Critical Thinking About UFOs in the Social Media Age
Among the “UFO crowd” these days, it's the trend to disparage the collection and investigation of UFO reports themselves. We live in the age of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, smart phones, and instant information. Why, then, bother to interview witness after witness to ask the same old tired questions just to prove they saw something unusual: “if you held out your fingers at arm’s length, how large would the object have been?”
Besides, we already know UFOs are real, right? So why bother meticulously going over old news? Let’s move on to more interesting issues, like the ET agenda, figuring out the cover-up, or the coming New World Order.
In fact, I do spend a good portion of my time on those very issues. But there is a danger in forgetting the importance of the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of the field.
The recent spate of interest in Project Blue Beam has got me thinking about this. The Blue Beam meme, which had percolated at a low level for over a decade, morphed in the last week into a viral campaign that basically scared the living shit out of quite a few people.
Spreading fear has become so easy. After all, we have Facebook, that addictive purveyor of friendships, online games, and rumors of all stripes. Any and all claims can be copied and pasted and posted and commented and liked to our collective heart’s content. If it's not a fast enough blast, there's always Tweeting.
In the ramp-up to Blue Beam’s supposed arrival, we were treated to a barrage of YouTube links (mostly via Facebook), which featured one particular person warning us to be prepared for the Great Event. No need to go into details and bring more unwarranted attention to these people. They are always around, always willing and able to invent all manner of claims – and there are always people willing to believe what they say.
Say anything you want, don’t worry about supporting your statements with facts or actual research, and then spew out your message. It’s curious and a bit disturbing, that these people believe they actually are doing real research. In truth, most of them have no idea what real research is. Research is hard, it is specific, it takes time.
Research is not “I heard this from a friend of mine who heard this from a scientist in Russia.” Research is not “it’s obvious -- look it up, I’ve given you all the facts.” Research is not “it’s on the sites of Alex Jones and David Icke.”
Talk is cheap. Literally, it’s free. It costs nothing, nothing at all, to make a claim. My dad, a retired police officer, has always framed the issue with the forthright statement that “money talks, bullshit walks.”
It’s true. If you have something to say, back it up. Really back it up. Otherwise, please take a walk.
The problem is that wild, unsupported claims can and do spread so much more easily today than they could twenty years ago. Today, claims and videos and even conversations can go viral. Not everyone believes these things, but over the past week, several people personally expressed their own fears to me that, just maybe, there really might be a major event that would disrupt and wreck everything in their lives. Maybe, they wondered, that all these rumors had some truth in them.
Now, we do live in dangerous, tumultuous times. I happen to think that there are great challenges and difficulties ahead for us. Of course, we must keep in mind that this has always been the lot of humanity, and we have faced many catastrophes in our history. In order to be ready for any future difficulties, we need genuine information, not rumor. We need to be able to discern actual facts from groundless claims and general grandstanding.
For any of these rumors, any of these endless series of predictions that clog our pages and cloud our cognition, we all have several solutions at our disposal.
The most important thing is to remember to ask some basic questions: What is the source of the claim? What is the nature of the evidence? Is it possible to fake the evidence? Does the purveyor of the information appear to have a particular axe to grind -- a particular viewpoint to promote? What is the structure of the argument? How strong is the logic? Are there any missing pieces to the argument? Are there any unstated assumptions that might be affecting the person’s viewpoint? Is there a prior history of such a claim being made? Are there any refutations out there, and if so how strong are the refutations?
We all have the ability to ask these questions. As we ask them, again and again, we become better at answering them.
Especially because this is not only the Age of Facebook, but the Age of YouTube, traditional investigation has shown itself to be not some vestige of long ago days, but more important than ever. None of us can be everywhere all the time, and not even the web can give us instant answers to many of the questions we will ask. For it’s one thing to post a video to YouTube. Anyone can do that with full anonymity. Many people are reasonably capable at creating fake UFO videos; a few are really good at it.
On October 13th, the day of the Blue Beam non-event, we learned that the people of downtown Manhattan were treated to a UFO display. It even made the local news and appears to have been very interesting. Some people claimed that the objects high in the sky were balloons, one person said it was a group of parasails, others wondered if they were real UFOs, and a few immediately claimed this was part of Blue Beam (to which I would say, if THAT was the Blue Beam event, then we have little to worry about).
Then, we find that a local elementary school apologized and said the display were escaped balloons from their teacher's engagement party.
If you want to know how many UFO reports there are every year, a good place to start is the National UFO Reporting Center. For the Year 2009, a total of 4,767 reports were posted, which translates to more than 13 per day. This year, statistics are available through the end of August (2,749 so far), giving the slightly lower rate of about 11 per day. Of course, most of these are never thoroughly investigated.
The point is, if you want to predict a UFO sighting to occur on any day -- any day whatsoever -- you will be (drumroll please......) correct!
What is needed to investigate these events – as it has always been – are people willing to go to the scene, talk to witnesses, check with aviation authorities, collect evidence, and prepare an analysis. This takes time, always time. Doing it right does not coincide with the demands of instant gratification, and cannot allow one to keep pace with the frenzy of a viral event on the web. But there is no other way to do it right.
Which takes me to my final point on all this. Predictions, I think, have become the bane of not simply UFO culture, but alternative culture in general. Since no one seems to enjoy happy predictions, it’s only the scary ones that ever gain much traction. Again, I am not saying bad things can’t and won’t happen. But we need to keep a rational head when confronting these claims.
So, the next time you are encountering the End of the World:
- Take a slow, deep breath.
- Read or listen carefully – and critically.
- Make sure you are receiving actual evidence.
- Be skeptical.
- Be slow – not fast – to react.
If you are one of those people who just can’t live unless you repost someone else’s crazy talk, THINK carefully about what you are doing. You do not need to be part of the problem. You really don’t.
Finally, remember that we all have the power of reason in these brains of ours. We can choose to use it.
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