"Skeptically Speaking" Column #12 & 13 -- Nov. & Dec. 1992

By Gary P. Posner


The Roper Organization Survey on
"Unusual Personal Experiences"

"Do you remember hearing or seeing the word TRONDANT and knowing that it has a secret meaning for you?" The 1% of interviewees embracing this nonsense word had their input summarily rejected (on the basis of "positive response bias") from the July-Sept. 1991 Roper Organization Survey on "Unusual Personal Experiences." But an analysis (published by the Survey's sponsors) of the remaining, ostensibly valid data was "mailed to nearly one hundred thousand psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals" earlier this year, its conclusion so startling and disturbing that I dare not divulge it until later.

What if I, a disbeliever in the existence of UFOs and other paranormal phenomena (and a confirmed non-TRONDANTIAN) had been one of the nearly 6,000 adult Americans interviewed? Or my hypothetical friend "Pat"? What might the Survey's sponsors have learned about the horrifying plight of mankind from our answers to their multiple-choice questions about "how often" either of us had:

== Seen a ghost? == Well, I've occasionally perceived movement out of the corner of my eye, for no apparent reason. Being a skeptic, though, I'd have to say "Never." Pat thinks I'm too close-minded, and having had a few spookily similar experiences, responds "More than twice."

== Felt as if you left your body? == I must admit that on perhaps three occasions (once while under anesthesia for minor surgery, the others while very hungry) I briefly felt such a sensation. Pat answers "Once or twice," but having read two of Shirley MacLaine's books, scoffs at my prosaic explanations.

== Seen a UFO? == A few times I've seen an unusual light in the sky that I couldn't identify. However, to me a "UFO" is an object which cannot be identified after a scientific investigation. I therefore respond "Never." But Pat, having been more impressed than I with a similar sighting, answers "Once or twice."

== Had vivid dreams about UFOs? == Well, OK, I have to admit that I seem to recall having done so once (I suppose I read and write too often about them in my waking hours). Pat says "Never."

== Awakened paralyzed with a sense of a strange person or presence or something else in the room? == A definite "Yes" (sort of). I'm convinced that I was dreaming (hypnagogic/hypnopompic) when I had the feeling that I was unable to move while someone (or something?) was tiptoeing in my bedroom (approx. 15 years ago), but I feel it unfair of me to respond with anything but a "Once or twice." Pat is proud of my good sportsmanship, and also reports such an experience.

== Had a feeling of actually flying through the air not knowing why or how? == "Never." But Pat felt that way intermittently for a few weeks after inheriting a large estate, and honestly responds "More than twice" re: the not knowing "how."

== Experienced a period of time of an hour or more, apparently lost, not remembering why or where you had been? == Not me. But Pat's first encounter with the M.T.A., Boston's subway system, resulted in such an experience (remember the Kingston Trio's song about "the man who never returned"?): "Once or twice."

== Seen unusual and unexplained lights or balls of light in a room? == "Never." "Don't know."

== Found puzzling scars on your body with no knowledge of how/where you received them? == "Don't know." I assume the scar on my knee was from bumping into something. Pat has had a small scar on the left shin for years, and can't recall any specific injury: "Once or twice."

== Seen, either as a child or adult, a terrifying figure -- which might have been a monster, a witch, a devil, or some other evil figure -- in your bedroom or closet or somewhere else? == Is the Pope Catholic? Do I read "Calvin and Hobbes" in the comics every day? Did I ever imagine the boogie man under my bed as a 4-year-old? Yes! Yes! Yes! Pat also responds with an enthusiastically nostalgic "More than twice!" Thanks for the memories!

So, what wisdom can be derived from the responses of myself, "Pat," and the 5,947 who were really  surveyed? Concludes no less than Pulitzer Prize-winning author John E. Mack, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School:

"[This] Roper Survey . . . suggests that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American men, women and children may have experienced UFO abductions, or abduction related phenomena."

I kid you not. Repeat: This is not  a satirical column.

Coming next month:
Behind the scenes of this "Roper Organization Survey." (Hint: You might have read about the two "project co-directors" in my June 1992 column!)


-- Part 2 --

When last we met, John E. Mack, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was informing us that the 1991 Roper Organization Survey on Unusual Personal Experiences "suggests that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American men, women and children may have experienced UFO abductions, or abduction related phenomena."

As the Roper Organization explains, "Roper's Limobus service offers clients the ability to 'tack on' questions to the regularly scheduled in-home service, Roper Reports." For this particular "tacked-on" Survey, just who were Roper's "clients"?

One acknowledged "sponsor" was Robert Bigelow, whose Bigelow Holding Corporation (Las Vegas) published the 59-page "Analysis of the Data" mailed "to nearly one hundred thousand psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals." In his "Afterword," Bigelow (whose "co-sponsor asks for anonymity") states, "This effort was initiated without any expectation of unique results." Yet, as the booklet's principal authors explain, "2% of our sample . . . [reported] a constellation of experiences consistent with an abduction history. Therefore . . . we believe that one out of every fifty adult Americans may have had UFO abduction experiences." (But remember from last time that 1% of the original sample had claimed that the nonsense word TRONDANT held a "secret meaning" for them! And some studies show a +/- 4% incidence of "fantasy-prone individuals" among American adults.)

The principal authors were none other than Budd Hopkins and Dr. David Jacobs, the two "project co-directors" (sociology professor and long-time UFO advocate Dr. Ron Westrum was a "contributing author"). As I wrote in my June 1992 column, Hopkins is a New York artist-turned-abductionist, the author of "Missing Time" and "Intruders"; Jacobs is a Temple University history professor whose Ph.D. thesis, and much of his ensuing life's work (including his recent book, "Secret Life"), revolve around his portrayal of reported UFOs/abductions as events of historical significance. Jacobs and Hopkins often extract their stories from "abductees" via regressive hypnosis, but one exception (the intricate "Linda/Manhattan highrise" tale, centerpiece of Hopkins' new book-in-progress) turns out to match the wild plot of "Nighteyes," a 1989 science-fiction book by Garfield Reeves-Stevens.

Hopkins and Jacobs explain that, "At the very beginning of this project the decision was made not to ask any direct questions about the UFO abduction phenomenon. . . . [W]e decided to ask only about specific symptoms. Few abductees are fully, consciously aware of their unenviable status, and fewer still, we thought, would admit being so aware to a Roper representative." In case you have forgotten since June, a typical "abduction" involves being floated onto a UFO, where gray telepathic entities proceed to carry out a humiliating physical examination (including the extraction of ova or sperm, presumably for alien/human cross-breeding). Hopkins was dubbed "the 'Typhoid Mary' of this tragic malaise" by UFO skeptic Philip Klass in his 1989 "UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game." Added Klass, "some victims [of this game] . . . will carry the resulting mental scars to their graves."

Instead of employing "direct" questions, Hopkins and Jacobs had Roper inquire about such things as the feeling of leaving your body or flying through the air. Had I been interviewed, I would have obeyed this trusty test-taking tip taught to me long ago -- stick with your first impression unless there is an overwhelming reason to change. Yes, I may have had such "feelings," but I knew they were only "feelings." And by the time the "monster" question comes around (see last column), with the word "feeling" omitted, I still would have gone with my first impression -- even though I know now (if I didn't 38 years ago) that the boogie man wasn't really under my bed.

The authors, undoubtedly delighted with their overall "findings," were nonetheless confounded by one. "In virtually every case, indicator experiences decline with age, especially after 44. This is puzzling, since older people would be expected to have accumulated more such experiences. One hypothesis is that indicator experiences are concentrated in the younger years . . . and are then forgotten with advancing age." But in his July 1992 "Skeptics UFO Newsletter," Philip Klass notes, "If failing memory with age were the explanation, one should expect that more older subjects would report 'puzzling scars' whose cause they could not remember. Yet the Roper survey shows the opposite." Klass suggests that younger people's high exposure to UFO-related books, movies and TV shows may be a likelier explanation for their more abundant "experiences."

Klass also reported in his May 1992 newsletter that Prof. Mack had "recently received a $200,000 cash advance from Scribners to write a book to be titled "The Abduction Syndrome." Mack also wrote the Foreword to Jacobs' "abduction" book, and served as a consultant for Hopkins' "Intruders" TV miniseries. Small universe.


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