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SCIENCE SALON # 126

Michael Shermer with Sarah Scoles — They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers

More than half a century since Roswell, UFOs have been making headlines once again. On December 17, 2017, the New York Times ran a front-page story about an approximately five-year Pentagon program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The article hinted, and its sources clearly said in subsequent television interviews, that some of the ships in question couldn’t be linked to any country. The implication, of course, was that they might be linked to other solar systems. The UFO community—those who had been thinking about, seeing, and analyzing supposed flying saucers (or triangles or chevrons) for years—was surprisingly skeptical of the revelation. Their incredulity and doubt rippled across the internet. Many of the people most invested in UFO reality weren’t really buying it. And as Scoles did her own digging, she ventured to dark, conspiracy-filled corners of the internet, to a former paranormal research center in Utah, and to the hallways of the Pentagon.

In They Are Already Here we meet the bigwigs, the scrappy upstarts, the field investigators, the rational people, and the unhinged kooks of this sprawling community. How do they interact with each other? How do they interact with “anomalous phenomena”? And how do they (as any group must) reflect the politics and culture of the larger world around them? Funny and colorful, and told in a way that doesn’t require one to believe, Scoles brings humanity to an often derided and misunderstood community. Scoles and Shermer discuss:

  • who the “they” are in her title,
  • comparing the UFO community to that of SETI scientists, whom she wrote about in her previous book, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence?
  • what it was like engaging UFOlogists at conferences,
  • her answer to the Fermi paradox: where is everyone?
  • what it means to “believe” in UFOs vs. ETIs,
  • Project Saucer, Project Sign, Project Grudge, Project Bluebook,
  • Robert Bigelow, Tom DeLonge, and the To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science,
  • the most probable explanation for the USS Nimitz UFO videos,
  • Kenneth Arnold, Roswell, Area 51, and modern myth making,
  • Scoles’ Mormon background and how she lost her religion, and
  • what we will replace religion with in the future.

Sarah Scoles is a science writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, Smithsonian, The Washington Post, Scientific American, Popular Science, Discover, New Scientist, Aeon, and Wired. A former editor at Astronomy magazine, Scoles worked at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the location of the first-ever SETI project. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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