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What Big Data and UFOs Have in Common

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When a group Boston College students began a project analyzing data received from UFO sightings, they wanted to receive some insights into the factors that influence alleged UFO sightings, such as weather, movie releases etc. In 2014, the Economist conducted similar research and found that most UFO sightings occur during the so-called “drinking hours”, between 5-11pm, when people are finishing up their fourth or even fifth bottle of beer. The Economist called this possible connection “Encounters of the blurred kind.”

All joking aside, Boston College students learned a thing or two about sampling bias. According to the National UFO Reporting Center, UFO sightings have increased exponentially since the organization started keeping track of the reports in 1974. When this organization first opened, people had to pick up the phone and call-in to file a report. Once the internet became mainstream, people could now file reports online by simply filling out a form. This is when the number of reported UFO sightings began to rise. This cheap and convenient reporting method provided more data about sightings, but this increase in data availability fundamentally changed the data set, and any change in data affects the conclusions we can make from this data.

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