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UFO hearing: Pushing the frontiers of science with government data

Next week, a subcommittee in the House of Representatives is scheduled to hold the first open congressional hearing on unidentified aerial phenomena in more than half a century. Unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) has replaced the term unidentified flying object (UFO) — and with it the observed phenomena are being viewed more as data. At this upcoming hearing, my sincere hope is that the following question will be asked: Can we get the highest quality UAP data to scientists who will analyze it methodically and quantitatively?

As noted in the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released in June 2021, UAP data is rarely discussed openly because “sociocultural stigmas and sensor limitations remain obstacles to collecting data on UAP… reputational risk may keep many observers silent, complicating scientific pursuit of the topic.”

The responsible approach of scientists should be to attend to new evidence as unusual as it might be and adapt to its implications irrespective of how challenging they are. It is common practice for experts to raise dust and claim that they cannot see anything. After all, they are being rewarded for mastering knowledge from past data and not for their willingness to admit ignorance on new facts.

What we regard as “ordinary” are things we are used to seeing, such as birds in the sky. But digging deeper into the nature of ordinary matters suggests that they are rather extraordinary. Humans were only able to imitate birds with the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903.  Similarly, what we regard as “extraordinary claims” are often based on societal conventions. We invest major funds in the search for the nature of dark matter that has minimal impact on our society, but minimal funds on the scientific study of UAP, which could be much more impactful. As a result, the lack of “extraordinary evidence” is often self-inflicted ignorance. We might figure out the nature of UAP before we understand dark matter, if we would only be brave enough to collect and analyze UAP data publicly, based on the scientific method. 

The common goal of the scientific community, should be to eliminate the term “unidentified” from our lexicon. Much of the history of physics is about the pursuit of knowledge about items that initially appear “extraordinary” and later become “ordinary.” Quantum entanglement appeared to Albert Einstein as extraordinary, but is now part of the daily vocabulary of engineers designing quantum computers. The notion of non-universal space and time in Einstein’s General Relativity was initially disruptive to the mainstream view of the physics community, but it is now employed for precise navigation by taxi-drivers who routinely use global positioning systems (GPS).

We should seek evidence-based knowledge without being boxed by our egos, emotions or national security traps. This is my wish for the congressional hearing next week.

Here’s hoping that the USG will continue to advance the scientific frontiers of our knowledge. Future cooperation between government and science will help us understand the unknown. And exploring the unknown is the spiritual light that illuminates our journey in search for knowledge on destinations far away from the familiar rock we call Earth.

Avi Loeb is head of Harvard’s Galileo Project, a systematic scientific search for evidence of extraterrestrial technological artifacts. Loeb is the founding director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative, the director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and he chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project. He is the author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.”


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