Nearly 20% of academics surveyed say they've seen a UFO, or know someone who has

Almost 20% of surveyed academics across 144 disciplines report having seen unidentified aerial phenomena, formerly known as UFOs.
John Loeffler
A UFO sucking up cows in a beam
A UFO sucking up cows in a beam


There's nothing like good old UFO talk to get people's eyes rolling, but it's becoming more and more common among policymakers and military officials to take talk of UFOs seriously, and that includes academics.

Now, a remarkable new study published this week in the journal Humanities and Social Science Communications surveyed 1,460 US academics and found that almost 20% of tenure-track faculty have personally observed or know someone who has observed a so-called unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), which is the official US government designation for a UFO.

"My father and his old Cold Warrior colleagues know plenty about UAPs," one academic, who works in the Art and Design field, told the researchers, "but they won’t say much."

Another academic, in communications, told the researchers: "When I was in graduate school...I saw a large, round UAP with rectangular lit windows on the bottom hovering above the ground... I made my husband pull the car over so I could get out and take a closer look. It was quite dark, and the lights on the craft had attracted my attention. Since [we were] pretty far from Area 51, I have never known what to make of this sighting."

Others, meanwhile, report the experience of trusted colleagues in academia who have reported seeing UAPs, like this science academic from the study: "I personally know three physicists who independently report seeing UFOs," they said. "They have no explanation for the phenomenon they observed, other than they observed it."

And while many of the reported sighting were simply that, sightings and nothing more, others are far more detailed and visceral.

One communications academic reported to the researchers that: "My entire family and I witnessed a UFO around 1976. It was over our house in the rural northeast... Two of my siblings saw it, while the rest of us in the house felt it shake and heard a loud noise. We were eating dinner and the shaking was so intense that we all ran outside. It ended abruptly. We recently spoke of the incident and remember it well. My siblings still describe the object they saw and how fast it moved away from the house. We are all still living, and I’ve always wanted to tell someone about this story."

Is research into UAPs about to get serious?

In addition to reported sightings, the researchers also gauged academics' interest in seeing more formal investigations of UAPs, and found that 37% were at least somewhat interested in conducting further research into UAPs. "When faculty ranked the importance of more academic research about UAP, more than one-third (37.26%) reported that it is Very Important or Absolutely Essential."

With figures like NASA administrator Bill Nelson and former CIA Director John Brennan publicly discussing their openness to the idea of UAPs being alien life forms, the official imprimatur seems to now be on the subject long left along the fringes. As one academic said, "I have seen ufo[s] twice. I know they exist and we don’t have that level of technology. I used to tell people but they thought I was crazy or lying—so now I’m silent."