Skip to main content

The Compelling Scientific Evidence for UFOs - Erol A. Faruk **


 You can see immediately from the cover that this is no ordinary popular science book. There are some issues with The Compelling Scientific Evidence for UFOs, but if you have an interest in the field, particularly if, like me, you are an open-minded sceptic on the subject, I would consider reading it. This is because it is one of the few attempts to use proper scientific methods on UFO evidence, and though I don't agree with Erol Faruk's conclusions, it is refreshing not to see simplistic acceptance or knee-jerk denial of what is, for many people, a genuinely interesting topic.


This isn't a general discussion of the UFO phenomenon - for that I'd recommend How UFOs Conquered the World by David Clarke, but instead gives us the author's take on a specific incident at Delphos, Kansas, where an alleged UFO landing left behind some very interesting material. The book has as an appendix made up of Faruk's scientific paper describing an analysis of the unusual organic material found, and some suggestions as to what it might be, and a main section that gives background to that paper and repeats a lot of the non-technical content.

The format doesn't work wonderfully well, because we start with 80 pages of introduction, then get 40 pages of the paper, which repeats a lot of what came before. By far the most interesting part is Faruk's analysis of the material, which is detailed and does show some unusual properties. We aren't talking the usual X-Files stuff of 'unknown substances' or 'alien material' - these are straightforward, if complex organic compounds, but they are unusual ones with interesting water repellant and fluorescent properties, which Faruk suggests could be indicators of previous bioluminescence.

What is this stuff and where does it come from? Faruk suggests it was material left behind when a UFO landed, leaving a circular mark on the grass. His book opens with an overview of the UFO phenomenon. This could be more balanced - at the moment it merely presents the 'believers' view and places far too much dependence on witness testimony. Although the author makes it clear that the best evidence is not about seeing lights in the sky - which are very common and often optically misleading - but seeing clear, detailed craft. Yet he doesn't really explain why in one of the best documented examples he gives where ‘hundreds, possibly thousands of witnesses’ say they saw a craft at Phoenix in 1997, there are no good photographs of anything other than... lights in the sky.

We then move onto the Delphos incident, with a description of what was reported, the evidence to support this, an overview of Faruk's analysis of the material and a series of attempts to get his paper on the subject published in a non-specialist journal, including Nature. It does no benefit to Faruk's argument to show us a series of email exchanges with journals where they reject a paper for what seem to be perfectly sensible reasons, but which are taken to be something close to suppression. Finally we get the paper itself. With any experience of journals like Nature, it's easy to see why it was rejected. The 'science' part of the paper is fine, but the long opening background section with links to Wikipedia as sources would put off any mainstream scientific journal.

As for the analysis, the problem is the leap from the genuinely interesting chemical analysis to the assumption that this vindicates the story of a UFO landing. The other evidence is mostly a family's testimony, plus a single Polaroid photograph said to show the ring where the UFO landed glowing in the dark. (It just looks like a ring of white material in the photo as printed - hardly useful evidence.) Faruk suggests that the existence of material he analyses could be the result of a hoax, a fungal ring or a UFO, and comes down in favour of the third option. But of itself there is no reason to make the leap to UFO other than the witness testimony - there are plenty more possible reasons for the existence of this material. It's strange, for instance, that Faruk doesn't mention the suggestion easily found online that a galvanised iron chicken feeder used to stand where the ring is, and that the ring is where chicken droppings accumulated for years.

So, a frustrating read, not delivering the compelling evidence promised. But I very much support the author's attempt to put UFO studies on a proper scientific basis, rather than leave reports of sightings and landings to be either lapped up uncritically or dismissed without any consideration by a sometimes heavy-handed scientific community.


Paperback 

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …

Six Impossible Things - John Gribbin *****

On first handling John Gribbin's book, it's impossible not to think of Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons in Physics - both are very slim, elegant hardbacks with a numbered set of items within - yet Six Impossible Things is a far, far better book than its predecessor. Where Seven Brief Lessons uses purple prose and vagueness in what feels like a scientific taster menu, Gribbin gives us a feast of precision and clarity, with a phenomenal amount of information for such a compact space. It's a TARDIS of popular science books, and I loved it.

Like rather a lot of titles lately (notably Philip Ball's excellent Beyond Weird), what Gribbin is taking on is not the detail of quantum physics itself - although he does manage to get across its essence in two 'fits' (named after the sections of Hunting of the Snark - Gribbin includes Lewis Carroll's epic poem in his recommended reading, though it's such a shame that the superb version annotated by Martin Gardi…

Elizabeth Bear - Four Way Interview

Elizabeth Bear won the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer in 2005 and has since published 15 novels and numerous short stories. She writes in both the SF and fantasy genres and has won critical acclaim in both. She has won the Hugo Award more than once. She lives in Massachusetts. Her latest title is Ancestral Night.

Why science fiction?

I've been a science fiction fan my entire life, and I feel like SF is the ideal framework for stories about humanity and how we can be better at it. Not just cautionary tales - though there's certainly also value in cautionary tales - but stories with some hope built in that we might, in fact, mature as a species and take some responsibility for things like reflexive bigotry and hate crimes (as I'm writing this, the heartbreaking news about the terrorist attack on Muslim worshipers in Christchurch is everywhere) and global climate destabilization. These are not intractable problems, but we need, as a species, the will to see that we …