The Skeptic Tank
May 24, 1994
from SkepticFiles Website
Told that Hopkins was a New York artist known for his work with people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens and hustled aboard UFOs, Mack swiftly came to a professional conclusion.
What Mack found when he finally met Hopkins was something so personally compelling that the veteran psychiatrist plunged into the field of abduction research himself.
Over the next three years, as word of his interest in the abduction phenomenon spread, nearly 100 self-proclaimed abductees (or "experiencers") would contact Mack at his office at Harvard University's Cambridge Hospital. The stories varied, but many abductees told of being taken from their homes by big-eyed extraterrestrials and borne aboard space ships; there, sperm or ova samples were extracted from their bodies as part of an ongoing earthling-alien hybrid breeding program.
After taking what he describes as thorough psychiatric histories of the subjects, Mack concluded that they were "solid people, of sound mind" and told several colleagues that he believed "something important" was going on. It wasn't the first time the psychiatrist had flirted with what some might consider fringe fields or taken an alternative approach.
The Center for Psychology and Social Change, the nonprofit research organization Mack founded in 1983, often funds projects that combine psychology with ecological or ethnic issues outside the psychiatric mainstream.
But for many of Mack's fellow psychiatrists, the abducted-by-aliens study was just too bizarre.
Dismissing abductees' claims as preposterous, colleagues respectfully cautioned him about pursuing the project.
Last month, Scribners published Mack's "Abduction - Human Encounters With Aliens," featuring 13 in-depth case histories drawn from his research.
And now a lot of people assume there must be something the matter with John Mack - or at least something seriously awry with the 64-year-old professor's professional judgment when it comes to alien activities.
George Vaillant, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor who has known Mack for 25 years, provided a book jacket blurb for "Abduction" comparing it favorably to Frazer's "The Golden Bough." But he refuses to discuss his personal views on the validity of Mack's research or the professional risks Mack is taking.
Accepting a reporter's phone call "out of loyalty to John Mack," Vaillant would comment only,
Mack is hardly the first to write about alien abductions. A number of authors have chronicled the case of Betty and Barney Hill, an apparently stable New Hampshire couple who claimed to have been taken aboard a craft in the early 1960s by small, gray humanoids and subjected to sexual examinations. (The Hills' experiences later became the subject of a 1975 TV movie, "The UFO Incident.")
Budd Hopkins' "Missing Time," published in 1981, chronicled abduction claims involving missing time, body scars resulting from invasive alien medical procedures and small metallic implants purportedly inserted in victims' bodies as tracking devices; the follow-up, 1987's "Intruders," focused on sexual and reproduction-related episodes that have come to be associated with the abduction phenomenon.
Whitley Strieber's "Communion" was a best-seller in 1987; and in 1992, Temple University historian and abduction researcher David Jacobs presented his findings in "Secret Life: Firsthand Accounts of UFO Abductions."
Impeccable credentials. But whatever his colleagues may think, Mack's credentials-in addition to being a Harvard psychiatry professor, he is the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of T.E. Lawrence - set him apart from the pack and lend a stamp of respectability to a topic generally relegated to tabloids. As a result, he has received mainstream news media coverage seldom accorded to just anybody who announces his belief in alien abductions, though Mack isn't crazy about invariably being described as a believer.
He's even less crazy about an anonymous quote from a "friend" in a New York Times Magazine article that suggested Mack's UFO abduction "obsession" led to his recent separation from his wife after 34 years of marriage.
The extraterrestrials, Mack theorizes, may be coming from some other dimension of reality-possibly a parallel universe.
Philip J. Klass, publisher of the Washington, D.C.-based publication Skeptics UFO Newsletter and a longtime UFO debunker, can come up with plenty of them.
Just attention seekers?
Klass, a contributing editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, has spent 28 years investigating UFO cases. He maintains that he has yet to find what he considers "a single, credible case that cannot be explained in prosaic terms."
As Klass sees it, most abductees simply crave attention.
But don't they risk being branded as wacky?
According to a highly controversial 1991 Roper poll, anywhere from several hundred thousand to several million Americans may have had abduction-related experiences.
The lack of physical evidence associated with alien abductions also arouses skepticism among some members of the UFO community.
Longtime UFO investigators Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt, authors of the recently published "The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell", are convinced that an extraterrestrial craft crashed near Roswell, N.M., in 1947.
Their book includes testimony from doctors, law enforcement officials and military personnel who claim they saw five alien bodies amid the wreckage. (Klass dismisses the Roswell crash, considered for decades to be the most famous and well-documented of all UFO episodes, as "a myth perpetuated by the media, mainly television.")
But Schmitt and Randle have yet to be convinced that aliens are abducting earthlings for any reason whatsoever.
Lacking a smoking gun Mack readily admits that he would love to have a smoking gun.
Mack is pushing on with two new research projects, one comparing abductees with victims of traumatic psychological experiences and the other a study of UFO abductions worldwide.