James T Abbott

Official Website


    The Stats are not Enough

    Twice the proportion of people see UFOs in Vermont as see them in California. But the latest stats as discussed in USA Today don’t go far enough.

    The article gave us fifteen years of total UFO sightings for each American State but it didn’t analyse by State population – that is, there was no way that the reader could understand how important the figures were. By calculating the sightings by population I was able to do some more work.

    I added the population of the States and then did some correlation analysis – trying to see whether sightings were related to size or density of population. In some ways it was disappointing. The stats show that there is virtually no connection between any of the variables and UFO sightings.

    So, for example, the statistics show a very strong correlation between total numbers of sightings and total population (0.94 for the statisticians among you). This stands to reason; the more people the more sightings. But there’s a fascinating contradiction. Logic would also tend to argue that, in that case, there would also be a strong link between the States with the highest population densities and those with the highest numbers of sightings – but there isn’t (0.11). Similarly, there’s only a very weak statistical link between States with the highest numbers of sightings and those with the highest Internet density (0.23).

    What this means is that, for all their detail these current statistics tell us very little except that the more people there are the more UFOs are seen. Not exactly Earth-shattering!

    But what they may tell us, instead of immediate revelations, is that we don’t have the full picture. If, for example one was to assume that higher densities of people or Internet usage should link strongly to more sightings then it could be that we still don’t know how many sightings there really are. The US Today stats are drawn from the big UFO organisations but do they really represent how many UFOs are seen? What proportion of UFO sightings are ever reported to the official UFO bodies?

    The data also show how rare UFO sightings are. For every 100,000 people in California, for example, only three – just three people – reported a UFO each year over the fifteen-year span. The equivalent figure in Vermont was five people per 100,000 per year. In California a town of 100,000 people would have just three who have seen a UFO in any one year!

    We need more data and we need more people who see UFOs to report them.



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