House Intelligence Hearing Keeps Focus on Reality Amid UFO (or UAP) Hype

This is a parable about how narratives trump data when murk, consequence and motivated reasoning collide.

Yes, amid all, I’m writing about UFOs, or as they’re known these days, UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena). I’m doing so because this issue is a microcosm of the much wider tendency of our species to latch onto compelling narratives when faced with grayness or even direct contravening evidence. You’ve seen this elsewhere, right? Carl Sagan captured the phenomenon beautifully in his 1996 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

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The buildup has been relentless among UFO fans and a small cadre of motivated public figures and media captured by a compelling narrative — that there’s finally unnerving evidence of either alien or super-secret military technologies toying with U.S. military aircraft using impossible physics.

Thankfully, the public portion of today’s hearing on such “unidentified aerial phenomena” before the House Intelligence Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee stayed focused on core security and defense issues.

It’s great that the Department of Defense has worked to “destigmatize” this issue as a way to encourage pilots or others serving in the military to report weird encounters of any kind. And many more have flowed in, testified Scott W. Bray, deputy director of Naval Intelligence.

But Bray said there remained no indication of extraterrestrial origins, a finding that meshes with those of a host of science-focused analysts of decades of such reported encounters but is routinely attacked by others probing such issues with an outcome already seemingly in mind.

Julian E. Barnes, who covers the intelligence agencies for The New York Times, did a fine job in today’s news story on the hearing laying out how this dynamic works — as a narrative fueled by credulous media creates political pressure for a dramatic conclusion:

Mr. Bray’s remarks were aimed at trying to explain why it is so difficult to identify the images in the fuzzy videos. But lawmakers insisted on Tuesday that the Pentagon had been too dismissive of explanations.

“You need to show us, Congress and the American public, whose imagination you have captured, you are willing to follow the facts where they lead,” said Representative André Carson, Democrat of Indiana and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee’s subcommittee that is holding the hearing. “We fear sometimes that D.O.D. is focused more on emphasizing what it can explain, not investigating what it can’t,” he said. “I am looking for you to assure us today that all conclusions are on the table.”

Hopefully Rep. Carson is learning more in the midday closed briefing that might point him to the small cluster of people who are really capturing the imagination of the public.

Maybe Carson will look at who’s following up on the hearing by fomenting conspiracies — Tucker Carlson!

Reality checkers

Keith Kloor, a fine science journalist I’ve known for decades, has been fearless and relentless in showing how a few figures in this mess have stoked the fires under the issue. Follow his Substack columns and, in particular read this one: “Why UFOs Will Never, Ever Go Away Hint: It’s not because of Hollywood, the History Channel or sci-fi shows.”

As I’ve posted here before, I’ve moved my writing to my Sustain What dispatch. The content will always be free and you can read the rest of this piece here and sign up to get my output in your inbox here.



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Andy Revkin

Andy Revkin

Pursuing progress on a finite planet at @columbia @earthinstitute. The rest? Family, friends, books, songs