Abraham “Avi” Loeb is back at it again, continuing down the path to guru status. The Harvard astronomer became famous a few months ago when he published a paper speculating that the Oumuamua interstellar object was an extraterrestrial craft, but since then, he has used the notoriety his declaration engendered to promote a quasi-spiritual philosophy he calls “cosmic humility,” speculating about everything from the godlike nature of ancient astronauts to his self-perception as a hero standing against critical and angry “elites.” Now, in a new Scientific American column, Loeb redoubles his claim to be a lifestyle guru in the style of Jordan Peterson.
From Russia with Love: How Old Fringe Claims about Bible "Mysteries" Became a Global Media Sensation
Most of you reading this will be aware that there are a number of British tabloids whose online editions produce what might generously be called clickbait about UFOS, ancient astronauts, and historical mysteries. We might less generously call the stories recycled garbage that barely rises above outright plagiarism of old material, which they pass off as new. Sites like The Express, The Mail Online, The Daily Star, and so on generate a lot traffic this way, but produce absolutely terrible journalism. Usually, though, their crappy material rarely makes much impact beyond other bottom-feeding websites, which piggyback on the stories for clicks. Today’s example, however, demonstrates clearly and depressingly how fringe pseudo-history goes through a laundering process as it moves from Russian sources to British clickbait websites to mainstream British papers and eventually American media.
The medicine I’m taking for my sinus infection has left me drowsy, and I have to choose between being able to breathe or being awake. Right now, I’m choosing breathing, but it has left me with less energy for writing than I would like.
Since it’s been a slow 24 hours in the world of fringe history—and a rather slow month overall, truth be told—I thought it might be worth checking in on this past week’s Nielsen ratings. Project Blue Book sank a bit more this week, declining to 1.7 million viewers. This is significant because for the first time it lost more than 50% of the viewers from lead-in Curse of Oak Island, which drew 3.55 million viewers this week. The Travel Channel’s new “mystery” series intended to replace Expedition Unknown similarly made little mark. Legend Hunter with host Pat Spain, a grandnephew of Charles Fort, examines “mysterious” and “anomalous” phenomena and sensational crimes with an eye toward “questioning mainstream science.” It unintentionally answers the question of whether a mystery still exists if no one is around to observe it. The 10 PM series spent this week hunting for the Irish Crown Jewels, which interested only 377,000 viewers. But the Travel Channel—one of the Discovery Networks properties—can at least take heart that it isn’t fellow Discovery network Destination America, the rural-themed paranormal channel. That network’s Paranormal Lockdown series attracted only 120,000 viewers at 9 PM and 127,000 at 10 PM.
Tuesday Roundup: Fake Scottish Stone Circle Fools Archaeologists and the Science Channel Goes on a New Search for Vikings in America
It was a cold and icy weekend where I live in Albany, NY, with about 15 inches of snow and sleet falling on Sunday, followed by bitter wind chills on Monday, making cleanup difficult. I spent much of the holiday weekend digging the house out, only to have the snowplow come through and bury the driveway under four more feet of heavy ice blocks. Then, a starling fell down the chimney into the basement, and I had to chase a bird around the house until I could convince it to fly out a propped-open door into the cold. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of time for writing today’s blog post, and that turns out to be OK because the world of fringe history seems to have taken a bit of a breather over the holiday weekend. The big names were fairly quiet, give or take a snippy comment or two. I guess it’s just a quiet time of the year.
I find Micah Hanks’s work to be infuriating for a number of reasons, but not least because he tends to write about the exact same things that I wrote about years earlier, but with less detail and insight. His latest piece on the history of ray guns in science fiction and science fact is another example of his light skimming of history. It is maddening that Hanks, who claims to be an explorer of all things Fortean and outré, misses several important connections between sci-fi death rays and the weirder side of history.
For a show that almost literally no one watched—averaging only around 500,000 viewers across its four-episode run, fewer than syndicated reruns of off-network sitcoms—Megan Fox’s Legends of the Lost has inspired a lot of discussion and upset online, particularly around the question of Viking women warriors. Frankly, I find this to be the least interesting “mystery” on Fox’s show, but it raises a fascinating question about archaeological vs. historical knowledge and how an idea does or does not become a consensus concept in the creation of our story of the past.
Last week, I reported that Megan Fox’s new Legends of the Lost brought in disappointing ratings when just 429,000 people tuned in, according to preliminary figures, putting it in the same Tuesday ratings class as Motor Trend TV’s Bitchin’ Rides (424,000) and CNBC’s The Profit (430,000). The numbers are roughly average for Travel shows, and just two-thirds of those of those of new episodes of Mysteries at the Museum, the highest-rated series on the network, but on par with day-side and early prime reruns of Mysteries. Nevertheless, despite the manifest lack of public interest in her program—representing 0.1% of the U.S. population—the media remain fascinated by… I almost said “a movie star doing a cable show about weird shit,” but that isn’t true. Zachary Quinto is also a movie star doing a cable show about weird shit, to three times the ratings, and almost literally nobody in the media cared. The media are fascinated because a certain set of editors are hot for Megan Fox and titillated by the idea of an attractive woman doing “man” stuff like archaeology.
Acting Attorney General's Bigfoot and Time Travel Claims; Plus: Kentucky's Governor Blames Zombie TV for Mass Shootings
Despite the fact that the History Channel and I don’t have the best of relationships, it seems that their publishing partners at the Atlantic Monthly Press didn’t get the message. The publisher just sent me an advance copy of the History-branded The Curse of Oak Island tie-in book by journalist Randall Sullivan, due out just in time for Christmas. I only received the book Tuesday night, so I haven’t had time to read much, but I have to say that the introduction and opening chapter left me baffled. I suppose this must be a book for super-fans of Curse, since my general but not particularly deep knowledge of the “mystery” of Oak Island was not enough to make sense of the barrage of names and dates, or the convoluted history thrust upon me with little authorial guidance.
Sometime between the when I reviewed Natural Selection nearly three years ago and Super Dark Times almost a year ago, the public relations teams representing a certain kind of independent film seem to have gotten it into their heads that I am the right person to review movies about the friendships of teenage boys. I’m not sure how I got pegged into that niche, but I receive an outsize number of screeners for a remarkably similar parade of films exploring the challenges of growing up young, white, and privileged in a world where guns are easy to come by but authenticity and genuine social connections are not. To be honest, the movies are so similar that I have a hard time remembering which act of violence occurred in which one. Was Sins of Our Youth the one where best friends are torn asunder and end up bathed in blood? Trick question. It was all of them.
Six months ago, I reviewed science writer Andrew Lawler’s new book on the lost colony of Roanoke, The Secret Token, and I expressed some concerns about the content of the book. Lawler, who is fresh from a book tour promoting the volume, read the review, and wanted a chance to respond. Today, I present Andrew Lawler’s response to my review. After his comments I will add a few thoughts.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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