Date: Fri Nov 05 1993 22:07:00
From: SHEPPARD GORDON
Debate from outer space: Skeptics reject ufologists' claims of abductions
CALGARY - Dr. Laurie Vassos awakens and is shocked to see a short,
grey-skinned creature with huge eyes standing beside his bed.
When he tries to scream, Vassos is suddenly transported out of his home to
the interior of a strange craft. He's up to his groin in a machine that looks
like a medical CAT-scanner.
Two "humanoids" - beings with human-like features - then float him out of
the craft, down a ramp and back to his bed where Vassos loses consciousness.
Next morning, he says in recalling the experience, he is standing naked in
the bathroom when he notices mysterious, tiny red marks on his groin. These
marks disappear after a day.
Vassos, a general physician in Saskatoon, is among thousands of North
Americans who believe they've been abducted by intelligent aliens in UFOs.
He's treating several patients who claim they're also "UFO abductees."
"These are not just vivid dreams," Vassos insists. "My senses are
telling me that (experience) was real."
Vassos recently organized a weekend seminar in Banff on extra-terrestrial
(ET) intelligence. The program attracted about 30 people, including nurses,
a dentist, psychologist, pilot, university students and business professionals.
Psychologist Leo Sprinkle, featured guest speaker at Banff, says the UFO
abduction experience is a real phenomenon beyond present scientific
Sprinkle, former professor of counselling services at University of
Wyoming, has used hypnosis since 1967 to help more than 200 people
explore their "UFO memories."
Unlike Sprinkle, most "ufologists" or UFO buffs do not have training in
psychology or other scientific disciplines, or even in professional
counselling. They include occult novelist Whitley Strieber, who wrote the
1987 best-seller Communion, which suggests he was abducted and rudely
examined by "dwarf-like" aliens.
Bud Hopkins is another high-profile American ufologist. He trained as an
artist but, like Sprinkle, practises hypnosis on alleged abductees. In 1987,
Hopkins published Intruders. It suggests hundreds of people have become UFO
abduction victims, as part of a genetic experiment to meld aliens and humans.
People should examine such fantastic claims carefully, say two members of
The group, which has about 40 members, promotes critical thinking and
skepticism about alleged paranormal occurrences.
"Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence," says Robert
Day, a computer consultant.
Anything is possible, but "it's the lack of proof that makes it unlikely,"
agrees Elizabeth Anderson, who founded the Alberta Skeptics. Day, in a
legally binding contract, offers to pay $2,000 to anyone providing
convincing evidence of ET visitations to Earth. Proof could include
recognition of the event by the Canadian National Academy of Sciences.
Anyone up to the challenge must pay Day $10 per month to keep the
contract in effect. He's not expecting any takers.
Philip Klass, retired senior editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology,
has since 1987 offered to pay $10,000 to every UFO abduction victim
whose claim is confirmed by the FBI.
No "abductee" has even reported a claim.
The UFO abduction phenomenon vaulted into public consciousness in 1966,
with Look magazine's blockbuster, two-issue series about Betty and Barney
The New Hampshire couple claimed they'd been abducted by a UFO five years
earlier and physically examined by space beings.
Boston psychiatrist Dr. Ben Simon treated the Hills with psychotherapy,
including time-regression hypnosis to explore their memories. Betty and
Barney told extraordinary tales of being kidnapped and taken aboard a
During the Banff seminar, Vassos and Sprinkle both cited the Hills' case.
But the Hills' psychiatrist "has stated, on several occasions, that he does
not believe that the Hills were abducted and taken aboard a UFO," University
of Kentucky psychologist Robert Baker notes in his 1990 book, They Call It
Simon's expert opinion was that "Betty Hill's memories of the alleged abduction
were based solely on her dreams," whose constant retelling also influenced her
husband's memory, Baker says.
Despite the treating psychiatrist's doubts, NBC-TV in 1975 showed a two-hour,
prime-time movie dramatizing the Hills' abduction.
Baker says the Hills' case was significant, but only because it set the tone an
content for all UFO abduction claims that followed.
Abductions supposedly uncovered through hypnotic suggestion contain the same
components: "missing time, spatial dislocations, physical isolation from the
rest of the world during the event, physical examination inside the UFO, and
interest of the aliens in the earthlings' reproduction system."
Vassos and Sprinkle acknowledged, in separate interviews at Banff, they're
biased about UFO abductions.
"It's obvious I've crossed the line of being an objective investigator. I'm al
an experiencer," Vassos said.
Sprinkle also believes he was, at age 10, taken aboard a spacecraft where a
tall humanoid advised him to learn to read and write well, so he could help
Sprinkle said in an interview that an American Psychological Association
ethics committee has investigated his activities and found no wrongdoing.
However, he was repeatedly warned to stop his "reincarnation workshops,"
where he uses hypnosis to explore people's "past lives or future dreams."
He finally resigned from the University of Wyoming in 1989. "The experts
are the people who've had the experience. So we should listen to what they have
Yet retired magazine editor Klass notes that Sprinkle, a trained psychologist,
was easily fooled by a young housewife from Phoenix, Ariz.
Christy Dennis, under hypnosis by Sprinkle, described her alien abductors
as being eight feet tall and having golden hair, olive-bronze skin, and "perfec
A 1981 National Enquirer article quoted Sprinkle as saying: "This is one of the
most remarkable abduction cases I've come across." But early in 1982, Dennis
admitted her hoax in a letter to Sprinkle.
Sprinkle said he isn't troubled by debunkers.
"My joy is that some day, they, too, will have these experiences." Banff
participants paid extra for individual hypnotherapy sessions with Sprinkle,
although up until he left the University of Wyoming he hadn't charged for such
Kentucky psychologist Baker says without independent verification, there's no
way, even for an experienced hypnotist, to tell whether subjects are telling th
truth or lying.
A California State University study in 1977 showed that hypnosis subjects
who'd never claimed so much as a UFO sighting can make up detailed abduction
stories that rank with the best told by alleged abductees.
Polygraph machines (lie-detectors) cannot distinguish between a real and a
created, phoney memory, Baker notes. Research on hypnosis has also revealed
a phenomenon called "cueing."
Baker says if the hypnotist has beliefs about what happened, "it is almost
impossible for him to prevent himself from inadvertently steering the subject's
recall in such a way that the subject will remember what the hypnotist believes.
The Banff seminar, in retrospect, was structured in a way that made cueing
unavoidable. In the morning, participants listened to Saskatoon physician
Vassos present his UFO abduction story.
In the afternoon, Sprinkle told about his UFO contact, and also affirmed his be
in the reality of the abduction experience.
Only after these presentations did Sprinkle call for a volunteer for hypnosis,
which he performed in front of other already "cued" participants.
A Calgary woman recalled that a UFO used to follow her car as she drove her
children home from a drive-in theatre. Sprinkle readily accepted the story.
Other participants told of UFO abductions, contacts, sightings and out-of-body