How People Came to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens . . .

First of all, Abducted, by Harvard University postdoctoral fellow in psychology Susan A. Clancy, is not just another alien abduction book. In fact, Clancy never set out to study alien abduction claims at all. Rather, her research was initially into the phenomenon of “recovered memories.” Allegedly, some events are so traumatic that they are repressed – but can be brought back to consciousness through techniques such as hypnosis.

However, as Clancy discovered in her research, a major confound into the investigation of whether recovered memories are real is that it is difficult to prove whether the alleged underlying event – usually childhood sexual abuse – actually occurred or not. She then hit upon the idea of choosing a subset of people whose recovered memories she was sure were false: those who claimed to have been abducted by aliens.

I should point out here that the complete improbability of such memories has little to do with the possibility of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe, something about which we simply know too little. I actually find Clancy a bit too dismissive of the possibility, but she hits the nail on the head when she points out that it is a large leap from acknowledging that intelligent extraterrestrials could exist to accepting the claims of the so-called abductees: aliens resemble us; their civilization exists at the same time as ours; they have found their way here; they have somehow found it necessary, useful or amusing to repeatedly kidnap humans, perform the same procedures on them multiple times, then imperfectly erase their memories of the event; etc.