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November 6, 2005

Why they think of aliens

By Carol Herman
November 6, 2005

    By Susan A. Clancy
    Harvard University Press, $22.95, 179 pages
    First, how can you not love a book that begins this way:
    "Will Andrews is an articulate, handsome, forty-two-year-old. He's a successful chiropractor, lives in a wealthy American suburb, and has a strikingly attractive wife and twin boys, age eight. The only glitch in this picture of domestic bliss is that his children are not his wife's -- they are the product of an earlier infidelity. To complicate matters further, the biological mother is an extraterrestrial."
    From this startling and unapologetically funny beginning, Susan A. Clancy leads readers into what soon becomes a very serious and respectful study of people who are absolutely certain that they have been removed from their familiar surroundings by non-earthly beings.
    In "Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens," the lead title of Harvard University Press' fall catalogue, Ms. Clancy, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Harvard, states quite clearly early on that it is not her aim to prove that these people were abducted -- to the contrary, she does not believe these abductions ever took place -- but that we can learn why these people believe that they have been. The study of this belief, unshakable in most cases, leads Ms. Clancy to make some compelling observations about recovered memory, fear, science, faith, reason, the human condition and, inevitably, aliens.
    Ms. Clancy writes that during Will Andrews' abductions (he has memories of being taken away several times), "he became close to his 'alien guide,' -- a streamlined, sylph-like creature." Although they didn't communicate verbally, he feels they became 'spiritually connected' and their connection resulted in a number of babies."
    This is a book built on case histories such as Will's. Ms. Clancy conducted lab studies of 20 "believers," interviewed 12 in their homes or on the phone, and spoke to roughly 25 more abductees at conferences. She is moved by many of their stories, upset by more than a few, but the compilation makes for unusual and fascinating reading especially when combined with Ms. Clancy's persuasive interpretations and explanations.
    She sets out her game plan early on, stating that she will answer the following questions: "How and why does someone choose to study this phenomenon? What is the source of the abduction experience? If it didn't happen, then why are all the stories so similar? If it didn't happen, then why do so many disparate people believe it did?" And then she sets about her work.
    To answer the first question, Ms. Clancy notes that she began studying people with recovered memories of sexual abuse but soon discovered that "I hated the controversy, and I hated being seen as a secret enemy of all those people who had shared their painful memories with me. But then a safer way to study the creation of false memories turned up." Alien abduction.

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