Anomaly research group wonders if the days of UFO sightings are over. Umm… (UPDATED: Not in U.S.)

I admit, this article has me scratching my head. Maybe someone else can explain…

UFO enthusiasts admit the truth may not be out there after all – Telegraph.

[…] having failed to establish any evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life, Britain’s UFO watchers are reaching the conclusion that the truth might not be out there after all.

Enthusiasts admit that a continued failure to provide proof and a decline in the number of “flying saucer” sightings suggests that aliens do not exist after all and could mean the end of “Ufology” – the study of UFOs – within the next decade.

Dozens of groups interested in the flying saucers and other unidentified craft have already closed because of lack of interest and next week one of the country’s foremost organisations involved in UFO research is holding a conference to discuss whether the subject has any future.

Dave Wood, chairman of the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (Assap), said the meeting had been called to address the crisis in the subject and see if UFOs were a thing of the past.

Wood notes that “We look at these things on the balance of probabilities and this area of study has been ongoing for many decades.

“The lack of compelling evidence beyond the pure anecdotal suggests that on the balance of probabilities that nothing is out there.”

You can say the same for ghosts, Bigfoot and psychic powers. Decades later we are no better off. Why are UFOs different? UFOs seem notoriously difficult to study. There is almost NEVER any physical evidence left and only eyewitnesses, usually in the dark, observing something very far away. No testing can be done. UFO sightings are frequently hoaxed for camera and video. Or they are explainable by the growing possibilities for man-made objects (like remote controlled balloons and drones or Chinese lanters and flares).

But I don’t see the popularity waning. Not from the news we get here. I wonder why the ASSAP reports are dwindling, or is it their patience?

UPDATE: (8-Nov-2012) MUFON reports that their cases are GROWING, as I expected. Here is a quote from a piece that interviews a MUFON rep. It’s from the Examiner, which is not reliable, so take it for what it’s worth. The number does sound plausible.

Reached at his Cincinnati headquarters office today, MUFON Executive Director David MacDonald said ufology was alive and well.

“The fact is that MUFON is receiving on average more than 700 cases a month,” MacDonald said. “Furthermore the evidence is there. We have it. There are people in prison right now, some on death row, convicted on less evidence then what we have to support our belief that UFO’s are real. We have eyewitness testimony, sworn affidavits, physical trace evidence, photographs and videos.”

MUFON is comprised of about 3,000 members and is the largest UFO investigation group organized on the planet.

However, MUFONs idea of (supporting/good) evidence is a lot different than mine. And they are seemingly NOT in line with the more scientific, less mysterious view that ASSAP holds. But, UFOs are not my thing, they are surrounding by this conspiratorial mindset that I found off-putting. For some, that’s a draw.

  15 comments for “Anomaly research group wonders if the days of UFO sightings are over. Umm… (UPDATED: Not in U.S.)

  1. drwfishesman
    November 4, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    Reading the comments indicate there will be no shortage of interests in UFO’s despite the lack of evidence.

  2. November 4, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    “Doubtful News” if very appropriate to this article.

  3. Chew
    November 4, 2012 at 7:11 PM

    It is a paradox that this UFO group, who say UFOlogy will fold up in a decade, is even more deluded than the people who say there is credible evidence.

  4. spookyparadigm
    November 4, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    There are several reasons, but yes, there is a broad feeling within ufology that the UFO’s days are numbered. While there are people who believe in fairies today, their numbers are much smaller than they once were, and the fairy is often embedded in other belief systems (be it traditional folklore or neopaganism). So to goes the UFO, IMO. Since this is longish, I’ll summarize the reasons

    1. The generational shift from the original saucerians to second and third generation ufologists isn’t going well

    2. The major reason for ufologists to congregate and create networks, sharing info, has been made moot by the internet (unlike bigfoot and ghost hunting which requires action)

    3. The original narrative of the UFO imploded into conspiracy theory, abduction, and fortean nihilism.

    4. Advances in technology make it easier to explain modern UFO sightings, due to ubiquitous cameras. This leads to greater interest in either old cases from the glory days, or an emphasis on more ephemeral elements (again, abduction, mysticism, conspiracy theory). This is not going to bring in new blood, as those people attracted to such will be more occultists than amateur investigators. This is, ironically, how the flying saucer movement began.

    The original generation of Saucer and UFO enthusiasts is dying off now, if they haven’t already. These are the ones that remember the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s, when UFOs made sense in the Space Age, and there was both great public interest, some government interest, and many dedicated to the mystery. One way I might explain it is, if you are aware of the recent explosion of ghost and to some extent bigfoot groups, imagine it being like that, with no TV model, and no particular activities, for twenty years. To the point that there was serious discussion of congressional hearings, liason with the military, and so on.

    Second, even ignoring the generational aspect to this, the internet made these groups largely irrelevant. Bigfoot and ghost groups can get together on the weekend and go hunting. Even if they find nothing (regardless of what they tell themselves), they socialize and “gather data.” But ufologists could only share data from “sightings” and the occasional post-sighting investigation. They met to compare notes. The internet brought this largely to an end.

    Third, things went haywire with the UFO narrative, splitting into several components beginning in the late 1960s. There had always been an element of conspiratorialness about the UFO “mystery.” Rumors of spy games and coverup are there from near the beginning. This thread came to dominate the UFO, and was a major reason it is dying on the vine. The UFO became just another form of conspiracy theory, with all the fringe political baggage that goes with it (see Michael Barkun’s book on conspiracy culture and how easy it is to cross the line into extremist or racist politics from UFOdom, something any amount of observation the last 20 years makes plain). Another thread went in the completely opposite direction, into the realm of the Fortean bizarre. With John Keel and Jacques Vallee as the dark and light princes of this idea, the UFO becomes roped in with ghosts, prophecy, monsters, psychics, and the like. Ancient Aliens is arguably an offshoot of this idea, in its own way, and that it derives from Lovecraftian fiction and Theosophical lore makes perfect sense. The third great branch of post-1965 Ufology is abduction, which revived the Contactee in a more horrifying (sometimes) and therefore more credible guise. But it too soon became the province of the gurus, but kept a frisson of conspiracy and horror mixed with the weird.

    These developments lead us to the current state. The second or third generation of Ufologists (depending on how you count), are split between trying to keep the old Saucerian ways by holding up still unexplained anomalies (RB-47 is their holy grail and the nuclear silo reports the runners up, since most don’t buy Roswell anymore, the incident that arguably was the beginning of the end of the UFO; note how all the “good cases” have that military angle) (Jerome Clark is the elder statesman of this camp, after repudiating the 4D viewpoint), or indulging entirely in the Keelian demon haunted universe (while there are several, I’d point to Nick Redfern as at least the most prolific here).

    But neither group is particularly interested in new sightings anymore. New sightings aren’t as good as old ones for the most part. A skeptic might point out that with the explosion in imaging technology, it’s easier to solve UFO cases. The Phoenix Lights are an excellent example, solved precisely because they were properly videoed (imagine the National Guard explanation of flares without the video, it would be laughed off as swamp gas. But with the video, supporters of the case have to claim other sightings as real, you know, the ones that weren’t videoed).

    So rather than looking to the sky for new sightings, you have ufologists increasingly giving up and either saying “it’s all a coverup,” “it’s far too weird to think of as just UFOs,” or going whole hog into specific ideologies involving Grays or Reptilians and the like.

    For those of you familiar with the Bigfoot scene, and the “out there” folks that talk about contacteeism, habituation, or even stranger ideas. Or that say they know everything needed to be known about Bigfoot (how many, what they speak, and so on), but still can’t produce physical evidence. That’s what ALL of ufology is like, once you get past the surface. That’s why UFO reports don’t matter anymore, except for marketing purposes.

    If you don’t believe me, go around the UFO internets. Check out podcasts such as The Paracast, Binnall of America, or Radio Misterioso that were once magnets of the third generation of Ufology, and now routinely are chided by listeners because the hosts and guests think UFOs are a drag or dying on the vine (and desperately prefer to talk about other topics). Check out how each supposed new take on the field (Leslie Kean’s book comes to mind, any new book on Roswell, any new crash or abduction book) disappears very soon after it emerges, and in several cases, flames out when attention is put on the authors and their credentials (or lack thereof) come under scrutiny. Or how once serious ufologists have run into the arms of more outre movements of mysticism or political conspiracy theory. These topics are what you’ll find on many a thread in places like Above Top Secret. Even the flagwavers seem either tired, or distinctly second rate (say what you will about Graham Hancock or Robert Temple, but they compare more than favorably with the regulars on the Ancient Aliens TV show, or second run Annunaki youtube video makers). And let’s not even get into the implosion of abductionism in the last couple of years.

    There is no reason to assume the UFO will go on for decades more. In fact, I’d suggest that the one growth spot of interest in the UFO is coming from the angle of evangelical Christians and related believers, who believe UFOs and aliens to be demonic in nature, tying it in with Icke-ian conspiracy theories and Ancient Aliens-esque lore, with abductions going right back to demonic attack as they were once called.

    Cryptozoology is dangerously flirting with this fate, to be honest. The great of early and mid 20th-century icon of cryptozoology, the sea serpent and lake monster, has all but vanished beyond tourist fun and fantasy. The recent crypto star, chupacabra, is largely laughed it as “another dead mangey dog.” Bigfootery has its conspiracy theories, it’s whacked out mystical corners, and the like. The rush for a Bigfoot genetic smoking gun reminds me tremendously of the Roswell craze in the early 1990s, which when it all caved in, blew a giant hole in ufology, I’d argue under the water line. As with the UFO, the farther the “field” gets from popular conceptions of it, the more danger any of these fields puts itself in. Ghost hunting, for the moment, does not have this problem, as it is fairly straightforward, and when it does get wonky, it can lean on established spiritual ideas.

    This doesn’t mean you won’t continue to see local news reports about “I saw a UFO.” Or even media flaps around a single sighting or town. What it does mean, though, is that the “theory” that underpins this, is killing itself, and as it does, it will eventually take a popular hit. Again, when people stopped seriously talking about fairies or mermaids as a potential reality, they stopped being reported in significant numbers, and became the stuff of past folklore and of fictional play. The UFO is on the verge of this, and it is difficult to tell which of its last sensations is its Cottingsley Fairies.

  5. November 5, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    Hi Chew. Just to clarify, it isn’t Dave Wood saying ufology will fold in a decade. The ASSAP press release on the conference is here:

  6. November 5, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    Hi Chew – just to clarify. Dave Wood says it is a *possibility* that ufology may fold. Personally I don’t think that is likely as there seems to be a considerable number of people who cling to it. My own perspective is that it is changing…

  7. One Eyed Jack
    November 5, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    “You can say the same for ghosts, Bigfoot and psychic powers. ”

    Actually, of all the various Woo out there, UFOs are the only ones that are true by definition.

    It is true that people have repeatedly witnessed UFOs. What they cannot prove is that they witnessed anything of alien origin. They saw something they couldn’t explain. That’s it. Nothing more.

    So, yes, the really did see an Unidentified Flying Object, but that doesn’t mean anything. It just means they couldn’t identify what they saw.

  8. November 5, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    And while that semantic truism is correct, it will do you little good in the real world. How many UFO enthusiasts or ufologists do you know who don’t have some non-mundane idea about what UFOs are? Some will feign a form of objective undecidedness, but they are rare, and they usually give up that they’ve got some non-mundane explanation they lean towards or openly support in other contexts (see the attempt to rebrand UFOs as UAPs for example).

    And it’s not even accurate, since what is reported may have nothing do with a solid object of any sort, and one major element of ufology, abduction, does not always have flying things involved in claims and narratives.

  9. November 5, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    What do you think it is changing into? Or is that clear yet. As I stated below, I think it is turning every more into a few smaller camps of Forteans, demonologists, and occultists and theosophists. What it is moving away from is pseudoscience, IMO.

  10. November 7, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    I liked this piece in response, by David Clark.

  11. November 7, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    This is extremely helpful for me to understand this topic. I did some research into UFO groups for my masters thesis and found some insights by Keel especially interesting. He, even back then, saw the change happening as new people moved in and the core local group went away. This was before the internet.

    So the Internet really ramps up the speculation and ridiculousness of these fringe areas. Everyone can be involved and the more wacky the topic, the more the discussion gets focused on that. And easy to get derailed by dust in the wind.

    Yes, the crypto community is DEFINITELY going this way. There is no way they can regain credibility like they had unless a body is found. You mention “habituation”, but also nests and supernatural hiding ability all suggest they are heading directly toward the edge.


    Going to be talking about this on Virtual skeptics tonight.

  12. Astroliam
    November 7, 2012 at 5:18 PM

    Robert Sheaffer just posted this:

    He questions the legitimacy of the UFOlogist in the article as being someone “of note”

  13. November 7, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    I think the article is alright. But the comments on it are amazing.

    One is by an abductee for whom it’s not about investigation but experience

    One is by a Fortean 4Dish type “on the wonder and awe, and if you don’t get it, you never will” which sounds a lot more like the statement of an artist than anything else (which is how I see most of the primarily either British and/or punkish third/last generation of saucerians)

    And one is on about propaganda and conspiracies.

    It’s my little tripartite typology above in a nutshell.

  14. November 7, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    Keel was brutal about ufologists. Because at the end of the day, he was a demonologist. And he was also an adventurer. And mad. And I think for all those reasons, he was far more in tune with the reality of forteana than anyone going to a flying saucer convention.

    It is the forteans (I’m using this in a very broad sense, hence the small f) that fascinate me the most, I suppose. On the one hand, they semi-knowingly use fantasy and an artistic sense of imagination to create a marvelously haunted world full of weird and wonderful things, without the nasty or psychologically debilitating and often offensive elements you find in hard core conspiracy theory. They simultaneously live in a random chaotic world with the rest of us, and in a dreamworld of monsters and spirits. I would compare them to intense fan communities, like the Sherlock Holmes and especially Lovecraft fanatics discussed in the recent book As If, who layer a second layer on top of the real world.

    Even more intriguingly, they seem to have the explanation in hand. They argue that it’s all connected. That it has things to do with synchronicity, human consciousness, perception, etc.. Well, yes, it does. If this stuff resides in the brain (either in terms of anomalous perception and experience, or in somewhat more conscious myth and lore), that kind of hits all the buttons. But they won’t go that last step. It’s as if they’ve found the answer, but the answer isn’t psychologically gratifying, it isn’t fun. So it’s back to a more fulfilling world of blending the boundary between art and reality, where quantum means you don’t need to care if its real, and where when pressed for materialist evidence, you can scoff at your presser like an unsophisticated philistine who can’t appreciate the finer things.

    I find them interesting for these reasons. And because they also seem to be integral to reviving these “fields” as “fields.” They act as the brain trust, at least in ufology, the place where ideas come from, if your “field” is going to be based on ideas instead of just experience. But because those ideas aren’t entirely honest, they’re sort of a poison pill, ultimately causing more damage when they become disenchanted, instead of being content to get the flashlights and records and meters together for yet another weekend tromping around a cemetery or the woods.

  15. spookyparadigm
    November 8, 2012 at 12:10 AM

    I watched the video discussion of this topic. To answer Bob’s question, it sounds like he’s referencing Michael Barkun’s book (or the sorts of things he talks about), how interest in UFOs can then lead to fringe or extremist politics. And if UFOs are dying on the vine, is this still true? I think Bob’s on to something. It seems less and less that UFOs are the “gateaway anomaly” to other things. It’s not gone (especially stuff like Anunaki). But yeah, as they’re not once they once were, I don’t think UFOs work the way they once did in this regard. Instead, they get roped in to other ideologies (either religious, conspiratorial, or both).

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