Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Belief, Polygraphs and alien abductions – the SBS “My Mum Talks to Aliens” documentary examined

In my regular UFOlogist magazine "UFO History Keys" column I have written a piece examining the SBS documentary "My Mum Talks to Aliens." I urge you to read the full column in the September - October 2011 issue.

Here are some brief extracts:

On November 30 2010 the documentary “My Mum talks to Aliens” was aired on the SBS TV network. It has been repeated a number of times since then. While the lurid title may have seemed off putting, the content was interesting and made a contribution to the debate about UFOs and alien abductions.

The primary and most engaging aspect of the documentary was the relationship between alien abduction counselor Mary Rodwell and her son Chris, a veterinarian. A kind of road trip through the alien landscape was played out, with Chris looking for credible scientific evidence that his mother’s obsession with matters alien are not an indication she has lost her marbles. Mary sets about showing him a range of things that might persuade him that the UFO and alien abduction field is a serious area of enquiry and that she has a credible approach within it.

While some apparently intriguing areas were touched on by the documentary, each had their own “devil in the detail” aspects – issues and problems which were not addressed, in part due to the limitations of the format of the programme. It seemed to be up to Mary to present the case for each item and for Chris to see if it resonated well with his scientific sensibilities.

The credibility of each segment really depended on how engaged and well informed Mary and Chris were with them. This varied a lot through the programme.

Mary’s “ace card”, abductee Peter Khoury, was filmed in a very limited way focusing on an all too brief recounting of only part of the DNA evidence related to his 1992 experience and then filming an unguarded moment which Peter would have wished wasn’t used. It was pretty clear than both, Mary and Chris, were not well aware of the totality of the DNA evidence in Peter Khoury’s case, and if they were, they didn’t understand it or its implications. Despite Mary’s preoccupations with matters DNA related in her claims of “new humans” she seems to prefer poorly documented “evidence” rather than well presented and detailed evidence such as in the Khoury “Hair of the Alien” case. Neither, Peter or I, are aware of any occasion, other than the documentary, where she has highlighted the case in any significant way in her lectures or publications. Indeed I was advised it was the producers that led Mary into choosing Peter Khoury’s case as her belated “ace card”, as stronger and more compelling material was needed, than the material she had already presented.

It was a mellowed form of polygraph testing entrapment that overshadowed the very limited and skewed presentation of this case, and the polygraph testing was limited to his 1988 experience rather than the 1992 experience, in which evidence led to DNA testing. The programme had not engaged with this 1988 experience, so it was probably confusing for the viewer. The polygraph was used, almost without question, as a way of discriminating between fact and fiction. There was a brief narration comment that Mary had some issues about the use of lie detection, while in the background I had been waging a campaign against its use in general and more specifically in Peter Khoury’s case. It was a campaign I waged with the producers and Peter, and my arguments were based on science, not vague popular perceptions of the utility of polygraph testing. There was a huge debate that could be had here, but it was left unstated in the documentary, despite the history of the controversial use of polygraphs in both the wider community and its rather sorry history of use in the UFO controversy.

I will limit my further comments here to where the documentary addressed alien abductions. It did this by examining two different abductees, Greg Le Noel, the client of Mary’s ACERN practice, and Peter Khoury, who had not been a client of Mary, nor had she been involved in any of the research about his abduction experiences. In both cases Chris organised polygraph testing via Gavin Wilson, forensic polygraph examiner for Australian Polygraph Services. Greg failed his test, while Peter Khoury passed his. Mary Rodwell attempted to rationalise Greg’s failure as being due to his abduction “memories” being recovered via subconscious or trance recall, in other words, his abduction narrative came from the hypnotic regressions Mary carried out with Greg. Peter Khoury’s abduction “memories” are clearly anchored in conscious recollection.

So the documentary’s “smoking gun” was Peter Khoury’s successful lie detector test, which had focused on his conscious recollection of witnessing 5 aliens in 1988. Peter Khoury has always wanted to have a lie detector test, to help validate his claims of alien abductions. Of course Peter was pleased to have passed the polygraph test, but the documentary failed to reveal the background drama on this particular aspect of the programme. Nor did it engage with the deeper issue of the use of hypnosis in validating alien abduction stories. There is a rich and potent debate to be had there. But it was not going to happen in this context, perhaps in part because so much of Mary’s evidence has been gained through the extensive use of hypnosis.

Polygraph examiner Gavin Wilson, on camera, reported to Mary Rodwell, Chris Rodwell, and Peter Khoury (I was at the same table out of camera shot), “Peter passed the test.” Peter laconically responded, “Great, I’m happy.” Gavin added, “So far as I’m concerned, what he witnessed, there has to be some merit in that.”


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