||The release of an expensive
science fiction movie, a new theory put forward by a distinguished authority,
a survey or a sensational encounter case always generates plenty of headlines
and public debate.
One reason is that whenever surveys are conducted into UFO-related beliefs they always show that the public overwhelmingly believes in the existence of extraterrestrials and that they are visiting us.
This is confirmed by a survey conducted by the Royal Mail, which revealed that 14 per cent of children believe that aliens live amongst us on planet Earth. This seems to be a rather sinister statistic, but scratching beneath the surface we might wonder if this is in the same category as believing in 'fairies at the bottom of the garden' or of the bogey man? Taken to more paranoid extremes we might wonder if children think that people they meet in everyday life are aliens in disguise (teachers must fall into this category). Considering the state of children's TV (or 'yoof TV' as it is better known) this result isn't too surprising, and we can't dismiss the impact of films like E.T. in which children befriend benevolent aliens.
40 per cent of the children surveyed believe that there is life beyond our planet, and eight out of ten of them wanted to meet an alien face-to-face (if they have one). This seems to indicate that they regard aliens as being friendly rather than sinister and devilish. I'm rather surprised at this because films and TV still overwhelmingly portray aliens as being terrifying monsters.. Even the politically correct Star Trek: The Next Generation has its fair quota of evil aliens whilst millions of British children scurried behind the sofa when Dr Who was broadcast.
This public interest in things extraterrestrial has been used as a lever by radio astronomers to gain funding for new equipment that can listen for any ET signals coming from outer space. A conference at Jodrell Bank in January 1996 advocated the construction of a £100 to 150 million radio telescope that could detect TV signals from planets within a distance 20 light years. This is the exciting bit used to sell the project to the public, the same telescope would also enable astronomers to undertake more esoteric and unfundable studies.
NASA continues to use interest in science fiction and ETs to encourage support for their unmanned and manned Mars exploration missions. A Pathfinder spacecraft is going to land on Mars in July 1997 and it will be used to try to detect microscopic life-forms near hot springs. This ET angle was even used by a normally sensible newspaper, The Independent, which came up with the headline 'White Worms on Red Planet may prove we are not alone'. This related to the fact that such creatures have been found near hot springs on Earth, so the conclusion was that they might thrive in similar locations on Mars. This embarrassed some astronomers who tried to reduce the sensationalistic tone of these reports. ('Why a close encounter is still a distant dream' by Stuart Wavell. Sunday Times 04 February 1996.)
This publicity was nothing compared to the impact of the press conference held by NASA, in July 1996 which disclosed that they had found indications of life discovered in a meteorite from Mars. By sheer coincidence (!) the blockbuster alien invasion movie Independence Day was released in Britain at the same time, which meant that 20th Century Fox and NASA enjoyed a PR double-whammy in the quality and tabloid press. Astronomers are keen to exploit public interest in ET life forms but they deal with the subject in their own 'scientific' manner. This means that they are willing to postulate alien signals being beamed here or that there are ET micro-organisms, but they are certainly not keen on the thought that ETs are already here or in the vicinity.
Ufology and all it stands for is definitely excluded from the scientific search for ETs. Nonetheless astronomers and space scientists have been influenced by reading the works of science fiction writers in childhood, and many fictional concepts have become reality over the years. The difference between them and those who believe in UFO stories is that sf stories inspire people to manipulate reality (e.g. build space rockets and visit brave new worlds) whereas ufologists have a more passive view of reality (e.g. the aliens are coming here to save us and all we have to do is believe in them). This duality can be regarded as the difference between magical and scientific thinking.
Interestingly, those who firmly believe in the abduction reports or crash cases like Roswell, don't have much information to give to those of us who would like to physically encounter ETs. This lack of concrete evidence, doesn't seem to bother the believers. Even when we got our man from the MOD, Nick Pope, promoting belief in UFOs (and his book) he had to resort to rehashing cases from the era and works of Donald Keyhoe.
It never bothers ufologists if there is no remotely scientific evidence, instead they much prefer to gain evidence in an unusual manner (e.g. via hypnotic regression, dreams, trance states). This occurs because ufologists have an innate belief that they are 'scientific' but this delusion quickly slips away as the abductee recounts stories that suit the fantasy world of ufology. At first such fantasies might be of bright lights visiting from Planet Blobby but by the time the abductee starts recalling meetings with talking donkeys or Philus Fogg, the investigator has already made-up their mind that the case is highly important.
As most of the recent UFO books published in the US indicate, sensible and highly qualified people sink into the mire of ufological thinking and belief systems. Significantly, these researchers are likely to be psychologists (who should know better) or they have qualifications in similar disciplines. No doubt their training makes them put the emphasis on mental manipulation and brain implants rather than crashed spacecraft and alien bodies. Here facts and evidence can be far more ambiguous than in the hard sciences and at least the 'game' of ufology can get you public attention. In the States I'm sure some investigators/writers have preferred being rich nutters than poor sceptics; you just have to look at the career of Dr J. Allen Hynek who took this route, but he was moderate compared to more contemporary UFO book writers.. We should also understand that in the States there is a far greater interest in UFO topics and it is probably easy to go along with popular ideas and concepts rather than argue against them.
In Britain we are far more reserved about anything unusual and things are ruled more by Establishment figures rather than by the voice of the people (or commercial pressure which means the same thing to some people). To take a rather trivial example, the US Star Trek TV series ran between 1967 to 1972 then it enjoyed a revival in the cinema in the wake of the success of Star Wars. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Star Trek has grown from strength-to-strength with the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, plus a string of feature films. In contrast, the British Dr Who TV series began in 1963 and with the 'invasion' of the Daleks became compulsory viewing. It quickly achieved cult status and provided worldwide success for BBC merchandising. So what did they do with it? Yes, they axed it in the late 1980s! Only after Steven Spielberg expressed an interest in making a feature film of it has the BBC realised it has been sitting on a goldmine. Another development in Britain has been the impact of satellite and cable broadcasting which has encouraged the terrestrial broadcasters to produce popular UFO and paranormal programmes, which are full of eye-witnesses testimonies and re-enactments. It's mainly drivel but it sells soap powder and boosts flagging ratings, and as NASA has discovered, UFOs really do launch space expeditions!
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|Material Copyright © 2001 Nigel Watson|