NBC News publishes an op-ed on the reality of UFOs... sort of

I touched on this subject over the weekend when discussing the (admittedly small) possibility that President Trump might decide to shoot for some sort of UAP Disclosure as an October election surprise, but I wanted to circle back to it today. One of the more remarkable evolutions we’ve seen in the area of UAP/UFO debates in this country is the way that more mainstream media outlets are choosing to cover the topic. One of the last to get into gear (after CNN (twice this week), the New York Times and the Washington Post) has been NBC News. But to my surprise, they opted to run an op-ed over the weekend from someone who is an expert in a related field, tackling the question of whether or not we truly might be on the verge of Disclosure and whether or not the United States government has anything really remarkable to disclose to begin with.

The article was written by Dr. Seth Shostak, an astrophysicist who currently serves as the Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Sounds like he should be qualified to chime in on the subject, eh? Well… yes. He certainly knows a lot about what’s out in the skies, provided you’re talking about things that are way, way out there in space. But when it comes to the idea of UFOs flitting around in our atmosphere and the possibility of extraterrestrial life having visited us, he’s developed something of a reputation as a debunker. You get a sense of that from part of the title of the article which reads, “But Navy’s alien sightings don’t quite add up.” Fair enough, however. We should hear him out.

Shostak begins by reviewing all of the recent news about this topic, reports in major outlets, congressional hearings and the rest of the material most of our regular readers are familiar with by now. He then asks the leading question, “So, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?” But that’s where he pumps the brakes and begins to throw cold water on everyone’s parade.He notes that these craft seem to show up frequently near our military facilities, but points out that anyone with the technological capability to navigate the void between the stars wouldn’t give a hoot about our weapons. It would be like Jean-Luc Picard checking out piles of slingshots on a primitive planet.

And that’s the point where we get to the serious debunking effort. Check out his closing argument. (Emphasis in original)

If the UFOs are interested in our military, that’s actually an argument against them being visitors from another star system. Instead, it suggests Russian aircraft, Chinese drones, or something else terrestrial — hardware we could understand.

Humans have always been tempted to ascribe strange phenomena to the workings of superhuman beings, much as the Greeks argued that lightning bolts were javelin tosses by Zeus. But science demands that any hypothesis be supported by detailed, repeatable and impartial observations. Those are lacking here.

The Office of Naval Intelligence will supposedly make regular reports on at least some of its findings. That sort of disclosure sounds as if it would be good news for those who, like Fox Mulder, “want to believe.” But in fact, it might actually work the other way. Disclosure could rob the believers of their best piece of evidence — which is to say, a dearth of good evidence.

Amazingly, Shostak makes the leap from the skeptics of the past who said that the lack of physical evidence was reason enough to doubt a possible extraterrestrial hypothesis to saying that if physical proof shows up, it undercuts the argument because it’s probably Russian or Chinese technology. In other words, if there’s no physical evidence, it’s all in your head. But if physical evidence is presented, you’ve misidentified it.

There are a few things I would put forward for Dr. Shostak in response. First of all, I think one of the most common mistakes we make when considering these questions comes from the annoying human habit of trying to ascribe human motivations, rationale and reasoning to a potential alien intelligence. Trying to assume you know why they would be interested in our military capabilities involves believing you know how their minds work or what motivates them. Yes, we could definitely understand why our terrestrial adversaries would be interested. But what some totally foreign lifeform might be thinking is a complete unknown.

The author also conveniently ignores the data we have from the Nimitz encounters in particular. As has been repeatedly pointed out, the Tic Tac that Cmr. David Fravor encountered was doing things that should be completely impossible using the latest in known human technology. If the Russians or the Chinese have figured out how to attenuate gravity or master inertial dampening, he should be prepared to explain how they did it.

In closing, I would point to one possible motivation for Dr. Shostak’s apparent reluctance to consider more exotic explanations. He works for SETI. Their entire reason for being is to search for the aliens, but they do it by listening for tiny snippets of signals coming from other stars or even other galaxies. And they’ve been doing it for many decades without producing anything repeatable that looks like evidence. If ET suddenly shows up and lands outside of a Burger King in DesMoines, that sort of puts SETI out of business, doesn’t it? There’s not much point in listening for their radio waves if they stop by and drop one of their transmitters in your lap.