NASA panel on UFOs claims to be hindered by stigma, lack of high quality data

“If I were to summarize in one line what I feel we’ve learned, it’s we need high-quality data.”


On Wednesday, a NASA panel suggested that the study of “unidentified aerial phenomena” (UAP) is made much more difficult due to the stigma surrounding the issue. This comes in the form of people being harassed who work to investigate the strange sightings, which can make it near-impossible to learn about the object’s origins, per NBC News.

The panel was formed in 2022, and they presented initial findings during the recent panel talk. A  more comprehensive report is expected to be published later this summer. Additionally, the team tasked with investigating UAP sightings and reports said that there is a need for more high-quality data in order to effectively assess the anomalous sightings.

There have been debates over possible UAP sightings, which have garnered national attention over the past six years. One of the individuals to bring the topic into the mainstream was Blink-182 rock star Tom DeLonge, whose company To The Stars hired individuals who had previously worked in government agencies. One of the most prominent names currently in the UAP world is Luis Elizondo, who is a former employee of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense of Intelligence.

David Spergel, the panel’s chair, said: “If I were to summarize in one line what I feel we’ve learned, it’s we need high-quality data.”

Additionally, it appears that public interest in the topic has also increased, with members of the public now able to submit comments on the information that was presented on Wednesday. Director of the Defense Department’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, Sean Kirkpatrick, said that the vast majority of so-called UAP sightings can be dismissed with “mundane” explanations. 

The report noted that since 1996, there have been over 800 reports of unidentified flying objects flying around, but between two and five percent of those demonstrate “anomalous characteristics,” which is not an insignificant number. Kirkpatrick noted that those which do demonstrate strange attributes are typically spotted at altitudes where aircraft typically fly, making them difficult to see from the ground.

Assistant deputy associate administrator for research in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Daniel Evans said there hasn’t been convincing data that reports of UFOs are linked to extraterrestrial life, but the possibility is not being ruled out. Instead, the independent group was convened to address broader national security concerns, he said.

"There could potentially be very serious risks to US airspace as a result of us not necessarily knowing what is in our skies at a given time," Evans said Wednesday in a news briefing.

Panel chair David Spergel said one of the biggest challenges in carrying out research on UAPs is navigating public opinion on the subject.

"We have a community of people who are completely convinced of the existence of UFOs, and we have a community of people who think addressing this question is ridiculous," Spergel said. "And I think as scientists, the way to approach questions is you start by saying, 'We don't know,' and then you collect data and you try to calibrate your data well."

NASA Science Chief Nichola Fox said that members of the panel have faces online harassment for participating in the work.

"Harassment only leads to further stigmatization of the UAP field, significantly hindering the scientific progress and discouraging others to study this important subject matter," she said, adding that the harassment also "obstructs the public’s right to knowledge."

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