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UFO researcher slams shabby science

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    Source: The Intruders Foundation - New York, NY, USA http://www.intrudersfoundation.org/faith_based.html October, 2005 The Faith-Based Science Of Susan Clancy
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 21, 2005
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      Source: The Intruders Foundation - New York, NY, USA


      October, 2005

      The Faith-Based Science Of Susan Clancy
      By Budd Hopkins

      The literate world is well aware that a controversy about the
      reality of the UFO phenomenon has raged for decades. Arrayed on
      one side are the enthusiasts - the casual, the serious and the
      bizarre - along with thousands of highly qualified pilot-
      witnesses, high-ranking military personnel, intensely
      interested scientists, and even an astronaut or two. All regard
      the hundreds of thousands of global sighting reports as a
      scientific problem of major significance, and all demand that
      science finally conducts a thorough, objective investigation.
      Centrally opposed to this position are a large number of
      mainstream scientists, most of whom are not only indifferent to
      the subject of UFOs, but also grossly uninformed about the
      weight of the evidence. Allied with them is a strange amalgam of
      groups that includes official spokesmen for the United States
      Air Force, Bible Belt Fundamentalist preachers such as Pat
      Robertson, and a small but vociferous band of self-described
      "rationalist" debunkers (who probably look upon their religious
      brethren as hopelessly superstitious). Clearly, the battle
      against a scientific investigation of the UFO phenomenon makes
      strange bedfellows.

      A few years ago, when those of us in the research community
      heard rumors of a two-tiered scientific investigation to be
      undertaken at Harvard University by experimental psychologists
      Richard McNally and Susan Clancy, we were curious but wary. Dr.
      McNally, we were told, intended to test a group of self-
      described UFO abductees for the presence of certain symptoms of
      post-traumatic stress disorder. He would employ as a model a
      similar test used years before, in which a group of Vietnam
      veterans tape recorded their traumatic war experiences and then,
      at a later time, were scientifically measured for signs of
      stress as they heard their taped accounts played back. Dr.
      Clancy planned to employ a word memorization test, which was
      supposed to reveal a subject's tendency towards false memories.
      Unfortunately, neither McNally nor Clancy intended to carry out
      any actual investigations of UFO abduction reports or examine
      any physical evidence. They would remain in the laboratory,
      limiting their project to the ostensibly scientific testing of
      their abductee subjects' veracity.

      Early in the Susan Clancy enterprise, any hopes I had for her
      objectivity evaporated when I learned that her purported
      abductee subjects were to be self-selected. She had placed ads
      in a number of newspapers, asking for those who believed they
      had had UFO abduction experiences to contact her. Little or no
      vetting took place, and her unscientific protocol thus opened
      the laboratory door to anyone who claimed to be an abductee. Her
      subjects were not a group whose accounts had been investigated
      and accepted as reliable by experienced researchers, but
      instead, Clancy accepted virtually anyone who came in off the
      street and told her they were, indeed, abductees. Some of her
      subjects had such tenuous, even vapid reasons for believing they
      were abductees - a "mysterious bruise" or a "vague feeling" -
      that knowledgeable researchers would have immediately shown
      them the door. The uncritical Dr. Clancy, however, made them
      part of the "abductee" group she studied!

      Anyone familiar with the phenomenon is aware that very few
      abductees will come forward to discuss their experiences
      publicly, or to subject themselves to "testing" of any kind by
      people or organizations that they do not know and trust. Doing
      so would be to run the very real risk of becoming targets for
      career-threatening ridicule. Obviously, the more highly
      credentialed abductees are the most hesitant to volunteer as
      test subjects because they have the most to lose. Neither the
      NASA research scientist, the NASA engineer, nor the many
      psychiatrists, psychologists, police officers and military
      professionals who, over the years, have reported their abduction
      experiences to me, would ever involve themselves in what might
      well turn out to be sensationalist and incompetently mounted
      tests of one kind or another. Adding to that basic flaw in her
      study, my second concern had to do with the fact that neither
      Clancy, whom I had twice met, nor McNally made any attempt to
      contact Dr. David Jacobs or me. They were both undoubtedly aware
      that the two of us have accumulated between us masses of data
      after decades of work with literally hundreds of abductees. We
      were never consulted on any issue, nor was our help in vetting
      test subjects called for. In retrospect, Dr. Jacobs and I could
      have easily prevented the two testers - innocent of the complex
      work of actual investigation - from making many of the egregious
      errors which have so seriously damaged their work.

      The results of McNally's test for signs of posttraumatic stress
      disorder were significant. Those reporting abductions showed
      virtually the same intensely emotional reactions upon hearing
      their taped accounts replayed as did the Vietnam vets when they
      heard the tapes of their traumatic war experiences. But as we
      soon learned in McNally's analysis of the test results, the
      devil was not in the details themselves but in his
      interpretation of the details. He announced that, since we
      "know" that UFO abductions don't exist, all of his subjects'
      accounts have to be false memories. And since they registered
      just as powerfully as "true" memories, what the test shows, he
      explained, is that "false" memories can be just as traumatic as
      "real" memories! This classic illustration of "heads I win,
      tails you lose" circular reasoning provides a perfect example of
      ideology trumping science. Unfortunately, as astronomer J. Allen
      Hynek once remarked, science is not always what scientists do.
      In effect, McNally seemed to be saying that even if his own test
      results support the traumatic reality of the abduction
      phenomenon, that fact changes nothing since UFO ABDUCTIONS JUST
      DO NOT EXIST, and that somehow, someway, he will make his test
      results fit his hypothesis! McNally's ideological interpretation
      of the test results - a clear example of "faith-based science" -
      is just as rigid in its way as the creationists' willful
      denigration of evolution, no matter what the fossil records have

      Susan Clancy's word memorization test as an indication of false
      memories is far more tenuous than McNally's test for the
      presence of posttraumatic stress. (This is perhaps not the place
      to go into its technical inadequacies, other than to reiterate
      what I have already said about its fatal flaw - the reliance
      upon an unvetted, self-selected sample. I will return to the
      specifics of her work in a later paper.) Instead, the problem I
      would like to discuss is her use of a rather simple word
      memorization protocol to ratify her belief that a subject's
      demonstrably traumatic memories are false. Clancy baldly stated
      in an early newspaper interview that she assumed everyone would
      accept the idea that all abduction experiences were false
      memories, because "everyone" knew there were no such things as
      UFO abductions. This, she apparently thought, was settled truth
      - and another illustration of irrational, faith-based science.
      So, at the outset of their work, neither she nor McNally
      intended to raise even the possibility that such things as UFO
      abductions might have occurred, let alone to actually
      investigate that possibility. The ideology they shared assumed
      that such experiences were, ipso facto, false memories, a theory
      the two seem to believe as fervently as the Pope believes in the
      virgin birth.

      Another analogy comes to mind. Instead of a group of abductees,
      imagine an equal number of women who have reported rape
      experiences and who are now to be tested by a pair of
      experimental psychologists. The psychologists state at the
      outset that they do not believe any of these women were actually
      raped and are proceeding on that assumption. Thus their goal is
      not to investigate the veracity of the women's claims but to
      discover a way of establishing their "tendencies to fantasize
      and form false memories." Since the testers "know" in advance
      that these rape memories are false, no police investigation into
      the alleged rape accounts is necessary - no examination of
      physical or medical evidence, no visits to alleged crime scenes,
      no interviews with possible witnesses, and no checks on the
      reputations of the rape victims. In short, nothing will be
      undertaken that might support the reality of their experiences.
      An outrageous, even inhumane idea, of course, but analogous to
      the Clancy-McNally attitude to UFO abductees.

      As I pointed out above, Clancy carried out no investigation of
      any of her subjects' abduction reports - no inquiries into
      supporting witnesses, no visits to alleged sites, no search for
      physical evidence, no interviews with friends and family
      members. Everything she did apparently took place in the
      laboratory, by way of her word memorization test and personal
      interviews, though she apparently lacked a firm grounding in the
      literature, history or complexity of the UFO phenomenon.
      Recently I appeared on "Larry King Live," along with Clancy and
      several others, when one of the guests showed a blow-up of the
      world-famous Trent UFO photographs from McMinnville, Oregon,
      arguably the best-known UFO photos in existence. They were
      prominently featured in "Life" magazine in 1950, and have been
      reproduced hundreds of times since in many publications. What's
      more, in 1969, after careful analysis, an investigator for the
      skeptical Condon Committee described the McMinnville photo case
      this way: "This is one of the few UFO reports in which all
      factors investigated, geometric, psychological, and physical,
      appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary
      flying object, silvery, metallic, disc-shaped, tens of meters in
      diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two
      witnesses." Optical physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee has
      investigated this case thoroughly, flying to McMinneville,
      interviewing the Trents, their family and neighbors, taking his
      own test photos from the same location, and carrying out
      literally months of optical analysis of the original pictures.
      Maccabee's work has been published widely, but the photos
      themselves should be familiar to anyone with even a cursory
      involvement in UFO study and research. Yet, during the Larry
      King program, abduction authority Susan Clancy glanced at the
      photos on the monitor and said something like this: "that could
      be anything... someone who threw up a hubcap or a Frisbee or
      something." Her evident ignorance of this case, and, by
      extension, of the literature and history of the UFO phenomenon,
      was aptly illustrated by this glib, contemptuous wisecrack, a
      remark one might expect to hear late at night in a Texas
      barroom, but not from someone holding a Ph.D. degree from
      Harvard. Earlier, when King asked her how she became interested
      in the subject of UFO abductions, she began her answer this way:
      "I've been studying aliens for... " Studying aliens? Again, this
      peculiar description of her work in the laboratory is not what
      one would expect to hear from an experimental psychologist on an
      ostensibly serious TV program.

      Though as a faith-based scientist, Susan Clancy has no problem
      asserting her absolute belief that all UFO abduction accounts
      are nothing more than false memories, she is left with the
      problem of explaining how these memories are generated. By what
      process can many thousands of extremely similar accounts from
      around the world come into the heads of this multitude -
      especially since her colleague, Richard McNally, has
      established that abduction memories have essentially the same
      traumatic qualities as memories of the Vietnam War? Clancy's
      solution was to cobble together a melange of theories, many of
      them mutually contradictory, in an attempt to account for the
      power and similarity of these "false" memories. Abduction
      researchers have long been familiar with the explanations Clancy
      offers, and over the years we have refused to deal with many
      individuals whose abduction accounts are either extremely
      tenuous, lacking in evidence, or easily explained away. Where we
      differ from Clancy is that she insists upon her a priori belief
      that every abduction case can be explained away by her various
      theories and that no actual investigation is necessary, whereas
      experienced investigators, being scientific skeptics, believe
      that abduction accounts, accompanied by supporting evidence of
      various types, deserve investigation before firm conclusions
      about their credibility can be drawn.

      Her first explanation - one that is currently popular with
      debunkers of every stripe - is that abduction memories are
      formed during episodes of sleep paralysis, a relatively rare
      neurological event that usually lasts a matter of seconds. The
      sleep paralysis explanation has been eagerly seized upon because
      a sizeable percentage of UFO abductions occur at night, in the
      subject's bedroom. There are, of course, myriad objections to
      the sleep paralysis theory, but it clearly self-destructs before
      one central problem: the large percentage of UFO abductions
      which occur in the daytime, when the abductee is up and about,
      driving a car, taking a walk, playing in the front yard, or
      even, in one case, driving a tractor. In fact, for the first
      twenty years of UFO abduction accounts, I am aware of none that
      reportedly took place inside one's home or bedroom. So, as
      science decrees, if a theory does not fit the data, it must be

      Clancy also indicts the use of hypnosis as the medium by which
      false memories are implanted in unsuspecting clients by
      unscrupulous hypnotists. The problem with this theory is that
      about 30% of the thousands of UFO abduction reports researchers
      have investigated were recalled without the use of hypnosis.
      Beyond that, virtually all abductees recall at least some
      aspects of their experiences without hypnosis. Otherwise, they
      would have had no reason to contact an investigator in the first
      place. In the light of these facts, the "hypnosis explanation"
      as to how "false" abduction recollections are generated also

      It should be added that further doubts about the efficacy of
      hypnosis in inducing false memories have been raised by recent
      experimental studies, such as the work of psychologists Steven
      Lynn and Irving Kirsch. They summarize their results this way:
      "The most appropriate conclusion that can be drawn from the
      evidence is that hypnosis does not reliably produce more false
      memories than are produced in a variety of non-hypnotic
      situations in which misleading information is conveyed to
      participants." It is also a matter of record that many
      hypnotherapists with no knowledge of the abduction phenomenon
      have, to their surprise, uncovered traumatic abduction
      recollections in subjects with whom they were working. In fact,
      Dr. Benjamin Simon, a psychiatrist highly skeptical of UFO
      reality who was treating Betty and Barney Hill for post
      traumatic stress, uncovered details of their terrifying
      abduction experience in what is now seen as the first
      systematically investigated UFO abduction case. Obviously,
      during hypnosis, his personal skepticism had no effect
      whatsoever on the Hills' recollections. There are many reasons
      to trust the process of hypnosis, if it is handled carefully and
      skeptically, with the use of false leads and other validating
      techniques (all of which I have discussed elsewhere). But it
      should be clear by now that objective science must reject
      Clancy's theory that hypnosis per se is implicated in the
      wholesale generation of false memories.

      One of the early theories used to explain UFO abduction reports
      insisted that such experiences were nothing more than a new
      "space age religion." Since the gods are supposedly dead,
      abductees have invented encounters with "godlike" alien beings
      to replace them. But that highly speculative theory was
      discounted years ago by serious researchers on both sides of the
      issue because of yet another major problem: the vast majority of
      UFO abductees feel that their abductions have been deeply
      traumatizing - sometimes even physically painful and injurious -
      and that the small, hairless, big-eyed UFO occupants they
      describe are anything but godlike. (Richard McNally's own test
      results buttress this abductee view). It should be pointed out,
      however, that one occasionally comes across an abductee who is
      fully aware of the emotional trauma he has suffered, but who is
      nevertheless willing to regard these experiences as being, in
      some way, spiritually uplifting. For such people, this positive
      view of traumatic events is probably a coping strategy, similar
      to that of certain battered wives who will not complain to the
      police, but instead insist that their abusive husbands really do
      love them. Perhaps, for some battered wives as well as for some
      traumatized abductees, this kind of coping strategy is a way of
      retaining one's self esteem by fighting off the sense of being a
      helpless victim and by insisting that somewhere, somehow their
      ordeals must have a silver lining. One is reminded of the many
      victims of Hurricane Katrina who have lost everything but whom,
      when interviewed on television, cling to the idea that their
      ghastly experiences have somehow been transformative and
      spiritually uplifting.

      Equally damning of Clancy's religious explanation is the fact
      that the UFO reports of many abductees in more primitive
      cultures describe exactly the same details as do abductees in
      more advanced cultures, and yet these more primitive people work
      assiduously to make their UFO experiences fit into the schema of
      their traditional religions. Thus, in a well-known Zimbabwe
      incident, the natives who described small, white-skinned aliens
      in shiny one-piece jumpsuits insisted that they were the ghosts
      of their ancestors, who can now, apparently, fly around in
      wingless metal discs. Clancy would have us believe that many
      previously religious people have simply dropped their
      traditional beliefs and begun to worship the abducting aliens in
      a new kind of "false-memory religion," but in cases such as this
      African incident, the natives did the opposite. They forced the
      conventional "space age" UFO and the white-skinned aliens they
      had actually observed into strained conformity with their pre-
      existing religious beliefs. Thus their UFO experience can be
      seen as strengthening their traditional beliefs, rather than
      replacing them.

      Another shaky explanation Clancy mentions is that of media
      contamination. According to this idea, perfectly normal people
      are so influenced by something they've seen on TV or read in a
      book that, like helpless sponges, they adopt details from other
      people's abduction accounts and thus weave tenaciously held
      false memories from "an odd bruise" or a "strange feeling" or
      something equally tenuous. It is unnecessary to point out that
      experienced investigators would, at the outset, recognize these
      "wannabes" for what they were and refuse to deal with them.
      Furthermore, it seems obvious that these newly minted "wannabes"
      would be among the first to answer Clancy's ads soliciting
      abductees for her tests, because, in doing so they would achieve
      legitimacy by becoming part of her sample. Thus the central
      point of her "contamination" argument brilliantly exposes the
      original and most damaging flaw in her methodology: the
      self-selected and therefore completely unrepresentative nature
      of her subjects.

      So who were the people Clancy was attempting to test? Were there
      some apparently legitimate abductees among her sample? Possibly.
      Were there wannabes, publicity seekers and emotionally unstable
      people among her sample? Undoubtedly. And under these
      conditions, what kind of valid generalizations could she
      possibly make about the UFO abduction phenomenon?

      In the light of these crippling problems in her methodology, we
      must briefly consider which areas of the complex, many-sided
      abduction phenomenon which Clancy's faith-based attitude refused
      to consider. What kinds of data did she overlook? Here, briefly,
      are some examples:

      1. She included no study of the patterns of well-known and
      clearly defined physical sequelae - scoop marks and straight-
      line cuts - that frequently appear on individuals after their

      2. She included no reference to the patterns of ground traces -
      altered soil, tree branches snapped off from the top down,
      affects on the surrounding foliage, etc. that are often
      discovered at UFO landing sites after abductions.

      3. She made no mention of the eye-witness testimony of neighbors
      observing a UFO hovering over a house where an abduction is
      taking place; of witnesses who search in vain for an abducted
      child who is later found outside a fully locked house; of the
      incidents in which the police are summoned because of the
      temporary disappearance of a baby from his crib or a child from
      her bedroom, but who turn up, unobserved, an hour or so later;
      or hundreds of similar cases in which abductees are known to be
      inexplicably missing.

      4. She made no mention of the bizarre errors the UFO occupants
      often make, such as returning individuals from group abductions
      wearing someone else's clothes; replacing abductees in the wrong
      room or building after an abduction; or returning an individual
      to her bedroom in a locked and bolted house with her feet soiled
      and the back of her nightgown covered with damp leaves; or any
      of the scores of other such significant errors.

      5. She made no mention of the hundreds of cases in which two or
      more individuals are abducted at once, and whose traumatic
      memories match in every detail.

      6. She made no mention of a few accounts - such as the Travis
      Walton case or the Linda Cortile abduction - in which numerous
      witnesses see all or part of the abduction as it is being
      carried out.

      7. She made no effort to interview the friends and family
      members of the people in her sample, or in fact anyone who might
      have insight into their general trustworthiness and emotional
      soundness. Instead, Susan Clancy alone, because of her faith in
      the non-existence of UFO abductions, decided that all of her
      subjects' abduction accounts were false, and that all of their
      traumatic recollections were nothing more than false memories.
      She is therefore implying - indirectly but absolutely - that
      none of her subjects can tell the difference between dream and
      reality. To the public at large, this means, in effect, that an
      experimental psychologist with a Harvard degree believes
      everyone claiming UFO abduction experiences is suffering from a
      form of mental illness.

      For me, in the absence of any actual investigation of their
      accounts, such a radical, blanket condemnation by Susan Clancy
      of her innocent and naively trusting subjects is both ethically
      reprehensible and a disgrace to science.

      Budd Hopkins
      New York
      October, 2005

      Copyright © 1999-2005 Intruders Foundation. All rights reserved.

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