These past few weeks, as I’ve thought about UFOs as a phenomenon, I’ve found myself confused, going back and forth between the value of testimony v. the value of expert scientific opinion, and then it occurred to me:
- Juries frequently encounter the exact same dilemma.
In other words, juries often have to weigh the value of eyewitness testimony and scientific expert testimony, and since a person’s life or freedom is typically at stake, juries have to take both of these very seriously. And so you know that a prosecution’s case is in trouble if eyewitnesses and scientific expert witnesses are not in accord. Juries have to convict people of crimes based on evidence that is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and if either of these elements appears to go against the thesis of the prosecution, the person on trial is likely to walk free.
I would suggest that the UFO hypothesis—that metal flying saucers carrying organic aliens are responsible for various phenomena on Earth—would have to return a verdict of “not guilty” in a jury trial. That is, a group of serious jurors, taking both eyewitness testimony and scientific expert testimony seriously, could not reasonably convict alien spaceships for anything happening on Earth.
Let me illustrate by offering what I would regard as an analogous example: Let’s imagine that the famous movie actor, Tom Cruise, is accused of stealing a copy of the excellent UFO documentary DVD, Out of the Blue, from a Paris video shop. And let’s assume further that a dozen eyewitnesses claim to have seen Tom Cruise do this, and they are prepared to bear witness to the following statement:
“At 7:00 pm on August 23, 2009, I saw Tom Cruise enter la petite video, hover about the aisles for a couple of minutes, place a copy of Out of the Blue under his overcoat, and walk out of the store with it, unpaid for.”
At trial, let’s imagine that as the prosecution called these twelve eyewitnesses, that their testimony was uniform and tight, and appeared to be credible and convincing. But let’s also imagine that the prosecution offered:
- no physical evidence to support the twelve witnesses’ testimony; and
- called no scientific experts to the stand
Now let’s imagine how quickly and easily the defense could begin dismantling the prosecution’s case. Let’s pretend that:
- On cross examination, two of the twelve witnesses were shown to have mental illness;
- all twelve witnesses had seen Tom Cruise in the film War of the Worlds ;
- four of the witnesses had read an article that claimed Tom Cruise was a fan of science fiction and UFO documentaries;
- six of the twelve witnesses did not actually recall seeing Tom Cruise in the video store until they had been put under hypnosis and had their memories “recovered” by a therapist who believes that Tom Cruise stole the DVD;
- three expert scientific witnesses testified that Tom Cruise, being in Los Angeles at 6:00 pm Paris time, could not possibly have flown to Paris in the space of an hour, and so could not have been at the video store at 7:00 pm; and
- three psychiatric experts testified that Tom Cruise, even if he had been in Paris, would be highly unlikely to have behaved in the fashion alleged.
Note that the defense obviously has reasonable alternative theories concerning what the eyewitnesses experienced (mistaken identity, cultural priming, and, in two cases, mental illness). Further, unlike the prosecution, the defense offered crucial expert testimony. Given what we know about science, technology, and motivation, it is simply not possible for Tom Cruise to have been in Los Angeles at 6:00 pm and Paris at 7:00 pm and to do the bizarre thing claimed. In other words, Tom Cruise was all the way on the other side of the Earth and he has money, and so has no reason to steal.
Now imagine how the jury would respond to the prosecuting attorney if he offered as response to the defense that:
- Tom Cruise is actually an alien;
- Tom Cruise can time travel;
- Tom Cruise can move in and out of physical dimensions;
- Under hypnosis, four of the witnesses distinctly recall hearing Tom Cruise speaking telepathically to them, and saying to them, “Watch me sneak out of this video store with a copy of Out of the Blue under my coat!”
Also imagine that the prosecution offered no expert scientific witnesses to support any of these claims, but nonetheless offered them as possible explanations for how Tom Cruise might have been in Paris and might have done what the twelve witnesses claim.
Now it might well be that Tom Cruise is an alien, and was in Paris at 7:00 pm on August 23, 2009, and stole a DVD in the presence of twelve witnesses. But a reasonable jury would have to let Tom Cruise go.