Monday, June 8, 2020

Book Review: 'Captured by Aliens?' by Nigel Watson

The latest publication from Nigel Watson is well-sourced and far-reaching as we have come to expect from his work. Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims explores well over a century of reports of strange flying objects and their most peculiar crews in the United States.

The famous Betty and Barney Hill abduction case serves as the backdrop for analysis. Readers with casual interest as well as those well-read on the case will find this a worthy work. Watson covers much in detail, including Air Force reports and physical evidence analyses.

The author sets the stage by considering UFO events leading up to the fateful New Hampshire night of 1961. The dive into events surrounding Maury Island and Kenneth Arnold are quite intriguing, particularly the threads followed on Fred Crisman and Clay Shaw.

Watson spends significant portions of the book exploring aspects of reported alien abductions. Select cases are described, as well as a general outline of common occurrences of alleged abductions.

Watson periodically reminds readers of the dubious nature of the abduction beast. Challenging Budd Hopkins's persistent claims of a wealth of photographic, medical and physical supporting evidence, Watson writes, "As we have seen, there is no video or physical evidence for alien abductions, and other forms of evidence are based on anecdotes or generalizations rather than hard facts or data."

This is not to suggest, however, that the author does not give the abduction devil its due. Whatever we are to ultimately make of the reported encounters, it is clear there are potentially relevant implications. As one psychology expert considered, the fairly common theme of abductions occurring while on long drives could be of interest to neuroscientists.

If there is something this reader would like to have seen the author cover more thoroughly, I would appreciate more critical review of the activities of investigators who were largely responsible for forming the public perception of alien abduction. A substantial amount of documentation has been published by many sources on the unethical actions of abduction gurus. The author chose not to address these circumstances for the most part, although concerns about hypnosis as a memory enhancer were repeatedly expressed, as were objections to non-professional hypnotists leading the fray. The lack of further addressing ethical concerns may be due in part to the book being a revised version of Watson's 2009 self-published work, The Alien Deception: An Exploration of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon, according to the opening pages. 

Watson does indeed reference critical review undertaken by writer and researcher George Hansen. Watson also notes, "Ironically, Budd Hopkins, the very person who helped establish the concept of abduction has published ever-more fantastic accounts that even his followers find hard to accept at face value, and he has thereby eroded the validity of his original concepts."

However, aspects of the claims of Hopkins and other investigators are referenced without offering counterpoints. For instance, Hopkins's claims are noted pertaining to similarities of symbols which abductees purported to see during encounters and subsequently sketch later. The claim by Hopkins of their consistent similarities was effectively challenged by Carol Rainey with video footage to demonstrate its extremely questionable authenticity, including Hopkins qualifying the handling of the symbols was his attempt to "stack the deck".

In Watson's defense, he does not suggest Hopkins and other investigators were necessarily correct, but simply cites their claims as a means to establish what abductees seem to often report. Interestingly, investigators themselves may be among the most challenging hurdles to competently analyzing the abduction phenomenon: we are often at the mercy of their interpretations and agendas, absent access to the witnesses and what scarce data may exist. We don't know what happened, we know what they said someone else said happened, accounts often obtained through hypnosis and, at absolute best, a biased lens. It could be added that in some relevant instances this assessment of investigators is extremely generous and forgiving.

Watson takes a deep and thorough dive into the role media played in public perception of flying objects and their purported occupants. Confirmed hoaxes carried out by newspapers, recurring over generations, are covered, as are relevant aspects of film, television, and radio. The implications are evident.

The author's interest in UFOs and related reports inspired him to obtain a degree in psychology. Watson therefore dedicates a chapter to its significance, and acknowledges how discussion of psychological issues is often met with heavy resistance from investigators and experiencers alike. He clearly endorses treating people respectfully, while clarifying the situation is much more complex than simply labeling someone sane or insane.

The risk of offending researchers or abductees is not a legitimate reason to neglect delving deeper into their accounts, Watson ultimately argues. He adds, "In the long term, a less emotionally charged view of their experiences is likely to be of more help to them than soothing platitudes."

Watson dedicates the final chapters to analyzing the Hill case and alleged alien abduction, considering the contradictions in logic, and discussing social implications. The Hill case continues to be fascinating to both believers and skeptics.

Captured by Aliens? represents hundreds of hours of research and decades of knowledge acquired by Nigel Watson. The citations are clear and abundant. It is a useful research tool as well as a significant work on mapping social aspects of the alien abduction phenomenon, particularly the Hill case.

Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims is 215 pages. It is published by McFarland & Company, Inc.


  1. “…As we have seen, there is no video or physical evidence for alien abductions..”

    Abduct.. about some form of physical evidence for “interaction” with something “alien” to our beliefs?
    This was described in “Hair of the Alien” by Bill Chalker.
    There was a very odd dna sample taken from the witness Peter Khoury.

    “… Interestingly, investigators themselves may be among the most challenging hurdles to competently analyzing the abduction phenomenon…”

    Typo ? with the word “may” :)
    They are the problem 100%..

    “…The risk of offending researchers…”

    The main clowns that are in this subject matter, have shown themselves immune to criticisms let alone being offended.

  2. Mr. Hill was my mail man, he was a very articulate person.
    During the time I knew him I never was aware of the abduction thing.

    1. May I ask what years Barney was you mailman? And how old you were then?

  3. Sleep Paralysis/night terrors. I strongly believe this is the cause of many abduction stories. The rest are either outright hoaxes (looking at you Travis Walton) or manipulated hypnotic suggestions.

    And run away from any abduction investigator who wants you to send him a pair of your worn panties (looking at you David Jacobs).

  4. Yeah..good to see a false dilemma being used..
    I realise if some cases don`t fit into a rigid preconceived philosophical paradigm..then some people will reach for the old "hoax" with no evidence as a quick fix and move on to something else they can also comment on and solve.... :)

    1. Exactly, Mike, well stated. As if someone held temporarily captive (or, at best, an involuntary guest, semi-comatose or paralyzed) could simply photograph or record it all on a phone or, in past years, a bulky camcorder.

    2. Kevin Randle, who believes in alien visitation, thinks the Walton case is a hoax.

  5. As usual Jack, this is why I enjoy your blog. It is so welcome to have someone who stays in the "gray" (no pun intended) area of these controversial topics.

    I don't believe accounts such as Travis Walton or The Hills are hoaxes but neither do I believe they were abducted by extraterrestrials. This leaves open a plethora of possibilities, some more disturbing than others.

    1. Early cases are interesting because there is little chance of them being shaped by the theories of the investigators (Hopkins and Jacobs are certainly guilty of this).