“Lie in the sky” (UFOs)

Over the millenniums, humans have made various guesses to try and account for unexplained aerial phenomena. Ancient Roman historian Livy speculated they were phantom ships. Some First Century Jews interpreted them as armed angels riding chariots. In Shakespeare’s day, they were assumed to be fairies, incubus, or witches taking flight on brooms.

Consistent with an evolving hypotheses, the prevailing suspicion over the last three-quarters of a century is that unidentified flying objects are of alien origin. More terrestrial conjectures have included top-secret projects, adversarial aircraft, or developmental civilian products. Objects mistaken for alien transport vehicles have included weather balloons, flares, sky lanterns, sun reflection, artificial light distortion, planets, meteors, satellites, swamp gas, and ball lightning.

While the great majority of strange sightings are explicable as being one of the previously-listed phenomenon, a tiny percentage remain a mystery. The problem arises when UFO enthusiasts plug their default ET explanation into any gap that does not fit these categories. These are unidentified objects, which means we don’t know what they are. Penciling in the alien answer is to commit a secular version of the god of the gaps fallacy. For while there have been countless reports of alien visitors and the crafts which transport them, none of these accounts have included a verified living creature, nor have we been able to examine their means of conveyance. No known extraterrestrials live among us, nor are any flying saucers housed in the Smithsonian. Believers have yet to produce a confirmed alien artifact, souvenir, implant, or DNA sample.

That is among the reasons that defaulting to extraterrestrials is a mistake. Metabunk founder Mick West serves as the skeptic community’s foremost UFO expert, each week scouring photos and videos of putative alien craft and offering conjecture based on math and science. His level-headed, in-depth analysis makes West a pariah among UFO enthusiasts. These detractors bypass reason and observation in order to launch ad hominem attacks, such as, “This threatens your world view,” “Your mind is so closed you can’t see what is obvious,” and, “You are going to look like such an idiot when aliens choose to make contact with us.”

If such contact is ever is made, it is unlikely to be done by an amateur enthusiast or serendipitous video-camera operator. Conspicuously absent among UFO sightings are any made by those whose job it is to keep track of the goings-on in the sky: Astronomers and military radar operators. Almost all of putative encounters with UFOS are reported by those without training in astronomy, atmospherics, aeronautics, physics, or optometry.

On a related note, if alien life is ever confirmed, it is unlikely to be in the form of a flying saucer landing and requesting an audience with our leader. Astrophysicist Katie Mack explained that the discovery would more likely be made by those in her field watching exoplanets orbit their stars. She wrote, “If we can directly image an exoplanet, or see it pass in front of its star, we can search the spectrum of its light for signatures of chemical balances that only biological organisms can produce.” Another possibility is detecting an electromagnetic signal from life elsewhere or encountering an alien civilization’s equivalent of Voyager. So if we reach each other, it will probably be this type of first contact.

And that may be the only type ever made. A species leaving from the nearest exoplanet and averaging 250,000 miles per hour – fast enough to reach the moon in an hour – would take 11,400 years go get here. This hypothetical journey also assumes managing the logistics of repair, refueling, medicine, and food, all while avoiding the perils of deep space. So aliens would need to travel at amazing speeds while keeping a sustainable population housed, fed, clothed, medicated, entertained, cooperative, and sustained, probably for millenniums.

Sure, they could have managed near-warp travel, may have found a way to utilize wormholes, or have perhaps achieved immortality. But those are all baseless conjectures supported by zero evidence and it requires the most desperate desire to believe to take one of those unproven notions, tie it to flashes in Earth’s sky, and deduce they are coming from interplanetary travelers.

“Lying saucer” (UFO sightings)

Michael Shermer has compared this year’s media frenzy over UFOs to a similar phenomenon in the late 19th Century. Back then, observers and newspapers reported sightings of mysterious airships, which were eventually determined to be dirigibles. Historian Mike Dash wrote, “Not only were they bigger, faster and more robust than anything then produced by the aviators of the world, they seemed to be able to fly enormous distances, and some were equipped with giant wings. The general conclusion of investigators was that a considerable number of the simpler sightings were misidentification of planets and stars, and a large number of the more complex the result of hoaxes and practical jokes. A small residuum remains perplexing.”

Today, as then, most sightings are explicable but a few go unexplained. Some jump to the conclusion that this means extraterrestrial visitors have arrived. But this is a leap so large it would require the existence of a wormhole it is surmising got the aliens here.


Even the most fervent UFO believers consider the great majority of aerial phenomenon to be the likes of weather balloons, flares, sky lanterns, secret military aircraft, sun reflection, planets, meteors, satellites, swamp gas, ball lightning, and so forth. All those were in a cattle call that UFO enthusiast Leslie Kean jotted off while writing about the phenomenon.


This made for a reasonable take until Kean meandered into this god-of-the-gaps like fallacy when addressing the one in 20 sightings that remain mysterious: “They probably are of extraterrestrial or interdimensional origin.”


She puts major emphasis on eyewitness accounts, considering them even more reliable if they come from a person in authority, such as Belgian Maj. Gen. Wilfried De Brouwer, who reported seeing “a majestic triangular craft with a span of approximately 120 feet and powerful beaming spotlights.”


Eyewitness accounts are one of the lower tiers of evidence and however much esteem the viewer has does nothing to alter this. Moreover, Kean alters the general’s words in these significant ways: The 120-foot craft becomes “huge”; “moving very slowly” becomes “can hover motionless”; “without making any significant noise” becomes “without making a sound”; and “accelerating to very high speeds” becomes “speed off in the blink of an eye.”


On another note, this year’s reports are seen as a glut of new information, but most are rehashed reports of each other and no one in the media, military, or government is saying that aliens have landed. All that has been called “real” are the videos, meaning they were actually filmed and are not fabricated or a hoax.

Here are the three hypotheses for what these UFOs are: 1. Ordinary terrestrial, such as what were outlined in the third paragraph; 2. Extraordinary terrestrial, i.e. Russian or Chinese spy planes employing physics beyond U.S. capabilities; and 3. Extraterrestrial. The three most widely viewed and discussed videos were filmed by infrared cameras mounted on jets and are known as “Flir1” (from 2004) and “Gimbal” and “Go Fast” (both from 2015).


Extraordinary work dissecting and analyzing these videos has been by Mick West at Metabunk. He describes Flir1 and Gimbal as what one would see if a jet were flying away from the camera, which would account for the eyewitness accounts that the object showed no directional control surfaces or exhaust. As to the object’s apparent saucer shape, West attributes that to camera lens glare.

The object appears to zoom almost instantly off screen, a motion that some interpret as displaying extraordinary speed and turning ability beyond the capability of U.S. jets. However, in the upper left of the screen, the camera zoom indicator doubles when the object shifts to the left. When West slowed video by half at that moment, the seemingly extraordinary becomes a standard maneuver.

Additionally, cameras can make objects look like they are making stunning turns, twists, dips, and U-turns. West wrote, “The supposed impossible accelerations, and eventual loss of tracking lock, were revealed to coincide with – and hence caused by – sudden movements of the camera.”

Then we have the “Go Fast” video, which purportedly shows an object with no heat source, meaning it would be powered by an unknown propellant. It appears to move impossibly fast just above the surface of the ocean. But when West employed trigonometry based on the numbers provided by the video image, he found the object flew at 13,000 feet and was likely a weather balloon travelling at 35 knots.

The most talked-about video is “Gimbal,” in which the object appears to skim effortlessly over background clouds then come to an abrupt stop and rotate in midair, apparently without the propulsion systems necessary to pull off such a maneuver. But spoilsport West noted when the Gimbal object rotates, background light patches rotate in perfect union with the object.

“Gimbal is very hot. It’s consistent with two jet engines next to each other and the glare of these engines gets a lot bigger than the actual aircraft itself so the aircraft gets obscured by the glare,” West wrote. “At the start of the video, it looks like the object is moving rapidly to the left because of the parallax effect, and the rotation was a camera artifact, and that the ‘flying saucer’ was simply the infrared glare from the engines of a distant aircraft that was flying away.”

West also researched the camera’s patents and found the gimbal mechanism to be responsible for the seeming rotation.

Now onto a more Earth-based explanation, that the objects belong to one of our Asian adversaries. The thought is that these flying menaces are Russian or Chinese drones, spy planes, or some advanced technology that the U.S. lacks.

Pilots and observers report these objects accelerate from 80,000 feet down to sea level in seconds and or make immediate turns and complete stops, or zag off horizontally at hypersonic speed, breaking the sound barrier without an accompanying sonic boom. Such a rapid acceleration and sudden stop and turn would be fatal to anyone onboard and the craft seem to do all this without a jet engine or visible exhaust.

All this is greatly beyond the scope of U.S. technology, which brings us historian Geroge Basalla and in his book, The Evolution of Technology. In this work, he explains that emerging technologies develop from either pre-existing artifacts or organic objects. He explained, “Any new thing that appears in the made world is based on some object already in existence.”

On a similar noted, Matt Ridely wrote in his 2020 book that innovation is incremental and occurs because of the exchange of information. He writes it “is always a collective, collaborative phenomenon, not a matter of lonely genius.”

That’s what happened with everything from steam engines to search engines. Countries and companies steal, copy, reverse engineer, and improve upon each other’s ideas and technologies. It is highly unlikely that a nation, corporation, or individual would discover the new physics or aerodynamics needed to create an aircraft that was centuries beyond known present technology. It would be akin to someone coming up with a smart phone before the telegraph.

Now onto the third possibility, diminutive emerald critters. The distance that would be required to reach our planet make ET the least likely answer. Furthermore, any species with the intelligence to design such a spacecraft and the desire to undertake a mission, would have come from a planet as doomed as ours is. They have only a few billion years to have life begin as a single-cell organism, evolve to a point of intergalactic travel, engage in such a journey, have a lifespan 100,000 times greater than ours, and find their way here. And once on Earth, they have to be satisfied not with getting out and exploring and attempting to make contact, but appearing in shaky, dark, and blurry videos.

“Sickly Minutes” (UFO sightings)

A 60 Minutes segment this month is being advertised as the government admitting that alien life forms are flying overhead, as well as low to the ground, and doing so by accessing a science beyond our means.


But what the government actually said was only that there are some objects we cannot identify. And a more sobering look shows the explanation to likely be terrestrial.


Writing for Scientific American, theoretical physicist Katie Mack notes that most persons in her field find it more likely than not that life exists on other planets. There are heavenly bodies that have liquid trapped under icy surfaces and which are heated due to their close orbit – a descriptor of Earth in the days when life emerged here.


But if life followed that same pattern elsewhere, did it evolve sufficiently to conquer interplanetary travel and be captured by shaky military cameras?


Light from the second-closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, takes four years to reach us. Mack calculated that it would require an uninterrupted journey of 70,000 years in mankind’s fastest spaceship to complete this trip. She wrote, “Whatever technology an alien civilization might have, it’s reasonable to assume they would take the short option first, and send an electromagnetic signal. Or perhaps they would build some large, obvious, electromagnetic radiation–absorbing structure in their own backyard.”


Even if such a species were disinclined or incapable of this cosmic shortcut, the distance seems prohibitive for an in-creature visit. Sure, they could have technology far beyond ours, such as near-warp speed travel or wormhole accessibility. But it is hardly reasonable to assume those developments. If we don’t know what the objects are, trying to plug interstellar spacecraft into the equation is to commit a secular version of the god of the gaps fallacy.


We are open to the idea of alien life; some scientists even consider it extremely likely and examine evidence suggesting it has occurred. For example, Mack wrote that an interstellar asteroid and the dimming of an otherwise normal star have both have been interpreted as possible evidence of alien life, and astrophysicists have checked them out.


So if alien life is discovered, Mack thinks it will most likely be through observing exoplanets orbiting stars. She explained, “If we can directly image an exoplanet, or see it pass in front of its star, we can search the spectrum of its light for signatures of chemical balances that only biological organisms can produce, whether they be microbes or mushrooms or megafauna.”


In other words, if confirmation of alien life emerges, it is unlikely to be in the form of flying saucers, ray guns, and requests to be taken to our leader.


Also weighing in has been Mick West, a skeptic leader specializing in UFO sightings. The 60 Minutes segment was interpreted by some excited observers as the U.S. government admitting UFOs are real. These persons, many of whom would have dismissed any government denial of such extraterrestrial entities, are ready to embrace Uncle Sam this time.


The program opens with an interview of Luis Elizondo, who claims to head a government entity that studies UFOs. He said Washington has already stated the objects are genuine. Of course, UFO merely refers to not being certain what it is, not being certain it is an alien spacecraft.


Elizondo then describes the observed phenomena displaying, perhaps literally, otherworldly technology. We are talking such Flash Gordonesque capabilities as accelerating at 600g, flying 17,000 miles per through the atmosphere, and maintaining high speed in water. To clarify, the government has not conceded that these abilities to have been witnessed or recorded.


What the videos show are flying objects acting in accord with physics and the limitations of human technology. Proponents tout one video as being of an incredibly fast craft hugging the ocean.


But West used trigonometry and numbers on the screen to deduce the object was well above the water and moving at a speed that matches the wind at that altitude. This, in all likelihood, means the object is merely a balloon.


In a night vision video, we see a green flashing triangle, which sounds like a receptacle that could be housing spacefaring creatures. However, West demonstrated that the light pattern matches that of a commercial 737. Further, some night-vision devices come with a triangular aperture. Combined with being a little out of focus and shot from above, it presents the image of a flying triangle. Other triangles in the scene were determined to be stars.


A third video purportedly features physics-defying acceleration, but a closer look reveals that the supposed sudden moves result from the camera moving or changing its mode.


Yet another video, of an alleged flying saucer, seems to in fact be of an infrared glare of a distant plane and a rotating gimbal mechanism.


Taken it totality, there is little reason to suspect these are alien spacecraft, and in most cases aren’t even UFOs. We know what they are, where they come from, and why they act as they appear.


Some believers deride skeptics as blinder-wearing killjoys who would not own up to aliens if they landed on our lawn. I would welcome the confirmation of extraterrestrials and would be even more fascinated by an Earthly visit. I would consider such an occurrence to be the biggest news story ever. But I am not so desperate for it to be true that I consider scientific analysis of the phenomenon to be a denial of evidence that it has already happened.


“Popular misconception” (Cube-shaped UFO)

A headline more suited to the 1970s National Inquirer, rather than the 2020s Popular Mechanics in which it appeared, strongly suggests that a cube-shaped UFO unknown to the military has been photographed.

Kenny Biddle specializes in ghost claims, but the skeptic leader is also well-versed in the UFO field and he writes that he quickly recognized the object as a party balloon, which is something that is regularly mistaken for alien transport vehicles by those who are hoping to spot just such a device. In this case, Biddle thinks the airborne inflatable was a Batman balloon sold at Party City.

UFO enthusiasts dismiss this explanation, citing unnamed pilots who described the object as motionless and not impacted by air currents. Since all such claims are attributed to anonymous sources, it is impossible to verify if they said this or even if they exist.

Biddle’s fellow CSI fellow, Mick West, agrees that the likely explanation is Biddle’s Batman Balloon. West has previously shown how  photographed objects can seem motionless when they are whizzing by and, upon examination of this picture, he has concluded this is another case of that.

Many amateur organizations and science classes often use party balloons in experiments since the inflatables are cheap, effective, and plentiful. Teachers and students fill the balloons with helium, though not all the way since, as they rise, the light gas inside them expands due to the decrease in atmospheric pressure. Biddle writes this is the likely explanation for why the item in the supposed leaked photo appears fully inflated: The helium inside has expanded.

The unnamed sources claim the balloon hovered at more than 30,000 feet, which would be about double the altitude that party balloons can reach. However, unnamed also means unverifiable, so there is no way to corroborate or test this assertion.

Biddle points out that, just from the headline, there are clues about the story being sensationalist instead of scientific. It reads, “Leaked Government Photo Shows ‘Motionless, Cube-Shaped’ UFO.”

He writes, “The term leaked has become an overused buzzword…to grab the attention of those with an interest in conspiracy theories that focus on the government keeping some secret from the people.”

Further, the article describes the image as unclassified, which Biddle notes means the image would have gone through government review and release rather than being leaked or discovered.

Another red flag from the headline is “motionless.” The photo was allegedly snapped by someone in a passing fighter jet, which is far from motionless. This means the photographer would have had less than a second to spot, frame, bring into focus, and snap the image. Even if the flying fast-fingered photographer had managed that, West shows here how moving objects can seem motionless when they are actually speeding by.

The final issue from the headline is the description “cube-shaped,” used even though the object in question is roughly triangular. Playing this loose with the truth suggests that author was skimming over facts, doing no real research, and regurgitating what believers in UFOs and conspiracy theories had fed him.

Biddle’s hypothesis is that a family hosted a Batman-themed birthday party and a few days later, the balloons slowly leaked helium, were set free, and went skyward. With this idea in mind, Biddle got hold of two similar Batman balloons and went to a park to attempt a recreation of how this might have happened.

He describes the results thusly: “My wife secured one of the balloons by a length of ribbon measuring about 100 feet, which placed the balloon well above the trees surrounding the park. I walked approximately 500 feet from her and took some photos. I am satisfied this flying object has been identified.”

His simple experiment suggests this is the cause. Conspiracy theorists condemn the rest of us for blindly swallowing government and media products. Yet they fail to apply the same standard to the claims of their fellow conspiracy theorists. Here, this meant believing that a floating UFO is amongst us and being covered up by military brass. This is a more attractive conclusion for them than conducting a simple experiment that produced an answer that was much more mundane but much more accurate.

“Meteor-wrong” (Kecksburg UFO)

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In UFO lore, witnesses saw a shimmering, long-lasting fireball over a large swath of the northern U.S. and southern Canada on Dec. 9, 1965. This tale includes two dozen aircraft reports and shockwaves picked up by seismographs. There were also claims of metal debris scattered across the area where the fireball had been seen.

Most chillingly, the woods outside of Kecksburg, Pa., were allegedly cordoned off by government agents, who drove away with a large, acorn-shaped object emblazoned with unknown symbols that resembled ancient Egyptian. Popular ideas among believers was that the craft had belonged to either aliens or Nazis. Or fascist Venusians for maximum effect.

Since then, other notions have been floated. Some suspect it might have been the Soviet Kosmos-96 Venus probe, which had failed during its launch about 15 days prior and which re-entered Earth’s atmosphere the day the fireball appeared. But declassified Soviet documents now show that Kosmos-96’s orbit would have never placed it anywhere near Kecksburg.

Paranormal author Leslie Kean field a Freedom of Information Act request with NASA to force the agency to release for files on the Kecksburg event. NASA officials responded that the requested items had been lost, which even to this hardboiled skeptic seems dubious.

However, a much more well-known skeptic, Brian Dunning, noted that NASA runs the country’s space program and does not delve into searches for aliens or enemy satellites. Those seeking information on UFOs or wayward Soviet spacecraft would be better served filing FOI requests with the military or intelligence services. If there was a cover-up, NASA wasn’t the agency responsible.

Furthermore, shows on the laughably-named History Channel and likeminded networks are about selling ads and increasing viewership, not finding out what happened. Dunning explained how the programming words: “Many of my colleagues and I have appeared on these shows as expert talking heads, and the directors are constantly prompting us to say certain phrases, to repeat what we just explained but using a specific term that they want, in order to give them just the snippet of dialog that they can isolate and give viewers the impression that scientists all believe some wild alien explanation is the true one.”

This also happens to eyewitnesses, who end up seeming to endorse what the producers want when that may not be the case at all or is only part of the story.

Meteorological reports confirm that on the day of the Kecksburg incident, a hypersonic bolide made its way across part of North America. All known observations by astronomers indicate it was a meteor.

50 Kecksburg residents, representing 10 percent of the town, asked producers not to air the program because it was so laden with errors.

Especially strident was Ed Myers, the fire chief in 1965 who was falsely accused of helping cordon off the woods.

As to the craft and its alien accouterments punitively whisked away, the only alleged eyewitness was 10 years old at the time and he made no mention of this until quarter of a century later when appearing on the sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-sensationalist Unsolved Mysteries. No accounts from 1965 made any mention of this Unidentified Nonflying Object.

“Blue it” (Project Blue Beam)

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Project Blue Beam refers to a purported plan that will use NASA technology to usher in the antichrist. This will be done in the most ostentatious manner imaginable: A worldwide, visually-stunning, thunderous announcement from the skies that an almighty entity is usurping all power. This will place all religions under one tightly-controlled umbrella and all governments will be subservient to our new overlords.

This idea was the brainchild of the late journalist Serge Monsat. Proponents allege that his heart attack death was actually an assassination to keep the plot secret. Like all good portents of certain doom, Blue Beam has a sliding timeline. First it was going to happen in 1993, then 1995, then 1996, then 2000. Similar to doomsday evangelicals like Jack Van Impe and John Hagee, Monsat cast a wide net, ensnaring disparate events and cramming then into his sinister scenario.

For, example, alleged UFO abductions are actually test-runs of devices that will simulate the Rapture. Jurassic Park was also part of the plot, as it included an implied endorsement of evolution. Indeed, the Blue Beam theory maintains a focus on high-tech and sci-fi films. Believers assert these entertainments are used to inure persons to fantastic visions and to prep them for hostile takeovers via advanced science. In fact, Blue Beam largely mirrors a shelved Gene Roddenberry work about a flying saucer which dispatches beings who pose as prophets. And like most conspiracy theories, Blue Beam takes advantage of fear of the unknown, specifically cutting-edge technology.

There are all kinds of issues with these grand accusations, such as how an image in the sky would be able to be seen by persons anywhere on Earth. There is also the sizable obstacle of convincing the most hard-core Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and atheists that there is now one true religion and all that you have thought before must now be jettisoned. This also presupposes that no one could see through this mirage or question if it were a hoax, power grab, or other fabrication.

There is no real reason to tag NASA as the perpetrator, as opposed to Rothschilds, Bilderbergers, Reptilians, the Illuminati, or Bohemian Grove members. The agency was likely picked because the ruse involves space technology, but to hopelessly understate the case, there is no evidence to tie NASA to a plot involving a religion made up for the purpose of world dominion.

This nefarious plot goes through four stages. The first focuses on the disintegration of accumulated archeological knowledge. The plan is to stage earthquakes that reveal long-lost artifacts and writings from the One True Religion. This will include explanations of how all other religions have gotten it wrong. Again, this requires getting the likes of Fred Phelps, the Ayatollah, and Hindu terrorists to all concede that their faith is, in fact, a false one.  

Stage Two is where NASA begins to earn its money (presumably a lot of it) by fabricating a spectacular show in the night sky. The viewings will be suited to the culture, with the images depicting how the dominant deity in the region is most often portrayed. It will feature 3-D holographic laser projections that can be seen by anyone anywhere. Except for the blind, I guess, although maybe there’s a more advanced stage of this theory where they are miraculously given sight. At the end of this light show, the deities merge to form a type of super-god like the one Jim Croce sang about.

Since the images are to be seen worldwide, this necessitates that enemy nations work together. This scheme also requires that countries where state and religion and inseparable, such as Saudi Arabia and Vatican City, would agree to take action meant to wipe out their faith and means of control.

Even if such a logistically overwhelming, worldwide spectacle were managed, there are still the issues of getting everyone to fall for it and of convincing them to worship this technologically-created divinity. Monsat had no issue with this premise, writing that the images would “set loose millions of programmed religious fanatics on a scale never witnessed before.”

As unlikely as Stage Two is, it at least involves modifications and improvements on existing technology. Stage Three takes Blue Beam to a more unhinged level by using extreme low frequency radio waves and somehow, magically, using them to telepathically communicate with persons and make them think the message is coming from the smorgasbord super-god.

Stage Four involves convincing the duped populace that an imminent onslaught will wipe out the planet and its inhabitants. In the ensuing mass panic, persons grow desperate enough to swear a loyalty oath to their almighty enlightened leader. This brings about the New World Order. The few resisters will be used as slaves, concubines, or medical experiment subjects.

As implausible as the whole scenario is, it is now even more unlikely to succeed since, if real, it has already been exposed.

 

“Unidentified Lying Object” (Alien visitors)

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There have been countless reports of alien visitors and the crafts which bring them to Earth. So far, however, none of the accounts have included a verified living creature, nor have we been able to examine their means of transport. No known extraterrestrials live among us, nor are any flying saucers housed in the Smithsonian.

Most putative alien beings are described as somewhat akin to us – bipedal, four limbs, eyes, some semblance of a nose and mouth. But others are said to look like robots and one even resembled a giant blue grasshopper. Despite these varieties, some people conclude that they all mean we are not alone. Like the ETs, the vehicles they pilot also have varying descriptions: A saucer, triangle, ball, lighted orb, and even a floating building.

There have been UFO sightings for millennia and how they have been perceived depended on the time and culture.  More than 2,000 years ago, Roman historian Livy considered them to be phantom ships. In the First Century, Roman soldiers thought they were seeing armed angels riding chariots. Stargazers in Shakespeare’s time concluded that unexplained floating lights were fairies, angels, leprechauns, or incubus. By the time humans themselves were taking to the sky, the same unexplained phenomenon had transformed into highly intelligent alien life.

Most believers go with this interpretation, though others consider the creatures to be interdimensional beings, ghosts, or demons. Then there are those, such as your blogger, who think the answer lies with human error and misperception. The number and diversity of sightings, combined with still no verified contact, suggests psychology is more in play than intergalactic travel. The mind tries to figure out what it can’t understand, and because of our aversion to randomness and preference for pattern, we plug into the gaps whatever explanation we can finagle. With UFOs, those answers have evolved with the time.

If aliens were making regular treks here, professional astronomers, whose job is to use the world’s best telescopes to study the skies, would be witnessing the great majority of such visits. Instead, almost all of putative encounters are reported by those without training in astronomy, atmospherics, aeronautics, physics, or optometry.

Moreover, sightings are influenced by the conditions in which they are observed. Bright stars and planets may become UFOs due to their being watched from a moving car, making it seem they are keeping pace with the vehicle. However, to  determine the size, speed, or distance of a presumed craft, one needs to know at least one of those variables. If all are unclear, the viewer is reduced to groundless speculation.

Additionally, a star or planet’s apparent ability to dart, wobble, or zigzag, and to change color rapidly is explained by a natural, involuntary jerking eye movement called auto-kinesis. Also a factor is scintillation, which are variations in the apparent brightness or position of a faraway luminous object. This effect is more pronounced when looking through binoculars or telescopes. It is caused by refraction of different wavelengths, which make an eye or lens think there are changes in motion or color.

Besides seemingly-moving stars and planets, the Identified Flying Objects known as airplanes can take on a saucer shape if viewed head-on and can be misinterpreted as alien craft. They can also move side-to-side, climb vertically, descend, and quickly change direction, which can make the plane take on otherworldly appearances under the right circumstances. Additionally, rows of anti-collision lights on the wings blink sequentially, which can create an illusion of rotation.  

Then there are meteors, balloons, satellites, searchlights, flares, and ball lighting, all of which can also be taken to be an alien transport system, due to the auto-kinetic effect, scintillation, psychology, human error, and ignorance.

Planets, stars, meteors, and ball lightning are all fascinating enough by themselves that there’s no reason to fabricate awesomeness about them. And satellites, balloons, airplanes, and telescopes were the result of persons being inspired enough by reality and what was possible that they used this as a drive to further Mankind. With enough of that spirit, maybe someday instead of inventing tales of piloted space travel, we will be doing it.

“Unreal cluster” (Pleiades aliens)

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Pleiades is an open star cluster in the constellation Taurus, 400 light-years from Earth. That’s far enough away that just seven of the stars can be seen without a telescope. Perhaps because seven has long been thought of as a lucky number in our culture, the star system has been pegged as the alleged home of a group of multi-dimensional, uber-evolved, benevolent beings that make contact with a very limited number of Earthlings.

The assertion that aliens and less than half a dozen humans are telepathically communicating on how to improve mankind brings to mind Christopher Hitchens observation that, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

But that would make for a two-paragraph blog post, so let’s branch beyond Hitchens’ reasonable declaration and find other points against the idea. A major one is that the Pleiades system is only 150 million years old. When Earth was that age, it was still being regularly bombarded and shaped by asteroid impacts. According to Scientific American, oxygen would not make its Earthly debut for another two billion years. Further, if the history of the universe were consolidated into a one-year calendar, humans would not have appeared until late on Dec. 31.

So if there is a populated Pleiades planet, its inhabitants would had to have evolved exponentially quicker than us to be even single-celled amoebas at this point, much less be capable of inter-solar system travel and possessing vast mind control powers.

And for being this advanced, they have supremely limited communication skills, as evidenced by their having reached only four people. In these cosmic missives, they reveal that they are concerned about our planet and our future and wish to help us ascend to another dimension.

Beyond that, there’s not a lot of constancy. Depending on who the Pleiadians are sending messages to, the ideas change. For instance, they are variously described as descending from the alien species Lyrans,  having coexisted with the Lyrans, or being synonymous with them. With regard to their connection to Earthlings, they are either ancestors of whites, Native Americans, or none of us. The extent of their travel can be either switching between the third and the ninth dimensions, residing permanently in the fifth dimension, or living in dimensions whose only specificity is that they are higher and mightier than what we can access – although, per the narrative, they are here to change that.

There are also contradictory reports as to their appearance. In some tales, Pleiadians are humanoids, albeit better looking versions of us. They are slender, with their women folk tending to be curvaceous. These descriptions, along with their vast intelligence, accomplishments, altruism, and pioneering spirit, represent an idealized version of humanity.

This often means Aryan features, although for those that prefer the mystical romanticized version of Native Americans, there are the aforementioned assertions that tribe members are descended from the aliens. A modified version has the Native Americans not being related to the Pleiadains, but continuing their teachings. This is the script favored by Lia Shapiro, who informs us that indigenous North American legends about Pleiadians have been encoded and kept secret, although she knows all about them, despite her being neither Native American nor Pleiadian.

Today’s aliens are only extremely distant cousins of tribe members, so much so that the former are portrayed as lacking pigmentation, possessing little to no hair, and having skeletons that are largely cartilage. Their brains have large frontal lobes and this provides a possible explanation for Pleiadians’ sense of intuition and their adeptness at multidimensional communication.

Unusual for extra-planetary visitors, some of these space tourists reveal their  personal names. This includes Semjase, a 330-year old expert in robotics, space travel, teleportation, and intergalactic linguistics. Depending on the channeler, Semjase and the other Pleiadians are said to be connected to Atlantis, Lemuria, or various New Age healing methods, particularly crystals, magic energy, and the unblocking of chi. They are also responsible for bringing dolphins to Earth, at least that’s what the ghost of JFK told channeler Barry Martin, who claims that the former president has assumed marine mammal form and communicates with him telepathically.  

It is noteworthy that Pleiadians brought us an esthetically pleasing, intelligent creature with a reputation for friendliness. None of the channelers have reported that the Pleiadians are the avenue which bestowed Earth with mosquitoes, cobras, or the stars of Monsters Inside Me. This is consistent with the mantle of idealism and benevolence that believers wrap Pleiadians in.  

Those believers include Barbara Marciniak, whom the aliens told they share a common ancestor with humans, and that Pleiadians came from another universe to seed various planets in ours. The Pleiadians appeared before we humans did, and ascended to the next evolutionary stage, Akashic plane, or some such locale. While the Pleiadians have been around for hundreds of millions of years, we current Earthlings have the great fortune of living during the precise time that our interplanetary visitors have reached out to our fellow human Marciniak. And she is ready to guide us through our ascendancy to the next stage of existence.

If we reach high enough, may be able to do what the Pleiadians do. This includes traveling in time and to higher dimensions, where they contact beings that inhabit those realms. They are also capable of speed of light tricks to get around any annoying physics issues. This really comes in handy because they are known to bandy about in 1049 universes.

Like Young Earth Creationists, Pleiadian advocates believe in an unseen, benevolent higher power who communicates silently with humans. Both groups also ignore scientific evidence for the age of the universe. But while YECs think that starlight from hundreds of millions of light years away arrived here in 6,000 years, Pleiadian believers think the universe is much older than the cosmic background radiation and the amount of hydrogen in the universe indicates. And while Marciniak and her ilk think the universe will collapse, they also hold that it will immediately rebound to form another one, presumably with more shiny happy people.   

Another one of the four humans the Pleiadians have the means and desire to contact is Billy Meier, who claims to have been communicating with them since 1975. Unlike Marciniak, Shapiro, and Martin, Meier writes little if anything about what the Pleiadians tell him, but he has photos of alleged encounters. However, investigator Karl Korff has shown these to be hoaxes, and rather lazy ones at that. The photos came from magazines, catalogues, books, TV screen shots, etc. Meier also claims to possess a piece of alien metal, but has declined to offer it for examination.  

Because his “proof” is mostly photographs, he doesn’t mess with the obtuse indecipherable messages that Marciniak, Shapiro, and Martin deliver. Here’s an example from each. Marciniak: “If you can clear people of their personal information, they can go cosmic.” Shapiro: “One can come awake and realize the divine nature of who we are.” Martin:  “Aliens came to Earth with a sort of engineering animal to begin breeding softer, gentler creatures.”

The Pleiadians are 400 light years away and how they journey to Earth in far less than 400 years is not among the knowledge they are showering on their Earthly conduits. What they are letting them know, per Shapiro, is that they “bring wisdom and their purpose is to enlighten you.” They do this not by telling us themselves but through books and music that Shaprio sells. The music, she notes, is meant “to raise your frequency and vibration closer to the light created by a Pleiadian.”

Shaprio runs the pleiadians.net website, not to be confused with pleiadains.com, which is Marciniak’s domain. On that website, Marciniak writes that the Pleiadians are “here to assist humanity with the process of spiritual transformation in the years leading up to December 2012.” This was presumably to counter the Mayan apocalypse. That this is still on the front page shows that what Marciniak has in interstellar telepathic communication skills she lacks in website maintenance abilities.

Other than Meier, whose collection has been shown to be phony, the channelers give us nothing falsifiable. Nor is there affirming evidence of their extraordinary claims, nor proof of these experiences, nor an explication of the mechanisms behind telepathy and faster-than-warp speed travel. It would be within the capabilities of Pleiadians to explain how they have accomplished these supremely advanced scientific achievements. But there is none of that among their cosmic communiques. Instead, Marciniak offers digital recordings, books, videos, speaking schedules, and a way to make contact – with Marciniak, not with the Pleiadians.

 

“Aye in the sky” (UFO surveillance)

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Late last year, The New York Times and Politico both published stories confirming that the U.S. government had conducted a long-running, furtive study of unidentified flying objects.

Called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, it collected video and audio recordings of UFO incidents. An anonymous senior intelligence official quoted by Politico revealed that the main reason was to determine if Russia or China was using military technologies the U.S. was still unaware of.

The Times piece included images of a Navy jet being surrounded by a glowing aura that traveled at high speed while rotating. While the preferred inference of some readers was that it was an alien spacecraft, a more terrestrial explanation suffices.

John Lester Miller, who impressively managed to write an entire book on infrared imaging, described what caused the seeming UFO during an interview with Robert Schaeffer of the Bad UFOs blog. Miller explained that the image resulted from a processing byproduct known as ringing:

“When in white hot, you will see that the aura around it is dark and when in black hot, it is brighter than the background. This is the image processing algorithm compensating for the large signal on neighboring pixels where the signal is not there. The algorithm doesn’t know the shape of the object and over-processes the neighboring pixels.” He added this happens when the captured image is of an object over a cold background, which would describe jet engines obscured by high altitude clouds.

The results were also another example of the stagnant quality of UFO imagery. In a world of increasingly vibrant colors, stunning clarity, and 4K ultra-high definition resolution, the standard candid of Invaders From Mars remains blurry photos and shaky, out-of-focus videos.

The program ran from 2007 to 2012 and today one of its researchers, Luis Elizondo, heads an organization dedicated to UFO research. It was his statement to CNN that most got UFO buffs excited. He said, “These aircraft are displaying characteristics that are not currently within the U.S. inventory, nor in any foreign inventory that we’re aware of.” These supposed limitations on American technology and our ignorance of other countries’ systems were extrapolated by Elizonda into a personal belief that it counts as evidence of alien visitation.

But Dave Mosher of Business Insider interviewed Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, who took a more measured approach. Certainly the military wants to know what’s going on when it sees aircraft above its airspace it can’t identify. But that doesn’t equate it to being Zontar, the Thing From Venus.

Probably the most sizable obstacle to overcome would be distance. If one could devise a spacecraft that could get to the moon in an hour, this ultra-swift mode of cosmic transport would need to maintain this pace for 27 years to reach Neptune and for nearly three millennium to reach the next closest solar system. This hypothetical journey also assumes managing the logistics of repair, refueling, medicine, and food, all while avoiding the perils of deep space.

Shostak said there are about 1,400 solar systems within 50 light years of us Earthlings. This seems to offer plenty of opportunities for the construction of flying saucers or wormhole-threading devices, but the number is actually quite tiny when thinking about one of them being advanced enough to visit us. These systems could house microbial life, which if found, would be the biggest science story of the 21st Century. But that find would have no bearing on supposed UFOs. Discovering the rough equivalent of a goat on an exoplanet would be more noteworthy and carry more profound consequences, but it would still not explain glowing aerial orbs. And even a civilization advanced as what Earth will be in 4018 would likely be insufficient to manage this interplanetary journey.

Of course, there could be a super-advanced civilization that has managed warp speed travel. And maybe even a civilization still more super-advanced which has attained beyond warp speed travel. And everyone except you could be a hologram, but until evidence surfaces indicating this, that notion should be dismissed, as should these sci-fi transportation scenarios.

Furthermore, these supposed travels would seem to be serving little point. They do not involve the mid-20th Century Hollywood staple of requesting an audience with our leader. The landings are in the Nevada desert or on a remote hilltop, never in Times Square. While there are alleged eyewitnesses that board these crafts, no souvenirs are collected, no clear imagery of the visit is obtained, and no goodwill ambassador stays behind.

So these interplanetary interlopers travel all this way and are content to flatten crops, maintain an extensive rectal probing program, and make cameos in wobbly cellphone videos. Some extreme believers say aliens are with us in disguise and are interbreeding with humans while taking the form of shape-shifting reptilians who occupy executive leadership and high government positions. They makes these extraordinary claims without satisfying Carl Sagan’s stipulation that they be accompanied by extraordinary evidence.

These claims are also a reflection of the times. There were no reports of these close encounters by contemporaries of Socrates, Leif Ericson, or Jane Austen because the idea in those eras would have been so absurd no one would have ever dreamt it. Only with the advent or rocket technology and the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne did the notion of interstellar travel come along, and with it, the idea of trips coming from the other direction.

Shostak rejects the notion that the most recent video equates to proof that these trips have been made. He said 90 percent of sightings can be identified and he told Mosher they usually involve “issues with camera hardware, unfamiliar optical effects, atmospheric phenomena, bright stars and planets, and the presence of unmanned aerial vehicles.”

The other 10 percent are of undermined origin, meaning that they are unexplained, not that the explanation is extraterrestrial. To make the E.T. deduction is to commit a logical fallacy by claiming that absence of evidence equals evidence of absence. Specifically in this case, the assertion is that since the flying object cannot be explained terrestrially, that means it must have come from outer space. This is not a sound conclusion. For one, it fails to consider that the object may have come from inside a hollow Earth. 

“Assume the simple position” (Occam’s Razor)

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I have been doing this long enough and with enough frequency that if one read a post a day it would take a year to finish the blog. I heartily encourage this activity, but for readers lacking the time or ambition, I can sum up the blog’s contents as being an endorsement of Occam’s Razor. This is the notion that, all other things being equal, the solution that makes the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one. Closely related to the Razor is the notion of the burden of proof, which states that the person making an assertion is required to provide evidence for it and not merely challenge listeners to disprove it.

Carl Sagan famously noted that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Suppose I amble into work late and my co-workers wonder why. One postulates that I may have encountered the road construction they had. They were there, it happened to them, they know I take the same route, so that seems a likely reason. But another wonders if I was delayed by persons on horseback engaged in a medieval war reenactment, which had taken place over the weekend on a family farm. A third co-worker speculates that I may have slipped into a wormhole where aliens detained me to obtain skin and blood samples before releasing me back onto my usual route.

The first choice requires just one assumption, that I had encountered the same construction as my co-worker had. From there, the number of assumptions increase. The equestrian excuse would require that the reenactment went beyond the scheduled date and took place in a locale other than its designated point. The final explanation would require assuming the existence in Moline of both wormholes and aliens and assume I had encountered both on my commute.

Anyone espousing the third option would have the highest difficulty level since it employs the most assumptions to reach its conclusions. Still, such attempts to shift the burden of proof and bypass Occam’s Razor happen all the time.

O.J. Simpson’s defense team attempted to shift the burden to the prosecution by trying to make it prove that Nicole wasn’t killed by Colombian drug dealers who mistook her for Faye Resnick. Judge Lance Ito disallowed this line of reasoning, owing to a total lack of evidence. “Prove it wasn’t drug dealers” is not a valid defense argument and such reasoning is not critical thinking.

While the number of assumptions is important, so too are the quality of those assumptions. The Simpson trial, like most criminal cases, had prosecutors assuming the defendant’s guilt and defense lawyers presuming his innocence. But there was no reason to think drug lords were targeting Faye Resnick, much less confusing her for Nicole Brown Simpson, as this required more assumptions than concluding that the relevant evidence included a trail of O.J.’s DNA leading from the crime scene to his vehicle and residence, his history of abusing the victim, and bloody shoe imprints. 

Now let’s apply this to science. A blogger at logicofscience.com wrote about authoring a paper on the diet of a turtle species. In his research, he collected the shelled creatures, had them defecate in a bucket, then examined the feces. There, he found a variety of plants, insects, and crawfish. The conclusion was that these turtles ate a variety of plants, insects, and crawfish, since this explanation required the fewest assumptions.

The biology blogger noted he could have instead deduced that “someone went out before me, captured the turtles, force fed them crawfish, then put the turtles back into the pond.” Or he could have assumed this force feeding was done by aliens. But these options would require unfounded assumptions, the latter necessitating a step beyond even the middle choice. Such conclusions are usually instances of begging the question, where speakers reach the conclusion first, then attempt to buoy that conclusion with unproven premises.

No one takes issue with the science when it involves reptile diets or other noncontroversial topics that leave world views and favored industries untouched. But if the scientific conclusions do impact those areas, there are those who seek to dull Occam’s razor, beg the question, and contort themselves in order to finagle around the evidence.

Young Earth Creationists, for example, insist all animals and plants were destroyed in a worldwide flood 5,000 years ago. This means that in the YEC scenario, all corals today would had to have started growing around the time the Pyramids were constructed. But corals grow about a foot a year under ideal conditions. The Great Barrier Reef would have taken more than 500,000 years to reach its current size.

For corals to have gotten as large as they are today, if they only started growing 5,000 years ago, they would had to have grown at a rate many times more than has ever been observed. The standard YEC response is that perhaps growth rates were much faster in the past than they are now and that the rate has slowed down exponentially since, for reasons unknown.

They employ the same thought process with being able to see stars millions of light years away. This proves Earth has been around at least as long as it has taken the most distant starlight to reach us. But the YEC answer is that maybe the speed of light has not been constant. The coral and starlight responses are both instances of ad hoc reasoning backed by no evidence. It requires assuming that an aspect of botany or astronomy is much different from what has ever been observed or recorded. It is also begging the question. They begin with the assumption that a worldwide flood wiped everything out 5,000 years ago, then try to make all evidence (or in these cases, speculation) fit that assumption. They go from conclusion to evidence, whereas science works the other way.

A third area of creative deduction by YECs centers of alternating layers of light and dark sediment that accumulate in lakes. The different colors are the result of seasonal changes, with light layers made in winter and dark ones made in the summer. Some lake centers feature millions of these layers, so we can draw one of these conclusions:

  1. A set of two layers forms every year in these lakes. Some lakes contain millions of layers. Therefore these lakes are millions of years old.
  1. Layers were formed during the flood, through an unknown mechanism. By a second unknown means, floodwaters sorted the particles into alternating layers of sediment, then the layers managed to form only over lake beds, and did so at a rate of 10 layers per minute, rather than two per annum, which is the only rate that has been observed.

The YEC takes on these occurrences requires rejecting all data and scientists’ understanding of the natural processes involved. Their response to the scientifically-deduced facts are to offer unsupported ad hoc speculation that proposes unknown and unworkable mechanisms. They fail to manage even the first step in the Scientific Method, observation, because no one has observed the phenomena they claim are occurring. As our turtle excrement-collecting blogger noted, “If we grant creationists the ability to create unknown mechanisms in order to derive interpretations that match their pre-existing biases, then an infinite number of interpretations become possible. It is always possible to generate an ad hoc argument, which is why Occam’s Razor is so important. It tells us that the solution that makes the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one.”

That is why almost all conspiracy theories collapse under the weight of Occam’s Razor. Some anti-vaxxers claim that pharmaceutical executives pay immunologists to say vaccines don’t cause autism. Here, we have two options:

  1. Ethical scientists reach their conclusions through sound research.
  2. These hundreds of researchers from multitudinous institutions and companies are being paid to falsify data. Moreover, none of these hundreds who are in it solely for ill-gotten gain have been lured away by wealthy anti-vaxxers offering to pay them more.

This shill accusation is similar to the charge leveled at climate scientists. On this issue, the two primary competing options are:

  1. 99.8 percent of the 12,000 peer-reviewed papers published in the last five years have attested to anthropogenic global warming, so this is likely happening.
  2. Anonymous elites are paying these thousands of climate scientists to reach this conclusion and fabricate data, yet this plan is being foiled by oil company executives and Facebook posters exposing the plot.

Again, from the logicofscience: “Ask whether there is any reason to think the scientists are corrupt other than the fact that you don’t like their conclusions.”

Going back to the Sagan quote, if one is going to assert the scientific consensus is wrong about climate change, the Big Bang, evolution, vaccines, or GMOs, it is insufficient to offer, “Were you there when the universe began?” or “Follow the money trail.” The burden of proof is on the speaker to provide clear, well-researched, and reasoned evidence for their position.

In some instances, there is no damage other than to the listener’s intelligence. Ancient Aliens attempted to branch into evolutionary biology by suggesting extraterrestrial visitors may have altered dinosaur DNA in order to have them develop into smaller creatures like birds and coelacanth.

In other instances, the misinformation is fatal. Anti-vaxxers mistakenly cite improved sanitation and nutrition as the reason for the decline in infectious diseases over the last century and a half. While those were welcomed health advances, when it comes to disease eradication, here are the two choices offered:

  1. Vaccines work by mimicking disease agents for the real deal, which is why instances of the diseases plummet after vaccines are introduced, and spike when vaccination rates fall.
  2. The introduction of vaccines has coincidentally occurred at a time when the impacts of improved sanitation and nutrition were beginning to be seen. This benefit has extended to countries with deplorable sanitation like India. This has even effected airborne diseases like rubella, which are impacted by sanitation and nutrition improvements by an unknown means. A decline in vaccine rates does not impact disease; rather there has been a coincidental reduction in sanitary and nutrition benefits for unknown reasons when vaccine rates go down. The reason all this is not universal knowledge is because nearly every immunologist is pumping out fabricated propaganda to discredit sanitation and nutrition improvements and cover for vaccines, which actually cause disease.

Those who embrace the latter idea also cotton to the idea of a repressed cancer cure. But which requires the fewest assumptions: That oncologists have been unable to find a panacea for a disease that has more than 100 variations, or that they have, but are eschewing everlasting fame, untold fortune, worldwide adulation, and the chance to spare them and their loved ones, in order to continue enriching the pharmaceutical industry, which has yet to figure out there is more money to be saved in selling that cure?

Meanwhile, 9/11 Truthers talk about the hijackers having little flight training and Tower 7 collapsing despite not bearing a direct hit. They hypothesize that Flight 93 was shot down, insist that a missile hit the Pentagon, and make repeated references to jet fuel and steel beams. However, even if all their claims were valid, it would no more indicate guilt by the Bush Administration that it would cause blame to fall on Islamic terrorists, communists, the Irish Republican Army, or the few remaining Branch Davidians. Which requires the fewest assumptions: That a wealthy and committed terrorist leader with the means and stated desire to pull of such an attack did so, as indicated by passenger phone calls, conversations between hijackers and air traffic control, and flight manifests; or that it was all an elaborate hoax that included WTC security workers, victim’s family members, the airlines, Pentagon witnesses, BBC reporters, and even Philippines police officers, who in 1995 uncovered and turned over to the FBI evidence of what became the 9/11 plot?

One final example, focusing on Bigfoot, which has two primary options. Which of these contains the fewest assumptions?

  1. A complete lack of verifiable evidence strongly suggests its non-existence.
  2. A sustainable population of eight-foot bipedal apes has lived, bred, hunted, and roamed from the Northwest Territories to the Bayou for two centuries without once being shot by a hunter, hit by a vehicle, or leaving behind a corpse, skeleton, fur patch, or excrement.

It is not on me to disprove an ad hoc rationale about a troop of lumbering beasts mastering stealth and adroitly avoiding human contact at all cost. The burden falls on those who make these assertions the centerpiece of their Sasquatch Science.