The first ethical imperative when writing about UFO’s is clarity. For writers, clarity is a technical issue rather than an ethical one. But an UFO can mean something other than what the reader is thinking when reading what you write. Maybe you’re writing about the classic rock band—UFO. Or the IMBd movie—UFO. Who knows? You might be going to the Laughlin UFO Mega Conference.[1] That was for people, not actual unidentified flying objects. If you are writing about the latter, clarify it up front. You mean the real thing, an actual unidentified flying object. There are four clarifying elements, in reverse order; object + flying + unidentified + actual.  

This raises the second ethical norm. If the UFO you’re writing about is not actual, make that clear. If it was identified, but not named or known to the observer, it’s not unidentified. If it wasn’t spotted while flying, then it cannot be an UFO. And most important, what if it was actual, flying, unidentified, but not an object? You must not fool your reader. Fooling the reader is an ethical no-no.

Let’s say you’re one of many who think UFO’s are not “unidentified;” they are     “extraterrestrial.” Meaning the UFO you’re writing about is beyond (extra) the planet Earth (terrestrial). The root meaning is from the Latin words extra, “outside or outwards,” and terrestris, “earthly or relating to the Earth.” If you mean this kind of UF0, then you are on safe ground, as long as your reader understands that it’s possible for extraterrestrial’s to be stationary, not flying, and be sentiment, not merely an object. Remember not to fool the reader.

Let’s say you just read the latest official U.S. Government public release titled, “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.”[2] Your task here is to make sure the reader is with you on the new nomenclature. The US Government has replaced the ambiguous acronym UFO with the ambiguous UAP. So, we’re not talking about flying objects these days. We’re talking about aerial phenomena. And you should also understand this report is neither presidential nor congressional; it is from the “Office Of The Director of National Intelligence.” There are a few stupid people in government holding political appointments, but this office is limited to intelligent appointees.

This report was generated for a specific governmental purpose—defining threats. It says, “This report is an intelligence assessment of the threat posed by unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) and the progress the Department of Defense Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) has made in understanding this threat.” It defines the threat, or the risk of threat. “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security. Safety concerns primarily center on aviators contending with an increasingly cluttered air domain. UAP would also represent a national security challenge if they are foreign adversary collection platforms or provide evidence a potential adversary has developed either a breakthrough or disruptive technology.”

So, this is not the sort of UFO writing heretofore done by true believers. The UFO community was quick to denounce the report because, “analysts lack sufficient data to determine the nature of mysterious flying objects observed by American military pilots including whether they are advanced earthly technologies, atmospherics or of an extraterrestrial origin.”

Most UFO believers were relieved to hear, “UFOs are real but that doesn’t mean we’ve been visited by aliens. The Pentagon’s UFO report has people excited about alien spacecraft, but don’t expect to meet extraterrestrials anytime soon.”[3]

However, the U.S. does have a task force working on UFO’s. “The report certainly does not, as many were hoping, conclude UFOs are alien spacecraft. Rather, it shows the task force hasn’t made much progress since first being set up ten months ago. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given its task . . . However, the task force’s very existence would have been unthinkable to many people just one year ago. It’s unprecedented to see the broader policy shift towards the acknowledgement of UFOs as real, anomalous physical phenomena that are worthy of extended scientific and military analysis.”[4]

So, UFO writers—forge ahead. Write about what’s “real,” change your nomenclature from UFO to UAP, and wait for Star Trek.





Gary L Stuart

I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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