Here are some remarks I posted to sci.skeptic in 1993 after doing some reading in period newspapers. I speculated that UFOs might have been a hoax as part of an experiment in mass hysteria.
The Roswell incident was the high water mark of the famous flying saucer (more typically, flying disk) craze of 1947 that began the UFO age. The first sighting, as everyone knows, was when a Boise businessman-pilot saw nine disks over the Cascade Mountains in Washington on June 24. Sightings spread, and by July 6 it was front-page news for the New York Times, with 43 states reporting them. Sightings were starting to be reported in other countries also. The Roswell "weather balloon" incident first made news on July 7. It turns out that there were precursor incidents, however. In 1946 and early 1947, the testing of V-2s at White Sands was covered fairly well by the Times. One rocket went astray and exploded in Mexico. There were other mishaps. Also, reports came from Sweden during that time that rockets were seen flying over Stockholm. The implication was, in the little that I read of those stories, that people suspected that the Soviets were testing rockets at Peenemunde. Anyway, as I browsed the July, 1947 issues of the Times and the Albuquerque Journal, I was intrigued by one item in particular that "points up," as journalists say, the way the press first teased the public before laughing at them. On July 6, the NY Times included in a longer story an item to the effect that An unidentified "scientist in nuclear physics" at the California Institute of Technology was quoted today as suggesting the flying saucers might be the result of "transmutation of atomic energy" experiments. But Dr. C.C. Lauritsen, head of Caltech's nuclear physics department denied the source was a member of his staff. The Associated Press dispatch as published in the Journal handled the denial by Cal Tech this way: Cal Tech later issued a denial that one of its scientists had suggested the saucers might be experiments in "transmutation of atomic energy." Dr. C.C. Lauritsen, head of the school's nuclear physics department, said he believed the discs "have nothing to do with nuclear physics." There is a subtle difference here. The AP material -- and most of the world saw it, not the Times -- seems to say that yes, a Cal Tech scientist did say the saucers were about =something,= if not about "transmutation." Lauritsen's remark seems to be a response to the unnamed scientist. The Journal's use of the AP dispatch was not subtle at all. Their front-page headline heralding the latest developments that day said Atomic Energy Experiments Explain 'Flying Saucer', Says Scientist; More In Sky Later in the story, which contained several saucer-related items, they had the same scientist asserting that the saucers "are twenty feet in width at the center and are partially rocket-propelled on the take-off...Such flying disks actually are in experimental existence." Experimental existence? Interesting phrase. Maybe it's a clue to the ultimate nature of the flying saucer scare. Their "existence" was an experiment. They existed, all right. In minds -- of the people who planted the stories and of the journalists who went along with the game. Something we would call a "hidden agenda" today. It was a time of mass hysteria and of concern about the effects of "propaganda." A few years later there would be mass illnesses in factories, attributed to "mass hypnosis." Would it be out of order to suggest that some of these frenzies were experimentally produced?
Charles Packer email@example.com