Miscellaneous Books

UFO Sightings - The Evidence by Robert Sheaffer 1998 Beaverton 001.942 SHE

This is the lone debunker book on a shelf of UFO nonsense at the Beaverton Library. Most of it is about the credulousness of UFO cranks, and there is nothing useful in that. Tools for helping others understand and appreciate the real world we live in, and participate more effectively and profitably in the real world, would take away the incentives for UFO story generation and propagation. A "field guide to phenomena confused with UFOs" would be a wonderful book.

Page 142: In 1898, E.E. Barnhard incorrectly obtained a parallax for Andromeda and estimated a distance of 20 light years. Sheaffer is confounded, but doesn't consider the "why". Astrophotograpy was a new science, and Barnhard probably did not spend hours exposing film to create a calibrated position for this diffuse object; he may have "eyeballed" it. 20 lightyears is a shift of 6 parsecs, or 1/6 of an arc-second shift compared to background. A star is a point object, but Andromeda is 1x3 degrees in the sky. Imagine trying to determine whether a cloud has shifted 1/360 of its diameter, compared to no shift at all. Understanding WHY people make perception mistakes tells us a lot about how to minimize them, and Shaeffer offers no help here

Shaeffer's model of the UFO Story Victim (my description) begins in the last chapter on page 314. I will quote it at length (I resent overreaching copyright):

What is going on here? Shaeffer puts the blame entirely on the losers. Perhaps scientists, business leaders, and doctors haven't taken the time to learn how to explain what they do in simple terms to the citizens whose taxes and purchases pay their salary. How are the unsuccessful going to become more successful and less resentful? There aren't enough scholarships for everyone to go to college. I was very lucky that financial help was available to get me through college; no doubt I worked hard to make a lot of my own "luck", but not nearly all of it was my own efforts alone. Helping others discover and enjoy the process of scientific thinking takes time, and we must develop simple ways to help others get started and teach these techniques to everyone aspiring to academic or leadership positions. Learning to see the world through a scientific lens takes decades that most people do not have, but a small step every day will improve their lives, and the world, inexorably. If the scientific establish rewards public outreach with tenure in preference to specialized journal publications, the journals will be slimmer and more substantive, and the public more willing to pay for research, because they themselves understand more of it.

Much of "stupidity" and "resentment" is a consequence of professional irresponsibility. If we don't help our neighbors learn, as so many dedicated teachers helped us, we have broken a chain of trust, and lost any entitlement to the public coffers.