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The Humanoids

DO "HUMANOIDS" PILOT UFOS? Have human beings seen them?

The first widely-publicized affirmative answer to these questions appeared in a 1950 best seller. Behind the Flying Saucers by Frank Scully. The book alleged, on the say-so of what proved to be extremely unreliable informants, that spaceships containing diminutive Venusians had crashed in the Southwestern desert of the U.S. in 1948 and 1949. A couple of years later George Adamski, whose followers called him "professor" but who might more accurately be called a life-long occult hustler, reported meeting a (normal-sized, handsome-human-looking) Venusian named Orthon in the California desert; soon he was writing books and lecturing on this and subsequent contacts with Venusians, Martians, and Satumians. The print was hardly dry in Adamski's first book {Flying Saucers Have Landed, with Desmond Leslie, 1953) before other, similarly dubious characters, with their own Space Brethren buddies, were working the same circuit.

The newspapers, of course, loved it, and so did UFO debunkers, who represented these con men and their guileless followers as typical flying-saucer true believers. In fact, serious-minded amateurs, who were forming such groups as the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), Civilian Saucer Intelligence (CSI), and the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), did not count Orthon among the possible UFO occupants or Adamski among the "reliable witnesses" whose testimony they were willing to consider. They were appalled by the antics of the "contactees" and spent much fruitless effort trying to persuade scientists and reporters that they, the serious researchers, were not fruitcakes looking for salvation from outer space, but would-be scientists trying to figure out what was behind the UFO reports.

Most of them suspected that what was causing UFO reports was extraterrestrial visitation. Among the credible sighting reports (and sighters included scientists, military and civilian pilots, radar operators, and numerous individuals possessing impeccable middle-class credentials) were many describing metallic, structured discs, some with what were thought to be "portholes." The clear implication was that the objects had somebody inside. But because the public associated all UFO reports with the likes of Scully, Adamski, and others, the "respectable" ufologists were all the more chagrined when persons who in all other ways seemed like typical UFO witnesses be gan reporting little men. 

Not "little green men," though that didn't deter the press, which soon had a new phrase with which to amuse readers at the expense of silly saucer buffs. But there was, alas, no getting around the reports. Whether or not little men existed, people who seemed sincere and sane were reporting them. Even the Air Force's Project Blue Book, not known for pro-UFO sympathies, was finding, on those rare occasions that it investigated such reports, that they were, uh, puzzling, even the wild ones like that alleged to have occurred near Kelly, Kentucky, on August 22, 1955, when (so the story went) members of a hillbilly family fired on loping, big-eared humanoids as they dashed in and out of sight.

APRO and CSI came to take the "humanoid" reports seriously, seeing no intrinsic reason not to, but NICAP would have nothing to do with them, for reasons having less to do with the quality of the evidence (neither better nor worse than the evidence for many less exotic reports) than with the organization's desire to maintain a nonthreatening image to professionals who might be attracted to UFO study.

Finally, however, an April 24, 1964, report by police officer Lonnie Zamora of two small figures and a landed UFO near Socorro, New Mexico, ended the humanoid controversy within ufology. Even the Air Force acknowledged that the witness was entirely credible and listed the case among the few it was willing to admit, albeit grudgingly, that it could not explain.

Then that same year, when Boston psychiatrist Benjamin Simon hypnotized a New Hampshire couple, Barney and Betty Hill, who were suffering anxiety problems which they believed were related to a UFO sighting they'd had three years earlier, a whole new aspect of the humanoid phenomenon came to ufologists' sometimes-reluctant attention: "missing time," amnesia, and later "recollection" (mostly but not always by hypnosis) of an abduction and physical examination by ostensible extraterrestrials. A new UFO controversy had begun.

If the Hill story were the only one of its kind (as it appeared to be initially), it would have meant little. It could have even been "accounted for" - if one were not too insistent on cleaning up every loose end (such as marks on the Hills' bodies and on their car) - as a psychological episode. But in the years ahead, many similar reports would come to light.

In 1987 (and again in 1988, with the appearance of the paperback edition), Whitley Strieber's Communion, a non-fiction treatment of the author's apparent abduction experiences, would top best-seller lists and make "UFO abduction" a staple of popular culture. Strieber's wildly subjective account, however, never makes clear where a possible "real" event ends and the author's imagination picks up. A clearer picture of the abduction phenomenon emerges in two books. Missing Time (1981) and Intruders (1987) by Budd Hopkins, a New York artist-sculptor who has worked with psychiatrists, psychologists, and physicians in the investigation of these reports. (See reviews, next page.)

Hopkins found numerous patterns in the reports and concluded that the experiences were just what they seemed: kidnappings by aliens. The mental-health professionals with whom he worked wouldn't go that far, but they did acknowledge that, contrary to what their colleagues were declaring from the safety of armchairs, these did not appear to be purely psychological experiences. For example, when abductees were subjected to a series of tests by three New York psychologists, they were found to be "normal." Beyond that, they had one unusual trait in common: an "impaired identity sense," much like that associated with victims of personal assault. "The test findings," wrote Dr. Elizabeth Slate, who had administered the tests blind and only later learned she was dealing with people who claimed to have been abducted by UFOs (she was "flabbergasted," she says), "are not inconsistent with the possibility that reported UFO abductions have, in fact, occurred."

In 1987 Dr. Thomas E. Bullard, a folklorist with a professional interest in UFO beliefs, studied all abduction reports in the literature and found numerous pattems, some of which not even investigators had noticed (one being what Bullard called "doorway amnesia": the abductees' consistent inability to recall passing through the door of the UFO). He also found that consciously recalled abduction stories comprised fully one-third of the total, and these were identical in every regard to those reported under hypnosis. This seemed to lay to rest the frequently-heard debunking argument that "abductions," like "past-life recall," are artifacts of hypnosis, the product of cueing and confabulation.

By the late 1980s many American ufologists - and virtually all mental-health specialists who had involved themselves in direct investigation of the reports - were taking seriously (if not necessarily endorsing) the hypothesis that abductions are physical experiences. European ufologists, on the other hand, were seeking hypothetical psychological mechanisms and drawing on Jungian and other speculations to come up with a "dream theory" of abductions.

At this stage there is little question that the abduction phenomenon - whatever causes it - is a reality. Increasingly sophisticated investigation of it by ufologists, working with growing numbers of scientists and psychologists fascinated by it, should eventually tell us just what that "reality" consists of.    

Not "little green men," though that didn't deter the press, which soon had a new phrase with which to amuse readers at the expense of silly saucer buffs. But there was, alas, no getting around the reports. Whether or not little men existed, people who seemed sincere and sane were reporting them. Even the Air Force's Project Blue Book, not known for pro-UFO sympathies, was finding, on those rare occasions that it investigated such reports, that they were, uh, puzzling - even the wild ones like that alleged to have occurred near Kelly, Kentucky, on August 22, 1955, when (so the story went) members of a hillbilly family fired on loping, big-eared humanoids as they dashed in and out of sight.


APRO and CSI came to take the "humanoid" reports seriously, seeing no intrinsic reason not to, but NICAP would have nothing to do with them, for reasons having less to do with the quality of the evidence (neither better nor worse than the evidence for many less exotic reports) than with the organization's desire to maintain a nonthreatening image to professionals who might be attracted to UFO study.
Finally, however, an April 24, 1964, report by police officer Lonnie Zamora of two small figures and a landed UFO near Socorro, New Mexico, ended the humanoid controversy within ufology. Even the Air Force acknowledged that the witness was entirely credible and listed the case among the few it was willing to admit, albeit grudgingly, that it could not explain.
Then that same year, when Boston psychiatrist Benjamin Simon hypnotized a New Hampshire couple, Barney and Betty Hill, who were suffering anxiety problems which they believed were related to a UFO sighting they'd had three years earlier, a whole new aspect of the humanoid phenomenon came to ufologists' sometimes-reluctant attention: "missing time," amnesia, and later "recollection" (mostly but not always by hypnosis) of an abduction and physical examination by ostensible extraterrestrials. A new UFO controversy had begun.

If the Hill story were the only one of its kind (as it appeared to be initially), it would have meant little. It could have even been "accounted for" - if one were not too insistent on cleaning up every loose end (such as marks on the Hills' bodies and on their car) - as a psychological episode. But in the years ahead, many similar reports would come to light.