Interview with Bob Rickard.
|Fortean Times has chronicled worldwide strange events for nigh on 25 years now, evolving into a slick, well balanced resume of just about everything interesting in this strange old world of ours.|
Tony interviews editor and founder Bob Rickard about the apparent recent growth of interest in UFOs, and 25 years of Fortean Times.
2atoms: " First of all considering that most of my readers may not have heard of Fortean Times, could you just explain what that word Fortean means? "
Bob: " Right well, the word Fortean comes from Charles Fort. The person who inspired us. He was an American philosopher and iconoclast who spent 24 years of his life in the bowels of the British Museum Library as it was at that time, in London, and the New York public library in New York, and he collected something like 40 or 50,000 scraps of paper with data on them as he called it, and these were stories that seemed to embarrass the science of the day. He died in 1932 actually just as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle was coming into being, and that would change the nature of physics. What he was interested in too was not just if you like, the anomalous information, strange happenings, people bursting into flames, frogs falling from the sky, but also the way in which scientists and other orthodoxies kind of defined reality around us. "
2atoms: " As a Fortean, what interests you most about the growing number of reported UFO sightings since the 1940’s or so and also the growing interest in the subject? "
Bob: " Well the first big flying saucer sighting was in July 1947, and what’s really interesting for us, we’re not ufologists ourselves but that’s part of what we’re interested in, the phenomenon seems to spring out of nowhere fully formed almost within a couple of years of that first sighting you had stories of crashed flying saucers, recovered alien bodies, secret technology. But, the one thing it didn’t have is the kind of sinister overtone that it has got today. And that’s one of the noticeable changes of UFO stories since then, that it’s got a lot more sinister you know, it’s no longer the space brothers who are coming to rescue us from our own foolishness, but they’re here to suck out our brains. "
2atoms: " Is it difficult sometimes to be absolutely objective in your role as editor of FT? Do you sometimes instinctively know something is right or wrong and feel the need to forego impartial reporting? "
Bob: " Well that’s a loaded question (laughs). There’s several questions in there. We do try to give impartial reporting. If you’re connoisseurs of news reports as we are, you can take the same story from a dozen different sources and all the details are different in each story. So very often we do have to make judgments about the information that we’re putting into our own write-up of the story. We do try and check up wherever we can but our resources are fairly limited for that. I think the kind of story you are implying are more ones involving moral issues, not just factual data that is wrong. Back in our early days we had no compunction about printing stories of say two-headed children, and in fact we were one of the first people to notice a huge increase of reports of two-headed and other conjoined twins you might say throughout Europe about nine to ten months after the Chernobyl accident. But, we were just on the verge of getting famous then, and we came in for a lot of stick. I think we would have qualms about such reporting now. Now that we’re out in the public arena a bit more, I think we do have take care of what people think of as distasteful - our sister publication Bizarre has no such limitations. But we’re much more about being a journal of record of strange phenomena and I think if it justified it - I would report really the weirdest thing. "
2atoms: " As Fortean Times has been around since 1973, would you say that the number of UFO sightings has increased since then? "
Bob: " It’s an interesting question because the more we think about, the more we’r,e in two minds, depending on which day of the week it is really (laughs). One says that yes, there has been more reports and the other says that the increase in reports is only because of an increase in media interest and therefore they are being reported more. In fact some of the more scurrilous magazines around now, do seem to be seeking out and even inventing stories for all I know. I can tell you that there does seem to be a fall in, if you like - scholarship - people writing and researching about UFOs, and there does seem to be a lot more questionable material around. I don't know if that answers the question."
2atoms: " Has this been matched with an increase in newsworthy stories over the last 2 and a half decades? "
Bob: " When Charles Fort was writing about UFOs, and to his credit he was doing this long before 1947 (he died in 1932), he was recording from the late 19th century what we would now call UFO reports, these are strange lights in the sky. No landings or abductions then - that's part of how it's changed over the years. So we have to think whether there's been an increase in newsworthy stories. A lot of it does depend on what the particular publication deems as newsworthy. Now, you can't get a simple story of lights seen in the sky printed in a UFO magazine - they're far too common. Many magazines won't touch it unless there's some bizarre abduction that's been recovered by hypnosis involving sexual assaults of one sort or another. There does seem to be a race on to get the make the most bizarre story, and it's difficult to know where this will end. I think there will be a saturation point and there are signs that the conventional media is utterly bored with UFOs and X-Files type stories anyway - long before the millennium. "