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Astronomical Pseudo-Science: A Skeptic's Resource List


2. UFO's as Alien Spaceships

For decades the media have given enormous attention to sensational claims that vague lights in the sky are actually extra-terrestrial spacecraft. In recent years, the claims have grown to include crashes of such alien spacecraft and even kidnappings of unsuspecting Earth inhabitants by aliens. A sober examination of these claims reveals that there is a lot LESS to them than first meets the eye: when there is enough evidence, UFO claims can be explained by perfectly natural terrestrial or celestial phenomena (and, all too frequently, as deliberate hoaxes), while alien abductions seem to take place in the mind of the victim or the therapist, rather than in the real world. This section begins with readings on UFO claims in general, and then moves to information about specific famous UFO cases (including the almost legendary Roswell incident, which turns out to have been the crash of a top-secret balloon-flown package designed to search for atmospheric evidence of Russian nuclear tests.)

Clancy, Susan Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. 2005, Harvard U. Press. Revealing psychological analysis of people who believe they were abducted.

Frazier, Kenneth, et al., eds. The UFO Invasion. 1997, Prometheus Books. A fine collection of articles on some of the key UFO cases and ideas.

Klass, Philip UFO's Explained. 1974, Vintage paperback. UFO's: The Public Deceived. 1983, Prometheus Books. UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. 1988, Prometheus Books. Klass was the leading UFO investigator in the world, and his books are a model of UFO detective work.

Peebles, Curtis Watch the Skies: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth. 1994, Smithsonian Institution Press. A historical study of the UFO movement.

Shaeffer, Robert The UFO Sightings: The Evidence. 1998, Prometheus Books. Thorough, responsible review by a noted UFO skeptic.

Gleick, J. "The Doctor's Plot" in The New Republic, 24 May 1994. A New York Times reporter examines the work of John Mack on UFO abductions and critiques the whole phenomenon and the media's exploitation of it:

Jaroff, L. "Did Aliens Really Land" in Time, June 23, 1997, p. 68. A skeptical analysis of the Roswell incident. (Many good Roswell articles can also be found on the CSI web site; see section 13.)

Klass, P. "A Field Guide to UFO's" in Astronomy, Sept. 1997, p. 39. Natural explanations for UFO's.

Sagan, Carl The Demon-Haunted World. 1995, Random House. Chapters 4-11 are a marvelous debunking of many well-known UFO cases and an examination of the psychology behind them.

Special issue of Skeptical Inquirer on UFO's, Jan/Feb. 2009:

Ian Ridpath UFO Skeptic Page: British science writer investigates and explains UFO reports, and discusses astronomical causes of UFO sightings.

James Oberg's Space Age Myths: Veteran space journalist Oberg explains a number of UFO cases, including those involving astronauts and cosmonauts.

Alien Autopsy Hoax: About a purported film showing an autopsy of an “alien” body recovered at Roswell, New Mexico.

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3. Crop Circles

Despite sensational claims of alien visitors making patterns in British wheat fields (a claim reinforced by the horror movie Signs), the evidence indicates that they are the work of Earthly hoaxters. Both the number and complexity of the crop circles seems to increase with media coverage, and several teams of hoaxter in Europe and America have now confessed.

Nickell, J. "Circular Reasoning" in Skeptical Inquirer, Sep/Oct. 2002, p. 17. Review by skeptical investigator. See:

Schnabel, Jim Round in Circles. 2003, Prometheus Books. A science writer gives the history and explores the fascination different kinds of people have for crop circles.

Nickell, J. & Fischer, J. "The Crop-Circle Phenomenon: An Investigative Report" in Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1992, p. 136. A detailed investigation, with many cases and much evidence.

Nickell, J. "Crop Circle Mania Wanes" in Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1995, p. 41. Brief follow-up to the above.

Crop Circle Report (CSI Archive):

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