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Leave UFOs and aliens to scientists

The Pentagon has just reignited the debate over unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and extra-terrestrials (ETs) by admitting that it funded a secret program on UFOs from 2007 to 2012. The very fact that the Pentagon spent $22 million on a program that only a handful of people were told about was enough to imply, in the minds of the predisposed, that there is ample truth to the claims of alien spacecraft sightings. To justify its deed, the Pentagon released a few video recordings from aircraft cameras that showed strange objects hovering or flying fast.
UFOs must not be equated with ETs. The former simply refers to any strange object that was seen to fly but could not be identified. Often the object turns out not to even be flying — sometimes it is a balloon made of highly reflective material, a military plane, a new aerial instrument that is being tested, a satellite or some other, more mundane explanation. When people watch the sky without basic knowledge of celestial phenomena, UFOs and “alien spacecraft” are reported more frequently.
The first thing that needs to be clarified is that the Pentagon had run bigger UFO and ET investigations from 1947 to 1969. It collected and analyzed 12,000 claims (photographs, films and testimonies), but found nothing of substance and decided that money would be better spent on other projects.

The Pentagon should have given the $22 million it spent on studying UFOs and ETs to those who could guarantee that the subject and any investigation would be treated properly.

Nidhal Guessoum 

Ninety-five percent of all claims were explained as various balloons (meteorological measurements, scientific projects etc.), celestial objects, undeclared military missions or other Earth-bound activity.
Secondly, $22 million may seem like a large sum, and thus indicate great interest by the Pentagon in UFOs and aliens, but it is merely a drop compared to the total US defense budget (less than 0.01 percent of $600 billion).
Most importantly, a large amount of the $22 million went to private contractors, who “collected and analyzed the evidence” and — surprise — reported that “what was considered science fiction is now science fact.” But if it were, the investigators should simply have announced the findings and presented the “evidence” to the world, thereby making history.
Thirdly, and this is my main point, this kind of investigation should be assigned to scientists, not private contractors. Scientists have the proper methodology for studying such phenomena and assessing any evidence, whether photos and video recordings or, more importantly, metal alloys (it was claimed that alloys that had not been used by anyone on Earth were collected).
Just give all that to several teams of scientists, preferably from around the world, fund them adequately and let them conduct their analyses openly and transparently, all following the norms of scientific research, then report to the world.
It would then be great to organize one or several conferences where the scientists present their results and critique each other openly, with the participation of journalists and any officials (civilian or military) who might be interested. That would help diffuse the “conspiracy of silence” aura that surrounds the whole subject, as many people believe that the government is hiding evidence.
Even this kind of initiative might not silence believers in UFO and alien cover-ups, as I am sure scientists would still have some cases they could not explain. Some sightings or recordings are always very difficult to explain for one reason or another: The recording is too fuzzy, or it was not possible to determine all the circumstances surrounding that event (for example, the military conducted secret flights, or a private company did tests on that day).
That is normal in science — there are always cases that remain unexplained, not because they are out of this world, but simply because additional factors intervened that we could not determine and take into account. But even if not everyone were to be convinced, at least one could guarantee that the subject and any investigation would be treated properly.
Lastly, I want to nullify the argument that aliens probably exist and may have visited Earth just because scientists have discovered thousands of planets outside our solar system. We have as yet no knowledge of the probability of existence of any kind of life, whether primitive or advanced, beyond Earth.
The jump from “scientists have found thousands of planets out there” (we estimate the number to be in the billions in our galaxy alone) to “ETs exist and have visited Earth” is a quantum leap that makes no sense. We scientists are highly interested in the question of whether any aliens exist and have ever visited Earth. But we want to answer that question in the most rigorous way, without any preconceptions and far from secrecy or sensationalism.

• Nidhal Guessoum is a professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, UAE.
Twitter: @NidhalGuessoum