If ever there was a term that needs reclaiming, it’s “ufologist”. The suffix -ology denotes ‘the study of’ – that is, scientific research into a topic in order to add to a body of knowledge. But the media and ‘skeptics’ apply the term ‘ufologist’ to any crackpot who simply claims to be in contact with aliens, thus poisoning the well for serious debate on the topic. This isn’t, though, really their fault. The lack of any necessary qualification to lay claim to the title has meant that plenty of nutters and self-promoters have used (abused) the term for their own ends. And when even I turn up in Wikipedia’s list of ufologists (along with the likes of Art Bell and Carl Sagan), you know something is seriously wrong with the popular definition of the term.
So here, right now, I’m giving you the definition of a ufologist. His name is Martin Shough, and here’s the sort of thing he does: a full investigation and report of “The BOAC Labrador sighting of June 29, 1954“. Martin’s attitude is perfect – he carefully considers obvious explanations, then also more exotic ones. When he offers conclusions, he is careful to note other possibilities. And his research is grounded by a solid knowledge of the sciences required (optics, meteorology etc) to properly investigate a UFO sighting.
In this particular case, here is his conclusion (although it’s very difficult to encapsulate everything in one quote – I recommend reading the entire thing):
In most respects it seems possible to explain this sighting satisfactorily – if not conclusively – as an unusual mirage. Some of the difficulties with the mirage theory – such as those discussed in the Condon Report by THAYER in 1970 – can probably be overcome, as THAYER today agrees . And thanks to the Australian Zanthus case (which occurred on the other side of the world even as the Condon Report was being prepared for publication) and a small number of others we can say that the BOAC phenomenon was after all not quite “so rare that it has never been reported before or since”. We have seen that there are other cases, such as the United Airlines sighting of July 4, 1947, that may show at least some of the same signature features, indicating that unusual mirages from aircraft at moderate altitude may occur more often than has previously been assumed.
…a couple of awkward issues remain that keep the mirage theory from being completely resolved; nevertheless several significant objections have been overcome and so many features are suggestive of mirage that it seems by far the least implausible explanation, bearing in mind the limitations of the available data. There is evidence that the observation is one of a hitherto unrecognised class of very similar mirage observations from aircraft which would repay further focused study.
There are lessons for everyone in such an excellent report. For the ‘UFO believer’, it shows just how many possible explanations there may be for what on the surface looks like strong evidence for an anomalous flying craft. The skeptic too should learn that prosaic explanations are not always right, and that they too should be carefully considered before being eagerly pronounced as ‘the answer’ to the mystery. And we should all beware of trusting too much in ‘official investigations’, with Martin describing the Project Blue Book report on the sighting (as the planet Mars), as “disingenuous” and done with “reckless bravado”.
Martin’s the guy that people should think of when they hear the word ufologist. So how do we go about reaching that point?