I came across this report of an alleged UFO sighting on the BBC website at the beginning of the month. It was noticeable to me only because the BBC isn’t given to sensationalist reporting, so I tend to take things more seriously when a UFO claim is reported on a serious news site.
According to the local newspaper, the Daily Record,
An airliner carrying 180 passengers over Scotland came within just 300ft of colliding with a UFO, an official probe has revealed.
And of course, this was observed by airline pilots – the “trained observers” so beloved of UFO mystery mongers. The aircraft was thirteen miles from Glasgow Airport on its final approach for landing.
According to the pilots, a blue and yellow silvery object passed beneath the plane at high speed; nothing was detected on ground radar or the plane’s onboard instruments; fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, weather balloons and gliders were ruled out as the cause of the sighting.
This is all great news for the UFO believers, who will no doubt be adding this story to their ever-burgeoning list of alleged alien encounters. And this is where sceptics come in for a lot of flak from the believers. Although people like me can make some reasonable suggestions as to possible explanations for UFO sightings, we’re usually accused of just making stuff up for the sake of getting rid of awkward “evidence” that upsets our “materialist world view.” But I think that some rational speculation without claiming certainties is better than the UFO buffs’ irrationality that goes along the lines of, “We don’t know what it is, therefore it’s an alien spaceship from another galaxy.” (An ASFAG, if you like.)
I suspect that this story is going to be held up by the believers as an example of a UFO encounter, but (mostly) without reference to the later follow up story in the same newspaper. At the time of the aeroplane coming close to its “UFO” a little boy in the same area lost his 6ft helium filled shark toy, which, when he lost his grip on it, floated up into the sky and away from him. This toy, like the blue and yellow silvery UFO was also blue and yellow and, er, silvery. And he lost it in about the same place on the ground as the pilots had their encounter 35,000 feet overhead.
So much for “trained observers.” Pilots have no special immunity from misperception or various cognitive biases; they said of the “UFO”:
“Couldn’t tell what direction it was going but it went right underneath us.”
That gives the impression that the toy shark was itself travelling, but in fact it was the plane that was flying at speed. The object did not go under the aircraft, the aircraft went over the object. Yes, it might have appeared that the object was moving, but what is perceived is not always what is.
It might be hard for the UFO believers to have their (helium filled) balloon burst, but if they want to claim the reality of UFOs, they really have to supply stronger evidence than anecdotes. As Carl Sagan put it:
For years I’ve been stressing with regard to UFOs that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Something testable and confirmable would do.