Saturday, January 01, 2011


Classifying and Studying UFO Cases

Since it will take a while to enter the past two years of UFO report data into our database, we won't have a full statistical breakdown of the 2010 UFO cases for some time. However, I thought that I could at least read through the 950+ Canadian UFO reports for 2010 and pick out some that seem more interesting than most.

Most cases appear to fall into several categories, apart from the usual Hynek classification scheme. Many reports are cases in which witnesses see fireballs or bolides that are greenish in colour and seem to fall to Earth within 5 seconds or so. Many other cases involve witnesses seeing starlike lights that hang in the sky for several hours, flashing different colours. Those are likely stars or planets.

More and more, people are uploading videos of UFOs to Youtube. Most of them show starlike objects that, again, are likely stars or planets. This is exacerbated by people who don't use tripods to steady the images, or use camcorders that autozoom to infinity and turn a perfectly decent starlike point into a mottled disc that is often called an "orb" or a "lightship" or "mothership."

Many people send in or post photos with comments like:"I didn't see anything at the time, but when I uploaded it to my computer, there was this odd object..." Daytime photos like this are usually blurred birds or bugs (translated as "rods") while nighttime photos of tiny dots in a black sky could be literally anything.

Another category is that of moving points of light in the night sky that sometimes appear in clusters. While the ones that move in twos or threes in the same direction are possibly satellites, there are many cases where clusters of 5, 6 or 10 or more move together, or in disparate directions. Birds can be explanations for some of these, especially daytime observations where white dots seem to "play tag" with one another in the sky. But there are some cases for which that explanation does not seem to be viable. What these might be is not clear.

An interesting set of cases involve daytime or nighttime observations of "slow-moving rockets" in the sky. There are several photos and videos taken of these every year, and TV news often features them in "Weird News" segments. Most are probably not rockets at all, but contrails of high-altitude aircraft caught by the setting Sun. This is borne out by the fact they often appear at dusk.

Beyond all those, there are cases in which witnesses report seeing structured craft that do not appear to be conventional aircraft. There are cases of multiple witnesses reporting unusual objects, including cases where witnesses are pilots or others familiar with aircraft.

The biggest problem with ufology today (if I had to pick just one) is that most UFO reports are never properly investigated. Sure, there are hundreds of new cases listed each month on various UFO websites, but in most instances, that's about as far as it goes. This is not a fault of the webmasters; it is a problem with investigation.

Back in the "good old days" of ufology, UFO groups garnered members by the bucketload every year. These members received newsletters (by snailmail), attended meetings, studied UFO investigation manuals and took tests to become "qualified investigators." If a UFO sighting was reported to a UFO group, they would immediately notify a nearby member/investigator and the witness was soon interviewed and details sent to other members of the group. APRO, MUFON and CUFOS were particularly good at this. In the 1970s and 1980s it was not unusual to visit a police station or sherriff's office and see a CUFOS sticker or MUFON logo on the blotter or switchboard.

But who investigates UFO reports in person anymore? Except for some major case clusters or events like Stephenville or O'Hare, most UFO reports are noted on websites and that's that. MUFON, the group still training new investigators, has far fewer of them around.

Because, let's face it: UFO case investigation takes time and labour and is much less glamourous than Mulder and Scully made it look. Several times during the past three decades, I have agreed to let some well-intentioned UFO buffs who had been pestering me to help me in some way become "interns" to go and investigate reports that came in. Their first missions were well-written-up and detailed, even though they may only have been simple nocturnal lights. Their second and third investigations were pretty good, too. By about the fifth or sixth, they were getting tired of chasing stars and planets and fireballs and aircraft. None lasted beyond about the seventh UFO reported.

So most UFO reports that we hear about on websites or on blogs or on TV newscasts are never properly investigated. A few emails and phone calls may be exchanged with a witness at best, but rarely is a case attended in person by an investigator. One reason is because the number of cases reported each year has risen to the point where it is impossible for a single person to adequately investigate cases. It is especially true when UFO witnesses are very long distances away from the webmasters, who in some cases are one-man operations. Peter Davenport admits he is overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases reported to him, but he does accept help from time to time.

Nevertheless, most UFO sightings are reported by witnesses online and appear as narratives that in most instances lack adequate details to assess them. In Canada, where the 950+ cases in 2010 mean UFO report numbers continue to increase, it does not mean that the quality of the reports are increasing as well. In fact, as the number of reports increases, the overall quality of the cases decreases because fewer are being properly investigated. Technology and social media have stripped ufologists of the ability to effectively investigate UFO reports.

If there is some good news, it is that because the majority of UFO sightings seem to have simple explanations or possible explanations based upon key characteristics noted in the narratives, the number of "good" cases may float to the top of the milk and can be skimmed off. It still means that most cases are never investigated, but it may mean that the really interesting cases can get attention.

Of course, the other thing that may happen is that a truly good case may not be recognized as such because what little information as was posted was not enough to indicate its actual importance.

Having said all that, my next blog post will list my "Top Ten Most Interesting Canadian UFO Reports of 2010," based on available information and intuited criteria.


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