The UFO Movie They Don’t Want You to See

6 min read

Part I of a Series

The UFO Movie They Don’t Want You to See is not just a movie, it’s a documentary that utilizes and even teaches critical thinking. It might as well have been called “A Logical Take on UFOs.” Skeptic, and the host of the Skeptoid podcast, Brian Dunning has exposed the truth behind over 900 urban myths, legends, and fantastic stories. It’s a master class on how to engage a logical take. Thus a logical review of Dunning’s new movie is essential.

We Are Not Alone

First, the movie presents a pretty compelling case that we are not alone in the universe. The universe is just too large, there are just too many planets and stars, and the conditions that make life possible are just too common, relatively speaking.* Life very likely exists, if not elsewhere in our galaxy, then elsewhere in the universe. At the same time, however, the same thing that makes alien life so likely—the vastness of the universe—makes it exceedingly unlikely that it will ever visit us. The distances are just too great, and the speed of light (the fastest anything can move) too slow, for life that evolved elsewhere to ever visit us in person. Interestingly, Dunning argues that some alien life likely already does know about us (or will soon); our planet teems with evidence of our existence. He also thinks that we (via a telescope) will likely detect evidence of life on another distant planet soon (within the century maybe). But physical visitation, by advanced biological alien beings, in advanced craft, near or on Earth, is almost statistically impossible.

What Are UFOs?

Why, then, are there so many UFO sightings? If they aren’t aliens, what are they? Dunning points out that there is good data on this: huge collections of UFO reports and what they turned out to be. In all of history, every time a UFO sighting has been verifiable (and not just an unverifiable incredible story, fuzzy video, or blurry photo), it has always, without exception, turned out to be one of three things:

  1. A (misidentified) celestial object (for example, planet, meteor, satellite, rocket, Star Link launch)
  2. A (misidentified) piece of airborne clutter (for example, weather balloons, planes, blimps, birds)
  3. A (misidentified) object on the ground (for example, lighthouses, radio tower lights, grounded objects that look airborne from a plane window because of visual illusions)

Although the data proves this, Dunning goes on to illustrate his point by explaining four of the most famous UFO stories and videos of all time—evidence that believers have claimed to be the most rock-solid proof of alien visitation: The Rendlesham Forest incident, the Ariel School incident, the 1967 Malstorm AFB incident, Jimmy Carter’s UFO sighting, and the Gimel, Go Fast, Tic Tac, and Green Triangles videos. In each case, the explanation falls into one of the three above categories; it is beyond any reasonable doubt, in each case, that nothing extraordinary happened. What’s more, in each case, some illusion, trick of perception, or fault of memory is at play. The explanation was not, and never has been an extraordinary craft—for example, an alien craft, or one vastly beyond our current technology.

Want to prove yourself right? Try to prove yourself wrong

That’s not to say that it could never be, but Dunning rightly points out that a claim that a UFO is an extraordinary craft is an extraordinary claim—and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And when one wants to prove an extraordinary claim, with extraordinary evidence, one must try to falsify the extraordinary claim; you must consider and rule out all the non-extraordinary explanations.

This is one of the most basic rules of both scientific and critical thinking. Because anyone can find some evidence for anything, if you want to prove yourself right, but try to do only that, you inevitably will—even if what you believe is blatantly false. If you want to actually prove yourself right, you must try to prove yourself wrong; only if you honestly try to do that and fail, will you actually have good reason to believe that you are right. This is how scientists protect themselves against self-deception; they’ll even invite others to try to prove them wrong.

What the UAP Task Force Needs, But Is Lacking

This brings me to the overarching conclusion of the documentary: the government’s Unidentified Arial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) is not actually up to its stated task. He shows a government official describing the experts that the UAP Task Force has brought on board: academics like physicists and metallurgists. Although that sounds impressive, these are the kinds of experts you would only need if a UFO turned out to be a spectacular craft (that was recovered). But since in the entire history of UFO sightings this has never happened, the task force is stacked with the experts that it is least likely to need.

What it needs is experts who can rule out the, historically and statistically, most likely explanations: celestial bodies, airborne clutter, and ground-bound objects. You need a host of (observational) astronomers, experienced personnel who are experts at looking at the sky and identifying what is in it. You need UFO skeptics,** who have spent their lives falsifying claims that UFOs are aliens; critical thinkers who know all the trip-ups that lead people to faulty conclusions. And you need NTSB air crash investigators—mainly because they know best what kind of illusions and faulty perceptions lead pilots, and the rest of us, astray. The task force doesn’t seem to have them.

In Part II of this series: The possible criticism of the documentary.


*To be fair, most of the universe is inhospitable to life. However, the conditions that led to life on Earth are not unique to Earth. As Dunning puts it, “Those same conditions have been happening on rocky planets throughout the universe since the beginning of time.”

**UFO enthusiasts, Dunning observes, won’t like this; they’ll claim the presence of skeptics will bias the conclusions. But a true quest for knowledge always invites skepticism; that viewpoint must be represented. Again, to prove something true, one must honestly try but fail to prove it false.

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