Criteria for selecting the hardest cases and other recent works on french and belgium sighting catalogues

Michel Figuet: Congrès européen sur les AAP, Bruxelles 11 au 19 novembre 1988, Friday, November 11, 1988

Congrès européen sur les AAP, Bruxelles 11 au 19 novembre 1988

By Michel Figuet

presented by Jacques Scornaux


At least some of the criticisms addressed to ufology since some years (1) are well-founded, and we have learned from them that it was necessary to review our attitude towards existing cases and investigations. We have to "purify" our files, and I have begun to do it, because we can no longer afford the risk of working on valueless cases. It is of no use, and it is like offering a present to debunkers, who will eagerly and easily destroy them. The best approach is therefore to apply immediately, both to new cases and to already investigated and published ones, a set of criteria for selecting the hardest cases, what we call in French "cas béton" (béton = concrete). I therefore suggest that my FRANCAT file of French close encounters (2) be revised in the light of the criteria defined hereafter.

Rationale of the criteria

Why develop a new set of criteria ? It appeared that the conventional methods for selecting hard cases, like Claude Poher's credibility-strangeness graph, were not severe enough, for cases that have since been explained, or that appear now very dubious, passed this kind of tests.

That is the reason why an informal group of French and Belgian ufologists, to which I collaborated, found it necessary to establish a new set of extremely strict criteria. The hardest cases will not necessarily be the greatest "classics", which were often not or ill investigated and whose reputation may be overstated. It is therefore possible that many cases considered as "classical" will not pass the criteria. Generally speaking, this selection method will quite surely lead to eliminate a great many cases as "waste" or "noise". It notably appears more severe than the one used by Dr Willy Smith for UNICAT : indeed, many cases included in UNICAT would not reach a high mark. It is quite possible that some cases will be unduly rejected, but the authors of these new criteria believe it is better to wrongly exclude potentially hard cases than to wrongly include explainable cases. What really matters is that that will remain will be very solid.

In fact, the aim of these criteria is to isolate cases, even if their number is very small, that would testify with a high degree of certainty to the existence of at least one original phenomenon (whatever it may be) having a physical component. Thus the criteria are designed so as to eliminate the main causes of confusion and to give some assurance about the witnesses' reliability and the investigation completness : they concern the phenomenon features (B to D), the sighting conditions (E to J), the witnesses (K and L) and the investigation (M to Q).

Even if no case would satisfy all criteria, no radically sceptical conclusion would be allowed, because it is quite possible to conceive that there exist a perfectly real phenomenon whose characteristics are such that it cannot satisfy these criteria. Anyway, the precise nature of the particular criterion or criteria which would be satisfied by no case or by the least number of cases could be a very interesting clue to the nature of the phenomenon.

Moreover, if no or very few cases satisfy all criteria, it always remains possible to lower our requirements and to select for an in-depth study all cases that obtain a mark higher than a certain threshold.

I should like to emphasize that, although the criteria are obviously intended to highlight phenomena that are at least partly physical, it does not mean that we reject other explanations, like psycho-sociological or paranormal ones. The fact simply is that it is very much easier to design criteria for physical phenomena. What would constitute a "good", a "reliable" psychological case? Every idea for selecting such cases would be welcome.

Use of the criteria

A No explanation based on serious objective data can be proposed for the phenomenon 1
B1 Eliminate point phenomena, i.e. those whose apparent size remained lower than the one of Jupiter or Vénus during the whole sighting 1
B2 except if the phenomenon remains point-like, but follows a complex trajectory. 0.9
C Eliminate phenomena whose angular coordinates do not change during the whole sighting, as well as those whose only movement consists in apparently getting nearer of moving away. 1
D1 If the phenomenon has a steady movement (straight line or simple curve, even broken with stops) or if it does not leave the ground level or its close proximity, eliminate the cases where the phenomenon has no sharp outlines, as well as those where the phenomenon consists only in light blobs; 1
D2 except if the phenomenon consists in light blobs having a sharp outline or arranged in an orderly fashion. 0.7
E1 Eliminate night-time phenomena if they are not, at least partially, lit during some part of the sighting. 1
E2 except if the phenomenon is self-luminous. 0.7
F1 Eliminate phenomena whose sighting duration is less than 30 seconds; 1
F2 except if there are physical effects (minimum duration is then lowered to 10 seconds). 0.9
G Eliminate cases where the sighting duration is longer than 15 minutes if the phenomenon behaviour remains constant or repetitive during the whole sighting.
(one or more irregularities observed during the repetitive sequences break the behaviour repetitiveness)
H Eliminate cases where no landmark in the environment makes it possible to know the angular coordinates of the phenomenon or its exact position on the ground. 1
I1 Eliminate cases where all the witnesses are in a continually moving vehicle; 1
I2 except if the phenomenon is observed from a ship; 0.9
I3 except if the phenomenon is close and diurnal. 0.5
J1 Eliminate cases where, during the whole sighting, there is an obstacle likely to distort the phenomenon image or to limit the perception of it; 1
J2 except if the phenomenon occurs during daytime, the only obstacle being a window 0.9
K1 Eliminate the cases with less than two witnesses (at least one of them being more than 18 years old) who have no physical or mental disability impairing their perceptive powers or their capacity to testify. 1
K2 except if there are physical effects. 0.7
L1 Eliminate cases where the witnesses do not constitute at least two independent groups (each group may consist in only one witness) who give reasonably similar descriptions; 1
L2 except if the witnesses are not independent (e.g. form a single group), but give similar descriptions 0.7
M1 Eliminate cases where the first field investigation was not performed less than one year after the sighting; 1
M2 except if the first investigation was performed between one and three years after the sighting. 0.9
N Eliminate cases where investigation report does not include at least :
  • the precise date and time (to within 30 minutes)
  • the precise place of the sighting
  • the weather conditions
  • age, sex and occupation of the witnesses
  • the way the sighting began and ended
  • some data enabling to assess the witnesses' reliability (see non-comprehensive list in Note I).
O1 Eliminate cases where the witnesses were not interviewed separately (witnesses who are not acquainted with each other are considered to have been interviewed separately if the way they were interviewed is not known); 1
O2 except cases where the witnesses were not interviewed separately. 0.7
P1 Eliminate cases where the investigation was not performed on the sighting place, in presence of the witnesses and under the same environmental conditions (light and, as far as possible, weather); 1
P2 except if the investigation was performed on the place and in presence of the witnesses, but under different light conditions. 0.7
Q Eliminate cases where the investigator's name and address are not known, as well as his/her possible membership of a private group (in no case would the group name be sufficient). 1

Note 1

  1. The following informations are welcome in the investigation report (non-comprehensive list) :
    • witnesses' activity and state of mind at the beginning of the sighting;
    • witnesses' reaction during the sighting;
    • wear, if any, of optical or acoustical prostheses (spectacles, contact lenses, etc.), in general and during the sighting;
    • education level, hobbies and readings of the witnesses;
    • belief, if any, in parapsychological and other strange phenomena and attitude toward the UFO phenomenon;
    • detailed record of interviews with the witnesses;
    • investigation among the neighbours;
  2. The phenomenon distance, when it is mentionned, must have been assessed :
    1. by the occultation of a landmark, or
    2. by triangulation, or
    3. by physical traces on the ground.

Note 2 - Definitions of some words used in the criteria

Angular coordinates (crit. C and H)

α = azimuth

β = elevation

Close (crit. I3)

Distance shorter than about 200 meters (see evaluation methods in Note I.2)

Close proximity of the ground (crit. D1)

Distance of the order of a few dozens of centimeters.

Complex trajectory (crit. B2)

Complex trajectories are not taken into account :

Constant or repetitive (crit. G)

Constant : no feature of the phenomenon (trajectory, colour, shape, etc.) varies.

Repetitive : the only changes in the phenomenon features occur repetitively.

Independent (crit. L1)

Witnesses are too far from each other to be able to communicate verbally during the sighting. Other communication means (radio, CB, telephone, etc.) are also excluded. The distance may however be shorter if communication is not possible for any reason (e.g. a group of witnesses aboard a vehicle and another group in open air near the vehicle without communication being possible between the two groups). Moreover, the witnesses belonging to different groups cannot meet before the investigation.

Light blob (crit. D1)

Area whose light intensity does not vary sharply from one place to another.

Lit (crit. E1)

The light source is external to the phenomenon.

Physical effects (crit. F2 and K2)

The two following conditions must be simultaneously satisfied :