Pro­fes­sor, UFO re­searcher

ALVIN LAW­SON, 1929 - 2010

Los Angeles Times - - Obituaries - Keith Thursby keith.thursby@latimes.com

Alvin Law­son, an English pro­fes­sor at Cal State Long Beach who spent decades study­ing uniden­ti­fied fly­ing ob­jects and ques­tion­ing the be­liefs of peo­ple who said they had been ab­ducted, has died. He was 80.

Law­son died Sept. 8 at Western Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Ana­heim from com­pli­ca­tions of pneu­mo­nia, said his daugh­ter, Leslie Dirgo.

Over the years, he de­vel­oped “a per­sonal kind of fas­ci­na­tion” with UFOs, his daugh­ter said.

Law­son taught a class on the sub­ject at Cal State Long Beach, started a tele­phone hot­line about UFOs and be­came con­vinced that peo­ple who said they had been ab­ducted ac­tu­ally were us­ing mem­o­ries of their birth to de­scribe en­coun­ters with ex­trater­res­tri­als.

“Do I think there are uniden­ti­fied fly­ing ob­jects, things that peo­ple can’t ex­plain what they are or why they’re there? Yes,” he told the St. Paul Pi­o­neer Press in 1996. “Do I think lit­tle green men are in­side ab­duct­ing peo­ple? No.”

Alvin Hous­ton Law­son was born Oct. 11, 1929, in Fort Bragg, Calif. His fa­ther, Roscoe, was a school prin­ci­pal who be­came a district su­per­in­ten­dent, and his mother, Kather­ine, was a teacher.

Law­son grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from UC Berkeley in 1952 and a mas­ter’s in 1958 and a doc­tor­ate in 1967, both in English, from Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity.

He served in the Army dur­ing the Korean War.

In 1953, Law­son mar­ried Bar­bara Slade. They met as stu­dents and fel­low mu­si­cians at San Fran­cisco State, which Law­son at­tended as an un­der­grad­u­ate be­fore trans­fer­ring to Berkeley. She played the clar­inet and he played the trum­pet in the school band, Law­son’s daugh­ter said.

Law­son joined the Cal State Long Beach fac­ulty in 1962 and stayed through the mid-1990s, be­com­ing an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor in 1990.

He was “quite a hard­work­ing in­struc­tor,” es­pe­cially when teach­ing his pri­mary in­ter­ests of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dick­in­son, short sto­ries and chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, said Charles Pomeroy, a re­tired English pro­fes­sor who shared a cam­pus of­fice with Law­son for about 20 years.

Law­son’s work at Long Beach also in­cluded a UFO lit­er­a­ture course that ex­am­ined how peo­ple “used lan­guage to de­scribe the phe­nom­e­non,” Pomeroy said.

Not ev­ery­one on the fac­ulty un­der­stood how Emily Dick­in­son and “E.T.” could in­ter­est the same pro­fes­sor.

“Uni­ver­sity life is very tol­er­ant, but a lot of peo­ple had the sense it was a very un­usual in­ter­est for him to have,” Pomeroy said.

Law­son once told a Times re­porter that his in­ter­est in UFOs be­gan in the late 1940s when he first read of re­ported sight­ings.

In the 1970s, he started the UFO Re­port Cen­ter of Orange County, which ac­cord­ing to a 1992 Times ar­ti­cle re­ceived about 400 calls in its first year.

With an Ana­heim doc­tor, Wil­liam C. McCall, Law­son used hyp­no­sis on peo­ple who said they had been ab­ducted.

Law­son started be­com­ing more skep­ti­cal of the ac­counts, and he and McCall de­cided to hyp­no­tize peo­ple who made no claims about space aliens. They were asked to imag­ine be­ing ab­ducted so the ac­counts could be com­pared to re­ported ab­duc­tions. Law­son was struck by the sim­i­lar­i­ties.

“We had ex­pected the peo­ple imag­in­ing the ab­duc­tions would be giv­ing us real pre­dictable, stul­ti­fied, card­board en­coun­ters. But they made up in­cred­i­ble stuff,” he told The Times. “It was just as rich, vari­able and in­ter­est­ing as the sup­pos­edly real ab­duc­tions.”

Law­son be­lieved peo­ple could re­mem­ber the trauma of their birth and the sub­jects kept us­ing sim­i­lar im­agery and de­tails.

“The re­search means that peo­ple who have re­ported be­ing cap­tured by the UFOs have had ex­pe­ri­ences as least as valid as dreams, deathbed vi­sions and psy­chosis,” he told Canada’s Globe and Mail news­pa­per in 1985. “That is, they aren’t ly­ing but their ex­pe­ri­ences aren’t real or any­thing like we’ve seen in the movies.”

Law­son’s views made him “a rebel” among peo­ple in­ter­ested in UFOs, his daugh­ter said.

“There is an un­der­ly­ing as­sump­tion in his work … to pre­sume that any­one who sees or has seen an alien had a ‘birth trauma,’ ” Robert D. Morn­ingstar, edi­tor of the news­let­ter and web­site UFO Di­gest, said in an e-mail to The Times.

“He could say that all he wanted to, but how does he prove it?”

Law­son said of his crit­ics in 1996: “True be­liev­ers are mad at me. My ideas rep­re­sent a threat to their be­lief sys­tems. To them I’m like an athe­ist that shows up to a party given by Jerry Fal­well.”

In ad­di­tion to his wife and daugh­ter, Law­son is sur­vived by a brother, Wil­bur, of Fort Bragg; a sis­ter, Bev­erly, of Rock­lin, Calif.; and four grand­chil­dren.

Ser­vices have been held.

SKEP­TIC

Alvin Law­son, seen with a te­le­scope in the early 1970s, be­came con­vinced over the years that al­leged UFO ab­ductees ac­tu­ally were us­ing mem­o­ries of birth trauma to de­scribe their en­coun­ters with ex­trater­res­tri­als.

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