The Anomalist


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Science is Not Always What Science Programs Do

A Response to NOVA's Program on UFO Abductions
 by Budd Hopkins*

Readers familiar with the writings and lectures of the late Dr. Allen  Hynek may recognize in the above title an expanded version of one of his most quoted  bon mots, "Science is not always what scientists do." After viewing this  new Nova program, which systematically and outrageously distorts the UFO abduction phenomenon and my work in the field, it's fair to say that the Nova series has abandoned  its right to be thought of as either objective, balanced, or scientific. However, I suppose it's a perverse sort of honor to find my work trashed by people with the  same intolerant mindset as those who also trashed the research of Dr. Hynek, Dr.  James McDonald, and so many others who have labored in the same unfashionable vineyard.

What Nova presents in its luridly titled program, "Kidnapped  by Aliens?", is a mangling of the truth, a polemic having absolutely nothing  to do with scientific investigation. Typically, on a show filled with hostile authority figures with little or no acquaintance with the data, astronomer Carl Sagan states  that he believes all abduction accounts are delusions or hallucinations. So far, Nova appears unconcerned that Dr. Sagan has yet to mount a serious investigation  into even one abduction report. Should we be concerned with a program so obviously  biased? After all, my informal inquiries reveal that TV critics, media professionals  and especially scientists almost universally view Nova as a slick operation pandering  to the same sensation-seeking audiences as commercial TV. This Nova UFO program was  designed to air during sweeps week, the period when the ratings war is at its hottest.  Consequently, before they plunge in the knife later in the show, the producers begin  it in the most sensational ta bloid style imaginable, with eerie music, foggy reenactments  and spooky lights, suggesting that Nova was now going head-to-head with "Hard Copy" and "Entertainment Tonight."

But for anyone interested in truth, we must care about Nova's misrepresentations. The show undeniably reaches many public television viewers and  is still regarded by those outside the scientific and intellectual communities as  a science program. Its deceptions, unfortunately, will mislead a large, ultimately  world-wide audience now, and in later reruns and videotape sales.

The main reason for the program's destructiveness is its  message, implied and delivered directly, that all abductees--all --are weak-minded  patsies, delusional, or victims of repeated hallucinations. In other words, liars  aside, all who report such experiences are, to some extent, mentally abnormal.

What evidence does Dr. Sagan, for example, present to buttress  his sweeping -- and to the abductees, damning --indictment of their ability to separate  fantasy from reality? None. None whatsoever. For a man regarded within popular culture  as a kind of Pope of Science to offer such a wholesale denigration of UFO abductees  with no supporting evidence is worse than irresponsible. In the psychological literature  there is only one report of an in-depth, blind study of the mental health of abductees  -- the 1983 report by Dr. Elizabeth Slater -- and it shows that Dr. Sagan's opinion  is totally unsupportable.**

Did Nova make any effort to find out if there is any evidence supporting Sagan's "diagnosis" of the abductees he'd never met? More to the point,  how many abductees on the show did Nova ask to submit to psychological tests, psychiatric  interviews and the like? To my knowledge, none. John, a former counselor  and one of the abductees who appears at length on the program, informed Nova by letter  that he would present himself for any type of test, medical or psychological, that  they wished to administer. If Nova were trying to do an objective, scientific study  as they claimed, they should have instantly accepted John's offer. Instead, they  chose to ignore it. When one considers the destructive conclusions Nova presented  about the abductees they showe d on camera, they cannot argue that they refused John's  offer out of concern for his reputation. There seems to be only one reason to decline  the opportunity of conducting psychological tests: the fear that the results might  destroy their theories and thu s expose Nova's deceptions.

Having declined to employ any scientifically valid testing, the  producers go on, in effect, to have John diagnosed on the air by "experts"  who'd never met him. This is the program's basic modus operandi: material that I  presume was carefully preselecte d was presented for negative comment to experts  ignorant of the mass of UFO abduction case material and who were given no opportunity  to interview the witnesses. Their comments therefore have the same degree of validity  as the diagnoses issued by pop psyc hologists on daytime radio and TV after two-  or three-minute conversations with the caller, a practice Nova's producers would  otherwise be the first to condemn.

But even worse is the show's blatantly dishonest presentation  of a family case to which they devote a great deal of airtime. The young mother  of two small children had written a letter to me, and with her permission I presented  a copy of it to p roducer Denise DiIanni of the Nova staff. In her letter the young woman said this about her abduction experiences: "My memories are real and  I have not had to use hypnonis to remember them." From a lifelong series  of encounters she records the foll owing details: "The 'little men' as I used  to call them would enter my bedroom from the same place in the wall . . . (They) were small, had large heads with large dark eyes that seem to look right through  me." Describing painful physical procedures, she added, "The tears would  roll down my cheeks into my ears, an uncomfortable feeling. I was unable to wipe  my tears away . . ." She described the alien figures as moving in unison, and  in another encounter she described "being slowly lowered into my mattress ,  so slow that I would think 'hurry up, I just want to feel my mattress under me and  go to sleep . . .'" On another occasion she saw her brother being taken in broad  daylight: "He looked so tired and was slumped over . . . I remember being very  worried th at he was too little to get into that object in the sky."

In these accounts and in later, face-to-face interviews with the  Nova crew present, she described many more experiences from childhood to the present, all recollected without hypnosis. What's more, her husband vividly described watching their li ttle son being floated out of the house by the aliens while he lay paralyzed on the floor of their front hall. With Nova's camera recording it all,  he lay down exactly where he remembered having fallen and described where each alien  had been standing. He explained that the master bedroom was on the other side of  the wall he was leaning against. Desperately trying to alert his sleeping wife, he  showed us how he tried in vain to move his leg enough to bang against the wall to  summon help. His testimony was the most vivid and important of our visit to their  home. It corroborated his wife's account and explained their powerful fear for their  children's safety. But all of this eyewitness testimony and dramatic film footage  was suppressed by Nova. All of it.

In its place, producer DiIanni assembled an emasculated case in which only the vaguest, most tenuous aspects of the family's testimony were presented.  Having thus suppressed all of the strongest evidence, Nova went on to slander my view of the case's validity with the following summary: "Budd Hopkins thinks  this [portentous pause] provides compelling evidence: Children pausing at  drawings of aliens, dreams of strange events that feel real, and images of traumatic sexual assault, remembered under only hypnosis!" (My emphasis.)

Through "creative editing" I'm portrayed as trying  to ascribe an abduction memory to an innocent child. In addition to the anguished  father's eyewitness account of lying paralyzed while he watched the aliens taking  his son out of the house, the child's mother had included in her letter the following  account of what they went through when their boy was three years old:

"My husband and I saw blinking lights in my son's bedroom  . . . We continue to have problems with our son at night . . . When his dad gets  him dressed in the morning he will ask questions [such as] 'How do they come through  the walls? How do they park it there, there's no road there . . . ' He talks about tables with no legs, 'but those are the kind you don't eat on.' He tells me how chilly  it was outside last night."

There is, of course, much more, all of which was known to Ms. DiIanni.  But in her script I am portrayed as suspecting the boy's possible abduction solely because of one piece of evidence: a child "pausing at a drawing of an alien."  As Nova well knows, no one on earth would ever describe that isolated, ambiguous  reaction as "compelling evidence" -- unless their goal was a conscious  attempt to make the individual look like a fool.

I won't devote much time to demonstrate the ways Nova edited my  hypnotic sessions to make it appear that I'm leading the witness, though I must provide at least one. For many years I've used what I call the "body inventory"  method to avoid leading hypnotic subjects. When the witness describes being stretched out on an examination table, I say that we will now explore all the sensations that  he/she feels from the feet, systematically up through the body, to the top of the  head. I explain that the subject might feel a different sensation in some part of  the body: pleasure, pain, an itch, a tickle, heat, cold, etc. -- or that that part of the body may feel perfectly normal. I begin with the feet, proceed to the ankles,  shins, calves, then the thighs, the sexual organs, the lower abdomen, the stomach  and chest, the arms and hands, the head, and then the eyes, the nose, inside and  out, the mouth, inside and out, and the ears, inside and out. The purpose is to avoid  leading the subject to any one part icular part of the body by naming most all of  them at the very outset. Nova, of course, doesn't devote even three words of explanation  to this painstakingly slow and objective process -- it can take up to a half hour  -- but suddenly cut in as I direct the subject's attention to her "female parts  . . ." To put the least damaging interpretation on Nova's deceptive editing,  its result is to suggest that I'm leading the witness directly into sexual recollections  or fantasies, something that a full transcript of the session would clearly refute.

When I was originally approached by Nova's Denise DiIanni, I was  told that she would only deal with people who agreed to show their faces on national TV. I explained that of the more than 500 likely abductees I've worked with one-on-one,  only about 15 wou ld agree to appear on national TV. Unfortunately, among the 97% who declined to appear were all the police officers, the (7) psychiatrists,  the scientists, Ph.D.'s, business executives, psychologists, physicians and even  a NASA research scientist w ith whom I'd worked; in short, the people with the most  to lose by subjecting themselves to potential public ridicule. Obviously, this reluctant  97% included the most highly credentialed and scientifically sophisticated abductees, the very individuals one would think Nova should be most interested in interviewing  if the program were to have scientific relevance. I asked if some of these highly credible people might be allowed to discuss their abduction experiences on camera, backlit or in silhouette, but Nova declined, refusing to interview anyone outside  the self-selected 3%. This decision alone demonstrated to me Ms. DiIanni's preference  for potentially sensational TV footage over any attempt at scientific depth or inclusiveness.

The very brave handful who agreed to appear on national TV were  mainly young and independent and for the most part not subject to the career risks  of corporate politics. None were offered, and none requested, financial remuneration.  All agreed t o appear as a way of helping other abductees, in much the way a few  rape victims will also come forward publically, despite potential humiliation. Rape  victims are guaranteed to receive sympathy. However, the abductees on "Kidnapped  by Aliens?" are subtly but thoroughly discredited, beginning with that lurid  title and the question mark that cast doubt on their testimony before it was even  heard. Their bravery and generous spirit of cooperation was rewarded by Nova's implication  that all of them were eithe r deluded, hallucinating, or simply weak-minded because,  as Nova's experts say, such experiences simply cannot happen. At one point, physicist  Paul Horowitz, who apparently has no idea of the range of evidence supporting UFO  reality, categorically stated that UFOs don't exist and have never landed!

Nova interviewed me at length in my studio, and, knowing all the  fashionable theories debunkers use to discredit anyone reporting an abduction experience, I chose to stress the reports that fell outside these conventional explanations. I dealt with the huge number of abduction accounts that surface without the use of hypnosis, knowing that Nova was sure to deride the process. True to form, the program implied over and over with sledgehammer thoroughness that hypnosis should  be thought of as the generating cause of these (automatically false) abduction  accounts. My discussion of contradictory data -- the mass of nonhypnosis abduction  reports -- wasn't even mentioned on the program.

I showed producer DiIanni a collection of photographs of the physical  marks and scars that are the comnon sequelae of UFO abductions, and urged her to interview some of the people bearing the more dramatic wounds. Since these individuals  were among the 97% unwilling to run the risk of ridicule by appearing on camera,  Nova not only refused to film them in shadow, but the slides of their wounds and  marks which I was asked to lend to Nova were never shown. Also suppressed were  the photographs I sub mitted showing ground traces and alterations of the soil caused  by UFO landings. Nova staffer Liesl Clark, in charge of the program's Internet web,  informed me that to show such physical evidence would be "to open a can of worms."  She was right about that.

So, after being told that the abduction phenomenon was merely an  artifact of hypnosis, the public was also deliberately denied any chance to see,  to hear about and to consider photographic evidence of reported alien physical procedures  and UFO ground t races. Thus, another of the debunker's false but favorite myths  was reinforced: "There is no physical evidence."

It's one thing, of course, to disagree as to the meaning and the  degree of probative weight to ascribe to physical evidence, but it's another thing  to suppress that evidence altogether.

Knowing that "sleep paralysis" is one of the most  preposterous general explanations of abduction reports yet offered, I described  to Nova's representative the existence of hundreds of accounts of abductions that  took place in the daytime with al l of the participants fully awake, and I cited examples. Since this fact also wasn't mentioned during the program -- which naturally  restricted itself solely to those cases which more plausibly fit the sleep paralysis  theory -- the public was misled yet a gain: It's always hypnosis, there's never any  physical evidence, and like sleep paralysis, it always happens at night." Ms.  DiIanni knew that thousands of case reports prove all of these statements false,  but chose to suppress that information, too, on he r show.

Though it's been painful having to spend so much time describing  some of Nova's many systematic deceptions, distortions and omissions, the denigration of thousands of decent, mentally sound people who have reported UFO abductions cannot  be left unchall enged. Not once did any of Nova's on-camera, debunking consultants  admit that any of these people might simply be telling the truth. I was not naive  enough to think that Nova, having produced an earlier program opposing the reality  of UFOs, would now turn around and proclaim the reality of UFO abductions.  I was naive enough, however, to credit the producers and Ms. DiIanni in particular, with sufficient honesty to make a very small admission: that despite all the debunkers'  theories, all the data has not been explained and that an intriguing mystery does  remain. In my wildest imagination I never thought they would have the arrogance to  imply that all abduction experiences can be explained away by these (mutually  contradictory) debunki ng theories, or that in doing so Nova would be so unscrupulous  as to deliberately suppress all evidence to the contrary.

People who trust Nova will also unknowingly accept falsehoods  such as the following, as true: Nova said that after the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind appeared, the number of UFO sightings increased, an example  of the media generating "false reports." But in fact during that time,  the number of new sightings actually decreased. For my part, Nova often referred  to me as "a therapist," though they are well aware that I've never made  that claim and have never charged an abductee a penny for any help I've given.

But the acceptance of false information isn't the worst result  of Nova's deceptions. Far more damaging is the fact that anyone currently thinking  of going public with a personal abduction account will be extremely hesistant to do so. Any physicians, po licemen, psychiatrists, scientists, military officers or the like who have experienced UFO abductions will now have even more reason to keep  silent. Having seen how Nova distorted and dismissed other abductees accounts, few  of these potentially valuable n ew witnesses will agree to step forward. In the light  of all this, it's fair to describe Nova as having both tampered with evidence and  intimidated future witnesses.

On top of everything, Ms. DiIanni's show was hyped for all the  sensationalism and controversy that Nova could squeeze out of the subject, going  so shamelessly low as to beg the on-camera abductees to appear in advertising spots  without first informing them how they would be treated on the program. It was as  if innocent people were being asked to sell tickets to their own public humiliation.  What Nova produced was not a science program but a kind of middle-brow Jenny Jones  or Geraldo. Denise DiIanni and executive producer Paula Apsell and all those responsible  for the final edit of this show should be ashamed of themselves.

* Budd Hopkins, Intruders Foundation, P.O.  Box 30233, New York, NY, 10011.

** Slater, Dr. Elizabeth et al., The Final Report on the Psychological Testing  of UFO "Abductees", Washington, D.C., Fund for UFO Research, 1983.