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Urge to Investigate and Believe Sparks New Interest in UFOs


 
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Item:  New York Times, Science Times Section, June 16, 1986

'Urge to Investigate and Believe'
Sparks New Interest in U.F.O.'s

By William J. Broad
The aliens are here again, at least in  terms of popular culture, if not in
fact.

Three books about alien visits are selling  briskly; one of them has topped
the nonfiction best seller list for  weeks.  clubs, newsletters, movies and
lectures about  unidentified flying  objects are  generating revenues  at a
pace  exceeded  only  in  the  1950's, during  the  first  wave  of  U.F.O.
sightings.

Enthusiasts are now even charging that  for 40 years the Federal Government
has   harbored   physical   evidence   of   an   earthly   encounter   with
extraterrestrial  creatures, including  their lifeless  bodies and  damaged
spacecraft.  That  startling report, dismissed  by skeptics  and Government
officials  as  a  laughable  hoax,  is contained  in  what  purport  to  be
top-secret Government papers from the Eisenhower era.

Why the fascination with aliens, despite repeated failures over the decades
to document their earthly arrival?

In  interviews,  psychologists,  historians, philosophers  and  writers  of
science fiction said  belief in alien encounters was rooted  in such things
as  the need  for  secular messiahs  and the  search  for explanations  for
terrestrial troubles.

"The urge  to investigate and  believe in  the stuff is  almost religious,"
said Ben  Bova, former  editor of  Omni magazine  and a  writer of  science
fiction.  "We  used to  have gods.  Now  we want to  feel we're  not alone,
watched over by protective forces far beyond us."

But others,  often sober,  respectable scientists  who have  studied U.F.O.
reports for years, said the skeptics were  missing the biggest story of the
age.

"People who haven't been paying attention to  this stuff are in for shock,"
said Dr.  Bruce  Maccabee, a full-time Navy physicist  in Washington, D.C.,
and a part-time U.F.O.  researcher.  "Some  sort of things have been flying
around for decades, and they aren't ours."

The current  U.F.O.  flurry  is led  by new  books: "Communion"  by Whitley
Streiber (Morrow), "Intruders"  by Budd Hopkins (Random  House), and "Light
Years" by  Gary Kinder (Atlantic Monthly  Press).  "Communion" has  been on
the New York Times best seller list for 16 weeks.

All three  tell of personal  encounters with  aliens.  In this  they differ
from the last great period of U.F.O.  enthusiasm, in the 1950's, said David
M.  Jacobs, author of "The U.F.O.  Controversy in America," and a historian
at Temple  University in  Philadelph ia.  In  the 1950's  U.F.O.  sightings
were in  vogue.  Now, he said,  we are in a  "new era" in which  aliens are
taken as fact and attention had turned to "people's experiences" with them.

Indeed, the hottest  topic among U.F.O.  enthusiasts is  what they describe
as the Federal Government's experience with aliens, especially the "Roswell
Incident," one of the oldest U.F.O.   episodes on the books.  Timothy Good,
a British U.F.O.   researcher, and a group of U.F.O.   investigators in the
United States  say they have documentary  evidence that the  Government hid
its knowledge  that a "flying saucer"  crashed in 1947 near  Roswell, N.M.,
killing its crew of extraterrestrial  creatures.  The charges are contained
in Mr.  Good's book "Above Top  Secret: The Worldwide U.F.O.  Cover-Up," to
be published  in Britain  in July.  The  Roswell Incident  The Government's
position is that the 1947 incident was  nothing more than the sighting of a
weather  balloon.  But  the  U.F.O.  researchers  cite  a newly  discovered
document, dated Nov.  18, 1952, purportedly a top-secret briefing paper for
President-elect Dwi ght D.  Eisenhower.  It discusses a secret Federal team
known as  Majestic-12, or MJ-12, established  by President Truman  on Sept.
24, 1947 to investigate the of the spacecraft and its crew [sic].

"It appears to be genuine," said William  L.  Moore, who wrote a book about
the incident  and who  investigated the  document for  more than  two years
after a colleague received  it anonymously in the mail.  But  he said there
is nothing in the records "that show s it's a fraud."

"Nonsense,"  replied  Philip J.   Klass,  a  leading U.F.O.   debunker  and
chairman of  the U.F.O.  subcommittee of  the committee for  the Scientific
Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, a respected group of scientists.
Mr.  Klass  said he had  seen the document  and considered it  "an outright
hoax."

The  document purportedly  recounts a  secret  briefing to  President-elect
Eisenhower by  Read Adm.  Roscoe H.   Hillenkoetter, the first  director of
the  Central  Intelligence Agency,  who  is  now  dead.  According  to  the
document, Admiral  Hillenkoetter was  a member  of Majestic-12.   It begins
with a chronology of crash near Roswell [sic].

"On  07 July  1947,"  it says,  "a  secret operation  was  begun to  assure
recovery of the  wreckage of this object for scientific  study.  During the
course of this operation, aerial  reconnaissance discovered that four small
human-like beings  had apparently  eject ed  from the  craft at  some point
before it exploded.  These had fallen to  earth about two miles east of the
wreckage  site.  all  four were  dead and  badly decomposed  due to  action
predators and  exposure to the elements  during the approximately  one week
time period which had elapsed before their discovery."

"A special scientific team took charge  of removing these bodies for study.
The wreckage of the craft was  also removed to several different locations.
Civilian  and military  witnesses  in the  area  were  debriefed, and  news
reporters were given the  effective cover story that the object  had been a
misguided weather research balloon."

By November 1947, the briefing continued,  a Federal team of scientists had
concluded "that although these creatures  are human-like in appearance, the
biological and evolutionary processes responsible for their development has
been quite different from tho se observed or postulated in homo-sapiens."

Stanton T.  Friedman,  a nuclear physicist in  Frederickton, New Brunswick,
Canada, who is investigating the document  with Mr.  Moore and who lectures
widely on  U.F.O.'s, acknowledged  that interest  it generated  would raise
lecture fees but said their goal was to get at the truth.

"We're dealing with something of extraordinary importance," he said.  "What
this means  is that we humans  are not the big  shots we think we  are." He
said the landing was concealed because  "no Government wants people to have
their allegiance to the planet rather than themselves."

Reflecting on  the scope and intensity  of the current flurry  of interest,
Jerome  Clark, vice  president of  the J.   Allen Hynek  Center for  U.F.O.
Studies in  Chicago and editor  of "International U.F.O.   Reporter," said:
"What's interesting  is that  all this  is happening  in the  absence of  a
sighting wave.  There hasn't really been anything sighted since the 1970's.
If I were paranoid, I'd say it's quiet, too quiet."

Frederik  Pohl,  a science  fiction  writer,  said  belief in  U.F.O.'s  is
flourishing  now  because  the  nation's  political  leaders  are  seen  as
floundering.   "We're  told  by  our  leadership  to  be  resolute  against
terrorism, yet they make deals," he said.   "We're tol d 'Star Wars' is the
future, but no one other than Ronald  Reagan believes it.  People have lost
trust in reality and they're looking for something else."

Michael Wertheimer,  a psychologist at the  University of Colorado  who has
participated in studies that debunked U.F.O.  reports, agreed that feelings
of  helplessness   tended  to  reinforce  the   urge  to  believe   in  the
extraterrestrial.

Paul Kurtz, a  philosopher at the State  University of New York  at Buffalo
and chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of
the Paranormal, said the current U.F.O.  wave  was "part of a bizarre trend
in where there is no sense of standards of evidence."

Dr.  Maccabee, the Navy physicist, conceded  that skeptics often made valid
points.  "But the simple fact is  that there are unexplained sightings," he
added.  "Over the past  40 years there have been 100,000  sightings with 10
to 20 percent that are hard to explain."

In the  case of the  purposed [sic]  Eisenhower documents, he  said, "maybe
somebody's  been  clever, but  I  think  there's  a  good chance  they  are
authentic."

Next: The Scientific Context of the UFO/Abduction Phenomenon