Syracuse UFO statisticians making headlines

SYRACUSE, N.Y. –  A new method of studying unidentified flying objects has worked its way into national news outlets in recent years. Syracuse-based data statisticians Cheryl and Linda Costa hope the headlines will keep rolling long after the 2017 release of their book, “UFO Sightings Desk Reference.”

The Costas don’t claim to know what aliens look like or even that any of the 146,801 reported sightings in the U.S. from 2001-2018 are otherworldly. Of those sightings, 6,217 occurred in New York, the state with the fifth-most reported sightings in the country. The authors looked only at dates, times, locations and UFO shapes of all reported sightings.

They also created algorithms to separate sightings down to the state, city and county. Through the research they’ve learned that many UFO spotters are dog walkers and smokers and that sightings often occur near large bodies of water. The data-based approach is the first of its kind when it comes to UFO studies.

Linda Miller Costa worked in Washington, D.C., for 35 years as a science research librarian, and recounted frustration with the science-world’s resistance to UFO research.

“It was time we bring ufology into the modern age,” she said.

For a year, the Costas dissected each report from two organizations: the Mutual UFO Network and the National UFO Reporting Center.

As a result, their work was featured in a New York Times article, written in 2017 by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Ralph Blumenthal.

Cheryl Costa, who wrote a column for the past six years covering UFOs in the Syracuse New Times, hasn’t always been a UFO data statistician. A military veteran and retired aerospace security engineer, Costa noticed a change in media approaches to extraterrestrials.

Society once overwhelmingly feared the idea of otherworldly beings, partially due to the panic-inducing 1938 national radio broadcast of a seemingly realistic alien-invasion in Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.” Now that “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” exist, among many other productions, pop-fiction aliens are widely revered. Even with all the interest, most government and media entities have stayed wary of commenting on the topic.

So why has it taken a new approach to spark journalistic interest in UFOs?

“No one wants to be painted with the stigma stick,” Cheryl said of the assumption of tin foil-hat wearing for anyone willing to explore the topic publicly.

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Recently, the Costas held the first ever UFO Town Hall in Homer, NY, 30 miles south of Syracuse. The event gave residents a chance to discuss their UFO sightings and allowed the Costas to explain their research.

Do the numbers mean each of the 100,000-plus sightings are confirmed aliens? According to the Costas, at least 70% are most likely “junk.”

Homer local Pierre Beaudry suggested something else that could be to blame for some of those reports.

Citing an idea known as “broadcast theory,” Beaudry said, “Light is being reflected into the sky, which is then being reflected back to Earth.”

Regardless of what these sightings truly are, the Costas hope people will keep talking about them.

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