People are weird about aliens and UFOs. The topic is perennially fascinating, I know. I have been involved with it nearly my entire career. But it’s one of those subjects where hope, wishful thinking, and unfettered speculation seem to overwhelm reason, facts, and evidence. The gap between what we know scientifically and what devout enthusiasts for aliens and UFOs believe or think they know is about as vast as the universe itself. Astronomers have been searching for any signs of extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe for six decades now, so far to no avail. But proponents assume not only that we have found them but that aliens are ubiquitous and love buzzing Earth in an amazing variety of spaceships with occupants that vary in great detail yet all seem suspiciously humanoid. It is both too much imagination and not enough imagination all at once.
In this special issue on “A Skeptical Look at UFOs and Aliens,” we present three articles dealing with all these matters. The prolific investigative team of Joe Nickell and astronomer/pilot James McGaha return to our pages with a range of observational issues and their “UFO Identification Process,” a kind of taxonomy of what UFO reports (and reports are all we have so far) can actually represent. It is quite a compendium. All these natural explanations need to be eliminated before jumping to the ET hypothesis. In “UFOs: Why Humanoid Aliens? Why So Varied?,” Eric Wojciechowski considers why most supposed occupants in anecdotal stories of aliens visiting us are so anthropomorphic. I think you will guess why. And their fantastic machines? Why are such a wide variety reported? It would seem to imply an enormous variety of cultures coming here all at once. (Despite, again, no scientific evidence so far of any ET cultures at all.) Is faulty human psychology again at work? Then retired biology professor David Zeigler takes us on a tour through the zoological kingdom to consider what kinds of critters are evolutionarily most successful. He finds one supportable prediction for what alien lifeforms might be—wait for it—worms. Not quite the lovable science fiction movie stereotype. And don’t miss space scientist David Morrison’s News and Comment piece on the possibly real aliens NASA is most concerned about.
We are fortunate to have a large retinue of regular columnists. They are experts, knowledgeable in their fields, broadly and deeply, and also exceedingly good communicators. Fine examples in this issue include psychologist Stuart Vyse on the autism wars, a fight for reason scientists thought they had won in the 1990s but are now having to fight all over again; Matthew Nisbet’s portrayal of the ecomodernists, who combine environmental concerns with new thinking on technology and progress; and physician Harriet Hall’s report on fake news about vaccine injuries.
The skeptical movement has many heroes, past and present. After editing the article by Robert Blaskiewicz and Mike Jarsulic in this issue, I have a new one. Dr. Arthur J. Cramp virtually invented and institutionalized quackbusting in the early decades of the twentieth century. What amazing energy, ability, and creativity he devoted to it! He helped professionalize American medicine and made investigation and exposure of quackery a singular part of the American Medical Association. He is someone we all should know and remember.