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Shepherd professor's lecture is reality check on the bizarre

September 29, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - With Halloween coming, maybe it's a good time for a reality check on the bizarre.

V.J. Brown, a professor of sociology at Shepherd University, will do just that today at the university.

The public is invited to hear his lecture, "From Flying Saucers to Bigfoot: Mass Hysteria and Collective Delusion," at noon in the auditorium of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies. The event is free to the public.

The lecture will cover topics that have been known to really get the human mind going - flying saucers, Bigfoot sightings, cattle mutilations and crop circle phenomena.

While they might be good for a laugh, Brown reminds us that sometimes, it has gone too far.

In the late 1970s, for example, satanic scares began occurring, and the tales they generated were pretty far-fetched, said Brown, also the dean of the school of business and social sciences.

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The fears were further spread when the scares became focal points on television talk shows, Brown said.

In one of the scares, there was widespread belief that people were stealing babies from nurseries and skinning them, Brown said.

People have been charged and jailed based on the scares, although some of those people were released following court appeals of their cases, said Brown, who has spent a long time studying weird human behavior and has considered writing a book on the subject.

Crop circle phenomena are classified as collective delusions, Brown said.

Collective delusions are the spontaneous and rapid spread of false or exaggerated beliefs within a population, temporarily affecting a region, according to the Web site skeptically.org.

Crop circle phenomena started after people secretly went into farm fields, carved designs in them and "let society work on it," said Brown, adding that many people thought they were the work of aliens.

Tales like flying saucers are classified as "recurring collective delusions," and the stories are deeply ingrained in folklore, Brown said.

"People always want to believe that there are other aliens that exist," Brown said. "It will never stop."

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