by Fannie Weinstein
The Detroit News
April 21, 1994
Fannie Weinstein is a
Detroit News staff writer.
A second article by Fannie Weinstein originally
accompanied this piece but is not reproduced here; it
presented the stories of three experiencers.
“All three,” wrote
Weinstein, “say that before they met Mack, they had
been afraid to tell anyone but their closest
confidants about their encounters because of the
stigma surrounding the abduction controversy.
They're coming forward now, they say, so other
abductees will know they're not alone.”
An additional note: The
main article reproduced below ran under many different
titles in different newspapers (the article having been
syndicated nationwide via the Gannett News Service).
Different papers ran the article in different lengths.
This website had been
running the article under the title “A Close Encounter
with Critics” before it came into possession of the
original newsprint (pictured below), so we are
continuing to run the article under that title even
though it may be more properly recognized as “The Body
Snatchers” now that we are presenting the full text as
originally run in the Detroit News.
John Mack is used to being
It comes with the territory when you're an eminent Harvard
psychiatrist and you write a book arguing that people who say
they've been abducted by aliens may be telling the truth.
But when critics start attacking the abductees themselves, Mack the
mild-mannered academic becomes Mack the Knife, cutting down not only
their arguments but their motives as well.
“What they're doing, in their
desperation, is attacking people who are a vulnerable minority,”
says Mack, 64, whose
Abduction - Human Encounter with Aliens
has proved to be the hot book-of-the-month for the likes of
Oprah, 48 Hours, Dateline, Newsweek, Time and The New York Times
“It's a cruel tactic. They think if they can intimidate the
experiencers themselves, then they won't want to come forward
and that will attack this in a more basic way.”
Abduction is based on Mack's work over
the past three and a half years with more than 100 “experiencers” -
UFO parlance for abductees - whose recollections are a combination
of conscious recall and memories achieved through hypnosis. In it,
he argues that,
“the abduction phenomenon... forces
us, if we permit ourselves to take it seriously, to re-examine
our perception of human identity - to look at who we are from a
Does this mean Mack actually believes
his subjects have been abducted by aliens? Not exactly.
"The word 'believe,' in American
English means suckered in, that somebody sold you a bill
of goods,” he explains. “So I have to qualify that."
“What I say is that these are people who as best as I can tell
have no reason to be distorting this phenomenon, who have
nothing to gain personally, who have come forward reluctantly,
who do not remotely demonstrate a form of mental disturbance
that could account for what they're saying and who, with or
without hypnosis and with intense feeling describe what [sounds
like] real experience.”
“So I say these people are speaking authentically, genuinely and
that it's a mystery I can't explain.”
One thing Mack's critics can't dispute are his credentials.
Mack received his medical degree from Harvard in 1955 and has been a
professor of psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital, an affiliate of
Harvard Medical School, since 1972. He has written numerous
critically acclaimed books and is perhaps best known for his 1977
Pulitzer Prize-winning psychoanalytic biography of T.E. Lawrence.
But it's these very credentials, some critics say, that are creating
a smoke screen when it comes to analyses of Mack's work.
“Mack is a rather charismatic
personality, and the fact that he comes from Harvard seems to
give his views more authority,” argues Philip Klass, publisher
of the Skeptics UFO Newsletter.
“It's as if General [Norman]
Schwarzkopf were to make some crazy pronouncement dealing with
defense matters. People would say, 'Gee, he's a military man. He
must know what he's talking about.'”
Especially disturbing to Klass, a
journalist who has written about space technology for more than 40
years, is the lack of what he calls “scientifically credible
evidence” for extraterrestrial life.
“After spending more than a
quarter-century investigating UFO reports, I have yet to find a
single such case.”
Klass is as dismissive of the so-called
“abductees” as he is of Mack.
“They live humdrum lives,” he says.
“Nobody would ask them to appear on a talk show on the basis of
their normal lives. But all they have to do is read a book or
two about abductions, concoct a somewhat similar story and
they're a local celebrity. And who knows? Maybe they can write a
book and become a millionaire.”
It's not just lay persons, though, who
are troubled by Mack's latest direction. Even some of his colleagues
question its validity.
“People respect his other
achievements,” says Dr. Malkah Notman, acting chairwoman of
Cambridge Hospital's psychiatry department [which Mack founded].
“But the perception is that this is not a productive area.”
You'll never convince Mack of that.
tall, handsome man with dark hair and graying temples, he talks
about the abduction phenomenon with the kind of enthusiasm usually
limited to eager young professionals.
Outfitted in a blue tweed sports coat, a pale blue button-down shirt
and gray corduroy slacks - looking ever the part of the slightly
disheveled professor - Mack spent much of a recent interview rocking
back and forth in a worn, leather desk chair that takes up a sizable
chunk of his tiny Cambridge Hospital office.
For the most part, Mack is philosophical about the stir his book is
“My work seems to have stimulated a
kind of polarization in the media,” says Mack, who speaks as
much with his hands as with his mouth. “On the one hand, you
have people who are somewhat open. They may be nervous, but
they've allowed themselves to walk through my process and they
see that something's going on here that's mysterious.”
“The other end of the pole is people who simply say this is not
possible. They completely dismiss the association with UFOs,
they completely dismiss the fact that the phenomenon occurs in
children as young as 2 or 3 years old, they completely dismiss
the fact that the experiences are consistent among thousands of
people all over the country and they dismiss the fact that I say
there isn't mental illness here.
Then they become snide, nasty
and personally attack me.”
Mack became interested in the abduction phenomenon after a colleague
introduced him to
Budd Hopkins, a New York artist
who is considered the father of the abduction-awareness movement.
At first, Mack says he was as skeptical as the next guy.
The pair met in January 1990, and Hopkins told Mack about people
from all over the country who had told him about their experiences.
A month later, Mack met with four abductees and became intrigued by
the philosophical, spiritual and social implications of what they
had to say.
Most significantly, Mack writes in the book's introduction, the
phenomenon calls into question the basic Western belief that reality
is grounded only in the material world or in what can be perceived
by the physical senses.
It's this intellectual dilemma, Mack says, that explains why people
are so disturbed by the phenomenon.
“We like to believe we are in
control our world,” he says, “that we can bulldoze it, blow up
“That illusion of control is deeply built into the Western
psyche. This phenomenon strikes at the core of that and says not
only are we not in control, that some kind of intelligence can
break through and do threatening things to people for which
there's no defense, it also shatters another belief - that we an
the preeminent intelligence, if not the only intelligence, in
the cosmos. It makes a mockery of our arrogance.”
The most notable characterization of the abductees, says Mack, is
that they can't be categorized. His own sample includes students,
housewives, secretaries, writers, business people, computer industry
professionals and psychologists.
Some of the abductees come from broken homes, others come from
intact, well-functioning families.
Experiencers, say their abduction encounters begin most commonly in
homes and at night. Usually the experiencer is accompanied by one or
two or mom humanoid beings who guide them to a ship. The experiencer
often discovers that he or she is unable to move at will.
Inside the ships the experiencers remember witnessing mom alien
beings. The entities most commonly observed are small, gray humanoid
beings 3 to 4 feet tall. They usually have large, pear-shaped heads
that protrude in the back, long arms with three or four long
fingers, a thin torso and spindly legs.
Abductees are often subjected to procedures in which
instruments are used to penetrate virtually every part of their
bodies, including the nose, sinuses, eyes, ears and other parts of the
head, arms, legs, feet, abdomen, genitalia and more rarely, the
Sometimes instruments are used to take sperm samples from men and to
remove or fertilize eggs from females. Abductees report being
impregnated by aliens and later having an alien-human or human-human
pregnancy terminated. Also, some report the presence of homing
objects, or implants, that have been inserted in their bodies so
that the aliens can track and monitor them.
Afterwards, many abductees suffer long-term physical symptom such as
headaches, nasal sinus pain, limb pains and gastrointestinal and
Because they often suffer some sort of psychological trauma as well,
Mack tries to ensure that the abductees have access to mental health
professionals if he can't see them himself.
“I try to make sure they have
someone they can talk to who at least understands the
phenomenon,” he says. “One of the things that is really
troubling is that there aren't enough people who are qualified
to do this work. But that's changing. I now have two
psychiatrists in the area who are open to it and who will see
The chances of Mack and his critics ever
seeing eye-to-eye is slim.
Take Klass, for example, who confesses
facetiously that he keeps a video camera by his bedside.
“I figure if I am abducted and if I
can get video on board a flying saucer, I could really do very
well,” he cracks.
For his part, Mack is less concerned
with battling his critics than he is with openings public dialogue
about the abduction phenomenon.
“I want people to ask themselves, is
it possible that something they don't understand is going on
here?” he says.
“My role, my responsibility, is to
open a serious conversation in this culture that maybe there are
dimensions and realities and something going on hem that we
don't understand, and that it might be more useful for us to
acknowledge this than to shoot the messengers.”