Kevin Randle made a recent blog posting that basically repeats the same old argument about anecdotal evidence and how science will accept it for certain sciences but not for UFOs. As expected, Randle makes his case by drawing parallels with the discovery that meteorites came from falling out of the sky.
Were professors lying?
President Thomas Jefferson made the mistake of suggesting that it was impossible for rocks to fall from the sky. He would live to regret making the statement when science eventually determined that this was the case. If you listened to many UFOlogists, it was the anecdotal testimony of the eyewitnesses that established this. However, they also had the rocks that fell, which demonstrated the story the witnesses were telling were accurate. So, it was not the anecdotal testimony alone that established the fact that meteorites came from the sky.
Anecdotal meteor observations
As an amateur astronomer, I am fully aware of how anecdotal testimony has played a role in observations of astronomical events. One of the fields I first became involved with was meteor observing. I spent hundreds of hours in my backyard, counting meteors as a teenager. Reflecting on my observations back during that time period, I suspect that some of my observations were not that accurate. I just did not have the experience to differentiate between what I thought might have been a meteor and just tricks of the eye. I probably counted these “tricks” (flickering lights/dark meteors) as meteors when they probably weren’t. What this demonstrates is that one has to be careful at accepting such observations at face value.
My meteor observations had also gotten me involved with help researching a potential meteor shower, called the Upsilon Pegasids. It had been proposed by Hal Povenmire in the 1970s and 80s based on anecdotal reports from meteor observers, who reported seeing meteors coming from the constellation of Pegasus. However, having some meteor observers claiming they saw a few meteors from a specific area of the sky is not good enough to establish the shower’s existence. The maximum for the shower was amid all the other summer showers in early August so it would require photographs of point/near point meteors to verify the shower’s existence. I took many photographs of the great square on the dates in question but never was able to record a single Upsilon Pegasid. At one point, meteor observers began to doubt the radiant even existed and it was jokingly referred to by some as the “Halsieds”. I lost track of the research regarding the Upsilon Pegasids over the past few decades but I see that Mr. Povenmire has written at least one paper on the subject and seemed to be making some headway in getting the shower established. The point of this is that Povenmire could not rely on anecdotal evidence alone. He needed calibrated photographic/video evidence to support his theory. The meteors he has recorded may or may not be simple sporadics and it is going to take much more work to confirm the existence of this meteor shower.
A final type of anecdotal report associated with meteors are fireball reports. In the past, before the advent of all sky video cameras, it was mostly visual observations of these fireballs that were used to look for meteorite falls. These anecdotal reports can be valuable if they are accurate. However, when the analysis of the trajectory is based on just a few observers, errors can produce inaccurate conclusions. Only the discovery of meteorites will confirm which observations are correct and those that are not.
Other astronomical reports
Amateur and early professional astronomers reported many events based on their observations. Some of them have been accurate and others have not. The ones that haven’t (like the Martian canals or the planet Vulcan), have been discarded but the others needed to be confirmed. Recent amateur astronomer recordings of bright flashes due to reflections on Mars and impacts on Jupiter have confirmed some observations made in the past. Before these recordings, they were just anecdotal reports which may or may not be correct until they were confirmed.
What this means is that anecdotal testimony can play a role in scientific research but one can’t establish something as being factual/accurate without a lot more evidence than anecdotal reports. The more exotic the observation, the more convincing the evidence has to be to support it.
When it comes to astronomical observations one has to remember that for every Edward Barnard, there are a dozens of Percival Lowells. Suspect images/videos/observations need confirmation no matter how convinced the observer is that he could not be mistaken.
UFOs and anecdotal evidence
Allan Hendry once stated that science can be initiated by feelings but can not be based on them. While anecdotal evidence can be used to initiate research into a new phenomenon, like UFOs, it is usually inadequate by itself to convince the scientific community to take it seriously. Sure, people are reporting something they don’t understand and it might be significant. However, when one looks at the reports and the fact that most UFOlogists admit that 80-90% of them are misperceptions of ordinary phenomena, one has to wonder if the remaining 10-20% are also misperceived mundane events that just have not been identified.
I have repeatedly pointed out In this newsletter, methodologies/technology for gathering data beyond the anecdotal reports that UFOlogy relies upon to make their case. As long as UFOlogists rely on this anecdotal testimony as their primary source of “evidence” for UFOs being an exotic phenomenon, their endeavor to legitimize their research will result in failure. It is time for UFOlogy’s leading minds to take the next step! What is stopping them?
Anecdotal evidence and science
Quelle: SUNlite 2/2012