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from the Unseen
someone out there is trying to warn us, shouldn't we make an attempt
by John E. Mack '51
it ever had been possible to head off trouble, it was now too late.
The dean of the Harvard Medical School wanted to investigate "concerns
that had been raised in the press and elsewhere" about my
work on the phenomenon of alien abductions.
was June 1, 1994, shortly after the publication of my book, Abduction:
Human Encounters with Aliens, when I arranged a meeting with
James Adelstein, executive dean for academic programs of the Harvard
Medical School faculty. Because of the controversial nature of the
subject and my high profile in the media (articles about the book
and me had appeared in national newspapers and magazines, and my
publishers had scheduled television appearances on shows like "Larry
King Live," "Dateline," and "Oprah"), I
thought I should discuss the situation with colleagues in the medical
Adelstein had instead appointed a committee to look into the matter,
and thus began a 15-month ordeal involving lawyers, appearances
before the group by myself and my patients, faculty witnesses, the
submission of massive briefs, reports from the committee and my
response, documents concerned with standards and ethics, letters
of support, and sworn affidavits by 30 patients with whom I had
worked. A year later, I received a letter from the dean; he had
reviewed the committee's report and urged me not to "violate
the high standards of clinical practice and clinical investigation"
of the medical school. He left it up to me to determine what these
So what exactly was the controversy that had led leaders of the
medical school to take an unprecedented action of investigating
one of its own faculty members in this manner?
in the beginning, had offered a clue as to what was at stake. I
would not have gotten into trouble, he said, if I had not said in
my book that my findings required us to look at reality differently.
Instead, I should have written that I had come upon a new psychiatric
syndrome of unknown etiology.
have since concluded that it was the challenge to our society's
dominant worldview contained in my work that created such alarm.
The idea that people are being visited by some sort of unknown life
forms was (and remains) so far outside mainstream Western boundaries
of reality that an exceptional response was required. The lawyer
of Harvard's president remarked to one of my lawyers, "Well,
what do you think it's like for the dean of the Harvard Medical
School to see one of his professors on the "Oprah Winfrey"
show saying that little green men are taking women and children
I had appeared on "Oprah," but I doubt that the dean
had watched the show, and I had said nothing about little green
men. But the nature of the administration's anxiety was apparent.
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