Promoted by True Believers as an enduring mystery, it can be a surprise to learn that the idea of unidentified flying objects as craft from outer space has only been around since the late 1940s. Whilst people have always (apparently) seen inexplicable things in the sky, they had been thought of as human artefacts since the 1890s and before that, as primarily religious (and usually, in western Christian tradition, demonic). A phenomenon known as cultural tracking can be observed, whereby UFOs always remain just a little in advance of human technology, so that in the 1890s, mystery airships were seen (mainly in the USA) at a time when engineers were attempting to build them; in the 1920s, mystery monoplanes were seen (mostly in Sweden) at a time when aircraft builders were trying to replace biplanes with monoplanes; by the 1940s, they had transformed in to rockets. Only with the coining of the term ‘flying saucer’ by the journalist Bill Becquette of Associated Press in 1947 did the now-familiar disc shape become the commonest form of unknown flying object.
This fact alone ought to make UFO True Believers pause, but unfortunately it usually does not. Members of the public, who are only vaguely aware of the phenomeon, generally through television and press reports as well as fiction, tend to believe that UFOs are either alien spacecraft or nonsense. It seems to be a matter of belief for most people. Yet Ufology tries – or at least, claims – to be the scientific study of the phenomenon. If it is to operate, it must be sceptical in the best sense of the term: it must set out from a position of complete agnosticism about the phenomenon and analyse it to determine what it consists of before formulating any hypotheses about what it might be and then seeking ways to test the hypotheses. This, unfortunately, does not characterise the way that many Ufologists work (athough there are, of course, honourable exceptions).
On this site, I have some musings about UFOs. It is still in early days of development and I have a lot of work to do before it becomes anything like complete. It is a start, though I suspect it will never be complete…
Last updated 10 March 2006