David Grusch, a former military intelligence officer turned whistleblower.
It started with a few fleeting sightings – strange messages and other phenomena that I struggled to explain. Over time, the signs of this secret invasion have grown. Now, I think it goes all the way to the top, penetrating even the heart of the US government. I’m talking, of course, about the increasing number of people who believe that aliens have visited Earth. …
To be clear, they almost certainly haven’t. There is absolutely no evidence for extraterrestrial visitors, while a basic understanding of physics and statistics makes the prospect extremely unlikely. In a universe the size and age of ours, with no way of travelling faster than light, the odds of intelligent aliens being close enough in time and space to hang out with us are vanishingly small. I’m not saying that our planet is the only one to host life, but rather that any aliens that do exist are too far away to drop by.
Yet the belief that Earth has been visited by multiple alien spacecraft is more popular than ever, even among people I would expect to know better. Why?
While tales of little green men have been popular since the 1950s, peaking in the 1990s with the likes of The X-Files and Independence Day, modern UFOmania began with a series of New York Times articles published in 2017.
These stories detailed a defunct US Department of Defense programme, backed by top US senators, dedicated to investigating flying objects with no explanation. The NYT also interviewed US Navy pilots who claimed to have encountered such objects in 2004, and published leaked videos of these incidents, which were later declassified by the Pentagon.
This combination of military bigwigs, senior politicians and a normally sober newspaper opened the door to taking UFO claims seriously. The videos certainly seem to show something in the sky, but there are any number of mundane explanations, from Chinese stealth balloons to simple instrument failure.
Fast forward to this week, and we now have so-called UFO whistleblower David Grusch, a former US intelligence official, testifying to Congress about alien crash sites and “non-human biologics” – none of which he has seen first-hand. Instead, he claims to have been told about them by other, unnamed, intelligence officials. While the claims being made about UFOs have become ever more outlandish, we still have no new evidence to go on.
The whole thing reminds me of Havana syndrome, a string of unexplained health problems experienced by staff at the US embassy in Cuba. Again, a combination of media, military and politics seems to have convinced many otherwise sensible people that some kind of secret microwave weapon is responsible, despite the fact that there is no evidence such a weapon exists and that, again, basic physics suggests that a device powerful enough to cause harm would be so large as to be nearly impossible to conceal. Stress and mass hysteria are far more likely explanations, experts say.
If you are reading this and still clutching your I WANT TO BELIEVE poster, you probably fall into one of two camps. Perhaps you are entirely convinced by these thinly evidenced claims, in which case I probably can’t do anything to dissuade you.
More likely, you don’t hold strong views about UFOs, but think tales of alien visitors are a bit of harmless fun and I should stop being such a party pooper. Actually, I wish I had pooped the party earlier. Since the 2017 claims, New Scientist has rarely written about the modern UFO phenomenon, simply because there is so little that is concrete to say. I had hoped the whole thing would just go away, but here we are. Part of my reason for writing this piece is so I can have something to link to on our website when people start making breathless claims that erode the public’s trust of science and the scientific method.
I will admit that everything I have written here could be entirely wrong. If the Pentagon starts wheeling out alien bodies and downed spacecraft, New Scientist will enthusiastically report on the most incredible find in human history – when the evidence changes, it’s only right to change your mind. Until then, we will stick to writing about science.
Despite testimony by David Grusch to US Congress about "non-human biologics" and UFO crash sites, there is still no evidence aliens have ever come to Earth. Why are people taking such claims seriously, asks Jacob Aron