The events at Roswell in the summer of 1947 -- dawn of the modern era of UFO sightings -- constitute a daunting mystery that has come to adopt the trappings of myth. While some evidence suggests a nonhuman presence in the New Mexico desert, alternative hypotheses abound. Nick Redfern's "Body Snatchers in the Desert," a disturbing book that re-examines the case in light of the military secrecy prevalent at the time of the crash, posits that the supposed "alien" bodies were in fact those of unwitting Japanese test subjects who perished in an aerospace mishap. Although subjected to much criticism (mostly from within the UFO community), Redfern's hypothesis has yet to evaporate. Even if it ultimately fails to explain the eponymous "Roswell incident," it might lead to a broadened understanding of the military's role in the American Southwest at the beginning of the Cold War.
Perhaps the best skeptical study of the case to date is Karl Pflock's "Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe." On the other side of the fence, Kevin Randle's "Roswell Revisited" and "The Roswell Encyclopedia" emphasize the credible witness testimony favoring an ET explanation. For those bothered by the notion of humanoid ETs at the controls of fallible flying saucers, it's worth considering the military's vested interest in the "alien" meme's potential as disinformation, a subject explored in Greg Bishop's revealing "Project Beta."
After grappling with the Roswell case for years, I'm honestly at a loss to explain it to my own satisfaction. We could be dealing with a legitimate UFO crash, a cover story to mask a dark chapter in military history or even a combination of the two. That something unusual happened seems certain, but by itself Roswell is far from the evidential bedrock many assume it is. Like most enduring controversies, the Roswell incident has become inordinately polarized by the credulous and the close-minded. In the face of insufficient data, the arguments advanced by spokesmen from both camps have become little more than embittered rhetoric.
Fortunately for ufology, Roswell is one case among hundreds of others with the capacity to teach us more about the phenomenon's origins.
This piece originally appeared at aboutSETI.com.