On 8 July 1947 the Public Relations Officer stationed at the Roswell Army Airfield (RAAF) in New Mexico issued a press release that indicated a “flying disc” had been located, apparently “crashed” on a ranch near Roswell in New Mexico. Next day the report of this incident appeared in a local newspaper “The Roswell Daily Record”, in which the flying disc, had become a “ flying saucer” that had been “captured”.
In fact the disc was a section of a high-level balloon that was part of Project Mogul – a top – secret program being developed by the US Military to detect sonic waves emitted by Russian nuclear tests. In an effort to keep Project Mogul a secret the Roswell debris was described as being part of a “weather balloon”. The media and general public were generally satisfied with this explanation and the event rapidly slipped from the headlines.
However during the 1970s there was a considerable rise in so-called “Ufology”, the study of unknown flying objects – and adherents raised the 1947 Roswell event back into public interest once again.
A number of conspiracy theories emerged that were given massive media coverage with many people becoming convinced that an alien space craft had crashed near Roswell, the bodies of extraterrestrial beings recovered and the whole event suppressed by an official military cover-up.
Several books were written by conspiracy theorists to promote this claim and the whole “Roswell incident” became a cause celebre of Ufologists from around the world.
However, sceptics also emerged who claimed that much of the evidence produced in the publications was false, exaggerated or from unreliable sources. Prominent amongst the sceptics were authors James McGaha and Joe Nickell who described the unfolding of the events as the classic “Roswellian Syndrome” – a five stage progression that consists of Incident, Debunking, Mythologising, Re-emergence and the Media Bandwagon.
The media bandwagon effect is particularly important – stories of extra terrestrials are of intense interest and many media groups are quick to run with them – even if the supporting evidence is flimsy.
Image: The “flying saucer” report that appeared in the Roswell Daily Record on 9 July 1947, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.