"Debugging Science": On the Discursive Segregation of UFOs from Scientific Inquiry
This presentation provides an overview of a research article I am currently writing for submission to Science Communication. The goal of this research is to unpack what scientists do with the subject of UFOs other than “science.” Its central argument is that the constitution of UFOs as a “non-phenomenon” for scientific inquiry principally results from cumulative, discursive acts of marginalization, a kind of “boundary work” identified by Gieryn (1999) as expulsion or purification.
Focusing on Stephen Hawking as my primary example (specifically his TED2008 address, and the documentary series Into the Universe), I will discuss how scientists discursively segregate UFOs from the field of scientific inquiry in ways that often abandon the principle of dispassionate, free and open investigation, in favor of a pattern of boundary work characterized by “appropriate simplification” (Hilgartner 1990), anthropocentric bias, ad hominem attacks, “straw man” arguments, and ex cathedra declarations. I suggest that while such strategies have successfully kept the subject of UFOs out of the scientific arena, they have ultimately done very little to accurately demonstrate the integrity, value, and procedures of science to its public.
By turning critical attention to how scientists have publicly dismissed the subject of UFOs, I claim, we not only illuminate a strange and ongoing science-public-relations problem, but confront evidence of a pervasive and persistent taboo that prohibits serious, in-depth consideration of UFOs as genuine anomalies worthy of scientific inquiry.
Dr Adam Dodd is a Sessional Lecturer and Tutor in Media Studies and Communication at UQ.