‘The research is really only just starting,’ UAlbany prof says of UFOs

ALBANY COUNTY — When asked why people reject notions of extraterrestrial life on Earth, Kevin Knuth, an associate professor of physics at the University of Albany and a former scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, chalked it up to “human arrogance.”

“It happens time and time again,” Knuth said. “‘The Earth is flat. Humans couldn’t possibly have descended from apes.’ It’s hard to believe, so it’s easier not to.”

That a pandemic would tank the United States economy and fundamentally alter the lives of every American was also hard to believe, just a month ago. Now, millions, if not billions, of people are confined to their homes, wondering about new hypotheticals after what was once an impossibility exploded into their reality. 

The story of Knuth’s interest in UFOs is not dissimilar. While he was at Montana State, two weeks into working toward his master's degree, a report in the local paper of two cattle mutilations near the school’s campus caught the attention of incoming students. 

“We were actively discussing this,” Knuth recalled, “scratching our heads, trying to figure out what kind of crazy place we all came to.”

Overhearing one of those conversations, a physics professor offered the students information about UFO sightings at a nearby nuclear site as a means of furthering discussion, but the students, including Knuth, largely ignored him.

“When he walked away, we laughed our asses off because it seemed so ridiculous,” Knuth said. 

Still, the experience never left him and, decades later, when a student of his at UAlbany asked a question that sent Knuth on an internet-hunt for answers, he stumbled across a video of researcher Robert Hastings discussing “nuclear incursions” by unidentified aircraft, including at the site mentioned by Knuth’s professor, and he began to reconsider whether paranormal vessels were something to be taken seriously. 

“Something could really be happening,” Knuth said, “and it could be dangerous, so it should be looked at. There’s no harm in that.”

Knuth brought up the case of John E. Mack, who was head of Harvard’s psychiatry department and had embarked on a study into UFO abduction claims, for which he interviewed hundreds of people who said they were subject to close, extraterrestrial encounters.

Harvard responded to Mack’s study by putting together an anonymous group of researchers who would investigate not just the scholarly credibility of the research, as is typical, but Mack’s competency as a practitioner, which Knuth said amounted to an attack on academic freedom. Harvard eventually dropped the investigation.

While Mack never advocated for the existence of alien beings, he acknowledged that the prominence of the claims confronted him with something he could not otherwise explain. 

“I would say there is a compelling, powerful phenomenon here, that I can’t account for in any other way, that’s mysterious,” Mack is quoted as saying in a BBC report published in 2005, a year after his death. “Yet I can’t know what it is but it seems to me that it invites a deeper, further inquiry.” 

Discussing the lack of research on UFOs and UFO encounters, Knuth said that interest in UFOs fell victim to a “circular logic” where, because it felt so unscientific, many scientists wouldn’t touch the subject, leading to a reinforcement of the idea that interest in UFOs was solely the purview of pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists. 

Now, though, Knuth senses a shift in credibility after the U.S. Navy acknowledged last year that videos of “unidentified aerial phenomena” originating from Navy personnel and widely publicized in 2017 were “real” and truly inexplicable. 

Knuth and his colleagues also use the term “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or UAP, as opposed to the more popular “UFO,” which Knuth said was a deliberate attempt to escape the stigma of UFO research.

“People see UFO and they turn the page,” Knuth said. And those people would miss out on the very real science that people like Knuth are conducting on strange observances that have been made across the globe and throughout history. 

Before the coronavirus hit, Knuth was scheduled to give a lecture at the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, where he would have presented the findings of his most recent study into the acceleration patterns of some of these unidentified crafts, which he says are up to 5,000 times the acceleration of gravity and indicate an unnatural, and inhuman, origin. 

“That is the data,” Knuth said. “Now the trick is looking for an explanation.”

Knuth said that he’s not entirely married to the concept of these sightings as evidence of extraterrestrial life, acknowledging that there are two working hypotheses that he entertains while approaching each incident. One is that the encounters are perpetrated by extraterrestrials. The other, known as the “Wakanda hypothesis” in reference to the eponymous fictional kingdom in the Black Panther comic series, considers the possibility of an Earth-based civilization that has “extreme technology,” Knuth said. 

“For me, it suggests that we missed some physics somewhere,” Knuth said on how he reconciles the still relatively unpopular field of UFO research with more mainstream branches of science. 

To that end, Knuth is a member of both UAP eXpeditions and the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies. UAP eXpeditions will soon be renting two vessels to navigate an area of the Pacific Ocean that is considered a UFO hotspot, and is near where the U.S.S. Nimitz had an infamous paranormal encounter in 2004. 

“There’s been scientists who have been interested in this all along,” Knuth said “but they were afraid of the stigma.”

Independently, Knuth is also working on simulations that help him predict where these crafts might originate from within the universe, the findings of which Knuth said were only preliminary due to the rudimentary nature of the simulations. 

Still, Knuth seemed content that he’s doing his part in furthering human knowledge, and on a subject that could prove critically important someday, no matter how unexpected the advent might be. 

Acknowledging that most UFO sightings are a result of misidentification of explainable phenomena, Knuth said there’s still a “3-percent of lingering cases that don’t have an explanation.”

“No matter what it is, it’s something we don’t know [scientifically],” Knuth said. “And isn’t that something we should want to know about?”

 

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