I have a bit of a cold today, so I’m not quite as sharp as usual today. Nor are my fingers doing a particularly good job of typing. So, I’m going to try to keep today’s post a bit short.
The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry today is promoting a piece skeptic Ben Radford wrote for the Discovery News Blog earlier today in which he claims that a British TV series suggested that Easter Island’s statues were carved by extraterrestrials. Radford admits that he did not see the series and is basing his lengthy critique on a summary he gleaned from an “article” on dubious news site Huliq by Dave Masko, a UFO buff whom my readers may remember for his weird claims about Stonehenge as a UFO command center in that same publication this past January.
[Update: Radford has updated his post to correct the errors noted below. My comments refer to the original version of his piece posted on September 15.]
Radford takes Masko for a real reporter and assumes, without checking, that Masko has accurately reported the content of the BBC-Discovery co-produced series, called South Pacific in Britain and Wild Pacific in the United States. Radford’s lack of research about his own employer’s product is evident immediately when he fails to check with BBC Two or Animal Planet to see that the series first aired in 2009, not last week, as Masko claims. This somewhat undercuts the currency of the claim. (Animal Planet, purveyor of Bigfoot and mermaid shows, is a unit of Discovery Communications, owner of Discovery News, for which Radford writes.)
I have also reviewed the “Ocean of Islands” and "Strange Islands" episodes of South Pacific, and it is a standard issue nature documentary. I recommend Benedict Cumberbatch’s BBC narration over Mike Rowe’s Animal Planet version. The only “aliens” it discusses are non-native species that arrived on the island over the past few millennia. Easter Island’s statues are discussed only in passing as a remnant of a fallen (human) civilization, not an extraterrestrial invention: “a solemn reminder of a fallen civilization,” in the program’s words, caused by ecological disaster. Does that sound like aliens to you?
But no matter. Radford also failed to read Masko’s bizarre article carefully. Masko has purposely and confusingly conflated the South Pacific documentary with a French UFO study. Because Masko failed to understand the difference between non-native “alien” species and advanced extraterrestrial intelligence, he applies to it the findings of a non-official 1990s-era French UFO study group called COMETA that Easter Island is an extraterrestrial culture (in Appendix 6, the “antiquity” of the UFO phenomenon). It was the French UFO group, not the BBC, who made the claim about Easter Island. One of the quotes Radford attributes to the BBC came from COMETA instead.
Radford should have read more carefully and done some basic research before going off on a program he had never watched.
I am, however, a bit confused about Radford's claims about the program's script, which he claims to quote directly. The article he cites, naming COMETA as the source, gives the quote at left, while Radford attributes it to the BBC program using different wording at right:
Now, since Radford said he never watched the BBC/Animal Planet show (in which this grammatically questionable quote created apparently from a machine translation of the French COMETA study doesn't appear anyway), where did Radford get the rewritten quote? The words don't match, and Radford makes much more of Masko's text part of the quote, with a gerund turning into a verb.
If this were an ancient astronaut theorist doing this, I'd immediately call this out as poor scholarship and quotation manipulation. I feel compelled to do the same to Radford, the skeptic, and ask him: did you alter this quote, intentionally or not, or do you have an independent source for it?
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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