Probably no one seriously involved in investigating UFO reports has escaped the hydra-headed debunking machine and its many busy attendants. It’s long been understood that debunking and skepticism are two very different things, the former, an artifact of rigid ideology and the latter an objective, scientifically-inclined position. At the outset of any investigation of a UFO incident, the skeptic can accept the case as possibly legitimate or reject it as possibly a hoax or a misunderstanding or whatever, but the debunker has only one fixed option; he/she knows that the incident, whatever it was, could not have involved a genuine UFO. This rigid stance is akin to a kind of quasi-religious fundamentalism, and in my paper I intend to examine the various tenets of such true-believer negativity.
The reason I’m writing this article at this point in my life has to do with both health and age. I am about to celebrate (?) my 80th birthday and currently suffer from two almost certainly fatal diseases, so I’ve decided, while I still have the time and energy, to do a bit of deconstruction of the nature and habits of the debunking mindset. Also, along the way I hope that my piece will provide a little helpful information for those who, like me, are involved in the serious investigation of the UFO abduction phenomenon. As an armature on which to hang my comments, I have selected a debunking article which appeared recently, written, surprisingly, by my ex-wife, Carol Rainey. Though readers may find her authorship either irrelevant or curiously suggestive, the debunking piece she produced admirably illustrates many of my points.
Within the wide-ranging areas of UFO research, various subjects lead to different types of study: for example, the legitimacy of government cover-up issues might be resolved by a careful study of the layout and style of purported secret documents, and, in testing the veracity of alleged UFO photographs, many technical avenues of examination present themselves. The physical records of UFO sightings, radar cases and so on also lend themselves to objective, scientific study so we are not helpless in our quest to discover the truth about certain kinds of evidence. But rather than these categories of UFO cases, Ms. Rainey has chosen UFO abduction reports to use in challenging decades of work by many serious researchers, myself included, and it is here that she finds herself with a few different, but quite legitimate, problems. If scientific analysis can detect flaws in purported UFO photographs or government documents, thus settling the issue, how do debunkers such as she dismiss various detailed reports of accounts that may describe years-old incidents? She finds herself with one basic avenue of attack: if it is either a single witness account or one with supporting witnesses, a committed debunker will disparage the event as a hoax, which, we will see, is her chosen method. Thus she says that the “marshy ground [of abduction accounts]is afloat in hoaxes and partial hoaxes,” thereby suggesting that thousands of those who, over the years have reported such experiences were liars.
Let me say at the outset that, unlike the all too common hoaxing of UFO documents and photos, abduction hoaxes, among the thousands of abduction reports I’m aware of, are extraordinarily rare, and for a number of reasons. First, a hoaxing abductee must lie and perform convincingly, over and over again, to the investigators, with no sense that any reward will necessarily accrue. Second, there are often additional witnesses who buttress the account, partly because a large percentage of UFO abductions originally involve more than a single individual. Third, hoaxers must be very assured of the truthful details of their carefully memorized “hoaxed” accounts, lest they be tripped up with the false leads which I often utilize in my interviews. As Mark Twain once said, always telling the truth means never having to remember anything.
But there is a genuine problem area for abduction researchers. In my experience, investigators are often contacted by people who show signs of mental illness but who may at the same time be telling the truth about their purported abductions. We refer such people to mental health professionals for treatment, and their (possible) abductions are tabled. But it is this group - those who are suffering from some form of psychological illness - who make the job of the investigator more difficult, rather than the mythical pile of numberless hoaxers that Ms. Rainey prefers to imagine.
One of the basic debunking ploys one encounters is the marshalling of mainstream scientific opinion against UFO reports of every kind. Example: a trained military pilot, or perhaps several pilots flying in formation, sight a UFO at close range in bright daylight. A debunker, determined to explain the sighting away, brings in a credentialed astronomer who informs the public that distances are so great in outer space that ‘you can’t get here from there,‘ and that therefore the pilots all must have made the same misidentification, of, perhaps, the planet Venus. So, the debunker may assert, who are these eyewitness pilots anyway, when measured against a mighty astronomer with a Ph.D. degree who never saw what the pilots saw and may never have felt the need to interview them?
Similarly, in the debunking paper I’ve been describing, the writer employs the weight of mainstream, conservative science against those reporting abduction experiences. To buttress her case she brings in a man who holds a Ph.D. degree, one Tyler A. Kokjohn, to cast official doubt on those who report UFO abductions. However I was astounded that in this context the name of John Mack is never mentioned. Not once. Obviously, Dr. Mack, who was a Pulitzer prize winner, an M.D., a Harvard psychiatrist, and the author of two books on UFO abductions, ’outranks’ Tyler A. Kokjohn, so Ms. Rainey perhaps felt it best to delete Dr. Mack’s name and credentials from her piece and hope that we‘ve forgotten him. Perhaps she has also forgotten a fact that I mentioned several times in her hearing, that I had worked with six psychiatrists who had come to me about their own, personal UFO abduction experiences.
If, as I’ve suggested, Ms. Rainey chooses to believe that a multitude of those reporting abductions are liars, what happens when a single abduction report has many independent witnesses, such as the Travis Walton case (1975) and the Linda Cortile case (1989)? Well, for these cases to be debunked, as she attempts clumsily to do in her piece, she says that Linda Cortile, as in the multitude of single witness cases, has to be a hoaxer too, and though she takes a pass on Travis Walton, her logic demands that both absolutely have to be labeled as hoaxes, involving, say, five, ten, twenty or more participants or witnesses who must be conniving together and whose stories have remained consistent over decades. I worked from 1989 until the publication of my book Witnessed in 1996 - seven long years - on the Linda Cortile case, during which I uncovered over a score of witnesses to one or another aspect of this dramatic incident. One key witness, driving across the Brooklyn Bridge at 3:00 am, was stunned to see the UFO, blazing with light, above Linda’s building, and, floating in midair, a white-clad female and three diminutive figures rising up toward the craft. She sent me a letter and several drawings to illustrate what she saw, and I ultimately spoke to her and a relative on the phone and drove to her hometown in upstate New York. We met at a restaurant and I tape-recorded a fascinating first-hand account of what she saw that night.
A second eyewitness described the glowing UFO above Linda’s building as she and a friend drove down the nearby FDR drive. When we met she brought a swatch of scarlet, metallic Christmas wrapping paper to illustrate the color of the glowing craft, a red tone which matched two sets of colored drawings I had received from other witnesses. She also sketched the simple architectural details of the structure concealing the water tank atop the building and very close to the hovering UFO.
A third woman, a more indirect witness who lived in Linda’s apartment complex, awoke and glanced out her window because the normally shadowed courtyard was flooded with light from above. She was able to date the incident perfectly because it was her husband’s birthday, and she said she was almost paralyzed when she looked at the lighted courtyard. I spent time in her apartment and was able to see the view she had that frightening night.
I interviewed the three people I’ve described above, face-to-face, as well as all of the other witnesses to various later aspects of the case; the two security agents in the account are the only two witnesses I’ve never met face to face, yet I have received from them many letters and I have, as well, both their voices on audiotape. (Neither was willing to come forward, due to security issues involving their positions.) And in yet another important interview with one of the most central figures in the case I spoke at length to the so-called Third Man,’ (Chapter 32 in Witnessed) in a VIP lounge at O’Hare airport.
I am discussing all of these face-to-face interviews because our writer, straining to turn this entire case and all its witnesses into a collection of hoaxers, stated the following: that though Hopkins received “letters, audiotapes, telephone calls, and drawings,” he had “never come face-to-face with any of the major players in the story” [my emphasis]. What are we to make of that statement? A slip of the pen? An outright fabrication? (Fabrication is a nice way of saying ‘lie.’) A need to hire a fact checker in her future musings? Clearly she wants to present me as an incompetent investigator, so she makes no mention of my contacts with the NYPD, the US Secret Service, the State Department, the UN Police Force, the British and Russian delegations to the UN, and so on. It’s as if she never read Witnessed, a book which she claims to have edited!
In an interesting aside, two of the eyewitnesses reported independently that their first thought was that they were seeing a special effects, sci-fi movie being filmed, an image which demonstrates just how dramatic this very short-lived incident appeared to them.
Now I am surely here not going to re-write my four-hundred page book, and I feel there is no need to defend the case any further. After so many years, neither it nor the Travis Walton case requires any more support. And if the reader has any remaining doubts about the Linda Cortile case, please reread my book. As a final note, I should mention that one of the crucial witnesses in the case was Linda’s son Johnny, nine years old at the time of his involvement. His role is of extraordinary importance because of an incident in which he dealt face to face with the Third Man. (If a reader wishes to learn - or recall - the full text of the complicated story, please consult Chapters 25 and 26 in Witnessed).
When Johnny told me over the phone what he had experienced, I went to the Cortile apartment that afternoon to interview him in person, but first I made some preparations. Without telling either Linda or Johnny I clipped the similarly posed photos of 19 businessmen out of old Business Sections of the Times and added a related photo I had of the Third Man. After I interviewed Johnny I told him that I had some pictures that I wanted him to look at to see which ones, if any, resembled the man he‘d dealt with. I used the term ‘resembled’ so Johnny would not expect to see an actual photo of the subject. His father had a small video camera, and I asked him to tape the inquiry.
Johnny entered into the photo game with smiling excitement, as if he were participating in a real-life police drama. I instructed him to make two piles - one of pictures which did not resemble the Third Man, and another of those which did, even if perhaps only a little. I had put the Third Man’s photo close to the end, and as I went through the 20, one by one, he had found three or four which somewhat resembled the man he’s conversed with. But when I got to the actual picture, he said, “Wait a minute…now that looks more like him. Maybe that’s him…yeah, maybe that’s him.”
The videotape of this identification shows that Johnny never once glanced inquiringly at his mother, desperate for clues; he behaved exactly like a nine-year old involved excitingly in a real-life police procedural. Everything that he said and did that day was, to me, limpidly honest and direct.
Obviously, either Johnny’s behavior and testimony had been unerringly memorized and he had been professionally coached by his mother, or he was simply telling the truth. Logic demands that if he’d been forced into a more than twenty-person hoax, his mother would have thereby handed him an enormous Damocles sword to hold over her head for the rest of her life. For any reader with a nine-year-old, think about what that would mean: “Do what I want, Mommy, or I’ll tell on you!”
Finally, remember that the little boy in the recent ‘balloon hoax’ accidentally spilled the beans the same day as the incident.
Now to bring up another aspect of the debunking mindset, there is the “tail wagging the dog” device in which any trivial piece of ‘disconfirming evidence’ is adduced to supposedly refute the mass of supporting evidence. This device is used frequently, not because it is persuasive but in the hope that it may plant a doubt in the reader’s mind about the case.
Example: One evening in 1973, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, two friends, Charlie Hickson and Calvin Parker went fishing. A UFO landed near their pier, they were paralyzed and taken aboard. After they had been returned and the UFO departed, the terrified men went to the police to report their experience. Put in the interrogation room, the officers left to ‘get them some coffee,’ after switching on a hidden recorder. The police fully expected them to whisper about how their ‘hoax’ was working, but when they later played the tape, one of the men was praying and both were lost in the terror of the moment. The police officers, as well as Dr. J. Allen Hynek the next day, stated that the two had truly experienced something traumatic; there was no possibility that they had invented the story and were just consummate actors.
Other evidence in the case surfaced, including an eyewitness to the UFO as it sped away. I will not dwell more on this incident, the ’dog,’ in my homely metaphor, except to describe the ’tail’ that a debunker presented. Some distance away is a drawbridge which contained a small room where the man in charge sits and listens for toots from boats wishing to have him open the bridge. (There are few at night.) But because this man apparently didn’t witness the abduction - Was he napping? Looking out the wrong window in the wrong direction? Reading? Watching TV? Whatever he was doing, since he hadn’t seen the UFO, it proved to the debunker that the incident never happened. This flimsy little tail was wagging a very substantial dog. And oh, yes, sometime later Hickson requested, and passed, a polygraph test.
Reading her piece I realize that Ms. Rainey is a master at introducing such scrawny, tail-wags-the-dog details in her attack on Linda Cortile. An example is this beauty: “I‘ve never met anybody, for example, who could get an unexpected phone call from an admirer and so effortlessly spin a spontaneously fabricated, intricate, family-related reason for not meeting him for coffee, all the while winking broadly at me.” Really? Has our author never done the same, in the same situation? I certainly have, because an invented family excuse often seems easier on the caller’s ego than telling him the truth: I don’t want to see you, or I’m too busy to bother, or something similarly dismissive. Does an anecdote like this - the scrawniest of dog tails, deserve even to be recorded?
There are more such tail-wagging-the dog attempts in her piece, but in the face of the masses of evidence supporting Linda’s veracity, they do not warrant my spending any more time on them. (One involves my original misunderstanding of an incident with Linda and her cousin Connie; if anyone is interested, ask me about it.)
As I said at the outset, my health and advanced age have sapped my energy - plus I‘m a terrible typist - so I will soon have to shorten my rejoinders to this kind of hyperbolic - and endless - debunking. But first I want to mention another aspect of the debunkers’ game, and it has to do with boundaries, an issue which causes them serious problems. The truest among them do not believe that there are any unknown, solid, metallic objects maneuvering in our skies, and that every single UFO sighting, photograph and radar return, no matter how many people report it, can somehow be explained away. This is, naturally, a very difficult position to maintain, but should a debunker then narrow his/her boundaries and say that such mysterious foreign craft do, or might, exist, the question arises: if so, and UFOs have been seen for decades, what are they doing here? For this, the debunker has no coherent answer, but abduction researchers do. And what if a debunker like Ms. Rainey posits the theory that a huge number of abduction accounts are lies and hoaxes, does she believe that there are some legitimate cases? Does she think that genuine UFOs actually exist and are flying around? If so she doesn’t say, and her article goes begging. If she should later say that not all abduction accounts are lies and hoaxes, which, then, are legitimate, which are not, and how can she tell the difference? Boundaries, boundaries, problems, problems!