Dr. Susan Clancy, in her book Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, discusses how there were no reports of alleged alien abductions until science fiction books, movies, radio and TV shows about alien abductions started appearing. The first film in which people are abducted by aliens was the 1953 B-movie Invaders from Mars, followed by This Island Earth in 1955. With the 1960s came the TV series The Outer Limits that included some stories of alien abductions. In fact it was just 12 days after the airing of the 1964 “Bellero Shield” episode of The Outer Limits that Betty and Barney Hill “recovered” memories through hypnosis of their alleged 1961 abduction in the White Mountains. Following the Hill story the reports of these so-called abductions proliferated.
If alien abductions were real, why would these extraterrestrial space travelers wait until the 1960s to start abducting people for their own research? Why not in the 1700s or 1800s? Another interesting observation that Clancy makes is that there are virtually no reports of alien abduction outside the United States. Why wouldn’t these space travelers be interested in people from Asia, Africa, Europe and South America?
I decided to do a little of my own research using a new Google research tool called Ngram that allows us analyze the development of our society’s culture through 500 billion words contained in 5 million books, fiction and nonfiction. Essentially, what you do is type in words and/or phrases and Google provides you with a frequency of how often these words and phrases appear in the book literature over a specified time period. While this word count does not cover newspapers, magazines or journals, presumably books present information that has been covered in the former.
Using Ngram, I chose the period 1700 to 2008 (the most recent year that Google Books has for). I entered the phrases “flying saucers,” “extraterrestrials” and “alien abduction.” In the Ngram generated chart below we can see that the term flying saucers started proliferating in books in around 1947, followed by extraterrestrials in 1950 and alien abduction in 1980. Notice there seems to be a peak of all three phrases appearing in books published around 2000 with a downward trend since. You can play with this chart on your own by clicking here. Feel free to change the year range and search terms. Click on the chart below to enlarge it.
I suppose one who believes in abductions could argue that reports of flying saucers would naturally come before the abductions. But, here is the rub. In June 1947 a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold was flying over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State and reported nine crescent shaped glittering objects that “moved like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.” (Clancy, p.91) It was an Associated Press article of Arnold’s story that dubbed what he saw as “flying saucers.” Arnold insists that the 150 or so newspapers that carried the story misinterpreted his report. “They said I’d said they were saucer-like. I said they flew in a saucer-like fashion.” (Clancy, 1992) The rest, as they say, is history.