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Alien Abductions: Where have they gone?

May 3, 2012

Back in 1999, when I first started teaching Biology in Science Fiction, the Weekly World News reported that fully 20% of Americans have been abducted by aliens. (And returned, more or less intact.)

So where have all the aliens gone?  Why are alien abductions falling off lately? And when they do show up, look who they’re reduced to picking off.

Jonathan Cole’s explanation is ingenious. Of course, why should aliens bother to do wet-lab experiments on humans when we’ve uploaded so much data on ourselves? There’s a whole science of bioinformatics based on data mining. Now traditional experimentalists warn about the pitfalls of data mining without “real” experiments (go back and reread Jurassic Park–the original book, not the movie). But really, can you blame the aliens?

Have you ever tried experimenting on a human?  Any idea what a nuisance they can be? Injecting armadillos with tuberculosis is easy by comparison.

As for implants, today’s humans outfit themselves with so many electronic devices that the interference makes it worthless. Just try sorting out your implant signals from here to the mothership, with all those Lolcats cluttering the radiowaves.

So, let’s add to the virtues of NCBI: The ginormous human database (plus that of our relatives, the animals, plants and microbes) serves to distract aliens from abducting our citizens.

What do you think? Where have all the aliens gone?

  1. May 3, 2012 7:36 pm

    “Back in 1999, when I first started teaching Biology in Science Fiction, the Weekly World News reported that fully 20% of Americans have been abducted by aliens. ”

    Back in 1999, the X-Files was still running on tv, although it was on te down swing by then. If Fox Mulder believed in alien abductions because he saw his sister abducted, and even Scully was persuaded when she met abductees, why should we be surprised that such a large percentage of US citizens believe they have been abducted. A majority still believe there is an all powerful sky fairy and that part of him is inside their hearts.

    Now if Jesus can be taken inside you, and guide your life, unless “he” is electronic, why shouldn’t aliens use technology that isn’t like our crude electronics? I’m sure they could find a way that isn’t upset by our shiny objects.

    OTOH, maybe the decline in abductions correlates with teh rise of atheism/agnosticism?

  2. May 3, 2012 11:13 pm

    I think the alien kidnappers have gone to the same place as the invasion from Mars, flying saucers, pyramid power, the 19th-century great airship craze, witches, tulip mania, millenarianism, and so on. It’s safe to say that Morgellons Syndrome (aka Delusional Infestation) will soon follow them to oblivion, definitely followed by the Mayan non-end of the world, and possibly followed by the Republican Party. The fundamental text on this kind of, er …stuff… is still Rumor, Fear, and the Madness of Crowds (an update of the 19th-century Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds), whose one-sentence review might be “This book demonstrates that human gullibility is infinite.” From a biological point of view, I think the back of the human brain still retains its herd animal synapses, so that mass hysteria is often the path of least resistance.

    • May 4, 2012 8:41 am

      In our microbiology book, we have to tell students that laser beams can “hold” a microbe and move it someplace (optical tweezers). And then try to explain Schrodinger’s cat.

      If we can’t believe nonsense, how can we believe science?

      • May 4, 2012 11:26 am

        Because you can give step-by-step instructions to your “unbelievers” on how to build their own lasers and perform their own double-slit experiments. If it works and works reliably, it’s science. This is Clarke’s Law stated backwards — Sufficiently precise magic is indistinguishable from science. (If I offer a prayer to &diety requesting that a person turn bright green AND IT HAPPENS EVERY TIME, then that’s science, particularly if when I teach YOU that incantation, you can do it, too.)

        • May 4, 2012 2:17 pm

          Sufficiently precise AND REPRODUCIBLE magic.
          So, if Wingardium Leviosa works every time, is Harry Potter science fiction?

          • May 4, 2012 3:44 pm

            Yes. Doesn’t even require that EVERYBODY could do it. It would be interesting to do DNA tests on wizards and muggles.

  3. paws4thot permalink
    May 4, 2012 6:02 am

    I wonder; what other urban mythologies are showing an upswing if any?

    For instance, is there an increase in the number of USians who believe they have seen and/or been attacked by some form of mythical/supernatural creature such as ghosts, vampires or werewolves?

    • Lysander permalink
      May 4, 2012 4:11 pm

      Forget werewolves and vampires, a very large majority of the population in the US believe in ghosts or demons. I’m frequently surprised (horrified is more like it) to find otherwise rational persons espousing a strong, life-altering belief in evil spirits.

      Tell a friend you were abducted by aliens and they are likely to laugh in your face. Tell the same person you were “attacked” by an unseen spirit or ghost and the result is likely to be more frightening, at least if you see strong belief in such things in a negative context.

      • paws4thot permalink
        May 8, 2012 6:46 am

        That is very much my point; “alien abduction stories” are presently “out” and “urban fantasy” involving supernatural creatures interacting with the mundane population (Anita Blake, Sookie Stackhouse, Twi(t)light…) are “In”.

  4. May 4, 2012 4:27 pm

    I’m still not willing to call Harry Potter science fiction.
    Besides reproducibility, there needs to be a coherent view of the universe.
    If the sun rises every day, does that prove the sun goes around the earth?

  5. May 4, 2012 5:18 pm

    Certainly the theory that the Sun went around the Earth was science. It was coherent, and it explained the known facts. Like all science, when further observations were inconsistent with the theory, the theory got modified or abandoned. Note that the theory of epicycles predicted the motion of planets much better than Copernican theory. (The “wheels within wheels…” of planetary epicycles were, in fact, a graphical Fourier sine-wave series, and such a series can accurately describe any periodic movement.)

    In the HP universe, deep thinkers undoubtedly have developed theories about how and why wizards can do what they demonstrably can do. Those theories might be right or they might be wrong, but they ARE science! (They explain known facts, and they presumably make predictions that can be experimentally proved or disproved.) I see no difference between a “law of magic” and a “law of gravitation”, let alone a “law of entangled particles”. Ultimately one just has to say, “To the best of current knowledge, that’s how the universe works. If you’ve got a better idea, I’d love to hear it.”

    Please note I’m NOT making a claim for astrology, “creation science”, pyramid power, or whatever. They are not science precisely because they cannot make verifiable predictions. That’s why many physicists don’t think String Theory is a real theory. So far, string theory cannot make provable or disprovable assertions, whereas the Standard Model makes exceedingly accurate predictions that can and have been verified. When somebody comes up with a VERIFIABLE theory that adds gravity to the Standard Model, (the so-called Theory of Everything), then you, I, and Stephen Weinberg can fall down and worship.

    Actually, of course, they won’t fall down and worship — they immediately will try to find special cases that the TOE can’t explain.

    • May 5, 2012 12:23 pm

      “Note that the theory of epicycles predicted the motion of planets much better than Copernican theory. (The “wheels within wheels…” of planetary epicycles were, in fact, a graphical Fourier sine-wave series, and such a series can accurately describe any periodic movement.)”

      Yes, I recall that from years ago. Can you recommend background reading? This could be useful.

      • May 5, 2012 10:41 pm has a good explanation of why epicycles worked and Copernicus didn’t. (Copernican theory kept circular orbits and constant motion. It took Kepler’s Laws (ellipses, varying orbital speeds) to get the calculations to come out right in the geocentric model, and Newton/Leibniz’s gravitation and calculus to show WHY Kepler’s emperical hypothesis (not a “law” in the ordinary scientific sense) works.) The page talks about how epicycles reduce to Fourier series, given the right frequencies.

        The Fourier Series Wikipedia page has some graphical examples of how they can add up to a square or triangular wave, and so on. (A physical example is the “hollow” sound of an oboe. Due to its construction, it produces no even harmonics, and an infinite series of odd harmonics sums to a perfect square wave. The clarinet, seemingly similar, produces all harmonics and sums to a complex sine wave.)

      • May 6, 2012 3:29 pm has a good explanation of how epicycles worked and how they were related to Fourier series. The Wikipedia article on Fourier Series has some illustrations on how adding sine waves can create any shape.

        A good example is the “hollow” sound of the oboe. It’s construction is such that even harmonics are suppressed, and the summation of odd harmonics creates a square wave output. The seemingly-similar clarinet creates all harmonics, so its outut is a complex sine wave instead.

  6. heteromeles permalink
    May 4, 2012 11:02 pm

    I don’t have any idea where the aliens went (maybe their grant money dried up or their study is over?), but it may be that whatever the real phenomenon is behind alien abductions, it’s still going on at some background rate. Since it’s no longer cool, it’s no longer being reported on. Coverage comes and goes, and weird things continue to happen.

    As for science vs. magic, I’ve gotten somewhat notorious for answering “the fairies caused it” when I can’t explain some odd observation (like weeds coming in exactly half of a restoration planting, when there was no such pattern before the project and the entire planting was treated equally).

    The point is that many scientists get in the terribly bad habit of BSing plausible explanations when confronted with weird observations that someone else noticed. I got tired of BSing, even to maintain my reputation as a highly trained scientist, so I started throwing out “the fairies did it,” as a reason.

    Typically, if the other person is paying attention, they’ll go after me about being a reputable scientist and referring to faeries. Why didn’t I say something about, say, soil nutrients, or site-specific effects, or stochasticity, or whatever?

    I certainly could have, but the point is that I truly don’t know, and often, there’s no budget and little interest in finding out why something went weird. Since not knowing is seen by the ignorant as a mark of incompetence, and lying to burnish one’s stature as a scientist is a bad habit for any scientist to get into, how do you answer such questions?

    To put it very bluntly, if, as a scientist, you can’t even rule out the Good Folk as the cause for some observation, you might as well give them the credit. It’s more honest than creating a plausible BS, and it might inspire someone else to actually determine what’s going on, as opposed to buying your BS and ignoring the phenomenon too.

    • May 5, 2012 12:28 pm

      In my field, a leading scientist wrote for decades that K+ regulates bacterial pH, with no evidence, but the reviews kept citing it.

      The problem is, brain scientists show that we all unconsciously make stuff up to “connect the dots.” When two brain halves are severed, and the left brain doesn’ t know why the right brain does things, it automatically makes up an answer.

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