UFOs (unidentified flying objects) have been in the news a lot over the past few weeks. This is partly because of the recent revelations that the Ministry of Defence is closing its UFO desk, staffed by a single case officer, and is ceasing to keep files of UFO sightings reported by the public.

This will do nothing to reassure the large number of British adults (30% in an Ipsos-MORI poll for the BBC in January 2008 and 49% in a YouGov survey for The Sun in July 2008) who think that evidence of UFOs is definitely or possibly being hidden from the populace.

However, another reason for the topicality of UFOs is the online release by The National Archives (TNA), on 18 February 2010, of a fifth batch of British Government UFO-related documents.

The 24 files involved spanned the years 1994-2000 and comprised 6,000 pages. They were available for free download for a month from a special TNA UFO micro site, after which downloading is charged for from TNA’s Documents Online service.

TNA statistics, specially provided to the British Religion in Numbers team, show that, on the first day of the release of these documents, there were over 96,000 visits to the UFO micro site and that three terabytes of PDFs were downloaded from it.

Moreover, the UFO news boosted demand for TNA’s services more generally. On that same first day of release, TNA’s main homepage saw an increase in traffic of 127%, with downloads from Documents Online up by 22%.

Much of this interest in the micro site was global, with (for example) Hungarian, Dutch, Finnish and Brazilian news sites between them referring over 20,000 visitors.

The popularity of the release of these Government documents is, perhaps, unsurprising. According to the YouGov poll in July 2008, 9% of adults think that they have seen a UFO and a further 43% believe UFOs exist even if they have never seen one.

Just 36% actually disbelieve in UFOs, with 12% don’t knows. Readers of The Sun are above-average believers in UFOs (60% against 52%). Details of the poll, which also covered aliens and extra-terrestrial life, may be found in The Sun for 28 July 2008 and on the YouGov website.

In case you are wondering, the British Religion in Numbers website has not been taken over by aliens! We deliberately aim to cover a range of ‘alternative’ as well as ‘conventional’ belief systems and will continue to do so, wherever data are available.

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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