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Kean is always assiduously polite toward the “U.F.O. People,” although she stands apart from the ufological mainstream. “It’s not necessarily that what Greer was saying was wrong—maybe there have been visits by extraterrestrials since 1947,” she said. “It’s that you have to be strategic about what you say to be taken seriously. You don’t put out someone talking about alien bodies, even if it might be true. Nobody was ready for that; they didn’t even know that U.F.O.S were real.” Kean is certain that U.F.O.S are real. Everything else—what they are, why they’re here, why they never alight on the White House lawn—is speculation.
Kean feels most at home in the borderlands between the paranormal and the scientific; her latest project examines the controversial scholarship on the possibility of consciousness after death. Until recently, she dreaded the inevitable dinner-party moment when other guests asked about her line of work and she had to mumble something about U.F.O.S. “Then they’d sort of giggle,” she said, “and I would have to say, ‘There’s actually a lot of serious information.’ ” Her blunt, understated way of talking about incomprehensible data gives her an air of probity. During my visit, as she peered at her extensive library of canonical ufology texts—with such titles as “Extraterrestrial Contact” and “Above Top Secret”—she sighed and said, “Unfortunately, most of these aren’t very good.”
In her best-selling book, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record,” published in 2010 by an imprint of Random House, Kean wrote that “the U.S. Government routinely ignores UFOs and, when pressed, issues false explanations. Its indifference and/or dismissals are irresponsible, disrespectful to credible, often expert witnesses, and potentially dangerous.” Her book is a sweeping reminder that this was not always the case. In the decades after the Second World War, about half of all Americans, including many in power, accepted U.F.O.S as a matter of course. Kean sees herself as a custodian of this lost history. In her apartment, a tranquil space decorated with a Burmese Buddha and bowls of pearlescent seashells, Kean sat down on the floor, opened her file cabinets, and disappeared into a drift of declassified memos, barely legible teletypes, and yellowing copies of The Saturday Evening Post and the Times Magazine featuring flying-saucer covers and long, serious treatments of the phenomenon.