An organization that claims to scientifically investigate evidence of alien species visiting Earth, but is widely derided as crackpot, has been rocked by allegations of racism, leading to resignations of leading members. Amusing as this is to skeptics, there are some disturbing reflections of wider society.
The belief that lights in the sky and circles in cornfields represent evidence of extraterrestrials crossing the vast gulfs of space to scare the bejeezus out of farmers has recently been overshadowed by other conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, there are still millions of people who believe their government is hiding evidence we have been visited by aliens. Some 3,000-4,000 of the more enthusiastic of these have joined the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) hoping to verify these claims.
MUFON takes it mission sufficiently seriously. It founded MUFON University, where you can qualify to become a field investigator, although the US government has stubbornly refused to accredit it. MUFON has also won a place in popular culture through the X-files and Discovery Channel documentaries
Trouble arose last year, however, with the publication on Facebook of a rant by MUFON's former Pennsylvania State Director, John Ventre. After accusing Netflix of promoting “white genocide,” Ventre claimed “Everything this world is was created by Europeans and Americans. F'ing blacks didn't even have a calender, a wheel, or a numbering system until the Brits showed up.” Apparently, Ventre considers Arabic numerals a European invention.
Ventre has since apologized, before deleting the apology, but the statement sparked a row that has probably been brewing for a long time. Petitions have been organized, and MUFON Director of Research Dr Chris Cogswell has resigned in protest. Events that were causing a huge ruckus within the UFO-spotter community, but were unknown outside, reached the mainstream with a detailed report in Newsweek.
Once you bother to look, extreme racism is remarkably common among those who believe aliens regularly visit Earth. Similarly, the relatively small number of prominent women in MUFON have complained about the sexism experienced. As Newsweek notes, if MUFON's leadership were the first people visiting aliens met, they might not form a positive impression. However, the community also attracts many with a profoundly humanistic viewpoint for whom the contrast with aliens emphasizes the insignificance of human differences.
Of much broader significance, however, is the light this conflict throws on others who claim the mantle of science while rejecting its conclusions. Ventre justified his claims by saying people should “Google serotonin by race, IQ by race and violent crime by race...” Anyone who does so will be buried in an avalanche of claims, every bit as lacking in scientific rigor as alien abduction reports, but sadly given credence by apparently respectable figures.