From Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist, out this week:
Small changes in incentives can make a big difference in our beliefs. For instance, UFO sightings are down dramatically in the last decade. Perhaps science-fiction movies are not as compelling as they used to be, but I think another factor is at work: cell phones and cell-phone cameras.
“The spaceship was in a no-call dead zone? And you didn’t snap a picture?”
“I’m sorry honey. The immobilized my fingers with their secret ray guns.”
The story is suddenly a little harder to swallow. Most of all, it is harder to fool one’s self, not just one’s spouse and friends. Researchers who have studied reported episodes of alien abduction have concluded that most of the believers are fully sincere.
Just one of many ways that a more transparent society can be a more honest society.
Added: Tyler’s claim seems to be wrong! UFO reports were up until 2000 in Yukon, up until 2002 in Canada, and up by over a factor of six in the US from 1995 to 2005 (this last estimate I made using via a quick calculation from the Mufon database). Of course it is possible that the internet has made it easier to turn UFO sightings into reports.
More added: See Tyler’s comments below.
Also: Here are monthly reports ’90-07, from Natl. UFO Reporting Center (founded ’74):
So there has been a slight falloff in the last few years, but this overall trend doesn’t seem to track cell phone usage very well.
More: A chart of Canadian monthly reports, ’89-05, by a different organization (founded ’89), looks similar to the above chart, though 1/6 the magnitude and noisier. Does anyone have a graph of cell phone usage for comparison?
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