The International Journal of Space Politics & Policy
ISSN: 1477-7622 (Print) 1557-2943 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fast20
Strategic Ignorance and the Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Critiquing the
Discursive Segregation of UFOs from Scientific
To cite this article: Adam Dodd (2018) Strategic Ignorance and the Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence: Critiquing the Discursive Segregation of UFOs from Scientific Inquiry, Astropolitics,
16:1, 75-95, DOI: 10.1080/14777622.2018.1433409
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14777622.2018.1433409
Published online: 08 Mar 2018.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 308
View related articles
View Crossmark data
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
2018, VOL. 16, NO. 1, 75–95
Strategic Ignorance and the Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence: Critiquing the Discursive Segregation of UFOs
from Scientific Inquiry
School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia
Since the late 1940s, a tenacious disconnect between popular
interest and professional disinterest in unidentified flying
objects (UFOs) has typified the controversy surrounding the
subject. Numerous high-profile scientists have seen the topic
of UFOs as an opportunity to denounce and rectify a popular,
yet allegedly misguided, conviction—that some UFOs are physical anomalies indicating the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence—and thus to advance the explanatory authority of
science. Rather than constituting rigorous, informed, and effective assessments, however, the ways in which many prominent
scientists publicly address the UFO question often exemplify
both the problematic “boundary-work” of scientific discourse
in this area and, more specifically, the role that logical fallacies
can play in the rhetorical construction of scientific authority in
public domains. Through a critical discourse analysis, this article argues that ignorance of UFO phenomena is socially and
discursively constructed in ways that are conducive to the
public faces of individuals and institutions. More broadly, it
suggests that the rudimentary standard of science communication attending to the extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI)
hypothesis for UFOs inhibits public understanding of science,
dissuades academic inquiry within the physical and social
sciences, and undermines progressive space policy initiatives.
On 27 February 2008, Stephen Hawking, arguably the world’s most recognizable scientist, remotely delivered a talk titled “Questioning the Universe” to
the TED2008 Conference in Monterey, California. The video-linked presentation was filmed and uploaded to the TED web site, where it has since
received over 8,800,000 hits, and added to TED’s YouTube channel, where it
has received over 5,800,000 hits. In line with TED2008’s theme of “The Big
Questions,” Hawking’s lecture addresses some fundamental cosmological
quandaries, largely for the benefit of a lay audience: Where did we come
from? How did the universe come into being? Are we alone in the universe?
Is there alien life out there? What is the future of the human race? In doing
so, it takes place within a tradition of public engagement with such questions,
CONTACT Adam Dodd
Lucia QLD 4072, Australia
© 2018 Taylor & Francis
Level 6, Michie Building (9), The University of Queensland, St
perhaps most famously exemplified by the late Carl Sagan, and especially his
PBS documentary series, Cosmos.
Hawking’s TED address includes an account of the unidentified flying
object (UFO) phenomenon, offered as part of a broader response to the
question of whether human beings are “alone” in the universe. It is an
interesting account not because of what it tells us about the UFO phenomenon per se, but for what it reveals about Hawking’s public position on the
subject of UFOs. Rather than reflecting what could be called a strictly
scientific engagement with the subject—one oriented by a critically informed
perspective grounded in first-hand research and/or reference to the research
of qualified peers—Hawking’s publicly presented views seem fundamentally
shaped by “common sense,” as if drawn from widely distributed stereotypical, folkloric, and popular cultural portrayals. In this, Hawking’s position
aligns with that of a number of his most eminent contemporaries, some of
whom are also discussed below.
Since it is generally acceptable for scientists to not address the subject of
UFOs when speaking to the question of whether humans are alone in the
universe, it is somewhat unusual that Hawking would choose to do so. What
is less unusual, though no less interesting, is that this is a subject Hawking
raises and dismisses in around 60 seconds, constituting little more than a
brief, mildly humorous digression from his “serious” discussion of the big
questions listed earlier. The subject of UFOs is effectively raised by Hawking
to be dismissed.
On the other hand, we don’t seem to have been visited by aliens. I am
discounting the reports of UFOs. Why would they appear only to cranks and
weirdoes? If there is a government conspiracy to suppress the reports and keep
for itself the scientific knowledge the aliens bring, it seems to have been a
singularly ineffective policy so far. Furthermore, despite an extensive search by
the SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] project, we haven’t heard any
alien television quiz shows. This probably indicates that there are no alien
civilizations at our stage of development within a radius of a few hundred
light years. Issuing an insurance policy against abduction by aliens seems a
pretty safe bet.1
In this passage, which provides the framework for the following analysis,
Hawking subjects the relationship of science and the UFO to what Hilgartner
has termed an “appropriate simplification,” understood as “a necessary
[albeit low status] educational activity of simplifying science for nonspecialists.”2 Structurally, Hawking’s treatment is a complex and effective
rhetorical dismissal because of, not despite, its brevity. Overall, it seeks to
assure the audience of an extended non sequitur: since UFO reports cannot
be taken as indications of extraterrestrial intelligence, UFOs do not represent
anything anomalous, and therefore, the subject of UFOs does not fall within
the field of scientific interest.
Although polling has shown that, at least in the United States, about half
of the population believes that extraterrestrials have visited the Earth,3 the
dominant view within the scientific community is that such beliefs are
fundamentally erroneous, and tantamount to belief in the supernatural.
The disparity between the popular belief that UFOs exist and the scientific
knowledge that they do not would at least partly account for Hawking’s
decision to speak on the subject, and the ongoing rift between “scientists”
and UFO “believers” has been recently examined by Eghigian.4 Although no
individual or institution can claim an explanatory monopoly on the subject
of UFOs, Hawking’s version arguably represents something of a special case;
it is a version received by approximately 14,000,000 viewers from one of the
world’s most authoritative, accomplished, and admired contemporary scientists. Delivered from the quasi-academic and comparatively well-respected
TED platform, its influence upon public opinion—as an example of how to
regard UFOs scientifically—has presumably been extensive, despite the
apparent persistence of the belief that some UFOs are alien spacecraft.
Given that the figure of the UFO evidently continues to constitute something of an epistemological and ontological controversy for science, closely
examining how scientists publicly articulate their position on this subject can
reveal how the controversy is itself continually arbitrated through acts of
communication and, specifically, through contemporary scientific discourse
intended for a lay audience. Poaching the subtitle of Steven Shapin’s anthology, Never Pure, it makes sense to consider scientists’ public statements about
UFOs “as if they were produced by people with bodies, situated in time,
space, culture, and society, and struggling for credibility and authority.”5
When it comes to the discursive aspects of this struggle, as Hilgartner has
observed, “scientific experts enjoy great flexibility in public discourse… when
it suits their purposes, they can issue simplified representations for broader
audiences…. On the other hand, scientists at all times can draw on the
notion of “distortion” to discredit publicly-available representations.”6
Along with Hilgartner’s “appropriate simplification,” Thomas Gieryn’s concept of “boundary-work”7 has been extensively adopted in the sociology of
science; it is concerned with the methodological construction of “a social
boundary that distinguishes some intellectual activities as “‘non-science.’”8
However, neither of these concepts has been considered in the specific case of
public scientific discourse about the UFO controversy—despite global public
interest in the topic spanning seven decades—and scholarship on the social
construction of knowledge, and ignorance, of UFOs remains scarce.
In order to address this deficit, I consider how the construction of UFOs as
a “non-phenomenon” results from cumulative, discursive acts of marginalization, the kind of boundary-work identified by Gieryn as expulsion or
purification. We may think of non-knowledge of UFOs in this sense as a
result of coordinated, “strategic ignorance.”9 The article sequentially attends
to each of the six sentences that together comprise Hawking’s TED statement
about UFOs, discusses how they function rhetorically, identifies their logical
fallacies, and examines the extent to which they can be understood in relation
to wider, culturally contingent debates about the existence of extraterrestrial
intelligence and its interaction, or lack thereof, with the Earth. In doing so,
the article brings together a sample of public statements made over a 30-year
period by various high-profile scientists, considering them as performative
utterances conducive to the maintenance of what Goffman termed “face:” “an
image of self delineated in terms of approved social attributes—albeit an
image others may share, as when a person makes a good showing for his
profession or religion by making a good showing for himself.” 10 For
Goffman, the maintenance of face was typical of everyday social interaction,
and by no means exclusive to high-profile public figures. However, it follows
that those with very public “faces,” such as career professionals in elevated
positions of trust and authority, generally have more at stake in the doing of
“facework” than others.
Following Hilgartner’s11 analysis of expert advice as public drama, an
approach oriented by Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective, I interpret scientists’ public statements about UFOs as performative; that is, as statements
assisting stage-bound and self-conscious demonstrations of how to regard
UFOs scientifically, delivered before an audience. When publicly addressing
the subject of UFOs—a subject qualifying as a potential face threat, should
one be seen to endorse it—scientists often shift their footing in a departure
from the principles of sagacity, objectivity, and curiosity that are usually seen
as characterizing their profession. Although these principles may be regarded
as part of the so-called “mystique of science,” it remains the case that this
shift in footing, evident in published orations and print, rarely results in a
“loss of face,” nor in a “poor showing” for the scientific profession. Rather, it
seems typically to maintain the face, and hence, the reputation, of the
scientist and their profession by reaffirming the boundary of science.
Drawing also from recent work on the social construction of ignorance, or
“agnotology,”12 the article suggests that in cases where scientists’ public
statements about UFOs derive from logical fallacies and historical inaccuracies, both public and professional knowledge of the UFO subject is consequently hindered—that ignorance of the topic of UFOs is actively produced,
rather than natural or inevitable.
Before beginning the analysis, a few words on positionality are warranted.
The topic of UFOs seems to exert a kind of magnetic tidal pull into “the
world of the paranormal” at large, inviting superficial associations with a
wide variety of other strange phenomena and outlandish claims, and making
discrete focus unusually difficult. Indeed, Gallup polling routinely groups
belief in UFOs together with belief in witches, haunted houses, telepathy, and
astrology. A related difficulty is that those who are openly critical of the
overall scientific verdict on UFOs are often perceived prima facie to be
irrationally promoting the reality of alien spacecraft, and perhaps by extension, the entire gamut of “the paranormal.” This being the case, it is crucial to
emphasize here that this article does not argue for a particular interpretation
of UFO phenomena, which remain, by definition, unidentified. Rather than
dealing with the ultimate ontological status of apparent anomalies, the article
critically examines how and why astronomers, cosmologists, and physicists
rhetorically dismiss the subject of UFOs from the field of scientific inquiry,
including their dismissal of the extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) hypothesis
—the hypothesis that some UFOs may signify the existence of extraterrestrial, nonhuman intelligence.
“We don’t seem to have been visited by aliens”
Hawking begins his dismissal of UFOs with a logical fallacy—specifically, an
“argument from ignorance.” The apparent absence of evidence for alien
visitation is offered as being practically synonymous with its actual absence
—that is, in this special case, an absence of evidence does constitute evidence
of absence. Crucially, to support his claim that we do not seem to have been
visited by aliens, Hawking exclusively evokes a particular kind of alien
visitation: overt contact. While overt contact, the kind of messianic “big
event” most frequently presented in Hollywood feature films about alien
visitation, would certainly provide the so-called “extraordinary evidence”
often demanded from proponents of the ETI hypothesis, its false equivalence
with alien visitation permits a range of anthropocentric and unworkable
evidentiary requirements, perhaps the most hackneyed of which is: “If the
aliens are here, why don’t they land on the White House lawn?” Facing the
question of alien visitation from a perspective that privileges overt contact at
the exclusion of other, subtler, more elusive, or even more likely forms of
visitation essentially places its adherents in the awkward, interminable position of waiting for a Hollywood version of the UFO phenomenon to manifest
before the UFO phenomenon can itself be accepted as indicative of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Although it is not evident from Hawking’s “appropriately simplified”
address, the seemingly uncontroversial claim that we don’t seem to have
been visited by aliens has been the subject of some debate among scientists.
This debate gained considerable traction in the 1970s, in the wake of the U.S.
Air-Force-funded Final Report on the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying
Objects,13 though has since lost momentum and remains unresolved.
Sturrock, for example, has observed that UFO reports provide an extensive
base of empirical data, and that any discussion of ETI must acknowledge the
existence of this data.14 Kuiper and Morris have suggested that alien visitation and interaction with the Earth, and its various inhabitants, could be
effected “with no more attention from us than a UFO article or a missing
person’s report,” and that “the possibilities that we are being ignored,
avoided, or discreetly watched are logically possible.”15 This is a logical
possibility also discussed by Sagan, who argued that “even with slow rates
of technological advance, extraterrestrial civilizations substantially in our
future will have technologies and laws of nature currently inaccessible to
us, and will probably have minimal interest in communicating with us.”16
Ball posited that “extraterrestrial life may be almost ubiquitous” and that “the
apparent failure of such life to interact with us may be understood in terms
of the hypothesis that they have set us aside as part of a wilderness area or
zoo.”17 Schwartzman contended that the apparent absence of extraterrestrials
on Earth, despite the probable existence of what Bracewell termed a “Galactic
Club”18 of advanced civilizations, “supports the view that we are under
surveillance by extraterrestrial intelligence.”19 Hence, as numerous scientists
have previously observed, although it may seem as if we have not been visited
by aliens because no overt contact has been made, the mere absence of this
particular kind of interaction is insufficient grounds for rejecting the possibility that visitation has in fact occurred.
Hawking’s position here also appeals implicitly to the Fermi paradox: the
apparent disparity between the number of extraterrestrial civilizations which
statistically should exist, and the absence of evidence we have for those
civilizations.20 Physicist Enrico Fermi had remarked, around 1950, that we
should have ample evidence for such civilizations if they did in fact exist, perhaps
even manifesting as our overt subjugation by technologically advanced interplanetary colonists.21 In other words, if they are indeed “out there,” then at least
some of them should be coming here, and if that was happening, we would
certainly know about it—it would seem as if we had been visited by aliens.
The Fermi paradox remains a frequently deployed rebuttal to the claim that
extraterrestrial civilizations are abundant throughout the galaxy, as also suggested by the Drake Equation, and thus serves as an argument against the ETI
hypothesis for UFOs. Although it draws on the relatively benign assumption that
alien civilizations would be very likely to engage in some kind of cosmic
exploration if they were able to do so, it extends, more problematically, the
anthropocentric assumption that the incessant urge to expand, intrude, and
conquer, perhaps most saliently expressed by a small group of European nations,
is both a natural, cosmic imperative and inevitably conducive to the development and interstellar activities of civilizations throughout the galaxy. Kuiper and
Morris provide a clear example of this culturally contingent assumption:
By referring to historical trends in human civilizations, we make the implicit but
quite plausible assumption that all civilizations have, in principle, similar origins in
the natural selection processes and that the behavior of organisms is thus determined in large part by natural forces which are similar everywhere.22
This assumption is then developed further, along strictly anthropocentric
lines: “given man’s historically proved urge to explore, expand, and colonize,
we make the minimal assumption that this trend will not be halted or
reversed at our present stage of development…. This tendency is extrapolated
to be the same for all technological civilizations.”23 Human colonization, as a
model for what is likely to occur throughout this galaxy and the roughly
100 billion others estimated to exist, is thus portrayed as a wholly “natural”
process governed by universal and timeless biological imperatives, rather
than as, say, the outcome of contingent social, cultural, historical, political,
technological, economic, geographic, climatological, religious, and moral
circumstances. Moreover, the logical possibility that extraterrestrial intelligence may not be wholly organic in nature, and thus not subject to the
allegedly inevitable and eternal imperatives of organisms, is omitted
Historically, the majority of unexplained UFO reports describe vibrant
objects of ambiguous materiality which seem occasionally to act in ways
consistent with benign and insouciant surveillance, but inconsistent with
invasion or colonization. Yet, the scenario of interplanetary invasion—a
particularly abrupt form of overt contact—tends to dominate conceptions
of how alien visitation of Earth would occur, thus sustaining the false
equivalence of invasion and visitation. Indeed, Hawking draws explicitly on
this kind of scenario in his 2010 documentary series, Into the Universe,
offering it as a plausible model of visitation:
I imagine they might exist in massive ships… having used up all the resources
from the home planet below. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become
nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they could reach….
So, if aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher
Columbus landed in America—which didn’t turn out very well for the Native
Such scenarios, it should be noted, are not universally accepted as probable
by scientists professionally concerned with the question of extraterrestrial
intelligence.26 Hawking’s likening of an historical encounter between members of the same terrestrial species previously separated only by geographical
space (Homo sapiens) to a hypothetical encounter between members of
different species previously separated by vast tracts of interplanetary space
and evolutionary time, while evocative, is essentially incongruous. This way
of “thinking the alien” has a history—indeed, it neatly exemplifies the tradition of imagining the alien within the conceptual parameters of anthropology
that first took shape in the nineteenth century. As McGrane has observed:
“There is a great similarity, from an archaeological perspective, between what
we term modern ‘anthropological discourse’ and what we term modern
‘science fiction’: for with the non-European Other as with the aliens-from-
other-planets, what is significant is not whether such beings exist or not, but,
rather, the fact that they are conceivable.”27 The “aliens” Hawking conceives
here, and encourages his audience to conceive, are paradoxically both
European and Other—essentially, they are colonial Westerners, but from
another planet in the not-too-distant future. Despite this inversion, a more
anthropocentric conception of alien visitation is difficult to imagine.
In the case of UFOs specifically, the Fermi paradox is often used to bolster
the assumption that it is already known that no UFOs indicate extraterrestrial
intelligence, when in fact this is not known. Sagan, for example, had drawn
upon the Fermi paradox to dismiss the ETI hypothesis in Cosmos: “In the
vastness of the cosmos, there must be other civilizations far older and more
advanced than ours. So, shouldn’t we have been visited? Shouldn’t there be,
every now and then, alien ships in the skies of Earth?”28 Here, the possibility,
however remote, that some UFOs are alien ships present every now and then
in the skies of Earth is skillfully elided with a pair of rhetorical questions. The
deployment of the Fermi paradox to dismiss the ETI hypothesis for UFOs,
and the kind of bandwagon fallacy it may engender in astronomers, is further
exemplified by astrophysicist Michael H. Hart, who, in a widely influential
1975 paper, refers to “the UFO Hypothesis… that extraterrestrials have not
only arrived on Earth, but are still here…. Since very few astronomers believe
the UFO Hypothesis it seems unnecessary to discuss my own reasons for
rejecting it.”29 Here, we have a concession that some astronomers support the
ETI hypothesis for UFOs, but they remain anonymous and marginalized;
their number is unquantified and ultimately trivialized as “very few.” Their
interest in the ETI hypothesis, an interest which feasibly may range from
casual curiosity to enthusiastic endorsement, is described as “belief”—a word
that evokes strong connotations of faith, rather than knowledge. Hart positions the ETI hypothesis for UFOs outside of scientific consideration by
appealing to the notion of a rational majority, which does not “believe” the
hypothesis, and an irrational minority, which does. In doing so, he misrepresents the very nature and purpose of hypotheses, which are proposals
devised to be tested, not propositions to be “believed” or not.
For Sagan, the prospect that some UFOs represent alien visitation was at
There’s nothing impossible in this idea, and no one would be happier than me if
we were being visited. But has it happened in fact? What counts is not what sounds
plausible, not what we’d like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but
only what is supported by hard evidence, rigorously and skeptically examined—
extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.30
Sagan juxtaposes the notion of a strictly methodical scientific approach
against intuition and a will to believe, then casually misrepresents the large
body of globally collated UFO data as the “claims” of “one or two
witnesses”—an appropriate simplification which levers his intimation that
UFO data are both inherently unreliable and unworkably scarce. Throughout
his examination of the UFO question in Cosmos, Sagan does not mention, for
example, the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book and its large collection of
Noteworthy in this passage is Sagan’s elicitation of the now-famous dictum that so-called extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This
dictum is often invoked by scientists in response to the UFO evidence that
does exist to frame such evidence as “insufficiently extraordinary.” For
example, as Alan Hale writes in a 1997 article for Skeptical Inquirer, titled
“An Astronomer’s Personal Statement on UFOs”:
The discovery that there are other intelligent beings in the universe—and, as a
corollary, that life and intelligence can and has evolved at locations other than
Earth—and that, moreover, these beings are visiting Earth on a semi-regular basis
in spacecraft that seem to defy the laws of physics as we now know them, would
unquestionably rank as the greatest discovery in the history of science, and most
definitely is an extraordinary claim. Therefore, in order for me to accept it, you
must produce extraordinary evidence.31
Like Sagan, Hale assures his audience that the discovery of extraterrestrial
intelligence would be profoundly important to science, implying that everything that can be done is being done to pursue it. And for Hale, as for Sagan,
what prevents the confirmation of such a discovery is an absence of extraordinary evidence. Although this apparently even-handed requirement may
make intuitive sense, its crucial shortcoming is its presumption of a clear
consensus on just what qualifies as extraordinary. Since no such consensus
exists, despite Hale’s assertion that the ETI hypothesis is “most definitely” an
extraordinary claim, the dictum is unworkable. Furthermore, once adopted
and applied, it risks inhibiting the productive reexamination of evidentiary
standards by implicitly defining extraordinary evidence as “that which lies
out of reach,” thus making fulfillment of its own evidentiary requirements
The ongoing need for unobtainable “extraordinary evidence” of UFOs was
more recently exemplified by Neil deGrasse Tyson during the “Cosmic
Quandaries” event held in the Palladium Theatre at Saint Petersburg
College, Florida, in 2009. Asked by an audience member if “he believed in
UFOs or extraterrestrial visitors,” Tyson replied: “I’m not saying we haven’t
been visited. I’m saying the evidence thus far brought forth does not satisfy
the standards of evidence that any scientist would require for any other claim
that you’re going to walk into a lab with.”32 He continued by discussing the
fallibility of the human senses, the unreliability of eyewitness testimony and
photographs, then suggested, in his endearingly rambunctious style, how an
ashtray stolen from inside an alien ship during a “sex experiment,” and
subsequently offered to scientists for examination in a laboratory upon the
abductee’s return, would suffice. Of course, Tyson was only joking, but this is
precisely the problem. The message to be drawn from Tyson’s response is
that “laughing off” questions about UFO evidence is both acceptable and
appropriate, because the ETI hypothesis for UFOs is not to be taken seriously. Tyson’s response also works to perpetuate the selectively materialist
demand that for UFO phenomena to be scientifically verified, they must yield
physical samples of themselves that are amenable to laboratory study; this is
clearly not the case, however, for many other scientifically verified astrophysical phenomena, both prosaic and anomalous.
The problem of precisely what kind of evidence should reasonably be
expected to support the ETI hypothesis for UFOs is especially apparent
in Hale’s personal statement. Like Sagan and Tyson, Hale portrays eyewitness testimony not as potentially reliable evidence of direct observation, but as hearsay, and thus as something ultimately inadmissible to
What might this evidence be? For one thing, the aliens themselves. Not some story
where someone says that someone says that someone says that they saw aliens, but
the actual physical aliens themselves, where I and other trustworthy and competent
scientists and individuals can study and communicate with them. I’d like to
examine their spacecraft and learn the physical principles under which it operates.
I’d like a ride on that spacecraft. I’d like to see their star charts and see where the
aliens come from. I’d like to know the astronomical, physical, chemical, and
biological conditions of their home world and solar system, and how they compare
with and contrast with ours. If possible, I’d like to visit their home world, and any
other worlds that might be within their sphere of influence. In other words, I want
the aliens visible front and center, where there can be no reasonable doubt as to
Such extraordinary requirements highlight the extent to which anthropocentric assumptions, inflected by a kind of cosmic hubris, continue to hinder
the assessment of UFOs as potential indications of extraterrestrial intelligence
—or even as genuine physical anomalies worthy of scientific inquiry. This
“meet and greet” scenario is offered by an eminent contemporary astronomer
as a personal, though presumably rational and reasonable, statement on how
the scientific confirmation of the ETI hypothesis for UFOs could take place.
Yet, not only does it largely fail to correlate with the most reliable descriptions of the UFO phenomenon itself, it is drawn almost exclusively from the
fantastic, clichéd, and acutely anthropocentric space visitor scenarios of Cold
War science fiction. Its fundamental requirement is that, unless the evidence
gathered for UFOs matches the expectations formed by such scenarios, then
it can only be deemed insufficiently extraordinary to qualify as supportive of
the ETI hypothesis. The conundrum thus formed is evident.
The apparent difficulty of distinguishing stereotypical, science-fictional
narratives from actual eyewitness testimony is also exemplified in
Hawking’s Into the Universe. In Episode 1, titled “Aliens,” the viewer is
presented with a generic dramatization of a lone “hillbilly” who, driving
along a secluded road at night, encounters a brilliantly illuminated UFO in
the woods and is subsequently zapped into the ship via a tractor beam and
whisked off into outer space. The entire sequence, dislocated from any
specific UFO reports, serves explicitly to endorse a tired but persistent
negative stereotype. Not only is this portrayal misrepresentative of UFO
reports and those who have made them, it functions as an association fallacy:
UFO reports are associated with alien abduction reports, and both are
associated with “tales” and B-movies. The entire scenario is ultimately dismissed with a closing rhetorical question about why aliens would visit Earth.
Hawking’s voice-over narration contextualizes the scene:
Tales of alien abduction have been common ever since I was an undergraduate in
the 1950s. And I watched all those B-movies too. The story always goes the same: a
lone individual, on a quiet road at night, happens to take an unscheduled detour
and finds himself lost. I’m always a bit suspicious when I hear these tales. Look at it
from the aliens’ point of view. What’s the point of crossing vast tracts of the
universe in a high-tech ship just to abduct some lone earthling?34
Returning, finally, to Hawking’s original, seemingly uncontroversial claim
that we don’t appear to have been visited by aliens, one may ask: who is the
“we” in this scenario? As with Sagan’s remarks, quoted earlier, there is a
conflation of “we” as “the scientific community,” and “we” as “all members of
the human species, living and deceased.” This maneuver functions to engender a positive rapport, and hence an agreement, between addressees and the
statement position of the addressor—in this case, an eminent scientist whose
public profile has virtually become synonymous with science itself.
“I am discounting the reports of UFOs”
To declare that one is discounting “the” reports of UFOs is functionally
tantamount to discounting all reports of UFOs, yet the phrasing works to
minimize the magnitude of the statement and obscure its totalizing effect. To
discount all reports of UFOs is to dismiss an abundance of data prior to
examination; it is a choice resting upon the assumption that no UFO reports
are scientifically useful, valuable, or even, for that matter, interesting. Here,
we have an example of the way in which, as the late psychologist Stuart
Appelle observed, the study of UFOs “is not simply rejected as a legitimate
discipline, it is categorically dismissed. There is a critical difference. Rejection
suggests a conclusion based on close examination and careful reflection.
Dismissal is an a priori judgment that close examination is not
warranted.”35 A very brief quantification of “the reports of UFOs” will be
useful at this point.
In 1969, the U.S. Air Force collected 12,618 reports as part of its Project
Blue Book investigations, of which 701 remained “Unidentified.”36 These are
not, as Sagan described them, the “claims of one or two witnesses”—701
confirmed unidentified objects within just those reports collected by the U.S.
Air Force prior to 1969 amount to an average of around two legitimately
unidentified sighting reports every month for 22 years. Moreover, this is a
figure certainly smaller than the total number of reports made globally, some
of which would also be expected to qualify as “Unidentified,” and smaller
again than the number of such phenomena globally occurring but remaining
unreported and, of course, unseen. Significantly, and perhaps contrary to
expectations, Blue Book found that the greater the amount of information
accompanying a report, the more likely it was to be classified as
Given that these data seem to strongly indicate that genuinely anomalous
aerial phenomena have been observed and reported hundreds, and possibly
thousands, of times, how could one go about avoiding a confrontation with
such reports and the phenomena they seek to describe, if one was already
unwilling to take UFOs seriously? One option might be to shift focus from
the strength of the UFO data itself, to the alleged feebleness of UFO witnesses’ mental capacities. That is, to craft an abusive argumentum ad hominem by discursively relocating the phenomenon from the lawful preserve of
the external physical world, to the much more tenuous internal world of the
“Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdos?”
UFO reports made in earnest are primarily accounts of visual experiences
that do not accord with socially agreed beliefs about what is available in the
world for observation. As Norman Bryson explains:
For human beings collectively to orchestrate their visual experience together it is
required that each submit his or her retinal experience to the socially agreed
description(s) of an intelligible world. Vision is socialized, and thereafter deviation
from this social construction of visual reality can be measured and named,
variously, as hallucination, misrecognition, or “visual disturbance.”37
Bryson’s observation is especially pertinent to UFO reports, which historically have been regarded, variously, as describing not genuine physical
anomalies in nature external to the witness, but as hallucinations, misrecognitions, or visual disturbances. Most UFO reports are indeed based on
misrecognitions, while a persistent minority (about five percent) defy prosaic
explanation. However, given the modern prestige afforded to accurate,
objective, and empirical observation in the doing of science, and hence in the
production of knowledge about the physical world, a perceived susceptibility
to abnormal visual experiences retains an association with notions of mental
or intellectual inferiority, one which Hawking chooses to exploit both in his
TED address and in Into the Universe when offering portrayals of UFO
Hawking provides a reason for discounting “the” reports of UFOs in the
form of a rhetorical question: “Why would they appear only to cranks and
weirdos?” Like most rhetorical questions, this one functions duplicitously as
a statement, in this case: “UFOs appear only to cranks and weirdos.” The
rhetorical question device includes an emotional dimension, expressing mild
indignation and sarcasm, and thus works to endear Hawking to his audience.
The question also founds an extreme straw man argument, casting doubt on
the reliability and character of witnesses based solely on the specific content
of their testimonies, while introducing circular reasoning: people who see
UFOs are cranks and weirdos because they see UFOs. In this context,
“cranks” and “weirdos” are terms which work to stereotype, rather than
articulate, the diverse demographic spectrum from which UFO reports
have historically emerged.38 Furthermore, they can be freely drawn upon to
chasten those who have made UFO reports, and to discourage others from
making such reports in the future.
“Crank” is well-established in this context—for over a century, it has been
used derisively to label those with an eccentric or irrational fixation on a
particular idea. For example, in a 1906 review for Nature of John Phin’s The
Seven Follies of Science, this notion of a crank is explained:
Few men probably receive more communications from earth flatteners and circle
squarers and arc trisectors than the present writer. When he receives one he does
not feel pleased, and yet it ought to be pleasant to think that there are so many
men in the world who refuse to accept dogma. A crank is defined as a man who
cannot be turned.39
Although this definition of a crank does not preclude scientists from
qualifying as cranks themselves, in the contemporary parlance it usually
functions in precisely this way: to be a crank is to be anti-science. A crank
“cannot be turned,” and so stubbornly eschews science’s greatest advantage
over religious, dogmatic, or generally faith-based explanations of the world
—its capacity for, and dedication to, self-correction and progress. The
scenario of the serious, professional scientist, burdened by letters from
outsider, amateur cranks, was “cranked out” more recently by Astronomer
Royal Martin Rees as part of his public address titled “Life’s Future in the
In the UK [United Kingdom] where I have the title of Astronomer Royal I get
quite a lot of letters from these people [UFO witnesses and those reporting alien
abduction, grouped together], and I tell them, isn’t it a pity that these aliens came
here and all they did was despoiled a few corn fields making corn circles, met a few
well-known cranks, and went away again? And I tend to get these people to write
to each other rather than to write to me.40
Rees’ glib, somewhat contemptuous account of UFOs, and those who report
observing them or being abducted, also employs a rhetorical question which,
in its appeal to ridicule, successfully elicited laughter from the in-house
audience. This allows Rees to then move past the “obvious” foolishness of
the entire subject of UFOs, which he haphazardly associates with crop circles,
onto serious cosmological matters, in much the same manner as Hawking’s
TED address. Again, the subject of UFOs is raised to be dismissed, the
scientist’s face is reinforced, and the boundary of science is redrawn and
Perhaps most problematically, the claim that only “cranks” and “weirdos”
see UFOs, in its reliance on a one-dimensional stereotype, contrasts sharply
with a rather more complex historical reality: it was primarily a sudden spike
in reported sightings from pilots and military personnel, in addition to
apparently sane and credible civilians, that initially prompted the U.S. Air
Force to instigate its formal UFO investigations in 1947. And indeed, reports
from pilots, military personnel, and credible civilians have continued globally
since that time.41 It seems reasonable to conclude that these individuals are
not Hawking and Rees’ intended referents when they speak of cranks and
weirdos, which renders their declarations not only historically erroneous, but
Ultimately, at least as far as Hawking is concerned, UFO witnesses do not
actually “see” UFOs; rather, UFOs “appear” to them, presumably in much the
same way that hallucinations or distorted perceptions of the mundane
“appear” to the mentally ill. Hawking offers no explanation, appropriately
simplified or otherwise, of the mechanisms behind this apparently ongoing,
collective, and consistent hallucination or misperception, nor does he
acknowledge it as being of any scientific interest whatsoever. Instead, he
simply removes the UFO phenomenon from the lawful domain of the
physical cosmos into the fallible domain of the human mind, where presumably it is to remain, isolated and unattended.
“If there is a government conspiracy to suppress the reports and
keep for itself the scientific knowledge the aliens bring, it seems to
have been a singularly ineffective policy so far”
Next, Hawking enacts a dismissal by associating UFOs with a hypothetical
scenario: “If there is a government conspiracy.” The implication is that UFO
proponents are also conspiracy theorists, which in turn renders their position
fundamentally untenable. Because UFO reports have been widely published
since the sudden postwar spike, Hawking claims, any attempt by governments to conspire to suppress them has obviously failed. A possible conclusion to be drawn here is that since there is ostensibly no successful
government conspiracy to suppress UFO reports, there are no genuinely
anomalous UFOs. What precisely Hawking means by “the scientific knowledge the aliens bring,” however, is unclear; he seems to be suggesting that an
attempt to keep such knowledge secret has been ineffective, thus implying
that evidence exists in the public domain of scientific knowledge brought by
aliens and acquired by governments. Yet, surely, no such knowledge is
apparent, nor can Hawking be regarded as an advocate of its existence.
There are allusions here to the so-called “Roswell Incident” narrative, one
version of which holds that a crashed extraterrestrial vehicle, and its nonhuman occupants, was recovered in the New Mexico desert in 1947—an
unexpected encounter which presented the U.S. government and military
with the opportunity to covertly “reverse engineer” alien technology. But
ultimately, Hawking’s intended meaning in this passage remains vague.
There is a further problem, however, with Hawking’s TED claim that any
attempt by governments to suppress UFO reports has been ineffective. In his
documentary series, Into the Universe, Hawking directly contradicts this
claim, stating: “…if governments are involved in a cover up, they’re doing
a much better job at it than they seem to do at anything else.”42 One is
ultimately left wondering whether Hawking thinks there has been a successful government cover up of UFOs, or not. That Hawking could make such
directly contradictory statements in the public arena, with no discernable
blowback, probably speaks to the relative unimportance attached to the topic
of UFOs and government in public scientific discourse. But it also exemplifies the freedom Hawking enjoys when speaking to areas quite outside his
field of expertise—as a theoretical physicist, Hawking’s grasp of political
science is limited, yet this shortcoming is apparently eclipsed by his widely
With Into the Universe, Hawking also provides a clear example of what
sociologist Ron Westrum identifies as the “fallacy of centrality,”43 stating: “In
my opinion, if aliens are here, I suspect the newspapers would be full of the
story.”44 As Westrum has observed, when it comes to anomalous phenomena, “many scientists seem to believe that if reports have been made, they
personally would know of them.”45 This belief derives from their feeling that
“they individually are in a particularly good position in the network of
information.”46 Furthermore, the fallacy of centrality corresponds with
what Westrum has called the “fallacy of complete reporting”:
It must be recognized that the argument against the existence of many controversial anomalies is at least partly sociological. When it is argued that, “if there really
were such a thing as X, I would have heard about it by now,” the person speaking
is making assumptions not only about the physical properties of the anomaly, but
also about the workings of [a] social intelligence system in regard to anomalous
events. Scientists tend to assume that reporting is more complete than it often
is….47 It is often assumed by persons unwilling to consider reports of anomalous
phenomena that, in spite of their own rejection of the particular phenomenon at
hand, somehow the real anomalies will be reported. The truth, of course, is that
real and spurious anomalies are likely to be subjected to the same reluctance to
report and the same rejections when they are reported.48
Hawking’s simplified portrayal of “the newspapers” and their receptivity to
the UFO subject—one which suggests that the press, and particularly the
syndicated press, is not prone to the kind of marginalization and a priori
dismissal of UFOs that Hawking himself exhibits49—also undermines his
statements here. In order to guarantee a readership, newspapers must also
engage in a kind of institutional facework, developing and maintaining their
own ethos as trustworthy sources of accurate, fair, and balanced information
about important events; even in the case of “tabloid” newspapers, this is an
objective which does not particularly lend itself to the pursuit, or regular
publication, of stories about UFOs. Moreover, if aliens were “here” but
operating covertly, newspapers would be mostly powerless to report accurately and in-depth on them at all, rather than “full of the story.” After all,
one of the inherent difficulties of clearly communicating the occurrence of
anomalous events is that, by their very nature, such events do not translate
readily into familiar, plausible, or even intelligible narrative structures.
“Despite an extensive search by the SETI [search for extraterrestrial
intelligence] project, we haven’t heard any alien television quiz
shows. This probably indicates that there are no alien civilizations at
our stage of development within a radius of a few hundred light
The fact that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project has
not detected any alien television quiz shows is here offered as a reductio ad
absurdum; of course, as Hawking’s audience knows quite well, the SETI
project has not been searching for, nor expects to find, audio signals of
alien television quiz shows from deep space. Hawking thus ridicules not
only those who think extraterrestrial intelligence may be present and active
proximate to Earth, such as proponents of the ETI hypothesis for UFOs, but
also the SETI project. Rather than explain in any detail what SETI is searching for, how researchers are going about it, and why the project has failed to
detect any evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, Hawking simplifies and
dismisses the entire enterprise.50
Perhaps most problematic is the anthropocentric notion of a search for
alien civilizations “at our stage of development.” Since SETI has failed to
detect any signals of extraterrestrial civilization, Hawking claims we can
safely conclude that there are no aliens “like us” within a casually delineated
field of “a few hundred light years.” By “our stage of development,” Hawking
refers to the technological rather than the biological; the kind of aliens we
apparently are searching for have built and are actively using technologies
highly similar to those currently deployed by contemporary industrialized
societies on Earth, which emit detectable signals within the specific wavelengths SETI scrutinizes. Yet the relatively recent emergence of technological
development on Earth, and the exponential rate at which it has proceeded
here, makes such a cosmic alignment seem very unlikely. As Sagan and
others have pointed out, while maintaining ardent support for SETI, given
the age of the galaxy and its plethora of planetary systems, technologically
developed extraterrestrial civilizations are likely to be at least centuries, and
probably many millennia, older and more advanced than our own. Recent
calculations place the age of the galaxy at around 14.5 billion years,51 and the
Earth at around 4.5 billion years.52 The logical question of what limitations
such disparities might place on our ability to recognize, or indeed even
perceive, extraterrestrial civilizations, or their “signals,” is elided by
Hawking, as it is by many scientists who dismiss the ETI hypothesis for
UFOs on anthropocentric grounds.
Hawking then his dismissal of UFOs with a straightforward appeal to
ridicule. The statement, “Issuing an insurance policy against abduction by
aliens seems a pretty safe bet,” functions as a dismissal by association. Preempting Into the Universe, UFO phenomena are roundly associated with
alien abduction reports, and both are treated as a singular question, albeit a
question now characterized by the “heightened implausibility” of the prospect of alien abduction. The implication is that, since alien abductions are
obviously not occurring, UFOs are also not occurring. The conclusion is that
UFOs are a non-phenomenon for scientific inquiry.
Despite the incompatibility of the dismissals discussed here with what is
usually understood as a “scientific position,” such public treatments are to be
expected of many contemporary scientists when the potential cultural impact
of imminent extraterrestrial intelligence is considered. Although many scientists portray the confirmation of extraterrestrial visitation with a kind of
wondrous awe, devoid of ontological dread, reminding their audiences that
it would represent the greatest discovery in the history of science—one which
any scientist would be elated in making—the radical alterations it would
inflict upon our anthropocentrically ordered worldview, and the veracity of
many key social, governmental, and military institutions, are difficult to
exaggerate. The idea that even some UFOs could represent extraterrestrial
intelligence conflicts sharply with what Bauman has described as a typically
modern view of the world, “one of an essentially orderly totality” in which
“effectivity of control depends on the adequacy of knowledge of the natural
order.”53 It may be for this reason that, throughout the twentieth century and
beyond, those institutions of modernity most invested in the establishment,
maintenance, and defense of order tend to cultivate in their affiliates the
most stringent resistance to the ETI hypothesis for UFOs and to the more
conservative hypothesis that some UFOs simply represent genuine physical
Segregated according to the discursive procedures examined in this article,
knowledge about UFOs is “knowledge out of place,” and can be considered a form
of “information pollution, lying on the boundaries of what is organizationally
knowable and not knowable.”54 While the evidence for immediate UFOs is
strategically ignored, considerable resources are devoted to searching for evidence
of extraterrestrial life and intelligence in the distant realms of the microscopic,
deep space, and deep time. Tellingly, these are domains in which such a discovery
would be least disruptive to the contemporary anthropocentric order. In this
sense, knowledge of UFOs is dangerous knowledge, because “admitting it to the
realm of what is ‘known’ may undermine the organizational principles of a society
or organization,” while “not admitting such information may also have deleterious
effects on institutions, either directly or by making them prone to criticism from
other parts of society that they ‘ought’ to have known.”55
As this brief analysis has shown, it is evident not only that “considerable work
goes into ignoring UFOs, constituting them as objects only of ridicule and
scorn,”56 but that much of this work is repetitive, rhetorical, and logically
fallacious. The work that scientists do to discursively segregate UFOs from
scientific inquiry, and to discourage public and professional interest in UFOs as
anomalous phenomena, can be seen as something grander than mere facework
or boundary-work; it represents a kind of collective “terrestrial boundary-work”
that ultimately ensures an anthropocentric, Earth-based exceptionalism typical
of classical humanism, but increasingly incompatible with the emergence of
posthumanism and what has recently been termed “the nonhuman turn.”57 Just
as this anthropocentric exceptionalism required work to establish, so too does it
require work to maintain. Examining the ways in which this work manifests
discursively improves our ability to talk and learn about those things we may
have tacitly agreed to ignore.
1. Stephen Hawking, “Questioning the Universe,” http://www.ted.com/talks/stephen_hawk
ing_asks_big_questions_about_the_universe?language=en (accessed January 2018).
2. Stephen Hilgartner, “The Dominant View of Popularization: Conceptual Problems,
Political Uses,” Social Studies of Science 20, no. 3 (1990): 519–531 (quote from 519).
3. Thomas E. Bullard, The Myth and Mystery of UFOs (Lawrence, KS: University of
Kansas Press, 2010), 5.
4. Greg Eghigian, “Making UFOs Make Sense: Ufology, Science, and the History of their
Mutual Mistrust,” Public Understanding of Science 26, no. 5 (2017): 612–626.
5. Steven Shapin, Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if it was Produced by People
with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility
and Authority (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).
6. Hilgartner, “The Dominant View of Popularization,” 520.
7. Thomas F. Gieryn, “Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from NonScience: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Scientists,” American
Sociological Review 48, no. 6 (1983): 781–795.
8. Gieryn, “Boundary-Work,” 782.
9. Juan D. Carrillo and Thomas Mariotti, “Strategic Ignorance as a Self-Disciplining
Device,” The Review of Economic Studies, 67 (2000): 529–544.
10. Erving Goffman, Interaction Ritual (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1967), 5.
11. Stephen Hilgartner, Science on Stage: Expert Advice as Public Drama (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2000).
12. Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, eds., Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking
of Ignorance (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).
13. Edward U. Condon, Final Report on the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects
(New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1969).
14. Peter Sturrock, “Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal
Astronomical Society 19 (1978): 521.
15. T. B. H Kuiper and M. Morris, “Searching for Extraterrestrial Civilizations,” Science
196, no. 4290 (1977): 616–621 (quote from 619–621).
16. Carl Sagan, “On the Detectivity of Advanced Galactic Civilizations,” Icarus 19, no. 3
(1973): 350–352 (quote from 350).
17. John A. Ball, “The Zoo Hypothesis,” Icarus 19, no. 3 (1973): 347–349 (quote from 347).
18. Ronald N. Bracewell, The Galactic Club: Intelligent Life in Outer Space (Stanford, CA:
Stanford Alumni Association, 1974).
19. D.W. Schwartzman, “The Absence of Extraterrestrials on Earth and the Prospects for
CETI,” Icarus 32, no. 4 (1977): 473–475 (quote from 473).
20. Despite ongoing debates, the prevailing position within the scientific community has
for decades been based on the Drake Equation, which concludes that extraterrestrial
life is abundant, with perhaps millions of civilizations being present in our own galaxy.
However, Brian Cox has recently argued against this position in his BBC television
series Human Universe (2014), claiming that humans are most likely “alone.”
21. Eric M. Jones, “Where is Everybody? An Account of Fermi’s Question,” Report for the
U.S. Department of Energy, Report no. LA-10311-MS, Los Alamos National
Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, 1985.
22. Kuiper and Morris, “Searching for Extraterrestrial Civilizations,” 616.
23. Ibid., 617.
24. See Steven J. Dick, “Cultural Evolution, the Postbiological Universe, and SETI,”
International Journal of Astrobiology 2, no. 1 (2003): 65–74.
25. Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking. Documentary. Directed by Iain Riddick,
Martin Williams, and Nathan Williams, (Discovery Channel, 2011.
26. Jill Tarter, former Director of the Center for SETI Research, has remarked: “While Sir
[sic] Stephen Hawking warned that alien life might try to conquer or colonize Earth, I
respectfully disagree. If aliens were able to visit Earth that would mean they would have
technological capabilities sophisticated enough not to need slaves, food, or other
planets. If aliens were to come here it would be simply to explore. Considering the age
of the Universe, we probably wouldn’t be their first extraterrestrial encounter, either.”
http://www.seti.org/node/1288 (accessed February 2018).
Bernard McGrane, Beyond Anthropology: Society and the Other (New York, NY:
Columbia University Press, 1989), 3.
Cosmos. Miniseries. Directed by Adrian Malone et al., Cosmos Studios, 2002.
Michael H. Hart, “An Explanation for the Absence of Extraterrestrials on Earth,”
Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 16 (1975): 128–135 (quote from
Alan Hale, “An Astronomer’s Personal Statement on UFOs,” Skeptical Inquirer 21,
no. 2 (1997): 29–30 (quote from 29).
Cosmic Quandaries with Neil deGrasse Tyson, St. Petersburg College, https://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=CAD25s53wmE#t=4917 (accessed January 2018).
Hale, “An Astronomer’s Personal Statement,” 29.
Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2011.
Stuart Appelle, “Ufology and Academia: The UFO Phenomenon as a Scholarly
Discipline,” in UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge, ed.
David Michael Jacobs (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, 2000), 10.
See National Archives, “Project Blue Book,” http://www.archives.gov/research/military/
air-force/ufos.html (accessed May 2017).
Norman Bryson, “The Gaze in the Expanded Field,” in Vision and Visuality:
Discussions in Contemporary Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle, WA: Bay Press, 1988), 91.
See Leslie Kean, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record
(New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2011).
J. P., “Science and Folly,” Nature 75, no. 1932 (1906): 25.
Martin Rees, Life’s Future in the Cosmos, http://longnow.org/seminars/02010/aug/02/
lifes-future-cosmos/ (accessed May 2015).
Kean, UFOs, 2011.
Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2011.
Ron Westrum, “Science and Social Intelligence about Anomalies: The Case of
Meteorites,” Social Studies of Science 8, no. 4 (1978): 461–493.
Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2011.
Westrum, “Science and Social Intelligence,” 478.
Ron Westrum, “Social Intelligence about Hidden Events: Its Significance for Scientific
Research and Social Policy,” Science Communication 3, no. 3 (1982): 381–400 (quote
Westrum, “Science and Social Intelligence,” 478.
Westrum, “Social Intelligence about Hidden Events,” 391.
See Terry Hansen, The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-Up (:
More recently, however, Hawking has endorsed a greatly enhanced effort to detect
extraterrestrial intelligence, named Breakthrough Listen, scanning around one million
stars in the Milky Way and 100 nearby galaxies. See Zeeya Marali, “Hunt for Alien Life
Gets Cash Bonanza,” Nature 523, no. 393 (2015): 392.
Nicolas Dauphas, “The U/Th Production Ratio and the Age of the Milky Way from
Meteorites and Galactic Halo Stars,” Nature 435, no. 30 (2005): 1203–1205.
G. B. Dalrymple, “The Age of the Earth in the Twentieth Century: A Problem (Mostly)
Solved,” in The Age of the Earth: From 4004 BC to AD 2002, eds. C. L. E. Lewis and S. J.
Knell (London, England: Geological Society, 2001), 205–221.
53. Zygmunt Bauman, Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Post-Modernity and
Intellectuals (Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 1987), 3.
54. Steve Rayner, “Uncomfortable Knowledge: The Social Construction of Ignorance in
Science and Environmental Policy Discourse,” Economy and Society 41, no. 1 (2012):
107–125 (quote from 111).
56. Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall, “Sovereignty and the UFO,” Political Theory
36, no. 4 (2008): 607–633 (quote from 610).
57. Richard Grusin, ed., The Nonhuman Turn (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota
Purchase answer to see full