"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Sorry, there is no evidence that ET is here, has been here or is likely to be here soon"
When as a species we started to realise our immense loneliness in a vast universe, a deep unsettling fear took hold. Today we know that our planet is circling an unremarkable star — on the edge of the Milky Way — our position daunting and precarious against the vastness of time and space. Consider that, on average, most species last four million years. No wonder we went running for the protection of Gods in any form.
Likewise, some folks amongst us want to believe that aliens will arrive with an advanced culture and technology to save us. Hence, they hope our kind may survive into the long future by journeying out to the stars with the help of our new intergalactic friends. But, on that note, a word of caution. History tells us that when an advanced civilisation encounters a less well-developed society, the latter soon collapses. Remember the Aztecs? That’s why Captain Kirk had to follow the ‘Prime Directive'.
Thus, in recent weeks, anticipation built, awaiting the US government's report on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). Besides the usual collection of UFO fanboys, normally rational types engaged in wild speculation. Would we finally get to see the alien cadavers from Roswell? Talk of captured flying saucers and other out of this world treasures summoned up images from Independence Day.
Then, as the report dropped, the sense of disappointment was palpable. No alien bodies, no flying saucers. Nothing that rational types hadn't already concluded. Sorry, there is no evidence that ET is here, has been here or is likely to be here soon.
The report produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on 144 reports of UAP. While the investigation sought to explain events from a national security perspective, it touched upon the alien UFO thing by default.
Mike West gives a detailed breakdown of the report here. He can be satisfied that the findings confirm many of his judgments. In a previous blog, I covered West's work on the famous 'Gimbal' and 'Gofast' clips.
In the 144 reports considered, a good number are single observer events without any corroborating evidence—no radar footage nor video to support the claims of human witnesses. And, of course, we already know how unreliable witnesses can be, given our inability to judge distances and motion.
Likewise, in instances that the detection system did spot something, anomalies and system limitations caused misinterpretations. Again, as West demonstrates, this was almost certainly the case with the 'Gimbal' clip.
West faced considerable resentment when he questioned the reports of naval aviators. How dare he challenge these highly trained 'Top Guns’? Well, in truth, West was correct because even ‘Maverick’ is operating with a Mark-One eyeball and a human brain, both of which are fallible. Moreover, organs developed for hunting on the African savanna aren't well-adapted to discerning objects at vast distances moving laterally, especially when the observer is also moving at speed.
Airborne clutter, such as blown litter and wayward balloons, accounted for some sightings. On occasions, because only one system tracked these objects, it proved impossible to get triangulation to measure actual speed and direction.
A high percentage of these UAP/UFO reports came from the Navy, and the vicinity of military bases. These incidents raised the specter of foreign powers spying. Yet, collection bias means that such locations are more likely to spot stuff because they are looking for it. After all, guards and sensor systems are operating for that specific purpose.
So, in summary, the US government is going away to do more study. But, cutting through all the jargon, it's clear they've found nothing alien or that exciting.
In an established pattern, the true believers and conspiracy nut jobs will dismiss the report as another cover-up. Not for them rational analysis dwelling on hard evidence, with the crunching of data. Instead, with a zealots fever, they'll press on looking for ET in every wind-blown plastic bag or temperature inversion.
These folks are the latter-day witch hunters.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.