Sunday, 31 January 2010

Ex-files Re-upholstered

The UFO and conspiracy industry suffered a double-whammy this week. At the Royal Society conference on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence scientists dismissed the UFO “evidence” as unconvincing. Gordon Brown's government isn’t convinced either, as shown by the MoD's recent decision to close its UFO desk and the public hotline on the grounds they are an “inappropriate use of defence resources”. But all is not lost, thanks to the nation's best-selling tabloid.

This was an opportunity The Sun could not allow to pass by. The paper that likes to believe it has a direct link to the public mood stepped in to fill the void by establishing its own X-files bureau. The Sun has a long history of inventing its own content. Back in 1985 the tabloid, then edited by the legendary Kelvin Mackenzie, told its readers that a popular print of a tearful street urchin known as the Crying Boy was cursed after running a story about a series of house fires where it had survived unscathed. When hundreds of people threw out their prints Mackenzie knew he had hit the jackpot, telling the punters: "Send them to us and we'll burn them for you."

Like the crying boy legend, the UFO bureau has "got legs" as Mackenzie would say. And who best to act as The Sun's “UFO expert” than Nick Pope, who is happy to take Murdoch's cash in return for regular endorsement of every submitted fuzzy photo showing everything from seagulls to Chinese lanterns as proof that aliens are buzzing us.

Pope described his former employer’s decision to close the real X-files as “bizarre” because of “massive public interest in the issue.” If there's something unusual in our skies, he says, then "we need to know or we could be leaving ourselves open to terrorist attack" (Sun, 22 January). But he failed to appreciate the delicious irony hidden in his own words which leads me to suspect this is all part of what Baldrick would call "a cunning plan."

What created the massive public interest that Pope speaks of? The final set of UFO sighting statistics released by the MoD revealed they received 634 UFO reports in 2009, triple the numbers logged over the previous two years. The vast majority of these "UFOs" are reports of lights in the sky sent in by members of the public who have seen Chinese lanterns, aircraft, bright stars and other common IFOs. This is precisely the sort of tedious and uncorroborated reports the MoD know are of no interest to them. To spend scarce public funds following these up, as Nick Pope believes they should, is a mad way to squander resources at a time when soldiers are dying in Afghanistan.

Which leads me to ponder further on who or what is behind the tripling of UFO reports received by the MoD over the past two years. Who has been encouraging people to interpret what they are seeing not as lanterns sent up for fun but as alien spacecraft? Who is it that has been running a relentless UFO campaign aimed at keeping the subject firmly in the public domain and any contrary voice out of a paper that claims to tell its readers the truth? Why that must be The Sun!

Now, how about this for a conspiracy theory: Nick Pope finds himself out of a job and then the MoD pulls the plug on its own X-files, which until now have provided his bread and butter. So he then steps in to help a tabloid newspaper invent a phony UFO invasion to create a new job for himself. You couldn't make it up.

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