Friday, July 15, 2005
Winning the Ufological PR Battle
Ufology in general is lousy at marketing itself. This is particularly true of ETH proponents.
Despite the fact that the majority of Americans (and Canadians, etc.), in poll after poll, state that they (a) are convinced there is life on other planets, and (b) are convinced there is something to the UFO phenomenon, ufology has failed to make any significant dent in the public consciousness.
I’m not talking about science fiction programs like the X-Files, or Roswell, or movies like War of the Worlds or Close Encounters of the Third Kind – I’m talking about serious, sustained public interest in the UFO phenomenon.
Instead of seeing opportunities, ufology sees conspiracies, and enemies. Instead of trying to find common ground with the mainstream, particularly the scientific community, ufology attacks them for not doing enough. Instead of a bird in the hand, ufology wants two in the bush, and a third in the field.
In short, ufology has an abysmal record at public relations.
Nowhere was this more evident than in ufology’s response to the ABC News special Seeing is Believing a few months ago. In short, ufology blew it. There were exceptions, of course, but for the most part all you heard was the same old whining and moaning about the “corrupt mainstream media” screwing ufology yet again - accompanied by what surely must be the world’s smallest violin.
Real potential for a positive step forward... and instead we got "Peter Jennings is a tool of the conspiracy of silence." [I paraphrase]
Last week, as another example, Larry King Live featured a program on UFOs, where the pro-UFO guys outnumbered the sceptics 2 to 1. What have we heard, by and large?
Carping about Seth Shostak (pictured above)!
It’s popped up again after a short article by Shostak appeared on the Internet today wherein he discusses the King program, and UFOs in general. Most ufologists who have referenced it have done so by attacking Shostak as, basically, an “idiot.”
Not exactly how one “wins friends and influences people.”
Even if you really do think Shostak is an "idiot," you don't win any points with people by saying so publicly. Sure, you'll please your "base," but you'll alienate everyone else.
Compare and contrast, folks.
Shostak sounds reasonable (whether what he says is reasonable is irrelevant). People who attack him don’t.
Who do you think the general public is going to listen to?
Here’s how the response should have gone if you happen to be an ETH proponent (I offer this as a free public service to ufology, with the caveat that it's not how I would do it):
SETI scientist Dr. Seth Shostak and UFO researcher Stanton Friedman agree - "UFOs are real; Space Travel possible"
Senior SETI astronomer Dr. Seth Shostak, following his appearance last week on Larry King Live with noted UFO experts Dr. Bruce Maccabee, former NASA and Boeing engineer John Schuessler, and others, released a statement today in which he says UFOs are real.
“Several recent television shows have soberly addressed the possibility that alien craft are violating our airspace,” stated Dr. Shostak. “Pilots, astronauts, and others with experienced eyes and impressive credentials have all claimed to see odd craft in the skies. It’s safe to say that these witnesses have seen something.”
While UFOs may be real, Dr. Shostak is not convinced that they are aliens visiting Earth.
However, he is convinced that there is almost certainly alien life “out there.”
“There’s clearly, to my mind, enormous probability that there’s life out there, even intelligent life,” he stated on Larry King Live.
While he is extremenly sceptical, Dr. Shostak did not completely rule out the possibility that some UFOs could be spacecraft from another world.
“Despite heated discussion by all concerned,” he noted, “let’s admit that interstellar travel doesn’t violate physics.” Although it is beyond our capabilities at present, he said, “It’s possible.”
Canadian nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman, an experienced UFO researcher, agrees with Shostak.
According to Friedman, if we look at just our local ‘cosmic neighbourhood,’ the odds are pretty good that there is life within travelling distance. “There are about 1,000 stars within 54 light years of earth – a mere walk down the block by galactic standards. Of these, 46 are estimated to be very similar to our sun, which means they are likely to have planets.”
Dr. Shostak pointed to a poll released in May 2005, which showed that most of the respondents think that extraterrestrials would be more advanced than us. “Well, of course, any extraterrestrial signals we might detect are very likely to come from societies that are, indeed, more technically advanced than our own,” stated Dr. Shostak.
Friedman, who has written several papers on the subject of UFOs and physics, concurs with Shostak and the poll respondents, even as he explains that we have to keep things in perspective.
“Of course, they wouldn’t be using chemical rockets, like we do. But if their civilisation is even one hundred years more advanced than ours is, who knows what kind of technology they have developed? Remember, our own scientists are already starting to examine the possibility of using things like worm holes for space travel. Just think of what aliens might have come up with if they have a thousand year head start on us.”
Friedman also points out that several scientific studies have shown that there are a large number of UFO sightings that simply cannot be explained by conventional means.
“The Condon study, conducted in 1968 for the United States Air Force, was one of the most thorough scientific studies of the UFO phenomenon ever,” noted Friedman. “When they were finished, they couldn’t come up with an explanation for thirty per cent of the cases they examined.”
Friedman notes, “if you got a hit thirty per cent of the time in the Major Leagues, you’d be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
He then points to the RB47 case, from 1957, as one of the many excellent sightings of which the public is largely unaware, but which indicates that the UFO phenomenon is definitely real.
“On July 17, 1957, an Air Force RB-47, equipped with electronic countermeasures (ECM) gear and manned by six Air Force officers, was followed by an unidentified object for a distance of over seven hundred miles and for a time period of one and a half hours, as it flew from Mississippi, through Louisiana and Texas and into Oklahoma. The object was, at various times, seen visually by the cockpit crew as an intensely luminous light, followed by ground radar, and detected by ECM monitoring gear aboard the RB-47. Of special interest in this case are several instances of simultaneous appearances and disappearances on all three of those physically distinct “channels,” and the rapidity of maneuvers beyond the prior experience of the aircrew.”
“The Condon Report classed it as unidentified,” explains Friedman, “and it remains an unsolved case to this day.”
On the Larry King Live show, Dr. Shostak noted that the late Dr. Carl Sagan once stated that “extraordinary claims require pretty convincing evidence.”
Friedman agrees. “Carl was absolutely right,” he says.
But he adds, “The evidence is there for all to see. It’s time we took a real look, with an open mind.”
END OF STATEMENT
Note – Dr. Shostak’s statements quoted above are taken verbatim from the Larry King transcript, his article today at www.space.com, and a blog post at http://blogs2.nationalgeographic.com/extraterrestrial/. Stan’s are an amalgam of various statements he’s made over the years, except for the RB47 synopsis, which is taken from Dr. James McDonald's analysis of the case.
This is called “framing the message” folks, and it’s part of the very real public relations effort that ufology needs to get serious about if it ever wants to be taken seriously beyond its own limited ranks.
The debunkers have been very good at it over the years. Whether you believe it or not, they are winning the struggle for hearts and minds, which involves more than getting someone to answer “yes” in the occasional public opinion poll.
It’s time ufology got in the game, too.