UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge

UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge
Edited by: David M. Jacobs

Source: Louise Lowery

University Press of Kansas 2501 West 15th Lawrence, KS 66049-3904 (785) 864-4155 Fax (785) 864-4586 Publication Date: September 7, 2000 392 pages, 3 illustration Cloth, $34.95 (ISBN 0-7006-1032-4)

Whether interplanetary tourists, interlopers from a parallel universe, or mere misfirings in the brain, UFOs and "aliens" permeate popular culture. They've made the covers of Time, Life, and the New York Times Book Review; garnered CNN coverage; turned up on Larry King Live and other high-profile talk shows. They have attracted large audiences for TV's X-Files, Roswell, and Third Rock from the Sun, and for films like ET, Independence Day, Men in Black, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

And they have swamped the Internet with thousands of websites and discussion groups dedicated to the topic.

Despite this pervasive presence, few scholars have been willing to study the perplexing phenomena behind these cultural signifiers. Wary of a field that seems tainted by suspect methods, outlandish theories, and zero government funding, as well as a disturbing array of cults, charlatans, debunkers, and self-promoters, many have logically stayed away. Meanwhile, the phenomenon continues to grow and evolve in the public awareness.

In UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge, historian David Jacobs and his coauthors offer a kind of primer for scholars, skeptics, and others uneasy about investigating this field. Although not all in agreement concerning the elusive, complex, and compelling subject of UFO and abduction phenomena, they have come together to highlight key events, issues, themes, and theories. The authors cover the nature of UFO "evidence;" reactions of the government and military from the Cold War to the present; the methodological debates; and the use of research from science, history, mythology, and psychology in the study of UFOs and abductions.

UFOs and Abductions also brings together for the first time in one book three best-selling authors-Jacobs, Budd Hopkins, and Pulitzer Prize winner John Mack, widely known for their writings on the highly controversial "alien abduction" phenomenon.

Motivated by the same simple curiosity that has always fueled humanity's great discoveries, the authors of UFOs and Abductions hope that their efforts will help to encourage a fundamental shift in the academy's view of such research, ultimately leading to a better understanding of the phenomena, ourselves, and our place in the COSMOS.

About David Jacobs

David Jacobs manages to balance an active academic career as a professor of history with a dedicated interest in UFO and abduction research.

A Los Angeles native who studied first at UCLA and later at the University of Wisconsin, Jacobs now lives outside Philadelphia and is a member of Temple University's history department. A former director of Temple's American studies department, he specializes in twentieth century American history and culture. At Temple, Jacobs teaches the only university-level course in the U.S. on UFO and abduction phenomena, a course that remains both popular and controversial.

Jacobs has been a UFO researcher for 34 years. In 1973, he completed his doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the controversy over unidentified flying objects in the United States. This was one of the first Ph.D. degrees granted which involved UFO-related scholarship. His dissertation was published as The UFO Controversy in America in 1975. His other publications include Secret Life: Firsthand Accounts of UFO Abductions (1992) and The Threat (1998).

Jacobs is a prominent academic who doesn't shrink from opportunities to present controversial topics to new-and skeptical-audiences. He delivered the first paper on the abduction phenomenon to a scientific organization (Cornell University, 1989), and he participated in the first session on UFOs at the History of Science Society (Washington, D.C., 1992). His work has taken him all over the world, from Brazil to London and from Connecticut to California.

In addition to his work on UFO and abduction phenomena, Jacobs's continuing research interests also include a study of the cultural perceptions of the American communist in the post-World War II era. ********************

AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID JACOBS (Excerpted from Sean Casteel's interview with Jacobs in UFO Magazine, Volume 15, Number 8, September 2000)

[Q] Can you give me some background on the book?

[A] Basically, the book is an attempt to bridge the gap between the academic community and the UFO and abduction research community. The purpose is to show the academic community that there is such a thing as serious UFO research and that excellent work is being done by scholars in the field. I hope that the book will help to relieve the stigma that exists in mainstream academia about UFO research. I fully understand that this will not happen with a single book, but it is one step in a journey that must be taken.

[Q] What do you think would be the ideal response from academia to the book? What response would you settle for?

[A] Well, the ideal response would be for academics to "see the light," throw up their hands and say, "Now I understand how mistaken I have been. I repent! Now I am enlightened! I will devote my life to studying this most important subject." I will settle for, "This is a very interesting book. I want to learn more."

[Q] Do you get any flak from the administration or your fellow faculty members at Temple University because of your high-profile interest in UFOS? If so, how do you deal with it?

[A] There are only a few of us in academia who maintain a relatively high-profile stance about our beliefs that the UFO and abduction phenomena are extraterrestrial. This is not well-taken by other academics. When I mention UFOs or abductions, they instantly understand the full range of phenomena that could account for either the sightings or the abduction narratives. They know that false memory syndrome, conventional objects, sexual abuse, popular culture, faulty hypnosis, birds, planes, and many other phenomena could easily account for most of these wild reports and stories.

What they do not understand is that UFO and abduction researchers are acutely aware of all of these explanations and they have looked into them on a more exhaustive level than the academicians who "know" the answers. It is all very frustrating. They think that I and other academics involved in studying the subject are not strong minded, have lapses in judgment, or are simply ignorant. Thus, anyone in my position must pay the price for being in academia; many of the faculty at my institution feet that I am an embarrassment to the university and would prefer not to have me on the faculty.

Fortunately, the faculty in the history department have known me for a long time and are able to tolerate my research because they have come to understand the seriousness with which I treat the subject and some actually respect my willingness to work in such a controversial area. I think any academic who goes into UFO research must be willing to pay the price. Salary increases, promotions, and university administrative positions-and credibility-will all be part of that price.

[Q] You teach an accredited course on the subject. What is that like? Is there a high percentage of believers among the students? Do you have lively class discussions?

[A] I teach "UFOs and American Society" through the American studies program at Temple University. I have taught this course on and off since 1977. A few years ago the embarrassment of this nationally publicized course-seen in The New York Times and Spy Magazine and college guides and so on-became too much for the American studies program and I was put on a schedule of teaching it once every third semester.

It is a very popular course which usually has about 70 to 80 students in it. I have actually had a few students who enrolled in Temple University because they knew the course was offered. My own statistics have indicated to me that a higher percentage of students who are "believers" take the course than take other courses.

Having said that, most students in the class are either neutral or nonbelievers. Many take the course for the usual reasons: the right time, they need credits in upper-level courses, they think it might be an easy "A" and so forth. However, the course is quite well known and every time I teach it I have to turn away many students. I teach the course chronologically from the beginnings in the 1890s to the present. I try not to tell students about what the phenomenon is and allow them to know as much about it as the people in the period under discussion did. Thus, the phenomenon and the history of it are revealed to them together so that they "grow" with it and understand the debates and the societal determinants that formed the underpinning of the controversy.

[Q] What about educating the general public? Is that the next step after educating academia itself? I think that the general public might already be more educated about this subject than academics. The acceptance of this phenomenon is almost certainly greater among non-academics than academics. Perhaps they are not so encapsulated in their own fields as academics are and therefore non-academics are often more open-minded and engage with the data in a more productive way than academics do.

On another level, however, I think there is a tremendous amount of misinformation about the UFO and abduction phenomena. I think that it is important for the major UFO organizations to step up and begin the process of education about UFOs free from the popular culture distractions that have muddied the waters about this subject for the past twenty years.



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