I don't remember where this was originally published, or when. Before 2005 sometime.
Chris Rutkowski is a leading authority on UFO phenomenon and, along with Geoff Dittman, publishes the annual Canadian UFO Survey. He is the author of a number of books including Visitations? (1989), Unnatural History (1993), and Abductions & Aliens – What's Really Going On? (1999). I got a chance to talk to him a few weeks before an episode of the documentary series Magnificent Obsessions following Rutkowski's investigations aired.
How did you become interested in UFOs?
My background is that I have a Bachelor's degree in Astronomy and a Master's degree in Science Education, specializing in Astronomy. I was always interested in offbeat things, and in the mid-70s we were just at the end of the great “space race” and I had watched the moon landings and it was a hot topic back then.
In 1975, there was a rash of UFO sightings in Manitoba and I began investigating them, I went out with friends and one day I started writing up what I had heard from some of the people that had seen things. I had the article published and soon I was getting requests for more articles and more comments and to give lectures, and pretty soon I was the great UFO expert.
How has the face of UFOlogy changed since the mid-70s?
There are a lot of things that are different about it. For one thing, abduction phenomena has really taken over in terms of UFOs, many people claim to have been abducted. The first classic abduction case took place in 1961, some have found a few others before then but it was generally determined to be the 1960s [when abductions began to be reported], but it never took off until the late 1980s or so, and then it really surpassed and supplanted a lot of other stuff.
The other interesting thing is that crop circles have become commonplace, and people say “well, that was caused by aliens” or whatever. They were unheard of before the late 80s. I had actually been investigating many rings of grain and grass left behind, supposedly, by the UFOs into the early 70s, but now those types of cases where a person sees a UFO land and take off and something's left behind, those have almost completely disappeared, and we're left with these crop circles which may or may not have anything to do with UFOs.
The biggest change is the fact that here we are, more than 50 years after the beginning of the flying saucer era, and we still don't appear to have many more answers, and there's still rampant speculation going on. To me, that's a significant observation. 50 years, later—more than 50 years later, 55, 56 years later—it appears that science is no closer to understanding why people are so attracted to this phenomenon.
One of the things you mention in the show is that some of the stigma attached to UFO contact has started to fall away, in the sense that people seem to be more willing, because so many people seem to be reporting these sorts of things, to report their own cases. [Roughly 10% of Canadians claim to have seen a UFO of some sort.] As some of that stigma falls away, what kind of changes do you expect to see?
Well, we're certainly receiving more and more reports from the past. Just today I received a report from the Northwest Territories, from 2001. People read a little about UFOs or they see something in the newspaper (although media reporting of UFOs has really declined, to the point where it's certainly not news anymore in many situations). We've already been pummelled with X-Files and numerous other TV shows, like Spielberg's Taken, and we all have this influence of media-type UFOs and aliens in our minds, and I think because of all this people are more willing to talk about experiences they've had, because it seems to be more accepted by society. Whether it's real or not seems to have been put aside, and it's just accepted by society that people may have had experiences of one form or another and that it is acceptable for people to talk about them.
What is the biggest challenge facing professional recognition of UFO research?
I think the biggest challenge facing professional recognition of this kind of research is the lack of recognized professionals.
What's the strangest or most compelling case that you've come across, personally, in your research?
The most compelling case for me remains the Falcon Lake case of Stefan Michalak, back from 1967. That case had everything you would want: there was evidence found at the site, there was radioactive debris, there was physical and physiological effects on the witness, there was intense government investigation from the United States as well as Canada, and we still are completely out in the cold as to what may have happened.
Michalak died just a few years ago, and maintained until he died that what he saw was what he claimed to have seen. He never said it was an alien spacecraft, he never talked in those terms, he just said “this is my experience, I don't know what it was.” The rest was left to speculation. The U.S. Air Force simply left it as unexplained in their official report on the case.
So it's certainly, not only the best case in Canada in terms of evidence and documentation, but probably one of the better cases in the world. We can point to Roswell, for example, if you want to look at a case there, but here's an eyewitness to something that was seen and touched and felt and heard and drawn and evidence was left behind, and we have all the documents from all those various agencies, and so it's a very fascinating case and I think the jury's still out on it.
I've got two more of the standard questions that you might hear—
No, I've never seen anything myself.
What are your personal beliefs on the matter? Are there aliens visiting us, in your opinion?
With my astronomical background, I know there's likely extraterrestrial life out there somewhere. I would find it odd that anyone would not think that there would be life out there. Whether they're visiting here, I know all too well the distances involved, so I would find it absolutely remarkable if anybody was coming here. At the same time, there's no reason why, given an advanced technology, they wouldn't find a way of getting here, given we were all that interesting.
Why would an alien invader, who would be beyond reproach by virtue of possessing such an advanced technology, require secrecy?
I wouldn't phrase it in those terms, which I think is where the confusion comes from. I would say, rather than look at it in militaristic terms, I would consider the aliens anthropologists. By reason of the argument, they would be more advanced than we are, and I guess in a sort of version of the Star Trek prime directive, the point is not to really influence the culture or get involved in the culture.
In fact, there's a great argument to be made that aliens don't really need to land on Earth at all, because (and this is one of the great arguments against crop circles) why would you need to land, when you could simply monitor TV signals and observe from space? You really don't need to land on the planet and sample the planet and people at all.
Especially with reality TV shows.
Do you have any comments on the Mysterious Obsessions episode itself?
I've been involved in a number of TV projects—I was on Unsolved Mysteries, I was on Sightings, I was on A&E's Unexplained, and on a host of lesser productions—and certainly Magnificent Obsessions focuses on a specific aspect of UFOs, on investigation, and the case reports, and what do you do with the case reports and how investigators do carry it out.
I would say it's easily one of the best (if not the best) projects of this kind, and particularly because it's Canadian they've done a really good job of capturing what's behind the UFO phenomenon in terms of sightings and the people involved.
It was done very straight and level-headed, without interjecting any sardonic or satirical editorializing, which is what a lot of news show will do. The people who they chose to include, Stanton Friedman, Brian Vike, Errol Bruce-Knapp, and myself, we take the subject very seriously, and the program treated us with respect, which is something not often found on this subject.