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by Steven Novella, Feb 01 2010

On a regular basis I am sent links to YouTube to review the latest UFO video footage. Most often it is by a fellow skeptic who just wants to share the latest crappy evidence being offered by the UFO community. Sometimes the links are sent by readers who are perplexed and are looking for an explanation, and occasionally they are sent by UFO believers as a challenge.

The YouTube UFO phenomenon (or “YouFOs” – yes, I just coined that) is a good way for budding skeptics to practice their skilz. This is purely armchair skepticism, unless you want to do some actual investigation, which can be fun too. But armchair skepticism has its place – it is an exercise in logic and plausibility. Someone is presenting you with evidence and you analyze it critically. You may not have the time or resources to do investigative journalism, or to replicate experiments. But asking good critical questions is an essential part of science, and since the burden of proof is on those making the claim it seems reasonable that they should be able to answer our questions.

Recently I was sent a link to this video:

Take a look and see what you think.

Here are the questions I typically go through when confronted with these videos. Keep in mind – no one would be more thrilled than I if we finally had convincing evidence for alien spacecraft visiting the earth. I am looking at these wanting to find compelling evidence. So far, I have not seen anything even remotely compelling, and this current video is no exception.

Detail and Perspective

The first gestalt question I ask is – can what I am seeing in this video be anything other than a large technologically advanced spacecraft? The answer, so far, is always a disappointing “yes.” This usually comes down to detail and perspective. This video, like most, is at such a distance and resolution that we can make out only a provocative hint of what we are seeing – but insufficient detail to really know what it is. It appears to be a hovering object with lights. Can it be a floating object, like a blimp? Sure. Can it be a small model? Yes.

Regarding perspective, it is remarkably difficult to judge size and distance (and therefore velocity, although not relevant to this video) when viewing an object against the sky, with no foreground objects for reference. We simply cannot tell how big this thing is.


In order to be compelled by a video I would also like to know where it comes from. Often the source is unknown, with the lame claim that person does not want the attention. Equally dubious is when the dedicated UFO hunter comes up with the video. Encountering a real alien spacecraft would be a rare low-probability event. The chance that a UFO hunter happens to be the only one to capture such video is curious. In this case the video comes from ofuhunter, who has his own UFO page. Other than that, I have no idea who this guy is.

How long is the footage?

Let’s say you walk out of your house early one morning and see a flying saucer in the sky. You rush back into your home, grab your video camera, and start shooting. This is the real deal, and you are filming it. How long would you train your camera on the object? Would you get bored after a few minutes and stop? I know what I would do. I would film it for as long as it was visible. I would try to zoom in as far as possible and make sure the camera focused on the object. I would call my family members to get my still camera so I could take high resolution stills at the same time. I would call friend and neighbors.

But maybe I would not have time. Maybe the object would fly away after a few moments – but then at least I would have footage of the object flying away.

So why is it we get 24 seconds of the object just floating there? Ofuhunter tells us the rest of the footage is being examined by “experts” but we never seem to get the full footage. It just seems like an attempt to explain away what is a typical feature of either hoaxed footage, or video of something mundane. We are being shown a select bit of the video  – I suspect that bit which seems the most impressive but lacks any of the details that would help us determine what the object actually is. Let’s see it fly away. Let’s see it move in front of something so that we can get some perspective.

Of course, hoaxing a short video is easier than hoaxing a long video. And often when the entire video is viewed we can see some embarrassing elements.

Where is all the other footage

This is being presented as a UFO hovering over a populated area. So where is the video from all those other people who would have likely seen it also? Where is the official investigation? Where is the news media? This video is being presented as “final proof of UFOs” but the reaction is underwhelming. Showing the object from different angles by different cameras would help demonstrate its authenticity.

Cameras and video cameras are now ubiquitous. When unusual events happen, everyone can whip out a camera and start filming. If we were being visited by alien spacecraft that occasionally decided to hover over populated areas flashing lights to get attention, there would be numerous videos of the event. Eventually someone would capture compelling video. But it has just not materialized. We are getting the same ambiguous pictures and video we have always seen.


Whenever I express my assessment of the dismal state of UFO evidence, always a UFO believers comments that there is video that has one or more of the features I list as a mark of a compelling video. The problem is, there is no video that has all these features at the same time – and that is what it would take. This is just good science – a scientist asks, “can we know that this is really an alien spacecraft – have we ruled out every other plausible alternative?” The answer is always no.

19 Responses to “YouFOs”

  1. Mark says:

    Why do you assume that UFO = alien spacecraft? Many serious UFO researchers don’t think UFOs have anything to do with that. By making that assumption you seem to be just falling into the same trap as the aliens-are-out-there believers.

  2. Kristin C says:

    Looks like ‘Archie’! :)

  3. tmac57 says:

    I think the reason that there were no other videos, is that when I watched it, I started to yawn, and suddenly had a strong urge to go back to bed. Clearly the aliens are using a “boring ray” to make people become disinterested.(Thats probably what the blinking lights were).

    • CW says:

      Heheh, nice on Tmac. Yeah, it looks like a zepplin model to me. Slow moving UFO videos just look hoaxy to me for the obvious reason that if they moved this slow in general, then why is it that they are so elusive?

  4. Mark – that is not my assumption – that is the common claim by UFO proponents – overwhelmingly. So that is what I addressed.

    But of course others are free to believe other claims. But then what are they, specifically?

    And these are just different arguments from ignorance. The fact is, all of my points are relevant regardless of what you think UFOs are.

  5. steelsheen11B says:

    “Many serious UFO researchers don’t think UFOs have anything to do with that.”

    Wait hold on there are SERIOUS UFO investigators? That’s funny thanks.

  6. Bryce says:

    The colors “UFOs” flash seem to be standard colors found in toys with the last several years being the LED colors on them.
    For an alien you’d think they’d have some other color to flash besides red and blue with the occasional green.

    Maybe the just don’t have any fashion sense.

  7. DavrosFromSkaro says:

    I suppose strictly speaking it is a UFO – it’s a flying object that we cannot identify.

  8. Angela says:

    But red and blue LED’s are the cheapest!

  9. Brian M says:

    I enjoy the “Group UFO” sightings. There was one a few years ago in a major city that was attributed to flares dropped by the military. I wonder if anyone ever did some basic vector analysis. Either way, those are far more interesting then one guy with a 1980’s era handycam who doesn’t know what a tripod is.

  10. Dwight says:

    I have seen many UFOs over the years,at night and during the day, on clear and cloudy days, I don’t see space ships or aliens , I just see something in the sky I cant identify. Im sure if I looked into it I could figure it out. (smirk)

  11. disgod says:

    It looks like a toy blimp with some lights on it.

  12. MadScientist says:

    I wouldn’t count on the absence of other reports as providing any information whatsoever one way or the other. I have seen some great atmospheric effects and yet all the people I ask who were in the same area say they didn’t see anything, nor did I hear anything on the radio about anything unusual outside. (Of course I could just be listening to the wrong channel or at the wrong time.) At any rate, we musn’t conflate “there’s a greater chance that others will see it too” with “others would definitely have seen it too”. Of course if there *were* other reports that is a pretty good indication that something happened – the next challenge is to figure out what. Having played a few hoaxes in my younger years, there is always a possibility that the observed phenomenon was simply a public and widely visible hoax – which would be very interesting to me personally because I love reading about the silly pranks that people pull.

  13. james says:

    “other parts are sent to experts”

    how old is the friggen camera this guy uses? does he mean to tell us that there is no way for him to copy the footage? yet he has the capability to slice a small chunk off and post it online.

  14. nycjeff says:

    “Keep in mind – no one would be more thrilled than I if we finally had convincing evidence for alien spacecraft visiting the earth.”

    can you quantify and demonstrate that?

  15. dogstardom says:

    Saw a UFO once with eight other people. From what I know about thrust and lift it was not moving in any conventional manner. It got about one hundred yards away from us and shot up to the atmosphere and remained there until the dawn broke. I don’t personally believe that there were aliens inside of it. But, i do believe that any advanced military technology that we (the public) know exists has probably been, at least, in testing for 25 years or so.
    Cant tell you what it was. But it sure was not “identified”.

  16. Lans Ellion says:

    This video looks to me like an object spinning on a string. When the camera pans back you can see that the object is staying at a constant hight and not moving horizontally. However, it is spinning in precisely the motion you would expect from an object dangling from a string. & as bryce pointed out the colors seem to be standard colors that you see on toys.

    Just watch when the camera pans back and when the background becomes visible you can clearly see the motion of the object.