by Fannie Weinstein
The Detroit News
April 21, 1994

from JohnEMackInstitute Website

Fannie Weinstein is a Detroit News staff writer.

A second article by Fannie Weinstein originally accompanied this piece but is not reproduced here; it presented the stories of three experiencers.

“All three,” wrote Weinstein, “say that before they met Mack, they had been afraid to tell anyone but their closest confidants about their encounters because of the stigma surrounding the abduction controversy. They're coming forward now, they say, so other abductees will know they're not alone.”

An additional note: The main article reproduced below ran under many different titles in different newspapers (the article having been syndicated nationwide via the Gannett News Service). Different papers ran the article in different lengths.


This website had been running the article under the title “A Close Encounter with Critics” before it came into possession of the original newsprint (pictured below), so we are continuing to run the article under that title even though it may be more properly recognized as “The Body Snatchers” now that we are presenting the full text as originally run in the Detroit News.


John Mack is used to being ridiculed.

It comes with the territory when you're an eminent Harvard psychiatrist and you write a book arguing that people who say they've been abducted by aliens may be telling the truth.

But when critics start attacking the abductees themselves, Mack the mild-mannered academic becomes Mack the Knife, cutting down not only their arguments but their motives as well.

“What they're doing, in their desperation, is attacking people who are a vulnerable minority,” says Mack, 64, whose Abduction - Human Encounter with Aliens has proved to be the hot book-of-the-month for the likes of Oprah, 48 Hours, Dateline, Newsweek, Time and The New York Times Magazine.

“It's a cruel tactic. They think if they can intimidate the experiencers themselves, then they won't want to come forward and that will attack this in a more basic way.”

Abduction is based on Mack's work over the past three and a half years with more than 100 “experiencers” - UFO parlance for abductees - whose recollections are a combination of conscious recall and memories achieved through hypnosis. In it, he argues that,

“the abduction phenomenon... forces us, if we permit ourselves to take it seriously, to re-examine our perception of human identity - to look at who we are from a cosmic perspective.”

Does this mean Mack actually believes his subjects have been abducted by aliens? Not exactly.

"The word 'believe,' in American English means suckered in, that somebody sold you a bill of goods,” he explains. “So I have to qualify that."

“What I say is that these are people who as best as I can tell have no reason to be distorting this phenomenon, who have nothing to gain personally, who have come forward reluctantly, who do not remotely demonstrate a form of mental disturbance that could account for what they're saying and who, with or without hypnosis and with intense feeling describe what [sounds like] real experience.”

“So I say these people are speaking authentically, genuinely and that it's a mystery I can't explain.”

The opposition

One thing Mack's critics can't dispute are his credentials.

Mack received his medical degree from Harvard in 1955 and has been a professor of psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, since 1972. He has written numerous critically acclaimed books and is perhaps best known for his 1977 Pulitzer Prize-winning psychoanalytic biography of T.E. Lawrence.

But it's these very credentials, some critics say, that are creating a smoke screen when it comes to analyses of Mack's work.

“Mack is a rather charismatic personality, and the fact that he comes from Harvard seems to give his views more authority,” argues Philip Klass, publisher of the Skeptics UFO Newsletter.


“It's as if General [Norman] Schwarzkopf were to make some crazy pronouncement dealing with defense matters. People would say, 'Gee, he's a military man. He must know what he's talking about.'”

Especially disturbing to Klass, a journalist who has written about space technology for more than 40 years, is the lack of what he calls “scientifically credible evidence” for extraterrestrial life.

“After spending more than a quarter-century investigating UFO reports, I have yet to find a single such case.”

Klass is as dismissive of the so-called “abductees” as he is of Mack.

“They live humdrum lives,” he says. “Nobody would ask them to appear on a talk show on the basis of their normal lives. But all they have to do is read a book or two about abductions, concoct a somewhat similar story and they're a local celebrity. And who knows? Maybe they can write a book and become a millionaire.”

It's not just lay persons, though, who are troubled by Mack's latest direction. Even some of his colleagues question its validity.

“People respect his other achievements,” says Dr. Malkah Notman, acting chairwoman of Cambridge Hospital's psychiatry department [which Mack founded]. “But the perception is that this is not a productive area.”

You'll never convince Mack of that.


A tall, handsome man with dark hair and graying temples, he talks about the abduction phenomenon with the kind of enthusiasm usually limited to eager young professionals.

Outfitted in a blue tweed sports coat, a pale blue button-down shirt and gray corduroy slacks - looking ever the part of the slightly disheveled professor - Mack spent much of a recent interview rocking back and forth in a worn, leather desk chair that takes up a sizable chunk of his tiny Cambridge Hospital office.

For the most part, Mack is philosophical about the stir his book is making.

“My work seems to have stimulated a kind of polarization in the media,” says Mack, who speaks as much with his hands as with his mouth. “On the one hand, you have people who are somewhat open. They may be nervous, but they've allowed themselves to walk through my process and they see that something's going on here that's mysterious.”

“The other end of the pole is people who simply say this is not possible. They completely dismiss the association with UFOs, they completely dismiss the fact that the phenomenon occurs in children as young as 2 or 3 years old, they completely dismiss the fact that the experiences are consistent among thousands of people all over the country and they dismiss the fact that I say there isn't mental illness here.


Then they become snide, nasty and personally attack me.”

Intellectual Challenges

Mack became interested in the abduction phenomenon after a colleague introduced him to Budd Hopkins, a New York artist who is considered the father of the abduction-awareness movement.

At first, Mack says he was as skeptical as the next guy.

The pair met in January 1990, and Hopkins told Mack about people from all over the country who had told him about their experiences. A month later, Mack met with four abductees and became intrigued by the philosophical, spiritual and social implications of what they had to say.

Most significantly, Mack writes in the book's introduction, the phenomenon calls into question the basic Western belief that reality is grounded only in the material world or in what can be perceived by the physical senses.

It's this intellectual dilemma, Mack says, that explains why people are so disturbed by the phenomenon.

“We like to believe we are in control our world,” he says, “that we can bulldoze it, blow up the enemy.”

“That illusion of control is deeply built into the Western psyche. This phenomenon strikes at the core of that and says not only are we not in control, that some kind of intelligence can break through and do threatening things to people for which there's no defense, it also shatters another belief - that we an the preeminent intelligence, if not the only intelligence, in the cosmos. It makes a mockery of our arrogance.”


The most notable characterization of the abductees, says Mack, is that they can't be categorized. His own sample includes students, housewives, secretaries, writers, business people, computer industry professionals and psychologists.

Some of the abductees come from broken homes, others come from intact, well-functioning families.

Experiencers, say their abduction encounters begin most commonly in homes and at night. Usually the experiencer is accompanied by one or two or mom humanoid beings who guide them to a ship. The experiencer often discovers that he or she is unable to move at will.

Inside the ships the experiencers remember witnessing mom alien beings. The entities most commonly observed are small, gray humanoid beings 3 to 4 feet tall. They usually have large, pear-shaped heads that protrude in the back, long arms with three or four long fingers, a thin torso and spindly legs.

Abductees are often subjected to procedures in which instruments are used to penetrate virtually every part of their bodies, including the nose, sinuses, eyes, ears and other parts of the head, arms, legs, feet, abdomen, genitalia and more rarely, the chest.

Sometimes instruments are used to take sperm samples from men and to remove or fertilize eggs from females. Abductees report being impregnated by aliens and later having an alien-human or human-human pregnancy terminated. Also, some report the presence of homing objects, or implants, that have been inserted in their bodies so that the aliens can track and monitor them.

Afterwards, many abductees suffer long-term physical symptom such as headaches, nasal sinus pain, limb pains and gastrointestinal and urological-gynecological symptom.

Because they often suffer some sort of psychological trauma as well, Mack tries to ensure that the abductees have access to mental health professionals if he can't see them himself.

“I try to make sure they have someone they can talk to who at least understands the phenomenon,” he says. “One of the things that is really troubling is that there aren't enough people who are qualified to do this work. But that's changing. I now have two psychiatrists in the area who are open to it and who will see these people.”

The chances of Mack and his critics ever seeing eye-to-eye is slim.


Take Klass, for example, who confesses facetiously that he keeps a video camera by his bedside.

“I figure if I am abducted and if I can get video on board a flying saucer, I could really do very well,” he cracks.

For his part, Mack is less concerned with battling his critics than he is with openings public dialogue about the abduction phenomenon.

“I want people to ask themselves, is it possible that something they don't understand is going on here?” he says.


“My role, my responsibility, is to open a serious conversation in this culture that maybe there are dimensions and realities and something going on hem that we don't understand, and that it might be more useful for us to acknowledge this than to shoot the messengers.”