Is the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis Falsifiable?

by Martin Kottmeyer

There have been individuals frustrated by the behavior of ufologists and who level the charge that their beliefs are unfalsifiable. Advocates say this or that case is unexplainable or this or that pattern cannot be explained by conventional means. Solve the case, show the pattern is explicable, do they accept this negates their position? They will probably just come up with a new case or pattern. This is annoying behavior, but does it really constitute evidence of unfalsifiability? We are dealing with the proposition that intelligent beings are surreptitiously flying about the world and actively trying to prevent their detection. Maybe the evidence is ambiguous, but aren't we allowed the faith that someday someone will build the better mousetrap that will capture the proof to silence the cynics?

Efforts to find them in photographic sky surveys have met with no success. Efforts to videotape aliens capturing repeat abductees don't seem to be working. One researcher has suggested that maybe we can put radar-tracking devices on abductees and capture their transport to hovering craft. Maybe someday spy satellites can be used to monitor potential abduction sites and capture images of their craft. Okay, what if these are implemented and also fail? Will the advocates accept defeat or fall back on "selective visibility" and other magical supertechnology? Is there any conceivable test that will prove the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) wrong?

If the ambition is for an absolute all-doubts-and-all-potential-excuses-removed surefire alien mousetrap, I suspect such a thing is indeed inconceivable and the ETH potentially unfalsifiable. Let's suggest however that a more modest conception of falsification can be said to exist. Call it a more pragmatic and operational, a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? approach to falsification. Has the ETH provided us with anything useful or interesting in the way of prediction?

The answer to this is surely no. Nobody has yet come up with a working saucer drive mechanism from a consideration of the testimony of witnesses despite several attempts.1 ETH proponents have offered theories that they hoped would predict when the next flap would take place. Early proponents talked about UFOs monitoring atomic tests and the Air Force even set up a reporting net at a test site to test that possibility. Nothing was seen at the test site. Predictions that saucer reports would increase in response to future scheduled tests were total failures. Some offered predictions that saucer sightings increased when Mars got close to Earth. The bolder predictions failed and the weaker ones got results equivalent to random chance. Still weaker interpretations involving flaps as a way to desensitize humans to their fearful presence are not consistent with well-known findings in human psychology. Recent flap scholars are silent about these failures and seem to insist flaps are not psychosocial in nature, yet they have proposed nothing to suggest the ETH can explain the timing of flaps. Will advocates ever give us a useful ETH theory of flaps?2

Proponents have repeatedly proposed that the phenomenon was escalating in a pattern that suggested we would either soon be invaded, there would soon be a mass landing, or that there would soon be no doubt of their existence.3,4 All have failed. There have been many suggestions that flying saucers are, in one sense or another, omens for potential catastrophes. Each ufologist seems to offer a new variant: supernova (Heard), magnetic fission of the planet (Scully), earth knocked out of orbit (Keyhoe), mass A-bomb attack (Keyhoe), cosmoplastic Earth nova caused by L-bombs (Wilkins), extermination due to inferior ethics (Michel), cosmic storm (Jessup), catastrophic changes in the earth's surface (Lorenzens), war of the worlds (Steiger & Whritenour), a disaster beyond imagination (Fawcett), the violence of the final generation (Keel), climactic confrontation between Good and Evil involving the inner earth (Trench), rampaging natural forces (Binder), black hole collision generating a universal dissolution to which not even the gods are immune (Andrews), sterility (Fowler), environmental collapse and death of living Earth (Mack), catastrophe, hybrid integration and takeover, and control by big bug aliens (Jacobs). 5,6 All have failed to date, thank goodness.

As early as the 1947 Wave, there was already talk that the government would soon reveal what the saucers were. Louis E. Starr, commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, revealed on July 5th of that year that he was expecting a telegram concerning the "fleets of flying saucers" and it would "help explain the discs."7 Keyhoe, in his first book, thought he saw a pattern in Air Force statements that suggested to him the government had an "intricate program to prepare America and the world for the secret of the disks." In his view, "The official explanation may be imminent."8 This has been a continuing refrain among ufologists (FSR-1957; Lorenzen-1974, the Blums-1974, Walter Andrus-1983).9 (Psychics, contactees, and numerous minor figures have also predicted this,10,11 but these should probably be considered off the ledger in assessing the value of the ETH in serious ufology.) A very significant possibility for why these predictions fail is that the ETH is false and the government has no more to reveal than it already has.

The upshot is that the ETH has generated dozens of predictions which time has tested and found invalid. It has been falsified consistently where it counts — how it will prove its importance to mankind. The landing never comes. The invasion is postponed. The flaps don't conform to schedule. The government stays mum. The revolutionary saucer drive is never built. The world doesn't end. This may not be falsification in an absolute sense, but it is surely falsification in the ways that matter most.

Revised, originally appeared in Magonia ETH Bulletin #5, July 1998. Martin Kottmeyer is a frequent contributor to The REALL News.

  1. Vallee, Jacques, Revelations, Ballantine, 1991, pp. 283-4.
  2. Kottmeyer, "UFO Flaps-An Analysis," The Anomalist #3, Winter 1995-96, pp. 64-89.
  3. Kottmeyer, "What's Up, Doc," Magonia #44, #45, #46.
  4. Clark, Jerome, "The Last Decade," IUR, 15, #2, March/April 1990, pp. 3, 20, 23-4.
  5. Kottmeyer, "Dying Worlds, Dying Selves," Ufo Brigantia #47, January 1991, pp. 24-32.
  6. Andrews, George, Extraterrestrial Friends and Foes, Illuminet, 1993, p. 240.
    Fowler, Raymond, The Watchers, Bantam, 1990, pp. 357.
    Emory, C. Eugene, "Harvard Launches John Mack Attack," Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 19, #5, pp. 3-4.
    Jacobs, David, The Threat, Simon & Schuster, 1998, Chapter 12.
  7. Bloecher, Ted, Report on the Wave of 1947, author, 1967, p. I-9.
  8. Keyhoe, Donald, The Flying Saucers Are Real, Fawcett, 1950, pp. 6, 14.
  9. Klass, Philip J., "The Cloudy Crystal Ball," Skeptics UFO Newsletter, #14, March 1992, p. 8.
  10. Sheaffer, Robert, UFO Sightings-The Evidence, Prometheus, 1998, Chapter
  11. Cooper, Vicki, "1992 Predictions," Ufo Magazine, 7, #1, pp. 24-9.

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