When the subject of alien abductions was first suggested as a possible NOVA, I was intrigued. As a long-time sci-fi buff and one open-minded to the notion of extraterrestrial intelligence, I could not help but be curious about the bizarre and frightening reports of extraterrestrial kidnappers. So I started reading and watching the virtual explosion of media coverage on these strange encounters.
Although stories and anecdotes abounded in the press and electronic media, I discovered that there was very little critical analysis or serious discussion about the origins and meaning of the phenomenon. Eventually we here at NOVA came to believe that we had not just an opportunity but an obligation to respond. So we brought the lens of science journalism to one of the strangest stories of our time.
One of the trickiest decisions for the film has been how to deal with the alleged physical evidence surrounding abductions. Abduction proponents frequently point to such physical evidence - photographs of 'ground traces' left by UFOs, or most commonly, reports of strange scars or scoop marks on the body of an abductee.
When examined more closely, so called ground traces are usually just a commonly occurring fungus. Scars and scoop marks appear to be quite ordinary, and likely result from everyday injuries or traumas. But still, we at NOVA were curious and open-minded. Abduction proponent Budd Hopkins, for one, claims to have more compelling evidence - even an x-ray of an alien nasal implant.
In interviews and in writing, and specifically in a letter sent October 17, 1995, we offered several abduction proponents the opportunity to have NOVA hire independent scientists to examine any physical evidence from a current case. We went so far as to offer to perform an MRI or other radiological tests (with the approval of a physician) in cases of alleged nasal implants. We were not taken up on our offer, and it was further suggested that the aliens are too smart to let such evidence fall into our hands.
One MIT physicist, a fervent proponent in alien abductions and in the process of scientific inquiry, has confirmed that there is not one, single, independently confirmed piece of scientific evidence for an alien abduction. Not one. In fact when pressed further, most proponents themselves back off the importance of such 'conventional' data, and point instead to what they refer to as the real evidence for abductions; that is, the similarities in the stories themselves, and the sincerity and emotionality with which they are told. This then is the true heart of the alien abduction phenomenon and the focus of our documentary.
In our film, we take on the challenge of Harvard psychiatrist John Mack who says that abduction stories must be true, for there are no alternative explanations for even a single abduction case. NOVA turns to a panel of experts from the sciences and social sciences to learn what they have to say about the phenomenon. With expert testimony from Carl Sagan, from repressed memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, Pulitzer prize-winning cult investigator Richard Ofshe, and many others, our program spins an original answer to the question of what really might be behind the strange, sad stories told by alien abductees.