Do We Believe in U.F.O.s? That’s the Wrong Question

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falkor
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Do We Believe in U.F.O.s? That’s the Wrong Question

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We were part of The New York Times’s team (with the Washington correspondent Helene Cooper) that broke the story of the Pentagon’s long-secret unit investigating unidentified flying objects, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, in December 2017.

Since then, we have reported on Navy pilots’ close encounters with U.F.O.s, and last week, on the current revamped program, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force and its official briefings — ongoing for more than a decade — for intelligence officials, aerospace executives and Congressional staff on reported U.F.O. crashes and retrieved materials.

We’re often asked by well-meaning associates and readers, “Do you believe in U.F.O.s?” The question sets us aback as being inappropriately personal. Times reporters are particularly averse to revealing opinions that could imply possible reporting bias. But in this case we have no problem responding, “No, we don’t believe in U.F.O.s.”

As we see it, their existence, or nonexistence, is not a matter of belief.

We admire what the great anthropologist Margaret Mead said when asked long ago whether she believed in U.F.O.s. She called it “a silly question,” writing in Redbook in 1974: “Belief has to do with matters of faith; it has nothing to do with the kind of knowledge that is based on scientific inquiry. … Do people believe in the sun or the moon, or the changing seasons, or the chairs they’re sitting on? When we want to understand something strange, something previously unknown to anyone, we have to begin with an entirely different set of questions. What is it? How does it work?”

That’s what the Pentagon U.F.O. program has been focusing on, making it eminently newsworthy. And to be clear: U.F.O.s don’t mean aliens. Unidentified means we don’t know what they are, only that they demonstrate capabilities that do not appear to be possible through currently available technology.
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