(Still) Probably Not Aliens, Folks

John Scalzi

I know people are excited about yesterday’s Congressional testimony about UFOs (these days called UAP, for “unidentified aerial phenomena”), but simply as a matter of prudence I would warn against taking the sensational testimony about “non-human biologics” as evidence of actual alien beings. “Non-human biologics” is a term that covers a lot of ground. My dog is a non-human biologic. So is a fish. And so is a fruit fly. And more relevantly, all of those non-human biologics have been part of space exploration, and while we’re at it, pigeons were used as pilots for missiles, and bats were used for bombs. We did a lot of weird stuff with non-human biologics, is what I’m saying.

Mind you, I would be delighted to have good, concrete evidence of alien intelligence, alien spacecraft, or an actual alien body under wraps somewhere in Nevada. But the rather simpler explanation is that historically, the UAPs are coming from us, either from the US, the former Soviet Union and the current China. I’m certainly willing to believe that over the years each of our respective militaries and space organizations have been testing various technologies that may not be common knowledge, and that may not have trickled into known defense systems because they’re too expensive or hard to manage or whatever. I also believe that every now and again they show up where they’re not expected.

But aliens are a much harder row to hoe. Among other things, and as more than one person out there has noted, if the US Military had actual evidence of aliens, then the US President, as Commander-in-Chief, would know. Given our immediate former president’s ill-advised delight in sharing secrets to anyone within earshot or eyeball range, the idea that he wouldn’t have bragged about knowing of alien visitations is next to impossible. Obama? You know that dude could keep a secret. Trump, not so much.

So, sorry. There’s something going on with UAPs/UFOs, sure. But the smart money is that they’re from here, and that any non-human biologic is a dog or a pigeon or a chimp. I could be wrong! I suspect I’m not.

— JS

48 Comments on “(Still) Probably Not Aliens, Folks”

  1. I’m not excited at all. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

    All I’ve seen in the media about this circus has been anecdotal stories and people’s testimony. Nothing resembling science-level proof. The plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data.” Doesn’t our government have better things to deal with right now? (Eyeroll)

    I think it would be great if there really was any solid proof, but I haven’t seen any yet. NASA would never have to worry about its budget again if there really was any proof of aliens. They have a huge vested interest in making a discovery like that public.

  2. One snarky comment I’ve seen, don’t recall exactly where, is that the non-human was from bugs on the windshield.

  3. Popular culture not only thinks of aliens as being sapient, but it thinks of it as being our kind of intelligent with a technological bent.

    Because it’s all about us.

  4. You know, it is rational, clear-thinking, intelligent people like you who take all the fun out of it every time we get “positive proof” that we have been visited by intelligent beings from outer space!

  5. I suspect you may yet be correct.

    Yes, there are exoplanets confirmed now. Yes, there’s probably life on some of them, and some of it is possibly sapient. Would they be able, willing and ready to visit our corner of our galaxy, though?

    We’ll see.

  6. Dwight Williams, is it even possible to visit us? From what we know of physics right now, they can’t.

    I’d love to see a FTL drive that dodges Einstein’s time dilation, though…

  7. People are getting all het up about aliens from other planets while our planet is parboiling. Weird priorities in Congress.

  8. The fact that the House “GQP” found it important to spend time, money and effort to have these bullshit UFO conspiracy hearings in the face of, well, actual governance, is just par for the course. What a crock.

  9. I know, I know, I’ve thought of all that too. But come on, until they put all the cards on the table, a little part of me believes the fantasy. ‘When the legend becomes a fact, print the legend.’ ;)
    Not quite appropriate and a western to boot, but you get the idea.

  10. If I was an alien, I’d take one look at our civilization and turn back. We aren’t ready for peaceful contact. 😔

  11. Stuart Daley says “Err, if aliens haven’t visited Terra, how do you explain Elon Musk?”

    There are days that I’m not sure that he passed the Turing Test.

  12. I like this article, it is well written and nice to read, the flow is calm and the style is easy to follow. I also love the irony in ‘proof’ of UFOs…yes, there are unidentified flying objects all the time…no, that does not mean they are aliens, it means they are ‘unidentified’…how else can they explain? Anyway, I really enjoyed your article, hope you have a good one!

  13. Dwight asked:
    “Would they be able, willing and ready to visit our corner of our galaxy, though?”
    In all seriousness, the real question is. “Would we WANT them to visit?”

    The odds are very good that any sapient species that developed on another world would have anything in common with us at all. They won’t be “humans with ridged foreheads”. It is more likely they will have taken a very different evolutionary path.
    If they COULD come here at all, why would they do so? It isn’t going to be to benefit us. Interstellar travel is very difficult. We can’t find – even theoretically- a practical way to do it. If they find us and come here, it is because they want something REALLY BADLY!

    They won’t look at us as potential friends. (Just as well for them. We’d probably be lousy neighbors.) They may not see us as “people” at all. We’d just be something annoying between them and what they came to get. (Good thing we’re very unlikely to be edible.) When a more technologically advanced species bothers to come here it is not likely to end well for us.
    Given that, the smart thing for us to do is hide. That may be why we haven’t heard from thousands or millions of other species already — they were smart enough to hide. Instead, we have been sending out signals for decades, advertising our existence and, perhaps unwisely, our vulnerability.
    Sure, that’s paranoid, but when you are talking about the survival of your whole species, paranoia may be the only sensible way to operate.
    And yes, despite the truth of all I have just said, I’d still like to meet a non-Terran sapient. I’m human and as a species we have always been more curious than sensible.
    Is overwhelming curiosity a survival trait, or a flaw in our DNA which will get weeded out when we meet our first really advanced neighbors? Maybe we should not be so.eager to welcome ET.
    After all, look how we treated HIM when he first came to call?

  14. But isn’t it amusing that the latest hullabaloo coincides with the release of Connie Willis’s delightful new “The Road to Roswell”?

  15. Eh. I mean if UFO/UAP/evidence in-hand of extraterrestrial visitation was real, pretty sure it’s kept away from Presidents in general and THAT POS POTUS in particular bc of the risk you mentioned so I’m still hopeful. But who knows?

  16. When I was in the Air Force I was stationed at Groom Lake (Area 51) and I never once saw any kind of extraterrestrial beings or vehicles and I had high clearance. But I did see a lot of stuff, mind blowing stuff, that we prototyped that have never been made public and if you saw it in flight, you’d think it was an UAP.

  17. There’s also the weird red-flag claim that the Vatican found something in 1933, turned it over to Mussolini’s government, which kept it secret but it was obtained in 1944/45 by the US OSS and “five eyes” (which didn’t exist yet).

    Figuring out why Mussolini wouldn’t have traded a UFO to the allied Nazis, who would likely have been in a better position to exploit the finding at a time when it could have been really advantageous, is left as an exercise to the reader.

    And naturally the ‘whistleblower’ didn’t really go into this part, under oath at the hearing.

  18. Sooo, they obviously got to you too! How much are they paying you? Giving you peeks so you can add it to your novels? It’s becoming clear to me… ;-)

    Ha. Nah, no aliens. I agree with you. Wouldn’t it be funny if in testing some high altitude craft that the Russians/Chinese would shave a chimp hairless and put it on board to make us look dumb if we came upon the craft and its occupant? We’d look stupid if we announced it? That would be nuts enough for me to believe.

    I’d love there to be aliens, but can’t buy it. Especially since this most current witness spoke about people he talked too, again he had no direct evidence. But he heard…

  19. One of my closest friends was holidaying in the country, sitting outside on a warm summers’ night when an UAP flew straight over the top of him – no more than 50 metres above. Dead silent (except for some subsonics), lit up like the fourth of July and travelling quite slowly. It passed over his house, then zoomed off at a billion MPH. If it wasn’t aliens, he said, then it was a craft like I’ve never seen operating before or ever heard of. I trust this guy 100%, I’m sure what he saw was real.

  20. The reason the term “unidentified aerial phenomena” was swapped in for “unidentified flying objects” is that of the cases that were eventually identified and actually interesting, many of them weren’t, in fact, objects. We humans have learned plenty of interesting things from investigating these things (whatever you choose to call them), despite the fact that none of them have turned out to be alien creatures.

  21. If aliens have been visiting earth, why didn’t they take it over before we turned it into a fixer-upper?

  22. I can think of 538 lizardpeople who habitually congregate at 1 1st St NE where there used to be swampland. The disguises are so good that nobody even notices on TV.

    OK, I take that back. Some of them are Grays (I have 17 in particular in mind… because I know them…).

  23. If Independence Day taught me anything, it’s that sometimes presidents don’t Need To Know. And as we’ve seen with T, sometimes his staff would just wait until he forgot about whatever he asked for, like when he wanted to make Sidney Powell a special prosecutor. He may have demanded to know about the aliens and they just never got around to telling him.

  24. Given that these aliens are sufficiently advanced for interstellar travel, isn’t it amazing how often they crash? Are we being visited by alien teenagers?

  25. You’d think “chicken” or “dog” or “cat” or “bird” or “bat” would be so much easier and clearer for someone to admit in a government oversight committee hearing about UAP’s. Why go with “non-human biologic” if it’s something as simple as any of those? It’s almost like they’re purposely trying to get our hopes up.

  26. @Chris Walsh: in all fairness were are also advanced enough to send spacecraft to other planets and we crash more often than we’d like.

  27. Couldn’t agree more. Alien biology is so wildly improbable that all I’ve been doing is rolling my eyes. If there are intelligent extraterrestrial beings who somehow got all the way over here, there’s no reason why they’d favor the United States.

  28. My favorite Calvin & Hobbes panel reads: “Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists somewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us”.

  29. Myself, I am more inclined to believe these are either ‘rendering glitches’, or software bugs or viral intrusions than the physics of aliens gallavanting around the galaxy, into our solar system and then our planet undetected. So … simulation theory…

  30. It’s all a function of this new and dangerous level of conspiracy nonsense (I do not use the term “theory” because it’s not). This is not science, folks, it’s foolishness.

    And while I’m at it, let me just say that if I keep hearing about AI my head is going to explode! But that’s just a theory. :)

  31. I’m more concerned that at least some UAPs are very high tech foreign surveillance/ intelligence drones. It makes sense that some of the ones showing up in military test and training areas could be. That would be a great way to get SIGINT -signals intelligence- (radar frequencies, communications capabilities, etc.). After all, what’s the most likely thing a military will do when spotting something unusual? They train all their sensors on it. That’s a virtual gold mine of information for a potential adversary.

  32. Over the past few years, I’ve reluctantly – very reluctantly! – come to the following conclusions:

    Earth has gone through 5 mass extinctions, and the rise of sapient life was by no means a foregone conclusion at any step along the way. I meant, it took a freaking asteroid to clear the table for mammals to rise. (I’m not saying only mammals are sapient, just pointing out how wild and twisty and random evolution of life on Earth was.)

    So, if there is alien life, while it is most likely sentient (because just about everything alive is) it is unlikely to be sapient (capable of multi-level abstract thought and complex conscious actions).

    And judging from how sapience has manifested in humans, my other very reluctant conclusion is that sapient species are inherently self-destructive. A species that is sapient enough to develop the technology needed to achieve spaceflight is also very likely to cripple its ecosphere with that same technology. This is, admittedly, based on a small data set – i.e., us – but it’s the only conclusion I can draw from our history.

  33. CaseyL
    I’ve reluctantly come to agree with the “Great Filter” hypothesis, too. At least, we might avoid it because we are aware of it. Or not.

  34. OK, so it’s not aliens. But why isn’t it aliens? It SHOULD BE aliens, at least once or twice. 100 billion stars that’ve had 13 billion years to cook up intelligent life. Yet nothing. Anthropic guys tell us how unlikely a universe that CAN support life is, but seems to me it’s much more unlikely that a universe that CAN for some reason doesn’t seem to, except for this one isolated case.

    Tic-tac is the Chinese. Tabby’s Star doesn’t have megastructures, ‘Oumuamua is a nitrogen iceberg; if this keeps up, I may be forced to conclude we’re somebody’s digital test case.

  35. My working assumption, given the billions-of-light-years vastness of the universe, and the apparent hard limit on faster-than-light travel, is that intelligent life is likely to exist elsewhere in the universe, and to have at least in some cases managed to avoid premature self-inflicted extinction, but that it’s so far away that it’s not likely to ever visit us. (We might at some point detect it where it lives, but that’s also by no means a sure thing, depending on far away it is and how advanced we get in our ability to probe faraway places.)

    I could of course be wrong about this, and would be quite interested if we get solid evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization in hailing distance. But nothing I’ve seen to date suggesting that seems more likely than more mundane explanations.

  36. Chris Walsh asks: “Are we being visited by alien teenagers?”

    That was the premise of the 1985 underrated classic “Morons from Outer Space”. Three teenage space aliens go for a joy ride and crash somewhere in the UK. As the movie title suggests, they are not very bright. But nobody on Earth seems to recognize this, and their every utterance, no matter how dumb, is taken as genius gold. They very quickly become no-talent music superstars.

    Meanwhile, their smart supervising adult comes to retrieve them, but he gets picked up and locked in a mental institute.

    No great shakes of a movie, but definitely not a waste of your time.

  37. Regarding aliens in Congress:

    Back in the 80s, I was a regular reader of the late lamented “Weekly World News”, the black-and-white spin-off tabloid of “The National Enquirer”. None of the latter’s celebrity gossip, instead it ran “factual” stories. (Well, they did do gossipy stories on Elvis, since he apparently wasn’t dead and/or was a space alien.) For the most part they were nonsense, but WWN DID NOT MAKE ANYTHING UP!! They just reported on what other people were saying, and let you know.

    (I know from personal experience that some non-zero percentage of their stories were in fact true, concerning people I knew or knew of. It was quite a shock to come across them.)

    By the way, WWN writers tended to be quite intelligent, well-educated, and were nicely paid (since it was, obviously, a terminal job).

    The best ever instance of their style of reporting was the time one of their staffers got the amazing idea of checking up directly if any US senators were actually space aliens. They phoned each office, told whoever answered the call they were calling from the WWN, and wanted to know if the senator was a space alien in disguise. Most such calls ended up in very quick hangups, a few led to bemused conversations and denials, but five of them ended up with staffers spilling the beans.

    That was of course very soon the lead story: five senators confirmed as space aliens by their own staff! They even got a group photo of the five on the steps of the Capitol.

    WWN’s website reveals that they’ve updated this story over the years, most recently in 2019 and 2022, but it’s not the same anymore. I think they’re just making things up.

  38. Homo Erectus lasted 2 million years and never had a technological civilization. Homo Sapiens hasn’t been around nearly that long, but so many people believe that our type of technological civilization is inevitable. After all, we are the epitome of life, everything is about us.

  39. I agree with John Mark Ockerbloom. The universe is incredibly huge relative to even the very fastest space travel. So even if there are lots of our-type technological civilizations, we will never find out.

  40. @Gregg Bender
    “is it even possible to visit us? From what we know of physics right now, they can’t.”

    Time to catch up on recent physics developments. ;) The Alcubierre drive could – theoretically – work as a real-life warp drive, not by traveling faster than the speed of light but contracting space in front of it and expanding space behind it. That could get you from here to there faster than a photon ever could.

    One other possibility is a stable wormhole. A recent MIT simulation showed that that’s theoretically possible: it would require a lot of energy and it wouldn’t be stable, but all that means is that our civilization simply doesn’t have the technology right now. Someday, we might. If there was another spacefaring civilization somewhere in the universe, they might have figured out how. (Keep in mind that all of our fancy advances only really started ~200 years ago. Consider what one could do in 10,000 years…)

    This comment is also addressed to all the other naysayers in this comment section. :) For a bunch of geeks and sci-fi fans, there’s a disturbing amount of pessimism as well as lack of keeping up with science. Both of the things I mentioned made headlines – this isn’t some secret niche conspiracy. Both of them are fully compatible with our current understanding of how the universe works. :)

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