My musings about “Contact with Aliens? Think Before You Call”

Recently Dr. Seth Shostak, SETI Institute’s senior astronomer, wrote a very good article, about what you should know before sharing or assert that you have extraordinary evidence, either photos or testimonials about aliens and similar topics.

I took the liberty to translate that article to Spanish, which can read full here, but in this – my blog – I would like to emphasise a list of frequently asked questions, used to take a moment and think about things, before heading out to the street claiming that we there is evidence that aliens are among us.

Here is an abstract of Seth’s article:

I would like to offer an FAQ service for those who would call or write with extraordinary claims. These are things to avoid, or at least be aware of, before you reach for the phone or open your laptop:

1. Don’t assure me that you have unique proof of aliens on Earth. Everyone says that. It’s a red flag. So just tell me what the evidence is.

2. Don’t ask me to travel to see the evidence. Write it up, or photograph it.

3. Don’t expect me to “finish the analysis for you.” Newton didn’t ask someone else to work out the details of classical mechanics once he saw an apple fall.

4. If you’ve got mysterious objects in photos, check with a photographer friend first. Most of the supposed “otherworldly craft” I’ve seen on photos are either good candidates for airplanes or are well-known camera artifacts, such as internal reflections in the lens. If your evidence is no more than a bright blob in a photo, it’s totally ambiguous and won’t convince anyone.

5. Keep in mind that there are organizations that specialize in investigating UFO sightings and similar events. MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network) has a button on its home page where you can report a sighting. Most academic and research organizations are unlikely to help you much. They don’t have the time, money or requisite background.

6. Don’t send e-mails to everyone you can think of, including the current occupant of the White House, the Pentagon, NASA and all the experts you’ve seen on TV – unless it gives you satisfaction to pad their spam folders.

7. If I sound skeptical, please don’t tell me “I know what I saw!” Everything you see is filtered through your visual system (imperfect) and your brain (also imperfect, despite what your Mom told you). Witness testimony is the worst kind of evidence in science.

This list, quite specific and concise, is nothing more than the application of common sense and critical thinking, not just for cases like this – claims of contact or UFO sighting – but for all cases in which we stumbled upon things which our minds cannot identify, however, we need to assign an explanation without having something that supports our argument.

For instance, how many times we have forgotten where we left the keys? or how many times you failed to understand what someone has told you, or vice versa, how many times you have said something and the other person has understood something different?

This is because the perception of our senses is imperfect, and also the way in which information enters and is interpreted in our brain also suffers from many errors; Hence the saying “Err humanum est”.

Knowing this, one must be aware that what we see, feel or hear- what we perceive may be very different from what is actually happening. Our senses can deceive us, we must be humble and accept that we can be wrong, even if we are completely honest with what our brain and our bodies “tell us” that is happening.

It is curious that, eye witness, is one of the accepted elements to determine guilt or innocence, in legal cases; but in science, these are the weakest elements of evidence that can be.

But this should not be reason to deny that something extraordinary can truly happen, which is important to share with the scientific community. The emphasis here is on that – if you witness something -you should know how to collect evidence that can be taken seriously, by persons who have knowledge and experience in the field related.

First, in all honesty, be the “Devil’s advocate” against yourself. Try to prove that what you saw or lived (or photographed), could be due to an error in your perception or your instruments (in the case of cameras, errors inherent in the device). This is something extremely difficult to achieve, that one can honestly try to demonstrate that one has been wrong; but the result -if you pass these tests- will give you the satisfaction to be able to rely on having more valuable evidence to support what you claim. In case that these tests are not passed, you will have the benefit of better understanding of what are the limitations and errors that both human body and equipment can have.

This is my musings about this. What do you think?

Thanks and keep in touch!



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