Monday, April 02, 2007

UFOs: Wave Babies?

There is no question that UFO sightings over the decades seem to have come in what are known as "waves", which is to say that focused periods, usually several months to perhaps a year or two, yield more reports than at other periods of time. Some commentators in the UFO enthusiast community are suggesting that we are in the midst of one of these "waves" now.

Which leaves us with the question - if "waves" do exist, as they seem to, why do they exist?

Jacques and Janine Vallee addressed this question many years ago, in Challenge to Science: The UFO Enigma:

The development of a wave in any given country generally occurs independent of the happenings recorded elsewhere, news of which reaches the public of the country in question only much later. The newspapers are filled with reports once the interest of public opinion has been triggered by the first important cases, but it does not appear that there is any psychological influence of one country over another in this aspect. Frequently, as a wave develops, it is accompanied by an unusual occurrence, something of a "phenomenon" itself, in the press; the subject appears later and last longer in the newspapers than in reality; at first the press is slow to admit it; then it seeks to prolong its existence. (p. 105)

Looking at this analysis, one can examine the current "wave" (if indeed we are in the midst of one), and point squarely at the O'Hare airport sighting in November of 2006 as the trigger event. As the Vallees noted, at first the press (even the Internet UFO community) was slow to latch on to the case, but then it exploded in the mainstream media in January, where it lingered for a week or two. The ripple effects are still being felt, and there will probably be some sort of renewed interest when the NARCAP report is released.

Add to this the fact that 2007 is the major anniversary year for two very famous cases, Roswell (1947) and The Phoenix Lights (1997), which have already triggered media attention (as has the re-appearance of former Governor Fife Symington III), and you can see that we might be headed not just for a "wave", but a UFO tsunami in 2007. The advent of the Internet has added an extra level of exposure to these events that was not present when the Vallees wrote Challenge to Science.

The Vallees continued their analysis:

Naturally, both on the local and the global scene, a big story disturbs the law of variation; it encourages the witnesses of recent sightings to make their reports public, and, of course, it creates an ideal market for hoaxes of all kinds. (p. 105)

This effect can be expected to more pronounced in the modern era than it was when the Vallees wrote Challenge to Science, simply because the Internet makes the distribution of both witness accounts and hoaxes and frauds much easier (see the Serpo hoax, which achieved meme status quickly, and which some people still think was either real, or some form of disinformation).

The key, as the Vallees were quick to point out, is to distinguish the "signal" from the "noise".

For example, while one might think at first blush that UFOs "waves" are important events, and point to them as a sign of an impending "revelation" (as Whitley Strieber has recently done), they are giving in to the "noise" when they do so.

To use a sports analogy, hockey became much more popular in Los Angeles when Wayne Gretzky was traded there back in the 1990s. Suddenly there was a true superstar in the city, and the media took notice. However, when Gretzky left, things went back to normal - a small fan base, and apathetic media, and a team that was going nowhere fast.

Gretzky was the NHL equivalent in Los Angeles of an O'Hare-type sighting - an event that triggers a paroxysm of interest that builds upon itself, but which cannot possibly sustain itself indefinitely. When memory of that incident fades, or has played out (or, as in Gretzky's case, moves on to another team), things go back to the status quo.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing, at least as far as the UFO phenomenon in concerned, because the sudden interest of the media can detract from the real research being done, usually behind the scenes by dedicated researchers and investigators most people of whom the vast majority of people are unaware, even within "ufology". They don't get distracted by the "noise" (which is - thanks to the Internet and radio shows like Coast 2 Coast more like tinnitus these days) because they understand that it is the "signal" itself which is really important - and the "signal" is there, year in and year out, regardless of whether a major case spawns a "wave" that captures the attention of the general public and the mainstream media for a short while.

After all, there's still NHL hockey in Los Angeles, years after Gretzky moved on. It might not be great hockey these days (the Kings had a lousy year in 2006-07), but its still there, with a small but loyal group of fans, and some good young players, working away at building a team that may one day make another run for the Stanley Cup.

And they still have the memories of the day when the plucky Kings, through hard work, grit and determination to not give up, came back from a 5 - 0 deficit after two periods in the Stanley Cup playoffs to beat... Wayne Gretzky and the mighty Edmonton Oilers!

So too the serious study of the UFO phenomenon.

Paul Kimball


Anonymous said...

I think if aliens played spaceball with chickens, they would hit a lot of "Fowl" balls!


Anonymous said...

Ancient literature was filled with reports about non-existent humanoid monsters, once the interest of public opinion was triggered by the first important cases documented by Pliny the Elder and Marco Polo. Christopher Columbus later fell victim to one of wave of humanoid monster mass delusion/hysterias so that when he arrived in America, he "inquired again and again" with every native he met about what humanoid monsters they had "seen", and documented those interviews (WHAT COLUMBUS 'SAW' IN 1492, by Bernard Cohen, Sci American, Dec 1992).

The 1938 HG Wells broadcast of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was the first important trigger case for a mass panic attack in America. Later waves of localized versions of the WAR OF THE WORLD broadcasts in other countries had similar effects, such as the 1944 re-broadcast in Santiago, Chile and a February 12, 1949 re-broadcast in Quito, Ecuador (

Clearly we can say the same thing about most mass hysterias/delusions as we can about UFO waves, including their localization, the all important trigger case, the press being slow to admit it at first then seeking to prolong its existence, and so on.

The UFO "signal" is always there, and the message it is broadcasting to the world is, "We are looking for a few gullible, ignorant, or naive individuals who will believe anything we tell them". The signal is buried in the noise between the waves, waiting to be resurrected by any grocery store tabloid-like report that comes along, telling its tall tale of yet another alleged UFO that has left behind absolutely no physically real evidence that it ever existed. This is why UFOlogy should be called, "the study of nothing", because that is exactly what it is -- the study of nothing. Afterall, how can someone "study" something that only exists in their (poorly thought out) imaginations?

binnall said...

I'm sure I'm peeing into the wind with this, but I'd like to see Ufology actually harness that media interest and overall "wave" to advance itself.

Serious question : Are we actually seeing an up-tick in UFO sightings the past three months or is this just an up-tick in media awareness ?

I ask because I don't hear of the kind of public interest that there was in previous waves of actual sightings.

What is the "hockey" you speak of ?

Paul Kimball said...


Sad. Just sad.

You sound like one of those guys who tried to be a "ufologist", but couldn't get anyone to listen, so now you attack with bitter invective.

Again... sad.


Make sure I'm upwind when you do it.

Paul Kimball

Doc Conjure said...

The problem is that people are using the wrong paradigm in order to attempt to comprehend what may be occuring.

Throw away all labels such as wave, flap, or 'window', and replace them with new paradigms implying a more simpler explanation. For example, how about refering to it as 'exercise'? How does this new paradigm open our ability to both percieve and comprehend this phenomena differently? (Perhaps even more thoroughly too.)

-Jason Gammon

Carol Maltby said...

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of Isamu Noguchi's maquette of Sculpture to be Seen from Mars (AKA Monument to Man).

The 1947 study was a model for a proposed earthwork of a giant stylized face looking up from the ground. Its tetrahedral nose was planned to be a mile long. Noguchi feared that the human race would be ended by nuclear war, and wanted to let later visitors know that there had once been a civilized species on this planet. The sculpture was never built.

Carol Maltby