The other side of Truth. Abductions and abductees

In his book Confrontations: A Scientist’s Search for Alien Contact, Dr. Jacques Vallee had some eminently sensible things to say about research into the alien abduction phenomenon. While pointing out that blanket dismissals like those of the late Phil Klass go too far, he was extremely critical of the “methodology” of leading abductionologists like Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs.

I recommend that anyone who has not read Confrontations find a copy somewhere and read it. In the meantime, I’ll provide a few well-thought out excerpts which should resonate today more than ever.

First, Vallee on the usefulness of lie detectors tests:

As for lie detector tests, which are routinely used by ufologists and the media to “prove” that UFO abductees are “telling the truth,” their effectiveness is practically nil, as a long list of scientific references would show… A recent Harvard Medical School study has shown that truthful people flunked polygraph tests more often than actual liars. A possible explanation is that innocent people react to the stress of the test, while the guilty do everything in their power to remain calm.

(p. 158)

Vallee went on to talk about the need to understand the overall context of the abduction phenomenon:

There is another very important aspect to the entire abduction problem that has never been considered seriously by American ufology, obsessed as it is with immediate facts and first-order explanations. By ignoring this other aspect, we reduce considerably our chances of understanding the entire question. What I am referring to is the simple fact that abduction stories are not specific to the UFO phenomenon and certainly did not begin with Betty and Barney Hill in 1961.

I pointed out in Invisible College that the structure of abduction stories was identical to that of occult initiation rituals. Several years before, I had shown in Passport to Magonia that contact with ufonauts was only a modern extension of the age-old tradition of contact with nonhuman consciousness in the form of angels, demons, elves, and sylphs. Such contact includes abduction, ordeal (including surgical operations), and sexual intercourse with the aliens.

It often leaves marks and scars on the body and the mind, as do UFO abductions. Reaction to the publication of these facts was curious. In the United States, many ufologists simply denied them or ignored them. As late as 1988 Budd Hopkins summarily rejected the Magonia data as “folklore of obviously uncertain authenticity.”

(pp. 159 – 160)

It should be noted that not all American ufologists ignored these facts – Kevin Randle details them in his excellent study The Abduction Enigma, which he co-wrote with Russ Estes and Dr. William Cone. But Kevin is in the minority.

As noted above, Vallee discusses the problems with the use of hypnosis (something I’ve talked about here in the past – see The Alien Abduction Cult and The Abduction Phenomenon and Hypnosis – below reports), but does he dismiss it out of hand? No. Instead, what he does is point out that the real problem is with the use of hypnosis by untrained ufologists like Hopkins and Jacobs who have an agenda to pursue.

Vallee’s recommendation?

Can help be provided to the traumatized witness who has experienced a close encounter and possibly an abduction? Absolutely. He or she should be directed to a qualified, professional hypnotherapist who is open-minded on the question of the UFO reality and who has reached no personal conclusion regarding the nature and origin of the phenomenon.

And the ufologist should only be in the room at the request of, and under the control of, the therapist. Any other procedure, in my opinion, is unethical and unprofessional. Besides, it runs the risk of polluting the delicate, complex abduction database with fantastic and spurious material. It can drive UFO research over a very dangerous cliff.

(p. 159)

Vallee wrote this is 1990.

Alas, few in ufology listened, and ufology was driven over that dangerous cliff, with predictable consequences: further marginalization by the legitimate scientific community, a withering of public interest as the stories of abductions (and crashed flying saucers, abductionology’s evil twin) became commonplace (see below Robert Fulford on Abductions for a recent sample of media reaction), and more often outrageous, all of which has led to a loss, as Vallee said elsewhere, of the true “signal” amidst the “noise”, while most ufologists in the United States either openly embraced the very things Vallee warned them against, or through their silence signalled tacit acceptance.

Which, unfortunately, for the most part remains the status quo today.
The Alien Abduction Cult
January 11, 2007
I’ve met both David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins at different UFO conferences. They seem like nice enough people – witty, even charming, until you realize that they, and other “abductionologists” like them, have spent decades spouting absolute nonsense about “alien abductions”, and in the process have caused very real trauma to very real people (and created, by the way, a nice little cottage industry for themselves).

Budd Hopkins has written in Witnessed: The True Story of the Brooklyn Bridge UFO Abductions:

“Everything I have learned in twenty years of research into the UFO abduction phenomenon leads me to conclude that the aliens’ central purpose is not to teach us about taking better care of the environment. Instead, all of the evidence points to their being here to carry out a complex breeding experiment in which they seem to be working to create a hybrid species, a mix of human and alien characteristics.”

All of the evidence?

What “evidence”?

Memories induced by hypnosis?

I’ve written about the usefulness of hypnosis as an investigative technique before, particularly when it’s done by self-taught amateurs (see below: The Abduction Phenomenon and Hypnosis).

Here’s the uncomfortable truth – the abductionologists, feted at UFO conference after UFO conference, are the problem, not the solution. It isn’t little green / grey men from some other planet that are causing pain to the people “studied” by Hopkins et al – the pain, the damage, is being caused by the “investigators” themselves, feeding questions, and then answers, to people who may have real problems.

Disagree with me? That’s your prerogative, of course, but before you start wailing, and crying “foul”, do me one small favor – show me the hard evidence that supports the claims made by the abductionologists.

How about a photo? Let’s start with that.

I mean, we have UFO photos – most fake, but some, like McMinnville, perhaps authentic – so why not photos of an abduction?

How about witnesses to an abduction – not hypnotically regressed ones, mind you, but independent witnesses who actually saw an abduction happen.

Where are they? I mean, we have myriad UFO cases with multiple independent witnesses.

Why not abductions?

Kevin RandleRuss Estes and William Cone got it right in The Abduction Enigma when they wrote, at p. 359:

“Here’s what it all comes down to. There is not a single shred of physical evidence that alien abductions are akin place other than the tainted testimony of the abductees. The physical evidence to support the claims is nonexistent. What has been offered as proof has been eliminated through testing by objective scientists or additional research by unbiased investigators. The scars, the missing fetus, or the implants do not carry the proper medical documentation to make a strong case, and in fact, suggest something else altogether.”

I’ll go further than Randle, Estes and Cone, who confined their critique to stating that the abductionologists had simply not proven their case. In my view, this has become an Alien Abduction Cult (of personality), aided and abetted by some in ufology who should know better. The abductionologists themselves are beyond irresponsible – they are dangerous, causing real pain and suffering to people who in at least some cases no doubt need real help.

Perhaps it’s high time that the proper authorities take a closer look, not at “alien abductions”, but rather at those who claim to be investigating them, because, with one or two notable and courageous exceptions like Kevin, “ufology” has proven itself wholly unwilling to confront the creators and purveyors of the Alien Abduction Cult.

Meanwhile, the ultimate irony for anomalists is that, should there really be a paranormal element to a few of these “abduction” cases, the Alien Abduction Cult has so muddied the waters with their bunk that it will be almost impossible to ever chart a different course.

The Abduction Phenomenon and Hypnosis
April 25, 2005

There is perhaps no area of the UFO phenomenon more controversial than alleged alien abductions. This has been demonstrated recently in a number of intense threads at UFO Updates, including “UFO Couple Use Story to Spark Alien Abduction” and “Sakulich and the Betty & Barney Hill Case”.

My position on abductions has always been straightforward. If the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) is valid, then it is reasonable to assume that abductions may be occurring, in a manner similar, perhaps, to the way that the European explorers used to take natives aboard their ships, or, in some cases, even back to Europe.

If the ETH is not valid, then neither is the abduction phenomenon, at least as an alien-related event.

In my opinion, Jerry Clark provided the most reasonable conclusion with respect to abductions when he wrote, with respect to the Hill case (the most famous of all abduction cases),

“The resolution of the Hill case awaits the resolution of the UFO question itself. If UFOs do not exist, then Barney and Betty Hill did not meet with aliens. If UFOs do exist, they probably did. The evidence available to us from this incident alone provides no answers surer than these. In other words, no answers at all. For now, anyway.”

Thus, the “abduction phenomenon,” like the “UFO phenomenon,” remains unsolved (as the ETH remains unproved), and people on both sides of the issue should retain an open mind – I know I do.

What concerns me about the modern abduction phenomenon, however, is not the phenomenon itself, but rather its reliance on hypnosis as an investigative tool (although not all cases involve hypnosis, the majority certainly seem to, although exact figures are difficult to come by). Like most lawyers, I am extremely leery of any testimony obtained through hypnosis, which I regard as highly unreliable.

I’m not the only one. For example, legendary UFO researcher/author Jacques Vallee, when asked about John Mack’s work, stated that while he “respected [Mack’s] courage” he disagreed with his methods.

“Usually scientists tell me that hypnosis is not the best way of helping these people. Nor is it the best way to recover memories.” (see interview at Heretic Among Heretics)

Kevin RandleRuss Estes and Dr. William Cone, in their landmark study The Abduction Enigma (1999), examine the use of hypnosis by today’s leading abduction researchers (including Mack, Budd Hopkins, John Carpenter and Richard Boylan).

They concur with Vallee.

“Hypnotic regression,” they write, “is a poor tool for finding the truth, it allows the subject to confabulate amazing memories and act on those memories as if they were true, and its validity is now being questioned. In fact, in many states, a witness who has been hypnotized in an attempt to learn more of an event can no longer be called as a witness.

Courts, and science, recognize how easy memories and events can be reconstructed or confabulated by a clever hypnotist. Even those whose motives are a search for the truth can, and do, lead the subject into memories that are not part of reality.”

(p. 338)

As Randle et al note, the law treats hypnosis with extreme caution. For example, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the United Kingdom states,

“Information obtained under hypnosis should always be treated with extreme caution. There is a strong likelihood that evidence obtained under hypnosis will be unreliable and inadmissible in criminal proceedings.”

They note that a person under hypnosis may be subject to “cueing,” which means,

“explicit or implicit suggestion by the hypnotist; something said long before the session; something that the witness just happened to be thinking about; and a fantasy of the witness.”

During hypnosis, the CPS states,

“these can become fixed as facts in the mind of the subject. There is no reliable means of guarding against this happening.” [emphasis added]

While hypnosis may be used in “exceptional circumstances” it is “highly desirable to look for corroboration of any evidence obtained under hypnosis before allowing a prosecution to proceed.” The problem with abductions, of course, is that there is no independent corroborative evidence available.

For more information, see the CPS’s website.

Perhaps most interesting were the views of Betty Hill, the original “abductee.” In an interview with The Fortean Times about her 1995 book A Common Sense Approach to UFOs, she slammed modern abduction researchers and their reliance on hypnosis. The entire interview is a must read for anyone interested in the abduction phenomenon, or the Hill case; however, here are some pertinent excerpts.

“The reason I wrote this book was to try to get across to people that they should stay away from hypnosis. Don’t let anybody fool around in your brain. I mean, you have problems enough to live with yourself, without other people making their contribution.”

She was then asked about why there was a similarity among the stories told to each investigator, but the stories are different from investigator to investigator (a phenomenon Randle et al discuss in detail in The Abduction Enigma).

“Because the investigators are directing them to have those fantasies,” she said. “They’re suggesting them to them. They’re very, very destructive people.”

[Note: Hill, of course, had memories supposedly recovered under hypnosis, but she distinguished the “medical hypnosis” she and her husband underwent from the less rigorous techniques used today by abduction researchers such as Budd Hopkins.]

For a general primer on the pros and cons of hypnosis, see “Key Concepts in Hypnosis” by Dr. Campbell Perry, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Concordia University (Montreal).

Does this mean that the entire abduction phenomenon is invalid, or that it is impossible that what lies behind it is extraterrestrial?


The conclusion that I proffer here is simple, and more limited in scope – that those abduction cases in which hypnosis is used as a tool to recover “lost,” or “suppressed,” memories, should be treated with extreme caution.
Robert Fulford on Abductions – Why Are Aliens So Boring?
October 08, 2005
Robert Fulford is one of Canada’s best and most influential journalists, his profession since the summer of 1950, when he left high school to work as a sports writer on The Globe and Mail. He has since been a news reporter, literary critic, art critic, movie critic, and editor on a variety of magazines, ranging from Canadian Homes and Gardens to the Canadian Forum.

He was the editor of Saturday Night for 19 years, 1968-1987, and has since been a freelance writer.

His books include This Was ExpoBest Seat in the House: Memoirs of a Lucky ManAccidental City: The Transformation of Toronto, and The Triumph of Narrative, the text of the Massey Lectures he delivered on CBC radio. His column appears in the National Post on Tuesdays in the Arts & Life section and on Saturdays on the Op Ed page. He is an officer of the Order of Canada and a senior fellow of Massey College.

You can check out his Web site by clicking here.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered (as I was enjoying today’s National Post – while trying to chase a cold away with some Tim Horton’s chicken noodle soup) that, to this sterling resume, Mr. Fulford can now add:

“has written a column about the UFO phenomenon that is certain to get him labeled a debunkerklasskurtzian and a skeptibunkie.”

From the National Post

Saturday, 8 October 2005, p. A19:

Why Are Aliens So Boring?

The folklore of the 20th-century produced nothing more absurd, yet nothing more persistent, than the belief that creatures from other worlds habitually visit Earth, kidnap a few humans and then return them, apparently unhurt, to their homes. The alleged human vitims later describe their experiences in what scholars of alienography call ‘abductee narratives.’

These sound like tales told by idiots, but no one who cares about the popular imagination can be entirely indifferent to them.

Abductees report that some aliens say they are bringing world peace and others announce that their mission is war. But a strikingly high percentage appear to be carrying out a peculiar assignment, raiding the reproductive systems of their victims to collect DNA.

‘My eggs were taken,’ one typical abductee reported, and another said, ‘sperm was sucked from my penis by a machine.’


Extraterrestrials must be far smarter than we are (they travel distances our scientists can barely imagine) so anyone even mildly curious will wonder what they want with a substandard planet’s genetic material. That in turn suggest another question to Susan A. Clancy, a Harvard psychologist and the author of Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens (Harvard University Press), the latest book on this phenomenon.

Having interviewed dozens of abductees, and found them likeable and honest, Clancy writes about them with compassionate but sceptical understanding. She’s not like the late John Mack, a psychiatrist at the Harvard medical school, who scandalized his colleagues by deciding that abductions actually took place. Clancy believes her subjects only in the sense that she believes they think they are telling the truth.

And she doesn’t abandon her sense of humor.

She asks why mentally superior aliens haven’t anything better to do than hang around North America stealing our genes.

‘Why are these genius aliens so dim?’ she asks. ‘After fifty years of abducting us, why are they still taking the same bits and pieces? Don’t they have freezers?’

And why are aliens so boring?

They often speak to abductees but they never say anything interesting. As Clancy has noted, not one of them sounds as engaging as an average human child. They recall those dead people who speak from the spirit world through table-tappers and similar mystics. The record shows that these communicants have never uttered even one interesting sentence.

Most conversations consist of ‘I saw your Uncle Leonard.’ ‘How is he?’ ‘Fine, sends his best.’

The reason is the same in both cases. The conversations are fictional and both abductees and spiritualists suffer from stunted imaginations. They are capable of one delirious flight of fancy, nothing more.

Clancy discovered that abductees share certain characteristics. They are not crazy, but they score high on a schizotypy test, which doesn’t mean they are schizophrenic but suggest they have a weakness for fantasy and for thinking related to magic. Most of them believed in flying saucers before they were abducted.

In her view the aliens are entirely human creations, expressing fairly ordinary emotional needs. Most of us don’t want to be alone and many of us yearn to believe there’s something bigger than out there – and that it cares about us. Also, we want to feel special. ‘Being abducted by aliens is a culturally shaped manifestation of a universal human need.’ Abductees express these feelings by believing in a convenient story that can never be proved and therefore never disproved. They may also be terrified (and thus made to feel vulnerable) by recent discoveries in genetics and reproductive technology.

Clancy devotes careful attention to the mother and father of the abductee community, a New Hampshire social worker named Betty Hill and her postal worker husband, Barney. Believing they were abducted in 1961, they began hypnotherapy a few years later.

That’s how Barney deeply affected American mass culture by giving credibility to the little guys with big heads and wraparound eyes who have since appeared in everything from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The X-Files.

Asked under hypnosis to draw an alien, Barney came up with a sketch that launched a thousand myths. In fact, he was reproducing a face he had seen 12 days earlier on a TV show, The Outer Limits. But by the time anyone figured that out the aliens Clancy calls ‘macrocephalic space-waifs’ had become permanently lodged in mass culture.

As Clancy says,

“Betty and Barney Hill got their ideas from books, movies and TV. From then on, people got their ideas from books, movies, TV, and Betty and Barney Hill.”

For the aggrieved (and I’m sure there will be many), you can e-mail Mr. Fulford at

For the rest, consider this – in the past few weeks, the National Post, one of Canada’s two national newspapers, has printed columns by two of its most respected columnists dealing with aspects of the UFO phenomenon (the first was Andrew Coyne‘s column on Paul Hellyer, see Don’t Shoot the Messenger).

This, I believe, is a result of the recent Exopolitics conference held in Toronto, which has indeed achieved more media attention for the UFO phenomenon (one of the goals of the conference organizers) – unfortunately, most of it has not been good. Call it the “Paul Hellyer factor.”
Both Coyne and Fulford are well-read, intelligent, thoughtful, perceptive people – they are the kind of opinion-shapers that ufology needs to engage if it is ever to make any headway, and move away from being a fringe pseudo-science.
I’ll do my part – I’ll send them each a DVD copy of Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Cases. I’ve also sent Mr. Fulford a response, which can be found at ‘Dear Mr. Fulford…’

But ufology should also do its part – no more conferences with former Ministers of National Defence (or anyone else, for that matter) citing Corso’s The Day After Roswell, please.


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