I’m not normally a big fan of criticism for criticism’s sake, at least I try not to be, but some days are better than others. It reminds me of a television commercial where two consultants go on at length to a business owner about how to reorganize his business. The business owner then says, “Great, let’s do it.” The consultants look at each other for a confused second and respond, “We don’t actually do it, we just propose it,” and then walk out of the office. I don’t want to be those guys, so I’m going to take my own advice and put out my own roadmap and then start to working on it. I should preface all that follows by saying that this is how I imagine ufology to be, at least potentially. Your view may well be different. If so, great, I hope you publish it somewhere so people can discuss it. So here goes, Jeff’s roadmap to acknowledgment for the UFO phenomenon.
I picture the ufo phenomenon or at least the American public’s acknowledgment of something anomalous in the skies like the function plotted in that graph.
The graph plots a function determined by an ‘X-factor’ variable on the horizontal axis, with the percentage of the public that acknowledgment an anomalous phenomenon on the vertical axis. I will discuss my thoughts on the makeup of the ‘X’ factor later in the post. Overall, the function’s shape is something like an S with a slowly rising portion followed by a steeper portion followed by another flatter portion.
At the point on the far left of the horizontal axis, the ‘X’ factor is zero or close to it. The value of the function, however is not zero. This represents the idea that some portion of the public will always acknowledge the UFO phenomenon no matter what the value of X is. For this portion of the function, it is important to note, however, that although gains may be made in ‘X’, the percentage of acknowledgment increases at a rate slower than the rate at which X increases.
To the right of X3, the function continues to rise, however at a much slower rate, and never approaches 100%. For example, there is a portion of the world’s population that believes the Earth is flat. Another portion of the population denies that humanity has sent a man to the moon. There’s plenty of data to suggest otherwise, but many of them will never acknowledge the sphere-ish shape of the earth or the lunar landing, no matter what the evidence says. (There are plenty of people that would put the ufo phenomenon in where I just put the flat-earthers, so I won’t be too harsh.)
I think the interesting part of the graph is in the middle portion. Between the points above X1 and X3, the function has a slope greater than 1 for all parts. That’s good because you can make great progress in terms of the goal of achieving acknowledgment with smaller gains in X than you would have had to make in the end parts of the functions. Its also good, because given the gains in technology over the last few decades, gains in x are probably more easy to obtain now than they ever have been.
Personally I think that the best that ufology can probably do, in its present form, is get to X2. X2 represents the point that would be a critical mass of the population that acknowledges that something is going on, and begins to enable/demand better research and funding for the study of the phenomenon. X2 is somewhere between X1 and X3, although I don’t have any idea which point it is closer to, making it impossible to say just how far ‘X’ would have to be increased to get to X2.
Of course, I don’t have any data that suggests the graph accurately represents the state of ufology, or anything else. I haven’t even identified what I think X represents. Unfortunately, a lack of a good definition of X and how to increase it also seems to have paralyzed progress. Maybe its not a lack of a good definition, maybe its not being able to move on from an older, assumed definition that outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone else has really come up with a good definition either, so I don’t feel so stupid assuming the shape of the function or defining its variables. For the sake of discussion, I’m going to assume shape is reasonable and assert that we’re probably closer to X1 than X2 on the X axis, and nowhere near X3. I’m also going to take a stab at defining what X is. Hey, if Frank Drake got to declare an unsolvable equation with a bunch of unknowable variables, why can’t I?
X = Q x F x D x C x V
I define X as a combination of factors that can each be approximately quantified, on a scale of 0 to 1: Q,Quality of data; F,Freedom of informational movement; D,Dispersion of experience/data; C,Connectedness of population; V,Volume. Like the drake equation, I think of these as factors to be multiplied together. If any of the factors equal zero, then X equals zero. I don’t think any of the factors are zero, if only because there’s obviously a significant portion of the population that believes the phenomenon exists.
Quality of Data: I define quality somewhat broadly, as both the degree to which data can be originally collected, but also to the degree that it can be controlled, and the degree to which it fits the actual phenomenon. A telephone conversation, for example, can be said to be high quality if there isn’t a lot of static and you are able to hear the other person. But as a source of data, it is only high quality if it can be analyzed. That requires the ability to control when the conversation happens, the ability to control the volume, the ability to record and replay it, and the ability to identify and correct errors within the mechanism of transmission. At present, the quality of ufo data varies widely (to put it mildly), and the topic of quality probably deserves a number of separate posts here and a much broader discussion in the UFO community as a whole. Its possible that the overall quality of UFO-related data will never be very high and will keep the value of ‘X’ permanently low, although this is one area that I think the most significant progress can be made.
Freedom of Informational Movement: Ideally, in a society with an informed, competent, and competitive media, information will move about with little resistance, without anyone being able to decide to withhold information to a larger group. Of course you can debate how well that describes our world until you are blue in the face. I’m less interested in quantifying a precise score for freedom of informational movement than I am in figuring out how its changing, and how to improve it.
Dispersion of Experience: The dispersion of experience is the measure of a given population that has direct experience with the phenomenon. Everyone in North America acknowledges the phenomenon of snow mainly because most everyone has experienced snow at some point, or knows someone that has. Prior to the advent of television, the percentage of people in equatorial populations that would be willing to concede a cold, white crystaline form of precipitation was probably far less than 100. Dispersion of experience is another factor that can be significantly improved upon within and by ufology
Connectedness of population: The degree that people within a population are in regular contact with each other. It is proportional to the number of people that a given person knows, as well as how regularly they are in contact. In a small town, news travels fast because everyone knows everyone and those relationships are cultivated through frequent face-to-face contact. I’m not sure how this will be increased, but maybe someone can figure something out.
Volume: The degree of noticeability of a piece of information. A front page story is louder than something buried on page 25. A full page ad is louder than classified ad. No matter where you stand in ufology, you probably believe someone shouldn’t be quite as loud as they are, because its taking away from the “real” story of ufology, whatever that is.
Some of the above factors can be controlled or improved upon by and within ufology, such as the quality of data. Others are much more subject to factors beyond the control of ufology, such as the connectedness of a given population. The Internet has done a lot to increase this factor and would have done so without any input from ufology, but ufology would do well to figure out better ways to hitch its horse to improvements of the factor.
My point in this post is not to say that this is how ufology is. My point is to say that this is how ufology might be, and these are some factors that could be improved to help push ufology forward. Defining the factors helps to give those interested a starting point to think of ways to improve the factors. You may have different ideas about the shape of the curve, if a curve is even a good way to map out possible progress, and what factors should go into calculating ‘X’. If so, I hope you will express them so that other people can think about them, and set about devising ways to improve them.