Tuesday, 18 August 2009
UFO files make headline news
News of the latest UFO files released by The National Archives has travelled around the world.
I spent most of yesterday dealing with calls from the national and international media and shuttling between BBC, ITN, Channel 4 and Sky News studios in London to comment on the significance of the new files.
Public interest in the contents has been unprecedented and once again, most of the UK media have treated the topic in a serious and mature way.
Yesterday morning I was able to explain the historical importance of the files to Evan Davies on BBC Radio 4's prestigious Today programme, which in itself is a measure of the impact the release has had.
The Rendlesham forest incident was discussed and a short interview with one of the key witnesses, John Burroughs, was used. This in itself was significant because Burroughs said he was unconvinced the incident was of an extraterrestrial nature - he suspects it was some kind of military experiment.
For once it was good to hear an alternative viewpoint expressed coherently and lucidly, rather than the usual tired debates about whether you "believe" or "don't believe" (who cares?).
Coverage was extensive in the national and regional press, with leading articles in The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Independent and Scotsman.
BBC News Online ran a lead article and a more in-depth look at the connection between UFO sightings and science fiction in popular culture.
My comments on this link were picked up by most of the media, which in itself demonstrates how easy it is to plant an idea and watch it germinate.
As I had hoped, most of the commentators recognised that I was not suggesting UFO sightings were caused by "people watching too much sci-fi". What I'm saying is that the link with imagery in popular culture is more subtle than that: people see UFOs (whatever they are), but usually they tell only close friends and relatives. When UFOs are in the news - TV, film, whatever - they are more inclined to report them to outsiders (i.e. police, newspapers, MoD etc).
This effect, I believe, is reflected in the figures showing numbers of reports received by the MoD from 1959 to present. But it must be remembered these statistics are distorted by other factors, and most importantly this is raw data as virtually none of these reports were subject to a proper investigation.
Most TV news bulletins mentioned the link to UFOs in films and TV in the stories published yesterday and by the afternoon the key highlights had been picked up by leading agencies such as PA, AP and CNN.
Bear in mind, all this positive coverage was a direct outcome of the months of work and advance preparation that goes into each one of these releases.
Without the context provided by the highlights guide, video/podcasts and media briefings, the specifics of the content would be lost in the feeding frenzy that follows the opening of the files.
But the results that came in yesterday certainly made all the hard work worth its while.
In the first 24 hours since the release (at midnight on Sunday), some 240,000 people across the world logged onto http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufos to download the files.
Almost half of these were in the UK, with Germany, the USA, Sweden, France and Italy making up the remainder.
And the latest figures from TNA show that since the UFO files release programme began in May last year, there have been almost 2 million downloads from the site.
It's hugely ironic that while the so-called "disclosure" campaign continue to call for the release of "evidence" they believe is being hidden about UFOs, here in Britain open government and freedom of information has already arrived.
Somewhere around 10,000 pages of information have already been "disclosed" and, like it or not, what "truth" there is lies in here, not hidden away in a some dusty hangar somewhere.
There will always be people who have decided in advance what they think is the "truth" and because they can't find it in these files, decide it must therefore be hidden away in more top secret files somewhere else.
But this is the type of conspiracy mongering that has got UFOlogy precisely nowhere over the past 60 years. It simply hands a weapon to those who dismiss the whole topic as the province of the deluded and the paranoid.
The opening of the UFO files has given the subject much needed credibility.
Let's make the most of it.