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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2012 > Dec > Dec 18

Re: UFO Photographs And Film

From: John Donaldson <John.Donaldson.nul>
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2012 10:46:07 +0000
Archived: Tue, 18 Dec 2012 08:32:24 -0500
Subject: Re: UFO Photographs And Film

>From: John Donaldson <John.Donaldson.nul>
>To: <post.nul>
>Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2012 15:48:09 +0100
>Subject: UFO Photographs And Film

>I am a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Glasgow


>I look forward to any and all responses, which I am happy to
>receive off or on-list

Dear List-Members,

In August I posted with some queries about the strength of
photographic evidence for the ETH. I received a number of very
helpful responses, with which I engaged in some correspondence,
before promising to post a general response to the list. Various
other commitments postponed that response until now:

I present some initial thoughts on some of the key evidence
taken by many to support the ET hypothesis (and perhaps other
non-prosaic theses). I assess such evidence from the perspective
of the neutral who does not have any inside knowledge of the UFO
phenomenon, has had no UFO experiences, and merely wishes to
decide, based on the evidence presented by ufologists, whether
or not the ETH is true. It seems to me that the non-prosaic
theses remain unproven, but not to such an extent that belief in
them is completely un-warranted.

I focus on the two strongest types of witness case, (1) visual-
photographic, and (2) visual-radar cases. On the former I think
the jury will remain out, at best, but on the latter I think
there is some prospect for settling the case one way or the

Let s take each case type in turn:

(1) I think the Photographic Argument is problematic (I use
photographic to mean stills and film).

Here s the standard argument given, in general form, without
mention of anything alien (in the argument, Q stands for any-old

The Photographic Argument

P1: The witnesses claim that Q.

P2: The witnesses seem sincere.

P3: The witnesses have numerous testimonies to their honesty.

P4: The witnesses have been questioned numerous times and have
been consistent in their account of Q.

P5: There are photographs which might appear to show that Q.

P6: Analysis of the photographs show that the photograph is
consistent with Q being true, but also consistent with Q being

P7: There is independent reason to believe that Q is physically

P8: If premise 1 through premise 7 are true, then Q.
C: Therefore Q.

This is a deductively valid argument it s impossible for the
premises to be true and the conclusion false. So, in order to
deny the conclusion, one of the premises must be denied.

Many ufologists have been persuaded by the Photographic Argument

Q means a craft of extra-terrestrial origin flew within sight

Fair enough. But should they be so persuaded?

No-one denies premise 7, and there seem to be various
photographic cases which apparently satisfy premises 1 through
6. So what about premise 8? There are grounds on which to reject
it. For example, what if:

Q means the Piltdown Man was the fossilised remains of an
unknown early human .


Q means JFK was shot from the front


Q means JFK was not shot from the front

(whatever your stance on that issue both claims can t be true)


Q means the Loch Ness Monster swam into view

And so on.

In that case, premise 8 would be false. Therefore, premise 8 is
not always true. But that isn t the end of matters. Perhaps
premise 8 is true more often than not. The problem, though, is
that it is far from obvious how the conditional statement in
premise 8 might be properly assessed in terms of this more often
than not measure. Think of all the epistemic circumstances in
which there are witnesses combined with photographic evidence
which falls short of conclusiveness: crimes, accidents, a
variety of paranormal and supernatural phenomena, etc. A survey
of such cases would need to be undertaken, and that would be a
mammoth task, to say the least. Thus, at best, the jury should
remain out on the Photographic Argument.

That s as charitable as I can be. Those less sympathetic to the
ETH than myself would be more dubious here, and perhaps point to
what is often taken to be the difference in how far-reaching
claims are, and thus the burden of argument proponents of those
claims must meet: the further the claim reaches, the greater the
burden of argument. To the neutral observer, the claim

an airborne vehicle of non-terrestrial origin flew within sight

Is obviously pretty far-reaching. Thus, the burden of argument
is significant. How significant is an issue for another day.
What about Radar-Visual cases?


The Radar-Visual Argument

P1: The witnesses claim that Q.

P2: The witnesses seem sincere.

P3: The witnesses have numerous testimonies to their honesty.

P4: The witnesses have been questioned numerous times and have been consistent in their account of Q.

P5: There are radar returns which appear to confirm that an object consistent with Q was present.

P6: There is independent reason to believe that Q is physically possible.

P7: If premise 1 through premise 6 are true, then Q.

C: Therefore Q.

There seems to be an important difference between the Radar-
Visual and the Photographic Argument counterexamples to premise
7 of the former argument seem much easier to come by than
counterexamples to premise 8 of the latter. I know precious
little about radar, and it would take a person of much greater
expertise than I to adjudicate properly, but here are some

As is well known, ghost returns can occur, and it seems
conceivable that those returns might correlate with visual
errors. Indeed, investigations of such cases typically proceed
by trying to rule out such occurrences. Therefore P7 is not
certain. But is it probable? I think this is difficult to
assess, but much easier to assess than in the Photographic case.
Radar presents a narrower range of possibilities and cases to
consider. And the radar cases often come with more data so that
such ranges of possibility can be assessed weather, radar-system
idiosyncrasies, etc. Thus, a conclusion seems genuinely within
reach here. Crunch enough numbers, consider enough cases, work
out the possibilities for error, and the likelihood for the
frequency with which P7 is false may be known.

A big problem, though, and one which distinguishes ufology from
many other areas of enquiry (if not all), is the possibility of
deliberate and highly resourceful attempts to perpetrate hoaxes.
I talk not of mischievous individuals, although they no doubt
muddy the waters too, but of the possibility that intelligence
agencies would perpetrate hoaxes, even against compatriots.
Consider the famous RB47 case, for example. Even granting the
account of it compiled by MacDonald, which is compelling, it is
not clear that a hoax perpetrated on the flight crew (and
perhaps the ground controller) can be ruled out. It would be a
highly impressive hoax to say the least, but nevertheless doubt

In sum, what I hoped to do with this post was to begin to asses,
at a general level, the overall form of the strongest kind of
arguments in support of the ETH: where each premise was made
explicit and the arguments laid out in deductively valid form.
In short, so that the key steps in reasoning were on the table,
but not obscured by too much technical detail, or rhetoric. Upon
doing so, it seemed to me that there was a crucial inferential
step in each argument, premise 7 and premise 8, which lacked
certainty in both cases. Also, premise 8 of the Photographic
Argument seemed at best too difficult to assess for a clear
degree of probability; however, an assessment of premise 7 of
the Radar-Visual Argument looked more tractable.

I hope that the members of this list find these thoughts

Best wishes,

John Donaldson

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