Talking to Scientists and Journalists about Anomalies
by Dr. Andrea Pritchard © 1996
Nothing good generally comes from a TV program's objective look into an anomalous phenomena.
At least it didn't from NOVA's presentation “Kidnapped by UFOs?”
But what went wrong? How can we better get our studies of anomalies across to the world?
By analyzing the NOVA program perhaps we can find ways.
The journalists of NOVA set themselves a very hard topic -- to decide whether or not aliens are real. MIT professor Dave Pritchard and I tried to tell the producers they would get better results if they asked what are the intellectual issues in dealing with this phenomenon? But the producers weren’t interested. They did not define “real,” but seemed to assume “real” was something people could poke and prod. One of the mysteries in this field is that hard physical evidence is extremely illusive.
But they are trying to decide if people are being “Kidnapped by UFOs?” Here is the big problem, they did not consider the matter from experiencer's point of view. Imagine seeing beings coming through the walls of your bedroom, finding yourself floating up toward a UFO in a beam of liquid light. If you wake up in the morning with these memories and a tremendous bruise on your thigh or forearm, it becomes hard to pass this off as a bad dream. If your friends, family, and society offer you no support while you are trying to decide whether to trust your senses or believe in the reality you have always known, you will feel abandoned just when you need help the most. You ask merely for support, perhaps a suspension of active disbelief; you do not ask that others discard the reality system they have had since childhood for you are probably not prepared to give that up yourself.
Being brought up in a scientific society the experiencer expects help in bringing all this conflicting evidence into some coherence. Yet, here the scientists (in their fundamental capacity of explainers) have failed the experiencer: for the scientific practice of explaining a new phenomenon, exclusively in terms of the old doesn’t work. So the abductees on the NOVA program are made to look like scientific subjects in some experiment, not people with the authority of first hand experiences who face the camera and ask their questions. Here we have to consider who the experts really are and who gets to frame the problem.
NOVA producer Denise DiIanni has her own angle. In an interview of the March/April “Contact Forum,”  she says “But I think there are beliefs out there being supported by researchers like David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins and others that are dangerous... I have seen people who are troubled by the notion that they and their children, for generations now and into the future, will be abducted and there is not a thing they can do about it. I think as a mother of a small child and as a human being that is a really frightening proposition. I’m glad that science and scientist methodology exist to tell me that perhaps there is a different explanation.”
Here’s such a mother who wrote Budd Hopkins. She says in a letter quoted from Hopkins’ article in the MUFON UFO Journal March 1996, “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 wall? How do they park it there, there's no road there.’ He talks about tables without legs, ‘but those are the kind you don’t eat on’. He tells me how chilly it was outside last night."
The mother and her son appear on NOVA, and Hopkins goes on to state, “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 a drawing of an alien.”
Somehow this producer sees her job to find comforting explanations even if they don’t include all the information. But many experiencers say there is no comfort in news media who will not deal with your problem as you perceive it. Is there any way to find out what a producer’s opinion is before hand? Is there any recourse people going on such a program have other then to go on a talk show? Talk shows don’t have the prestige of NOVA but they don’t edit, either.
Since NOVA is a science program it should consider evidence from those finding statistically significant patterns. Folklorist Thomas Bullard has found many patterns, including door way amnesia, wherein all experiencers forget how they get into the craft. John Miller MD, emergency room physician surveys reports on alien medical techniques and finds them widely different from the medicine he knows. Both of these researchers present lively accounts of their findings. Statistically significant patterns help everyone to look at the phenomenon. Scientists use statistics. For the experiencer, although such studies don’t validate any particular experience, they do indicate that others report similar experiences.
Although Bullard finds that experiencers report only a small subset of the aliens which are available on TV, psychologist Robert Baker is given time to talk about cultural conditioning. Scenes of movies ET and Communion appear on screen. It would be interesting to have Bullard and Baker explain their positions and data. Why we can’t get to this stage of presentation, I don’t know.
Psychology is another science which can be brought to bear on the subject of alien encounters. Harvard psychiatrist John Mack presented his view of this phenomenon on the NOVA show. Much was made of Donna Bassett whom Mack claims presented herself first to him as a fellow researcher and later as an abductee. She claims to have hoaxed her story to prove Mack eager to prove his ideas on aliens. This according to a news analyst was the high point of the drama of the show. It was certainly the only place where two opposing points of view came into play. The moral to the story here may be that we who are studying anomalies will have to think more about the human interest drama if we are going to get a decent hearing. The skeptics spent a good deal of time debunking testimony obtained through hypnosis even though Mack and Hopkins indicated much of their material came without using hypnosis.
We received stern warnings when psychologist Elizabeth Loftus who has no clinical expertise with a traumatized population, indicated it was dangerous to put ideas into the minds of young children. Then Carl Sagan has the last word. He states, “What bothers me the most is the absence of skeptical thinking, not just on the so-called abductees but on the part of the therapists. I believe the methods of science is tried and true, it isn't perfect, it’s just the best we have and to abandon skeptical protocols is the pathway to a dark age.”
I am concerned that we will hear more about this theme of a new dark age as we approach the millennium. If the change of the year’s number at the end of the nineteenth century caused fin de siecle malaise, imagine what we're in for around the year 2000. There are several assumptions in the Circular Times which may indeed draw the fire of mainstream scientists and which we may need to defend, whatever our specialty.
One is that ancient people knew something which might be important for us to know now. Scientific ideas of progress usually do not countenance going back to the beliefs of pre-scientific people. Even the Greeks from whom we got a lot of ideas about science and government are suspect when they practice divination and astrology.
Another idea is that we may need to become caretakers of the world,
rather than masters of the world.
This is an unpopular notion for many people who believe in
materialism, scientists and consumers included.
I do not know how to bring science, journalism and anomalous research together. Investigator Joe Nyman says its impossible and will not appear on TV. But TV is where people in our society get information. It may be necessary to put some hard thought into what to emphasize to the producers. We have always considered them professionals and tried to educate them. Perhaps we should try to entertain them instead. Many anomalies don't have experiencers who can speak for themselves, but insisting in first hand evidence is essential. John Mack did meet with producer DiIanni and her boss and was given certain assurances. But that didn’t help. Maybe we just have to endure this kind of treatment until our culture gets more sophisticated about our anomalies. Let’s hope we won’t have to defend ourselves from being harbingers of a dark age.
(1) "Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference" held at MIT Cambridge MA, et.al editors / John Mack c Wild Flower Press, PO Box 186, Merrimack, NH 03054-1862
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea Pritchard: Art and humanities major, BA Scripps College, MFA painting BU, member of the Cambridge Art Assoc. Andrea makes paintings and tapestries, has designed extensive renovations on two houses and their garden. Becoming principal editor of "Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference" held at MIT Cambridge MA, et.al editors / John Mack - when her husband Dave needed help getting these proceedings published. Andrea has developed an informal network of experiencers, investigators, therapists and persons interested in the abduction phenomena. She hopes someday to collect and publish the artwork of experiencers in a comprehensive volume.
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