In fact this almost echo’s Donald Keyhoe article in the 1950 Trice magazine, "Flying "Saucers Arc Real"--brandished the theory that the Air Force was hiding the truth that UFOs had extraterrestrial origins. Keyhoe cried cover-up, and became the leading private UFO authority" in the country. But especially since the X files have been transmitted via most major TV stations all over the world --more than a trillion people today, belief in what Keyhoe wrote in 1950 --that UFOs are extraterrestrial spacecraft. Plus there was of course also Roswell, N.M., July, 1947, that spawned many a conspiracy theory. But Kenneth Arnold who is said to have started it all in 1947, had no idea of what he had seen and did not promote the idea of the flying objects being spacecraft from other worlds. The spaceship interpretation did not develop thoroughly prior to 1951.
If there are no such things as little green men in spaceships or flying saucers, why have so many people reported seeing them? Evidence suggests that various other phenomena are responsible for the sightings and these do not only include aircraft the military people don't want to know of, but also among many other; meteors and their well-known effects; electrical and magnetic phenomena in the atmosphere, mesosphere and ionosphere; weather and electrically-charged conditions; close proximity of plasma related fields can adversely affect a vehicle or persons; and so on. Also, local fields of the latter type have been medically proven to cause responses in the temporal lobes of the human brain. These result in the observer sustaining (and later describing and retaining) his or her own vivid, but mainly incorrect, description of what is experienced. There are, of course, other causes of UFOs - aeroplanes with particularly bright lights, stray odd-shaped balloons and strange flocks of birds, to name but a few.
However people who claim to have had a "close encounter" are often difficult to persuade that they did not really see what they thought they saw, and it remains difficult to convince everyone that there is a rational explanation for all mysterious movements in the sky. Some UFO-spotters believe governments will always cover up the truth about UFOs, because they are afraid of admitting that there is something beyond their control.
In fact soon there were many other flying saucer groups like The Adamski Foundation, Mark-Age. Universaucerian Foundation, Aetherius Society, World Understanding, Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara, The Unarius Academy and Rael, also called UFO religions. Covered separately by us, this in a way also includes Scientology.
But while it now gained new credence via the worldwide TV airing of the new X files today, the idea of interplanetary travel is fairly old:
If there are no such things as little green men in spaceships or flying saucers, why have so many people reported seeing them? Evidence suggests that various other phenomena are responsible for the sightings and these do not only include aircraft the military people don't want to know of, but also among many other; meteors and their well-known effects;electrical and magnetic phenomena in the atmosphere, mesosphere and ionosphere; weather and electrically-charged conditions;close proximity of plasma related fields can adversely affect a vehicle or persons ; and so on. Also, local fields of the latter type have been medically proven to cause responses in the temporal lobes of the human brain. These result in the observer sustaining (and later describing and retaining) his or her own vivid, but mainly incorrect, description of what is experienced. There are, of course, other causes of UFOs - aeroplanes with particularly bright lights, stray odd-shaped balloons and strange flocks of birds, to name but a few.
Especially wary of government cover-ups, ufologists were delighted in 1997 when the CIA finally admitted that during the late 1950s it encouraged the misidentification of secret spy planes as UFOs.
However people who claim to have had a "close encounter" are often difficult to persuade that they did not really see what they thought they saw, and it remains difficult to convince everyone that there is a rational explanation for all mysterious movements in the sky. Some UFO-spotters believe governments will always cover up the truth about UFOs, because they are afraid of admitting that there is something beyond their control.
Plus there also have been hoaxes, asking why people need to fake something that would have actually existed, whereby just like with the crop circles there never where-- extraterrestrial UFO’s (also no Nazi-UFO’s).
To take one of many examples that made into the general media, in late 1984 an envelope with an Albuquerque postmark showed up in the mailbox of movie and television producer Jamie Shandera, a semi-mysterious associate of Bill Moore and Stan Friedman. Inside was an exposed roll of 35 mm film. When this was developed, a Great New Discovery was revealed: a supposedly Top Secret 1952 briefing paper prepared for an old friend of my father, then President-elect Dwight Eisenhower. The very mysterious organization that prepared it was the now notorious Majestic-12 Group. MJ-12 for short.
According to this document, which told of the Roswell saucer crash and another about three years later south of the Texas border in Mexico, MJ-12 had been "established by special classified executive order of President Truman on 24 September. 1947, upon recommendation by [presidential science advisor] Dr. Vannevar Bush and Secretary [of Defense] James Forrestal." The briefing paper listed the (of course) twelve members of MJ-12. First Director of Central Intelligence Roscoe Hillenkoetter, who later served on the NICAP board (a small UFO tink tank) was Mj-1. Another member (Mj-?) was famed UFO debunker Donald Menzel . All twelve were conveniently dead. Also included as an attachment was a "go ahead" memo addressed to Forrestal and signed by President Truman.
Supposedly, over the next two and a half years, Moore, Friedman, and Shandera closely studied the briefing document and attached memo and did hundreds of hours of research trying to confirm their authenticity. Then, in the spring of 1987, in anticipation of public release of the Mj- 12 papers at that year's National UFO Conference scheduled for June 12-14 in Burbank, California, Moore and Friedman began a publicity buildup they hoped would draw big media interest.
At NUFOC, Moore, Friedman, and Shandera officially released the MJ-12 papers to media and public-sort of. In his press conference presentation, Moore stated that when he received the papers, nothing was censored, yet the version he handed out to the press had the markings "Top Secret" and "Eyes Only' lined out, and copies distributed before the convention had different passages of text blacked out. I remember seeing four different versions, no two of which were exactly the same with respect to what could be read, although the underlying document was exactly the same. When Bill Moore was asked about this, he said he'd done it to titillate the press.
The key thing that turned me off however, was the inclusion of Donald Menzel as an MJ-12 member and the emphasis this was given by singling him out in the briefing paper's text as being the one member who did not believe the crashed saucers and their unfortunate occupants came from Mars: "Since it is virtually certain that these craft do not originate in any country on earth, considerable speculation has centered around what their point of origin might be and how they get here. Mars was and remains a possibility, although some scientists, most notably Dr. Menzel, consider it more likely that we are dealing with beings from another solar system entirely."
Stan Friedman has made a big deal out of Menzel's alleged involvement, seeing it as strongly supporting the documents' authenticity. Stan claims that at first he was puzzled by the anti-saucerer being included, thinking it unlikely he would have been part of such a group. Then his research revealed Menzel had led what Friedman melodramatically called a "secret life," working as a code-breaker for the National Security Agency and doing other super secret, behind-the-scenes deeds. None of this had anything even remotely to do with flying saucers, yet suddenly the light dawned for the Flying Saucer Physicist: Menzel's whole saucer-debunking career was just a diabolical cover operation, maybe even part of MJ-12's disinformation campaign to keep the Roswell secret under wraps.
Menzel and his alleged doubts about the saucers being from Mars was a hoaxer's clever inside joke. Anyone who knew Menzel knew he had a fixation about mythical Martians. He wrote science-fiction stories about them. He doodled Martians and Martian scenes at scientific conventions. He sent out homemade Christmas cards, adorned with his sketches of cavorting Martians. None of this was a secret.
What better way to "validate" the documents and the cover-up than to include ufology's most notorious (deceased) foe. After all, no smart hoaxer would do such a stupid thing, right?
There is one other little angle I want to mention: the second saucer crash discussed in the briefing document. This supposedly took place in the "El Indio Guerrero area of the Texas-Mexico boder [sic]" on December 6, 1950. This was the big crash story Todd Zechel had been touting a few years before, and which he still claims to believe, while utterly rejecting Roswell. There was good reason to doubt this story during the 1970s and 1980s. Now there's every reason to completely dismiss it. Research done by ufologists Dennis Stacy and Tom Deuley has proven the origin of Zechel's (and MJ-12's) Texas-Mexico border saucer-crash story is very earthly. At the 1999 NUFOC in San Antonio, Texas, Deuley gave a talk in which he presented evidence that proved beyond any reasonable doubt that what had evolved into a 1950 saucer crash was actually the accidental fatal shoot-down of a Civil Air Patrol plane late in World War II.
Oddly, despite all the advance publicity, the prospect of earthshaking revelations, and a Los Angeles-area venue, the big MJ-12 NUFOC of '87 drew a disappointingly small crowd.
Moore and his associates, buoyed by the interest and controversy they had stirred up, pressed on. It wasn't long before Bill was whispering to me of inside contacts he had in the U.S. intelligence community who were feeding him startling inside information on the UFO cover-up and human dealings with aliens. He gave these contacts code names, various sorts of birds, and collectively they became known as the Aviary.
Moore and Shandera showed videotapes they had made of a key Aviarian, the most mysterious Falcon. Selected, brief segments of some of these tapes were shown the following year on the dreadful television special UFO Coverup-Live, which perhaps marked the high point of Bill Moore's saucering career.
Falcon raved at length about Jesus Christ being a spaceman; Earth being under alien surveillance for twenty-five thousand years; a shipwrecked saucer pilot kept alive by the U.S. government in a secret location, where he enjoyed strawberry ice cream and Tibetan music.
Bill Moore once told that his religious beliefs are consistent with the idea that there are humanoid beings from other planets visiting here and the notion that Jesus was one of them. Did he invent MJ-12 and the Aviary and misconstrue Roswell to confirm his religious beliefs? Or were his motivations more down-to-earth, mere fame and fortune? Or was the whole thing a semi clever ploy to get the government to release The Truth by making up and promoting stuff that Moore considered close to the truth?
Whatever was behind what he did, it all ended in tragedy for Bill Moore. At the very wild 1989 MUFON symposium in Las Vegas, I listened in great surprise as he delivered a long speech in which he confessed-or at least claimed-to having been in league with agents of U.S. intelligence in the early 1980s. He said he'd provided these agents with "harmless" information on various luminaries of saucerdom and even fed disinformation to The Field at their behest. This he did in the hope he would be given important inside saucer scoop. Instead, he said, he got only "crumbs." He also admitted that some of what Falcon and another Aviarian called Condor had said in the video clips shown during the UFO Coverup-Live program the previous October wasn't true-but he didn't reveal what should or shouldn't be believed.
All in all, if this confessional was basically true, it simply proved the government was smarter than Moore thought himself to be. Of course, it's also possible Bill's performance may have been a somewhat more dramatic version of AL Bender's way out of ufology so many years before. I suppose we'll never know for certain, but after this appearance, Moore's ufological star slammed to the ground faster and harder than a crashed saucer. Yet, amazingly, Roswell soared to even greater heights, becoming one of modern ufology's two Great Obsessions.
Finally in 2003, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)came out with a “How to Make Your Own UFO Guide” that came in the wake of claims from a British-based group called Euroseti that hundreds of UFO-like images had been gleaned from NASA satellite imagery. The claims were picked up by newspapers in Britain and Australia over the past week or two, linking the photographs to SOHO, a $1 billion U.S.-European satellite that observes the sun from a vantage point 1 million miles from Earth.
The SOHO team’s technique starts out with a garden-variety image of the sun from the spacecraft’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope. Such images often include tiny marks made by cosmic rays hitting the instrument’s detector. In the SOHO team’s example, one of those marks is enlarged several times, smoothed into a saucer like shape, then filtered to give it a metallic glint.
The guide said the UFO recipe also could start out with the speck-sized shapes of planets visible on some SOHO imagery, or with marks left because of detector defects, software glitches or space debris. “It should be noted that we do see objects moving in SOHO images,” the guide said. “Over 500 comets have been discovered in SOHO images, most by amateurs using LASCO data which have been downloaded from the Web. That’s more comets than from any other observatory, either from the ground or in space. People are looking for moving objects in these pictures all the time, and are highly motivated to find them. None of them have ever turned out to be anything other than comets.”
Over the years, NASA has taken various approaches to dealing with conspiracy and UFO claims. In a fact sheet, the space agency notes that no governmental agencies are currently investigating claims relating to alien spacecraft or civilizations. NASA has also disputed repeated claims that the Apollo moon landings were nothing more than Cold War hoaxes, although it recently backed away from commissioning a high-profile refutation of such claims for fear that the effort would stir up more controversy than it was worth.
The above came one must ad, following an earlier less forthcoming example that took place in 1995; when a British video distributor Ray Santilli claimed to have original film showing the autopsy of one of the aliens that crashed at Roswell in 1947. Edited into amade-for-TV documentary titled Alien Autopsy (Fact or Fiction?), it was shown in the United States on the Fox television network in prime time, first on August 28, 1995 and at least two more times. The telecast attracted enormous attention, its authenticity debated in and out of the mass media. Eventually the "documentary" was shown in over thirty nations. Released as a videotape, it reached the top twenty-five in U.S. video stores. (I bought one.) The Times of London estimates the autopsy has been seen by a billion people around the world.
Believers would also have to assume that the most important autopsy in history was conducted by two inept examiners in about two hours, and photographed with a single hand-held camera, in black-and-white with poorly focused close-ups. Some viewers may have been swayed by experts who seem impressed with the autopsy. Stan Winston, creature designer for Aliens, Jurassic Park, and Terminator 2, says in the documentary that he doesn't know how the autopsy could have been faked. But Winston later told Time Magazine that he "absolutely" thought it was a hoax.
Eleven years after the footage was first shown, British sculptor John Humphreys, who worked on social effects for the long-running sci-fi television series Doctor Who, admitted that he made the alien dummy and acted as the chief examiner. The film was shot in Camden, north London, in 1995. The bug-eyed dummy was filled with sheep brains, chicken entrails, and knuckle joints bought from a nearby meat market (Horne 2006). Santilli has not at this writing confessed, but he has produced a new film, Alien Autopsy (2006), which spoofs his original film, showing a similar autopsy on a similar dummy.
If we extrapolate from Keene and Santilli, the problem of implausible beliefs is one of dishonest promoters fooling gullible believers. That would be a gross exaggeration. Most religious leaders are genuine in their calling, and some promoters of the wackiest paranormal ideas really believe what they are promulgating. In these cases both leaders and followers are true believers. Now we turn to them, to people who sincerely believe the implausible. Where do they get their fantastic ideas, and why do they keep them, even when exposed to the light of reason? Alien Abduction might in fact be rooted in the old belief in Necromancy.
A Short History of Modern UFO Beliefs
In a 1961 TV episode of the (serious intended) The Twilight Zone,a woman goes up to her roof to investigate a noise and finds a tiny flying saucer with two creatures emerging from it. The creatures torment the woman, until finally she grabs and batters one to death. With an ax she destroys the saucer. Before the final creature is killed he sends a message to his home planet not to send any more ships. The lettering on the side of the saucer reads "U.S. Air Force."1
This story was televised during the Cold War when Americans were enrapt by fears of foreign attack, but it had decades of antecedents in science fiction. H. G. Wells used the term "extra-terrestrial" in War of the Worlds (1898) nearly a century before it was famously abbreviated to ET. Only three years before that, astronomer Percival Lowell published his nonfiction book, Mars (1895), announcing that lines he observed telescopically on the surface of Mars were irrigation canals intelligently designed-an intelligence we now know was on Lowell's side of the telescope. There was in 1896 and 1897 a spate of "mysterious airship" sightings, and a few people described alien visitors.
H. G. Wells embellished the idea, transporting the Martians to earth in metallic cylinders. These aliens were ugly grayish rounded hulks, the size of a bear, glistening like wet leather, with tentacles, two large dark-colored eyes, and lipless mouths drooling saliva. And they were hostile, traveling across our landscape in walking metal tripods, firing death rays. Earth would have been scoured of humans had the invaders not succumbed to our lowly bacteria. The story was immediately pirated by the American yellow press and widely read in the United States.
Interplanetary traffic became two-way in 1911 when Edgar Rice Burroughs published the first of his eleven books about a Confederate soldier, John Carter, mysteriously teleported to Mars, where he finds an advanced but decaying civilization and diverse inhabitants, some monstrous and mean, others lovely and willing. During the 1930s and 40s Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon flew rocket ships to other planets, again finding sexy extraterrestrials, a tradition continued by the Star Trek voyagers who boldly go where no human has gone before.
On Halloween Eve of 1938, twenty-three-year-old Orson Welles gave his adaptation of War of the Worlds on network radio. He used realistic-sounding news bulletins, ostensibly interrupting a program of music to tell of Martian cylinders landing in New Jersey, their use of death rays against American troops, and their tripods marching on New York City. Despite the program's compression of days-long events into a one-hour dme slot, and repeated announcements that it was fiction, an estimated million Americans were frightened by the broadcast (Cantril 1940). The next morning's front page of the New York Times and my own city's Syracuse Post-Standard verify the widespread panic. Here was the first instance of people hysterically transforming a space fantasy into a real event. Alarmed callers flooded switchboards; the Times was overwhelmed by 875 inquiries. Many people gathered their family members and sought escape, others milled in the streets, not knowing what to do. Several required emergency medical treatment for shock. Afterward there were calls for radio censorship.2
Why did so many people swallow this incredible Halloween prank? The context was an important contributor. Radio had grown rapidly, from three million U.S. sets in 1924 to forty million in 1938. During the Depression, the living room radio was a center of family activity, bringing news, entertainment, and the president's fireside chats. It seemed a trustworthy medium. In the Munich Crisis of the month before, when Hitler threatened Czechoslovakia, listeners became accustomed to regular programming interrupted by news bulletins.
Based on interviews with 920 people who heard the broadcast, psychologist Hadley Cantril (1940) noted that those who tuned in late were most likely to believe they were getting real news. Alarmed listeners often did not think to verify the invasion with another source. Some who did take the trouble found confirmation. As one man told a Times reporter, I came home at 9: 15 P.M. just in time to receive a telephone call from my nephew who was frantic with fear. He told me the city was about to be bombed from the air and advised me to get out of the building at once. I turned on the radio and heard the broadcast which corroborated what my nephew had said, grabbed my hat and coat and a few personal belongings and ran to the elevator. When I got to the street there were hundreds of people milling around in panic. Most of us ran toward Broadway and it was not until we stopped taxi drivers who had heard the entire broadcast on their radios that we knew what it was all about. It was the most asinine stunt I ever heard of.
World War II diverted attention from extraterrestrials, but with peace restored, imaginations were free to soar. "Flying saucer" entered the language in the summer of 1947. On June 24 of that year a civilian pilot named Kenneth Arnold, flying a private plane in the vicinity of Mt. Rainier, Washington, reported seeing nine peculiar-looking aircraft moving at high speed. Arnold described their fight to a journalist as being "like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water," a simile leading to reports in newspapers of "flying saucers" (Condon 1968). The story flashed via the Associated Press wire through the news media. By July there were sightings across the nation of flying disks, many of them jokes but others sincere. A Gallup Poll released in August 1947 said 90 percent of Americans had heard of flying saucers. Perhaps the saucer craze was fueled by a combination of summer fun, Cold War fear, and belief that the Air Force was secretly developing new technology. Whatever its cause, this first UFO wave ebbed by August, but it started a belief in UFOs that continues today. 3
In analyzing any social or/and religious movement, one must distinguish activists who devote much time and energy, from passive sympathizers who attribute less importance to the issue and contribute few resources. The activists, relatively few in number, may have pecuniary interests as writers, lecturers, organizational directors, or analysts, but more often they are unpaid and motivated by enthusiasm, ideology, or peer support. Central activists know one another personally and through publications or web postings. They form organizations, attend meetings and conferences, maintain newsletters or internet sites, and weave a web of communications. Highly knowledgeable and committed, the activists are often well educated and sufficiently free of career, family, or other pressing obligations to commit time to the movement.4
Passive sympathizers may register their support on an opinion poll or by subscribing to a UFO organization, but they contribute little else. They do not move in the same circles as activists and often lack deep knowledge of the issue. National opinion surveys are useful in describing the characteristics of these numerous sympathizers, but national samples tell us nothing about the activists because they constitute a tiny portion of the public.
One of the first UFO activists was pilot Kenneth Arnold, who published two articles on his sighting in FATE, a then-new magazine devoted to "true reports of the strange and unknown." Here, and later in books, Arnold pressed the possibility that UFOs were secret military aircraft. About the same time, the editor ofthe men's magazine True, suspecting a military cover-up, assigned Donald Keyhoe, a retired marine major with Pentagon contacts, to write an article on UFOs. Keyhoe's widely read piece in the January 1950 issue argued that saucers were spaceships from another planet. Publishing more on this theme, Keyhoe became director of a UFO investigating organization and remained highly influential into the 1960s.
The Air Force became interested in UFOs soon after the first reports, concerned that the Soviets might be involved. That possibility was quickly discounted but replaced with concern that a flurry of citizen reports of UFOs might clog emergency warning channels. In 1952 the Air Force, with covert CIA cooperation, established Project Blue Book with a small staff to record and debunk saucer sightings.
Many of Blue Book's results have been unclassified since 1953 but were difficult to access. Other aspects of the project, pertaining to military aircraft and CIA involvement, remained hidden for decades. In 1997 a CIA historian asserted that half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were of its U-2 and SR-71 spyplanes flying over the United States. Whether or not this is literally true, such inordinate secrecy, illustrating "military intelligence" as oxymoronic, contributed to widespread belief that the government was hiding information about alien visitation.5
One of those who eventually became suspicious was J. Allen Hynek, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University, later at Northwestern, hired as a consultant to help the Air Force recognize astronomical explanations for UFO sightings. Apparently not privy to the CIA's spy plane flights, Hynek was impressed by certain sightings that were not amenable to banal explanation.6 In his 1974 book, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Study, Hynek described several strange sightings that seemed to him credibly reported, entertaining the possibility of alien visitation. He introduced as we indicated above, the phrase "close encounters," distinguishing among those of the first kind (seeing a UFO at close range), the second kind (seeing a close-by UFO with physical effects on the land and on animate and inanimate objects), and the third kind (seeing occupants of a UFO). In 1973, Hynek started the Center for UFO Studies and served as its scientific director until his death in 1986.
Almost from the outset, UFO activists divided into opposing camps: the ufologists versus the saucerians. The saucerians included many of a mystical or psychic bent, claiming personal contact with ETs and developing a theology for the age of flying saucers. The ufologists, following the lead of Keyhoe and later Hynek, were more cautious, often debunking UFO hoaxes and usually rejecting claims of humanlike ETs and beautiful space angels. "Contactees and saucerians infuriated ufologists, already struggling to overcome the derision of the very concept of UFOs". Hynek regarded contactees as kooks:
The contactee cases are characterized by a "favored" human intermediary ... who somehow has the special attribute of being able to see UFOs and to communicate with their crew almost at will (often by mental telepathy). Such persons not only frequently turn out to be pseudoreligious fanatics but also invariable have a low credibility value, bringing us regular messages from the "space men" with singularly little content. The messages are usually addressed to all of humanity to "be good, stop fighting, live in love and brotherhood, ban the bomb, stop polluting the atmosphere" and other worthy platitudes. The contactee often regards himself as messianically charged to deliver the message on a broad basis; hence several flying saucer cults have from time to time sprung up. He regards himself definitely as having been "chosen" and utterly disregards ... the statistical improbability that one person, on a random basis, should be able to have many repeated UFO experiences ... while the majority of humanity lives out a lifetime without having even one UFO experience. The "repeater" aspect of some UFO reporters is sufficient cause, in my opinion, to exclude their reports from further consideration" (1974: 29-30).
Thus the sightings of 1947 quickly spawned major actors, organizations, and schisms that would dominate the UFO movement for decades. By the early 1950s, there was an embedded - and partially correct - belief that the government was not telling all it knew. As the controversy polarized, claims became more outlandish, and opinions more derisive.
Physical scientists soon regarded flying saucers as an obsession of the lunatic fringe-despite their own presumption that intelligent life may exist elsewhere in the universe. The late Carl Sagan, a famous and respected astronomer at Cornell University, was at the same time the foremost proponent of SETI, the search for electromagnetic signals revealing extraterrestrial intelligence, and the best known debunker of UFOs. These positions seem contradictory to many laypeople but not to scientists, who know that excepting earth, no body in our solar system has physical conditions to support intelligent life. If there are ETs, they must live in other solar systems, which are light-years distant. There is no conceivable way - consistent with scientific understanding - to travel from there to here. (The physics of relativity dictates that no spaceship can travel faster than the speed of light, and if it could approach that speed its mass would approach infinity.) Notions that intergalactic travelers might pass through "wormholes" or "time warps" are the stuff of science fiction, not of science. Even if intergalactic travel were possible, what is the likelihood that a creature from one of the billions of galaxies would chose earth as its destination? More incredulous are claims that aliens, once arrived, abduct humans for experiments in hybridization. Susan Clancy (2005) makes the point concisely: "It's one thing to believe that life might exist on other planets, and quite another to believe that it is secretly examining your private parts."
Especially high public concern about UFO sightings in 1966 pressed the Air Force into funding an external evaluation of Project Blue Book. This work, directed by Edward Condon, an eminent physicist at the University of Colorado, was completed in 1968 and concluded that there was no evidence supporting a belief in alien visitation, and that UFO phenomena do not offer a fruitful field for scientific discoveries. The National Academy of Sciences reviewed Condon's report and concurred with his conclusions. Project Blue Book was terminated in 1969.
Of more than 12,000 sightings eventually registered by Blue Book, over 90 percent were plausibly attributed to misidentifications of celestial objects such as Venus, of manmade objects like weather balloons or artificial satellites, or to hoaxes (Condon 1968: 11). Surely there are errors in attribution, but activists and skeptics agree that the vast majority of UFO reports indicate nothing extraordinary.
While valueless for physical scientists or engineers, these sightings are useful for sociologists, showing the context in which ET claims occur. For example, UFOs are usually seen after dark but before midnight, and more often in warm months than winter. This reflects the times when people are outside looking at the night sky. Many nations report UFOs, but the United States is the center of activity. Within the U.S. the geographical distribution of sightings correlates roughly with density of non-urban population. Few reports come from urban areas, probably because city lights obscure the night sky.
The Air Force count of UFO sightings ceased with Blue Book's demise. That loss was remedied by ufologists, one of whom, Larry Hatch, has for twenty years tabulated sightings worldwide and posted them in graphical format on the internet. Like Blue Book, Hatch's unit of analysis is the UFO event, that is, the sighting of one or more extraordinary objects in the sky, or if on the ground thought capable of flight, at a particular time and place by one or more observers. Sources for his compilation include Blue Book; journals, newsletters, and encyclopedias from UFO organizations; news media; and private catalogs. These pass through his personal filter, weeding out obvious hoaxes, double entries, and misidentified mundane events.? I divided Hatch's yearly count by 811, the maximum count in a single year (1952), producing an indicator of sightings with a maximum value of 1.0.
The New York Times is the nation's leading newspaper, an agenda setter for other news organs, and the best indexed newspaper during the postwar decades. I tabulated the number of articles about flying saucers/UFOs in the annual New York Times Index from 1947 to 2004 and divided each year's coverage by the amount in 1966, the year of maximum coverage, producing again an indicator with a maximum value of 1.0. Times coverage correlates highly (r = .78) with yearly counts of magazine articles about UFOs listed in Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, adequately indicating years of high and low journalistic attention across the nation (also see Hickman et al. 1996).
UFO sightings and Times coverage, both graphed in figure 10.1, are correlated from year to year (r = .62), rising and falling in concert.8 After the burst of saucer sightings and news coverage in early summer of 1947 there was relative quiet in 1948-51, then a sharply defined burst in 1952, and a return to relative quiet in 1953-65. Both indicators again peaked nearly simultaneously in 1966-67 and 1973. These variations are consistent with years of high and low activity as judged more qualitatively by Peebles.
Does increased publicity in the mass media drive UFO sightings upward? To appraise this possibility, it is worth looking closer at the peak periods of sighting, called "flaps" by ufologists. Surely the 1947 flap was driven at least partly by that summer's spectacular press reports, set off by Kenneth Arnold's experience near Mount Rainier. Observers across the nation, whatever they saw, or thought they saw, or pretended they saw, used the peculiar name "flying saucer," confirming the importance of media imagery in the fad-like contagion.
By Hatch's count, the greatest number of sightings for one year occurred in 1952. This rise is timed more precisely in figure 10.2, which displays Blue Book's raw monthly counts for the years 1950 through 1955. Comparing 1952 with the other years, we see an unusual increase in saucer sightings beginning in April ' 52, skyrocketing in July, and abruptly falling at the end of summer. No single cause for this flap can be identified with certainty, but there are good candidates.
In March 1952 the Air Force consolidated its previous UFO inquiries into Project Blue Book, enlisting intelligence officers at all Air Force facilities to assess and report saucer sightings. This improvement in data collection may account for increased sightings in April and May but seems insufficient to explain the dramatic upturn during the summer.
The news media are another candidate. The Air Force's invigorated UFO inquiry was the lead-in for a highly influential story in Life magazine of April 7.9 Titled "Have We Visitors from Space?," Life's answer was essentially "yes." Some 350 newspapers quoted the piece within days of its release (Condon 1968: 515). Media attention rose more sharply in July. The New York Times, for example, averaged only three UFO articles per month during the spring of 1952, but ran 17 articles in July, another 37 in August, and then by September nearly dropped the story.l0
The movies are another candidate. UFOs first reached mainstream motion picture theaters in 1951, and perhaps their novelty encouraged sightings the following summer. The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise, is the paradigm of saucer films, establishing standard themes of the genre. A flying saucer lands on the mall in Washington, D.C. Its commander is Klaatu, an emissary to earth, played by Michael Rennie with no modification to his human appearance. He is accompanied by Gort, a large silvery robot, unaggressive but capable of shooting lethal rays. Klaatu's mission is to warn us that nuclear weaponry will destroy humanity, and that we must learn to live in peace. Released in September 1951, the film was still in theaters the following year.11
The best known sightings of 1952, sometimes called "the invasion of Washington," occurred in July when personnel at the capital's National Airport, three miles from Klaatu's landing site, saw on two successive Saturdays (July 19 and 26) a tremendous number of UFOs and unidentified blips on their radar screens. Doubts about the reality of these objects arose when scrambled planes could not make visual contact with most of the targets shown on ground radars, nor could they locate them on airborne radar, nor did different ground radars agree on the tracks of the targets. Nonetheless, they made a terrific summer news story. The Washington Post, which had carried saucer stories only days before the flap (July 16 and 18), ran a front-page banner headline on July 22: "Radar Spots Air Mystery Objects Here." The Post editorialized on July 25 that the radar must have picked up real objects, but the next Sunday's edition (July 27) included Parade magazine warning, "Beware of Fake 'Flying Saucers.'" On Monday, July 28, after the second weekend of sightings, the Post ran another front -page banner: '" Saucer' Outruns Plane, Pilot Says." Half of July's articles in the New York Times were about the capital sightings. With heightened publicity came more sightings, more speculation, and more debunking. The UFOs at National Airport were later attributed to misidentified meteors or stars, and anomalous radar echoes from temperature inversions in the atmosphere.
The last three months of 1957 saw another flap, especially in November. Blue Book attributed many of these sightings to misidentifications of Venus. No increase in UFO news articles accompanied this peak, perhaps because journalists were focused on Sputnik 1, launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, and Sputnik 2 with the dog Laika on November 3. Headlines were plentiful, inducing people to watch the skies.
A plethora of UFO news began in March 1966 with repeated reports by many witnesses of glowing colored lights in two swampy areas near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dr. Hynek, the Air Force consultant, thought these were visual effects of swamp gas or foxfire from rotting vegetation, producing a phosphorescent glow. Though scientifically reasonable, this "marsh gas" explanation was derided as a cover-up. Michigan congressman (later president) Gerald Ford called for a congressional investigation. House hearings in early April produced more news coverage. The publicity was a boon to the authors of some twenty-five books on UFOs published between 1965 and 1968. John Fuller, a columnist with Saturday Review magazine and a UFO believer, was the major beneficiary, fortuitously publishing two saucer books in 1966. Sightings rose apace with the publicity, peaking in 1967.
Sightings peaked again in fall 1973. This flap started in the southern states and might have gone unmentioned in The New York Times if Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter had not commented that he once saw a UFO (September 14). In mid-October the Times reported that a UFO seen by thousands of South Carolinians turned out to be the work of an artist who launched the object as an experimental sculpture. About the same time two shipyard workers from Mississippi, while fishing on the Pascagoula River, were nabbed by hideous looking aliens, taken aboard the spacecraft for examination, and then released. A local lawyer, acting as the abductees' agent, sought payment for the Pascagoula story. The men appeared repeatedly on network television despite the transparency of their hoax. By this time there were sightings around the nation.
Traditional reporting of UFOs in the sky entered a period of quiescence after 1973. Figure 10.1 shows an anomalous peak of sightings in 1995, unaccompanied by news coverage. Mr. Hatch, responding to my inquiry, suggests this is an artifact, the result of a hiatus that year, due to difficult personal circumstances, in his customary filtering out of weak cases. If it is a real peak, I have no explanation for it.
After 1973 news reporters ignored UFOs except for a brief but intense return in 1997.12 There were two big saucer stories that year. In March the bodies of 39 members of a millennial sect called Heaven's Gate were found at a wealthy estate in California, victims of a mass suicide intended to remove them from their earthly bodies so they could join a spaceship lurking behind the Hale-Bopp comet, then passing near earth. In a lighter vein, many thousands of partiers gathered at Roswell, New Mexico on the Fourth of July for the fiftieth anniversary of the crash of a flying saucer containing alien bodies - not all dead - that are still held in secret storage by the Air Force.
The seed for the Roswell story was the crash of a government balloon on a nearby ranch in early July 1947. This was barely a week into the media frenzy set off by Kenneth Arnold's "saucer" sighting near Mount Rainier. The rancher who found the wreckage notified the sheriff, who contacted Roswell Army Air Field, which picked up the debris. The base's zealous public information officer, Lieutenant Walter Haut, wrote a press release saying that the Army had retrieved the wreckage of one of the rumored flying discs. The Roswell Daily Record ran the story under the headline, "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region." By the following day, higher ups in the Army identified the wreckage as a weather balloon, but that was not completely true. In 1994 the Air Force revealed that what crashed at Roswell was a 600-foot long train of weather balloons and radar targets then being tested for Project Mogul, a top secret attempt to detect sound generated by Soviet nuclear-bomb tests.
What is most remarkable about the Roswell crash is that it was virtually a non-event for four decades. I found barely a mention of Roswell in my perusal of UFO literature prior to 1990. The exception was a book called The Roswell Incident, but its absurdities (e.g., President Eisenhower lacked sufficient security clearance to be told about the downed saucer) gave it little credibility even among UFO believers. Roswell was reinvigorated in the early 1990s as new books promoted theories about one or more crashed saucers, recovered bodies, perhaps a survivor, and of course a cover-up.13
Recapping, we see that UFO flaps generally occur when the mass media focus people's attention on objects in the sky. Correlation does not imply causation, but it does suggest that publicity is the primary driving force behind waves of misidentified objects and hoaxes. The general decline in UFO sightings since 1973 (possibly excepting 1995) may be the result of a loss of journalistic coverage as well as to Air Force disinterest, to the CIA's cessation (so far as we know) of spy plane flights over North America, and to people's familiarity with artificial satellites. There may have been as well a growing boredom with mysterious lights overhead. Perhaps as a result, the UFO movement returned to the more emotionally engaging domain of the contactee, bringing aliens into closer encounters with humans - much closer.
The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951 was the first popular movie to show an alien abduction. Near its climax, the powerful robot Gort carries a fearful Patricia Neal into the saucer. Gort performs a medical procedure on the ship's operating table, not to Neal but to alien emissary Klaatu, who was shot by a human. The robot restores his master's life while the imprisoned Neal watches in amazement. By film's end there is a strong rapport between Klaatu and the earthling Neal, but with no sexual inference.
Humans are abducted again in Invaders from Mars (1953), directed by William Cameron Menzies. The boy at the center of this story is awakened one night by bright lights from a flying saucer landing behind his house and burying itself by a rail fence. His pajama-clad father, going out to investigate, is trapped by the aliens and taken into their saucer where a controlling device is implanted in his brain. Zombie-like, the father returns home. Others in town venture behind the house and receive the same treatment. The Menzies aliens -- obviously humans in costume -- had no lasting impact on the imagination of viewers, but his plot and certain scenes were highly influential.l4 Stephen Spielberg, in his blockbuster ET (1982), shows the same rail fence near the saucer landing site.
The alien abductors in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) come from a disintegrated solar system, intent on subjugating Earth with their death rays. Looking humanoid with hairless white heads and large eyes, they imprison humans in one of their saucers, extracting knowledge from their brains and turning them into zombies.
During these early years, few people in real life reported meeting aliens or riding in flying saucers. Psychoanalyst C. G. Jung wrote of George Adamski, adding to his fame as someone claiming to have made a brief trip around the moon, seeing that the side always turned away from earth contains an atmosphere, water, forests, and settlements. These were the people whom ufologists referred to as saucerians or contactees or, to use astronomer Hynek's unkind term, Real-life accounts of actually being kidnapped by aliens were not well known prior to 1962. Apparently Betty and Barney Hill were the first Americans to describe such an experience, recalling it under hypnosis in 1963 and retrospectively dating the incident to 1961. The Hill episode blossomed to public awareness in 1966 and probably seeded all subsequent abduction reports.
The Hills were an interracial couple, newly married after both had left prior marriages. For Barney, a black man sensitive to racial prejudice, his remarriage meant a new life in Betty's white neighborhood of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was a stressful situation, with Barney suffering anxiety, ulcers, and high blood pressure. As the story was later told, on the night of September 19, 1961, the Hills were returning to Portsmouth from Montreal. Driving through the White Mountains, they sighted a flying saucer - Betty was already a believer. Fearing the saucer was following their car, Barney tried to elude it by driving side roads, finally arriving home two hours later than expected.
The next morning Betty called her sister, another believer. At her sister's suggestion, Betty used a compass to test if the car had been irradiated (sic) and concluded, from the needle's movement, that it had been. In the next days Betty read The Flying Saucer Conspiracy, by UFO believer Donald Keyhoe, and reported her sighting to his organization, though without mentioning abduction. Soon Betty was having nightmares in which she and Barney were kidnapped and taken aboard a flying saucer. She wrote down the details.
In 1962 Barney's physician suggested that he seek psychiatric help. By this time Betty was lecturing locally about the UFO incident and her dreams of abduction. In 1963 both Hills began psychotherapy with a prominent Boston psychiatrist, Dr. Ben Simon, exploring problems arising from their interracial marriage as well as their UFO encounter. Under time-regression hypnosis, Betty and Barney told Dr. Simon of being taken that night in 1961, against their wills, into the saucer, where they were undressed and examined by an alien doctor. They were prodded with a variety of instruments, one a long needle inserted into Betty's belly through her navel to test for pregnancy. Betty calmly recalled to Dr. Simon her initial discomfort with the forced examination, but she also remembered a pleasant conversation with the alien doctor and their cordial farewell. The aliens returned the Hills to their car, blocking memories of the two "lost" hours. Betty's hypnotic account matched the notes she had written about her nightmares two years earlier. Barney's story under hypnosis was consistent in content with Betty's, but his sessions were marked by fearful agitation. He reported that aliens with "wraparound eyes" took a sample of his sperm.15 After seven months of treatment, Dr. Simon, who regarded the abduction a shared fantasy, decided that neither patient was psychotic, that they were sincere in their beliefs, and that both had benefited from therapy.
By 1965 the Hills had attracted enough attention to be featured in a series of articles on UFO abduction in a Boston newspaper. Saturday Review columnist John Fuller was developing their story for a two-part article for Look magazine (Oct. 4 and 18, 1966) and for his book, The Interrupted Journey (1966). In 1975, NBC-TV showed a prime-time movie, The UFO Incident, based on Fuller's book. James Earl Jones starred as Barney. The film's aliens were short and slightly built, with hairless heads and big black eyes. Barney described their skin as grayish in color, giving rise to the label "gray" for this type of ET and suggesting a symbolic offspring of the Hills' mixed marriage. A spate of alien abductions occurred shortly after the TV film (Sheaffer 1998: 75-77).16
In Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and ET The Extra- Terrestrial (1982), the saucers are huge round ships, surrounded by lights, landing and leaving at night. There are three kinds of aliens in Close Encounters, most resembling "grays" with slight bodies, hairless oblong heads, and large eyes. Most of Spielberg's contactees are seduced rather than kidnapped, the result of telepathically implanting in their minds an obsessive attraction to Devils Tower, Wyoming, the depot for departure.
During the mid-1980s, several sensational books, presented as nonfiction, explicated the phenomenon of alien abduction, including intrusive medical examinations and the extraction from unwilling donors of sperm and ova, to be used in fertility experiments. There were accounts of hybrid fetuses taken from pregnant women, and of hybrid children shown briefly to their human mothers but kept by the aliens (Strieber 1987; Hopkins 1981, 1987; Jacobs 1992; Mack 1994). According to this literature, abduction and hybridization are commonplace, but since the aliens induce amnesia, contactees are barely aware of their encounters until memories are restored under hypnosis. The most commercially successful of these books, leading the New York Times bestseller list by May 1987, was Communion by Whitney Strieber, a well-known author of horror fiction, who wrote of his own abduction and traumatic medical examination by aliens. A movie version of Communion, starring Christopher Walken, followed in 1989, and following that was a wave of reported abductions. 17
In 1994 then, the abduction phenomenon got an enormous boost from the trade publication of Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, by Dr. John E. Mack, a long-time professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1977 for a biography of T. E. Lawrence. Mack had been introduced to the abduction phenomenon in January 1990 by Budd Hopkins, an accomplished artist and amateur hypnotist who had worked with abductees for over a decade. In 1987 Hopkins had published Intruders, a book on the reality of alien abduction. By 1992, after Intruders was reshaped as a fictional TV movie, the lead character was a Mack-like psychiatrist (played by Richard Crenna) working with abductees. Both Mack and Hopkins were consultants on the film.
Dr. Mack provided a level of credibility that could not be approached by the likes of Hopkins or any other UFO believer. He provoked a storm of controversy at Harvard, including a Medical School investigation of his work with abductees, but tenure and the spirit of academic freedom preserved him from serious censure. In the paperback edition of his book, Mack slightly moderated the sensationalism of the original hardback, stating that he did not presume that everything abductees told him to be literally true. Still, he vigorously defended the credibility of abduction experiences until his death in 2004, struck by a bus in London. It remains puzzling why a physician of Mack's stature would espouse so implausible a phenomenon. He did have a history of flirting with dubious practices like Werner Erhard's EST and Stanislav Grof's "holotropic breathwork," a technique that allegedly accesses extraordinary states of consciousness. Whatever his motives, the Harvard professor and the mass media carried alien abduction a long way from the fabulous tale of Barney and Betty Hill.
There is no physical evidence associated with alien visitation or abduction that cannot be explained in ordinary terms. What we have is testimony from people like the Hills who insist that they personally experienced these events. Most do not suffer severe psychopathology (Clancy 2005). In the clinical laboratory, when their supposed abductions are brought to mind, these claimants show physiological signs of stress that are consistent with recall of a trauma. Apparently most of them truly believe they were kidnapped and sexual molested by extraterrestrials.
The major argument given to support the reality of alien abduction is that the stories told by unrelated abductees have a high degree of consistency on specific details. What are the broad commonalities? Most abduction occurs at night when the abductee is alone, usually in bed or asleep. Abductees often feel paralyzed while they are being taken. Some encounters happen while driving a lonely road in a remote area. Here are excerpts from Dr. Mack's description of common features:
[First] is an unexplained intense blue or white light that floods the bedroom, an odd buzzing or humming sound, unexplained apprehension, the sense of an unusual presence or even the direct sighting of one or more humanoid beings in the room, and, of course, the close-up sighting of a strange craft.. .. [T]he beam of light seems to serve as an energy source or "ramp" for transporting the abductee from the place where the abduction starts to a waiting vehicle. Usually the experience is accompanied by one, two, or more humanoid beings who guide them to the ship .... When abductions begin in the bedroom, the experiencer may not initially see the spacecraft, which is the source of the light and is outside the house .... They are described as silvery or metallic and cigar-, or saucer-, or dome-shaped. Strong white, blue, orange, or red light emanates from the bottom of the craft...and also from porthole-like openings that that ring its outer edge .... Once inside ... they are taken into one or more larger rooms where the various procedures will occur. These rooms are brightly lit, with a hazy luminosity from indirect light.... Computer-like consoles and other equipment and instruments line the sides of the rooms, which may have balconies and various levels and alcoves .... The ambiance is generally sterile and cold, mechanistic and hospital-like ....
Inside the ships the abductees usually witness more alien beings ... of several sorts. They appear as tall or short luminous entities that may be translucent, or at least not altogether solid .... By far the most common entity observed are the small ... humanoid beings three to four feet in height.... The leader is usually felt to be [larger and] male .... Gender difference is not determined so much anatomically as by an intuitive feeling that abductees find difficult to put into words.
The small [aliens] have large, pear-shaped heads that protrude in the back, long arms with three or four long fingers, a thin torso, and spindly legs .... The beings are hairless with no ears, have rudimentary nostril holes, and a thin slit for a mouth which rarely opens or is expressive of emotion. By far the most prominent features are huge, black eyes which curve upward and are more rounded toward the center of the head and pointed at the outer edge .... In addition to boots, the aliens usually wear a form-fitting, single-piece, tuniclike garment, which is sparsely adorned .... Communication between the aliens and humans is experienced as telepathic, mind to mind or thought to thought....
The abductee is usually undressed and is forced [onto a] table where the procedures occur ......... Extensive surgical-like procedures done inside the head have been described ....... The most common, and evidently most important procedures, involve the reproductive system. Instruments that penetrate the abdomen or involve the genital organs themselves are used to take sperm samples from men and to remove or fertilize eggs of the female. Abductees report being impregnated by the alien beings and later having an alien-human or human-human pregnancy removed. They see the little fetuses being put into containers on the ships, and during subsequent abductions may see incubators where the hybrid babies are being raised .... The other important, related aspect of the abduction phenomenon has to do with the ... alteration of consciousness of the abductees .... [This] concerns the fate of the earth and human responsibility for the destructive activities that are taking place on it. ... [T]elevision monitor-like screens on the ships [show] ... scenes of the earth devastated by a nuclear holocaust, [and] vast panoramas of lifeless polluted landscapes and waters ...
How, psychiatrist Mack asks, could there be so much agreement about the abduction experience "told by individuals who had not been in communication with each other" if they had not actually been abducted?
Referring to the seventy-six abductees he studied from mid-1990 to early 1993, Mack writes, "[M]ost of the specific information that the abductees provided about the means of transport to and from spaceships, the descriptions of the insides of the ships themselves, and the procedures carried out by the aliens during the reported abductions had not been written about or shown in the media" (1-2). But later Mack (1994: 23) discredits his own argument, acknowledging that detailed information was easily available: "The procedures that occur on the [space] ships have been described in great detail in the literature on abductions; Hopkins." Many if not all of Mack's patients had plenty of opportunity, before they met him, to personally share details with other UFO believers. Some patients were referred to him through the UFO network; some had relatives who were abductees. In all thirteen cases that Mack describes in detail, the subject associated with other believers or read abduction literature before meeting the psychiatrist. Once subjects became patients, many joined other abductees in group support sessions. Dr. Mack was disingenuous in claiming their stories were derived independently.
Even if abductees were isolated from other believers, and had never read the believer literature, they share the popular images of aliens, spaceships, and abductions that were by 1990 part of contemporary American culture. Their message about the sorrowful fate of the earth, unless humans correct their behavior, is a distant echo of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Their common memory of television screens on alien craft, showing scenes of the earth devastated by a nuclear holocaust, and panoramas of destroyed landscapes, comes from the finale of director James Cameron's titanic motion picture, The Abyss (1989), starring Ed Harris, which was playing only months before Mack started hypnotizing abductees. These images are so widely available that people who make no claim to abduction produce similar scenarios when asked to imagine they had been kidnapped by aliens.
Abduction believers exaggerate the extent to which the accounts are consistent. Emphasizing their discrepancies, psychologist Susan Clancy writes (2005: 82-83):
They vary enormously in details such as how people get "taken" (through walls; sucked up by beams of light; ushered into UFOs), what the aliens look like (tall; short; pads on their fingers; suction cups on their fingers; webbed hands; nonwebbed hands), what they wear (nothing; orange overalls; silver track suits; black scarf and cap), what type of examination is done (needles stuck in nose; intestines pulled out; anal "nubbins" inserted; feet examined with manicure scissors), what type of sexual activity ensues ("he mounted me"; "a rotating ball massaged me"; "my eggs were taken"; "she was beautiful, with cherry-red pubic hair"; "sperm was sucked from my penis by a machine"), what the purpose of the abduction is (human colonization; hybridization; education; communication; world destruction; world peace), why people get chosen (''I'm very intuitive"; "we're all abducted"; "I'm the chosen one"; "they wouldn't tell me").
Given the choice between a commonplace explanation and a fantastic explanation for the provenance of abduction images, why do so many people believe the fantastic option? Or do they? Surely some tellers of these tales know they are fibbing. There is a strong profit motive and the lure of celebrity if you can create a sensation, appear on TV, sell your story to a publisher, and be portrayed in a movie. John Mack, Whitney Strieber, and Barney and Betty Hill attained all these rewards. Strieber is by profession a best-selling writer of fantasy literature. Some abductees may be motivated simply by the fun of a gag or a desire for attention.
Leaving aside fraudulent claimants and hoaxers, abductees tend to be troubled and impressionable people who are open to mystical beliefs, prone to fantasy and memory distortion, and are hypnotizable (Clancy 2005). Indeed, it is nearly always under hypnosis or a similar technique that they discover they were abducted. Some regression hypnotists blatantly lead their clients to this end, so let us look more closely at John Mack, a professionally trained psychiatrist of high repute.
On first contacting Dr. Mack, many patients had only vague notions of possibly being abducted, perhaps because of flash memories or hours of time unaccounted for. After an initial interview, Mack used hypnosis or relaxation methods to regress the memory of patients back to the suspected abductions, on the theory that suppressed details could be brought to consciousness. Some recalled only a single encounter but usually they remembered recurrent encounters, often beginning in childhood or infancy, and in at least one case - Eva - from a prior life when she was a rich merchant living in Morocco during the thirteenth century (p. 252).
Hypnosis is not fully understood but generally requires a relaxed patient who willingly defers to the hypnotist and complies with his suggestions, whether given explicitly or implicitly. Mack insisted that he did not bias his patients, but occasionally he admitted directing their past-life regressions (1994: 186, 190). His known sympathy for the reality of UFO abduction could by itself have biased subjects. Sometimes another abductee or guest was present during hypnosis (p. 266). Mack sent articles about aliens to at least one perspective subject before their first session. This woman, a writer named Donna Bassett, was a poseur who under hypnosis told Mack preposterous stories about meeting Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy on a flying saucer. Mack never detected her fakery. Imaginative patients and biased or gullible hypnotists easily transform ordinary memories into exotic fantasies.
Ed is a technician of tradition Catholic upbringing who is interested in science and technology, practices meditation, studied Eastern philosophy "in his struggle to find his authentic path," feels he can "talk to plants," and is interested in alien intelligence. During the summer of 1989, after a visit to the Maine coast, Ed had "flashback" memories of an earlier visit to the coast in 1961 when he was in high school. While attending a UFO conference, other conferees suggested Ed contact Dr. Mack.
At their initial session, Ed recounted one night during his 1961 visit to Maine. He and a boyfriend were going to sleep in their car by the coast, talking about how "horny" they were and speculating about great encounters they would have at the beach. The next thing he knew, he was naked in a glass-bubbled "pod." With Ed in the pod was a small, slight female figure with long, straight, thin silvery-blond hair .... The female entity had a small mouth and nose, intense large dark eyes, and a "sort of "triangular" shaped head with a "largish" forehead .... He found her "attractively unusual" and felt "a little self-conscious." The figure, perhaps sensing this, "gave me some sort of blanket or big towel or something ... " Ed was sexually excited, and the female being "sensed my hominess." Although he was "hazy" as to how this came about, Ed said, "we had intercourse." According to Ed this act was "similar" to human sexual intercourse with "fondling of the breasts," insertion of the penis in the vagina, and active participation by both individuals. Interestingly, although Ed was a virgin at this time, he did not recall this experience and still felt himself to be a virgin when he had sexual intercourse some time later (Mack 1994: 39).
Afterward the female imparted to Ed some information about the "heavily destructive" path humans were taking on the earth. Eleven weeks later, using hypnotic relaxation, Dr. Mack regressed Ed to that night in 1961. Now he recalls seeing one or two figures through the car windows, a "couple of human sort of things, but cripes, their eyes are big!" Ed feels himself drifting out of the car, floating toward and into a luminescent domelike pod. He is in a surgery theater where there are observers. The head doctor is the sexy female with silvery hair and large black eyes without pupils. She fills his mind with erotic escapades, forcing his arousal. But this time, she refuses him intercourse, telling Ed that they need his sperm to create special babies. A tube is placed over Ed's penis. Relaxed, he experiences a rubbing sensation - perhaps her hand -- and ejaculates. The female doctor congratulates Ed on giving a good sample. Afterward, the female imparts information about the apocalyptic future of the earth because of human stupidity.
How do we interpret Ed's stories? For Mack, they are recollections of a real abduction. Ed's second version, under hypnosis, is stranger and fuller in detail but also inconsistent with the first version about whether or not he had intercourse with the sexy alien. In Mack's view, "the information recalled painstakingly under hypnosis is more reliable than the consciously recalled story" (54).
But perhaps the teenage Ed simply had a wet dream, later reified under the influence of UFO believers and embellished with media images. His story is remarkably like one in the popular science magazine Omni, about a young Brazilian man, Jocelino de Mattos, who sighted a hovering UFO and lost consciousness.
On the hypnotist's couch, Jocelino soon remembered boarding the UFO. "The aliens asked me to lie down, and as I did so, they examined me .... Then, after the examination, they collected sperm (through a tube). They made me sit down on a kind of a table .... After some minutes a woman arrived in the room. She touched me. She caressed me, and it excited me. Then we started to make love."The woman looked human, the young abductee added, and he was able to complete the act. The aliens released him sometime later, after explaining ... that they had come on a mission of peace .18
Sometimes the conflation of abduction memories with mass media images is so blatant that it is hard to believe the psychiatrist could miss it. Free-spirited Catherine, a twenty-two-year-old music student and nightclub receptionist, was in a career crisis. Leaving work, she took a midnight drive and on returning home thought there was a forty-five-minute period for which she could not account. The next day's news told of a UFO seen the previous night in the area where she had driven. Her mother was a UFO believer and perhaps they discussed the coincidence. Catherine called Dr. Mack, by then known for his work with abductees, and told him of the puzzling episode. He noted of their original conversation that "she had recently been reading about UFOs and [she said] 'halfway hoping to see one and halfway hoping I don't'" (1994: 130).
In May 1992 Catherine watched the television movie Intruders, in which Richard Crenna plays the Mack-like psychiatrist. 19 Shortly afterward, Catherine and Mack began eight months of hypnosis and relaxation sessions. Around this time she read David Jacobs's book, Secret Lives, on alien abduction (Mack 1994: 134, 149, 154). Her early images are reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind: a huge discus-like craft with lights around its rim, the presence of small glowing aliens, ascending a 45-degree ramp to enter the spaceship. Later sessions are darker as Catherine seemingly attributes to herself events portrayed in Intruders by the television film's two fictional female abductees. Everything in the following paragraph is reported by Mack as Catherine's memories, and all of it appears explicitly in Intruders:
At age seven she is brought into a flying ship where an alien cuts her with a medical-like instrument, drawing blood. By adulthood she has been abducted repeatedly, placed on a table in a spaceship, and examined by terrifying large-eyed doctors who are taller than other aliens. Overcoming her resistance, they spread her legs and examine her genitals. In one instance a long instrument is placed into her vagina, in another instance an instrument is inserted through her nostril, later evidenced by a nosebleed. The examiners are either taking samples or implanting something. In one episode she is brought into a room where cases are stacked in rows, floor to ceiling, each containing a baby creature, suspended in liquid. The place is an incubatorium where hybridfetuses are nourished. In the climactic episode, an extractor is inserted in her vagina to withdraw an unusually well-developed fetus that has gestated three or four months. The examiner informs the mother that she should be proud. As finale, an alien nurse shows a hybrid child to the abductee. At this end point we have a difference between Mack's real-life patient and the television film. Catherine is repulsed by the baby. The abductee in Intruders realizes that the child is her own and embraces it lovingly.
Granted that alien encounters have recurrent themes, and there are common media images in virtually all abduction accounts, the correlation here is extraordinary. A drawing by Catherine, depicting her experience, seems a composite of Close Encounters and Intruders . Her multi-tiered incubatorium is as shown in the movie, the babies in each case "all in liquid .... The heads are large and in the same proportion to the bodies as the alien figures themselves".Could Mack have been oblivious to the coincidence between her hypnotic tales and a film she had seen only weeks earlier, on which he was a consultant and the model for its lead character?
Everyone studying abductees emphasizes that they are not generally psychopathic, but I would add that they are not generally untroubled individuals or hard-nosed rationalists either. Many seemeccentric or odd. Clancy writes of her abductee subjects, "If I compare them to the well-educated readers of university press books like this one, then the abductees are about 1.5 standard deviations from the norm, on a continuum I'll tentatively label 'weirdness'" .As a group, Clancy's subjects scored high on a construct called "schizotypy," a tendency to look and think eccentrically and a proneness to "magical" thinking and odd beliefs, such as certain numbers having special powers (2005: 129). Mack's detailed cases reveal severe emotional problems, and he was struck by how many abductees came from broken homes or had one or more alcoholic parents. People who report extreme abduction experiences are fantasy-prone and subject to memory distortion. They are highly impressionable and amenable to social influence, as best indicated by their susceptibility to hypnosis. If typical rationalist readers of this book think "there is no way I would ever believe I was abducted by aliens," they are probably correct.
Troubled individuals who uncritically entertain fantastical and other-worldly experiences, who have been exposed to alien images, and who are socially malleable, are ripe for abduction. Add to this mix a hypnotist or other therapist who (perhaps unwittingly) encourages subjects to imagine themselves in fictional actions. Such scenarios, discussed with a spouse or friends or authority figures who believe in UFOs, become validated as genuine memories. Like most conversions, it is a gradual process changing fantasy into actuality. These are the necessary components for abduction, but additional elements may come into play.
Most abduction memories begin with the victims in bed, either asleep or nearly asleep. The encounter starts with an awareness of unusual light or the feel an alien presence. William James discussed this "sense of presence" in The Varieties of Religious Experience, quoting one of his intimate friends:
It was about September, 1884, when I had the first experience. On the previous night I had had, after getting into bed at my rooms in College, a vivid tactile hallucination of being grasped by the arm, which made me get up and search the room for an intruder; the sense of presence properly so called came on the next night. After I had got into bed and blown out the candle, I lay awake awhile thinking on the previous night's experience, when suddenly I felt something come into the room and stay close to my bed .... I did not recognize it by any ordinary sense, and yet there was a horribly unpleasant "sensation" connected with it. It stirred something more at the roots of my being than any ordinary perception.
Depending on the cultural setting and the predisposition of the person in bed, this presence may be Satan, a witch or incubus, a missing loved one, or an alien: What I felt that night was ... overwhelming ... terrifying There was something in the room with me. All I can say is that it happened to me I felt them. Aliens (quoted in Clancy 2005: 47).
The nighttime sense of presence is often accompanied by a feeling of physical immobility:
I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified, like I'd been having a nightmare .... I tried to yell for help, but I couldn't because I couldn't move .... I felt like something was in the room watching me, but all I could see was the gray shapes (quoted in Clancy 2005: 54).
This too is a known phenomenon at the boundary that separates sleeping from being awake. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when dreaming usually occurs, the body becomes inert.21 Even automatic reflexes, like kicking when the knee is tapped, are inactivated. Normally body movement returns as soon as REM sleep ends. Occasionally there is poor coordination, producing a brief period of wakefulness while the limbs are still immobilized. Called "sleep paralysis," this fairly common experience is conducive to imagining that malevolent beings have control over one's body.
Sleep paralysis is an addendum, not a full explanation. Obviously it is irrelevant if someone is fully awake, as Barney and Betty Hill were during their imagined abductions. A nighttime episode of dream-like paralysis might plant the seed of an alien encounter, but most full blown memories do not emerge until they are fertilized by a therapist (Clancy 2005: 57-59).
Recapping once again, it appears that most beliefs are adopted through social influence, first during childhood socialization; later from friends, spouse, and the surrounding community. It is not that people are thoughtless chameleons, but that our thinking is influenced importantly by those closest to us and secondarily by the broader social milieu, including the mass media. Each of us is capable of reaching conclusions by the purely cognitive exercise of our mind, apart from the constraints and pressures of society, but that is not the most frequent source of attitudes and beliefs.
One of the most common approaches in sociology and anthropology is to examine UFO accounts as integral parts of society and/or culture. The underlying assumption is that UFO beliefs come into being and flourish in a culture that is congenial to their existence and draw their materials from already existing traditions. UFOs must be related to the matrix in which they occur and thrive. Culture, it is maintained, plays a key role not only in spreading the ideology behind UFO narratives, but also in influencing those who report UFO sightings of, and contacts with, their alien occupants. To what extent this influence actually determines UFO phenomena is a debatable issue. Attempts to show that a relationship exists between UFO phenomena and some cultural elements, such as contemporary technology and folklore, are common in sociological literature.
John Spencer, observes that the apparent development of UFO has tended to very closely mirror the development of our own technology. Spencer observes that, for instance, by the early 1950s, movies about UFOs began to display the fears of a nuclear war. He concludes that the possible relationship between our technology and that of alien beings explains why the study of the cultural influences on contactees is at least as important as their reports.
Another cultural element that must be taken into account when dealing with UFO reports is contemporary science fiction. The theme of scientifically advanced extraterrestrial creatures who visit the Earth for various purposes is common both in literature and in the cinema. Nigel Watson, reviewing the movies that are based on flying saucers and alien beings, remarks that ufologists have tended to ignore the influence of the cinema on our perception of UFO phenomena, whilst filmmakers have largely ignored the wealth of material within the UFO literature that could bring new insights into the human conditions on the screen.
One of the advantages of this theory is that it simplifies matters by relating the UFO phenomenon to one important and pervading cultural item, be it technology or science fiction. Its main weakness is that it fails to realize that UFOs present a more complex problem. Science fiction stories, unlike so many UFO contacts, rarely have religious and/or philosophical implications. In some instances, particularly in religious movements like the Aetherius Society, UFO technology is interwoven with the religious messages and spiritual techniques that the aliens are believed to impart.
Thus flying saucers, once formulated, becomes a stereotyped cultural idea, which is transmitted through the news media and buttressed by new experts and authorities in the field. Conceptions about unidentified flying objects and their pilots are part of a worldview that has both emotional and intellectual implications. They become slogans and social constructs and are disseminated through the usual sociocultural channels. Belief in UFOs, therefore, does not necessarily need to depend on actual sighting or contact nor on indisputable empirical evidence.
The emergence and popularity of UFO sightings and contacts are analogous to other beliefs and convictions in Western culture. Hilary Evans, who has made important contributions to the study of anomalous phenomena, compares the modem interest in flying saucers to the witchcraft craze of the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries and thinks that they serve both a psychological and cultural purpose. He outlines several principal responses to UFOs, responses that are embedded in culture. The skeptic's rebuttal of the claims of many ufologists is just one type of reaction that can be labeled the "negative obsession of the unbeliever," which is a widespread phenomenon in the West. Evans observes that there are different cultural responses to UFOs and concludes that UFOs reflect public preoccupations.
One possible sociological approach argues that the social status of individuals is the main element that must be explored in order to understand UFO reports and contacts. One variety of this interpretation is known as the status inconsistency theory. This hypothesis is based on the observation that in highly stratified societies individuals may occupy incompatible statuses or roles. Four important social statuses are distinguished: income, occupational prestige, education, and ethnicity. A person, for example, may occupy a position of little prestige, while having the educational background that qualifies him or her for greater respect from the community. In this case the individual experiences discrepancy and contradiction between education and public consideration. This may lead to resentment and to the desire for change in one's social condition or private life. Status inconsistency, which is a form of marginality and alienation, can result, therefore, in the lack of predictable behavioral reactions, as well as in psychological stress and cognitive dissonance.
Reports of these mysterious extraterrestrial aircraft could be ways in which some individuals break out of the social order which, in their estimation, is not giving them the place and attention they deserve and is, thus, a source of frustration.
But a standard sociological approach to UFO cultic beliefs is to link them with a broader range of beliefs common to new religious movements. There is disagreement as to whether UFOs are genuine religious phenomena, or see the rise of UFO reports as another reaction to the secularization and rationalism of Western society. Interest in UFOs as a sign that people are rejecting a false faith in modern science. Or that people are returning to a pseudo religious perspective of the nature and origin of the human species, an outlook that belonged to an earlier, prescientific era and must be judged to be a degenerative move towards irrationalism, which can only be held at bay by education.
Others, however, consider UFO reports as an instance of the many encounters with the supranormal, encounters which, in the past, were usually interpreted as diabolical, and can lead us to understand the nature of "homo religiosus."
Ronald Story has made some important contributions to the understanding of UFOs as a religious phenomenon. Though he finds von Daeniken's theory to be faulty from both anthropological and archaeological points of view, he observes that it carries a certain "von Daeniken mystique." He thinks that its appeal lies in its apparent success at reconciling modem science with a literal interpretation of the Bible, in its offer of a view of salvation that is more in harmony with modem scientific progress, and in its treatment of the problem of good and evil in a personal fashion. His view is reminiscent of Levi Strauss's structural analysis of myth, in the sense that it looks on mythology as a human effort to deal with the problems and contradictions of life.
Also John Saliba focuses on those qualities that make the UFO phenomenon religious. Religious themes that pervade UFO literature, namely (1) mystery, (2) transcend Family; (3) the Institute for Cosmic Research; (4) Light Affiliates; (5) Human Individual Metamorphosis; and 6) the Aetherius Society. Some of these groups are now extinct. The group that calls itself Human Individual Metamorphosis is still in existence, though its membership, which was never very high, has dropped sharply since its heyday in the mid 1970s. The Aetherius Society, is a well-organized and wellknown UFO group and has been in existence since the mid 1950s. In spite of its presence in several continents and its many publications and advertised activities, the Aetherius Society never seems to have attracted a large number of adherents.
The tendency among sociologists and anthropologists alike is to question or reject psychological and psychiatric explanations of UFO phenomenon. Social scientists differ from many psychologists and psychiatrists in that the former dismiss as unsatisfactory the view that flying saucers are simply anornalistic phenomena and that, consequently, UFO beliefs and experiences belong to the field of pathology. The argument implicitly advanced in sociological studies is that, because so many cultural and social factors accompany flying saucers, their appearance cannot be adequately interpreted with reference to individual, aberrational psychological traits. It is, therefore, not surprising to find that sociologists and anthropologists are less likely to conclude that UFO sighters and contactees are unbalanced individuals and to categorically state that UFO vehicles are illusions.
Social and behavioral scientists have raised several issues regarding the meaning of UFO sightings and encounters, issues which have hardly surfaced in popular literature and are usually ignored or downplayed by ufologists. They have changed the more customary focus of UFO investigations, which is to verify UFO reports by suggesting that, since the UFO problem is not likely to be resolved in the near future, there is more to be gained by examining their sociopsychological significance. The meaning of the flying saucer phenomenon might lie more in its social and psychological dimensions than whether extraterrestrials exist or not, or in what the aliens themselves are supposedly saying and doing. In other words, belief in flying saucers and alleged encounters with their occupants might reveal something important about human nature, the study of which is, in fact, central to the social, psychological, and psychiatric disciplines.
One common theory advanced to explain UFO sightings is that they are the result of human perception, which can distort ordinary celestial objects into something strange, mysterious, or alien. Perception is the process by which coherence and unity are given to sensory input. It synthesizes human sensations into an intelligible form. It, therefore, includes not only physical, physiological, neurological, and sensory components, but also cognitive and affective ones. Because so many UFO sightings occur at night, the chances of misinterpreting common aspects of the night sky are increased. Anticipation, motivation, knowledge, and belief are also important contributors to the way people perceive objects.
1. "The Invaders," by Richard Matheson, January 27, 1961, http://tzone.the-croc. corn/twilightl.html.
2. Orson Welles became famous, getting the opportunity to make Citizen Kane, often regarded the greatest movie of all time.
3. See Peebles (1995) for a thorough history of the UFO movement.
4. See Moseley and Pflock (2002) for a first-hand account of UFO activists, their activities, hoaxes, promotions, and general weirdness.
5. The entire Blue Book file, numbering some 80,000 pages, was made conveniently available for public access only in 2005 (Rios 2005). See http://www.bluebookarchive.org/.
6. A passage in Hynek (1974: 30) suggests he was outside the intelligence loop.
7. Since Hatch's pre-1970 counts are partly derived from Blue Book counts, it is unsurprising that the two are highly correlated (r = .77) for the period 1948-68. After 1969, with the Blue Book registry gone, the collection of UFO reports may have been less effective, contributing to the subsequent appearance of generally lower counts. This downward counting bias, if it exists, should not affect the detection of post-1969 years with extremely high or low sighting activity.
8. Larry Hatch learned of some sightings from news reports, raising the possibility that the indicators are correlated as an artifact of joint measurement. However, since most sightings are not reported in the national news, and most national news stories are not about particular sightings, any methodological conflation must be slight.
9. This issue otherwise commanded attention for its alluring cover photograph of starlet Marilyn Monroe. A year later, Monroe's far more famous nude photo would appear in the new Playboy magazine.
10. Online newspaper archives for the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune show the same July-August peak.
11. Online newspaper archives show ads for The Day the Earth Stood Still in the Washington Post as late as July 3, 1952, and in the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1952.
12. Online archives of the Washington Post, Chicago Tribute, and Los Angeles Times show the same peak of coverage in 1997.
13. Philip Klass (1997) has meticulously documented and debunked the Roswell myth, seemingly without effect.
14. Early imitators were Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978) and It Conquered the World (1956).
15. Kottmeyer 1990) notes that similar looking aliens appeared twelve days prior to Barney's hypnosis session in an episode of the television series The Outer Limits.
16. Barney Hill died in 1969. Betty continued to see UFOs, having a favorite "landing site" in southern New Hampshire where she often went to watch them, sometimes bringing reporters and other observers along. Ufologist John Oswald once accompanied her and reported that Mrs. Hill was "seeing things that are not UFOs and calling them UFOs." Once, according to Oswald, she was unable to "distinguish between a landed UFO and a streetlight" (quoted in Sheaffer 1998: 74). Betty continued having paranormal experiences until her death in 2004.
17. Strieber continued publishing books in a fantastic genre, including The Day After Tomorrow, a highly successful novel about the sudden coming of a new ice age brought on by global warming; it became a major motion picture, released in 2004. Given Strieber's prolific career of fantasy writing, it is a hard guess