The Man From Outer Space

Harvard psychiatrist John Mack claims that tales of UFO abductions are real. But experts and former patients say his research is shoddy.

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The young man had slowly become aware of his enigmatic memories, of otherworldly beings lurking in his life, of "strange coincidences" and time out of joint. What was happening? Who could tell him? Casting about for help, says the boyish Pennsylvania health-care worker, "I saw this article in the newspaper about Dr. Mack. And I thought if you can't trust a Harvard professor, who can you trust?"

John Mack is more than a Harvard professor; he is a respected author (his book on T.E. Lawrence, A Prince of Our Disorder, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977), a psychiatrist who helped found the clinical psychiatry department at Cambridge Hospital and a noted scientific advocate of environmental and antiwar causes. Under Mack's hypnotic guidance, the young man "remembered" being abducted repeatedly by aliens, taken to a spaceship and having a probe inserted in his anus. He also recalled past lives, including one as a young Indian warrior called Panther-by-the-Creek, who died in battle. Even more astonishing, Mack believed every word.

The story of "Dave Reynolds" is one of 13 recounted by Mack in his new book Abduction (Scribners), the result of his study of scores of "experiencers," people who he believes have come in contact with extraterrestrial visitors. The striking similarity of their memories and Mack's academic reputation have led UFO believers to proclaim Abduction as the most important step yet in scientifically validating abduction experiences. A 1991 Roper poll found that 4 million people have had at least some abduction- related experiences, such as seeing unusual lights or missing time. "Until John came along, there wasn't enough credibility for this subject to support a methodological investigation," says Caroline McLeod, Mack's research chief. "Until now, if you decided to research alien abductions, you risked being pigeonholed as a lunatic."

Psychologists and ethicists do not question Mack's sanity so much as his motives and methodology. They charge that he is misusing the techniques of hypnosis, trying to shape the "memories" of his subjects to suit his vision of an intergalactic future, and very possibly endangering the emotional health of his patients in the process. "If this were just an example of some zany new outer limit of how foolish psychology and psychiatry can be in the wrong hands, we'd look at it, roll our eyes and walk away," says University of California, Berkeley, psychologist Richard Ofshe. "But the use of his techniques in counseling is substantially harming lots of people."

The scientific skepticism is bolstered by some unusual firsthand evidence. One of Mack's "experiencers" has revealed to TIME that she was actually an undercover debunker who worked her way into Mack's confidence and rose high in the ranks of his subjects. She found that Mack's work was riddled with scientific irregularities; it lacked a formal research protocol as well as legally required consent forms that advise research subjects of potential risks. She also discovered that Mack billed the insurance companies of at least some patient-subjects for what he described as therapy sessions.

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