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No. 1: September 1977

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Cattle Mutilations Called Episode Of Collective Delusion

During the past several years, farmers in the western states have been reporting dead cattle that seemed strangely mutilated. Soft, exposed parts, such as the ears and genitals, were apparently removed with surgical precision. Some corpses seemed bloodless. Local papers blamed satan worshippers and UFO occupants.

This paper analyzes the 1974 mutilation "flaps" in South Dakota and Nebraska, with special attention to the rapid rise and equally rapid decline of public interest as measured by newspaper coverage. In the opinion of the author, these two episodes are classic cases of mild mass hysteria, similar to the occasional crazes of automobile window-pitting. In all cases where university veterinarians examined the corpses, the mutilations were ascribed to small predatory animals. The veterinarians also pointed out that blood coagulates in a couple days after death, accounting for the frequent "bloodless" condition. With such expert reassurances, the "mass delusions" subsided quickly. Cattle mutilation flaps are thus seen by the author as episodes when people interpret the mundane in bizarre new ways, due perhaps to cultural tensions.

It is noted, however, that expert veterinarians examined only a few of the dozens of mutilations, and that some people rejected the above commonplace explanations.

(Stewart, James H.; "Cattle Mutilations: An Episode of Collective Delusion," The Zetetic, 1:55, Spring/Summer 1977.)

From Science Frontiers #1, September 1977. 1977-2000 William R. Corliss