Abduction Enigma

Kevin Randle, Russ Estes, and William P. Cone. The Abduction Enigma. Forge/ Tom Doherty Associates, 1999.

Ignore the nonsense on the blurb, this is one of the most important books on the abduction experience published to date. In it veteran ufologist Kevin Randle, documentary video maker Russ Estes and psychotherapist William Cone, take a detailed critical look at the abduction issue. Before we start let us say all three have done personal research into the abduction experience, they all make it clear that they are not CSICOP sceptics, and are at least open minded on the ETH, so when they produce the devastating conclusions they do - more severe than anything we in Magonia have written and indeed even more severe than Kevin McClure in his Abduction Watch, the abductionists have none of their 'armchair ufologist, cult of librarianship in ufology, bloody minded sceptics, damned arts graduates' excuses.

The book is in five parts. In the first the authors present a pocket history of the abduction experience and of their own involvement with it, with some examples. The novel finding here is the claim, chiefly by Estes of the very high rate of sexual dysfunction among abductees, and of the much higher rate of sexual themes and imagery in the abduction narratives than other investigators publish. In the second section the authors begin their critical analysis of the abduction experience by looking at the role of folklore, popular culture and dreams in the generation of abduction stories.

These are themes which will be familiar to Magonia readers, and here Cone introduces the role of sleep paralysis and boundary deficiency (for those who don't remember Martin Kottmeyer piece on this subject, this involves difficulties in separating out fact from dream and fantasy). The authors also briefly look at the contactee stories noting the differences but also the similarities. They ask why did ufologists reject unbelievable contactee stories, but endorse, if anything, even more unbelievable abduction stories. Rather naughtily they suggest one answer is that while the contactees were the centre of their own stories, with the abduction stories it is usually the researcher who is centre stage.

The themes of sleep paralysis and boundary deficiency are explored further in the 4th part of the book, which also takes a detailed look at the Satanic abuse and recovered memory phenomena. Here Cone speaks with authority, for he was working in a hospital which had a unit dealing with these patients, treated them, and, though he doesn't exactly spell this out, was bought into the belief system for a time, until experience turned him into a sceptic. He emphasises the role of suggestion by the therapist in generating false memories. Again and again he notes the problematic nature of memory recall, the absence of any evidence for massive repression of memory, the role of suggestion in hypnosis. Many examples are given of how researchers are able to take simple memories, say in the abduction context of sleep paralysis, and turn them into dramatic stories of abduction.

In the fifth part they examine the alleged physical evidence, scars, implants, and missing foetuses, to find though there are assertions aplenty, when it comes to independently verifiable evidence, it is just lacking.

The core of this book, and what makes it so devastating, is the third section, an analysis, based on actual transcripts, of the investigations of the major investigators: Boylan, Carpenter, Harder, Hopkins, Lawson, Jacobs, Mack and Simms. They may be perhaps a little unfair in starting the section with Marshall Applewhite, and do note that a thick line has to be drawn between him and the investigators discussed later. But perhaps that line is not quite as thick as one would like it to be, for as they begin the analysis, they rip the abduction researchers to shreds.

Again and again they show how these researchers led witnesses to say what they wanted to here, exactly what Cone found in the case of the Satanic Abuse stories. The similarities and differences arise because of who is investigating. The cueing can be subtle, but at times is quite blatant. There is Jacobs with his obsessive agenda of alien take-over, twisting and forcing the witnesses to agree with him, there is Mack's new agery, there is Lawson who performed useful work until he became bogged down in his pseudoscientific birth trauma hypothesis.

Randle describes in detail James Harder's interrogation of Pat Roach (also know in the literature as Patty Price). This case deserves the attention it gets here (no doubt because it was Randle's introduction to the subject) as in many ways, this, not Betty and Barney Hill, was the first of the really modern abduction stories, the first to introduce the major theme of women taken from their home, humans involved with aliens, multigenerational abductions, neighbourhood abductions. This was the template on which other abduction narratives were erected, adding new elements from time to time.

The critique of Hopkins and the Neapolitano affair is massive, pointing out all the absurdities and inconsistencies in the evidence. What the authors' might privately think of Hopkins emerges in a nice little Freudian typo. After noting how abductions were becoming old hat, and that Hopkins was in danger of being upstaged by people like Mack, and needed something dramatic to keep centre stage, they had no doubt meant to put in the standard libel lawyers disclaimer: "This does not mean that Hopkins was lying or inventing tales", however in the printed next that little "not" is missing.

The harshest criticisms come with the therapists Richard Boylan and John Carpenter. Boylan's problems with the state accreditation board and his how shall I put it, rather unorthodox methods of treatment using a hot tub, and his pushing his clients into the abduction scenario, are examined, as is his claim to be an abductee himself. And if you still think that abductionists, even they do no good do no harm, read how John Carpenter transformed Leah Haley from an intelligent high functioning person, with a good job, studying for a doctorate, and with a family, into a paranoid abductee who lost her job, most of her friends, her husband and to a large degree her sanity.

There can be quibbles with their accounts, for example they point how Jacobs and Mack are aware in general of the role of false memory and the investigator effect in other fields, but will not allow it their own. So perhaps Estes finding of the high levels of sexual imagery is just another example of that effect, and there is still that huge Roswell beam in Randle's eye. Everyone else can see that the points he makes about abductees memories fit Roswell as well. Cone's explanation of boundary deficiency as being caused by "emeshed families", in which personal space and personal property is constantly being invaded, and there is an inadequate sense of self, sounds like old fashioned 'blame the family' psychology, of the sort that is now largely discarded in fields such as schizophrenia and autism. It is also very culture specific: the notion of personal space and personal possessions in a family, is very much the product of twentieth century Western bourgeois consumerism. It should however give rise to a testable hypothesis, that the incidence of boundary deficient should be higher among identical twins, and among people from large families, that those with one or two children of separate ages. More likely boundary deficit will turn out have a neurological origin.

These criticisms, and perhaps that the autonomy of abduction imagery as a language for religious experience is not recognised, should not detract from the importance of this book, which should be read by every ufologist. Unless it is very specifically geared to sleep disorder therapy, in which the internal origin of the imagery is recognised and anxieties diffused, abduction research should stop now! We should recognise that those ufologists who continue to spread the abduction myth are destroying people's lives. However noble their motivations, the effects of their actions are akin to those of drug pushers and drunk drivers. They wreck lives. They should be stopped. Failure to act is literally criminally negligent. -- Peter Rogerson. Originally published on-line 1999.

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