Australian media conflates UFOs and 9/11 conspiracy theories
NASA footage sparks UFO paranoia
By Wade O'Leary, ninemsn and wires
15:30 AEST Wed Jun 3 2009
The release of raw archival NASA footage that allegedly shows UFO activity has sparked new debate about extraterrestrial life — and the enduring power of conspiracy theories.
One clip shows a pair of cylindrical lights caught by a shaky hand-held camera while the other one captures what are claimed to be alien craft zig-zagging in front of a space shuttle's window.
But while the footage has been posted with the provocative titles 'UFO called a ground light, then a star by NASA' and 'UFOs quickly take off from NASA video', the astronauts involved have given less exciting explanations.
Mario Runco was part of a 1996 mission that deployed an experimental satellite and says the eerie lights in the first clip were the craft's Stimsonite reflectors — as found on bicycles and road markings.
"If I thought it was an intelligent (alien) craft, I'd be the first one to speak up — I'd want the credit," he told Fox News.
"Why would I ever want to keep it a secret?"
Thomas Jones went into orbit the same year and took the footage of the so-called zig-zagging UFOs, but he also plays down claims of filming ET in action.
"A few ice crystals or flakes of thrusters residue in the near field are floating by, get hit by a thrusters exhaust plume and zip out of the scene," he told Fox News.
"If a shuttle beams back 10 hours of Earth views each day, there are bound to be images and scenes that are misunderstood or taken out of context."
But where UFOs were once the main source of paranoid fixations, it is now incidents like the 9/11 terror attacks that are the focus of such obsessions.
Clinical psychologist Anthony Gunn told ninemsn that while conspiracy theories about UFOs have decreased in recent years due to more frequent distribution of footage by NASA, the basic psychology behind the phenomenon remained strong.
"When a lot of people feel they are in a situation where they don't have much power, figuring out conspiracy theories gives them a sense of control," he said.
"It's a huge area, the whole conspiracy thing — it can also be fuelled by paranoia, which in turn can be fuelled by drugs or stress, but it usually comes back to power or control issues."
Mr Gunn attributed the behaviour to cognitive dissonance, where people who are forced to hold two conflicting beliefs re-correct one to alleviate the psychological pain.
"Say someone knows smoking's bad for them but they smoke: they'll bring in another belief to correct it, like 'I'm really stressed, it helps me lose weight'," he said.
"Coming back to conspiracy theories, people may have learnt that 9/11 didn't happen the way they suspect it.
"They bring in another belief, like 'they're just saying that to keep us away from the truth'.
"We don't like change in any form."
For the record, both astronauts involved in the video footage that has created the drama say they are open to the idea of extraterrestrial intelligent life.
They just differentiate between the statistical possibility of such an event and the baseless interpretation of lights as alien contact.