Taylor Swift lives in my basement. I saw her. Well, saw a flash of something once out of the corner of my eye on the stairs. But I’m convinced it was her. I’ve also snapped a photograph — it looks like a murky blotch, because it was dark, but it’s definitely her. I know it. Some nights I awake to catch a scurrying sound, which seems like a few faint notes of “Shake It Off” filtering through the walls. It’s the only explanation.
Convinced? Would it help if I point out that I am a professional journalist, for whom honesty and observation are vital skills?
No? What’s the matter? Closed-minded? Hostile to Swift, an intelligent and talented young woman? Can you prove she isn’t there?
If you don’t believe Taylor Swift lives in my basement, then why would you — or anybody — ever believe that UFOs are visitors from outer space? A far more incredible claim, incidentally, since there can be no question whatsoever that Taylor Swift exists somewhere. The same could never be said about visiting space aliens.
Why is this important? As if 2017 hadn’t been a carnival of fabrication already, thanks to the current occupant of the Oval Office alone, in mid-December came news of a government program investigating UFO sightings, and Navy pilots’ encounter with — something unexplained. Exactly the sort of mixture to add fuel to the fires of uncritical belief: a secret program, a murky video, testimony from Top Gun types.
The murky photographic evidence — is there ever any other kind? — is of a “white tic tac” that appeared in 2004, supposedly, on the cameras of a U.S. Navy pilot, Cmdr. David Fravor, whose encounter off the coast of San Diego while flying a F/A-18F Super Hornet was enough to immediately convince him that whatever he was seeing was “something not from this Earth.”
That’s quite a leap.
Before anyone gave Fravor’s version of events any credence, somebody should have asked: are there other possibilities he is ignoring?
Do pilots ever experience confusion while flying? Why yes, they do. Also last year, in a far less publicized report, the Navy said that four F-18 pilots died from “physiological episodes” related to oxygen deprivation. This happens dozens of times a year in F-18s like the one Fravor flew: 114 incidents in 2016.
Does sensor equipment malfunction? Why yes, it does. And are there all manner of visual noise, mirages and strange phenomena that, upon investigation, turn out not to be flying saucers? Again, yes.
Do people lie? Do they create hoaxes? Do they manufacture evidence? Yes, yes and yes. If you crack open a UFO book from the 1970s and look at the photos, they’re the most ludicrous, crude, pie-plate-on-a-thread images. In an era where billions of ordinary people suddenly carry high-quality digital cameras in their phones, UFO reports should have skyrocketed. But they didn’t.
To those in the UFO community, sincere apologies. Typically, I don’t mess with another man’s fantasy. If the wondrous world as it actually is seems too dull for you, too unbearable without interpreting every enigmatic blur as space emissaries flitting around your back door, observing, then by all means, believe. I would never dispute those convinced of the physical reality of angels — 77 percent of Americans, according to one poll. Nor do I want to bicker with that part of the population — between a third and a half — certain we are being constantly visited by alien spacecraft in a way that manages to be both ubiquitous and obscure.
But we are living in a time when asking, “Is this really true?” is absolutely essential, practically a patriotic act. The media, though not the bolus of fakery that Donald Trump describes, does have blind spots. We’re suckers for lotteries. And dupes for UFOs, ignoring the laughable tissue of confusion heavily seasoned with gullible belief that is somberly presented as proof of the incredible.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” Carl Sagan once said. If I expect you to believe Taylor Swift is in my basement, then I had better prove it definitively. The standard for UFOs should be no less.