Thursday, January 17, 2019

Sometimes It's Just Con vs. Con

The History Channel's effort to dust off Project Blue Book was met with mixed reviews in the UFO community. In this post we'll look a little deeper into wider implications than the current argument about a television show. In doing so, we find a UFO genre - and arguably American culture at large - which does not expect individuals to possess neither the skills nor inclination to think critically. What's more, this is a long time staple of ufology.

Pro vs. Con

The argument about the dramatization of Blue Book files is basically split into two sides which hold opinions something like these:

Pro: The show is reaching a lot of people and increasing interest in the UFO topic.

Con: People will develop largely incorrect ideas about what took place during Blue Book because the show is not historically accurate on many important points. 

Con vs. Con

While this writer leans towards the con argument of the two positions listed above, a larger point worth considering might be that we tend to doubt the public will know how or even care to establish historical facts. It largely seems that people are not expected to significantly differentiate between a for-profit film production made for entertainment and a for-profit film presented as a factual documentary. Maybe that's because there often isn't much difference. When it comes to UFO media, the cable TV show often isn't particularly any more fictional than the so-called documentary.

We might consider the same about activities called research projects and studies undertaken in the UFO genre. All too often, the hype these studies receive is short lived, and the actual work published - if published at all - turns out to be underwhelming. Given that's the case, it's not difficult to understand why the credibility of paperbacks with dubious tales about alleged alien hybrids seem easily confused with papers containing scientific jargon. They each lack rational conclusions while leaving readers confused. They're kind of the same thing. One's no more credible than the other, and all too frequently they're assigned credibility due to subject rather than expected to achieve credibility through content.


Research Ethics

All of the above pretty much brings us to the topic of ethics in research. We frequently receive hearsay accounts of studies being conducted; academic research on UFOs; medical exams of witnesses; government agency work on UFOs, experiencers, and UFO debris; and many others. The list is long and winding. However, much less frequently are we provided details or even reasonably corroborating evidence of such projects. 

Research ethics exist for several reasons, including protecting the health and safety of human research subjects. Another important reason is to protect the integrity of the research. If certain protocols and norms are not followed, which typically include disclosing funding entities, project personnel, methods, and outcomes, the value of the work is in question. It is the adherence to such industry standards, and presenting proposed projects to review boards and completed project reports for peer review, that entitles work to be labeled as credible. We should not be afraid to expect transparency and we should not be intimidated into not asking for it. 

Lastly, the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, professional research and role playing games, as seen in ufology, may indeed simply be an aspect of a much wider cultural dilemma. Perhaps we should be more concerned about people taking an interest in rational problem solving than UFOs.


  1. What would ufology do if it separated fact from fiction?

    Alien skulls. Alien slides. Alien metal. Basagio at MUFON. Jacobs, Lamb, and proclaimed hybrids at the IUFOC. "Captain " Mark Richards. Without the con there would be no Cons.

    But while we should demand transparency, ethics, and proof, what does peer review mean in the context of this particular field?

  2. This is a wider topic than just UFOs and goes to the heart of the current issue of "fake news" and what people want to believe are credible information sources.

    The argument often is made that people don't have the time to research whether or not what is being reported to them as fact is 1) being reported by a credible source 2) being reported accurately or 3) a fabrication.

    I say that's bollocks. We've become so intellectually lazy we'd rather believe something bogus from a social media site or personal blog masquerading as something else than check another widely read, respected news source to see if it's also reported there. That takes almost no time at all with the ubiquity and speed of the Internet. Yet, despite spending countless hours online, we apparently don't have the time to double check there that what we're being told to believe is actually true.

    We want to hear, believe, and accept only what fits our preconceived world view. We can't be swayed by objective facts or sometimes even reality itself. At least that's what some researchers currently are saying.

    If that's true, it's doubtful any UFO shows, films, bogus research, or books are having an impact on anyone who doesn't believe in or rejects the idea of alien spaceships in the first place. Why? Because they ignore them, don’t take them seriously, or even just laugh them off.

    No, these materials are meant to reinforce the beliefs of the already faithful so that they'll continue to serve as a cash cow for the people and entities promoting and presenting them. It's not so much about making converts; it's about ensuring that those who wandered into the fold remain there to be milked some more.

  3. Valid points. As a public service let's add it's generally recommended to fact-check a story:

    1) Check who published it; who's behind the information?

    2) What evidence is presented?

    3) Check for multiple sources.

  4. Ufology has become entertainment. TV leads and the experts follow. I posted a $30k reward for medical or scientific evidence of aliens and the responses were laughable. People experience something but it is not what you've been programmed to believe....

  5. SPOILER ALERT!: It's just a TV show, it is not meant to be taken as factual!

  6. Lucas, I think all of us understand that it's just a TV show.

    There are a lot of things that affect people's perception even if they are presented as entertainment. Our perceptions of the phenomenon have changed since the days of the real Bluebook, in part due to the images that we have been given of aliens and UFOs through popular culture. Studies have shown that popular culture has perpetuated implicit and explicit bias through racial and sexual images - and there is no reason why a show like this would not have an impact on how we perceive UFOs.

    At this time I don't think entertainment can be separated from ufology. So a tv show may be just a show. But it also may be part of a larger world view that the History Channel perpetuates.

  7. All kinds of comments but the real reason why humans are less critical thinkers was left out: mental conditioning, with religion a base cause. All day long TV programming is aimed mostly at the mentally challenged who are their audience to buy questionable claims for a lot of products and services. Any authority figure can affect the weak mind. Religious believers use a lot of mental energy keeping its tenets which guide the person's actions and since religion is only myth, to believers it's the way to go. They can't help themselves as they cannot think critically. When UFOs made the scene in the 1950s, it was easy to question the claimed sightings and tales of aliens. Now, with increased gullibility as expressed in UFO forums, the UFO scammers are having a field day recruiting new suckers for whatever UFO-connected scam they produce. We have to keep in mind when negatively criticizing such shows as "Project Blue Book" that raise the creative edge that the promos don't say it's a documentary, expect that the producers of cons of all types are in it for the moment and profit, not as truth sellers. Correct any friend or family members who talk about the show(s) as if they accept what is presented as real. Show them how to be a critical thinker with proper guidance.