Recently over at the Mail and Guardian’s Thought Leader Op Ed Page, writer William Saunderson-Meyer asserted that, “This is a big month for UFO fans,” which he refers to as, “the airheads who believe in Unidentified Flying Objects.”

While this sort of attitude is common in media today, it is our feeling that it is nonetheless unjustified, in addition to being based on a common misunderstanding of what a UFO is.

Most UFO reports probably involve little more than misidentification of more commonplace natural or manmade objects or other phenomena. A few good ones point to an object under intelligent control and an apparently very high energy yield, which may even leave an apparent affect on the surrounding environment or observers nearby (an example would be the 1980 Cash-Landrum Incident, recently discussed on The Paracast radio program). There is perhaps an even more extreme minority of reports that seem to deal with beings aboard the craft, or their interactions with humans through strange tales of kidnappings and the like. However, few could argue that such claims are ever able to produce conclusive proof of an interaction between human beings and another intelligent species.

Saunderson-Meyer makes a similar statement in his editorial for the Thought Leader, and gets the majority of it right as he explains the reason for the most recent batch of UFO files being disclosed by the UK’s Ministry of Defence:

“The reason for the release of the policy documents, sightings reports, official investigations, and public correspondence is simply that while not every UFO sighting can be disproved, the MOD had concluded after almost 50 years that there was not a shred of evidence of close encounters of the alien kind. The UFO Desk was simply a waste of manpower and money.”

However, some of the terminology here is rather revealing. For instance, we see that Saunderson-Meyer writes that, “not every UFO sighting can be disproved.” In truth, a more effective statement would be to say that not every UFO sighting can be explained, because to state that some “cannot be disproved” asserts indirectly that there may be an extraterrestrial basis for these encounters. In other words, it shows that the author, while asserting a skeptical viewpoint, nonetheless caves to this common misperception that equates UFOs with extraterrestrials on an exclusive basis.

The author is again partially correct when he states that “there was not a shred of evidence of close encounters of the alien kind.” However, a more effective way of putting this might have been to say, there is no proof of close encounters of the alien kind, because while it is true that the burden of good, solid proof is pretty high, with the wide range of strange reports in modern UFO research, it does seem we have a good amount of proof of something… but what is it? Could it be that ET really has visited us? Who knows… but if that had been the case, how would we prove it?

It is our contention that interest in the serious study of unidentified flying objects does not have to be based on the premise that UFOs are, without question, of extraterrestrial origin. Thus, perhaps not all UFO researchers are “airheads”… though in truth, they may not really qualify as being “believers” either.

Below, we’ve included our rebuttal to Saunderson-Meyer’s article, which was featured in the comments section below his original article. We feel that it is both fair, and reasonable in the points it expresses.


Thank you for this article, as it correctly surveys and shows a common fallacy among some UFO believers: that despite reports of UFOs, we have found no hard proof that points to extraterrestrial visitation of planet Earth.

However, there is one point I differ with you on: we cannot assert that UFO “believers” are all airheads, based on the presumption that they all believe in aliens as well. “UFO”, as you know, is merely the acronym for “Unidentified Flying Object,” and over the course of the last several decades, I think we can indeed assert that there have been sightings of unidentified aircraft by civilians, pilots, and even government officials. This alone does not prove that extraterrestrials exist, and I maintain that while you are correct in the latter assertion, what this may require of us is to look more carefully (skeptically, too) at the UFO phenomenon, without dismissing it.

Today, agencies such as the USAF and NASA maintain use of “UFO” in their lexicon for reporting aircraft of unknown origin, whether potentially designed by a foreign world power or, in the rarest instances, stemming from a seemingly more exotic source. In fairness, we do have to be careful about making broad assumptions, and to assert that a UFO researcher “believes” in aliens may be as far from the truth as one can get (as in this instance, for as a UFO researcher of many years, I nonetheless do not advocate an extraterrestrial hypothesis).

UFO model by Richard Elzey via Wikimedia Commonsimage by



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