Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chris Rutkowski

Chris Rutkowski is one of the more thoughtful, and measured, UFO researchers active today. On his website, he sets out his position on the UFO phenomenon, with which I am in general agreement:

I believe it possible that an advanced, technological civilization may have found ways of traversing interstellar distances without violating physical laws. However, after more than 25 years of research and investigation, I do not see any incontrovertible evidence of this.

My opinion is that if UFOs are not physical phenomena, they definitely are sociological or psychological phenomena. In either case, they are worth scientific study, because they have, at the very least, permeated the minds and imagination of the populace, if they are not physical phenomena.

I first met modern-day contactees in the 1970's. In the late 1980's, abductees began seeking my help in understanding their experiences. I and my colleagues in UFOROM (Ufology Research of Manitoba) have been actively investigating a broad spectrum of reported experiences since 1975. Although many cases are intriquing and a small percentage are unexplained, they do not offer conclusive proof of extraterrestrial visitation.

I am interested in bridging the chasm between "believers" and "debunkers" in an attempt to catalyse rational discourse on these topics. I know that, deliberately or otherwise, incorrect information has been propagated by individuals who have made "names" for themselves in these fields of study. Because of some training in deconstructionist educational theory, I am critical of published research and popular interpretations of the phenomena.
Instead of rushing out to pick up Stan Friedman's new book, Flying Saucers and Science, which has little to do with real science, and which contains very little new material or information (question: what the heck does MJ-12, to which Stan devotes an entire chapter, have to do with "science"?), readers would be better served to purchase a copy of Rutkowski's 1999 study of the alleged alien abduction enigma, Abductions & Aliens: What's Really Going On, which is an excellent survey not just of that topic, but of some of the topics (and problems) with ufology in general.

Some choice bits:

Can a ufologist ethically advise/counsel/treat an abductee without referral to a professional psychologist or psychiatrist? Probably not. It would seem that it might be unwise to counsel abductees because of the possibility that they may have underlying psychological problems, and most ufologists are not trained to deal with this. Certainly some of the people who have come to me with abductee/contactee experiences have had such problems, and I would suspect that it is more pervasive than is usually acknowledged... Although most abductees seek help from ufologists, it is increasingly apparent that ufology is ill-prepared to deal with them. An abductee case is far more complicated than an ordinary sighting of a UFO... It is usually recognized that UFO investigators do not investigate UFOs, but the reports made by the witnesses themselves. Already, ufology is once-removed from pure scientific investigation and could be considered more analogous to memorate studies by anthropologists. Abduction cases are even more humanistic; there is often no definite "time" of an event, and it might not "take place" in a precise location. They are extremely subjective and may represent something beyond our investigation. This is why psychologists are more suited to abduction studies. Researchers have often found that abductees have emotional and psychological problems that may or may not be directly related to their experiences. Some appear to have a history of sexual or domestic abuse, and others exhibit symptoms of stresses within their lives. (It has been suggested that because of such backgrounds they are "chosen" or otherwise sensitive to abduction-like encounters, or that lifelong abductions are the cause of the psychological problems.) Regardless of the cause and effect, however, an abductee seeking help from a UFO buff is asking for trouble. Simply put, few ufologists have the therapeutic tools and expertise required to properly unravel an abductee's experiences within a framework of personal problems. (p. 232-234)

Eminently sensible, as is his conclusion, wherein he rebukes the scientific community:

After more than ten years of studying alien abduction stories and working directly with abductees, I can only state that there is a great paucity of true and incontrovertible scientific data upon which to build any useful theories. I believe that the scientific community has fallen very short in its view of the phenomenon. If there is no physical component here, then at the very least there is one that has components within the field of sociology and psychology. In any case, alien abduction accounts should not be dismissed. Enough people are affected by Alien Abduction Syndrome that it is time for science to overcome its stigma of avoiding UFO witnesses and abductees. It is no wonder that UFO buffs and abductees take no notice of scientists' and debunkers' flippant attitudes. Why should they?

I have great compassion for abductees. During the course of my research, I have met many fine people, outstanding individuals who are genuinely bewildered by their experiences. They have sought help because they are having trouble coping with their memories and emotions, and have received a scattershot response from clinical professions unfamiliar with the phenomenon and unsure of diagnoses, procedures, and methodology. In the absence of clinical assistance, abductees have turned to self-proclaimed experts in a variety of fields who really have no more answers than anyone else. The creation of cultish groups acting independently and reinforcing abductees' fears and anxieties does little towards helping those in need.

My advice for abductees is: Don't give up. There are some dedicated and sincere individuals out there who are willing to listen. Social workers, counsellors, and medical professionals are slowly becoming aware that AAS is a real problem. You're not alone.

Above all, don't believe everything you read.(p. 252-253)
Rutkowski has for years been asking hard and informed questions about a variety of UFO-related subjects, and has been offering real answers, always with the realization that there is no one answer, and that the questions may in many cases just lead to more questions.

That's not a bad thing, however - rather, it is the sign of a good UFO researcher, one who is interested in the truth, wherever it may lead, and even if it challenges their existing opinions.

Beware of people who offer you definitive answers about a subject like the UFO phenomenon. They may be many things, including sincere in their own way, but they are not truth-seekers.

Instead, seek out people like Rutkowski, who in his own way follows in the tradition of Hynek, Vallee and McDonald, and who respresents the best that ufology has to offer.

Paul Kimball


Mac said...

"Not physical phenomena"? Could it be that UFOs pose a challenge that's both sociological *and* sociological? Why "either/or"?

Mac said...

Oh -- and stop kissing Friedman's ass! ;-)

Don Maor said...

Excuse me mac, what effectively does it mean "to kiss a subject's ass". Not literally please... =).

Emma Woods said...

The idea that people who have “alien abduction” experiences are likely to have psychological problems that account for the experiences is not supported by recent research on the subject. For example, see the article “Alien abduction experiences: Some clues from neuropsychology and neuropsychiatry” by Katherine J. Holden and Christopher French at They state: “It is concluded that there is currently no convincing evidence for higher rates of serious psychopathology amongst abductees compared to the general population. Other mainstream academic researchers have found the same thing, and have turned instead to other ”mundane” explanations for the experiences, such as sleep paralysis.

It can be frustrating for people who have “alien abduction” experiences, and who know that they do not have mental health problems, to come up against the attitude that they should consult a mental health professional. At best, going to see a mental health professional can help them deal with the personal effects of having the experiences. However, most mental health professionals know virtually nothing about “alien abduction” experiences, and may have uninformed ideas about them. Most “alien abductees” with a successful career and a position of social standing are acutely aware that going to see a mental health professional about their experiences could result in a false diagnosis of mental illness, which could rebound on them and their life badly. Many people who have these experiences choose to keep them to themselves rather then risk running the gauntlet of social ignorance about the subject.

I have had “alien abduction” experiences myself throughout my life, and have devoted a fair amount of time to learning more about what the cause of them might be. I personally DID choose to consult two therapists about it, and both of them are of the opinion that I am psychologically normal. The fact that I was lucky, and was able to gain support from two objective therapists was invaluable for me, and I wish that all people who have these experiences have been so lucky in this regard. However, the question of what is actually going on in regard to my experiences had remained unanswered by my having consulted therapists.

There are many aspects of “alien abduction” experiences that cannot be addressed by psychologists. For instance, sometimes aspects of the events are witnessed, or there may be physical traces associated with them. Psychologists do not do investigative work, such as interviewing witnesses, carrying out examinations of traces, and so on. It is not part of their job. Ideally, “alien abduction” cases should to be investigated by investigators, who are also familiar with the patterns of these types of experiences. Of course, if people need psychological help then they should consult a therapist.

To give an example of one of my own experiences: A friend and I were driving across country to visit someone, and while we were on the highway my friend suddenly turned off and drove up a hill without either of us having any idea why. We did not speak to each other and he just kept on driving up the hill. Neither of us can remember what happened after that. The next thing we both remember is coming back down off the hill and back onto the highway. When we arrived at our destination we were six hours late and had no explanation for hours of missing time. My friend thinks that he has a very hazy fragmentary memory of seeing a silver disc coming down from the sky at some point, but he is unsure of the memory.

This event cannot be explained psychologically, because my friend and I both experienced the same thing, and we were missing hours of time. The person we were going to visit also remembers us arriving six hours late. This event taken by itself is strange. However, it becomes more so when you realize that long periods of missing time, with no memory of what occurred during that time, is a common pattern of “alien abduction” experiences. Also, that individuals driving to certain locations with no idea why is also a known pattern.

Personally, I do not believe that any “alien abduction” researcher has come close to discovering what is going on. It has only been studied by small numbers of scattered individuals, and has never been studied on a society-wide scale in the way that subjects such as memory, sleep disorders, etcetera have been. Until we examine these experiences systematically on a wide scale, all we are left with are the isolated efforts of a few individuals who are prepared to take the personal and professional consequences of researching a taboo subject, and the efforts of people who have the experiences to incorporate them into their lives in a way that they can live with, to try and make some sort of sense out of them.

Mac said...

Could it be that UFOs pose a challenge that's both sociological *and* sociological? Why "either/or"?

Oops. That should, of course, been "sociological *and* physical?"

rutkows said...

First of all, I'd like to thank Paul for the kind words!

Second, Emma, I do not intend on demeaning your abduction experiences. My comments about the nature of UFO abductions are based on my own observations and work with UFO abductees in a variety of settings, and I did of course not work with you. Having said that, I would still prefer that you seek out a clinical psychologist; not because there's anything "wrong with you," or that you are not "normal,: but because I think there is much to be gained. It's good that you have sought help from therapists, but therapists are not necessarily psychologists.

I agree that no one has done a *really* good study/survey on abductees, across a broad spectrum, taking into account a larger sample. That's why anything written on abductions so far has to be taken with a large spoonful (not just a grain) of salt.

I'm aware of the study by Holden and French (published after by book), that states they saw no overt psychopathology among UFo abductees. However, that same study *did* find that alien abductees have a tendency to dissociate, and that they may have abnormal temporal lobe functions. To me, that sounds as if there's something psychological and/or physiological going on. Again, not that abductees are not "normal," just that there's something there that needs to be considered.

And look at the abductees sampled in the studies noted by the study. A whopping *57%* of one sample had attempted suicide! "No overt psychopathology"?

Not only that, but the same study concludes that: "In summary, the evidence relating to alien abduction experiences do not
support the view that claimants really have been abducted..."

Oh, and the study cites *me* three times!

The gist of all this is that I recognize your concern that abduction cases have not been thoroughly studied. I also understand your sensitivity to being labeled as anything other than the perfectly normal person that you are.

I commend you for your courage in talking openly about your experiences, and your insightful comments on the nature of abduction research.

I thank you!

Chris Rutkowski

PS: My own blog is at:

Emma Woods said...


Thanks for your response to my comment.

I think that the high rate of attempted suicide in one of the samples of abductees does not necessarily mean that abductees have higher rates of overt psychopathology.

As an analogy, a friend of mine who is a therapist and who has worked for many years with young people, believes that young gay people have higher rates of suicide that are not necessarily recognized as being related to the pressures that they face being gay in a largely homophobic society. This is not just that they may face direct abuse because of being gay, but that they struggle with issues of self esteem, forming an identity, and so on in a culture that does not support being gay in the way that it should.

Similarly, abductees are social human beings who have to adjust to living in a culture that, for the most part, does not understand their experiences let alone support them culturally as abductees. That obviously puts pressures on people. There are layers of social issues that abductees have to face that affect them right across their lives. In addition they have to face direct issues from the experiences themselves. When assessing a population that has a high rate of suicide attempts, the external issues that they face as a population have to be considered, rather than assuming that it is a result of internal psychopathology.

If abductees’ experiences are caused by internal psychopathology, then they would not just have higher rates of serious psychopathology than the general population, it would be rampant amongst them. But recent studies show that this is not the case. On the other hand, because of the nature of the experiences, and the cultural context that most abductees live in, it would be expected that there would be indicators of stress among them.

I think that a useful approach is to look for the defining aspects of abduction experiences that cannot be explained as originating from within the individual concerned. These are experiences such as the one that I described above. These experiences point to the crux of the phenomenon. There may well be psychological aspects to the experiences, and there are undoubtedly psychological effects on the people concerned. But I think that it is important to be aware of this, and to sift through these psychological aspects and differentiate them out in order to get to the core of what is behind the experiences.

Anonymous said...

Chris writes

"My opinion is that if UFOs are not physical phenomena, they definitely are sociological or psychological phenomena"

Presumably in cases of radar tracks of objects, the radar system is undergoing psychological problems. Or suffers from a sociological problem.


Anonymous said...

So, how does Chris explain Travis Walton's 6 co-workers seeing the space craft too???

How does he explain Barney Hill's circular patch of bumps that he got on his stomach the day after their abduction??

And like the poster said above, how does he explain the Radar printouts of the JAL Flight 1628 case that happened over Alaska?? I'll take a pilot/astronaut's word over Chris' word any day of the week. A non-pilot like Chris or Phil Klass has no authority to tell a pilot that they're not seeing what they're seeing

Ryan said...

According to Brazilian Air Force documents, UFOS:

a. Produced radar echoes, not only on the Air Defense System, but also on the intercepting airplanes simultaneously, with visual comparisons by the pilots. b. Change in velocity, from subsonic to supersonic, besides hovering capability.

c. Varied altitude...

As Abe states, does radar equipment need psychological help?

Seriously, don't patronise us with the "it's all psychological" bunkem. We're smarter than that -- YOU'RE smarter than that, Paul. Rutkowski is just another Susan Clancy, blaming it all on psychological problems and bad sleeping habits.

Ryan said...

PS Forgot the link for the Brazilian Air Force docs: