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UFO Chasers PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   

A team of trained investigators sets out to uncover the truth about UFOs. But they’re not just looking for more stories on extraterrestrial activity—they want answers. Risking it all, this team of scientists and UFO researchers investigate and dissect some of the most mysterious sightings on the planet to unearth stunning new evidence. The data they collect on these adventures paints an entirely new picture of what we know about these strange lights in the sky  

Unfortunately, UFO Chasers is just another new “reality” show that recently debuted on television. Skeptics (and even some journalists) have been quick to denounce the show, and the National Geographic Channel, for succumbing to the lure of “unscripted” shows. This is their first foray into pro-paranormal programming, and since the Fox Network Group wants Nat Geo to become more like the History Channel1 this probably won’t be their last.  

The UFO Chasers include “Radiation expert” Ben McGee, UFOlogist James Fox and “tech expert” Erin Ryder. They are positioned respectively as the skeptic, the believer and the undecided, although as someone put it to me, “a good skeptic is open-minded and undecided anyway.” The show claims to use science to explore claims of UFO-related phenomena, but the show’s only “skeptic” is quick to believe. (Although he has since defended himself by claiming selective editing.) Ryder the “undecided” one has coined a new label that won’t become popular in skeptical circles anytime soon; she calls herself a “Skeliever – a skeptic believer.”  

The team visit “hotbeds of UFO activity” searching for phenomena and evidence. In the first episode they rehash yet fail to solve the already solved story of mass sightings that occurred in Stephenville, Texas, back in 2008. As skeptic Robert Sheaffer reminds us, “the Stephenville case was a repeat of the flare drop responsible for the famous Phoenix Lights in 1997”.2  

Typical UFO shows feature questionable characters and retired colonels sharing their unreliable witness accounts of alleged UFO sightings. Chasing UFOs has this same format, but with a twist. It is the “Ghost Hunters” of UFO shows, using the typical ghost-hunting, Bigfoot-hunting, wild goose chase formula, but for UFOs: the collection of anecdotal evidence, the use of tools, and running around in the dark with night vision cameras. The team whisper when they talk so the lights in the sky don’t hear them; until they see something, whereupon they scream, “What the (bleep) was that?” They seem quite certain that a cow (or a coyote) they encounter is a wild boar, but they are absolutely certain that the lights from an airplane constitute an “alien spacecraft”. This is simply another UFO show offering more mundane examples of mistaken identity and hoaxes dressed up as proof.  

The Ghost hunting/busting formula doesn’t translate well to UFOs. For a show about extraterrestrials, the show is mostly terrestrial, and the team mostly search the ground, and at night. With filming reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project, we see more of the team than the events. As Ed Stockly of the LA Times observed:  

The idea seems to be that should anyone encounter an actual UFO (Bigfoot, ghost, alien, etc.), it’s more important to record the face of the investigator as they see the paranormal event, rather than to record the event itself.3  

The current trend is for character-driven shows, and in this vein, UFO Chasers is more about the characters than the claims. The Lara Croft-esque Ryder, also of the show Destination Truth, would be better as a poster girl for North Face, while Fox and McGee clearly picked up their training and fashion sense from Ghostbusters. Like an extreme sports show, they chase UFOs on foot, and scale fences, climb trees and scour grassy fields with Geiger counters and metal detectors, looking for evidence of UFO crash debris.  

But once they acquire data they don’t do anything with it. Even ghost-hunting shows attempt to analyze their evidence, however poor the evidence, and however inadequate their collection and analytic tools. But UFO Chasers stops at the point where the evidence is collected. Once they capture a UFO (simply, an object in the sky that is as yet unidentified) on camera, they conclude that the object is extraterrestrial. As Ryder bleats after capturing a video of a glowing light, “We continued to investigate around the old mill for several hours, but to me the investigation was done when I shot that video.”  

And for skeptics, UFO Chasers is “done” when we hear comments like this one.            

 

References  

1. The Business of Television Broadcasting and Cable. http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/485282-Fox_Wants_Nat_Geo_to_Be_More_Like_History.php  

2. Bad UFOs. http://badufos.blogspot.com/2012/06/chasing-ufos-national-geographic-style.html  

3. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-st-tv-skeptic-chasing-ufos-too-much-mulder-not-enough-sculley-20120619,0,1143728.story

 

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.

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Not another one!
written by Rolando, July 11, 2012
I am tired of these shows where people claim that they are skeptics, and they will decide that something as simple as a lens flare is a true sign of a "paranormal entity" or whatever fancy-talk they want to use. They are twisting data to use it as evidence for claims that have been predetermined before the "investigation" even begins. One such show is "Fact or Faked". While they occasionally debunk some "paranormal sightings" and reveal them to be either hoaxes or natural occurrences, in every episode, there is usually something they can't disprove. If these people can't disprove something, it does NOT mean that they have found paranormal evidence. Now if they got some people from the JREF down there, they'd have a show...
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Shame on the National Geographic Channel!
written by Jim Shaver, July 11, 2012
Nat Geo has stooped to the brain-dead level of the History Channel, TLC, SyFy, and others with this pseudoscientific, pseudoparanormal crap. Whenever I see an advertisement for one of these so-called paranormal "chaser" shows, I always mentally add the subtitle, "Grown Men Who Are Afraid of the Dark." smilies/cry.gif
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written by rasmur, July 11, 2012
smilies/cry.gif I didn't know Fox had gotten their dirty fingers onto Nat Geo.
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written by lytrigian, July 11, 2012
As if I needed yet another reason to NOT get my cable TV hooked up.

There are YouTube channels that do the "Blair Witch" thing rather well, although they DO purport to be fictional. Thanks Fox, but I'll stick with them. You can keep this one.
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I had a paranormal experience watching this program
written by richorman, July 11, 2012
Thank you Dr. Stotznow for this excellent article. I too watched this television program. My border collie literally got violently sick five minutes in. She vomited once on the floor at five minutes, and expelled an amount of food equivalent to the volume of her evening meal. Then ten minutes later she vomited an amount about double that. I had her lay on the couch with her head on my lap, and once again vomited out an amount equivilent to her dinner. She thus expelled three-plus times the amount of her dinner. My only explanation--the paranormal.
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written by MadScientist, July 11, 2012
Nat Geo's been pretty bad for a number of years now. When I do catch bits on TV I can usually be heard shouting "what crap!" and "where the hell do they get their experts from - the Psychic Fair?" It's not only shows like UFO Chasers which are poorly researched and badly presented.
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written by Careyp74, July 12, 2012
“a good skeptic is open-minded and undecided anyway.”

Yes, before any evidence is presented, this is the case. Since the subject of the show is nothing new, you could say that any good skeptic already has an opinion on it.
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