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:

  1. PROBLEM - State the problem in a way that defines exactly what the question is.
  2. THEORY - An idea of what science is behind the phenomenon researched.
  3. WORKING HYPOTHESIS - Make a testable statement that defines what is to be proved or disproved.
  4. NULL HYPOTHESIS - This is the statement that the theory is false, that nothing special in the theory happens.
  5. EXPERIMENT - Design a test that will decide whether the theory or the null hypothesis is false. Notice the idea is to prove something is false.
  6. COLLECT DATA - Perform the experiment and collect the results.
  7. ANALYSIS - Analyze the data collected to see whether either the working or the null hypothesis can be rejected.
  8. CONCLUSION - Rejection of a hypothesis has occurred. The other hypothesis is concluded to be true. If neither hypothesis can be rejected, the results are inconclusive.


Two methods of approaching the problem are:

  1. Experimentally testing a specific sighting.
  2. Independently gathering data.

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:

  1. Take each sighting as a separate problem, each with its own questions and hypotheses. In this case, the big question is: What was it?
  2. Try to collect data that are independent of witness testimony. In this case, the big question is: What objects can appear in front of the sensors used, and how can we tell them apart?
  3. Eliminate the simplest possibilities first (Occam's Razor).
  4. Remember that eliminating all known causes does not prove a particular cause.

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:

  1. That the null hypothesis is accepted, and the theory can not explain the sighting.
  2. That the null hypothesis is rejected, and the theory explains the sighting.
  3. That there is not enough evidence for either case (inconclusive).

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):

  1. Using the process of elimination to "prove" a space ship. I could "prove" a demon, a new invention, a smurf, a time ship, or a government secret using the same faulty logic.
  2. Thinking that a huge quantity of marginal data is as good as one airtight case for proving the existence of extraterrestrials.
  3. Making arguments that are impossible to test scientifically.
  4. Trying to make skeptics prove there are not any visiting entities. It is impossible to prove that something does not exist, so the burden of proof is on proving that something does exist.
  5. Using some method other than rigorous scientific testing.
  6. Taking RADAR evidence alone as proof of anything. RADAR without transponders is about as reliable as the veracity of most politicians during an election. (Most interplanetary spaceships would not have government issued transponders, and if they did have them, they wouldn't be unidentified.)
  7. Taking photographic evidence alone as proof of anything.
  8. Thinking that all of the high-tech stuff shown in fictional movies and TV shows is actually possible. Some of it is possible only on film.
  9. Treating an objective study of a sighting as an attempt to hide the truth. To be objective, one has to consider all possibilities, testing the most probable ones first.
  10. Trying to argue conclusions not logically supported by the facts.
  11. Treating facts that argue against a space ship as irrelevant. (If the facts don't fit the theory, the facts must be disposed of.)
  12. Treating testimony as being equivalent to the actual distal event.
  13. Accepting witness statements of size, speed, distance, or altitude of an unknown object as fact without verification by some means of measurement. A mailing tube, a water heater, a silo, and a city water supply tank can all be the same shape and angular size. As long as it's more than 20 ft away, the human eye can't tell which size the object really is without other information. Without that info, the other values can not be known either.
  14. Assuming fantastic amounts of energy are required, when an order of magnitude change in the size, speed, distance, and altitude of the object can bring the requirements into mundane capabilities. A "massive object, swinging like a pendulum" near here seemed to require large expenditures of energy. Then it turned out to be a fire balloon at the mercy of the wind, requiring only a few candles for power. On the other hand, a "wingless airship, traveling at high speed" also seen near here turned out to be the re-entry of the Soviet Zond IV satellite, traveling at even higher speed, but powered only by gravity.
  15. Assuming that all of the unidentified activity at a given time and place was caused by the same object.
  16. Denouncing the truth when it is discovered. (This is the realm of politicians, not scientists.)
  17. Having bias toward finding proof of extraterrestrials, and directing research in only that direction.
  18. Ignoring the lack of evidence that should be present if the event occurred as told.
  19. Making excuses for lack of evidence that should be present.
  20. Proposing that aliens used unearthly powers, with no proof to support these claims.
  21. Not taking into effect the effects of adrenaline and other physiological changes the human body goes through when confronted with a crisis situation.
  22. Taking autokinesis, autostasis, optical illusions, multiple RADAR reflections, second trip echoes, atmospheric bending, halation, and lens reflections as nothing but debunking attempts. I didn't believe what halation can do until I saw it triple the size of a DC-3.
  23. Looking at RADAR as a kind of TV picture showing exactly where everything is. RADAR also shows things that are not there, and shows some things in more than one place. That's why airplanes now carry transponders. It's the only way to keep everything straight. RADAR screens are always full of spurious reflections.
  24. Connecting the UFO problem with psychics, spiritists, and other occult practices.
  25. Thinking that a space ship from another planet is more probable than a high-school prank faking a space ship from another planet.
  26. Thinking the government covering up extraterrestrials is more probable than the government hiding military secrets, spy devices, or their own bungling.
  27. Not checking to see if multiple sightings are really of the same object at the same time, but just assuming that they are.
  28. Taking any government explanation of a sighting as an attempt to hide the truth.
  29. Not believing somebody who recognizes the object as something he is familiar with.
  30. Believing the government could hide the truth of a dangerous situation for 50 years. They would do that only if they had created the danger themselves, and even then, it would be exposed in less than ten years. People can't keep their mouths shut.
  31. Faulty statistics: Figures may lie when liars figure, but the worst cases are when people who don't understand statistics try to use them. For an example, read any of Coral Lorenzen's books, and try to put together an unambiguous mathematical picture of the real data. She even accused the Air Force of trying to explain fractions of single cases, because there were decimal points in the percentages of explained cases by type. Unless the Air force has exactly 100 cases, there will be decimal points in the percentages.
  32. Wasting time demonstrating, lobbying, and attending conventions instead of studying the problem seriously.
  33. Believing anything found in tabloids without quintuple checking.
  34. Believing explanations of alien energy methods written without any inkling of how the physical world operates. An example is that "theory" of UFOs "stealing" power from a car battery through the headlights by using microwaves. Just how a car battery can be persuaded to emit microwaves without a microwave transmitter attached to it is beyond me.
  35. Taking the profession of the witness as a testimonial as to what was seen. There are policemen who steal and lie, air traffic controllers who accidentally wreck planes, and detectives who come to totally wrong conclusions. Look at the mess IRL officials made of the last few Indy 500s, and the Texas race in 1997. In 1966, a deputy sheriff lost his job, his wife, and his sanity after chasing a fire balloon into another state. Students admitted launching the prank, but the investigators didn't believe them and labeled the sighting as "Venus."
  36. Getting up a frenzy to spread the word that aliens are here. This is sort of a religious response, not a scientific one. Remember the furor about cyclamates? It was a quick reaction to a falsified research project.
  37. Getting emotional about the identity of a sighting. Science has no room for emotion in the process of making conclusions.
  38. Thinking hypnosis is a good truth-revealing tool. It's just as unreliable as scopolamine, sodium pentothal, and the polygraph. Hypnosis can also plant false "alien" information into the mind of the subject. Some sightings have been the results of post hypnotic suggestions done by pranksters in hypnosis done as party gags.
  39. Believing that aliens can remove all evidence of their visit, also removing all evidence of removal of the evidence.
  40. Resorting to name-calling. (: Very Scientific! :)
  41. Expecting aliens to be able to solve earthly problems (or to even want to). Most of our earthly problems are caused by government greed, government bungling, or government attempts to solve other earthly problems.
  42. Believing the stories given by "contactees," all containing no scientific information, but all containing advice to ban weapons, form a socialist world government, stop pollution, ban money (or wealth), and other typical ideas from the liberal and union side of the political aisle. I have never seen one contactee statement advising more freedom, less government, lower taxes, belief in Christ, or any other conservative thought. Does this mean that all space aliens are liberals? Or are the "contactees" the liberals? Most contactee statements claiming scientific "facts" have been disproved by subsequent discoveries.
  43. MY EX-WIFE LEFT ME FOR AN ALIEN! Hold onto that thought for a minute.
  44. Thinking of extraterrestrials every time the word "alien" appears. What about illegal aliens? Are they extraterrestrials, just because they don't have stupid little green cards? "Alien" means more than one thing. My ex left me for a Canadian. The Ex-Files?