Friday, 25 March 2011

UFOs in the 1980s

The following guest article is by Rupert Matthews, author of the book Roswell.


UFOs in the 1980s
By Rupert Matthews

Back in the mid-1980s the world of UFOlogy was becoming dominated by two quite different facets of the phenomenon. Of the two the more mainstream were the abduction events that were beginning to be reported by an increasing number and range of people. The other phenomenon was popular with the media and general public, but less well favoured by serious UFO researchers: crop circles. Of the two, crop circles dominated the media - probably because of the impressive photos that could be printed in newspapers on slow news days to fill a half page at low cost.

Meanwhile, some researchers were beginning to suspect that some incidents that were reported by the witness as being an alien abduction were, in fact, psychological in origin. Researcher Margaret Fry in the UK produced a number of cases in which a witness reported being abducted and undergoing the usual types of experiences, while others reported that the person supposedly being abducted was, in fact, fast asleep or in once case being operated on under anaesthetic in a hospital.

At the time there was a huge amount of controversy over these cases. Some held that they disproved the entire alien abduction hypothesis and proved that those reporting abductions were simply hallucinating. Others sought to debunk the cases in order to prove the witnesses were lying or that the researchers had fabricated evidence.

Back in 1986 it does not seem to have occurred to anyone that those witnesses reporting abductions while quite clearly not being abducted were dreaming or hallucinating, but that this did not of itself disprove that alien abductions really did happen. It is well know that people often hallucinate that they are taking part in historic events, scenes from movies and the like. Perhaps the people in question had read about an abduction, and then hallucinated about it later on.

In hindsight the spat seems to have been a case of “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Equally pointless in hindsight were the press stories that sought to link the tragic crash of the Space Shuttle Challenger to a sighting of a UFO many miles away at the time of the crash. The two were obviously unrelated, and the link seems to have been invented by a journalist looking to boost sales of his newspaper. Sadly it served merely to undermine the credibility of UFO sightings in the minds of some members of the public.

The next year saw the damage to credibility repaired somewhat. The major US soap opera The Colbys featured a story line in which the character Fallon reported being the victim of an alien abduction. The story line had a few features that dramatised the events for a TV audience, but generally followed the sort of events that real witnesses had reported and did much to bring the idea of alien abductions to a wider audience in a sympathetic way.

That same year Whitley Strieber published his book Communion to rave reviews. The book retold what Strieber said were a prolonged series of encounters with a humanoid life form that physically resembled a “grey” alien. The book sold in vast numbers and was an international best seller.

The Colbys TV series and Whitley book launched the abduction phenomenon into the mass media. Suddenly the television, magazine and newspaper world could not get enough abduction stories. Many researchers took to hypnotic regression of witnesses in an effort to get more details and more coherent versions of events. Sadly some researchers had little or no training in hypnotic treatments and made some key errors of technique that would later discredit their findings. Nevertheless UFOlogy in the later 1980s became dominated by abduction stories obtained largely by hypnotic regression. It seemed that the answer to the entire UFO riddle might finally be within grasp of researchers.

The search for new, better and more dramatic abduction cases became increasingly frantic through 1988 and 1989. Publication followed publication as new reports cascaded out and researchers sought to find a pattern to the abductions and the apparently medical examinations and experiments conducted during them.

Thus far, the researchers had been concentrating on the UFOs and their occupants. But in 1989 a man named Bob Lazar came forward to claim that he had spent some time working at the highly secretive American military research base known as “Area 51”. He claimed that the US military were in touch with aliens - which matched the general description of “greys” - and were in the process of reverse engineering alien technology. The claims reignited ideas of a conspiracy between the aliens and certain human organisations (usually the US government in some form) which had lain dormant for more than a decade.

The new wave of conspiracy speculation would soon combine with studies of alien abductions to produce new ideas and theories that would dominate research in the 1990s.
Rupert Matthews is the author of the book Roswell which is available on Amazon and from all good bookshops. You can find Rupert’s website at He also maintains a blog about the unexplained at

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