“UFOlogy” And The Importance Of Expertise

So I recently came across an article on a website about a UFO discovery. Similar articles accompanied by video has appeared on several other websites including the Huffington Post and Yahoo! News. There are  so many reasons why one should be skeptical of this and not jump to conclusions as the authors of this blog, entitled, Mysterious Planet-Sized Object Spotted Near Mercury, and the video YouTube video linked below,  have.

But lets focus on the video first:

So the video shows a video of a coronal mass ejection near Mercury taken from a camera onboard  NASA’s STEREO spacecraft. Prior to the coronal mass ejection reaching mercury there doesn’t seem to be any apparent object close to mercury, afterwards you can see what appears to be an object that everyone says has been “decloaked”. That is assuming it was cloaked to begin with. The other assumption is that this must be a manufactured object and not a natural formation. Even though there are many examples of natural formations which appear manmade. It seems the authors of this article and others have also assumed that this must be an indication of aliens in our solar system.

Its funny how many people assume aliens whenever UFO’s are brought up, when a UFO is by definition an unidentified object. This means we don’t know what it is. If we don’t know what it is, how then can we assume aliens? I mean is it possible that even though most people don’t know much about aeronautics, or aircraft engineering, or astronomy could mistake something as mundane as a balloon for “alien spacecraft” or something paranormal? The answer is yes.  This mistake was committed by many New Yorkers and news affiliates in New York City in 2010.

It's not scientific but it makes me laugh. :-)

And this tendency to overestimate our expertise is a form of cognitive bias that is common to us all. It called the Dunning-Krueger Effect. What this effect describes is our tendency to misjudge our competence in relation to others. This is clearly evident in the portion of the article which says,

“Perhaps there is a must better question to ask: Who is afforded the benefit of the doubt–the “experts” or “conspiracy theorists?”

In this case, I would classify both sides as merely theorists. Both take the the information available to them and come up with pretty reasonable explanation based on it. Although, it appears the experts attempt to discredit other claims while the so-called conspiracy theorists took the evidence and made a claim. Whose side do you lean toward?”

Well the first question to ask is what is expertise?

An expert is someone who has acquired extensive knowledge and skill based on occupation or research in a particular field of study and recognized as an authority as such by their peers or the public as such. Now credentials for expertise can vary by field but one important component is recognition by ones peers. This is particularly true in science. This is not merely about popularity its not like high school, although there are some scientists that are regarded as though they were rock stars but its based on their research and intellectual contributions. Publishing in peer reviewed science journals is essential not only to share knowledge and data but for evaluation of claims and discourse that could further expand the scope of inquiry, shed light on potential pitfalls, etc.

Astronomers who have earned PhD’s or master’s degrees in astronomy or physics are trained to recognize or use tools to go about determining what far off objects are. They use mathematical tools to determine speed or trajectory of an object or spectroscopy to determine what an object is made of. What’s funny about astronomer’s is that there is no increase in reported UFO sightings among professional astronomers nor amateur astronomers. This is because they know what they are looking at.

And so, due to the difference in knowledge and skill there is no way you can reasonably suggest that experts and conspiracy theorists are the same. They have different levels of competency depending on the subject matter but you should never trust an expert particularly in an area outside of their expertise just because they demonstrate competence in another.

But what do the experts and evidence show us in this case?

Well according to scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory, NRL, the video is not taken in real time, its a series of enhanced stills. The scientists calculate the average light in each photograph. Light common to both photographs is then subtracted while the remaining light is enhanced. So when an object that moves, in this case the planet Mercury, is photographed and processed the averaging of the light in the photographs “this introduces dark (negative) artifacts in the background where the planet was on the previous day, when then show up as bright areas in the enhanced image.”

So thanks to the experts we can rest easy for a while and put off making banners to welcome our alien overlords! Hooray for experts!

Related Articles

An Astronomer Looks at UFOs: A Lot Less Than Meets the Eye

Mysterious “UFO” Footage Near Mercury Debunked

A Cloaked Alien Spaceship Orbiting Mercury

“Mysterious Planet-Sized Object” Is… A Planet!

Cloaked UFO Parked Near Mercury. Or Too Much Sci-Fi

Mercury UFO

Skepdic- Alien Abduction

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One thought on ““UFOlogy” And The Importance Of Expertise

  1. Rahk_Starr says:

    Nice write-up. I cannot tell you how many arguments I have witnessed in which the possibility of an UFO is equated to E.T. and Alf whisking about the cosmos. I too have a fascination with space and the possibility of alien life. I also peer into the night sky and occasionally see an odd object, however, I manage not to create a construct to fit what I hope is true. Additionally, I would think with funding cuts, now would be the perfect time for NASA to go ahead and leak some shit-hot evidence of alien existence if they had any.

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