Item: New York Times, Science Times Section, June 16, 1986 'Urge to Investigate and Believ
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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