EDITORIAL:

Destigmatizing UFO research can bring needed clarity to Americans

Image

Laura Rauch / Associated Press file

In this April 10, 2002, photo, a vehicle moves along the Extraterrestrial Highway near Rachel, the closest town to Area 51.

The U.S. government is finally giving the subject of UFOs the serious study it deserves, which is a breath of fresh air after decades of efforts to explain away the phenomena and downplay legitimate concerns about it.

Here’s the stark truth about UFOs, stripped of their punchline status: While the history of these objects is replete with mistaken sightings, hype, hysteria and fraud, they’re also the source of legitimate issues that merit objective, science-based study.

Now, thanks in part to efforts by Nevada’s own Harry Reid, the Defense Department has expanded its investigation into UFOs. In addition to establishing a special task force, and publicly acknowledging its existence, the Pentagon has taken steps to destigmatize the issue by encouraging military pilots and others to report sights and by verifying images of UFOs from on-board cameras of Navy jet fighters.

In addition, a full government report on UFOs is expected to be released in June after being ordered in the 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act.

Reid, the former Senate majority leader, helped lay the groundwork for the efforts we’re seeing today by securing $22 million for UFO research that began in 2007. Reid’s interest in the subject was partly prompted by Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow, a passionate proponent of UFO study, and investigative reporter George Knapp.

“The science tells us that we have unidentified flying objects,” Reid told reporter C. Moon Reed for a feature published Sunday in the Las Vegas Sun. “Some can be identified because of weather and different things. But generally speaking, all these sightings are not explainable by credible evidence that we have. Where they exist, what they are — we don’t know yet.”

Reid is correct about these sightings.

As reported recently by The New Yorker, previous government studies found that 95% of sightings could be chalked up to simple misreporting — people coming to the wrong conclusions after seeing weather balloons, atmospheric phenomena, Venus or other bright objects in the sky, or formerly classified aircraft such as the Stealth bomber.

But that leaves 5% of sightings — which amounts to dozens and dozens of reports per year — without a clear explanation.

These include reports from military and civilian pilots, radar and satellite readings, and corroborated eyewitness accounts. Alarmingly, these unexplained objects have been sighted over the White House, near missile bases and airports.

John Ratcliffe, the former director of National Intelligence, put it this way during a recent interview with Fox News: “When we talk about sightings, we are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for, or are traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”

Serious observers stress that the topic of UFOs doesn’t necessarily require one to believe in visiting alien life. Sightings could be of craft built by rival nations using technology we don’t understand. Hence there is a national security interest in openly talking about credible sightings that can’t be explained.

Now it’s past time for the government to tell us what it knows — or what it doesn’t know — about these reports. The military’s history of being elusive and dismissive about the issue has created fertile ground for speculation and misinformation.

Are these objects coming from outer space? Are they advanced-technology weaponry developed by military forces?

We don’t know, but the new approach puts us on a much better path to finding out.

For far too long, scientists and others with rational concerns on the subject faced ridicule and career damage in coming forward. At best, they might be seen as well-meaning kooks who believed in “little green men”; at worst they might be labeled as delusional or paranoid.

That’s one reason the mainstream acceptance of UFO studies is so meaningful — it brings the issue out into the open and destigmatizes it.

Knapp, a longtime KLAS-TV investigative reporter who has devoted serious coverage to UFOs for decades, understands the value of the new approach at a personal and professional level. After enduring ridicule for his work, he’s relieved to see the issue come to the forefront.

“All the stuff that is happening right now, all of these stories that are breaking about UFOs in major media, trace their roots to Las Vegas. And that’s because of Sen. Reid,” he told the Sun. “It’s astounding. I never thought I would see this moment. I’ve been working at it for more than 30 years, plugging away on the UFO story, and it’s been a really long, lonely slog.”

How the new studies will turn out is anybody’s guess, but it’s appropriate that the subject is no longer being treated as a joke or a science-fiction fantasy.

It’s long overdue to turn an unbiased eye to the skies and try to learn what’s truly going on up there.