Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy column has a good look at those UFO tapes released by the Pentagon. (Spoiler: all are easily explained by non-alien reality.) You can read it here.

And this seems a good time to re-run part of a piece I wrote clear back in 2012. (I’ve removed the stuff that’s out of date)

What would you say if an experienced Air Force pilot knowledgeable about astronomy told you that during a military flight, he’d seen a strange light moving way up ahead of him, flying at impossible speeds and elevations, “doing things that no aircraft can do.”

You’d be impressed, wouldn’t you, because this is a guy who knows what he’s talking about. With testimony from an expert like that, you might be convinced that the aliens are here.

But you’d be wrong.

“It was Venus! I was looking at Venus,” admitted Steve Lundquist, the former USAF pilot in question, as he gave one of 11 talks at SkeptiCamp 2012, a free-wheeling conference for skeptics held in Concord on Saturday. Fortunately, he said, he realized his error before he finished filing a report with his superiors.

How could an experienced pilot who had seen Venus plenty of times – and who knows that being fooled by the brightest planet in the sky is one of the classic errors of “UFO-spotters” – have made such a blunder? Simple, he said: “Our brains suck.”

“We evolved to see things on the plains of Africa from eyes about 5 feet off the ground,” Lundquist said. Shifting us to tens of thousands of feet in the air, moving at hundreds of miles an hour, is asking for trouble.

“Our brains are going to try to make sense of the data, using a frame of reference we are familiar with,” he said. “We are constantly outside of the comfort zone where our brains evolved.”

The lesson of Lundquist’s talk, using himself as the example, was simple: Be suspicious of expert witnesses because they’re only human – with the emphasis on “only.”

That message resonated with the three dozen people who came to The Barley House restaurant for the second annual SkeptiCamp New Hampshire, because many have had encounters with experts who have encountered ghosts, spotted Bigfoot, seen disease cured using vials of water banged on the table, or otherwise witnessed events that, shall we say, strain credulity.

A phrase attributed to Carl Sagan describes their attitude well: “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.”

(Note: SkeptiCamp NH was a loose seminar that was held a few times.)

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