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Review - Abducted - Susan A. Clancy

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Alien abductions fall into that dark region of subjects that science is usually wary of entering. Susan Clancy excuses her trip into this strange world by pointing out very sensibly that there's a surprising amount of belief in such abductions, and as such it's worth studying, whether or not it's true.

Whatever you may think of Clancy's case, this is a delightfully written book. It's very honest about how the author felt as she undertook her work, and it gives a much better portrayal of the real scientific world, rather than the sanitised version of many popular scientific histories.

Without giving too much of the game away, not entirely surprisingly, Clancy comes up with the conclusion that abduction phenomena can be explained by perfectly normal human experiences, and in many cases don't require the individual who tells the story to have any mental problems - we are very good at creating false memories, or getting emotional about something that never happened (if you want proof, hands up who has never felt a tear in the corner of their eye when watching a good animated movie. You can get emotional about a drawing?) She also emphasizes, though perhaps not strongly enough, how dubious hypnotism is as a way of enhancing memory - instead it firms up fantasy, converting imagination into apparent memory. On the whole this is a good book, but despite the engaging openness of Clancy's approac, it could have been written better.

It's instructive to see how readers view a book like this. In places where it's rated by the general public, such as on Amazon, this book tends to provoke polar responses. They either think it's great, for taking a scientific approach, or that it's rubbish (for taking a scientific approach). The truth is somewhere in between, and rather more complex. Some of the negative accusations are true. The book is not particularly well structured, and is rather repetitive. This reflects the fact that the scientific explanation (false memories etc.) is actually much simpler than the "believer" explanation of alien abduction.

However, some of those negative comments actually reflect the difference between faith and science. Clancy is criticized for not coming down firmly, but hedging her comments with qualifiers. That's what science is about. Only faith can be absolutely certain. Science must contain elements of doubt, because it's pretty well impossible to prove anything absolutely. All science can ever do is show what is overwhelmingly likely. For example, it's very likely that the pull of gravity will continue pretty much the same as they are and not suddenly disappear - but we can't prove it. Similarly it is very likely that Clancy is right about the causes of apparent abduction, even though it can never be proved absolutely.

 Only in hardback.

Reviewed by Brian Clegg

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Last update 05 June 2007