Meet The Penn State Professor Trying To Make UFOs Make Sense

While social media users went wild when the Pentagon released declassified clips of what appeared to be UFOs last week, Greg Eghigian didn’t take the bait.

“By and large, the Navy has insisted on referring to these things as UAV [unidentified aerial vehicles] or UAS [unidentified aerial systems], terms for drones,” Eghigian said.

Eghigian, a Penn State history professor and the author of the academic study, “Making UFOs Make Sense: Ufology, Science, and the History of their Mutual Mistrust,” believes that while UFO enthusiasts will run with the story, skeptics won’t be swayed.

“The Navy months ago had already confirmed that these were genuine,” Eghigian said. “So, I don’t see how this adds anything substantive to what is already public knowledge.

“We’ve been waiting over two years now for ‘more evidence’ that has been promised by Elizondo and DeLonge [founders of To The Stars Academy, the organization that initially leaked the declassified videos] and still nothing,” he continued. “So, as is so often the case in this business, we are in a holding pattern.”

Eghigian made it clear that he is not a ufologist, but merely an outsider “researching the research” of ufology as a “standard academic interest.”

“My job is not to prove people correct or help bolster arguments, but at the same time it isn’t to debunk those people, that is not really the game,” Eghigian said. “I am trying to understand how this whole phenomenon and how this interest in flying saucers and UFOs developed and emerged, the kinds of ways it’s changed over many decades, and how and why it’s grown the way that it has.”

Eghigian’s desire to study UFOs stems from a fascination in how society reacts to behavior and phenomenon that is considered “abnormal, deviant, or depart from the standard script.” Before UFOs, Eghigian focused on researching abnormalities in humans such as physical disabilities and mental illness.

“I see in all of those things somewhat of a common thread,” Eghigian said. “Granted, they part ways along different kinds of axes, but the common thread is this question of how we as human beings try to understand experiences that other people have that are often either dismissed as irrational or nonsensical or considered to be problematic or troubling.”

Eghigian first discovered this fascination with history and context as an undergrad psychology student at Bard College in New York.

“I thought I wanted to work as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist,” Eghigian said. “But then as I was working through I realized that I was more interested in the history of psychology and the history of psychiatric concepts. I was always writing papers about that stuff.”

After taking just two history classes as an undergrad and graduating from Bard with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Eghigian was then accepted into graduate school at the University of Chicago, where he would earn a doctorate in history.

Eghigian later held a post-doctoral position at the University of Chicago before getting a job at the University of Texas-Arlington, where he worked for three years before accepting a position at Penn State. He is celebrating his 20th year at Penn State and says his time here “hasn’t felt like 20 years at all. For Eghigian, one thing that hasn’t changed is the quality of the university’s students and the subjects that they’re interested in.

“When it comes to teaching, I’ve just always found a real ready, excited, and enthusiastic group of people who are really interested in the topics I’m interested in,” Eghigian said. “And as you know, I’m interested in topics that are pretty unconventional.”

Unconventional topics that Eghigian has researched, such as UFOs and disorders, can often be considered “taboo” in academic circles due to their divisive nature.

When Eghigian began researching mental illness, he recalls being “aware right from the beginning that one of the things I needed to do was acknowledge and recognize the complexity of the experience for everybody involved.”

“I knew I was going to have to navigate that and define ways to incorporate those perspectives in a way that acknowledges their influence and importance,” Eghigian said.

Eghigian says he knew getting into ufology had its risks but he was confident in his work being taken seriously due to his tenure and previous work with physical disabilities and mental illness.

“People are familiar that I take great care in the research I do, that I’m not going off and doing this in some sort of cavalier way,” Eghigian said. “And that means I’m not trying to bang on a drum to support any particular perspective in all of this.”

Eghigian says he maintains academic and scientific integrity by going back to what he does as a historian: setting the context for moments in history and trying to understand it.

“You want to understand its logic, you want to understand the people who embrace this kind of thinking, that’s what’s really important,” Eghigian said. “I’ll leave it to others to sort of unpack the veracity of the claims, but for me, it’s a sociological phenomenon, and it requires an explanation on that level.”

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About the Author

Matthew Ogden

Matthew Ogden is a senior double majoring in Marketing and Journalism. He resides in South Jersey and is the cohost of Onward State's podcast, Podward State. Email him your favorite Spotify playlists to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MattOgden98.

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