U.F.O. Believers and Debunkers Thrive on the Web

With some justice, too, since the Internet has proved to be an ideal outlet for crackpotism of every flavor. Conspiracy theorists and true believers have flooded the World Wide Web with rant, screed, pseudoscience, paranoid fantasy, arcane enigmata, fifth-hand rumor and just plain fiction on the subject of unidentified flying objects. The work of more serious people who study reports of supposed alien visitation and the widespread popular belief in unidentified flying objects can easily be lost in all the panting and malarkey.

Ground zero for ufologists, serious and wild-eyed alike, has long been a stretch of scrubland outside Corona, N.M., where a rancher found a bit of puzzling debris in July 1947. Initial reports in the local newspaper in Roswell, the nearest sizable town and the home of an Air Force base, called it a crashed flying saucer, and five decades later people still believe that is what it was.

Roswell, Hangar 18 and Area 51 (top-secret spots in Nevada where bits of the ship and its dead occupants supposedly were taken) have become part of American folklore, notwithstanding 50 years of Air Force insistence that all anyone ever found were parts of a secret high-altitude research balloon.

The vast edifice of flying saucer and alien abduction lore built up over the years is actively trafficked on the Internet, at Web sites like those of Uforia, the National UFO Reporting Center, the Mutual UFO Network or the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell.

Fittingly, then, the latest and most comprehensive debunking of the supposed Roswell incident to come from the Air Force is also available on the Web. "The Roswell Report: Case Closed," published last week, is posted on the Air Force Library site, photos and all, along with its previous attempt at a stake through the monster's heart, the 1994 "Roswell Report."

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Naturally, people who believe that the Government covered up a crashed alien ship for 50 years will be inclined to dismiss these reports as just more covering-up. But the Air Force Library is far from the only place to find cold water thrown on overheated imaginings of extraterrestrial desert sightseeing tours gone very, very wrong.

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