UPDATED April 2016
Ufology ( pronounced yoo • faw • la • jee ) is loosely defined as the study of UFOs. However this popular definition is somewhat misleading and outdated. Most study involving UFOs is not of UFOs themselves but of UFO reports, and modern ufology embodies a wide range of scientific, cultural, and historical facets. Therefore ufology is more accurately defined as: The title used for the array of subject matter and activities associated with an interest in UFOs.

Those who pursue ufology as more than a pastime are known as ufologists. Ufologists may or may not be UFO investigators. While ufologists tend to look at the wider issues associated with the phenomenon, UFO investigators focus primarily on the on-scene investigation of UFO sighting reports. Some organizations offer UFO investigator courses that include such things as methods for collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses and preparing detailed sighting reports.

Word History

According to The Oxford English Dictionary, one of the first documented uses of the word ufology can be found in The Times Literary Supplement from January 23, 1959 in which it writes about the study of UFOs, "The articles, reports, and bureaucratic studies which have been written about this perplexing visitant constitute ‘ufology’." However, because it was during 1951 that Edward J. Ruppelt of the USAF created the word UFO, it is entirely possible, if not likely, that someone used the word 'ufology' during the eight year span prior to the TLS article. Since then, thousands of ufology books and articles have been published and it has evolved a history all its own. Modern ufology no longer includes the study of UFOs alone, but also the way the subject as a whole relates to mythology, religion, history and modern culture.

Ufology Studies

In ufology studies, analysis of UFO sighting reports, on-site investigation, interviewing witnesses, and studying the history of the UFO phenomenon are primary activities. The study of ufology is an independent field of inquiry that is multidisciplinary in its approach, utilizing elements of science, history, religion, mythology, philosophy and anything else that can advance an understanding of the phenomenon. Within this context, ufology studies are too wide to make use of the scientific method alone. Therefore use of critical thinking is of key importance to ensure that the varied elements that make up ufology as a whole are considered and presented within their proper context. The primary objective of ufology is to establish the true nature of UFOs and from that determine if any of them constitute or are associated directly with alien technology or life. Ufology is both educational and entertaining, but what makes it interesting for so many is that it is rooted in a genuine mystery surrounding real events.

Ufology and Science

Ufologists advocate the use of science when and where it can be properly applied, however this does not make ufology a science unto itself. Rather, when science is being done, it is not being done as ufology per se, but as astronomy, physics, biology or whatever science is being utilized to examine the evidence. There have been proposals in the past to treat ufology as a science unto itself. However this idea is ill conceived because there is no way to apply the scientific method to the field as a whole. History, journalism, religion, mythology and culture are important facets of ufology, but they reside outside the parameters of empirical science, and therefore including them within a scientific framework would only invite accusations of pseudoscience.

Additionally, there is no way to apply the scientific method to the study of the phenomena itself because it is far too elusive for controlled experiments. Another issue is that assuming sufficient scientific evidence to determine what UFOs are is eventually obtained, the nature of the phenomena would no longer be unidentified. Consequently, the phrase unidentified flying object would become self-contradictory and the field would require a new label. This situation would leave us wondering what to do with all the non-scientific, but vital facets of ufology that have accumulated over the years. Last but not least, by employing genuine scientists from independent scientific labs, ufology would add credibility by way of impartiality to any evidence that may be recovered.

Critical Thinking in Ufology

When the scientific method can't be applied because of a lack of sufficient material to work with, then ufologists are encouraged to use critical thinking. Critical thinking is basically a way of pursuing the truth by whatever means can be logically shown to advance the seeker toward it. The process involves the study of the information to identify errors in logic or facts. Weaker models are replaced with better ones and the process repeats until the most reasonable picture possible given the information at hand has been constructed. Critical thinking works parallel with the scientific method but is not limited strictly to empirical evidence, and may or may not provide an ultimate answer or conclusive proof.

Ufology Culture

Ufology culture is a facet of modern ufology focused on mainly on social activities and artifacts. It crosses the boundaries of fact and fiction and is largely for entertainment and networking purposes. The most prominent examples of social culture include films, festivals, conventions, interest group meetings, Internet forums, and gaming. Artifacts include artwork, books, toys and other memorabilia. Ufology culture isn't to be confused with UFO cults or religions, which are a separate topic altogether. The people who participate in ufology culture are often referred to as the ufology community, and are loosely connected by memberships in UFO interest groups and online activities such as social networking and discussion forums.

The origin of ufology culture can be traced back to the dawn of the Modern Era of ufology. In those days scientists estimated the age of the universe to be not much older than that of Earth itself. They also considered Venus and Mars as candidates for extraterrestrial life. World War Two was still fresh in people's memory and the Cold War wasn't helping to settle their nerves, so when people began reporting strange flying objects, it didn't take long for their imaginations to start conjuring up fantastic stories of alien invasion. The cinema industry, suffering from the emerging popularity of home television was the first to cash-in. In 1951 Columbia Pictures released the motion picture, The Day the Earth Stood Still. It was widely regarded as the one of the best films of that year and featured a classic flying saucer piloted by an extraterrestrial messenger.

The all out invasion hit the big screen in 1953 with the first cinematic interpretation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, which won an Academy award for special effects. UFOs continued to attack in 1956 when Columbia released Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, a movie that was inspired by ufologist Donald E. Keyhoe. The success of these films set the stage for numerous films to follow, all the way up to the present day. Probably the most famous film in ufology culture is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Written and directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1977, the film became the most successful film for Columbia Pictures up to that time, and features a cameo appearance by the famous astronomer and ufologist J. Allen Hynek. In contrast to the invasion films, Close Encounters revolved around the theme of establishing alien contact and peaceful interaction.

With the growing popularity of UFOs in film, an array of UFO themed comic books and toys began appearing. At the same time, UFOs were continuing to be reported in the news and civilians began organizing interest groups. Among the first of such groups were APRO ( 1952 ), which later split giving rise to MUFON in 1969. Its rival group NICAP was headed by Donald Keyhoe and operated between 1956 to 1980, at which time it folded and merged with CUFOS, which had been founded in 1973 by the late Dr. J. Allan Hynek. Meanwhile in Britain, BUFORA had formed during 1962. Canada followed in 1989 with the creation of USI. Today there are thousands of UFO themed products, many of which are valued by collectors, and even more UFO themed websites. Last but not least, there are also symposiums and festivals, the best known being the Annual UFO Congress and Film Festival in Phoenix Arizona, and the Roswell UFO Festival, which is affiliated with the International UFO Museum in Roswell New Mexico.


Ufology has sometimes been called a neologism, meaning a newly coined word or phrase. However the word has been in the dictionary for over half a century and an advanced Google search using the word ufology as an exact key word generated over 1.6 million returns. Clearly characterizing the word ufology as a neologism is misplaced.

Ufology is also incorrectly labeled by some skeptics as a pseudoscience. Their mistake in doing so is that ufology doesn't meet the requirements outlined by the definition of pseudoscience. A pseudoscience is something that is presented as science but fails to meet accepted scientific standards. Ufology doesn't meet the definition for three main reasons.

  1. The largest portion of ufology is ufology studies, which involves an exploration of the history, mythology, culture and religion, associated with UFOs from a secular perspective. These studies are typically made into publications for the mass market ( non-scientists ), which because of their content and intended audience clearly fall outside the realm of academic scientific papers. Therefore because most content in ufology does not actually present ufology as a science unto itself or make any claim that ufology as a whole is a science unto itself, and therefore ufology does not meet the primary definition of pseudoscience.

  2. An exhaustive Internet search during 2011 found that although ufologists overwhelmingly advocate the use of genuine science within ufology, there were no results for groups claiming that ufology is or even should be classed as a science unto itself. Therefore, because few if any within the ufology community makes the claim that ufology is a science unto itself, and the field is rarely, if ever, presented as a science unto itself, once again ufology does not meet criteria required by the primary definition of pseudoscience.

  3. Lastly, the science that is being done within ufology is being done by scientists with their respective fields. In other words, when an astronomer looks up the position of Venus on a given date and time in order to compare it with a UFO report, they are doing astronomy as it applies to ufology, not ufology per se. This fact is widely accepted in the ufology community, as is the desire to network with genuine scientists in a positive and constructive manner.

Ufologists don't deny that there have been instances of pseudoscience within ufology. However isolated instances of pseudoscience don't justify applying the label to the entire field. The reason ufology is so often unjustly portrayed as a pseudoscience is because it makes an easy target for overzealous skeptics to spread anti-ufology propaganda. For example the medical establishment has the resources to distance the quacks from accepted medical practice. In contrast, the ufology community relies on meager donations from private sources and the good will of its members. This has made it easier for those who dishonestly exploit ufology to get away with it or suffer very few consequences.

Noteworthy Ufologists, UFO Researchers & Personalities:

Jerome Clark

Frank Edwards

Stanton Friedman

Timothy Good

Richard H. Hall

Josef Allen Hynek

Donald E. Keyhoe

George Knapp

James E. McDonald

Nick Pope

Jenny Randles

Jacques F. Vallée

Various Facets of Ufology Culture:

Motion Pictures