so much attention - and perhaps even driving the call for this intelligence report from US intelligence agencies and the Pentagon - are sightings that were made by US Navy pilots in 2004 and again in 2015, some of these really specific videos.
Chris - So therefore one would judge them to be more reliable than just someone who might've smoked a few funny cigarettes, or consumed a few beverages?
Kate - Yes, that is underlying so much of the hype and so much of the attention and the scrutiny.
Chris - But they are supported though, these sightings, by independent objective digital evidence, aren't they? In some cases they've got video, they've got other radar measurements or so on that seem to corroborate what the people are saying?
Kate - That would appear to be the case. However, there is a historical context for some of this. It has always sort of been the case that yes, pilots see things when they are flying planes. And also sometimes we get sensor returns from our technology. And it is traditional, especially among the ufologists and the UFO true believer crowd, to point to sensor returns, to radar returns, photographs, video, et cetera, and say, “here's objective evidence that confirms the pilot's sightings”. However, yes, the radar return, or in this case, footage, photographs or video, do add evidence, but it is also important to keep in mind that our technology is not infallible either. I wouldn't immediately jump to saying that this video or the sensor returns are proof positive that some sort of aircraft was there.
Chris - Okay. What did the people actually say they've seen?
Kate - As usual, and as we should expect from pilots, very few of them have been certain. There's this reluctance to say, for sure, I saw a flying saucer, or I saw a Chinese surveillance drone. But the suggestions tend to be - they like to suggest that they have seen some sort of what might be a technology that either surpasses our known capability, represents some sort of new technology, either foreign or domestic. As always there's lots of caution around discussing what may or may not be there.
Chris - Do you think they really believe in aliens? Or are they creating a smokescreen and they're going to bury some big, bad news they've got coming and we just don't know what that is yet?
Kate - I don't think it's a smokescreen for any further news. I think that the UFO investigations... because when they are done by the United States military tend to be highly classified, very, very difficult to access, because they are buried in all the national security infrastructure and so on, it provides a space for congresspeople to sort of appear that they are standing up for the little guy. I think it's a way to say, "we're keeping our eye on you". I don't think anybody believes it's aliens. And I don't think that it's a sort of distraction from anything bigger or more serious.
Chris - Now, when I introduced you, I said that you are a historian who studies the science and pseudoscience of UFOs. Why are you studying this? What's your own personal interest in it?
Kate - I am really invested in these questions, and this UFO thing has become very interesting to me because it combines so many different groups of people and has been, since its inception in 1947, not just a scientific hot button issue, but also a political hot button issue. And not just a political issue, but also a scientific issue. People are seeing things, they are having experiences and those experiences are real and valid. I truly believe that these Navy pilots have had experiences that they cannot explain, and that perhaps we don't have enough data to truly and fully explain away. I'm not here to say that people are hallucinating or exacting hoaxes on us or anything like that. I think people see things all the time that they can't explain. And when it comes to Navy pilots, for example, our Air Force pilots, I think their respective branches of the service have an obligation to investigate those things. What I'm interested in is: what people do with those experiences, why we think we know what we are seeing when we see UFOs, what we consider to be enough evidence to make a claim, to say that, "OK, I know that I saw this thing and I have X, Y, and Z pieces of evidence, so I can say for certain that I didn't see an airplane. I know for sure that this wasn't a bird I was watching, it was off in the distance." UFOs are a particular kind of scientific object for me that really lets me get at some of these really interesting questions, which is why do people trust and not trust themselves and others?