by Charles Lear
UFOlogy is a subject of study that exists in the middle of a struggle between science and pseudoscience. For those who are just looking for some entertainment in the form of reasonably plausible science fiction dressed up as reality, there is a plethora of material out there to while away your days of unemployment. This is pseudoscience and its adherents include the cast of “Ancient Aliens”, and many of the speakers who are out there on the UFO lecture circuit. Again, this is entertainment but what sort of damage it does to peoples’ minds and the culture at large is something to consider. How do you tell the difference between the quacks and the sincere and careful researchers?
To begin with you need to understand what science actually is and to do that it helps to actually immerse yourself in a particular discipline. Say you have an interest in dinosaurs. When coming across a news article regarding dinosaurs, which often follow a published discovery, look for a link to the paper the article is based on. Often you’ll be able to access the full paper and learning how to read these is invaluable to understanding the scientific method and also to being able to sense when someone’s trying to push an idea with shaky evidence. A thing to look out for is excessive use of esoteric language in an attempt to beat the reader into submission to the writer’s genius.
This is where peer review comes in. Before a paper is published in a reputable scientific journal, it must be peer reviewed. Peer review is where others in the field scrutinize the paper to determine its validity. All papers start with an abstract that summarizes the reason for the study, the methods employed, findings from data analysis and conclusions. The abstract is followed by the body of the work which includes an introduction, materials and methods used, data analysis and a conclusion. The reviewers should be able to duplicate the study and come up with the same results. If the study is flawed it will be rejected.
The wonderful thing about science is that it is not dogma. Even though an idea may be called a “law”, as soon as someone is able to convincingly argue against the idea it no longer stands. This is where pseudoscientists stumble. They argue that “mainstream” science has a set of ideas that don’t allow for an alternative view- point. All a person needs to do is present a convincing argument that can stand the test of scrutiny and that argument will be accepted among the scientific community.
Therefore, the biggest tip-off that the person you’re listening to is a pseudoscientist is the use of the phrase, “mainstream science.”
A method pseudoscientists use to draw their audience in is to reference actual science, lull them into a state of trust, and them lead them down their version of the rabbit hole. Quantum physics is often referenced and that’s another sign that you might be dealing with a huckster. Quantum physics is strange but actual scientists are using it with tangible results and learning more every day. A passing knowledge of physics is no license for wild speculation. Real scientists will be able to cite a specific, published study to support their argument.
So, if you’re seriously interested in exploring the aspects of the UFO phenomenon that aren’t just speculation, unfounded claims or outright hoaxes, pick a less elusive subject of study and train yourself. Truth is stranger and more wonderful than fiction and being able to experience that is a blessing that is the reward of sincere study and diligence.