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UFO-skeptics are wrong:

This section has a collection of replies I wrote to statements, ideas or theories of the "skeptics", basically, the people who do not agree that the UFO exist at all, or who do not agree that they are or might be of extraterrestrial origin.

"Three fatal mistakes", an article:

Here is an article title "Three fatal mistakes" rather representative of skepticism views about the UFO phenomenon's explanation. I have added my replies to the ideas expressed in the article here and there inside the body of the article.

Three fatal mistakes:

I will show that the author is just victim of his own beliefs: no serious ufologist is making any of these three mistakes. They would not have been fatal anyway, nobody would get killed.

by Royston Paynter

It may not be perfect, but the scientific method is the best yet found for acquiring a working knowledge of physical reality. The fruits of the scientific method are all around us - you are reading these words because of the application of the scientific method to problems such as electromagnetism and semiconductor physics.

Yes this is absolutely true. Science might not be perfect, but the technology derived the scientific discoveries has brought to us a lot of tools, for example the radar which allows to detect UFOs, the video camera used to record their flight, the space probes which allowed to detect life on Mars etc.

But you must always bear in mind that ufology is much more like a police investigation of unusual events, rather that a kind of "physical law of the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs". In serious ufology, science is a very helpful and efficient tool, but ufology itself is not reducible to a kind of abstract scientific discipline.

The scientific method works roughly like this:

  1. Observation of a quantifiable phenomenon
  2. Proposal of a hypothesis to account for the data acquired
  3. Formulation of a theory
  4. Testing of the theory
  5. Application of the theory if confirmed, return to (a) or (b) if not.
  6. If more than one hypothesis accounts for all of the available data, a principle known as "Occam's Razor" is invoked. We prefer the hypothesis that introduces the least number of new or unknown variables. We introduce only those new or unknown variables demanded by the data - we don't "multiply (the number of) variables unnecessarily".

The first step listed here is just wishful thinking. The "observation of a quantifiable phenomenon" is not a part of the scientific method. In reality, the scientific method start next. First, there is the mystery, the unexplained, the unexpected unexplained. The events "jump at the face" of scientists, and in some case, scientists then apply a scientific method. Sometimes, mere intuition or revelation start the process, without any "a priori" observation. Events occur, and ideas just pop up to the mind.

The "quantification" of the phenomenon is not necessarily related to the observation. It is sometimes the result of the method, the final step, the achievement.

But, ultimately, as a skeptic, the author of the text is totally in unscientific in this article:

  1. He refuses to acknowledge an observed an quantifiable phenomenon
  2. He does not propose any hypothesis to account for the data acquired
  3. He does not formulate any theory
  4. He does not test the theory because he has not formulated any
  5. Application of the theory if confirmed, return to (a) or (b) if not
  6. He jumps directly to "Occam's Razor" principle. No hypothesis that introduces the least number of new or unknown variables is proposed. He relies on his belief to filter the data.

We test the theory by formulating the appropriate null hypothesis, which we attempt to falsify. If we can find data that force us to reject the null hypothesis, our theory is in good shape.

A glance at the arguments advanced by many proponents of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) for UFOs shows three major violations of the abovementioned principles which, I believe, have resulted in the total lack of progress of UFOlogy over the past 50 years.

The choice of word here tells it all: "a glance at the argument". It should be: a study of the data. The skeptic author admits that he just "glanced at arguments". "Il believe..." is very telling: the author has beliefs. A scientist does not care for beliefs, a scientists investigates, studies, demonstrates.

Ufology has progressed dramatically indeed in the past 50 years: a few scientists have investigated the field and changed their minds, the general public has changed his mind in several countries such as the US, secret documents have been declassified, database have been built, field studies accumulate, photographs, videos, testimonies accumulate, physical measurement, traces and analysis have been made, alternate explanations have been ruled out etc.

(1) "The ETH is the most parsimonious explanation for UFOs". The argument advanced here is that the simplest explanation for the available data on UFOs is that they are alien space ships. However, as far as I am aware, there is nothing in the data that justifies the inclusion of extraterrestrials. As far as I know, no UFO has been reliably observed arriving from, and returning to, deep space in a controlled, non-ballistic manner. As far as I know, no UFO fragment has been shown to have a composition or microstructure indicative of an extraterrestrial origin. There is nothing extraterrestrial in the data, and therefore, the inclusion of extraterrestrials in a hypothesis intended to explain UFOs is "multiplying variables unnecessarily" - a violation of Occam's Razor.

"The ETH is the most parsimonious explanation for UFOs" is not an argument, it is a conclusion. It is based on physical radar traces of flying machines whose performance and flight characteristics are way beyond all the possibilities of the most secrets aircraft of human technology. It is based on the incredibly high number of serious witness such as military pilots, declassified intelligence service reports etc. who have been studied by the few scientists who dared to venture in this controversial area at the risk of their career. As opposed to the claim of our skeptic author, there were plenty of reason to put forth the extraterrestrial hypothesis: there are videos of ufos orbiting the Earth, there are witness of encounters with alien beings, there are cases of crashed UFOs with traces and bodies, there are fragment analysis etc.

The author makes a strange use of Occam's Principle, using it as Censorship Scissors: he emits no simpler alternative hypothesis, he emits no hypothesis at all. Occam's Razor is not to be invoked to reject the ETH hypothesis.

There are also scientists who invoke the ETH explanation as a conclusion of their scientific study.

I cannot help to know that our skeptic author uses "as far as I know" three times in a row. This is the core of his skepticism: his knowledge of the data does not go very far...

(2) "There is no reason to expect physical evidence of alien visitations". This is asserted on the basis of a cover-up, or of a prejudice (opinion formed in the absence of evidence) about alien visitations. What it does is to eliminate the possibility of testing the ETH by the falsification of the null hypothesis. With this addendum, the ETH predicts that no physical evidence will be found, a prediction identical to that of the null hypothesis (that aliens are not visiting the Earth). "Good" scientific theories are those that predict something different than the prediction of the null hypothesis, and so this modification of the ETH makes it a "bad" theory, of no use to the scientific method.

It is my opinion that there is every reason to expect physical evidence of alien visitations. It is also the opinion of all scientists who studied the UFO phenomenon. I have found almost nobody in the ufology field, scientists or even amateur investigators who support the notion that "There is no reason to expect physical evidence of alien visitations".

It is precisely because there has been enough physical evidences that they concluded that the ETH explanation is the best possible, after eliminating other possibilities, invoking precisely Ockam's Razor. In that respect, I obviously agree that claiming that non-terrestrial UFOs exist but cannot be proved because of a cover-up or any other reason is genuine stupidity at work.

For example, to emit the theory that UFOs might be extraterrestrial and predict that they must leave traces on radar is "good" science. If hundred of such evidences are investigated and other explanations not consistent anymore, then you can reach a "good" conclusion out of this "good" science.

This does not imply that there is no cover-up: Some nations such as the US and UK have a serious governmental cover-up, on the contrary, other countries such as Spain and Chile recently adopted a full disclosure policy. France show no government cover-up but also no governmental interest, but financed the only systematic scientific study of UFO, whose conclusion is that the only consistent explanation is that there are physical evidence of UFOs that are not of human origin. There is also an almost worldwide media and scientific cover-up, as media people as well as scientist have rightfully grown a deep fear of ridicule.

(3) "What else can it be?" Once every prosaic explanation has been eliminated, this argument goes, the only possibility left is an alien space ship. But this Conan-Doyle style of reasoning ("once you have eliminated the possible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth") is entirely fallacious, because, it requires that we be aware of all the possibilities - that we have a perfect knowledge of the universe.

This is exactly what science is: once you have eliminated some hypothesises, the remaining hypothesises are the scienfic conclusions. The author has a curious mind twist at work here: shouting "science!" every two lines, he explains here that, after all, if the conclusion is not within the acceptable possibilities, it needs to be rejected, because science does not know everything.

His dilemma is very simple to explain: science does not prove neither disprove. Again, science is just a tool, and ufology has more than just science in its toolbox. The bottomline is that ultimately, science is one way to build one's opinion about UFOs, scientific studies of the UFO phenomenon favor the hypothesis that UFOs are extraterrestrial.

There is a famous example to quote here: you might emit the hypothesis that crows are all red, then observe a lot of crows from all possible area and realize they are all black, and then if you are a scientist, you will acknowledge that the hypothesis that all crows are black is more scientifically valid. It does not mean that you will never see a blue or green or red crow some day, but if you continue to defend the hypothesis that all crows are red, you have no right anymore to pretend that you used the scientific method to "prove" that crows are red. We might discover a lot with the progresses of science, but it is scientifically very doubtful that it will make the black crows turn red.

Suppose I have lost a pen. I think it might be under the couch. That is my hypothesis - my pen is under the couch. How to evaluate my theory?

According to the scientific method, we formulate the null hypothesis and attempt to falsify it. The null hypothesis is "the pen is not under the couch". To falsify it, we must look under the couch.

The equivalent of eliminating prosaic explanations would be to look in the drawer, in the briefcase, on the table, and so on. But even if my pen is not in any of these places, how can I be sure it is under the couch? Might it not be in some place I never considered, like behind the refrigerator? The only way to know for sure that it is under the couch is to attempt to falsify the null hypothesis - look under the couch.

Oh dear...

Suppose you see your neighbor murder his wife. You tell it to a police detective. The detective then starts an investigation, to answer this simple question: did the neighbor murder his wife?

The detective will first look for the body. If the neighbor's wife is well and alive, you are in trouble. If the detective finds the body, he then has the proof that the neighbor's wife is dead, and thus sufficient reason to identify the cause of the death, which might be a murder. He will look for lethal injuries, if necessary perform an autopsy, he will probably continue his investigation by questioning the neighbor and looking for more witness etc.

The common skeptics position would be: "Ah forget it, the neighbor is a man of good, I do not need to read the detective's report, the neighbor cannot be a murdered."

The pseudoscientific skeptic's position would be: before you judge that the neighbor is a murderer, you need to scientifically prove that no other person on this planet did it. You will not consider the husband as guilty of murder just on one witness account, you will argue that the bloodstains on the neighbor's hands are hoaxed, the husbands fingerprint on the knife found stuck in the back of the victim might be from the day before the murder, or that the victim fell accidentally on the knife, that the lack of alibi of the neighbor is due to a temporary loss of memory, and you will try to convince the jury that it has not been scientifically proven that there is no other explanation to the murder, that science might progress and find a better theory to explain the murder, that murder is an unlikely phenomenon, that so far nobody was ever scientifically proven to have committed murder, etc.

I am sorry to tell you that if you were to be the defendant of the murdered in court, and would use this as a defense, the jury might maybe not completely follow you, the husband might not be released, especially if you insist that your defense is based on the scientific method.

Now, back to your "lost pen" example.

If you loose a pen, and if you think it might be under the couch, you do not need an hypothesis. You need to check under the couch. Let me formulate it using your mental scheme: you need to set up a very simple and well known experiment which is to look under the couch.

Your mental scheme has got you confused: the loss of the pen is not a phenomenon, it is an event. There is no scientific benefit to expect from this event, so building an hypothesis does not apply. The loss of a pen is not a worthy field for scientific study. Science has already shown that the human being has a memory, which is sometimes subject to memory lapses. In psychology, there are even techniques to retrieve the lost memory of the pen's location. Technology also offers pens attached to strings, which you will not loose.

When you are planning to look for the pen behind the fridge and other places, rather than behind the couch where you suspect it really is, you are not acting as scientists do, you are just acting as a fool would do. Any scientist would look first under the couch, and if it is there, the scientist would stop devising experiments to look for it in more unusual places.

You need to understand that science is not just the scientific method. Science is not reducible to this process of emitting hypothesis and eliminating the hypothesis that have no experimental proof. Check out the most advance scientific effort of this decade, the string theory: there is no experiment yet possible, the energies involved would exceed anything possible for us. Yet, the string theory has progressed a lot these last years, and though it has been almost ridiculed at its beginning, it has since be constantly refined, without the support of any experiment, and becomes more and more the field of research by excellence, from which our comprehension of the universe is growing.

The only way to know for sure that a given UFO was an alien space ship is to falsify the null hypothesis - show that it was not "not an alien space ship". Proving that it was not a weather balloon, a plane, a star, etc. will never amount to proof that it was (1) a space ship and (2) built by aliens.

You do not use the scientific method you quoted.

If it is proved that it is not a balloon, a plane, a star etc., then you still need to find an explanation. Where is your new theory? Did you ever consider anx other hypothesis? Where did it came from according to you? Who built it?

-Did it come from the core of the Earth?
-Did it came from a secret race of mutants hidden inside caves?
-Did it came from the gods which then do exist etc?

You need to formulate your alternate hypothesis, and it needs to be simpler than the ETH, as you taught us, mentionning Occam's Razor: you will then see that it is just as valid as the one I ironically suggest above, and you will in the end agree that visitors from space is after all the less crazy hypothesis.

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Cette page a été mise à jour le 1 mars 2001.