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It's the first rule of thumb for any aspiring UFO investigator: Keep an open mind.

"We all want to believe, we all want to believe bad," said David MacDonald, a certified investigator with the Mutual UFO Network. "But you've got to look at the evidence. You've got to come at this like a scientific researcher."

On Friday, MacDonald and dozens of like-minded individuals filled an Irvine hotel conference room to discuss the finer points of investigating the inexplicable — or at least that which cannot be explained in terrestrial terms. As part of the network's annual symposium, attendees were given a crash course on what it takes to become a certified field investigator.

Approach all alleged sightings objectively, they were told, and with the precision of a scientist. Pack recording devices, a Geiger counter and a respirator.

The would-be UFO investigators were also urged to follow protocol: Always have the "percipient," or witness, sign proper paperwork. Ask thorough questions. Document everything. Always carry the Mutual UFO Network badge — a laminated identification card. And, most important, always be professional.

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