Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Full disclosure

So now, a bunch of conspiracy theorists calling themselves the Paradigm Research Group have presented the White House with a petition containing 17,000 signatures demanding that the USA come clean about its knowledge of aliens.

The petition said that its signatories were asking that the government "formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race and immediately release into the public domain all files from all agencies and military services relevant to this phenomenon."

Well, if I were a government official, and I received such a petition, I can tell you that my immediate response would have been:  ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  I almost always have that reaction to people who think that X-Files: The Movie was a historical documentary.  It doesn't help that the name of their organization includes the word "paradigm," which I've found almost always indicates that the people involved either (1) have a tenuous grasp on reality, or (2) are involved in educational research, which frequently (3) go together.

But I digress.

What's interesting is that the petition garnered 17,000 signatures.  On their website, the PRG seems to feel that this is some kind of point in their favor, following the truth-by-consensus model - that the more people that believe something, the more likely it is to be correct.  You'll hear creationists using the same sort of argument, as if the fact that they have successfully convinced a significant percentage of Americans with their specious fairy tales means anything other than that people can be awfully gullible at times.  The PRG goes on and on about how the American people are demanding "full disclosure" -- in fact, there is a ticker on their homepage that says how long President Obama has gone without disclosing our contact with extraterrestrials.

And now the White House has responded.

Phil Larson, senior space policy and communications advisor to the president, sent the PRG a reply considerably more courteous than mine would have been:
The US government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race.  In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye.

Many scientists and mathematicians have ... come to the conclusion that the odds are pretty high that somewhere among the trillions and trillions of stars in the universe there is a planet other than ours that is home to life.  Many have also noted, however, that the odds of us making contact with any of them -- especially any intelligent ones -- are extremely small, given the distances involved.

But that's all statistics and speculation. The fact is we have no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth.
An AFP reporter who commented upon Larson's response wrote that this was a "blow to conspiracy theorists everywhere."  My feeling is: not really.  It's not like the "full disclosure" people are going to read this and go, "Oh.  Okay, then," and find another hobby.  That's not how conspiracy theorists operate.  Denial by the government is what they expected.  That a senior space advisor would respond at all means that he's hiding something.  And of course, there's always the tactic of picking apart what he said, looking for hidden information:  how do we know the distances involved, if we haven't been contacted?  If there's no "credible evidence," might there not be incredible evidence?  Ha!  We knew something was going on!

If I'd been the president, I'd have just told my senior space advisor to ignore the petition and advise me about something else, such as reassuring me that the asteroid that's making a near pass of the Earth today is not, in fact, going to play a cosmic game of Whack-a-Mole with Baltimore.  And then I'd tell him to pop the movie Contact in the DVD player, and get me a beer.  That's the kind of space advisor I'd hire, if I was president. 


  1. See now, if I were the president's science advisor snd he asked me to bring him a beer, I think I'd say, "That doesn't really advance your knowledge of science," and let him get his own damn beer, or send an intern for it, or whatever.

    I always think it's amusing that some people think the government capable of keeping huge, game-changing secrets for decades when they can't even run a secret prison for terrorists without there being photos all over the news.

  2. "The Date Which Most Closely Resembles Corduroy" (111111) approaches. The Wales are Aligning.