5X5 Episode 107

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Skeptical Rogues

  • S: Steven Novella
  • E: Evan Bernstein
  • J: Jay Novella
  • R: Rebecca Watson
  • B: Bob Novella

Chilean UFO

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU five by five and tonight we're talking about the recent UFO sighting over a Chilean air base. This was reported in the Huffington Post by UFO author Leslie Kean. She summarises the evidence for UFOs at the beginning of her article this way: as agreed by authorities around the world these truly unexplainable unidentified flying objects appear solid, metallic and luminous. Able to operate with speeds and manoeuvres that defy the laws of physics and, most chilling of all, they often behave as if under intelligent control. I believe she's managed to include in a single short paragraph just about every logical fallacy typically committed by the UFO community.

R: Yeah, I mean usually when you hear an argument from authority, the person in question is at least naming the authority. It's pretty low down to just state "as agreed by authorities around the world" without mentioning who these people are or why we should ever take their opinions as fact.

J: So when you watch the video, you're seeing a couple of people standing in the front of the frame, they're very small in the lower-left hand corner, and the first thing that happened was you watched the video and you see nothing and then they slow it down and they highlight, they put a little glow circle around the UFO so you can actually see it. And what was very funny was that it was so small and so lacking detail that I had about 10 UFOs on my monitor because my monitor has dust on it. So that whole line showed up. I was actually, well which one is it? And I had to actually wipe my monitor to get away the tiny dust particles that represented UFOs to my eyes. So you don't actually see anything that really looks like a flying saucer or alien space craft. It is a very small black speck. If they didn't highlight it like I said, you wouldn't even really see it. And then later on in the video, you know it's not a long video, but maybe 20 seconds into it, you see a formation of jets fly by. They look like fighter jets, fly by and then supposedly this thing came dangerously close to the jets, like you know it was flying through their air path. And the other thing I found interesting was while watching first time through, the best explanation is it's insects flying in front of the camera.

B: yeah so for this video, which was very frustrating to watch, the take-away, the thing that makes this unique as far as I could tell, among UFO videos is the fact that it showed fighter jets in formation flying by and this UFO apparently buzzing these jets and flying relatively close, or so it seemed. And the other aspect of the video that was unusual was the fact that it supposedly showcases the incredible speed that the UFO is supposedly flying at. Some people put it at 4-5 thousand miles an our.

E: I think the most disappointing thing about this is the reporter's take on the entire matter.

J: yeah

E: she's clearly in the believer camp as far as UFOs goes. I'm totally convinced of that. I mean Kean's description of the UFO right, she says this extraordinary machine was flying at velocities too high to be man-made. And as Bob said, she alludes that scientists have estimated the speed to be at least 4000-6000 miles per hour. But there was, and it somehow made no sonic boom, which is a noise similar to thunder which occurs whenever something exceeds the speed of sound. Yes, exactly. And you know why there was no sonic boom? Because it was not a UFO travelling 4000-6000 miles per hour. As Jay mentioned, this is most likely a bug.

S: yeah, but of course what they're doing is invoking the well it's super-advanced alien technology and that's like a magic wand that can explain away any inconsistencies or any problems with the alien hypothesis. It makes it unfalsifiable almost, right? Because whatever you see, whatever the details are, you could just say, well that's the way that alien flying saucers are. That's the properties that they have. Now of course, this has all the problems that these types of UFO videos generally have. One is that the viewers at the time didn't notice anything. Nobody saw a space ship flying around these jets. The pilots didn't see...

R: Not even the camera person which clearly follows the jets

S: yeah, the camera person. There was plenty of other people taking video. None of the pilots, nobody saw a thing. It was just noticed by one person looking at the video after the fact. That's a huge red flag that there's some kind of artefact or it was something that was not large and flying around in the visual space. So like Jay said, it could have been an insect. At one point the little black smudge seems to fly into the ground. Now if it were a large object far away going very fast, then it looks like it would have crashed. Of course, it was a small object very close to the lens then it would have just flown by the lens. It would have not crashed into the ground.

J: it's absurd that the author even made an estimate about how fast the object was moving, because without knowing the exact size and location, the estimate is absolutely worthless.

S: the estimate is worthless because you have no reference. You have no reference for size, distance and velocity. So all of those factors can be radically different. A small bug-sized thing flying around at bug speed close to the lens could be, would give you the same sort of relative motion as a large, ship-sized object very far from the lens moving at incredible speeds that appear to defy the laws of physics. I also like how she says that it behaves as if under intelligent control. What does that look like? That's just confirmation bias. It's just zipping around randomly. I don't know how you could conclude from that it's intelligent.

J: if it wasn't under intelligent control, what would it look like? What would it's behaviour be? Because actually Steve, to my eye it looks like the pilot of that aircraft isn't very intelligent because he's going willy-nilly all over the place, all ramshackle.

S: some commentators have pointed out problems with the bug hypothesis, according to the optics. I'm not convinced that that rules out a bug, but the alternate hypothesis is that it's a hoax. Which is certainly always possible, and again this would be so easy to create because it's just a black smudge on a couple of frames that zips across the field of view.

R: usually though, hoaxes are a lot more impressive.

B: yeah.

E: yeah, well that's just it, the quality of this hoax if that's what it is is ridiculous. I mean you'd have been better off just going out there and setting a bug free and letting it zoom around. That would have been easier to do than any kind of computer-generated effect.

B: well guys, one thing you might want to think about, when Kean was asked about the bug hypothesis, she replied I went back to the CEFAA official regarding the bugs and he said that's what they all thought at first, when they first got the film, but when they went and got additional footage from very different vantage points that showed the same thing, they knew that was impossible. And she continued by saying I don't think they're that stupid to claim that this is a UFO if it was a bug, given that so many experts looked at it. Now, first off it's not clear to me, or wasn't clear to me watching the video, that there were different vantage points, if they actually even had them in the video. The video editing was very poorly done and it was very frustrating to watch because of that. Second I'm not sure that there are other vantage points at all, that they even exist. If there are, release them for independent study and let's check them out. And even if they are that just means the most likely explanation is a hoax with all the camera men working together. If it's not a bug then the next thing that I think you're going to have to go to is the fact that it's most likely going to be a hoax and that these guys were in collusion. Once you rule that out then you might have more cause to speculate, a more exotic speculation but you really have to rule out the two most likely ones. Plus there's also the fact that you have to resign yourself that there may never be enough information to determine exactly what happened here and in that case you're better off just going with the most likely explanation which most definitely is not a genuine UFO.

S: Yeah the final conclusion may be unknown, that we don't have enough information to identify what it is, that makes it unknown, not an alien spacecraft. To conclude, Kean looks at a picture taken from the video, highly zoomed in where you have a black smudge on top of the black is a slight white smudge and there's some pixelation around the image like you see whenever you zoom far in. From this she claims that it's a dome-shaped object that is emitting energy.

E: she's right! It's a bug.


B: it was so funny Steve because that image was so far in that the background blue sky looked like the ocean, it looked like water waves. It was so distorted and pixelated that even the background sky was completely distorted. So, you're going to draw conclusions from an image that's within that mess? It was ridiculous.

S: Unfortunately, this is the best type of evidence that the UFO community comes up with. Things that are totally ambiguous. There is nothing in this video that gives sufficient detail to show that this is some kind of an aircraft. There's no reference to give size, distance or speed and again, we have an anomalous at best little black smudge going across a camera. That's not that unusual, but the UFO believers, like Kean, manage to parley that into what they consider to be solid evidence for the existence of alien visitors.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.