[G. Sallust, our reprehensible founder called the other day, and I was the one who answered the phone. So, being startled and at a loss for words, I asked the obvious question. “G,” I said, “you left us a while back to elope with a 19 year old; so how’s your sex life?” First he said nothing, then mumbled something that sounded like “not interested,” and “creepy old man,” then changed the subject. “There may be UFOs in New York,” he said, “and I want to look into it.” It seems that he read our post on printing money, especially the end part about watching the skies, and heartily agrees. The skies shouldn’t be left to NASA and DoD. We all need to be vigilant.

This is Fred, by the way. Normally UFOs are part of my beat here at the Zoo, but G. Sallust is the boss, even though many of us would rather not be seen in public with him, so he gets to go anywhere and discuss anything he wants. But there’s more to it than that. It – the UFO story – starts in Upstate New York, where he’s currently lurking, and he is our expert on what happens up there. That’s because he was raised in the area, and knows a little bit about the deep background of the locality: about the depressed economy, local native tribes, religious communities, witch covens, political movements, criminal enterprises and local oddities, plus the numerous local colleges, public and private; all percolating amongst the dairy farms and hollow cities. So I guess he’s the one best qualified to do our first report on who’s seeing UFOs today.]

You bet I am. But let’s start with today’s theme, which is watching the skies. It dates back to 1951, when Hollywood unleashed The Thing from Another World[1] on the American public. Wikipedia says it is “now considered by many to be one of the best films”[2]of that year and I’ll not dispute them on that. I searched for it on YouTube, and it no longer seems to be available as a free download, which implies that today it’s still worth something to somebody. Nevertheless the mantra of “watch the skies” was pretty common back in the 1950’s, and still resonates today. We were mostly looking for Russian bombers, but space aliens were always a possibility. You can see that if you take a look at a film clip that actually is available on YouTube, i.e., the one at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muFNT069Igw

For a while the Air Force ran a program to investigate UFO sightings and perhaps uncover the truth about them. It was called Project Blue Book.[3] But that was discontinued around 1970 after publication of the so-called Condon Report.[4] Of course the Report didn’t actually disprove all such sightings. That would have involved proving a negative, i.e., that something [space aliens, interdimensional beings, etc.] did not exist. That’s hard to do, unless one can identify – conclusively – something previously unidentified. What the Report said, instead, was

“In our study we gave consideration to every possibility that we could think of for getting objective scientific data about the kind of thing that is the subject of UFO reports. As the preceding summary shows, and as is fully documented in the detailed chapters which follow, all such efforts are beset with great difficulties. We place very little value for scientific purposes on the past accumulation of anecdotal records, most of which have been explained as arising from sightings of ordinary objects. Accordingly in Section I we have recommended against the mounting of a major effort for continuing UFO study for scientific reasons.”[5]

The record was not useful. End of story, at least for the Air Force. Eventually private sources began to collect and report on the more recent sightings, the two most important sources currently being MUFON[6] and NUFORC.[7] These aren’t Government entities, of course; they’re enthusiasts, probably working as volunteers[8]; and mostly they take reports.

Now comes the good news!  Someone is analyzing the current data! I found this out from, of all places, the New York Times.[9] I know a lot of you don’t trust that paper but even today it’s full of reporters and occasionally they do turn up things which, mirabile visu, the Times reports! In this case it was a story about UFOs that’s datelined “Syracuse!” Then I looked a little further and found that Central NY also has a blog[10] that concerns itself with UFOs and their comings and goings. But for the Times, I wouldn’t have known any of that. And finally, there’s a book just out that analyzes UFO sighting data for the last 15 years.[11] Whose data? Why the sighting reports collected by MUFON and NUFORC.

So I ordered the book; it’s called the UFO Sightings Desk Reference[12] and I’ve been paging through it. It’s massive and very interesting. It says, for example, that annual UFO sightings have increased dramatically in the last 15 years, from 3479 in 2001 to 11,868 in 2015.[13] In total MUFON and NUFORC collected over 121,036 sighting reports over the sample period.[14] When you think about it, that’s quite a few, and they’re all eyewitness accounts. Are they all “vetted,” i.e. personally examined by somebody in MUFON or NUFORC? Not likely. The Government used to do that kind of thing back in the 1950s and 1960s, but gave that up when it ended Project Blue Book. MUFON and NUFORC vet reports from time to time, but lack the resources to do it consistently. That would require an “army of volunteers” that currently doesn’t exist.[15]

Nevertheless, the numbers are interesting. They’ve gone way up in the last 15 years. If somebody decided to look at the underlying reports, would that disprove all of them? Probably not. Does that mean some of them are true? No. Most likely it would mean that there’s not enough evidence to decide one way or the other. It’s like the search for extraterrestrial life in general. Absence of proof [that such life exists] is not proof of its absence. It’s not proof that it exists, either. It simply means that we have to look further to decide.

Now let’s get back to the data, unreliable as it may be. In general UFO sightings are trending up, dramatically up; but the trend isn’t uniform; some states lead the pack, like California, which has had a 15 year total of 15,836 sightings;  followed by Florida [7787], Texas [7058], Washington [5226], Pennsylvania [5176], New York [5141], Arizona [4726], Illinois [4191], Michigan [4160] and Ohio [4115].[16] But that’s not nearly as interesting as what’s happened in small parts of individual states. You see, Costa and Costa also break out their data by county, and some of those seem to be virtual beehives of UFO activity.

Take, for example, Onondaga County in Upstate New York, where the authors live. [It’s named after the Onondaga Nation, one of the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederation.] Anyway, the county started in 2001 with 3 sightings, and eventually progressed to 29 in 2015. Sightings for the past 5 years have been 14 in 2011, 18 in 2012, 22 in 2013, 21 in 2014 and, of course, 29 in 2015.[17] That’s a lot for a small area.

It seems to me that, with all the advances in recent decades made in sensor technology, we ought to be able to solve the problems that government investigators had in Project Blue Book. Instead of going in after-the-fact to study events, today our Government ought to select 5 or 10 areas that are known hotbeds of UFO activity, like Onondaga County; blanket them with the latest sensor technology; and wait to see what turns up. Because we’d be setting up in advance, rather than after the fact, we could lay careful plans and use anything that might work: spy satellites; airborne reconnaissance [e.g., loitering drones]; ground sensors and even stuff we haven’t heard about yet. The public doesn’t need to know what’s deployed; just that the Government is back on the job. Details of the effort should be highly classified.

Anyway, that’s my modest proposal to repel UFOs and other night-time intruders. And please don’t thank me, all of you residents of Onondaga County! I’m just trying to keep us safe.

[1] Wikipedia does a good job with this kind of thing, so for more information check out its piece on the movie at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thing_from_Another_World .

[2] Id at Critical and box office reception. See also the Internet Movie Database at for a somewhat unenthusiastic posting about the Thing from Another World. It’s at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044121/

[3] Wikipedia has a good piece on Project Blue Book. It’s at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Blue_Book

[4] If you’re interested, a copy currently is maintained on the internet by NCAS [National Capital Area Skeptics] at http://files.ncas.org/condon/index.html . The official citation for the report would be, I guess, Condon,  Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Conducted by the University of Colorado under Contract No. 44620-67-C-0035 with the United States Air Force (1968).

[5] Id. at Conclusion, p. 67.

[6] That’s the Mutual UFO Network, at http://www.mufon.com/ .

[7] That’s the National UFO Reporting Center at http://www.nuforc.org/  .

[8] Don’t hold me to that. This is America, after all. No doubt somebody is drawing a salary.

[9] See New York Times, Blumenthal, People Are Seeing U.F.O.s Everywhere, and This Book Proves It (April 24, 2017), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/24/science/ufo-sightings-book.html?_r=0

[10] The blog is called New York Skies, and it’s hosted by the Syracuse New Times at https://www.syracusenewtimes.com/category/blogs/new-york-skies-ufo-blog/

[11] It’s Costa & Costa, UFO Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America 2001-2015 (March 24, 2017). I bought our copy from Amazon, where else? I found it at https://www.amazon.com/UFO-Sightings-Desk-Reference-2001-2015/dp/1544219237

[12] See Costa & Costa, UFO Sightings Desk Reference, United States of America 2001 – 2015 (Dragon Lady Media 2017), hereafter cited as Costa & Costa at __.

[13] See Costa & Costa at p. 5.

[14] See Costa & Costa at p. 1, 121,036 Eyewitness Accounts.

[15] See Costa & Costa at p. 21.

[16] See Costa & Costa at p. 7.

[17] See Costa & Costa at p. 240.