(originally posted on September 29, 2013)
by Zeke Teflon, author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia
While vegging out in front of the tube the other night, I channel surfed to the Hitler Channel, which remarkably enough was showing a non-World War II-related “documentary” on, of course, aliens. During its course, an interviewer asked the trump question “ufologists” always ask about supposed alien visits to Earth (this is a paraphrase): “There are so many other stars and galaxies that there have to be aliens. Aren’t those who deny that aliens visited Earth being close minded?”
If you had to choose one question as proof that there are stupid questions, this is it. Let’s take a close look at that question and the presumptions that underlie it. First, while it seems very likely that there are intelligent aliens in the universe, there’s still no proof that they exist. As Stephen Jay Gould once remarked when asked about this matter, “Not enough data.” In other words, it’s impossible to prove a negative, the burden of proof rests on the positive, and those who say there’s intelligent alien life have yet to present any evidence for it. And just because something seems likely doesn’t mean it is so.
The right question is this: Have intelligent aliens visited Earth? Again, the burden of proof rests on the positive. And, again, there is no physical evidence that indicates that aliens have visited. Not even one gram of a metal alloy unknown on Earth. Nothing.
There’s anecdotal evidence in abundance, but no hard evidence. Not suprisingly, that anecdotal “evidence” comes almost exclusively from those with little or no scientific background. For some reason, aliens and UFOs are remarkably adept at hiding from scientists, and especially from astronomers.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of the almost unimaginable distances between the stars and the almost equally unimaginable energy requirements of traveling at even a small fraction of the speed of light. One illustrative fact here is that the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth would take approximately 80,000 years to reach the nearest star (if it was headed in that direction, which it isn’t). Those who assert that aliens have visited Earth either ignore these difficulties or gloss over them by blithely asserting that aliens have mastered faster-than-light travel, again while presenting no evidence whatsoever for it.
There’s also the matter of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). In the over half-century of organized SETI searches, SETI researchers have yet to find evidence of alien civilizations. And, needless to say, they want to–for many, it’s their life’s work. The difference between them and “ufologists” is that while they share the desire to discover extraterrestrial intelligent life, SETI scientists follow standard scientific procedure, in which evidence determines conclusions, while “ufologists” stand that procedure on its head, determining their conclusions first and then cherry picking (generally very weak) evidence to support their conclusions, while ignoring (normally much stronger) contradictory evidence. It’s no wonder that ufologists are so often the objects of derision.
They need to put up or shut up. Unfortunately, thus far they’ve done neither.
As for skeptics being “close minded,” which is more close minded, the skeptical position, “I’ll consider any possibility. Just show me some good evidence for it.” or the ufo-believer position, which insists on the truth of a cherished belief in the absence of evidence?
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(For a bit of good, clean fun, check out my musical take on the topic of alien abductors and their probing approach to humans, Abductee Blues.)