by Mike Cartel
“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. ”
– H. L. Mencken
“Based on a true story,” the press kit for Fire in the Sky breathlessly declares “of the Arizona logger whose abduction by a UFO is one of the best-documented claims of an alien encounter on record.”
No one who has ever claimed an extraterrestrial abduction has gone to the FBI with his or her story. They go on the radio, TV, the lecture circuit, publishing houses, the National Enquirer and movie producers, but never the FBI to report the alleged felony. The Feds don’t like being fooled with phony kidnap claims and oblige prevaricators to pay ten-grand in fines and serve five years in the joint.
The UFO industry, like the psychic, New Age and conspiracy manufacturers, rake in billions from the gullible, who most often hear only one side of an exotic story. The facts are most difficult to assemble, since the media gain readers, listeners, viewers and ratings from bad news, gossip and non-stories intentionally made mysterious. Neither good news, happy people, nor skeptics throwing hard questions on space alien abductees sells.
Most psychic enterprises are entangled in emotive language, appeals to ignorance, half-truths and unlimited fraud. There are some credible authors and scientists (Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, B.F Skinner, Martin Gardner, James Randi, Philip Klass, Paul Kurtz, Arthur C. Clark) who have bothered to research the claims of UFO writers and psychic fakes, meticulously tracing back story origins and uncovering one careless (or deceptive) embroidery after another. With every new irrational declaration it takes a team of scholars to wade through the data to prove it wrong. The burden of proof is (suppose to be) on the person who advances the thesis, not upon the skeptic. But there are no rewards for the researcher exposing these frauds, only a possible mention in a backwater science journal. Not much incentive. And for every imposter uncovered, a thousand more materialize to flood the media and bilk the public.
So, aside from being duped by charlatans what’s really the harm?
The information age throws crushing data with only limited time to file and analyze. Where we must make reality approximations and critical decisions, we cannot afford to confuse our facts with medieval absurdities. Most get much or all of their news and knowledge from commercial media and popular entertainment, and it is outrageous (and dangerous) if the information brokers uncritically accept and promote fictitious details as fact. “There is always the danger,” philosopher Paul Kurtz writes, “that once irrationality grows, it will spill into other areas. There is no guarantee that a society so infected by unreason will be resistant to even the most virulent programs or dangerous ideological sects.”
UFOlogy has mutated into a life of its own, with a hidebound mythology, countless subcults and cottage industries. Contactee conferences, abductee therapy, E.T. encounter groups, and at The Whole Earth Expo you’ll find specialized subsets of crop circle ‘mysteries,’ close encounters of the fourth kind, flying saucer crashes, space ships of the Gods, and of course the best alibi of all, the government cover-up of UFOs.
The next thing you know you’ll believe Elvis is alive (12% do), psychics can bend spoons, Nostradamus foretold the future, Bridey Murphy was reincarnated, and extraterrestrials, who most certainly have mastered negative gravity and tachyon warp speed, must pierce needles into kidnapped Earthlings for their fiendish experiments (or just for fun?). And why are they so fascinated with the human anal cavity?
If small-minded charlatans can do so well in today’s New Age and fiction-science environment, just imagine how far an imaginative con man could go with so many fantasy-prone suckers desperately fighting to throw money at some new and exotic belief system.