An article in Gizmodo today focused on the question of why UFO sightings (reported to NUFORC and MUFON – the major U.S. organizations who record these claims) are in decline since 2012 – a 30 to 40 percent drop from 2012 to 2017. When Jennings Brown, the journalist, contacted me Friday to talk about it, a few things came to mind. In contrast to the opinion of one leader in the UFO community quoted in the piece, I refuse to cop out with an untested, unsupported sci-fi-inspired answer to this trend. I suspect the real answer is social and far more complicated than we can easily tease out.
The UFO organizations admit the decline. The trend is surprising because UFOs remain in the news and popular in media products. Reports of encounters with weird things tend to increase when the weird things get initial publicity.
More people are carrying digital cameras and video recorders at all times – the technology should enable us to get better evidence that strange things occur as described. But this hasn’t happened. The same argument can be made for any paranormal claim – ghosts, poltergeists, Bigfoot, lake beasts, various Fortean odd events, etc. This particular angle is a bit different. Even if you are driving along a road, glancing out the window late at night, or not a smartphone user (lots of older people are not), it appears that when you see a weird thing in the sky, you aren’t calling the self-named experts to report it as important. Why might that be?
There are three basic reasons I can list for the decline:
- People aren’t seeing UFOs. Do people not see lights in the sky because we are not looking up, not outside at all, or the light pollution is too bad?
- People assume it’s not a UFO or not worthy of talking about. They brush it off because they assume it’s nothing special or they can’t substantiate their claim with a picture or video. There may still be a stigma or it’s not worth the hassle to report.
- The report never makes it to the organization for other reasons. Witnesses don’t know of or don’t trust the organization enough to report it. UFO organizations have not exactly established themselves as credible outlets for research. Perhaps citizens don’t even want to call up their local police or the police don’t pass on the report.
I’m not a participant in UFO insider discussion circles, however, I can imagine a few social aspects that may be at play for this decline of reports based on social trends. As I told Gizmodo – this is a culture of “pictures or it didn’t happen”. I had a few experiences of my own where I didn’t pull out my camera because I was too busy staring at the perceived anomaly trying to figure out what it was. Suddenly, it was too late to snap off a shot. Perhaps people don’t want to face the inevitable question of “why didn’t you take a video?” Regardless, no point and shoot handheld camera is going to capture a clear, definitive record of a light in the sky. It’s not going to do justice to a black triangle or a speeding trail. UFOs as described today are not conducive to easy documentation. They aren’t a metallic ship hovering in the backyard like the decades past. Consider the much-hyped UFOs of the past few years looked more like fast-moving insects (which they actually seemed to be), flares, or “tic-tacs” (of the To the Stars Academy publicity releases).
The skies are busier than ever before with planes, helicopters, promotional lighting effects, flying paper lanterns, scientific measuring devices, fireworks, and drones. I’ve had what I’m fairly certain was a drone encounter myself at night. It was really weird. At first. What if most people just assume that the weird thing they see is a military test craft, drone, or new-fangled flying device instead of an alien craft? Or, what if they think there is no point in reporting it because no one will listen or the government is covering things up and hiding the truth? What if they think they are being pranked or spied upon? There’s no data on this.
Jan Harzon does MUFON no favors (though it’s already in the crapper on his watch with incidents of blatant racism and infighting) by saying that you can’t catch UFOs on camera because “UFOs are basically manipulating space-time. And when they do that, it requires a high electromagnetic field. That distorts the images.” Coming from a group that proclaims themselves as scientific, this is absurd, but not surprising because they have regularly been ridiculous. The leadership at MUFON is not scientific but way off into the fringes of reality. The disconnect is stark between their agenda to legitimize conspiratorial thinking, coverups and paranormal concepts to explain UFOs and that of their investigator who interviews the witness by the book to ask what she saw in the sky. MUFON seems intent on marching headlong into the paranormal dark corners. Science has failed them – there is no better evidence for UFOs as alien craft (from outside our space or dimension) than there was decades ago. So, they slip down the supernatural slope in order to retain their belief, invoking ideas that sound marvelous but can’t be tested. They promote a scary agenda of distrust and lies instead of one of inquiry and rigor. I wouldn’t call them if I think I saw a UFO either!
I would like to see a group seriously investigate witness reports without the warped agenda that MUFON has. It’s been demonstrated repeatedly that crowdsourcing of “baffling” cases can be solved in hours by those who know something about physics, aircraft design and technology, and how to look up the right stuff on Google. It’s not that difficult.
I don’t know enough about this sliver of our pop culture to expound more. But it’s interesting to think about. Are UFOs on the decline in the public consciousness? How are the ideas changing? Has the concept of alien visitation (with belief at 26% of the population) been diffused by the internet and media so that people no longer need to report it to an organization? Or are these paranormal concepts coalescing and moving away from the purview of authorities altogether?
Chime in if you know some other influencing factors.