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.
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
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.