Summary: Consider: for the believers, they only have to get it right once. Every other incident in history can be a fraud or mistake. For the debunkers, well. . . . they only have to get it right every time.
How do we know something to be true or to exist? It is perhaps the most vexing of questions, with even philosopher Rene Descartes concluding that at a minimum, he knew he existed, because he knew he was thinking about the question. That he in fact existed was about all Descartes could establish for himself. The waters between science and philosophy become muddy as we think about this question and when it comes right down to it, we know very few facts as true absolutes. With absolute truths being rare, we instead usually deal with the practical "facts" that are relevant to our daily lives. Over time, we have tried to construct procedures for fact verification in various fields of human activity. The UFO mystery provides a good subject for examining how we decide we "know" something, as opposed to simply believing something. A little time reading the UFO literature and perusing the Internet establishes that while there are countless belief systems about UFOs, overall there seem to be two basic camps of people who spend some time contemplating the subject:
1. The proponents, who believe that there is enough evidence to conclude that the Earth is being visited by some kind of unknown craft, and
2. Those who maintain that the proof for the unknown craft hypothesis is lacking. Not satisfied with merely rebuking the claims of the proponents, this camp actively tries to color the entire subject as a fringe topic.
Ironically, the goal of my work is somewhat parallel to that of the debunker. As a criminal defense attorney, I am presented in each case with an allegation or theory. It is my job to challenge that theory. I must try to "debunk" it; show how the witnesses might be unreliable, or the forensic evidence tainted. I may have to show how the obvious, easy conclusion arising from a fact pattern doesn,t look so obvious after careful thought and analysis. It sure sounds like debunking!
Both the debunker and the defense attorney are faced with allegations or a hypothesis, and it is their job to defend the "status quo". For the debunker, that status quo is a worldview skeptical of visits from presumably interstellar travelers, and for the defense attorney the status quo is represented by the presumption of innocence.
There are some profound differences. My "debunking" work happens in a context designed for dispute resolution. First, there are rules that control what evidence is admitted into the debate. These are called the Rules of Evidence which were designed and modified over centuries with the goal of admitting only the more reliable, credible evidence.
Second, there is a "trier of fact"; either a judge or a jury that will make the final decision on the proposition.
We should note a dynamic that exists in criminal justice that may also be at work in the UFO debate. In reality, good defense lawyers make for good police work. Lawyers sometimes win cases because police work was sloppy, or records not kept, assumptions made, or shortcuts taken. For example, perhaps the police entered a house and found evidence of a crime, but failed to obtain a search warrant. The case gets dismissed on a defense motion to suppress the evidence. How does this lead to better police work?
That cop, and probably many others, will not make that mistake again. Their next case will be fully documented, and they will obtain a search warrant before they enter the next house. The police know that the defense attorney will carefully scrutinize their case. Ultimately, this leads to more convictions as police polish their skills at careful case building. The same dynamic exists in UFOLOGY. Investigators know that debunkers are waiting to look for weaknesses. In may be that good debunking will eventually lead to the carefully investigated case for UFOs that will establish their reality for the world.
The UFO dispute exists in the absence of a trier of fact or rules of evidence. Many debates on the subject are never resolved because of these absences. We struggle to demonstrate that this or that fact is sufficiently proved; there is little resolution because there is little structure for the debate, no agreement on the standard of proof and there is no judge; no one to make the final call. The debunkers take full advantage of this by assuming that they should set the standards of proof, and that they adhere to them. They pretend that this is a purely scientific question and that there are two acceptable levels of proof:
1) a level of "proof" sufficient for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and 2) absolute physical proof, preferably in artifact form. The data that exists is then often summarily dismissed as failing to meet either standard. Out of all the areas of human endeavors and quests, the debunkers "premiered" the "absolute proof" test for the UFO phenomena. A brilliant move, really, to somehow establish that absolute proof must be attained before a topic gains enough respectability to be seriously discussed.
The very nature of the UFO phenomenon renders the standards espoused by the debunkers inappropriate; an elusive and unpredictable phenomenon that appears to value its own unknown status, and a government with a proven history of lies, secrecy and hypocrisy on the subject. Does the nature of the UFO phenomenon lend itself to the scientific method as traditionally applied, ala laboratory test? Can we perform experiments and then have others try to duplicate the work? Most often not, and we all knew that going in. The cry from the debunkers about the lack of such an approach has a hollow, circular ring; they claim the evidence isn't verified scientifically, while likewise claiming that the existing data doesn't warrant a scientific approach. They can't have it both ways, and common sense dictates that the advancement by the debunkers of the absolute proof and peer-reviewed standards is a bit disingenuous. It appears designed to further an erroneous public impression that there is no credible data supporting the existence of UFOs.
As a side note, the claim of lack of evidence of manipulation or conspiracy by the government is also galling. It is hardly unreasonable to assert that somewhere, in the deepest, most secret rooms of the Pentagon, attempts to manipulate public belief on this issue are undertaken. Especially in a context of a government that refuses to declassify documents about UFOs while claiming they are of no significance. It is unrealistic to expect a standardized dispute resolution system for the UFO debate anytime soon. We can, however, take the first steps towards much needed structure for the discussion. Above I wrote about the debunkers, posture that only absolute proof would bestow legitimacy upon the UFO discussion.
Let's agree to settle that question. What exactly does constitute enough evidence to legitimize the subject and deem it fit for national discussion and study? What is the standard of proof? Who shall be the trier of fact? Sadly, there is no entity available to serve as a neutral trier of fact. For now, we shall have to settle with the court of public opinion. We can set a standard of proof, though. The "reasonable doubt" test, sufficient enough for human executions, is appropriate for the UFO debate. The debunkers may cry foul and claim that there is no substitute for the scientific method. Remember, we are establishing whether the subject is fit for national debate and study, not resolving the question in the ultimate sense. I'm also proposing that the burden of proof be placed on the UFO proponents, so any debunker arguments that this is a way out of the scientific method are not well taken. The reasonable doubt test is the most demanding test available from the justice system. If debunkers and UFO proponents could agree on a standard of proof, both parties would have taken a good step towards the establishment of protocols for UFO study.
There are rough times ahead for the debunkers. Let,s look at the pretend standards they have espoused. The fatal flaw is that the facts must adhere to their theories 100% of the time, or their entire worldview crumbles completely. There are no exceptions to this. They must argue, that in every case there was a misidentification, or fraud. Every single case. Every UFO with double rows of windows, sighted by pilots. Every UFO at a nuclear base. The dogfight over Iran. Paul Hill,s sighting. The military helicopter in Ohio bathed in green light and controlled by a UFO, corroborated by ground witnesses. Every single one of the unexplained incidents in Blue Book and Condon. The Brazilian cases. Every single abduction.
Bentwaters. Lonnie Zamora. Every single pilot, citizen, astronomer, astronaut, air-traffic controller, from every country in the world. Each incident ever reported in any manner anywhere. In each and every incident in which a human being observed what appeared to be a non-human, intelligently controlled craft, the observer was wrong, says the debunker. The debunker maintains that UFO sightings that appear to be unknown craft, have a 100% error rate, without fail.
That's a tough, one might say impossible burden for the debunkers. To have a worldview that demands to be correct 100% of the time, or else it all falls apart. To cover the bases, debunkers give unsolved cases labels like "leftovers" and "residue". This is intended to signal that they are just a small, expectable percentage of sightings with prosaic explanations that we just haven't figured out yet. To claim that the unsolved cases are simply the "residue" of all sightings is really a statistical sleight of hand used to make their worldview appear to have a stronger foundation than it really does. It arbitrarily chooses to include the unknowns as part of a category that includes all things humans see moving in the sky. Who made that decision? Those unknowns should be studied as a category in their own right, not dismissed as a statistical aberration of all sightings.
Consider: for the believers, they only have to get it right once. Every other incident in history can be a fraud or mistake.
For the debunkers, well. . . . they only have to get it right every time.