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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 246

Nick Pope on UAPs, UFOs, Conspiracies, and Cover-ups

Author, journalist and TV personality Nick Pope ran the British government’s UFO program for the Ministry of Defense, leading the media to call him the real Fox Mulder. He’s recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on UFOs, the unexplained, and conspiracy theories. Nick is the media’s go-to person for UFOs. He’s made appearances on numerous TV news shows and documentaries, including Good Morning America, Nightline, Tucker Carlson Tonight and Ancient Aliens. He’s also written for the New York Times, for the BBC News website and for NBC’s technology and science site, and has acted as consultant and spokesperson on numerous alien-themed movies, TV shows, and video games. Nick Pope gives talks and takes part in academic conferences, fan conventions, and debates all around the world. He’s spoken at the National Press Club, the Royal Albert Hall, the Science Museum and the Global Competitiveness Forum, and has debated at the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union Society. Nick Pope lives in the US.

Shermer and Pope discuss:

  • What it was like working for the Ministry of Defense as their UFO expert?
  • The Believer’s Paradox: if the evidence is substantial enough to believe, where is it and why don’t others believe?
  • separating two questions: Are they out there? Have they come here?
  • SETI science vs. UFO/UAP science,
  • Roswell,
  • Bayesian reasoning about UFOs and UAPs,
  • the quality of evidence in evaluating UFO claims,
  • the US military UAP videos and what they really represent,
  • The Disclosure Project from the US government about UFOs and UAPs,
  • why we should keep an open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out,
  • the odds of ETIs being out there vs. the odds of ETIs having visited here,
  • what alien intelligence might be like: biological, digital, or otherwise,
  • an answer to Fermi’s Paradox: Where is everyone?
  • conspiracies and conspiracy theories: What should we believe?
  • real conspiracies in history.
Additional material based on the conversation

Three Hypotheses to Explain UAPs:

  1. Ordinary Terrestrial (camera/lens effects, visual illusions, balloons)
  2. Extraordinary Terrestrial (Russian or Chinese spy planes or drones capable of feats of physics and aerodynamics unheard of in the US)
  3. Extraordinary Extraterrestrial (alien intelligence)

The likeliest hypothesis is #1: ordinary terrestrial. The reason has to do with Signal Detection Theory, Bayesian Reasoning and the Base Rate effect.

According to Kean, “roughly 90 to 95 percent of UFO sightings can be explained” as “weather balloons, flares, sky lanterns, planes flying in formation, secret military aircraft, birds reflecting the sun, planes reflecting the sun, blimps, helicopters, the planets Venus or Mars, meteors or meteorites, space junk, satellites, swamp gas, spinning eddies, sundogs, ball lightning, ice crystals, reflected light off clouds, lights on the ground or lights reflected on a cockpit window” and more.

The entire extraterrestrial hypothesis is based on the residue of data left over after the above list has been exhausted. What’s left? Not much. Base Rate Effect:

  • 95% of all X can be explained by Y
  • X appears again
  • What’s more likely?
  • Y (at 95%) is the explanation or something else (at 5%)?

If you live in North America and you hear hoof steps outside your house, think horse not zebra

Paradigm Case of Medical Diagnosis & Base Rate Neglect:

  • Breast cancer prevalence in women = 1%
  • Sensitivity of the test for breast cancer is 90%
  • False positive rate of the test is 9%
  • A woman tests positive.
  • What is the probability she has breast cancer?
  • Most popular answer (incl from MDs): 80–90%
  • Actual answer: 9%
  • Why does almost everyone get this wrong?
  • They are neglecting the base rate (only 1%).

Bayesian Reasoning About Medical Diagnosis:

  • Forget the generic “a woman” (because an individual either has or doesn’t have cancer).
  • Think a sample of 1000 women, 10 of whom have breast cancer. (That’s the base rate, or the 1% prevalence.)
  • Of these 10 women, 9 will test positive. (That’s the 90% sensitivity of the test.)
  • Of the 990 women without breast cancer 89 will test positive (that’s the 9% false-positive rate).
  • A woman tests positive. Does she have breast cancer or not?

Here’s how to answer the question:

  • Out of 1,000 women tested for cancer…
  • 98 of them test positive in all (89 + 9)
  • 9 of them have cancer
  • 9 divided by 98 is ~9%
  • That’s our answer.
  • When the problem is framed this way, 87% of doctors get it right, as do a majority of people.

Sphere: Navy pilot Ryan Graves told 60 Minutes’ correspondent Bill Whitaker that they had seen UAPs “every day for at least a couple of years.” If true, given that nearly every passenger has a smart phone with a high-definition camera, there should be thousands of clear and unmistakable photographs and videos of these UAPs. To date there is not one. Here the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on February 1, 2022.

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