Thursday, August 27, 2020

UFO Critical Thinking 101

We're often just not all on the same page when it comes to discussing UFOs. It might help if some of us interested in the subject read a little more material (or any material) on topics such as standards of evidence. It can get really tough to keep rational perspective if front loaded with tales of Core Stories and secret sources. This writer highly encourages integration of healthy skepticism into attempts to form opinions and beliefs, such as perhaps reading an article on critical thinking at least once out of every dozen or so clicks on a sensational UFO story link. So I wrote one! Please read on.

There are some widely recognized critical thinking questions to ask when we consider a person's point as presented in an article or during a social media discussion. A few of them:

What are the issue and conclusion?

What reasons are offered?

What are the assumptions?

Are there logical fallacies in the reasoning?

The answers to such questions should help us form reliable assessments of how much weight we should give the story. For instance, if a writer does not seem to state a pretty clear issue and conclusion, we're off to a really bad start! I jest, but there are actually a concerning number of articles on UFOs and paranormal topics that seem to meander and wind much more than they state particular purposes.  

If they seem to be fairly clear and systematic about their point, it is reasonable to question how they arrived at it. The more direct the route, the better. It's generally agreed that conclusions based on the least number of hypothetical scenarios have the strongest foundations. Another way to look at that is to say if their argument is based on hypotheticals, then it's an opinion, and you're entitled to hold an opposing one. Burden of proof is always on the claimant.

Sometimes we make assumptions when we don't even realize it. Assumptions are often mistaken as facts, but a few easy fact-checking techniques can quickly clarify. Sources should be provided for assertions, and they should be verifiable. Chains of custody of documents and similar such evidence should be readily available. If statements of assertions are attributed to other sources, then those sources should have verification of their claims and chains of custody for their evidence. While someone may thoroughly believe fragmented memories are indicative of alien abduction, it is, of course, an assumption based on many hypotheticals (as mentioned above).

Logical fallacies are patterns of reasoning rendered invalid due to flaws in their logical structure. These are bad. You don't want to find your latest book purchase full of 'em! A common logical fallacy is Ad Hominem, which is attacking the personal character of an individual rather than directly countering specific points of their work or argument. 

Another is Appeal to Authority, which is the other side of the coin from Ad Hominem. That's when a point is submitted based solely on the reputation of the source, with no regard given to verifying its authenticity. Just because the FDA said it, that does not exempt the statement from reasonable fact-checking. Same with PhDs about a vortex on a ranch in Utah (see above about lines of reasoning and number of hypotheticals required).

All of this leads us to the significance of standards of evidence. It's no wonder we can't agree on conclusions if we can't agree on the relevance of the information used to form them! 

Whether or not we agree to respect standards of evidence universally recognized by the professional research community, it is important to understand them. While we may be willing to entertain some of the more maverick and creative ways of exploring subjects of interest, we should know how far we might be veering from the established template. This allows us deeper understanding of why our ideas and research may be dismissed. It is also important to realize that if UFO researchers want to be embraced by mainstream science, which has been a battle cry for 70 years, they have responsibilities to at the least understand, if not conform to, scientific protocols and standards. Otherwise, don't complain your Pentagon boss isn't interested in your project.     

Like many people, I was interested in UFOs and related topics in part because I considered myself open minded. I thought there were things I might be willing to entertain that more rigid and dogmatic people would not. In hindsight, I think many of my beliefs about UFOs were formed in error, largely based upon incorrect information presented by those who package and traffic it. 

When exploring and discussing such material, nobody likes to be minimized and called stupid. We are all at different points in our UFO awakenings, and those of us who are sincere should be allowed the necessary room to grow. Mistakes happen. Misinformed opinions happen. Personal experiences are open to interpretation.

However, we should remain aware we can learn from both sides of the desk. If we want people to be tolerant of our beliefs and better understand why we embrace them, then we too can better inform ourselves why such people reject certain sources of evidence or hold it in low regard. It works both ways. 

It is through the process of effectively dissecting the collective UFO body of material in which we come to more stable terms with our beliefs, our hopes, and our fears. We learn about the world we inhabit and, ultimately, ourselves. I sincerely hope you find this blog a useful tool.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Michael! I'm glad you find it a worthy read.

  2. Good points here, just a couple of thoughts:

    I think one of the most important things about critical thinking is to gauge context and perspective of the presenter. Practice your theory of mind, and sometimes you might have to "suspend" thinking for a short while. Observe body language and speech patterns, for example. Also (again, just an example) overuse of superlatives and exaggerations are typically warning signs.

    In my opinion, you can't reject research just because it doesn't (fully) conform to accepted standards. Those standards can be flawed — especially when they're applied to subjects outside consensus reality. As valid and important as the scientific method is, it won't probably help with non-physical research without some adjustments. UFOs, consciousness and even AI are fields where scientist often find themselves hitting the wall.

  3. Jack - Quite an ambitious goal to encourage critical thinking in this particular field. Whereas critical thinking is an essential skill, it's incredibly difficult to teach.

    Critical thinking requires a higher level function and order skill that involves mastery of a particular topic. And just because one has a mastery of one domain does not equip that person in another. Transferring critical thinking is extremely difficult.

    For example - it is a mistake to assume that a person with a mastery of music must inheritantly be an expert in other fields, i.e. ufology.

  4. This is such a good post, and very helpful. Thanks, Jack.

  5. Thanks for your comments, everyone. I appreciate your interest, and thank you for taking the time to voice your thoughts.

  6. The foundation of critical thinking is the ability to distinguish between belief and fact. I've attended (at least before the pandemic) a UFO meet-up for a number of years. At each meet-up, I made a point of talking about testable evidence and the difference between fact and belief. At almost every meet-up someone would say, "I believe it's fact." Fill in the "it" with the standard array of beliefs held by most (not all) ufologists.

    I witnessed a geologist being accused of being a CIA spy solely because he suggested that it might be interesting to investigate the geology of an area where "mysterious" lights were often seen. The same people who believed this man was a CIA spy for absolutely no reason other than the one I've described enthusiastically believe Luis Elizondo no longer has any connection to the CIA simply because he's telling them (or, more correctly, implying) that which they want to believe.

    It reached the point where I attended simply to observe the development of a new religion.

    People who cannot reason critically are extremely vulnerable to manipulation.

  7. Thinking is the first step. Critical thinking is the second step. It seems to be a lost art, but it can only be enhanced with a full discussion - too often people define consensus as whether you agree with them.

    This is why I have long appreciated your blog.

  8. Excellent article, although please remember that while Ad Hominem had become synonymous with attack its rhetorical meaning also includes an argumentative appeal to a subject's beliefs and values