UFO believers and skeptics clash at scientific conference in Alberta

EDMONTON (CP) — There were no laser blasts in the battle between believers and non-believers at a UFO conference in Alberta this weekend, but plenty of sharp words were fired between the two camps.

Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist who maintains that some UFOs are alien spacecraft, told nearly 200 delegates during the conference's opening lecture Friday night at the Telus World of Science in Edmonton that journalists and scientists are ignorant of the evidence supporting the fact that interstellar travellers have visited.

Friedman, who believes government covered up an alleged discovery of alien wreckage and bodies in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, said that many eyewitnesses of UFOs are silenced by a "laughter curtain" and fear ridicule if they report their sightings.

But Jaymie Matthews, an associate professor of astronomy at the University if British Columbia, argued that while he and other scientists have spent years searching the universe for Earth-like planets that would support intelligent life, none have been discovered yet.

"As an astrophysicist, I want there to be aliens here," Matthews told the crowd in his own lecture that followed Friedman's. "I'm not convinced."

Delegates such as David Beatty, a commercial pilot, expressed disgust that believers get marginalized.

"I'm sick and tired of the press covering (UFOs) as just something drunks saw on a beach," Beatty said after hearing Friedman speak.

Beatty said he's seen several things through a cockpit window that he couldn't explain, including a bright orange ball that drifted across the sky once during a flight over Atlantic Canada.

But his friend and fellow pilot Ray Morley, who is also a delegate at the two-day conference, said he's never seen anything unusual in two decades he's been flying.

"That doesn't mean I think he's crazy," Morley said, gesturing to Beatty.

Other delegates at the event, which is bills itself as a science-based UFO conference, include people who analyze UFO sightings from across Canada and the United States.

Friedman, who said he took classes at the University of Chicago with the late astronomer Carl Sagan, a noted non-believer in alien visitors, argues scientists often make too many assumptions based on limited information.

He said it was foolish to claim there are too few planets in the universe capable of supporting intelligent life, or that it would take too long to get from their planet to ours, because he said we just don't know.

Friedman also poured cold water on the argument that an alien landing like Roswell would too big to cover up. He said thousands of people worked on the Manhattan project to build the first atomic bomb, but it stayed a secret until one was dropped on Japan.

"There are still things that are classified from the First World War," Friedman said. "Governments can find reasons if they want to cover something up."

Matthews acknowledged that scientists are not always perfect, but took exception to Friedman's claim that non-believers were ignorant.

Matthews, who observes stars through a Canadian telescope that orbits the Earth, said he and other astronomers are looking for planets that aren't too close to their stars, which would make them too hot, or too far away, which would make them too cold.

Sometimes he comes close to finding the right type of planet, only to be disappointed. Despite this, he remains hopeful.

"I believe we will have one Earth-like (planet) in the next few years," he said.