Monday, October 05, 2020
No need to exaggerate numbers of UFO reports
Yes, Virginia, the number of UFO reports is higher during the pandemic.
As someone who has been studying UFO report data for many years, I have seen fluctuations in yearly and monthly trends, and changes in the characteristics of the objects reported over time. I have made this data available for anyone to examine since the late 1980s, and I have worked with investigators, researchers and organizations to publish an annual Canadian UFO Survey that tabulates and breaks down the data for easy consumption.
Rarely, however, have I been asked by media or journalists about my research. Pop culture dictates that media darlings attract more interest than anyone presenting facts and doing critical analyses.
But recently, I was asked about news stories that either suggest UFO reports have increased during the pandemic or that such an increase is “greatly exaggerated.” Which is right?
Since 1989, details about UFO reports in Canada have been solicited from all known and active investigators and researchers for analyses and comparison with other compilations. Before that time, individual researchers usually maintained their own files with little or no communication to others. Even today, it is known that some representatives of major UFO organizations often do not regularly share or share case data, and some parent organizations do not do much analyses with the data they do receive, although this is changing.
Ufology Research of Manitoba (now Ufology Research) conducts a systematic collection of raw UFO report data in Canada and prepares yearly reports for general circulation. We believe the dissemination of such data could be of great advantage to researchers in the hope of better understanding the UFO phenomenon.
Statistical studies of UFO data are not without their limitations and problems. Allan Hendry, formerly of the Center for UFO Studies, in his landmark book The UFO Handbook, pointed out flaws in such studies and asked: “... do UFO statistics represent a valid pursuit for more knowledge about this elusive phenomenon, or do they merely reflect frustration that none of the individual reports are capable of standing on their own two feet?” (1979, p. 269)
Hendry asked six questions of statistical ufology:
1) Does the report collection reflect truly random sampling?
2) Have the individual cases been adequately validated?
3) Are apples and oranges being compared? Are NLs necessarily the same kind of UFO as DDs?
4) Are differing details among cases obscured through simplification for the purpose of comparisons?
5) Does the study imply the question: “Surely this mass of data proves UFOs exist?”
6) Do the correlations really show causality?
The Canadian UFO Survey was undertaken with these and other critical comments in mind.
For the annual Canadian UFO Survey, UFO reports were obtained from contributing investigators’ files, press clippings and the files of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). The NRC routinely received UFO reports from private citizens and from RCMP, civic police and military personnel. Included among the NRC reports are many observations of meteors and fireballs, and these had been added into the UFO report database since 1989. Many of the reports were obtained via email and online newsgroups, and when social media became widely used, reports have also been received via Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. Finally, some declassified documents of the Department of National Defence contain reports of unusual objects in Canadian airspace, and these also have been included in the database.
The number of UFO sightings officially reported each year in Canada throughout the past 25 years was initially comparatively small. In 1989, 141 UFO reports were obtained for analysis and in 1990, 194 reports were recorded. This yearly number has risen over the years to around 1,000 reports each year. As of 2019, the Canadian UFO Survey has run 30 years, 12 years longer than Blue Book officially existed, and has more than 21,000 UFO reports as data, several thousand more UFO reports than Blue Book itself.
As noted, one trend that I have been reporting on for a few years is that the number of UFO reports in Canada has risen steadily during the past 30 years, but may have plateaued in about 2013, remaining around 1,100 reports per year. The past few years has seen a definite drop in cases, and 2019 actually recorded only 849 reports.
[NB: As can be seen by the data and analyses presented in the annual Canadian UFO Survey, most UFO reports either have possible/probable explanations or have insufficient information for evaluation. Very few are left unexplained, and even these don't mean that aliens are visiting Earth.]
A graph of more than 30 years of data shows the general increase over time, as well as fluctuations and peaks in report numbers.
One aspect of the Canadian UFO Survey is that data are tabulated and the statistics run in the early part of the following year. Usually, results of the annual study are posted in about March of the following year. In 2020, for the 2019 survey, the pandemic delayed the production until the summer. The analyses of the 2019 data showed a decrease in the number of UFO reports over 2018, the previous year.
However, by summer 2020, there were stories in media that UFO cases had increased during the pandemic, while others said they had not done so. I decided to look at the first half of 2020 for case numbers to supplement the 2019 results. I was surprised to find that the claims of an increase appeared true.
A comparison of MUFON report data for Canada during the first half of 2020 with that of the same period in 2019 showed a distinct increase.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Total
2019 16 28 21 10 25 25 125
2020 23 24 35 46 43 25 196
There were 71 additional cases in Canada reported to MUFON between January and June of 2020 than in 2019, or an increase of about 57 per cent.
Yet in an article in Astronomy magazine it was argued that the increase in UFO reports during the pandemic is “greatly exaggerated.”
When overall MUFON UFO data was examined, it was found that:
There were about 3,800 cases reported between January and late September of this year, which is a roughly 20 percent increase compared to 2019.
This was for all UFO reports, both national and international, and for all reports submitted during that time, not just occurring during that specific period.
Steve Hudgeons, MUFON international director of investigations, was quoted in media:
“It's not really that alarming. It fluctuates a lot,” says Hudgeons, who admits to fielding many questions about the subject this year. “I wouldn't say there’s a large increase at all.”
But they say that level of annual variation is normal for their dataset. And, in fact, reported cases have mostly been declining in recent years.
There’s no question that annual UFO report numbers go up and down from year to year. However, even 20 per cent could be significant. And more than 50 per cent of an increase in the case of Canada appears significant. Why would Canada be different?
The writer for Astronomy magazine also looked at UFO reports as noted in the database of the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), which is another source of data for the Canadian UFO Survey.
“…most of the news stories written about the rise in sightings have taken their numbers from another online reporting site called the National UFO Reporting Center. Like MUFON, they've been collecting accounts of UFO sightings for nearly half a century, largely through a phone hotline and, in recent decades, an online form.
“Back in April, they [NUFORC] received more than twice as many reports compared to the same month the prior year. But those numbers happened at the height of lockdowns, at the same time a sensational news story was published in The New York Times that revealed previously classified footage of UFOs captured by American fighter pilots. But soon after, their reported sightings returned back to 2019 levels-which were significantly less than they were just 5 to 10 years ago.”
The implication here is that the NYT story precipitated the rise in UFO reports in NUFORC’s database. The problem is that this is very selective.
Let’s look at the NUFORC data for the first six months of 2020 versus 2019:
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Total
2019 349 219 328 389 543 477 2305
2020 604 604 808 1036 556 359 3967
As noted in the Astronomy article, April reports in 2020 for NUFORC were very high compared with 2019, in fact not just “more than twice as many” but closer to three times as many. And yes, that was the month that a public relations firm helped advance the US Navy media story about the USS Nimitz UFO videos.
But as can be seen in the full data, the increase in UFO reports in 2020 began in January, with almost twice as many that month, and nearly three times as many in February, all before the media blitz in April.
If you look at NUFORC data in January to June 2020 compared with the same time period in 2019, there is an increase of about 72 per cent.
Now, have UFO report numbers fallen back to “normal” levels since then? Yes. But was there an increase in UFO report numbers during the pandemic? Maybe.
Lockdowns in Canada did not occur until March 2020. During than month and April 2020, MUFON UFO report numbers in Canada increased from 35 during the same period in 2019 to 89 in 2020.
But the NUFORC data showed large increases in UFO reports beginning in January, long before the reality of the pandemic was really felt in the USA. So it would not seem that the increase during the first quarter of 2020 had anything to do with the pandemic.
Rutkowski hopes the reason there’s a spike in UFO sightings during the pandemic is because Canadians are getting outside more, working from their backyards and appreciating nature.
“It’s a beautiful sky out there and there’s lots of opportunities to see some things,” he said.
Note that my explanation has nothing to do with aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft, although the Astronomy article mocked UFO sightings in the context of wishful UFO fans reporting “alien encounters.”
The facts are that UFO report numbers have increased during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether there is a causal relationship between the pandemic and objects observed in the sky remains to be seen. (Pun intended)
Monday, July 27, 2020
Radio interview on CHED 630 in Edmonton Canada, on the 2019 Canadian UFO Survey
Here is an audio dub of my interview on CHED 630 in Edmonton Alberta Canada, on July 27, 2020.
(Yes, mainstream media.)
The topic was the 2019 Canadian UFO Survey, but the interviewer, Chelsea Bird, asked really good questions and we were much more wide ranging on the topic. From the types of things pilots are reporting to the recent news from the USA about the Pentagon's interest in UFOs. And she asked about a skeptical approach to UFOs with an acknowledgment that the subject has a lot of stigma attached, and media interest itself.
Monday, July 13, 2020
The (COVID-19-delayed) 2019 Canadian UFO Survey
Delayed because of the pandemic lockdown, the 2019 overview of Canadian UFO reports shows that last year, the number of UFO sightings reported to official agencies and civilian organizations in Canada was ten per cent lower than the year before (849 reports in 2019 versus 937 in 2018), continuing a downward trend that had begun several years ago. This, despite the rabid attention of UFO fans and an increase in media coverage of the US military admission that some Navy pilots encountered unidentified aerial phenomena off the coasts of California and North Carolina several years ago.
With concerns during the summer of 2020 regarding tourists coming to Canada despite border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, apparently UFOs are not heeding the request to stay away.
Overall Canadian UFO data for 2020 will not be available until early 2021.
There are many questions that can be asked of the UFO phenomenon, some suggested by this data. They include:
- Why did UFO report numbers generally increase until about 2015, then decrease in subsequent years? [And why does the trend seem to be shifting during a time of a pandemic?
- Why do the shapes of reported UFOs shift over time? From saucers, to triangles, to spheres and simply lights?
- If the number of UFO reports is related to population density, does that mean that UFOs are actually uniformly distributed across the country but there seem more over population centers because of more potential witnesses there?
- Why have the numbers of "landing"/trace/CE1 cases declined dramatically compared with previous decades?
- Previous studies (including one by Ufology Research) have shown that 10 per cent of the population believe they have seen UFOs. Is this percentage something that varies with time and region?
- If UFOs are not "real," why do reports persist?
My observation: If UFOs are not a physical phenomenon, then they are at the very least a psychological or sociological phenomenon, and in any case deserves methodological and scientific study.
Thank you to all those who contributed to the 2019 Canadian UFO Survey. Special thanks to Ufology Research associates Geoff, Ashley, MJ, and Sarah.
Monday, June 29, 2020
Weird Canada: A Guide to Off-Beat Destinations
Weird Canada: A Guide to Off-Beat Destinations You Could Visit, Even During a Pandemic!
Thursday, May 14, 2020
Pilot sightings of UASs, UAPs, or UFOs over the Eastern Seaboard
Reports documenting American military pilots' recent encounters with UFOs have been released, showing that some curious things have been seen over the Eastern Seaboard.
Media picked up on the story, and ran with it fairly big, bumping down some COVID-19 information for almost a day. This is an indication that there's a small amount of "pandemic fatigue" working its way into our societal awareness, although it's still far too early to tell to what degree this will be influencing media.
CNN on Wednesday obtained the Navy Safety Center documents, which were previously labeled "For Official Use Only." They follow the Pentagon's official release late last month of three short videos showing "unidentified aerial phenomena" that had previously been made public by a private company. The newly released reports appear to share this assessment, describing many of the unidentified aircraft as "Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)," the Pentagon's official name for drone aircraft.Actually, when you look through the newly obtained reports, you get a rather underwhelming perspective. Although they are reports from military pilots, which is indeed interesting, the sightings are anything but sensational.
But the reports say that even when the unidentified flying objects are assessed to be drones the military was unable to identify who was operating the drone, presenting a major safety and security challenge to the Navy jets training in the area which are restricted military training airspace ranges off the east coast of Virginia.
"I feel it may only be a matter of time before one of our F/A-18 aircraft has a mid-air collision with an unidentified UAS," one of the authors of a report warned.And there lies the crux of the matter.
Reports of UASs or UAPs or UFOs (because that's what they are often labeled in documents like these) show that there is a lot of air traffic that could potentially pose a threat or danger to authorized air traffic, whether they be military flights or commercial airlines.
I'm often asked during interviews why we should bother with UFOs at all. Simply put, UFO reports should be studied in greater detail, especially pilot sightings, because they potentially put people at risk.
Media interest in the documents about activity off the Atlantic played up the story, but the most significant point was largely missed.
These are the first actual post-Blue-Book military UFO reports in the USA that have been made public. Up until now, we really haven't had such a release of official American UFO information.
(I'm not counting the "Tic Tac" and TTSA videos, because they weren't released or officially acknowledged by the Pentagon until recently. SCU has had to piece together the actual reports that go along with the cases, based on things like Ship's Logs, an "Executive Summary" that was released confidentially, and a Pilot Report that was similarly obtained unofficially.)
Following the demise of Blue Book, after 1970 there was very little official information on American UFO cases, It's been a kind of "black hole," with lots of speculation and arm-waving, but nothing definite.
Curt Collins, whose work on the Cash-Landrum UFO case is exemplary, notes that apart from the Tehran UFO and the Loring and Malmstrom UFO incursions, these newly released documents are: "more important than the videos, since these are entirely new cases."
In addition, some UFO buffs are already shouting "Disclosure!" And that these docs prove their case.
However, two things are important to note:
First, these are relatively low-level incidents, with low classifications. Second, in Canada, we get these all the time. No Disclosure (capital D or lower case "soft disclosure") needed.
"These 'dull' reports need to be studied closely for at least a couple of reasons. Chiefly, these are the same means by which we should expect more exciting cases to be reported, so researchers should be familiar with the terminology, reporting processes, equipment etc. Secondly, this could offer clues to other cases, and help prevent drones from being logged in UFO records as true UFOs (defying conventional aircraft performance)."For perspective, here are just a few similar cases that were included in the yet-to-be-released 2019 Canadian UFO Survey (which has been delayed due to the pandemic):
Recent pilot sightings of UFOs over Canada noted by the Canadian UFO Survey
January 2, 2019
A Beech 200 flying from South Indian Lake, MB (CZSN) to Thompson, MB (CYTH) reported that an inexplicable bright light followed them from CZSN to CYTH at the same altitude and speed. No aircraft were reported in their vicinity.
January 8, 2019
While enroute (over Nunavut), a Turkish Airlines Inc. Boeing 777-300 from Los Angeles International, CA (KLAX) to Istanbul Atatürk, Turkey (LTBA) reported seeing a red rotary beacon light near the aircraft, at the same altitude of FL330. The only known aircraft in the region was more than 80NM ahead. The North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) was advised.
January 17, 2019
Flashing and oscillating lights were reported moving up and down by the pilot of an aircraft flying between Quebec City and Sept-Iles at an altitude of 23,000 ft. ATC reported closest aircraft was 50 nautical miles ahead. Report labeled as “Unknown.”
April 11, 2019
A Boeing 737-800 aircraft operated by Sunwing Airlines, from Montego Bay/Sangster Intl (MKJS), Jamaica to Toronto/Lester B. Pearson Intl (CYYZ), ON with 6 crew members and 193 passengers on board. While being vectored for an approach to Runway 06L at CYYZ, the flight crew received a traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) alert at 3000 ft, indicating they should climb. Prime target appeared momentarily below, then disappeared. The flight crew complied with the command, and advised ATC. ATC replied that the conflicting traffic was unidentified, and not in communication with ATC. Sunwing a/c was vectored for a second approach, and landed without further incident.
And here's a radar report from Ottawa in April 1978
Official documents show us that UFO reports can indeed be interesting.
Monday, December 16, 2019
Still more media interest in the UFO Archive
The Winnipeg Free Press carried it as well. It's behind a paywall, so here's an excerpt:
It's not just an uplifting exhibit you can see — you could say it's out of this world.
After more than 40 years of research into unidentified flying objects, Chris Rutkowski has donated to the University of Manitoba his entire collection of files, documents and other materials dealing with the Falcon Lake UFO case.
And, if you go to the university's Archives and Special Collections, you will not only see a display of the material, but for the first time ever you can see some of the artifacts connected to the case, including the shirt Stefan Michalak was wearing when he was chipping away at a quartz formation when he says he suddenly encountered two oval-shaped objects in the air over the provincial park — one which landed.
"I always thought 'what am I going to do with my stuff?'" Rutkowski said recently.
Finally, I started getting notifications that the story about the archived UFO docs even made it into academic circles. The post-secondary news service Academica noted:
The University of Manitoba has announced its receipt of more than 20,000 UFO reports and more than 10,000 UFO-related Canadian Government documents from Canadian Ufologist Chris Rutkowski. “This unique and intriguing historical collection will greatly add to our understanding of the study of UFOs, and will attract students and researchers to study these phenomena for a whole range of reasons,” says UManitoba Head of Archives and Special Collections Shelley Sweeney. “It complements our extensive collection of psychical research and spiritualist archives and puts Winnipeg on the map as the preeminent destination for the study of the paranormal.” UManitoba has also launched a crowdfunding campaign to help digitize the collection.I guess I really do have to give them all the files and books now. The best news: the university's crowdfunding campaign to digitize the UFO files is already almost at 10% of its goal! Oh, and I've already seen some claims that this is proof that Disclosure is happening (even the watered-down "gradual acclimatization process to the alien presence"). But if I am the one releasing the government UFO docs, then that must mean I am part of the secret cabal in charge. Boy, are the Bilderbergs going to be mad at me. You're welcome.