I can picture it clearly in my head.

Somewhere, deep inside an office building, there’s a conference room. The coffee and donuts are flowing freely. Gathered around an over-sized oval table, a group of software engineers, computer scientists, various ‘business decision’ and ‘marketing’ people are planning the next big technology-related thing that’s going to ‘revolutionize’ whatever industry they are in.

Then invariably, it happens. Somebody brings up the need for ‘cleansing’ the data. Because GIGO. They may not mention the term specifically, but oh yeah, that’s what they mean.

GIGO. Short for garbage in, garbage out.

Essentially, it means exactly what it says. If you have bad data going into a system, software, or database, you will get bad or inaccurate information as the output.

The UFO Research Database, I would say, is in a state of kinda ok data in, kinda OK data out.

But that’s OK. Because the data can, and will, be cleansed. Eventually. To say the least, its going to be a lot of work.

So why not just start out with good, clean data? Well, ideally you would. Provided that you’re in control of the data coming in. But the UFORDB is not in control of the data collection. In fact, the whole purpose of the UFORDB is to aggregate UFO sighting data from multiple databases, news sources, documents, and whatever else can be found, and then standardize and categorize that data.

A Call for Standardization

If you’ll just take a look around, standards are virtually everywhere. Standards for light bulb sizes. Voltage standards that allow us to plug in our electronic devices into just about any electrical outlet. Standards for the Internet and WiFi connections that allow us to connect our laptops and smart phones to just about any hot spot in any coffee shop around the world. Even water bottles come in a standard 16.9 ounces, aka half a liter.

However, we in the field of ufology have no standardizing organization or committee to set standards for the collection of UFO sighting data.

A need for some type of data collection standards really becomes apparent as I start to dig into the data. But how you make that happen, I have no idea.

I, or anyone else, could declare a standard set of data classifications, but really who cares? There needs to be discussions, debates, and then consensus by those in the field. Consensus is mandatory if we are to have universal buy-in.

Anyways, enough rant. Even though there are no global standards for UFO data and classifications, I need to establish one here for the purpose of the UFORDB in order to aggregate data from various sources and have the output be meaningful. While there is more to standardization that just the shapes of UFOs, I will focus on shape here in this post.

Take the UFO shape categorized as boomerang, v-shaped, or chevron. Which is the correct term? I guess in a sense, they all are. Does it really matter what you call this particular shape of UFO? Whether I say boomerang, or v-shaped, the general shape of the craft is understood, right?

Orbs, Spheres, and Fireballs. Oh my.

But it can get a little more complex when we apply it to the orb or sphere-shaped UFO. Let’s look at some of the terms used for the sphere-shaped UFO.

  • Sphere
  • Orb
  • Fireball
  • Circle / Circular
  • Round
  • Globe shaped
  • Ball shaped
  • Ball of light

Assuming that all of the above terms refer to a sphere-shaped UFO of some type, what makes them different from one another?

Take the fireball for example. In my experience, the fireball refers to a spherical object with a particular luminescence that been described as, well… fire-like. Or as some would say, plasma-like. The problem from an analytical point of view, where you are trying to categorize a phenomenon at its most basic level, the fireball label combines two characteristics of the UFO into the shape. The shape is spherical, but the appearance or surface texture of the sphere is plasma-like and has nothing to do with the shape. After all, a square or cigar-shaped UFO can have a plasma-like appearance as well.

In addition, I made an assumption that the fireball was a sphere-shaped UFO with a particular luminous appearance. I have also heard the fireball in reference to a falling star, or meteor-like object streaking across the sky with a comet-like tail behind it.

Let’s continue on with the sphere-shaped UFOs and take a moment to consider UFOs reported as round or circular. While there is an excellent chance that these sightings are referring to sphere-shaped UFOs, we really can’t be sure and therefore cannot lump them together without compromising our book of data. While round and circular are terms that describe a shape, it does not strictly define the shape. A disk-shaped UFO will look round or circular if it is viewed from directly underneath.

For more sophisticated analysis of UFO sighting data to occur, UFO shape and associated characteristics must be separated down into it’s most basic, well-defined elements, and we must tackle this at the point of data collection.

Strange Lights in the Sky

The majority of reported UFO sightings fall into the category of strange lights, or lights only sightings. While these sightings can demonstrate some anomalous, unconventional, and very interesting behaviors, light is often reported as the shape in many reporting systems.

For the sake of data accuracy, if a shape is not identified, it must be categorized as unknown if we are to gain any insight from our collective UFO sighting data. Again, an unknown shape does not discount the significance of a sighting as there must have been something unusual about the sighting for the observer to notice the object and report the incident. However lights are a separate property of the sighting. In fact, there may be several distinct property characteristics of light in itself. What colors are present? Was the light solid? Pulsing? Rotating? Did it emit a beam, or did it just a glow?

If we are to advance our understanding of UFOs, we must separate these subtle distinctions.

Cleansing the Data

So, soon I will begin the task of cleaning up the UFO shapes. First on the list will be migrating the lights only sightings as unknowns while preserving the record of lights being present. Once that is complete, then I tackle the known shapes. This will take some critical thought as to give proper balance to legacy versus some type of universality. As an example, the cigar-shaped UFO is quite comfortable with it’s position in UFO sighting descriptions, but wouldn’t a cylinder be a better descriptive term? Don’t get me wrong, I too have affection for the cigar-shaped terminology, but for the sake of classification, then why not the cucumber-shaped UFO?

Then there’s the boomerang. Don’t even get me started…