PhACT came close to the big-time of television recognition a few weeks ago. On Wednesday, June 26, AM Philadelphia, a half-hour morning talk show, contacted CSICOP about providing someone who could debunk UFO claims. CSICOP recommended that AM Philadelphia get in touch with Philadelphia's local skeptics' group, PhACT.
That afternoon, I found a message on the answering machine from a producer at AM Philadelphia regarding their UFO show. It was to be taped on July 2 and shown on July 4, Independence Day. I returned the call and talked to a producer. I found that AM Philadelphia was planning a special UFO program to coincide with the premiere of the movie Independence Day. The guests were to include David Jacobs, a professor of history at Temple University and author of the UFO abduction tome, Secret Lives. The other guest was to be Terry Matthews, a woman who claims to have been abducted since she was a child and who now claims that her children have also been abducted. All of the guests were to view an advance screening of the Independence Day movie and the show would be taped the next morning.
I called PhACT Secretary, Bill Wisdom, and Newsletter Editor, Tom Napier, for ideas on how to handle this opportunity. Bill stated that Jacobs had been using hypnosis to recover memories in abduction "victims." I felt strong in this area, so it was decided that I would be the one appearing on the show. I began doing my research immediately and placed a call to the answering machine of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. With the hypnosis connection firmly in place, I wanted to get the latest and best information from the people who would know. I also planned to get in touch with Philip Klass to get what information he had on David Jacobs.
I called AM Philadelphia the next morning to confirm my appearance. They stated that I would be getting near equal time with the other guests. At this time I told them that I could not make the screening of the movie due to prior commitments. As the planning and research continued, my own personal excitement level was increasing. The bubble burst later that afternoon when the producer called me at work to announce a change in the format. AM Philadelphia was looking for more of a "science-fiction feel" to the show. I was being bumped for another abductee. "Are you going to bill this show as a science-fiction program or are you going to allow them to promote their stories as fact?" This was the only question I could raise as a form of protest. The answer was the latter. I told them that they were doing the public a disservice by not allowing the skeptical side to be heard.
Later that afternoon, Toby Feld of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation returned my call. I broke the news of my cancellation but we did have an interesting conversation. It never became necessary to call Phil Klass. However, later the next week, Phil's July 96 Skeptics UFO Newsletter came. It featured David Jacobs and his hypnosis theories. It was a great illustration of what he could have told me.
The program aired on July 2. I played back my videotape and watched the proceedings that afternoon. The host, Wally Kennedy, was there with David Jacobs and "Terry Matthews." It turned out that this was a pseudonym for a woman hiding behind big dark sunglasses. Terry claims to have been abducted since birth. The abductions occur at night in bed and when driving alone. Although Wally did ask her how she knew she wasn't dreaming, he didn't mention anything about hypnogogia. Hypnogogia is a known neurological phenomenon, also called a waking dream. The person is inbetween being awake and asleep. Images, sounds and feelings can be interpreted as actual events and "feel" very real. They can be accompanied by paralysis, a normal part of the dream state. Hypnogogia accounts for visitations by demons, angels, ghosts and, of course, aliens. Unfortunately the host did not know to bring this up.
Terry's abductions supposedly involved "physical examinations" for the purpose of creating human-alien hybrids. She felt for a while that something was wrong in her life but didn't make the alien connection until she saw Whitley Streiber's abduction book, "Communion." This book describes several hypnogogia-like encounters.
David Jacobs' contribution to the show was that he believes these claims, basically because of the uniformity of the large numbers of accounts. Unfortunately, it wasn't brought out that these accounts have been widely known as folklore since Betty and Barney Hill in the 50s, who incidentally Jacobs also believes. Dr. Jacobs also mentioned, "Hypnosis is a very sticky area to be involved in." Here, the hypnosis angle was left wide open. Wally Kennedy missed it entirely. According to Toby Feld, the Society for Hypnosis recommends that hypnosis not be used for the recovery of memories. It is too unreliable and the victims can't distinguish between a real memory and a fake one. The damage that the use of hypnosis can cause in this way is real and is evident in the many people claiming memories of sexual and satanic abuse. In the case of alien abductions, the word abuse also applies. The Klass material would have been very helpful here. Jacobs has admitted that many false memories and confabulations have been generated by "amateur" hypnotists. Somehow, his "technique" is immune to these problems. However, none of these important points were raised.
The second abductee, Pat Magee, joined later in the show. Also abducted all of her life, she didn't realize it until she read Jacobs' Secret Lives. Until then, she had been afraid to sleep and thought she was haunted by a ghost. She also claims to be part of the alien hybrid program and claims to have been impregnated several times because she had had symptoms like bloating, swollen breasts and missed periods. None of these pregnancies were documented by lab testing and these symptoms can occur normally in a woman without her being pregnant. The most amusing thing Pat said was that her husband is an abductee in denial. He has seen the lights and the TV going off and on but doesn't believe it.
Wally Kennedy seemed as if he was very skeptical but he sure seemed unprepared. The best line that he used on two different occasions was, "People are going to think you are crazy." Unfortunately this isn't going to help anyone. The most glaring discrepancy is that here are two women in their 40 - 50s who have been abducted all of their lives and have only realized it in the past few years. How did they "confirm" that these were alien abductions? Who "helped" them reach these conclusions? Were these memories recovered by hypnosis? Were they victims of UFO abuse at the suggestions of a hypnotist? Once again the public was short-changed and the wacky science-fiction types got their message out uncluttered by facts and a more rational analysis.
"If a grossly one-sided program on UFOs attracts listeners or viewers, who cares if this serves to brainwash the public into accepting a myth as fact?"