Interview with Bob Rickard.
|Fortean Times has chronicled worldwide strange events for nigh on 25 years now, evolving into a slick, well balanced resume of just about everything interesting in this strange old world of ours.|
Tony interviews editor and founder Bob Rickard about the apparent recent growth of interest in UFOs, and 25 years of Fortean Times.
2atoms: " It seems that as of the last decade or so the traditional image of the flying saucer has been replaced by that of the flying triangle. To what, if anything, do you attribute this? "
Bob: " It's true that over the last two or three years perhaps, there has been an increase in reports of flying triangles. I don't think there's anything particularly significant about this. If you go back into the history of UFO reports they haven't always been circles or cigar shapes, they've often been other odd things, more difficult to describe like clouds, or luminous blobs or strange angular shapes. There is some attempt to explain the triangular business with Stealth aircraft and there may be some truth to that - it's difficult to say. I think that as time goes on we will have other shapes, who knows where it will come from. I think in America there was an attempt to link UFO shapes to the crop circles, you know those kind of crop-circle shaped UFOs where actually coming down in the cornfields of England, or so it was believed. This only satisfies one of the many theories of UFOs and that is that they are extraterrestrial craft of one kind or another. There are other theories of the origins of UFOs for example, you know maybe they are time craft from the future or something like that. In which case preoccupation with the shape is a bit of a red herring. "
2atoms: " Undoubtedly programs such as The X-Files and Dark Skies have stirred interest in the subject from those who previously had none. Do you think people these days are more open minded when it comes to subjects like UFO sightings and ghosts etc. and I don't just mean the younger generation? "
Bob: " I'm often asked this. Whether the advent of The X-Files and Dark Skies and has meant an increase in phenomena being reported or an increase in people being interested in it. Erm, I don't think so you know, I've been collecting strange stories for nearly 24 years now and I don't think with my hand on my heart I can say that has been an increase or a decrease. I think people are genuinely interested in this stuff, as they always have been since the dawn of time. It's just that now I think the media are (or at least have been up to now) discussing it more openly. It's become a `cool thing', there's a lot of open references to X-Files'y type stuff in the cultural interchange. It's become a kind of signature of the moment. There is one change however, and that is I think that, not so much because these are strange phenomena that we're talking about, and interest in strange phenomena, but because of I think, a general alienation amongst people towards science and towards governments and towards figures of authority. I detect this, that there's an increasing global anxiety going on, and this is what is I think probably the far more significant message of The X-Files and Dark Skies, this basic distrust of authority all around us. You know we're in trouble when a government minister says, " There is no cause for alarm ". I think this business of working up towards the millennium is far more about that, an increasing alienation of people, towards the forces that are controlling their lives, than it is really about strange phenomena. "
2atoms: " A question now about Ray Santilli's recent alleged Roswell autopsy film. What effect do you think the episode has had on the reputation of ufology? "
Bob: " This is a very interesting problem because you have ufology which is basically people who are interested in solving the riddle of what UFOs are, many of them doing so by joining in investigations or writing. Then we've got the writers and researchers as well, the theorists. They've all been chugging along quite nicely thank you, then out of nowhere comes Santilli's alleged autopsy film. There was no hint of it, even amongst those people who had devoted their lives to investigating Roswell in the last few decades, and suddenly it's come out of nowhere. I don't think there were many serious researchers who doubted that it wasn't a fake of some sort. Precisely how it was made and so on, there's a lot of argument about; the dummies, whether they were actually deformed ill people and so on. The real effect though of the film has been on the general public, because it seemed to bolster the whole feeling that governments are powerful enough and sinister enough to actually keep aliens secretly, to dissect them in human ways, and to try and keep all the knowledge from us. It seemed to pander to the conspiracy theory of alien encounters really. But, the more people dig into it and the background to the whole autopsy thing the more it evaporates into nothing. People are untraceable and so on, the events, there's no record of the scenes as the autopsy claims that President Truman was present at one of the early autopsies. There's no evidence of that at all. So I think you've probably got a strange legacy of this here, that as far as the serious researchers go, they regard it as a distraction. But I think that those people who don't know, who haven't bothered with the background, who have no access to the material or even the discussions about it, they might assume that yes it is genuine and yes it is evidence of a conspiracy. So in that sense, I do think it has done ufology a great deal of harm. Whether it was intended to be a money making episode I really can't say... "
2atoms: " Do you yourself there may be one logical explanations for UFO sightings? "
Bob: " Oh that's an easy one to answer - no! The longer I do this job the more I realise there are no simple answers, and there's certainly no one answer. You've only got to take a thing like fish falling out of the sky for example. There you've got a physical phenomenon, but when you actually research it you find that it very much depends on the circumstances and there could be two or three possible explanations. The same with things like spontaneous combustion, the more you go into it the more you realise that conventional explanations don't really do, but maybe there are further possibilities which we haven't really got full data on. As for UFOs there are several problems there again you know, it's not a single subject. Almost every different researcher has his own theory, so if you ask them if it's true they can only answer according to their theory. There's physical evidence and then of course the evidence of people who have been abducted which is more, (he pauses) I think we tend to call it more like folklore narratives now, this kind of evidence - it's subjective evidence. And when you see the problem of a UFO encounter splitting off into two directions, one pointing at physical evidence, the other pointing at subjective experience, there can be no simple answer you know you could probably answer each one separately but I think it would have to depend individually on each case. "
2atoms: " A personal question: Would you want the mystery of so called true UFOs explained and if so why or why not? "
Bob: " I don't think a true Fortean has any vested interest in not
solving a mystery - that's not what we're about. What we are about is
studying the way people react to mysteries - if you like, the way
they explain them. To us, even the scientific position is a belief system
just as much as somebody who believes that the UFOs, as did one old lady
that I met, were something to do with the spirit realm. She said every
night when she went to sleep, UFO beings would come into her room and
whisk her off into some psychic dimension where she'd help dying people
pass over into the other world. Very interesting belief that. For us it's
the journey, not really arriving. Like everybody we
don't want to delude ourselves, we don't want to delude other people or our readers. I don't think there's anything to be gained by that. We do want to find out as near as possible as we can to tangible truths, facts, but we also know that you can fasten too quickly onto something then you resist better evidence when it comes along that might change your mind in some direction. So we have to say that we like to believe things tentatively. It sounds like a cop-out but it's a practical one and time and time again it's proved. So, I'm not sad when a mystery is solved because it's just as interesting to us as why somebody would believe something. For example, it's my personal belief that most crop circles are man-made. Some would say, "Well why do you then bother still being interested in the subject?", and it's interesting because other people don't believe it's man-made, and that to me is just as fascinating as why anybody would go out there and make one. "