UFO fans wonder why science does not seriously examine the UFO phenomenon. Here are the things that must be done to look at UFOs scientifically, and the problems encountered in trying to do so:
The scientific method uses the following steps to do research, no matter what field of study is being researched:
Two methods of approaching the problem are:
PROBLEM - With UFOs, defining the problem is tricky. Not all UFO sightings are of the same phenomenon. Mixed in with any phenomenon data that might be present is a hodge-podge of sightings of aircraft, stars, planets, pranks, balloons, birds, bugs, and other commonplace items seen under unusual conditions. On top of those are the fabrications, hallucinations, and mental aberrations reported by witnesses. So the data are a heterogeneous collection of different kinds of events. There is even the question of whether or not ANY of the sightings are of unusual phenomena. So what questions should we ask? We need to subdivide the problem in these ways:
THEORY - The most obvious theories to propose first are those dealing with conventional explanations. Until ALL of these are positively ruled out, nothing else should be even remotely considered as a theory for a given event. The next theories to try are those dealing with pranks, hoaxes, optical effects, and aberrations. Only after all of these are dealt with, can such theories as extraterrestrial origin, demonic influence, and earthlights be considered. Even then, we are not sure we have disposed of all of the conventional explanations, because there might be one that nobody thought of.
For independent data gathering, some ideas of what objects are to be expected and how to test for them should be considered, as well as ways of analyzing the information available to the data gathering equipment. This task seems equivalent to designing something on the order of a Star Trek tricorder.
HYPOTHESIS - Here we make an educated guess as to what the object was. For independent data gathering, the guesses are to what might appear there. In either case, the theory must be testable. For either sightings or independent data gathering, several hypotheses must be formulated in advance for all prosaic explanations known, so the correct data may be collected at the time of the sighting or data gathering project, so that these explanations can be confirmed or refuted.
The creation of a working hypothesis is to devise tests to determine whether or not the hypothesis is true.
How does one design a test for aliens? Asking for green cards will identify legal aliens, but illegal and extraterrestrial aliens do not have green cards, so such a test is not valid here. This is one of the problems with the extraterrestrial hypothesis. There is no easy test. First of all, we need a specimen to test. You can't just go out in the desert and get samples of aliens, starships, or landers. What we have are reports, overturned rocks, crop circles, depressions in the ground, burn marks, metal fragments, and buckwheat pancakes. Some tests might be designed to determine if metal has been exposed to space outside an atmosphere, but the others must be tested for what caused the observed effects, rather than the origin of the specimen. The hypothesis in this case must be stated as: "EVENT or EFFECT was caused by THEORY."
NULL HYPOTHESIS - This is the easiest part. To state the null hypothesis is to state: "EVENT or EFFECT was NOT caused by THEORY."
EXPERIMENT - Designing an experiment is tricky here. The experiment must positively confirm or refute one of the hypotheses. If the hypothesis is: "An airplane caused the sighting," the experiment is not as simple as calling the airport and asking what was in the sky. The airport will know of local flights, and flights arriving or departing that particular airport, but it will not necessarily know of flights passing through, military flights, or flights without filed flight plans. A business might have an airstrip on its premises, and might not give out information for proprietary reasons. Other causes have similar multiplicities that are hard to eliminate.
For some working hypotheses, it may be possible to obtain an item similar to the item the theory proposes was seen, and expose the witnesses to it under similar circumstances without any advance notice. If the witness reports a UFO, the hypothesis has merit.
For physical evidence cases, the equivalent of a crime lab would be useful for finding and analyzing evidence. The training of a criminologist would be helpful here. Evidence would consist of microscopic traces and damage left on items already at the scene, and items brought to the scene by the event. The scene of physical evidence must be carefully guarded to prevent contamination by the curious.
For independent data gathering, the question is: "What data are important?" Several experiments must be designed to differentiate between each of the known objects that could possibly be there, and objects of totally unknown characteristics. A start might be to record a motion picture, the light spectrum (including infrared, ultraviolet, and X rays), the radio spectrum, radioactivity, and sound present. Of course, calibration runs must be made to establish normal operating parameters for the equipment, plus the expected data from known objects.
DATA - Unfortunately, much of the sighting data are collected by laymen unfamiliar with scientific data collection. Witnesses color much of the data by their opinions. The hard data are usually gone by the time the scientists arrive. Some tests might be designed to sharpen the data and eliminate errors and biases.
For those working hypotheses where an item is presented to the witnesses under similar circumstances, the witness report is valid data.
For physical evidence, the data are in microscopic marks found on items, materials found at the scene that do not belong there, and possible alterations of indigenous materials. The location of the evidence should be recorded and photographed before it is disturbed. Proper care must be made to prevent contamination, including the use of evidence bags. Control samples should be taken from similar nearby areas. Unfortunately, most chemical and spectroscopic analysis methods destroy the sample, so as much as is possible should be taken. Artifacts and pieces of unknown material should be carefully measured and photographed, and plaster casts taken if possible. Gather as many data as can be had, for it is not yet known which data are valuable in the field of UFOs.
IMPORTANT: It is necessary to also look for the absence of evidence where it should be present. This includes people looking in the area where the object was reported, without seeing it, RADAR sets that did not pick up the object, and the lack of trace evidence where a supposed landing took place. A negative report of a sighting (where another witness or instrumentation was looking in a possible direction of the reported object and did NOT note anything unusual) can narrow down the possibilities by removing some hypotheses. Do not fail to collect these; actively seek them. A RADAR sighting where a RADAR with overlapping coverage detected nothing is most certainly a case of anomalous propagation or second trip echoes.
For independent data gathering, the problem is having the instrumentation and possibly an operator present at the time and place where a phenomenon occurs. Automatic instrumentation is a possibility, but either the equipment must run and record all directions at all times, or it must have a way to detect when a phenomenon is occurring. The first will waste man-hours analyzing years of normal data to find one event. The second will miss the event if it fails to detect it. Both will miss events that are not in the view of the sensors. A large array of sensors, with years of monitoring, seems to be the prescribed method, but there is no funding for any experiment of this scope.
Also look for any automatic data collection that already exists for another purpose. Examples of this are weather instrumentation, RADAR sets, seismometers, security cameras, and pollution monitoring devices. One of the problems here is getting access to the data, which the owner might not want to release, or might not want to bother saving for purposes other than the original purpose of the equipment.
ANALYSIS - Here we need YES-NO answers with a small probability of being wrong. The better the data collected, the better the analysis can be. Sometimes the analysis can prove that something unknown was there, but it might not give any idea of what it was. It might provide information leading to the development of better tests. Sometimes sensor data or witness accounts that show an object was NOT detected are very important, and can change the analysis of other data. Analysis of spectra can narrow down significantly the possible causes of a phenomenon. One point: It is impossible for an object to interact with an environment without leaving some traces of its presence. The problem is finding and preserving those traces.
CONCLUSIONS - Scientific findings are given here. One must be especially careful not to conclude anything not supported by the proof given. Basically, one can conclude:
In the case where the theory is falsified, the process can then be repeated with another theory. Repeat this process, until:
Showing that a phenomenon cannot be identified does not show that it is extraterrestrial, or of any other origin.
Now we come to the crux of the problem: Who is going to pay for this? We are talking of the equivalent of an air traffic control system, a police force, a forensic lab, and much manpower. Congress would not approve it. The taxpayers would march them out of office the next election if they tried. No business would pay for any venture that does not net a profit. Donations seem to be the only source, and that's already been tried. The huge expenditure for such a small probability of any useful results is the main obstacle. Maybe some of the obsolete computers gathering dust on shelves could be rigged up as crude data collection devices.
UFO "researchers" who do not use the scientific method are wasting their time. There is nothing that can be learned by the following fallacies (except maybe that the "researcher" wants to see a space ship at all costs):