Stop Taking the Observer Out of the UFO Equation

C. E. Flemming
4 min readJun 2, 2021
Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

June is finally here. With it comes the highly anticipated UFO disclosure — or at least the report by the intelligence agencies on UFOs is due to Congress. Pardon me, the report on unidentified aerial phenomenon, or UAPs, as we have now agreed to call them. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned rebranding to refresh a topic. In either case, actual disclosure and the expected report are likely two entirely different things.

Speaking of two different things, over the weekend Adam Frank, an astrophysicist, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about how unimpressed he is with the recent sighting by Navy pilots of UAPs.

Dr. Frank and his colleagues use “technosignatures” to search for extraterrestrial life on distant planets. He tells those who ask for his professional opinion on the pilot’s accounts, “it doesn’t amount to much.”

It sounds like Dr. Frank already knows where the aliens are, or in this case where they aren’t, and he explains how he knows with the following logic:

1. Eyewitnesses suck.

2. If they’re aliens they’re incompetent and that’s just common sense.

So much for the scientific approach.

In fairness, eyewitnesses are often unreliable for a variety of reasons. But eyewitnesses also form the backbone of the scientific method which begins when an observation is made that generates a question.

A Reverse-Engineered Explanation

That’s exactly what happened in 2004 when Commander Dave Fravor and Lieutenant Commander Alex Deitrich, who were training with the USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean, observed a ‘tic tac’ shaped object they could not classify based on their experience — their highly technical and specialized experience. Radar from the nearby USS Princeton had detected “multiple anomalous aerial vehicles” corroborating the pilot’s observations, generating the question: what the hell did they see?

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

This is where the path of scientific inquiry goes dark. We can form a hypothesis about what occurred but we can’t design a testable experiment, bringing the whole matter to a kind of stalemate. Barring an admission from a responsible party, we cannot scientifically speak to what occurred or what did not occur. We have to live with: we don’t know.

But this makes many, if not most scientists extremely uncomfortable so they resort to a default methodology: remove the observer. When the observer is removed from the equation the likelihood increases that a theory can be proposed that falls within the known, and fully understood phenomena. It’s a way of reverse-engineering the explanation. First, decide what happened, then modify the evidence as needed to fit the conclusion. In accounting, it’s called fudging the numbers.

The Highly Trained Witness

Most of the time removing the observer is a simple process of discrediting some aspect of the report casting sufficient doubt to reasonably label it as unreliable. This method becomes exponentially more difficult to do when dealing with highly trained and competent professionals, as was the case with the 40-foot long tic-tac-shaped object reported by Fravor and Deitrich.

Both pilots have impeccable credentials. Dietrich graduated cum laude with a civil engineering degree from George Washington University and Fravor from the Naval Academy with a degree in oceanography. Fravor’s academic background, in particular, coupled with his training as a pilot, arguably makes him a far more logical expert on what occurred than an astrophysicist looking at distant galaxies.

Dr. Frank is a super-smart guy. Let’s not pretend otherwise. It’s not his conclusion in this instance that is so problematic, it’s his logic. Removing the observer to make your theory viable is only effective if the witnesses really are unreliable.

Dr. Frank’s work as an astrophysicist and his personal opinions about what Fravor and Dietrich witnessed are two different things.

At the end of the day, Dr. Frank used his platform as a scientist to offer his unscientific opinion masquerading as an expert on a topic that was taboo to even acknowledge until its recent rebranding. He states, “I believe that UFO phenomena should be investigated using the best tools of science and with complete transparency.” Agreed. But that hasn’t happened yet and until it does we might just need to get comfortable saying things like “I don’t know” and “maybe.”