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Towards a Science of UFOs

Alexander Wendt is an American political scientist who is widely recognised as one of the foremost experts on international relations. So, many people would no doubt have been surprised when, at a TEDx talk in November last year, he spoke on the topic of UFOs (video embedded below).

But Wendt has had a long-time interest in ufology – back in 2008 he wrote an academic article combining his ‘orthodox’ knowledge and his thoughts on the more heretical topic of UFOs. And in the recent TEDx talk, he again poses the puzzling question, of why mainstream science does not feel the need to properly investigate the UFO phenomenon:

Human beings are incredibly curious creatures. We will study anything we do not understand if given the given the possibility. In fact we are so curious that we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars building giant radar telescopes to look for signs of intelligent life around distant stars, for which there’s no evidence whatsoever. But when it comes to UFOs not a cent.

The scientific community has never done any serious sustained systematic study of UFO phenomena and that’s in spite of the fact that if it were found that some UFOs were ETS or extraterrestrials it will be one of the most important events in human history, and yet scientists give us only silence and/or ridicule for people who are UFO believers.

This is because, Wendt says, scientists don’t believe UFOs exist – and so the challenge is to prove that they do.

This must begin, Wendt asserts, by distinguishing firstly what UFOs are – not ET craft, but “an unexplained aerial phenomenon” – and secondly, that only 5-20% of UFO sighting cases don’t have a conventional explanation. It is these latter cases that Wendt focuses on.

From there Wendt runs through a number of pertinent topics: the recently released Navy UFO videos; testimony that some UFOs manoeuvred in a manner inconsistent with our understanding of physics; that we should frame this with an understanding that just over a century ago we thought air travel was impossible, let alone space travel; and that our technology does at least now allow us to perhaps study the phenomenon in new ways (such as a network of high-res ground cameras).

He finishes though, once again, by asking why orthodox science has not investigated the UFO phenomenon in any significant way:

Why is this a taboo at all? Why is it that pilots and scientists – even political scientists – need to worry about their reputations to talk about this issue in public? Why don’t we treat UFOs the way we treat everything else that we don’t understand, which is the scientists all go rush and try to study it – but in this case the scientists won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole?

I think a clue to this idea of why the taboo exists is in the word taboo itself: because taboos are about fear – cultural fears usually – and I think my suggestion here is that perhaps the reason this taboo is so powerful is that we are afraid subconsciously of what we might find out if we actually opened up the door of science and tried to understand what these phenomena are.

But that leads to my second point and the last thing I’ll say, which is that in my view the first responsibility of academics is to tell the truth – and the truth is we have no idea what UFOs are and no one in a position of power or authority is trying to find out. That should surprise and disturb us all, and I think raises the question of whether the people should try to find out for themselves first instead.

The ironic part is that TED – as they are wont to do – felt worried enough about the topic being discussed alongside their famous brand that they slapped their usual warning/disclaimer on Wendt’s video. As RPJ mentioned in another post here on the Grail from back in February that discussed this particular TEDx talk, “perhaps there’s no greater way to prove the point of Wendt’s argument regarding the cultural stigma imposed on UFOs, than to deem his opinion as ‘unscientific’.”

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