The UFO Movie: Examining the Criticisms

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A review of the documentary, “The UFO Movie They Don’t Want You to See.” (Part 2 of 2. Click here for part 1.)

Even though we very likely aren’t alone in the universe, it’s also very unlikely that alien life will ever visit Earth. Yes, there are many UFO sightings, but it has always turned out that they are misidentified celestial objects, airborne clutter, or even ground-bound objects. To prove that some new UFO is an extraordinary craft, one would need to rule out these kinds of explanations—and yet that seems to be exactly the opposite of what the UAP Task Force is designed to do.

Criticisms of the Documentary That Fall Short, and Recognizing Different Kinds of Experts

A good friend of mine, to whom I mentioned the film, said he was worried that it would take (what he called) the Lone Smarty Approach, where “one guy claims to have special insights and claims to be somehow more informed than both whole institutions of professionals in their field.” But if my friend had taken the opportunity to watch the film, he would have known that

  • Director Brian Dunning is not doing this alone; he appeals to and interviews many relevant experts throughout the film (who all have drawn the same conclusion)
  • The documentary shows that the institutions tasked with investigating these claims have the wrong experts in them

When it comes to experts on these task forces, Dunning is not saying he knows more than them about their field of expertise; he is saying that the experts on these task forces have the wrong kind of expertise. He does know more than, say, the physicists on the task force about identifying what UFOs are because that is his field of expertise. Just like James Randi (who spent his entire life debunking psychic frauds) knew more about how to not be fooled by them than engineer Harold Puthoff and physicist Russell Targ (who were both easily fooled by the fraudulent (non)psychic Uri Geller), Dunning knows more about how not to be fooled by UFO sightings than the physicists on the task force. Indeed, he also knows more about that than Harold Puthoff who (in addition to being fooled by Geller) co-founded “To the Stars Academy,” which helped get the UAP task force created. Puthoff has been fooled by already debunked UFO sightings and evidence many times.

Although Dunning doesn’t make this argument, given that Dunning has made his living for almost two decades debunking claims exactly like the fantastic ones that the government is now tasked with examining, Dunning would be more qualified to be on the UAP Task Force than most (perhaps all) of those who are.***

Think of how much money the government wasted studying psychic powers in the ’70s and ’80s, when the real experts (like James Randi) could have told them, from the start, that it was bunk, and kept them from being fooled by bad evidence into thinking it was worth researching. The government is making exactly this same mistake again with UFOs. I know it seems laudable to want to “get to the bottom” of all these UFO sightings; but given the history of how these things always turn out, it’s just a huge waste of money; it would be like using government funding to figure out whether magicians have magic powers that could be used by the military.

My friend, I believe, routinely makes his own mistake, one that Dunning himself points to in the documentary. It’s based on the idea that pilots, government investigators, and military personnel are too smart and too well-trained to make basic mistakes—that they have a god-like or even just above-average ability to not be fooled and always come to justified conclusions. Not only does Dunning talk to very knowledgeable experts who have direct experience with the kind of very basic mistakes of reasoning and perception that (both civilian and military) pilots (and the rest of us) make all the time (including misidentifying flying objects); but many of the UFOs sightings and stories that Dunning easily explains away came from people like military and government personnel. They mistake lighthouse lights for alien craft; they misremember what days certain events happened; they don’t know what the motion parallax illusion is; they don’t realize that their camera is out of focus. The Navy released the Gimel, Go Fast, and Tic Tac videos without being able to explain them—and even, apparently, not even bothering to look at the on-screen information in the videos that helped explain them. It took online UFO skeptics all of about a week to do so.


Dunning’s documentary is a fantastic lesson in how to think critically. Because it was already in production, Dunning didn’t comment on the claims made my David Grush before congress this summer. But the documentary does seem to support what I said about the affair back in July: The “likelihood that David Grush and his sources have convinced themselves that they have good evidence of aliens when they don’t, is extremely high.” Grush and his sources are probably like the military personnel Dunning debunks; they have no clue about the limits of their perceptions and reasoning, and they have not actually tried to honestly falsify their claims. They have fooled themselves.

Granted, ideally, the government investigators would make up for this fault by doing that for them; but, given what we know, it doesn’t seem that they have the relevant expertise for such a task. Don’t be surprised if, after a thorough investigation, those government investigators aren’t able to explain something—and then, once the evidence is made public, people like Dunning and Mic West do so, quite quickly, beyond any reasonable doubt. It’s happened before; it will happen again.

*** This could also be said of things like The Galileo Project which, although it does have an astronomer at its head, seems to be made up of mainly true believers and doesn’t seem to take the skeptical view seriously. Both organizations, it seems, have already decided what UFOs are, aliens, and are not interested in ruling out the more likely ordinary explanations. Indeed, The Galileo Project is seemingly named after the fallacy that motivates it: the Galileo Gambit, the logical fallacy of thinking that your position is right solely because it (like Galileo) contradicts mainstream opinion.

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