I was trying to research Giorgio A. Tsoukalos’s Legendary Times magazine, the publication he uses as his sole credential for appearing as the primary talking head on Ancient Aliens. Unfortunately, Tsoukalos’s Legendary Times website stops indexing the magazine with the 2008 calendar year, and his Legendary Times Books online bookstore lists no issues published after volume 10 in 2009. I was unable to find any listings for issues published since then, or mentions of the publication either in the media or online except as Tsoukalos’s journalistic affiliation. WorldCat.com lists no libraries that hold the publication. As the privately-published newsletter of a private club, I suppose they wouldn't carry it; but is "publisher of a club newsletter" a serious, History Channel credential now?
In poking around the Legendary Times site, I found an article, “Paleo-SETI: Interdisciplinary and Popularized,” that contained some rather stunning statements that are a master class in obfuscation and circular reasoning. The current version attributes authorship only to the AAS-RA as a body, but the use of the first-person singular narrative voice (unusual for an organization) and the lack of any other author for articles hosted on the AAS-RA website strongly indicate Tsoukalos was the author.
The article is endless, and I have space and the stomach to touch on only some of the scientific illiteracy in the piece. The article begins by suggesting that Ancient Astronaut Theorists uphold the highest levels of scientific rigor, leavened only by a surfeit of imagination:
…one can and should approach this controversial topic of ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence) in an objective and logically arguing manner, while it is not even then sure if careworn skeptics are willing to follow logic. There are facts, but also indices, probabilistic calculations, hypotheses and, of course, speculations that play a role in the pros and cons argumentation’s of the Paleo-SETI discussion. (Grammar as in original)
What are we to make of this? As a “careworn skeptic,” I am intrigued by the idea of an Ancient Astronaut Theorist (AAT) using logical arguments. I have pointed out that these theorists use false evidence, gross misinterpretations, and slipshod scholarship to create arguments that, even with that fake evidence, make radical leaps in logic. Take for example Tsoukalos’ own argument about gold crowns and sunbathing aliens. Or David Hatcher Childress’s argument, broadcast on Ancient Aliens, that aliens used Egyptian obelisks to channel electricity to an orbiting satellite to beam down to Easter Island to move the moai. Objectively, the obelisks date from 1500 BCE and the moai from perhaps as late as 1250-1500 CE, when the obelisks were mostly destroyed. Objectively, there is no evidence of an alien satellite. So, logically, Childress’s argument makes no sense.
Of course, this is not the type of “logic” AATs are thinking about. Their logic runs on a different method, one which follows this track: It is possible that aliens came to earth in the deep past. Assuming this possibility, how could we re-interpret existing artifacts?
This, however, assumes the conclusion, rendering all ancient astronaut speculations inherently circular arguments. The “evidence” seems to prove the “conclusion” only because the conclusion was assumed in the premises. The author, presumably Tsoukalos, believes in this circular logic, likening the Ancient Astronaut Theory to an incomplete puzzle:
Our brain works redundantly and simply puts the missing pieces together and then you can see what the whole picture shows, its message, so to speak. It is also clear that this will not work if you are concentrating on just one corner of the puzzle or haven't dealt with the matter thoroughly enough. Transposed to Paleo-SETI, this means that someone who has not been dealing with the indications for very long or has just focused on a sub-topic, will have difficulties recognizing the "picture", i.e. realizing the idea. The idea meaning to understand the "message", to realize that ET contact was a factor, too, in the past.
As we can see, AATs begin by assuming alien intervention and then work to fit the evidence to theory. These are not my words. They belong to the author of the article, who states succinctly: “Logically, crosslinks must by force exist when we follow the motto ‘(some) gods were (could have been) astronauts’.” This is quite correct: assume a premise, and logically the conclusion will serve to prove your assumption.
Real science, real logic work the other way, deriving theories from evidence and then proving the theory by using it to make predictions about evidence yet to be found and checking to see if the predictions are correct. Current theories of cultural evolution, while not perfect, meet that test; the ancient astronaut theory (hypothesis, technically) has provided not a single testable prediction. It has generated no new knowledge of ancient history, provided no new sites to explore, turned up nothing of any value. The one site Erich von Daniken proclaimed as his own discovery, a cave filled with an alien library, turned out to be a fraud.
But AATs have done one thing very well. They have done a great job colonizing television and contributing to the widespread forces of anti-intellectualism and rage at “elitists” who stand for facts, logic, and truth—the values AATs claim to support in theory and fail to honor in practice.
Finally, lest it seem that I merely attack without giving due consideration, note that Tsoukalos (or someone writing on his behalf) offers a statement on Atlantis with which (heaven forefend!) I agree 100%:
...there could not have been any Atlantis (i.e. a very advanced civilization comparable to ours) either, or else we would find traces of its infrastructure worldwide.
Of course, that didn’t stop Tsoukalos from opining about Atlantis on Ancient Aliens. Maybe that’s why he didn't sign his name to the article, lest an errant logical opinion get in the way of good television.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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