Tuesday, December 04, 2018


"NASA scientist says UFOs are real" - or not

So, many UFO groups are excitedly posting links to news stories that seem to say NASA thinks UFOs are real.

The posts include links to media reports such as:

All the articles refer to one scientist working at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, Silvano P. Colombano, who published a speculative research paper at a SETI conference in March 2018.

The paper, titled New Assumptions to Guide SETI Research, was presented at the Decoding Alien Intelligence workshop that considered a multidisciplinary approach to "looking for life as we do not know it." Colombano is a computer scientist whose research mostly has to do with the design of robots that could be used in space and planetary exploration. But his paper suggested ways in which assumptions in mainstream SETI research should be challenged.

Like SETI advocates' insistence that: "interstellar travel is impossible," "radio waves are the standard for interstellar contact between civilizations," "carbon-based life is the most likely form of life in the universe," and "we have not been visited by aliens."

I won't go into the details of the other three, but it's the last one that UFO proponents have picked up on. Colombano was clearly engaging in a thought experiment, but he raised some interesting points. He specifically mentioned UFOs several times in his paper, but in a very cautious manner.

He noted: 
It seems to me that SETI has ignored (at least officially) the potential relevance of UFO phenomena for three reasons: 1) The assumption of extremely low likelihood of interstellar travel, 2) The very high likelihood of hoaxes, mistaken perceptions or even psychotic events in UFO phenomena, and 3) The general avoidance of the subject by the scientific community.
It should be pointed out that Colombano was not highly versed in ufology and was talking in terms that were somewhat "out of the box." But his assessment of the Tarter/Shostak dismissal of UFOs was fairly accurate. Interstellar travel is looking less attainable, given not only physical constraints but also economic and political issues, despite "teases" by groups like TTSA who hint they are developing new materials and propulsion systems based on their examination of alien artefacts.

Colombano instead recognizes the overwhelming amount of nonsense in popular ufology, and observes:
In the very large amount of “noise” in UFO reporting there may be “signals” however small, that indicate some phenomena that cannot be explained or denied.
So, he's not saying that the reality of UFOs can't be denied, but that somewhere in the mass of UFO data there may be some evidence of a real phenomenon. Whether we can recognize it as such is another question.

But he emphasizes this in one recommendation:
Consider the UFO phenomenon worthy of study in the context of a system with very low signal to noise ratio...
In other words, let's call a spade a spade. Most UFO reports are not UFOs at all, but IFOs, and that should be the starting point for UFO research. Jumping to conclusions about UFO sightings and claims should not be the avenue to be pursued (such as the "Baffin Island UFO" that recently received more attention than deserved).

Colombano recommends looking seriously at UFO data—after all, he's a computer expert. 
One of the recommendations made is to study UFO reports as a low signal to noise ratio phenomenon. Big Data Analysis could approach several existing data bases such as 130,000 pages of declassified U.S. Air Force documents, National UFO Reporting Center Database and several other international data bases.
At least he knows about Peter Davenport's work.

(And yes, I will unabashedly note the Canadian UFO Survey, too.)

Somewhere in UFO data, he believes, could be some information that could point to possible extraterrestrial contact. And of a form we might not expect.

He's not talking about "mother ships," mile-wide triangular crafts, or dime-sized bits of saucers found in a desert. And not about mummified alien hybrid babies, or a briefcase full of Moscovium, which decays in a tenth of a second into other elements.

He's talking about things we have yet to imagine, but we need to look at possibilities very seriously.


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