Our fourth science book was published in late 2018. New ones are coming out in May 2019 and November 2019. In this blog we are returning to some of the early columns of Ask Your Science Teacher,  published in 2009. The columns are updated and revised. Many originally ran in The Tomah Journal at the behest of John Kenny, Publisher. We hope you enjoy them, and please give feedback.


            Why do people think there are aliens?


            Aliens and UFO’s provide endless fodder for television programs and tabloid magazines. People are fascinated by accounts of people who spot strange spacecraft and persons who are abducted by alien creatures. Writing about aliens and UFO’s is always risky because there are people who are passionate true believers, persons who are skeptics, and folks who think it is all a bunch of baloney.        

            First of all, let’s make sure we understand what we mean by UFO’s, or Unidentified Flying Objects. Most everyone has seen strange things in the sky that we can’t identify. It could be a plane, weather balloon, helicopter, clouds, swamp gas or birds. It is flying and we can’t identify it. We could call it an Unidentified Flying Object. But when we hear the term UFO, we usually mean that it is not of Earth origin. Rather, it comes from outer space. So for purposes of discussion, we mean a UFO that is of extra-terrestrial origin.            

Kinds of Encounters

            UFO are usually categorized as to encounters:

Close encounter of the first kind involve sighting a UFO. A close encounter of second kind indicates a visitation in which evidence is left behind. A close encounter of third kind includes sightings of living creatures. Close encounters of the fourth kind are the most terrifying: abductions of humans by aliens.

Most Famous Case

            The Betty and Barney Hill case is probably the most celebrated alien spacecraft story. They will driving on a road in New Hampshire in September, 1961, when they spotted a UFO in the sky. As it came closer, they saw humanoid figures peering out of the windows of the UFO. They sped down the highway for about 40 miles. Their watches had stopped. They drove home. But they later recounted that they arrived home 2 hours after they should have. There had no accounting of the 2 hours.

            Both incurred emotional problems, so they went to a doctor. Under hypnosis, the Hills “relived” their 2-hour abduction and physical examination. They gave vivid descriptions of the aliens and their spacecraft. They revealed details of the medical examinations performed by the aliens. Their story was made into a book “The Interrupted Journey” and a movie “The UFO Incident”.


            Most people who claim to have been abducted by aliens and taken aboard a spaceship have recalled their experiences under hypnosis. Scientists Leo Sprinkle, James Harder, and Budd Hopkins have all used regressive hypnosis to try to uncover and understand these bizarre stories of terrifying capture, tissue sampling, medical testing, followed by release.

            They and other specialists have found that the subconscious mind remembers dreams on a par with real life experiences. Parts of the mind can’t tell the difference between dreams and real memories. Answers given under hypnosis are often based on information gained from other sources, such as a person who may have read about UFO’s or abductions. Movies that a person viewed can instill mental images that a person, under hypnosis, recalls as real-life experiences. Comments and questions by the hypnotist can fashion and modify a given response.

            There was a famous experiment testing the reliability of alien and UFO reports conducted in the mid 1970’s. Eight people who had never experienced or reported any alien or UFO encounters were asked to visualize or imagine being taken aboard a UFO. They were asked to visualize that they were given a physical exam. They were given no other details.

            Under hypnosis, these test subjects were asked to describe their “experiences”. Every person could recall details of their “abductions”, including adding colorful details of the UFO spacecraft, the aliens, star charts and descriptions of the aliens. Many of the stories had a great similarity to the accounts of Betty and Barney Hill. This experiment showed that the mind is capable of creating vivid and fascinating accounts of events that never happened.

            In that same vein, we have been hearing plenty of stories in the news lately questioning the reports of some child molestation cases. The controversy is centered on the actions of the therapist or questioner who may be unconsciously planting stories and accounts of events that never took place. The sad fact is that it is difficult to separate reality from pseudo or false memories. A number of television talk shows have featured this problem in which innocent people have been accused of doing some terrible things.

Why Do People Believe?

            Why do some people want to believe in UFO’s and aliens? Polls reveal that half of Americans believe in UFO’s. Roughly 1 in 10 have seen one. I would conjecture that many people want to think that there is more than what we can see, touch, smell or use the senses to detect. They want to feel that there is a power bigger than themselves, that there is more to life than they now experience. They have a powerful urge to believe there is something out there and they are not alone. They have a hunger to feel there is a force greater than themselves that may have power and influence that is beyond what they know. Tales of aliens and UFO’s fill a void in their lives. In many cases they are people who yearn to know the private lifestyles of the rich and famous (or infamous), who buy check-out counter magazines and tabloids. It is little wonder that writers of UFO-ology and alien creatures stories aim their articles to the same audience.

            When we see and hear so many stories in print and on television about aliens and UFO’s, I think it is only natural to say, “Gee, there might something to these things”. People are constantly reminded of this phenomena so it attains a life of its own-sort of a benign ‘big lie’ technique.

What Should We Believe?

            Most UFO’s have perfectly logical explanations. Clouds, aircraft, weather balloons, swamp gas, and deliberate hoaxes such as hot air balloons powered by candles make up a majority of the cases. It is up the UFO/extra-terrestrial alien believer to prove the existence of such things. So far, no credible proof exists that aliens have visited us or are visiting. No specimens, materials, life forms, advanced scientific information have been discovered or found. No face to face meetings with groups of people have taken place. Most of these encounters take place at night when seeing anything is difficult. Some ufologist follow careful scientific procedures, but most do not. They simply do not observe common sense rules of evidence.  Do aliens from outer space and Earth visiting UFO’s exist? There may be, but there is no credible evidence to suggest that we have been or are being visited. The burden of proof is on those who make claims. So far, that proof is lacking.

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