In 1984, a group of astronomers founded the SETI Institute to continue the work of countless scientists before them who have sought to further the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe. Today, the not-for-profit research organization continues to attract some of the brightest minds in astronomy and related fields and serve as a vehicle for research into the biggest question mankind can ask: are we alone out here in the void?
One of the most high-profile researchers at the SETI Institute is its Senior Astronomer, Dr. Seth Shostak. In addition to his work with SETI, Shostak hosts the monthly “Skeptic Check" podcast and serves as a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Yet despite his skepticism, in 2017 Shostak made waves when he predicted Earthlings would discover alien life within the next 20 years.
Now, it seems the SETI researcher has rolled back his optimism - at least in terms of what anyone may or may not already know about extraterrestrial life. Over the last two years, certain individuals and groups (you know the ones) have been suggesting that segments of or individuals within the U.S. government may know more about unidentified aerial phenomena than the public knows, and large portions of the public now believe the government is on the verge of disclosing that information.
Shostak counters that belief in a piece published this week on SFGate, the online branch of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. In the article, Shostak essentially insults the entire disclosure movement, calling it “sad” that so many are so invested in the possibility of government disclosure as opposed to trusting decades of their own research and investigating:
It's sad that the UFO crowd has come to this – seemingly giving up on proving their own case and hoping that the feds will do their work for them. Mainstream scientists don't wait for government agencies to prove their theories. That ball's in the researcher's court. And yet UFO proponents are now saying that, deus ex machina, the government will soon book some network air time and fess up about the aliens.
Air time on the History Channel of course. Shostak goes on to question why so many in the ufological community believe there is secret government knowledge to be revealed at all:
If extraterrestrial craft are really strafing the stratosphere, and in numbers sufficient to cause roughly ten thousand citizen reports annually in the U.S. alone, then why must we throw up our hands and claim "only the government can prove it's true"? What about the hundreds of thousands of amateur astronomers who avidly observe the sky on clear nights, but don't seem to see any mysterious flying objects? What of the many thousand commercial satellites that make high resolution photos of our planet all day long without witnessing strange intruders? Are none of these data good enough?
Oof. Quite a burn coming from someone like Shostak who has spent his life looking for answers among the stars. Despite the cynicism, there’s a lot of truth in Shostak’s rebuttal of the disclosure movement.
Shostak’s statements remind me of another observation made by my colleague, Robbie Graham. In the introduction to his book UFOs: Reframing the Debate, Graham writes “the ultimate irony of the Disclosure movement is that it deeply distrusts officialdom, while simultaneously looking to officialdom for the truth” and that “by imagining all answers to the UFO mystery to be out of public reach, deep within the bowels of the national security state, the Disclosure movement actually places power into hands of officialdom while disempowering the individual."
Both Shostak and Graham have a point. Government disclosure of possible secrets related to unidentified or unexplained aerial phenomena has been a topic of discussion running concurrent with the history of the modern UFO phenomenon itself. Why do so many believe the government will some day cough up its secrets?
Because we’ve been conditioned to believe it. For decades, the defense and intelligence communities have propagated and encouraged belief in extraterrestrial visitation as a form of cover for tests of classified weapons and aerospace technologies and to ultimately keep that information out of America’s adversaries’ hands.
Over the last two years, To the Stars Academy (TTSA) and even the Department of Defense itself have lured a whole new generation of seekers into the disclosure movement, leading them to believe that the U.S. government will someday disclose its knowledge of UFOs/UAPs, extraterrestrial contact, or reverse-engineered alien technologies. All that is predicated on the question of whether there indeed is any knowledge to disclose - and that much ultimately remains unknown.
Remember, everyone: the DoD will never show its hand if doing so would weaken America’s strategic advantage, and TTSA is nothing more than a money-making entertainment company capitalizing on the same unfortunate psychosocial forces which have given rise to the anti-vaccination movement, Flat Earth theory, and QAnon. It's really unfortunate that all of us, myself included, have allowed them to hijack the conversation.
Until TTSA or the Pentagon cough up anything more than a few seconds of grainy, ambiguous footage and questionable eyewitness testimony - one of the least reliable forms of evidence - they’re doing us all a disservice by persuading us to trust the national security state and believe it will some day tell us what we want to know.
Maybe Seth Shostak is right.