The truth might be out there, but David Cherniack isn't convinced science is prepared to find it. "The role of science has been severely lacking in addressing the question of extraterrestrial visitation," said the Toronto-based documentary filmmaker, who studied physics at the University of Manitoba.
With a new X-Files movie coming out soon, History Television's timing is perfect to declare this UFO Week. Cherniack's two-hour documentary UFOs: The Secret History is the one original production, airing Tuesday, July 15 at 8 pm ET/PT.
"That really is the question I'd like people to come away from the film with — the role of science in this whole thing, in particular some scientists who have acted as debunkers, and unreasonably so," he said during an interview on the BlogTalkRadio program TV, eh?. "It seemed like sometimes they were making things up as they went along no matter how ridiculous they sounded."
Cherniack, who had his own "sort-of sighting" above the skies of Winnipeg as a boy, thinks the scientific community's wariness is understandable, though he deplores the contempt directed at the phenomenon. "The UFO myth took over," he commented, pointing to some "fringe" claims that attracted a lot of attention. "What respectable scientist wants to have anything to do with a phenomenon that is populated with what they consider to be half-crazy people?"
UFOs: The Secret History is less interested in proving or debunking theories than it is in the history of the phenomenon and what it reflects about our culture.
"It's a mutual feedback loop – in other words, what people are reporting gets reflected in the culture and in the mass media, and that in turn feeds back into what people tend to report."
The documentary points to a progression throughout the decades. In the 1950s, the cold war and fear of the atomic bomb led to images of hostile aliens or beings of greater intelligence attempting to save our hostile world from ourselves. Throughout the '60s and '70s, the imagery became more "touchy feely," with aliens getting closer to humanity. In the '80s, abduction stories gained prominence.
"I don't dispute that it might actually be going on," said Cherniack, "but when you take a look at the themes in the abduction phenomenon, you find powerlessness, you find concerns about the environment, and you find concerns about genetic engineering. In other words, things that are going on in the culture right at that time. So the phenomenon has always worked as a kind of psychologically active mythology."
The focus on alien abductions and government conspiracy theories further marginalized the issue. It also made possible the pop culture phenomenon that was The X-Files.
So are UFOs likely to be seriously investigated with the officially sanctioned persistence of Mulder and the scientific determination of Scully?
Cherniack believes it's highly likely there's other intelligence out there, both from looking at the age and size of the universe and from studying the eyewitness reports. "You can't help but come to the conclusion that even though the vast majority of reports are almost certainly misidentification or wishful thinking … you're still left with a core couple of hundred at least incidents that are strongly compelling."
But the man who spent four years researching his documentary doesn't believe that will be enough to prompt serious scientific exploration of the issues. "Because of the stigma that the the phenomenon has taken on over the years, there's not much chance of that happening. That's most unfortunate, for possibly us as a civilization and for the field of science itself."