Friday, December 22, 2017

Why Alien Abductions Are Down Dramatically


BostonGlobe |  Belief that alien life exists on other planets is persuasive, sensible; nearly 80 percent of Americans do believe it, according to a 2015 poll. But belief that the aliens are already here feels like something else, largely because it requires a leap of faith longer than agreeing that the universe is a vast, unknowable place. Abduction and contact stories aren’t quite the fodder for daytime talk show and New York Times bestsellers they were a few decades ago. The Weekly World News is no longer peddling stories about Hillary Clinton’s alien baby at the supermarket checkout line. Today, credulous stories of alien visitation rarely crack the mainstream media, however much they thrive on niche TV channels and Internet forums. But we also still want to believe in accounts that scientists, skeptics, and psychologists say there is no credible evidence to support.

The abduction phenomenon began with strange case of Betty and Barney Hill. On Sept. 19, 1961, the Hills were driving from Montreal to their home in Portsmouth, N.H. Betty spotted a UFO following them. Barney stopped the car on the highway, near Indian Head in the White Mountains, and got out to look at the craft through binoculars. Seeing humanoid figures in Nazi-like uniforms peering through its windows, he ran back to the car, screaming, “Oh my God, we’re going to be captured!” They drove off, but two hours later, they found themselves 35 miles from the spot where they’d first seen the craft (there is now a commemorative marker at the site), with little memory of how they’d gotten there. Soon after, Betty began having nightmares.

In 1964, the Hills underwent hypnotherapy. Under hypnotic regression — hypnosis with the intent to help a subject recall certain events with more clarity — the couple said that they had actually been pulled on board the vessel by aliens and subjected to invasive experiments. The Hills’ story, revealed to the public in 1965 with an article in the Boston Traveler and a year later in the book “The Interrupted Journey,” launched a flurry of public fascination with abductions.

Barney died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1969, but Betty went on to become a kind of sage of paranormal experiences. Their story became the blueprint for alien abduction experiences in the years that followed, especially after the airing of the 1975 made-for-TV film “The UFO Incident,” starring James Earl Jones as Barney Hill. Subsequent experiencers would describe similar missing time or have bizarre dreams and flashbacks of things they couldn’t understand. Many would use hypnotic regression to recall their experiences.

Over the next two decades, the alien abduction narrative wound its way into the American consciousness, fed by science fiction films like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and breathless news reports of mysterious incidents. In 1966, a Gallup poll asked Americans if they’d ever seen a UFO; 5 percent said they had, but they meant it in the literal sense of an unidentified flying object — only 7 percent of Americans believed that the UFOs were from outer space. By 1986, a Public Opinion Laboratory poll found that 43 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “It is likely that some of the UFOs that have been reported are really space vehicles from other civilizations.”

Some experiencers said the aliens were here to save us and study us, some said they were here to harvest our organs and enslave us. But by the late 1980s, people whose stories would have been dismissed as delusional a generation earlier were being interviewed by Oprah and “true stories” of alien experience, such as Whitley Strieber’s “Communion” and Budd Hopkins’s “Intruders,” were bestsellers. By the 1990s, those who believed in the literal truth of alien abduction stories gained an important ally in John Mack, a Harvard professor and psychiatrist who compiled his study of the phenomenon into a 1994 book titled “Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens.” He later told the BBC, “I would never say there are aliens taking people away . . . but I would say there is a compelling, powerful phenomenon here that I can’t account for in any other way.”