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.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

UFO vs. bird

Yesterday, we looked at what I consider to be a typical ghost report; today we'll look at a recent report of a UFO that, similarly, has features in common with most such claims.

According to a story released last Thursday, a man filming two odd, glowing orbs in the sky also caught on video a collision between one of the orbs and a bird.  The bird, which we would presume would have been killed on impact, goes hurtling off toward the right and is soon lost to view.  UFO aficionados have hailed this video as convincing -- stating that it would be "difficult to fake" (one site said "impossible," which I think is a serious overstatement), "evidence of surveillance by a highly advanced species," and "one of the best pieces of video evidence in the past few months."

(Take a look at the video here; the alleged bird collision occurs at 3:30.)

Okay, let's look at the points in favor of the video being authentic.

First, it's otherwise just kind of... boring.  One thing I've noticed, after watching lots of supposed UFO videos, is that fakers go out of their way to make the video cool -- hearing people react, having the UFO do amazing things.  (Remember the Jerusalem UFO video?)  Here, all we have is some guy with a hand-held video recorder tracking some lights in the sky.  The guy himself seems to be stoned; he doesn't even act like it's odd to be watching a pair of pulsating lights in the sky.  (All he says is, "Thar's one" and "Thar's two of 'em now" about five times each.)  When the alleged bird collision comes, he still doesn't even say, "Whoa" -- he tracks the falling object for a little bit, then goes back to the lights and saying "Thar's one."

Another positive point is the way the lights move relative to a jet contrail.  The movement of the objects looked realistic to me -- as far as that goes.

Now, some negatives.

Like with the ghost photograph from yesterday -- what do we actually have?  A video of some lights in the sky.  The lights have no detail at all -- nothing to indicate what they might be.  Even the alleged bird is just a bright point falling across the sky; we're too far away to see anything more.  So, even if we accept for the moment the possibility that the video itself isn't a fake, we're left with emphasizing the "U" in "UFO," and must rule out as an overconclusion that statement that we're under surveillance by a highly advanced bunch of aliens.

Now, could it be a fake?  Of course it could.  To say that I'm no expert in video editing is an understatement of mammoth proportions, but I have been assured by people who do know a bit about the topic that adding a couple of featureless lights to a video of the sky would be pretty simple.  (To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, "Photoshop probably has an 'Add UFO' function.")  Now, to be sure, most of the fakers get caught because it's nearly impossible to get everything right, and to fool folks who know what to look for.  Real objects have shadows, reflections, and other features that behave in known ways, and your average "Let's Make A UFO Video" hoaxer would have to be awfully smart to get all of that stuff exactly right.  (One of the strongest bits of evidence that the Jerusalem video was a fake was that the UFO, brilliant light source though it was, didn't seem to create a reflection from the gold-covered top of the nearby Al Aqsa Mosque.)

Interestingly, it's the simple videos that are harder to debunk.  Here, we have nothing but a pair of lights in a sky that's featureless except for the jet contrail, so there's nothing in the way of reflections or shadows that might clue us in.  However, there is one thing that crossed my mind while watching the video -- something that probably wouldn't occur to you if you hadn't already been primed to think that the glowing objects were what was moving.

What I noticed was that the two orbs aren't moving relative to each other.  Try watching the video again, and this time tell yourself that the jet contrail is what is moving, against a backdrop of a sky (with stars or planets) that is stationary.  Changes your perception of the whole thing, doesn't it?  Contrails move, just as clouds do, and the apparent motion of the orbs could easily be explained as motion of the only reference point we have -- the contrail.  And as for the bird -- well, it could be a bird, but I see nothing about its motion that convinces me that it struck one of the orbs.  It could just as easily be a bird flying past, who escaped the whole non-encounter without injury.

My vote: it's a video of two stationary bright lights in the sky, possibly Venus and Jupiter, which were quite close together in the sky on that date.  The jet contrail is what was moving, and the guys filming the lights were in a self-induced mental state that resulted in their thinking that four minutes of video of two motionless bright lights in the sky would be interesting.

And relative to UFO claims in general -- if I may conclude by quoting Tyson again:
I'm not saying we haven't been visited.  I'm saying that the evidence thus far brought forth does not satisfy the standards of evidence that any scientist would require for any other claim that you're going to walk into the lab with.  So next time you get abducted... you're there, you're on the slab, because you know how they always do the sex experiments on you when you're on the flying saucer, and so they're poking at you... here's what you do: you say to the alien that's poking you, "Hey!  Look over there!"  And when he looks over there, you quickly snatch something off the shelf.  You put it in your pocket, and then you lay back.  Then, when you're done, you come back, you say, "Hey!  Look what I got!  I stole the ashtray off a spaceship!"  And you bring that to the lab.  And then it's not about eyewitness testimony at that point, because you'll have something of alien manufacture.  And anything you pull off a flying saucer that crossed the galaxy is gonna be interesting.

1 comment:

  1. That Aliens would bumble about in our atmosphere to be unwittingly photographed, despite this notion that they want to remain secret, is laughably illogical.

    An "Advanced" race that can't successfully remain secret while attempting to survey Humanity and/or the Earth?! (irony alert)

    Aliens are anything but "Advanced" or "Supreme" in the hands of the woo-woo. I'm busy trying to construct fantastical day dreams about Alien life and I keep having to filter out all of this "UFO," "Greys," and "Close Encounters" crap so I can get fresh ideas. While I do enjoy me some X-files, the popular notions of extra-terrestrials have been on repeat for so long now that I find the subject of "your typical Alien visitation," mildly nauseating.

    Though, to be fair, there are some who are rightfully fictionalizing the subject from different perspectives: