Last week I considered one or two examples, from the right-wing commentator Peter Hitchens, of Great Historical Questions to Which the Answer is No. From today's Telegraph comes a variant on this theme: a Great Historical Question to Which the Answer is Yes:
"Within six months of Roswell, the CIA was formed, the National Security Act was passed, Harry Truman launched an official investigation into the UFO phenomenon, and the air force was separated from the army," says Joe Firmage, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur who has spent millions of dollars on UFO research.
"And then all these technological advances started spilling out of the military-industrial complex - semiconductors, microwaves, lasers, fibre optics, vertical take-off capability. Is that all coincidence?"
The supposed top-secret UFO investigation ordered by Harry Truman, incidentally, is a myth, exposed by the late Philip Klass, a tireless sceptical investigator.
The Telegraph story swallows just a bit too much of this nonsense. Witness its respectful treatment of someone whose memory doesn't merit it, namely "John Mack, a Harvard professor who risked his career to investigate the phenomenon of [alien] abductions...". On this charlatan, I recommend an article by the science writer James Gleick from The New Republic in 1994. Note in particular this apt observation:
Mack is a practicing psychiatrist, and he's toying with real people. There is "Ed," who first got in touch with Mack in 1992 and "recalled" having been abducted, raped (not Mack's word), and lectured to about "the way humans are conducting themselves here in terms of international politics, our environment, our violence to each other, our food, and all that"--all this having supposedly occurred 31 years earlier, in 1961, though Ed didn't begin to recall it until 1989.
In a chilling aside, Mack writes that Ed and his wife, "Lynn," have had "a number of fertility problems, which may or may not be abduction-related, including three or four spontaneous terminations of Lynn's pregnancies." It's a reminder: This man is practicing medicine. He is telling patients that their miscarriages may be due to imaginary aliens. Why do the medical licensing boards permit this?
There is no necessary connection between Mack's scandalous activities in this field and his political views, but there is a nice irony. Mack was a dedicated anti-war and anti-nuclear activist who, in a New York Times op-ed about the Iraq war castigated a "leadership that appears to be singularly lacking in the capacity for doubt, self-questioning, or the acknowledgement of mistakes".