With government interest in unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) skyrocketing, NASA has announced its first-ever "UFO czar" after initially declining to do so out of concerns for his safety.
In a press release last week, NASA named its new director of UAP research, longtime civil servant Mark McInerney, in response to calls for the agency to "play a more prominent role in understanding" the phenomena — and, it seems, because people started threatening the agency and people associated with it.
Last week, the agency held a press conference pegged to the release of an independent report about UAPs and announced that it was appointing a head of UAP research. However, NASA refused to name that person at the time because members of the study panel had been subjected to jeers and threats, as Politico and other outlets reported.
"That’s in part why we are not splashing the name of our new director out there, because science needs to be free," Dan Evans, NASA's assistant deputy associate administrator, told reporters at the time. "Some of [the incidents] rose to actual threats."
The incident highlights how much of a hot-button topic UAPs have become as of late. With government organizations like NASA taking recent reports of UFO sightings more seriously, we've seen a resurgence of conspiracy theories surrounding the existence of government cover-ups, and other far-fetched theories pertaining to the existence of extraterrestrial life.
Despite NASA's efforts to protect McInerney's identity, the agency eventually gave in to the pressure.
Nicola Fox, an associate NASA administrator, put it even more bluntly when asked directly by reporters about the new director's identity, saying "we will not give his name out."
Later that same day, however, NASA sent out an update that named McInerny as its new director with no apparent explanation as to the about-face.
It's still unclear why the agency released McInerny's name after initially declining to do so, and Futurism has reached out to NASA for clarity about that decision.
The institutional need for a "UFO czar" came as a recommendation from the study, which was led by David Spergel of the Simons Foundation. Among other things, the study panel called on NASA to work in tandem with other government agencies — including the Pentagon, for which McInerney used to be a liaison at NASA — to study UAPs, as Time reports.
As Spergel told the magazine, folks "harassed some of our panel members," which he rightfully characterized as "very inappropriate behavior."
On the whole, it's a win for the pursuit of science in the face of the persistent stigma surrounding UFO research — but NASA's lack of disclosure about why McInerny was initially not named only serves to muddle the issue.
Given the jeers and abuse, it's clear that NASA still has a long way to go before its investigations into UAPs are fully taken seriously by the public, something that will only serve to impede the scientific process.
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