The Scientific Weight of Eyewitness Testimony

LilWabbit

Active Member
What is the value of eyewitness testimony as scientific evidence, in general, and as UFO evidence, in particular?

Arguments such as the following by @Metzgerov, offered on another thread, are frequently made, whereby anecdotal evidence is accorded equal weight with physical evidence:

The videos are PART of the evidence. The only physical evidence they could show us. Put yourself in their shoes. What else can the pilots/operators bring to the table without a court martial?

Nothing in the videos has been debunked or confirmed honestly since we are missing lots of other info (including the whole videos) to make any determination.

The remarkability of a piece of eyewitness testimony is highlighted by appeal to the near-infallibility of highly trained Navy pilots, especially when there are multiple witness testimonies from the same event (both variations of 'argument from authority'). Debunkers dismissing said evidence as 'anecdotal' and 'fallible' is frowned upon as anti-biased by amateurs disrespectful to the competence and honesty of trained professionals. It is also true that sometimes debunkers and/or skeptics are plagued by anti-bias just as the 'believers' are blamed for pro-bias.

Psychologist Chris French has reviewed relevant research on (1) multiple eyewitnesses who have discussed the event with each other as well as (2) multiple witnesses having independently witnessed and reported the same event (bold added):

Article:
Understandably, investigators often have more faith in an eyewitness account if it appears to be supported by an account of the same incident from another eyewitness. However, it is very likely to be the case that witnesses will have discussed the incident amongst themselves before ever being formally interviewed by investigators. In the light of findings from research on conformity, we might expect that witnesses will influence each other’s reports to a greater or lesser extent. Recent experimental work (e.g., Gabbert et al., in press, submitted) has shown that this is indeed the case. In a sense, such research on misinformation effects provides a link between that dealing mainly with naturally arising memory distortions for witnessed events and that dealing primarily with false memories for events that never actually took place at all.

. . .

For example, even under perfect viewing conditions, our memories of what we saw may be highly influenced by our view of what we think we must have seen. French and Richards (1993) showed participants an ordinary clock face with Roman numerals under perfect viewing conditions for an extended period. Participants were asked to draw the clock face from memory. They tended to represent the four as ‘IV’ in line with their general expectations of Roman numerals. In fact, however, the four on clocks and watches is almost always represented as ‘IIII’. Most people are quite surprised when this is first pointed out to them, as they reflect upon the literally thousands of occasions they must have looked at clocks and watches without noticing this oddity. Even thousands of exposures to a simple stimulus under perfect viewing conditions may not be enough to lead to accurate recall.

Studies have typically involved assessing the recall of eyewitnesses for staged events, either using live action or video presentation. When we are able to assess witness reports against some form of objective record, it becomes clear that both perception and memory are constructive processes, influenced not only by input from the senses (‘bottom-up’ influences) but by our own knowledge, belief and expectations about the world (‘top-down’ influences).


French has also reviewed research demonstrating that 'flashbulb memories' are prone to error:


In light of the above, the following argument could be made:

One who is more inclined to believe in alien visitations is also more likely to highlight whatever piece of evidence that best feeds the hypothesis, irrespective of the scientific weight of such evidence. It would therefore logically follow that eyewitness testimonies are given credence far beyond their value in science.

But it could also be claimed that the proponent of such arguments (including yours truly) is also affected by bias against any and all evidence pointing to the paranormal, no matter how convincing.
 

NorCal Dave

Active Member
Lots of research by people like Loftus has shown the malleability and plasticity of memory. I try to ask people to remember a seminal event in their own life and what they remember. If you're in the US, 9/11 is a good topic. My wife and I would discuss how we first heard about what was happening and what we remember. What we thought we remembered didn't fit with the time line, upon further research, for people on the West coast.

If you can get people to be honest about things like 9/11 memories and how they may be wrong, it helps in discussing other peoples "eye witness" accounts of whatever it is they're talking about.
 

jackfrostvc

Active Member
We must also never forget that people also lie.

I have seen UFO cases, big ones , were it was pretty clear to me that some of the witnesses were lying.

Unfortunately a lot of people mistake Apparent Sincerity equating to Honesty
 

markus

Active Member
The problem with eyewitness testimony is not only that it's unreliable (though it is) or malleable (though it is). We run through our lives relying on our memories and 'eyewitness accounts' for the vast majority of things, after all, and we care not one whit that the evidence we use to make daily decision, sometimes even life and death decisions, does not rise to scientific standards. Most of the time it works just fine, even for legal decisions, so what's the problem? As far as science is concerned the problem is twofold:

1. Science is built on verifiability. The goal of science is to establish reliable knowledge about the world, where "reliable" means that if you try it you'll get the same answer. Sometimes there are one-off events, true, but if data has been recorded with a well-controlled instrument you can use it to record different data (and so characterize it), and you can repeat the analysis of the data, which in the age of digital storage can be preserved pretty much forever. Human memory degrades over time and cannot be analyzed, the best you can do is ask different questions and hope the answers are at least somewhat accurate.

2. Good scientific observation will control for the look-elsewhere effect, that is, for the tendency of people to underestimate the frequency of extraordinary events because they underestimate how many lottery tickets are actually being bought, that is, the chance of you winning the lottery is tiny, but the chance of someone winning the lottery is actually quite high. This is really the biggest difference between eyewitness testimony in day to day activities, even in the court of law, versus eyewitness testimonies to a ufo case. The chance that you saw Bob go in the store last weekend is quite high compared with the chance that you imagined it, and at least comparable to the chance that you confused him with someone else. The chance that an F-18 pilot saw a Sukhoi jet somewhere over the Caucasus is pretty high, compared with the chance that he imagined it or confused it with some other plane. But the chance that an F-18 pilot saw an alien spacecraft is minuscule compared with all the other events that could conspire to make up the appearance of an alien spacecraft.

In other words, the difference is between _common_ and _rare_ events: common events are common enough to swamp the look-elsewhere effect, so you don't have to worry too much in your daily life. Scientists are aware of the look-elsewhere effect when investigating rare phenomena, and so are careful enough to account for it -- that's what particle physicists mean when they talk of the 5-sigma detection threshold. But mix the two domains -- eyewitness and rare event -- and the chances of a mistake skyrocket.
 

Itsme

Active Member
I once travelled somewhere to witness a solar eclipse. Are my memories of that event reliable? Absolutely not! I don't remember the exact location, how many other people were there, the time, the duration, etc..

But I'm sure I saw a solar eclipse, and not a balloon or a cloud moving in front of the sun.

I guess UFO witnesses often feel the same. "I know what I saw!" is often their response when doubted. They are certain they saw something completely out of the ordinary and at the same time their memories are full of inaccuracies and inconsistencies.

Flashbulb memories are inaccurate, yes. But even though someone does not remember the exact circumstances under which they heard about the 911 events, and their memories are full of inaccuracies, they do know that passenger planes flew into the twin towers that day.

Much of the memory research in psychology is focused on remembering details, we should remember that..
 

Tomer

Member
Of course eyewitness testimony is fallible, I don't think it's worth debating with someone who doesn't accept this. The idea that it doesn't have any value at all is also spurious, it can never be conclusively relied upon but when used in conjunction with more solid data points, i.e. radar, ladar, footage etc it's an essential piece in the puzzle. I don't think it's that difficult people.
 

LilWabbit

Active Member
Of course eyewitness testimony is fallible, I don't think it's worth debating with someone who doesn't accept this.

No doubt every sensible person accepts this in general. But many an even sensible person makes exceptions when a hypothesis they are, for some reason, personally attached to largely hinges on eyewitness testimony. They are suddenly far more fired up to highlight the improbability of trained pilots making error judgments. At least not with UFOs.

The follow-up question, of course, is whether or not there are good grounds to question their accuracy, or whether such questioning is solely borne of a close-minded need to debunk any and all reference to aliens.

The idea that it doesn't have any value at all is also spurious, it can never be conclusively relied upon but when used in conjunction with more solid data points, i.e. radar, ladar, footage etc it's an essential piece in the puzzle.

This is true if:

(1) These 'solid data points' (i.e. physical records) are deemed, by default, as more reliable and primary evidence while anecdotal evidence is regarded supportive evidence at best;
(2) These 'solid data points' demonstrate the remarkable feats mentioned by the eyewitnesses, and;
(3) The eyewitness testimonies demonstrate significant mutual consistency, significant internal consistency over time, independence (not having been discussed or mutually shared) and freshness.

Lacking which, Chris French's points about the unreliability of eyewitness testimonies should be taken seriously with respect to even professional Navy pilot testimonies. At least insofar as we wish to remain scientific about it.

A week ago the alien-sympathetic F-16 pilot Chris Lehto demonstrated great integrity at the outset of his discussion with Mick West. He stated the "acceleration" of the blob appearing on the FLIR1 video initially "blew his mind". He had thought, "from the look of it", that "Chad Underwood was following it". This had "caged his brain into this scenario", and that's why the leftward whizzing off by the object looked mind-boggling. But after examining Mick's explanation of an optical illusion caused by the lock being lost, he acknowledged its plausibility. He even said he was the typical "cocky pilot" about it at first.

It's very possible Chad Underwood and other trained pilots would have made the very same human errors as Chris Lehto did some 17 years later, and interpreted the sighting (as Christopher French would put it), on the basis of their "own knowledge, belief and expectations about the world (‘top-down’ influences)".
 

Tomer

Member
No doubt every sensible person accepts this in general. But many an even sensible person makes exceptions when a hypothesis they are, for some reason, personally attached to largely hinges on eyewitness testimony. They are suddenly far more fired up to highlight the improbability of trained pilots making error judgments. At least not with UFOs.

The follow-up question, of course, is whether or not there are good grounds to question their accuracy, or whether such questioning is solely borne of a close-minded need to debunk any and all reference to aliens.



This is true if:

(1) These 'solid data points' (i.e. physical records) are deemed, by default, as more reliable and primary evidence while anecdotal evidence is regarded supportive evidence at best;
(2) These 'solid data points' demonstrate the remarkable feats mentioned by the eyewitnesses, and;
(3) The eyewitness testimonies demonstrate significant mutual consistency, significant internal consistency over time, independence (not having been discussed or mutually shared) and freshness.

Lacking which, Chris French's points about the unreliability of eyewitness testimonies should be taken seriously with respect to even professional Navy pilot testimonies. At least insofar as we wish to remain scientific about it.

A week ago the alien-sympathetic F-16 pilot Chris Lehto demonstrated great integrity at the outset of his discussion with Mick West. He stated the "acceleration" of the blob appearing on the FLIR1 video initially "blew his mind". He had thought, "from the look of it", that "Chad Underwood was following it". This had "caged his brain into this scenario", and that's why the leftward whizzing off by the object looked mind-boggling. But after examining Mick's explanation of an optical illusion caused by the lock being lost, he acknowledged its plausibility. He even said he was the typical "cocky pilot" about it at first.

It's very possible Chad Underwood and other trained pilots would have made the very same human errors as Chris Lehto did some 17 years later, and interpreted the sighting (as Christopher French would put it), on the basis of their "own knowledge, belief and expectations about the world (‘top-down’ influences)".
Yeah, I don't think how Chris Lehto reacts to a video has any bearing on Chad Underwood's story beyond the fact that fighter pilots, and by extension humans, can make mistakes in observation. I don't know about you but I knew that already so I don't think it's a particularly helpful observation.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
But even though someone does not remember the exact circumstances under which they heard about the 911 events, and their memories are full of inaccuracies, they do know that passenger planes flew into the twin towers that day.

because we have clear video footage that the media played over air approximately 273 times a day for a week.

add: from multiple sources, btw.

Of course eyewitness testimony is fallible, I don't think it's worth debating with someone who doesn't accept this. The idea that it doesn't have any value at all is also spurious, it can never be conclusively relied upon but when used in conjunction with more solid data points, i.e. radar, ladar, footage etc it's an essential piece in the puzzle. I don't think it's that difficult people.
if they had radar, footage or ladar? evidence, we would all believe the eye witness testimony. But they don't. so far.
 

LilWabbit

Active Member
Yeah, I don't think how Chris Lehto reacts to a video has any bearing on Chad Underwood's story beyond the fact that fighter pilots, and by extension humans, can make mistakes in observation.

It's a fact far less obvious to many others in this flap than it is to you. Hence the relevance.
 

Itsme

Active Member
This is a nice example of the sort of eyewitness testimony one encounters in the UFO field:

Does he accurately remember the date, how many other people were there, what he was wearing...? No. The research is pretty clear on that.
Did he see something extraordinary? Yes.

The examples given in this thread are mainly about details. An eyewitness to an armed robbery may not correctly recognize the person who did it but they are pretty sure they witnessed an armed robbery.
 

LilWabbit

Active Member
This is a nice example of the sort of eyewitness testimony one encounters in the UFO field:

Does he accurately remember the date, how many other people were there, what he was wearing...? No. The research is pretty clear on that.
Did he see something extraordinary? Yes.

Of course he saw something amazing to him. And yet Chris French's statement, cited in the OP, applies here as well as with any other similar accounts:

"When we are able to assess witness reports against some form of objective record, it becomes clear that both perception and memory are constructive processes, influenced not only by input from the senses (‘bottom-up’ influences) but by our own knowledge, belief and expectations about the world (‘top-down’ influences)."

Lacking such objective records, we have very little to go by scientifically. It's a different matter of course if we didn't even wish to uphold scientific standards. In that case I'm sure such accounts qualify as acceptable evidence amongst all sorts of communities and groups. Just not scientific communities.
 

GrahamH

New Member
For me (not a scientist for the record), eyewitness testimony means very little without evidence to back it up. Particularly when it comes to the extraordinary claims often scrutinised on these forums.

Take UFOs and the Nimitz case as an example. I, like many others, were initially drawn in by the apparent credibility of the individuals involved and the claims of what they saw. And, by all accounts, these service personnel are indeed the stand-up professionals they’re espoused to be and whose claims we should take seriously. However, the evidence offered up as corroboration for their sightings is underwhelming to say the very least (at least the evidence we’re privy to). It shows absolutely nothing extraordinary. Do I think Fravor and Dietrich et al are lying? Absolutely not. I’m sure they saw something they couldn’t explain that day. But to those who would have us believe that these accounts and accompanying footage are enough to prove visitation or the existence of advanced, physics defying craft I say: no, we need much, much more. I think the best we can do in cases such as these is to bookmark them and revisit them again if/when further evidence surfaces. Until that point I find myself agreeing with a remark Lt. Cmdr. Dietrich made in her interview with Mick (paraphrasing): Nimitz is a cold-case, what do we expect to find at this point without new evidence?

Credible eye-witness testimony is no doubt important. In conjunction with testable evidence, it can increase our confidence in a particular finding. It’s also very useful in drawing attention to an area that requires further research/investigation (Nimitz is a good example of this). But as proof in-and-of-itself, no, it doesn’t count for much, no matter how credible the witness.
 

Mauro

Active Member
The examples given in this thread are mainly about details. An eyewitness to an armed robbery may not correctly recognize the person who did it but they are pretty sure they witnessed an armed robbery.
An armed robbery (and a solar eclipse too) has a prior probability orders and orders of magnitude higher than, for example, the sighting of a true alien vehicle. That's why it's easy to be pretty sure of having witnessed an armed robbery, or a solar eclipse, or 9/11, even before starting examining the available evidence: there's nothing weird in any of those claims. I would immediately believe you if you told me you witnessed a solar eclipse or an armed robbery, even without any evidence at all. Should I know nothing about 9/11 I'd probably ask you for some evidence and the footage of the planes crashing into the towers would be enough. Orders of magnitude more evidence would be needed, instead, to convice me that (always as an example) the alien hypothesis is true.
And notice one could be wrong even with an armed robbery: maybe it was the set of a film instead.
 
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Itsme

Active Member
This thread is kind of kicking in open doors...

The question is: What is the value of eyewitness testimony as scientific evidence, in general, and as UFO evidence, in particular?

We all know that human observation and human memory is not as reliable as measurements with well calibrated scientific instruments. Nothing new here. But that does not mean the value of human observation is zero. It does not mean human observation and its memory are completely made up and utterly worthless. Trying to argue that the value of human observation is zero and to downplay repeated observations with this argument is taking matters too far.

Our knowledge of history and of animal and human behaviour is largely based on human observation and written records of these observations. We have a written record of the tic tac encounter as well.

People often misinterpret the meaning of "trained observer". It does not mean someone trained in correctly interpreting what they observe. It just means someone trained in objectively and factually reporting what they observe, with as little interpretation as possible. That is what these pilots do (and trained scientists as well). They don't say "I saw an alien spaceship" but simply report seeing a white capsule shaped object without markings, wings, or visual means of propulsion. They report the facts that they observe with their eyeballs, nothing more.

If you have a written record made shortly after the fact, of observations made by pilots that were trained to report them as factual as possible, it does have scientific value. Just like logs made by scientists observing animal or human behaviour. Can these logs contain observational errors? Sure they can. About 40% of psychological research turns out not to be repeatable because of this. But that does not mean the whole field of psychology can be thrown in the wastebin.
 
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Mauro

Active Member
This thread is kind of kicking in open doors...
The question is: What is the value of eyewitness testimony as scientific evidence, in general, and as UFO evidence, in particular?
I'm sorry. However I noticed this argument, that witnesses can be unreliable in the details but are reliable on the core facts (if I understood correctly, apologies if I didn't). I just wanted to point out that this is not generally true, and that there is a lot of difference between a witness who tells about (your examples) an armed robbery (a not-so-common but well-known event), a solar eclipse (rare and well-known), 9/11 (luckily quite rare, unexpected but easy to understand with ordinary means) and (my example) some outlandish event (extremely rare and needing extraordinary means for an explanation). This looks pretty on-topic to me, I may be wrong.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Basically, it all comes down to Bigfoot sightings, if we are going to argue the merits of UFO sightings.

Trying to argue that the value of human observation is zero and to downplay repeated observations with this argument is taking matters too far.

aren't you taking it too far, to suggest people are saying the value of human observation is zero?

Of course, its not zero. But it's most likely a bear or a guy in a ghillie suit.
 

JarJar

Member
The question is: What is the value of eyewitness testimony as scientific evidence, in general, and as UFO evidence, in particular?

Our knowledge of history and of animal and human behaviour is largely based on human observation and written records of these observations. We have a written record of the tic tac encounter as well.

People often misinterpret the meaning of "trained observer". It does not mean someone trained in correctly interpreting what they observe. It just means someone trained in objectively and factually reporting what they observe, with as little interpretation as possible. That is what these pilots do (and trained scientists as well). They don't say "I saw an alien spaceship" but simply report seeing a white capsule shaped object without markings, wings, or visual means of propulsion. They report the facts that they observe with their eyeballs, nothing more.

If you have a written record made shortly after the fact, of observations made by pilots that were trained to report them as factual as possible, it does have scientific value. Just like logs made by scientists observing animal or human behaviour. Can these logs contain observational errors? Sure they can. About 40% of psychological research turns out not to be repeatable because of this. But that does not mean the whole field of psychology can be thrown in the wastebin.
We can willfully observe animal & human behavior whenever we want. There are literally billions of examples to choose from.
There was only one tic tac encounter.

Pilots may be trained to be observant and methodical, but you can't train someone to be correct. Those pilots are trained to recognize certain known craft & characteristics, but if something foreign is observed, that training may not apply. Ask any street magician how easily people can be deceived.

As many have pointed out, humans can also have ulterior motives, or simply be mistaken. Add in the lure of instantaneous internet fame, and you have a profitable motive.
With 60+ years of fruitless ufo claims, I will always be skeptical by default.
 

Itsme

Active Member
I'm sorry. However I noticed this argument, that witnesses can be unreliable in the details but are reliable on the core facts (if I understood correctly, apologies if I didn't). I just wanted to point out that this is not generally true, and that there is a lot of difference between a witness who tells about (your examples) an armed robbery (a not-so-common but well-known event), a solar eclipse (rare and well-known), 9/11 (luckily quite rare, unexpected but easy to understand with ordinary means) and (my example) some outlandish event (extremely rare and needing extraordinary means for an explanation). This looks pretty on-topic to me, I may be wrong.
What is your argument for your claim that "this is not generally true"? It seems to be based on the assumption that "An armed robbery (and a solar eclipse too) has a prior probability orders and orders of magnitude higher than, for example, the sighting of a true alien vehicle". So, if someone reports something that might be an alien vehicle it simply cannot be true in your worldview and therefore it must be based on an observational error. Your claim is based on your own bias, which may resemble that of Deirdre: "
 

Mauro

Active Member
What is your argument for your claim that "this is not generally true"? It seems to be based on the assumption that "An armed robbery (and a solar eclipse too) has a prior probability orders and orders of magnitude higher than, for example, the sighting of a true alien vehicle". So, if someone reports something that might be an alien vehicle it simply cannot be true in your worldview and therefore it must be based on an observational error. Your claim is based on your own bias, which may resemble that of Deirdre: "
Yes, the basic premise is that an armed robbery is orders of magnitude more probable than a true UFO. This is debatable of course, but I think it stands easily to scrutiny (we can discuss it if you want, maybe in another thread, or via PMs). The consequences of this premise are just applied logic: if someone reports to have seen an UFO, which can be true but is simply very improbable in my worldview, just for this fact I think the report is very probably false. But should enough evidence be ammassed to overcome the prior odds of an UFO being real I would be convinced (I would even be happy, go figure). On the contrary, if someone reports an armed robbery I just believe him.

What I call a 'prior probability' is what you call 'bias', and I agree with you: I am biased against UFOs, as I'm biased against ghosts, demons, fairies and unicorns, among other things. But 'prior probability' is a valid core logic concept (well, in Bayesan logic at least), and I'm quite willing to debate and defend the specific premise: 'UFO are orders of magnitude more improbable than armed robberies (or whatever mundane fact you prefer)'.

And now to go back on topic: for the above reasons, I find witness testimonies to be of very little credibility when they deal with UFOs or the like, even before examining the available evidence, which is a perfectly sound method from the point of view of inductive logic. Then, when I examine the evidence, the credibility of the witness report tends to decrease further (or it melts in the low information zone). And (veering off-topic again, I'm a desperate case) this in turn decreases the prior probability even more, for the next observation (you would say: it increases my bias).
 
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LilWabbit

Active Member
Our point of agreement is that the Navy pilots, just like so many other (whilst not all) UFO eyewitnesses, are honest observers and were genuinely surprised by what they saw. We also agree that the visual characteristics of their sightings were genuinely unusual to the observers. Visually, 'something' indeed looked like a tic-tac-like object moving strangely, when viewed from the angles and ranges of the observers under the conditions prevailing at the time of observation.

But the rest is interpretation of these facts by the observers. The fluid nature of human perception and memory is such that physical observation and intellectual interpretation are often so intimately melded together as to make the observer himself unable to distinguish between the two. As Chris French and the authors of other studies point out, we automatically insert speculation, stemming from our own beliefs and cultural frames of reference, into facts, especially when dealing with something unusual.

The lower the information content and the less clear the sighting, the more our imagination comes into play. This happens to the best of us. When hearing sounds or seeing faint flickers of light in the dark, even at our adult age, our imagination may run wild. When faced with an unusual observation, even years of training does not really help but in fact makes us more prone to assume something extraordinary.

This is because of ingrained pre-existing categories of mundane phenomena into which the sightings fall 99,99 % of the time. So on the rare occasion the sighting does not easily fall into usual categories, the trained observers are more prone to assume the extraordinary. They are prone to over-confidence in being able to identify something mundane quickly. When they can't, and the observed event is either optically, or in its physical dynamics, more complex to lend itself to quick identification, their trained brain quickly interprets the phenomenon as extraordinary. This is nothing new in aviation. Familiar objects are known to present themselves to pilots, on occasion, in an unusual or sudden manner. Venus suddenly popping up behind a cloud has caused many a trained pilot to bank violently to avoid hitting the 'object'.

Closer scrutiny of the very same FLIR1 footage that initially amazed Chris Lehto, made him see that the ostensibly amazing acceleration featured in the video could simply be the camera losing lock. Does it mean he initially observed the footage incorrectly? No, it doesn't. He only interpreted it incorrectly, using pilot's instinct and experience instead of careful reasoning and mathematics.

It's this careful reasoning and closer scrutiny that's the stuff of science. Cautious and scrupulous dissection of evidence, cautious and scrupulous differentiation between observation and interpretation, and cautious and scrupulous formulation of the hypothesis that best explains the observation. Easily jumping into conclusions, as we normally do, is not the stuff of science.

Neither is its avoidance a sign of bias.
 

Z.W. Wolf

Senior Member.
Memory is only a part of the problem. Misperception at the time is more important. People are sure they're seeing a UFO at the moment. The importance of memory comes in the details. Size, speed, shape, directions, the sequence of events. That's where the problem with memory comes in.

Venus is described as too bright to look at, darting up and down or side to side, half as big as a full moon. People will draw a sketch of Venus with a complicated shape and surface features.

Venus is bright, but in their memory it was like staring at an electric arc. They perceive some slight motion of Venus due to the unconscious movements of the their own eyes (saccades); in their memory it was darting around. The perceive some shape, mostly because of the imperfection of their vision. In their memory it was a saucer. And so on.

Everyone "knows" it can't have been Venus because the witness description doesn't match Venus.
 

NorCal Dave

Active Member
Memory is only a part of the problem. Misperception at the time is more important. People are sure they're seeing a UFO at the moment.
Do you think, Mr. Wolf, that it also happens in reverse? "I saw something strange, not sure what" Later as the memory is blended with outside influence it becomes "I saw a UFO".

Not to be repetitive, but going back to 9/11, my wife was convinced that we saw the planes hitting the towers in real time that morning. She didn't have a misperception about what she saw, planes hitting the towers; her memory of exactly when she saw that image was convoluted. We didn't have the news on, our kids were young and watching Sponge Bob. Only after someone called us, did we switch to the news.

Just thinking that sometimes, it's the way the initial observation becomes clouded by memory.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Do you think, Mr. Wolf, that it also happens in reverse?
if i saw bigfoot in the woods from even mild distance (dont wear glasses when hiking), my thought at the time would definitely be: "psycho freak dude, omg! i'm out of here. (as im praying he doesnt shoot me)".

and it would only be later once i was several miles away in my car, that i might think "hhmm...i guess it could have been bigfoot. he did sound heavy".
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
The examples given in this thread are mainly about details. An eyewitness to an armed robbery may not correctly recognize the person who did it but they are pretty sure they witnessed an armed robbery.
Are you certain that everyone who thinks they witnessed an armed robbery actually saw one? Because I don't believe that claim is true.
Article:
Such cases include a Michigan state trooper who shot and killed an unarmed homeless man in Detroit as he was shuffling toward him, the man’s pants down past his knees. The incident was captured on video, and the officer, who said
he thought the man had a gun, was charged with second- degree murder. A jury accepted the officer’s account and found him not guilty.

Not everyone who a witness thinks is armed actually is.

Article:
Coherence is the key here; observers become confident when multiple pieces of sensory evidence point to the same conclusion, even when the individual pieces are themselves sparse and unreliable. This is, of course, exactly what magicians aim for; they create conditions of uncertainty and introduce bias. In doing so, magicians leave the audience with a coherent but largely unsubstantiated body of evidence (the hat was normal and empty at the outset, there were no rabbits nearby)—and a strong sense of confidence—about something that didn’t actually happen.


@Itsme , your logic that I quoted above is the wrong way around. Most people who see an armed robbery up close understand that that's what they're seeing. But people who feel confident they saw an armed robbery did not necessarily see one, because this group of people is made up of those who actually saw one, and those who made a mistake.

Most people who saw a flying saucer up close would be confident that that's what they saw. But most people who were confident they had seen one actually did not. (And maybe none of them did.)
 
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Itsme

Active Member
@Mendel: My `logic' is about memory retrieval, not about observational errors. It has a basis in psychology by the way, just google `gist memory'.
People remember the `gist' of an event well, while their memories tend to be inaccurate on the details.

Your example of someone thinking they witnessed an armed robbery is an example of an observational error.
The memory retrieval of that person will still say `I saw an armed robbery' while the details of this memory are incomplete or inconsistent (provided that person never found out it actually wasn't an armed robbery of course).

Your assumption that most people who saw an `otherworldly craft' up close actually made an observational error is just that, an assumption. It is based on our current scientific world view that it's virtually impossible to cross interstellar distances no matter how advanced a civilization is. Or on a world view that if they did, they would not evade us and stay at a distance, but would attempt to make contact instead (preferably with our scientists, of course).

Ironically, the only way to test these world views is to actually study the UFO data instead of evading it while kicking in open doors about the scientific value of witness testimony. So I guess that's what I will continue to do. After all, real science is all about testing hypotheses with observations, not about defending a-priori world views with sweeping statements about the reliability of human testimony.
 

jarlrmai

Senior Member
@Mendel: My `logic' is about memory retrieval, not about observational errors. It has a basis in psychology by the way, just google `gist memory'.
People remember the `gist' of an event well, while their memories tend to be inaccurate on the details.

Your example of someone thinking they witnessed an armed robbery is an example of an observational error.
The memory retrieval of that person will still say `I saw an armed robbery' while the details of this memory are incomplete or inconsistent (provided that person never found out it actually wasn't an armed robbery of course).

Your assumption that most people who saw an `otherworldly craft' up close actually made an observational error is just that, an assumption. It is based on our current scientific world view that it's virtually impossible to cross interstellar distances no matter how advanced a civilization is. Or on a world view that if they did, they would not evade us and stay at a distance, but would attempt to make contact instead (preferably with our scientists, of course).

Ironically, the only way to test these world views is to actually study the UFO data instead of evading it while kicking in open doors about the scientific value of witness testimony. So I guess that's what I will continue to do. After all, real science is all about testing hypotheses with observations, not about defending a-priori world views with sweeping statements about the reliability of human testimony.
I'm interested, do you know of any public place where the presented evidence of UFOs is studied/examined more rigorously than here?
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
the only way to test these world views is to actually study the UFO data
which is what MB has been doing with the Navy videos for 3 years. It's the people who don't want to accept that what has been claimed about the videos is untrue, that keep bringing up witness testimony. so imo, the discussion of whether witness testimony is reliable is fair game.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
Your assumption that most people who saw an `otherworldly craft' up close actually made an observational error is just that, an assumption.
My impression is that most UFO sightings have been identified as earthly or even hoaxes, which leaves the possible aliens in the minority of the sightings.

You missed the point that the details of all UFO sightings are incomplete and inconsistent; and that it does not matter! Even in the criminal realm, incomplete and inconsistent information can coalesce into a coherent narrative that the eyewitness will tell with confidence.

UFO report collecting would do well to be aware of how, similar to bad police procedure, the worth of these observations is diminished by suggesting a narrative to the observer where there is none.
 
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markus

Active Member
Your assumption that most people who saw an `otherworldly craft' up close actually made an observational error is just that, an assumption.
Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be not aliens. That means the prior probability of alien visitation is, empirically, extremely low. It's surely low in comparison with the probability of a false positive.
 

FatPhil

Active Member
Your assumption that most people who saw an `otherworldly craft' up close actually made an observational error is just that, an assumption.
Nope, at worst it's inductive logic in the few cases where it's not a direct deduction from the disproof of the claim.
 

Mauro

Active Member
Your assumption that most people who saw an `otherworldly craft' up close actually made an observational error is just that, an assumption.
If I'm allowed to go (yet again) a little off-topic, I'd like to show a simple example which maybe can clarify matters a little.

You have a satchel containing marbles. You only know that marbles can be white or red, but you have no idea of the relative proportion, it can go all the way from 0% white (all marbles are red) to 100% white (all marbles are white).

Question: what is the probability of extracting a marble and get a red one? From the informations we have there is no reason to think one of the colors to be more probable, so at this moment the probability of getting a red marble is 50% (and the same goes for the probability of getting a white one). 50% is our initial prior probability.

Now we extract one marble and it turns out to be white. We go on extracting marbles an we get (say) 999 white marbles in a row.

Question: should we still believe the probability of extracting a red marble with the 1000th extraction is yet 50%, our original one? Of course not!

It turns out there exist a formula to calculate this probability, it's called rule of succession and it was found by Laplace in the 18th century. I won't delve here in the demonstration, nor in the caveats and pitfalls to which due care must be payed when using it. Probability theory is a pretty involved and counterintuitive field. Anyway, the formula in this case is:

P(next marble will be red) = (Number_of_red_marbles_found + 1)/(Total_number_of_marbles_extracted +2)

Thus after we extract one white marble we should change our prior probability of getting a red one from 50% to (0+1)/(1+2) =~ 33.3%. After 999 white marbles our prior probability of getting a red marble becomes (0+1)/(999+2) =~ 1/1000.

An now instead of marbles let's use observations of armed robberies and UFO sightings.

How many observations of supposed armed robberies happen, say, in one year in the US? I have really no idea, let me use n=1000. How many of those observations are confirmed to be actual armed robberies? Yet again I have no idea, there are many possibilities for errors: a cinema set mistaken for a real robbery, a prank, an hallucination, someone boasting he witnessed a robbery while he didn't etc. etc. etc. Let's say 50 of those reports were not confirmed: by the rule of succession we can say that the next report of an armed robbery will be probably true, with a probability of it being false of (50+1)/(1000+2) =~ 5%

Let's see UFO sightings now. How many observations of supposed UFO sightings happen, say, in one year in the US? Yet again no idea, let me use the same number as for robberies, n=1000. How many of those observations are confirmed to be actual UFO sightings? This is easier, zero: by the rule of succession we can say that the next report of an UFO sighting will be probably false, with a probability of it being true of (0+1)/(1000+2) =~ 0.1%

And notice, I have just considered one year of reports in one country. If we string together all the reports of armed robberies all over the world in, say, the last 50 years, we're going to get a probability not much different from the 5% we saw before. If we string together all the reports of UFO sigthings as above we get a ridicolously low prior probability of it being true.

Thus: a witness can be considered scientifically reliable (on the basic facts, not on the details of course) if he reports an armed robbery, but it must be considered very little credible if he reports an UFO sighting. And even, the more unconfirmed UFO sightings there are, the more the prior probability of an UFO sighting being true decreases. GIMBAL, Gofast, Tic-tac.. are actually evidence against UFOs, not for.

Edit: I see now Markus has already made the same point, and using a lot less words! :)

Edit: just for the sake of precision there are more arguments, beyond the rule of succession, which further lower the prior probability of an UFO sighting being true (by some more orders of magnitude). Those would be totally off-topic.

Edit: added a remark on the evidential value of Navy UFO videos
 
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LilWabbit

Active Member
After all, real science is all about testing hypotheses with observations, not about defending a-priori world views with sweeping statements about the reliability of human testimony.

In real science eyewitness testimonies by 3rd parties to the study are not considered direct observations, nor comparable to the latter in their epistemological weight. Their reliability is never regarded equivalent to physical records. We are not saying this to 'kick doors in' to unfairly dismiss personally inconvenient hypotheses, but as a simple fact of science far preceding MB and our little debates.

Eyewitness testimonies by third parties are considered secondary data which, at best (i.e. when meeting certain criteria of independence, intersubjectivity, accuracy, internal and external coherence, etc.), may be cited to support primary observations. And even then they're not necessary for scientific verification.

Could it be that you give eyewitness testimonies greater weight because they support your preferred theory better than the available footage, despite the latter being scientifically more reliable data?

A direct 'yes' or 'no' answer would be very much appreciated.
 

Mauro

Active Member
In real science eyewitness testimonies by 3rd parties to the study are not considered direct observations, nor comparable to the latter in their epistemological weight. Their reliability is never regarded equivalent to physical records. We are not saying this to 'kick doors in' to unfairly dismiss personally inconvenient hypotheses, but as a simple fact of science far preceding MB and our little debates.

Eyewitness testimonies by third parties are considered secondary data which, at best (i.e. when meeting certain criteria of independence, intersubjectivity, accuracy, internal and external coherence, etc.), may be cited to support primary observations. And even then they're not necessary for scientific verification.

Very true. For an example of what happens in science when too much credit is given to a witness testimony, anyone interested may give a look here: N-rays. It's very interesting to read, also because it shows how science continuously corrects itself.
 
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FatPhil

Active Member
Question: should we still believe the probability of extracting a white marble with the 1000th extraction is yet 50%, our original one? Of course not!

It turns out there exist a formula to calculate this probability, it's called rule of succession and it was found by Laplace in the 18th century. I won't delve here in the demonstration, nor in the caveats and pitfalls to which due care must be payed when using it. Probability theory is a pretty involved and counterintuitive field. Anyway, the formula in this case is:
...
Edit: just for the sake of precision there are more arguments, beyond the rule of succession, which further lower the prior probability of an UFO sighting being true (by some more orders of magnitude). Those would be totally off-topic.
Thanks for putting the elbow-work in. Sometimes it's good to have the brief form and the expanded form, in particular as the wikipedia link is *highly* relevant and worth a read, in particular given the "Historical..." section therein. (I'd not actually read that page before, despite having come dangerously close as I was trying to swot up on the Hempel's Raven Paradox https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raven_paradox .)
Laplace used the rule of succession to calculate the probability that the Sun will rise tomorrow, given that it has risen every day for the past 5000 years. One obtains a very large factor of approximately 5000 × 365.25, which gives odds of about 1,826,200 to 1 in favour of the Sun rising tomorrow.

However, as the mathematical details below show, the basic assumption for using the rule of succession would be that we have no prior knowledge about the question whether the Sun will or will not rise tomorrow, except that it can do either. This is not the case for sunrises.

Laplace knew this well, and he wrote to conclude the sunrise example: "But this number is far greater for him who, seeing in the totality of phenomena the principle regulating the days and seasons, realizes that nothing at the present moment can arrest the course of it." Yet Laplace was ridiculed for this calculation; his opponents gave no heed to that sentence, or failed to understand its importance.

It seems that with the current flurry of UFO claims, nothing at the present moment can arrest the course of it. ;-)
 

JarJar

Member
I was hunting with my father 40 years ago and we thought we saw a bigfoot.

We stopped at the edge of a huge open muskeg, and my dad started scanning the terrain. He let out an expletive I never heard him use before, and he immediately handed me the binoculars.

What we saw appeared to be a very tall man with broad shoulders in a mangy fur coat, facing away from us, roughly 600-700 yards away. It looked like he was slightly hunched over, as we couldn't see a head. Aside from that, no noticeable movement whatsoever.
Both of us were dumbfounded.

If we stopped there & went home, it would have turned into a bigfoot story. The truth was far less exciting, though funny.

'It' was in a small cluster of fallen trees and willow bushes, and our view was partially obscured. We decided to keep our distance, and hike around to it's flank until we found a better view.

When we reached a better vantage point, we saw it was an older cow moose that was strangely perched on the fallen tree trunks. Moose tend to scratch their rear-ends on trees, and this one apparently backed into a perfectly comfortable sitting position, and started dozing. Easily one of the strangest things I have seen a moose do, and I've seen many.

It was similar to how big dogs might perch on a couch.
1628177315705.png
 
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