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Volume 38

The Skeptics UFO Newsletter

Philip J. Klass

March 1, 1996

This volume is available as a PDF file. Download »

NOVA’s TV Documentary On UFO Abductions Evokes Harsh Criticism From “Abduction Guru” Hopkins

“Kidnapped By UFOs?”—an hour-long NOVA TV documentary which aired on the Public Broadcasting System network on Feb. 27—was the first of many TV shows on this subject to take a skeptical stance and offer prosaic alternative explanations. The documentary was produced for PBS by its Boston affiliate, WGBH, after more than a year of research.

Although nearly half the program was devoted to UFO-abduction gurus Budd Hopkins and Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack, as well as some of their “abductees,” NOVA/WGBH also included respected psychologists with expertise in “false memories” and hypnosis who offered prosaic explanations for abduction tales. This prompted Hopkins to issue a vitriolic denunciation of the NOVA program several days before it aired. And Dr. Mack reportedly made a last-minute attempt to get NOVA to delete one segment showing how he had been “taken in” by a hoaxer. [Hopkins is easily angered by those who challenge his views. After SUN’s editor appeared briefly with Hopkins and two of his “abductees” on the Oprah Winfrey TV talk show on May 22, 1987, Hopkins vehemently declared he would never again appear with me on a radio/TV talk show, or communicate with me—a “pledge” he has kept.]

In Hopkins’ sharp attack on the PBS program, he accused NOVA of “many systematic deceptions, distortions, and omissions [and] the denigration of thousands of decent, mentally sound people who have reported UFO abductions.” Hopkins charged that abductees who agreed to appear on the NOVA program were “rewarded [for] their bravery and generous spirit of cooperation by NOVA’s implication that all of them were either deluded, hallucinating, or simply weak-minded...” In truth, not one of the subjects was ridiculed by the NOVA narrator or by any of the skeptical experts who offered possible prosaic explanations. (But NOVA did question the views of Hopkins and Mack.)

Dr. Michael Persinger, a Canadian neuro-scientist, said that his studies of “abductees” indicates they are “individuals who are more creative. They are individuals who have a problem and think that somehow they are different....Fundamentally they're normal except they have unusual creativity, and that also means suggestibility.” Persinger described experiments with “normal people” who were put into a darkened chamber in which they could see a Christ-like cross and heard Gregorian Chant music, and were encouraged to verbalize their thoughts. “The themes of their narratives were primarily religious,” Persinger said. But when the cross was was replaced with an image of earth and music from the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was played, “suddenly the themes changed to spaceships and alien encounters,” Persinger said.

Hopkins Falsely Accuses NOVA Of Falsehood

Hopkins charged that “people who trust NOVA will also unknowingly accept falsehoods such as the following as true: NOVA said that after the film ‘Close Encounters’ appeared [in late 1977], the number of UFO sightings increased, an example of the media’s generating ‘false reports.’ But in fact, during that time, the number of new sightings eventually decreased.” [Emphasis added.] NOVA, which made no mention of media generating “false reports,” said that “in the year following its release, UFO encounter reports surged.” The facts are that in 1978, the Hynek Center for UFO Studies received 1,669 UFO sighting reports, an 85% increase over the number of UFO reports CUFOS received in 1977, the year before the movie was released. (SUN’s data are from a 1981 letter from Allan Hendry, who was then chief investigator for CUFOS.)

Hopkins Demonstrates His “Investigative Techniques”

NOVA accompanied Hopkins to Florida to investigate a potential abduction case involving a young, upper-middle-class woman (Jody), her four-year-old son and (roughly) two- year-old daughter. Hopkins said he was happy to demonstrate his investigative protocol on camera for NOVA “so the process can be made available to other investigators, scientists and mental health people.” NOVA reported that “Jody first began to fear for her son and daughter three years ago after she read Hopkins’ best-selling book ‘Intruders.'” Jody said: “I don’t want to believe my kids are being abducted. I’d rather believe that there is something wrong with my mind.”

SUN Comment: If Jody heeds NOVA’s skeptical experts, she need not fear either for her children or about her own mental health, but SUN doubts that she will do so.

NOVA filmed Hopkins sitting down with four-year-old Ryan and showing him sketches of Santa Claus, Batman and a traditional bald-headed ET with large black eyes. When Hopkins asked Ryan if he had “ever seen anything like that [ET] before,” the child shook his head to indicate he had not. But Hopkins persists and asks the four-year-old boy to make up a story about the ET. Ryan complies and says: “He comes upstairs and sees a person sleeping with his eyes closed and he walks him down the stairs....Then he usually leads him up another step and then he makes him land....I bet someone took me.” Hopkins says: “I bet somebody took me, that’s right.” Hopkins concludes: “It may be a coincidence, of course, it may not mean anything. But also it may mean if there is (sic) some abduction events going on in his life that there’s a kind of unconscious memory coming through.” Later, when Hopkins asks two-year-old Paula if she has ever seen someone resembling his ET sketch, she responds: “Yuh, uh, eyes.” When Hopkins asks where she has seen him, Paula answers: “Ya see um outside.”

Perhaps Your Elbow Will Remember

Later, when Hopkins used hypnosis on the mother to obtain her recollections of UFO abduction, NOVA shows Hopkins telling Jody: “I want you to tell me how your body feels. It has its own memories and they're almost separate from the memories of your mind. The body remembers how it feels.” Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, an internationally recognized researcher in the “false memory syndrome,” after being shown NOVA’s videotape of this Hopkins hypnosis session, commented: “One of the obvious things is that he’s pressing her for more details....It’s an encouragement to elaborate, to imagine. Later on, he’s going to help her interpret these mental products as if they are actual experiences.” As for Hopkins’ claim that a person’s body “has its own memories,” Loftus said: “There is no good scientific support...that our bodies are remembering things that our mind does not.” After viewing Hopkins’ session with young Ryan, Loftus commented: “It’s the first few steps...to the creation of a false memory of being abducted.”

As Hopkins leaves Jody’s house, he sums up his assessment of the case: “I think it’s a very, very good case....four different people....each one talking about experiences which suggest abductions from very different points of view.”

Dr. Robert Baker, retired University of Kentucky professor of psychology, recalled for NOVA that during the Middle Ages people told similar tales of nocturnal visits and sexual molestation but the visitors were then said to be small demons or devils rather than today’s ETs. Baker noted that persons under hypnosis are especially suggestible and provided a demonstration for NOVA to show how readily a subject seemingly can “recall” details of a spurious tale.

John Velez, a graphic artist and one of Hopkins’ “abductees,” described his own harrowing experience with a USO (Unidentified Submerged Object): “I was taken to some underwater facility....a huge dome, underwater dome....You could probably fit 10 football fields into this thing....They removed my eye completely; they allowed it to hang off on the right side of my face like this....this probe that they had came from the ceiling and they inserted the probe.”

Mack Tries To Censor NOVA Documentary

According to an article in the Feb. 27 edition of The Boston Herald, Dr.John Mack characterized the NOVA documentary as “unconscionable” and charged that “the effect of this program is to try to discourage anybody from taking the reality of this phenomenon seriously.” According to the article, “Mack has demanded that NOVA cut out a four-minute interview with [Donna] Bassett, a demand that a NOVA producer yesterday said had been denied.” Donna Bassett, posing as an “abductee,” under regressive hypnosis by Mack on Nov. 19, 1992, described how she had been abducted during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and found herself with President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev aboard a flying saucer [SUN #28/July 1994]. She described how she had sat on Khrushchev’s lap, trying to reassure the crying Soviet leader that nuclear war would not occur. At this point in the hypnosis session Mack commented: “You know, a lot of people believe that this whole abduction business is some form of divine intervention. And what better way to do it than to pull Kennedy and Khrushchev.” Mack then asked Donna: “Was [Defense Secretary] McNamara there?”

Donna Bassett’s account of the hoax was revealed by Time magazine in its April 25, 1994, issue. Shortly afterward, when Mack (and SUN’s editor) appeared on Cable News Network’s “Crossfire” TV show, Mack indicated he was unsure whether Donna’s story of meeting Kennedy and Khrushchev aboard a flying saucer was true or not. In the segment which Mack tried to get NOVA to delete, he reveals that he remains ambivalent as to whether Donna’s abduction story is true. But in the interview with The Boston Herald, Mack dismisses Donna Bassett as a “wacko.”

EVEN IF MACK'S HARSH CHARACTERIZATION WERE TRUE (and SUN—having since met Donna— believes it is not), THE INCIDENT PROVES THAT THE EXPERIENCED HARVARD PSYCHIATRIST IS UNABLE TO DISTINGUISH A “TRUE ABDUCTEE” FROM A “WACKO” OR A HOAXER. No wonder Mack demanded that NOVA delete this segment.

Mack told NOVA: “We're dealing with a phenomenon which...operates in this gray area between the physical world and the subjective or mythic...where we're being asked to prove this by the methods of physical science alone. But those methods, in my view, will not yield its secrets.”

The NOVA documentary concluded with Dr. Carl Sagan expressing concern about “the absence of skeptical thinking—not just by the so-called abductees but on the part of the therapists.” Sagan added that to abandon scientific methodology “with its skeptical protocols is the pathway to a dark age.”

Media Reaction

As this issue of SUN is being written, we have few news media reviews of the NOVA documentary. However, The Wall Street Journal’s TV reviewer, Dorothy Rabinowitz, offered the following preview commentary in the Feb. 22 edition: “NOVA looks into the fantasies of alleged abductees now finding a wide audience for their stories of victimization by rampaging aliens. The film begins, seductively enough, with respectfully reported introductions to the principals trafficking in these hallucinations—people like the graphic artist John, whose busy abductors took semen from his genitals and also, we learn, removed John’s eye. Here, too, is the self-styled therapist Budd Hopkins, who has made a bundle flogging books of gibberish about alien visitors and their victims. We meet, not least, Harvard University psychiatrist John Mack, now famous for his efforts to advance the cause of irrationality in our times. Dr. Mack, who gives credence to the alien-encounter experience, will likely not be pleased with this film, which proceeds to demolish the claims of the various hucksters, charlatans, assorted exhibitionists and garden-variety nitwits immersed in humbug about alien abductors—and does so with quietly killing authority. On hand to help out are Carl Sagan, sociologist Richard Ofshe, memory expert Elizabeth Loftus and psychologist Robert Baker—dead shots, all.”

The New York Times review of Feb. 27 was favorable if less caustic. It said the new NOVA documentary “makes a companion piece to the memorable ‘Frontline’ reports of how so-called repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse have been elicited or produced under pressure.” The Washington Post did not review or preview the NOVA documentary. However, two years ago The Post did feature a lengthy preview of the CBS mini-series “Intruders,” promoting belief in UFO abductions. Tom Shales, who authored the May 16, 1992, preview wrote: “CBS says the film is based on 600 ‘actual accounts’ by folks who think it happened to them. Sound too incredible to be true? Nothing is too incredible to be true....Results of a recent Roper poll indicate that 2 percent of the population think they might be abductees.” [Emphasis added.]

Hopkins, Mack Should Consult “Original Abductee” Betty Hill

Hopkins and Mack criticize the NOVA documentary on the grounds that some of its skeptical experts lack extensive first-hand familiarity with “the abduction experience.” That criticism can NOT be leveled against BETTY HILL whose own (alleged) abduction, along with husband Barney, was the first to achieve international fame three decades ago. Betty Hill offered her sage views in an interview published in the Feb. 4 edition of The Boston Globe.

“If you see a UFO, don’t panic. Just relax. Don't be afraid, they don’t hurt anybody. But just because you think you might have been abducted is no guarantee you have been. A lot of people have come to me in hysterics because of something they heard somewhere. They couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, they were seeing doctors for their nerves because they said they'd seen a UFO. They were terrified that the aliens were going to come back, walk through the walls and kidnap them. So I began explaining that there are two UFO fields: the commercial UFO field in which anything that sells goes, and the real UFO field. Actually, UFOs avoid us if possible. [Emphasis added.]

“There have been very few real abductions. You have to separate the real from the unreal. These tales can be lies, hallucinations, fantasies, or memories of things they've seen at the movies. Most of your so- called abductees nowadays say ‘I just suddenly remembered that 50 years ago this happened.’ Or, ‘my children were abducted.’ To me, this is in the same class as the monster in the closet. As for alien insemination, forget it. I call that the Virgin Mary syndrome...” [Emphasis added.] Although Betty Hill appeared briefly in the opening segment of the NOVA documentary to describe her 1961 encounter, if she voiced similar views during her interview, they ended up “on the cutting room floor.”

New Revealing Report Raises More Doubts About Santilli’s Controversial Autopsy Movie (S.C.A.M.)

A comprehensive and devastating expose of Ray Santilli’s “Alien Autopsy” movie will be published in the upcoming (March) issue of the MUFON UFO Journal under the title “Santilli’s Controversial Autopsy Movie,” whose acronym SCAM was coined by author Kent Jeffrey. He earlier created the “International Roswell Initiative,” which seeks to get the President to issue an Executive Order declassifying any still classified information on “Roswell, UFOs, or extraterrestrial intelligence.” Jeffrey, who was one of the earliest critics of SCAM, is a pilot with a major international airline.

According to Santilli, the (alleged) SCAM cameraman was in the Army Air Force in early June, 1947, when he was dispatched from Washington D.C. to New Mexico to film the (alleged) crashed saucer and, about a month later to Texas to film the autopsies of two dead ETs. Jeffrey’s article reports highlights of his interviews with retired Lt. Col. Daniel A. McGovern, a former Air Force movie cameraman who was stationed in Washington in June 1947 and who had no knowledge of the alleged SCAM cameraman or his special assignment.

Jeffrey reports that “McGovern, who filmed a number of autopsies, was very positive that

all medical procedures were shot in color.” [SCAM was shot with monochrome film.] Jeffrey also interviewed two other former military movie cameramen, Joe Longo and Bill Gibson. “Our three cameramen pointed out that a motion picture cameraman would almost always be accompanied by a ‘still’ photographer....During an autopsy, every step of the procedure would be carefully photographed by the ‘still’ photographer, who would invariably be visible in the motion picture.” Jeffrey noted that no “still” photographer is ever seen in SCAM.

When this curious anomaly, first noted in SUN #35 (Sept. 1995), was brought to Santilli’s attention, he (allegedly) checked with the cameraman and said he learned that a “still” camera photographer also took autopsy pictures. But he was allowed into the autopsy room only when the movie cameraman had to step outside the autopsy room to change film and departed when the movie cameraman returned. As SUN #35 pointed out, still photos could have provided far higher resolution, better focused imagery.

If the AAF needed to film a crashed saucer in New Mexico, McGovern, Gibson and Longo agreed that there were qualified cameramen with Top Secret clearances stationed at numerous military bases and facilities in New Mexico. There was no need to transport one from Washington, delaying by many hours the filming of the (alleged) ETs and “crashed saucer.”

Long-Awaited Interviews With SCAM Cameraman

Santilli has never publicly disclosed the identity of the (alleged) SCAM cameraman on the grounds that he insists on anonymity. On June 22, 1995, Santilli informed Philip Mantle of the British UFO Research Association (BUFORA), that he would receive a telephone call from the SCAM cameraman. Shortly afterwards a person claiming to be the cameraman did call and they talked for about 15 minutes, according to Mantle who says he intentionally avoided being “aggressive.” Since last June, so far as is known, no UFOlogist has talked directly with the (alleged) cameraman—except via Santilli serving as an intermediary.

Bob Shell, editor of Shutterbug magazine, who has characterized himself as “the photographic expert that Ray Santilli has asked to work on verification of the so-called Roswell footage,” has long been promised an in-person interview with the cameraman. During a talk show on Sept. 2, when Shell was asked if he had met the cameraman, Shell replied: “I have not met him face to face yet. I’m supposed to do so in a matter of a week or so.” [Emphasis added.] In Shell’s Dec. 11 letter-fax to SUN, he said that he was “scheduled to interview the cameraman face to face within the next three months,” i.e., by mid-March. [SUN responded by proposing a modest wager of $100 against Shell’s $50 that a face-to-face meeting with the cameraman would never occur. Shell declined the offer.]

In early February, reports circulated that Robert Kiviat, who produced the “Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?” TV show last year on the Fox network, was readying a new installment which would include a videotaped interview with the SCAM cameraman, arranged by Santilli. (The cameraman’s appearance and voice would be disguised electronically.) SUN learned that Santilli had told Shell that he would be able to sit in on the Kiviat interview. When SUN queried Shell in late February as to the status of his promised interview with the cameraman, Shell replied that it “has not happened yet. Promised to happen soon.”

If That Old Adage Is True That “Patience Is a Virtue,” Then Clearly Bob Shell Is One Of The World’s Most Virtuous Investigators.

One possible explanation for Shell’s patience is that he has a business agreement with Santilli for a soon-to-be-published book titled: “Alien Autopsy: The Open File.” Santilli is providing photos for use in Shell’s book and will receive a share of the publisher’s cash advance as well as a share of the book’s royalties.

When SUN asked Shell if he planned to hold up publication of his book until he interviewed the cameraman and until after Santilli provided film samples for Eastman Kodak authentication tests, Shell replied that he would not because his publisher “wants an open-ended book which leaves the matter open....This book is to leave all essential questions unanswered.” He explained that the publisher wants to “save it for the second book.”

UFOlogy Has Benefitted From SCAM

Ray Santilli recently responded on the CompuServe network to criticism about having profited from SCAM. Santilli claimed others had also profited, including the following:

Although SCAM has “lined the pockets” of a few, SUN believes it has made a useful contribution to UFOlogy by enhancing the skeptical instincts of some Pro-UFOlogists. In this respect, SCAM has served to “separate the men from the boys,” i.e., the credulous UFOlogists from those with at least a modicum of skepticism and common sense. For those who in the past have criticized skeptics for failing to prove that a UFO case is a hoax, SCAM has shown the intrinsic difficulty of obtaining “100% proof.” Because perpetrating a UFO hoax is not a crime, a suspected perpetrator does not have to testify in court under oath, subject to crosss-examination and the penalty for perjury.

SUN compliments those Pro-UFOlogists who have invested much effort—and money—in investigating SCAM and for having made public the anomalies and inconsistencies they have uncovered, despite criticism from some of their more credulous peers.

Court Endorses Withdrawal Of Boylan’s Psychotherapist License

California Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Cecil recently rejected an appeal by Dr. Richard J. Boylan that the Court overturn the decision of the California Board of Psychology to terminate Boylan’s license as a psychotherapist. (Boylan is a leading “abductologist” and claims that he himself has experienced a UFO abduction.) The Psychology Board charged Boylan with “gross negligence” in using “nude hot tubbing” and massage in treating three female patients and of “imposing views on the existence of extraterrestrials into the dreams and memories” of several female patients [SUN #37/Jan. 1996]. In Judge Cecil’s Feb. 8 decision he said that Boylan “continues to assert that this case is about his belief in alien encounters. It is not....Petitioner’s conduct was outrageous, especially in the light of the underlying reasons for treating these particular patients. His conduct fell well below the standard of care expected of his profession and constituted gross negligence.”

Boylan, who claims he is a victim of a government effort to suppress the truth about UFOs, posted an E-mail network message which said that he had “data from a remote viewer [i.e., “psychic”] “that the judge received telephone calls from intelligence officials in Washington D.C., influencing a negative decision on my Appeal.” Boylan further charged that “therapy which was perfectly valid 20 years ago is forbidden by them [Psychology Board] now because it might jeopardize their continued political appointments...under the conservative current Governor.”

Boylan’s Views On UFOs And Their Possible Relationship To Jesus

Useful insights into whether the California Psychology Board acted wisely in terminating Boylan’s license as a psychotherapist can be gained from a memorandum he posted on Internet on Jan. 12, shortly before his appeal was heard by Judge Cecil. Highlights of this Boylan memo follow:

“An often-reliable source, who shall be called Beltway Throat, is in dialogue with a number of members of The Aviary, a shadowy group of defense industry scientists and current/former military and intelligence officials who have complete access to closely-held UFO information, technology and hardware, which not even the President knows of. There is reportedly some overlap in membership between the historical, formerly-authorized UFO information control group ‘MJ-12’ and The Aviary. Beltway Throat (BT) alleges that several members of The Aviary have access to the Yellow Book and the Red Book. The Yellow Book is reported to be a physical record of the communi-cations from an extraterrestrial who was recovered from a downed UFO and kept in custody by MJ-12, before he died several years later. The extraterrestrial was called EBE-1. A second extra-terrestrial is reportedly currently in residency under MJ-12, and she is called EBE-2, but BT calls her Charlene. She is the actual author of the Yellow Book.

“The Yellow Book is reported to be actually a sort of holographic compact disk, which can project images of the information it contains. It is alleged to contain references to Biblical events, even including a holographic depiction of the crucifixion of Christ. The Red Book is a human compendium of information derived from extraterrestrials. It contains future predictions, among other things. One of the predictions is that there will be a very large rift in human society, as a result of ET contact becoming publicly known. This is supposed to happen in 1997. Another alleged prediction is that the ETs will return in a formal, preplanned landing on April 24, 1997 on public land in the Southwest U.S., probably in the vicinity of White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

“The Red and Yellow Books are also supposed to contain the prediction that there is one Horseman of the Apocalypse left to arrive....The remaining Horseman is the White Rider wearing the Crown, which is interpreted to be Second Coming (of Christ). This raises profound questions and concerns for The Aviary....Will the UFOs be bearing an ET with Christ Consciousness? Or will the ETs be misunderstood as Christ?...” At the end of Boylan’s memo he posted the following disclaimer: “The above ‘leaks’ may contain some or a great deal of disinformation.”

UFO Movement Leaders Issue “Best Available Evidence” Report

A 171-page “Unidentified Flying Objects Briefing Document,” reportedly being sent to “1,000 world leaders” including Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and France’s Jacques Chirac, “presents the best available evidence for the existence of UFOs,” according to the heads of America’s three principal UFO groups: The Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the Fund for UFO Research (FUFOR). The report was authored by Don Berliner, assisted by Marie Galbraith and Antonio Huneeus. Its publication and distribution were funded by philanthropist Laurance S. Rockefeller, who has become interested in UFOs in his later years. The report states: “The case for UFO reality rests on the accumulation of reports which cannot be explained as ‘normal phenomena.'” Cases described include:

  • Japan Air Lines 747 Over Alaska (1986): My investigation indicates that one of the reported UFOs was the very bright planet Jupiter. An earlier UFO is believed to have been moonlight or light from oil pumping stations reflecting off clouds.
  • The report’s end-summary states: “These cases are among the most detailed, best authenticated and most puzzling of the many thousands of unexplained UFO reports....When studied as a group, these case histories exhibit clear patterns which strongly suggest that they belong to a distinct new class of phenomena, rather than being a formless collection of disparate observational errors....It is this large quantity of evidence of the existence of something completely baffling which motivates many of us to urge the governments of the world to release all they know about UFOs so that the people of the world, and especially scientists, can begin to come to grips with a mystery that has for too long been subjected to secrecy and ridicule.” [Emphasis added.] SUN COMMENT: IF THESE CASES “EXHIBIT CLEAR PATTERNS,” THESE PATTERNS WERE NOT LISTED IN THE REPORT. [The Recommended Reading list did not include any of my four books on UFOs, but did include Timothy Good’s “Above Top Secret,” characterized as “well documented.”]

    SHORT SHRIFT

    NOTE: Opinions expressed in SUN are those of its Editor—unless otherwise noted—and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he is affiliated—or his spouse. We thank Dr. Gary Posner for help in proofreading.

    Philip J. Klass

    Phil Klass was a UFO researcher with a background in electrical engineering. He was author of seven books on UFOs, including UFOs Explained and UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. He was also editor of the SUN newsletter, a UFO-related publication.