Data Analysis and UFO Reports

Data Analysis and UFO Reports

Data analysis and unidentified flying object (UFO) reports go hand-in-hand. I attended a talk by author Cheryl Costa who analyzes records of UFO sightings and explores their patterns. Cheryl and her wife Linda Miller Costa co-authored a book that compiles UFO reports called UFO Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America 2001-2015.

Records of UFO sightings are considered citizen science because people voluntarily report their experiences. This is similar to wildlife sightings recorded on websites like eBird that help illustrate bird distributions across the world. People report information about UFO sighting events including date, time, and location.

A dark night sky with the moon barely visible and trees below.
Night sky along the roadside outside Wayquecha Biological Field Station in Peru, taken April 2015.

Cheryl spoke about gathering data from two main online databases, MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) and NUFORC (National UFO Reporting Network). NUFORC’s database is public and reports can be sorted by date, UFO shape, and state. MUFON’s database requires a paid membership to access the majority of their data. This talk was not a session to discuss conspiracy theories, but a chance to look at trends in citizen science reports.

The use of data analysis on UFO reports requires careful consideration of potential bias and reasonable explanations for numbers in question. For example, a high volume of reports in the summer could be because more people are spending time outside and would be more likely to notice something strange in the sky.

This talk showed me that conclusions may be temptingly easy to draw when looking at UFO data as a whole, but speculations should be met with careful criticism. The use of the scientific method when approaching ufology, or the study of UFO sightings, seems key for a field often met with overwhelming skepticism.

I have yet to work with any open-source data on UFO reports, but this talk reminded me of the importance of a methodical approach to data analysis. Data visualization for any field of study starts with asking questions, being mindful of outside factors, and being able to communicate messages within large data sets to any audience.

Reducing Plastic Use

Reducing Plastic Use
Various pieces of plastic trash debris are strewn alongside seaweed and rocks on a beach.
Assorted plastic trash on the beach at Pelican Cove Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, 2017.

In the spirit of this year’s Earth Day theme (‘End Plastic Pollution’), I researched the fate of plastic. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepared a report for 2014 municipal waste stream data for the United States. Plastic products were either recycled, burned for energy production, or sent to landfills. I used pandas to look at the data and Matplotlib to create a graph. I included percentages for each fate and compared the categories of total plastics, containers and packaging, durable goods, and nondurable goods.

A graph compares different types of plastic products and their fate in the municipal waste stream.
Percentages of total plastics and plastic types that get recycled, burned for energy, or sent to a landfill, according to the EPA.

The EPA data shows a majority of plastic products reported in the waste stream were sent to landfills. Obviously, not all plastic waste actually reaches a recycling facility or landfill. Roadsides, waterways, and beaches are all subject to plastic pollution. Decreasing personal use of plastic products can help reduce the overall production of waste.

Here are some ideas for cutting back on plastic use:

  • Bring reusable shopping bags to every store.
    • Utilize cloth bags for all purchases.
    • Opt for reusable produce bags for fresh fruit and vegetables instead of store-provided plastic ones.
  • Ditch party plasticware.
    • Buy an assortment of silverware from a thrift store for party use.
    • Snag a set of used glassware for drinks instead of buying single-use plastic cups.
  • Use Bee’s Wrap instead of plastic wrap.
    • Bee’s Wrap is beeswax covered cloth for food storage. It works exactly the same as plastic wrap, but it can be used over and over.
  • Choose glassware instead of plastic zip-locked bags for storing food.
    • Glass containers like Pyrex can be used in place of single-use plastic storage bags.
  • Say ‘no’ to plastic straws.
    • Get in the habit of refusing a straw at restaurants when you go out.
    • Bring a reusable straw made out of bamboo, stainless steel, or glass to your favorite drink spot.

 

To check out the code for the figure I created, here’s the repository for it.