Tuesday, March 25, 2014
A few questions (and answers) about the 2013 Canadian UFO Survey
In a Facebook MUFON group, noted American ufologist Curt Collins posted some questions to me about the 2013 Canadian UFO Survey. He has given me permission to put his questions and my answers in the Ufology Research blog. Most of this is from March 23 to 25, 2014.
Curt: I see the witnesses’ data is categorized in several ways, but had a few questions: First, is there an index or subcategory just for sightings where the witness unambiguously reports seeing a flying vehicle? If not, is there any way to extract that?
Me: Do you mean a witness seeing a structured object rather than just a light?
Curt: Exactly! At least, in their opinion, it absolutely cannot be natural and unlikely to be manmade.
Me: The data points or categories for each case were developed originally as a way of quickly coding the textual information available on the report. They were actually developed as far back as the late 1970s, when I was typing UFO data onto keypunch cards (yes, I'm THAT old), which were limited in characters. Back then, I think we were at 80 characters, not 140 like Twitter! We had to decide what information could be easily coded and what information was available for the majority of reports. After sorting through many hundreds of cases, we arrived at the lowest common denominators available from all sources of UFO case data.
We used some of the coding of the original UFOCAT and Hynek's classification system. Then I added a few more. When we finally started the Survey in 1989, we had NL and DD, but I added ND (Nocturnal Disc) for nocturnal structured objects that were more than simply lights in the sky. The "Disc" designation is a matter of convenience, since "Daylight Discs" are not discs all the time, either, and could be other shapes. We also include a data point for "shape," so that if a witness sees a structured object that could be called a "craft," it would be a ND. Also, the category of Shape would provide additional info about what was observed. Plus, there's the Comments at the end of the line, where a note about other characteristics of the observed object can be included.
The other point is that many witnesses have virtually no ability to discern whether they have seen a structured vehicle or not. A case in point is the term "Orb" which can be used to describe something that is spherical, but also simply to refer to a light without any shape or form.
Not to mention the natural ability to "fill in" a black object between three or more lights in the sky, thus creating a "triangle" where there is none.
Curt: Good answer about the data sorting―I feel like I've had a backstage tour! I understand about witness reliability problems, but was wondering just what percentage of reports were of Unidentified Flying Vehicles, since the press seems to think that ALL of them are!
Me: I use "PS" for "Point Source" to indicate objects that don't have a discernable structure for coding. A huge majority of NLs are PSs. I think most DDs are not point sources, although there are exceptions.
Curt: Some researchers feel the "UFO" label is contaminated and use UAP or UAO to distance their work from "flying saucer" silliness. What term to you prefer and why?
Me: I think it's important to realize that "UFO" was adopted by the USAF to distinguish it from the silliness to begin with. A number of other terms were proposed over the years, too. My favourite was TOPA, or "Transient Optical Phenomenon of the Atmosphere," proposed by a scientist in a paper. The reality is that even if we start using UAP regularly, the media will still invoke aliens at every opportunity. Also, the public is familiar with “UFO” and even if they assume aliens, at least we don't have to explain as much as if we changed the term. Also, having to explain that “U” means “Unidentified” gives us the opportunity to educate the public and media about what we mean, so I'd still prefer to use UFO.
Curt: If you asked a random group to draw two pictures, first one of a UFO and the second of a Flying Saucer, what do you think you'd get?
Me: This reminds me of the experiment with UFO abductees done by Stuart Appelle comparing drawings made by non-abductees with those made by "real" abductees. Don Dondieri thought the drawings were totally different, suggesting UFO abductees were real, although some debunkers thought the drawings were similar enough to say imaginary UFO abductions were just as "real."
This also reminds me of an experiment I did using drawings made by kids in a grade school many years ago. I had been contacted by parents of two kids and their teacher because the two kids said they had been frightened by a large UFO that flew low over their heads one night while they were playing in the schoolyard. I had permission to talk with the kids, and then because all the other kids in the class were excited about the story, was asked to give a presentation to the entire class about UFOs. I took the opportunity to ask all of the class, including the two who had "really" seen the UFO, to draw a UFO.
The result was interesting. The kids all drew fantastic images of aliens and elaborate spacecraft, including some nice artwork of Darth Vader and assorted robots. But the two kids who had "really" seen the UFO drew the UFO as they had seen it: a dull grey cigar in a black sky.
So my guess would be that asking groups to draw UFOs and flying saucers would result in identical images, although many who were asked to draw a "saucer" would draw a disc. Now, if you asked the two groups to draw an "alien spaceship" and a UFO, they would be identical.
Curt: Thanks for the answer. I'll have to look up that [Appelle] experiment. It's also interesting about your school children drawing results. I don't think people seeing UFOs on television makes them see them in the sky, but sometimes it can cause them to interpret a genuine indistinct object into a flying saucer. Now, I wish I'd asked for a lab and human test subjects for Christmas. I'd like to do some experiments...