to jump onto
any theory as
it rolls by,
|By Bryce Buchanan|
In the last newsletter, I reported on the "Alien Abduction" session at the recent skeptics conference in Seattle. I noted that there have been press reports claiming that millions of Americans may have been abducted, up to 8.7 million to be exact. I was curious about these extravagant claims, so I did a little detective work to find out where numbers like this come from. In the process, I found a very successful technique for starting a paranormal fad. All it takes is a few people to disseminate (mis)information to gullible psychologists and psychiatrists, plus the help of the news media which is positively eager for paranormal stories.
In 1993, a 64-page booklet was mailed to nearly 100,000 psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. It was a report of a privately commissioned survey of nearly 6000 Americans. The survey questions had been developed by two UFO promoters, Bud Hopkins, author of Intruders, and David Jacobs, an associate history professor. The introduction to this report was written by John Mack, who had recently signed a $200,000 contract to write a book about alien abductions. It is also worth noting that the survey report was mailed just prior to the airing of the CBS mini-series Intruders. The "scientists" behind this survey had a significant financial interest in promoting a belief in UFO abductions.
Not surprisingly, the survey indicated that 3.7 million Americans were "probable abductees." Rutgers recently repeated this survey on 697 residents of New Jersey and found 3.4% would fit the probable abductee category. This means that unless aliens prefer New Jersey to other states, 8.7 million Americans have flown with Flying Saucer Airlines. According to Philip Klass's calculations, this would mean there has been more than one abduction per minute every night for the past 30 years.
The survey's report counseled therapists to believe abductees and treat them like anyone else with a post-traumatic stress disorder. The authors said the report was being sent in the hope that it would lead to more humane treatment of all the people who had suffered this trauma. Could it be that the report was actually being sent in the hope of developing a groundswell of interest which the authors could ride to fame and fortune?
How, you may ask, does a survey determine who has been abducted, since almost none of those surveyed actually remembered the experience? It's simple. The survey asked people if five things had ever happened to them. To be more precise, it assumed that these things had happened to them by asking the questions this way, "How often has this occurrence happened to you?" The occurrences in question were the following five things:
1. waking up paralyzed with the sense of a strange presence in the room,
2. experiencing a period of lost time when you can't remember where you were,
3. feeling that you were flying through the air,
4. seeing balls of light in a room and not knowing the source, and
5. finding scars on your body for which no one remembers the cause.
Anyone who answered "yes" to four of these items was considered a "probable abductee." This is a very large jump from data to conclusions. A scar is one thing, concluding space creatures put it there is quite another. I have had three of these experiences myself and I can give down-to-earth explanations quite easily. Why jump to outer space explanations?
Some psychotherapists appear willing to jump onto any theory as it rolls by, without checking the wheels. If they attend a seminar about satanic ritual abuse, then a distant period of time which a person cannot remember becomes evidence of abuse. The therapist may even help fill in the grisly details - not from the patient's memory, but from what the therapist has learned from books and seminars.
To another therapist, who may have read abduction surveys and books and seen abduction stories in the media, a patient's report of a period of lost time is good evidence that the time was spent with space creatures. Clearly, some mental health counselors need counseling - in critical thinking skills.
In some ways, the fringe psychology fads about space aliens, Satanism,
past lives, repressed memory recovery, and so forth are amusing. But in
other important ways, they are very dangerous and harmful to individuals
and society. Health professionals and the news media should be held to
a higher standard. One of the goals of our organization is to be advocates
of that higher standard.
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