How long is long enough to say that one has done due diligence in investigating an unusual claim in order to conclude that there is nothing there? I wondered about that question when reading a photo essay on CNN.com this morning in which three Danish photographers asked for money to put together a photo book about American UFO culture, which they described as something like a religion.
Looking through the digital photo gallery was somewhat sad, and most of the people depicted in them were old, weather-beaten, and essentially living in the past, constantly replaying the controversies of their salad days over and again. But one photo caption struck me more than the others. The picture showed UFO researcher John Lear napping on his couch. Lear, a former airline pilot, is famous for his dark conspiracy theories. “He spends all his time going through material people send him from all over the world,” the caption reads. It then quotes him as saying “I’ve probably been at my desk for 8 to 12 hours every day the last 15 years.”
I’m at a bit of loss to decide what is sadder: That Lear spends virtually every waking hour obsessing over UFOs, or that all of that research—some 55,000 hours by his estimation—turned up exactly no incontrovertible evidence of aliens. Surely, at some point it becomes overwhelmingly likely that one is on the wrong path if 55,000 hours of research yields no usable results.
The same thought struck me when reading an article celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Zecharia Sitchin’s The Twelfth Planet, which was published in 1976, alongside that year’s other major ancient astronaut release, Robert Temple’s Sirius Mystery. The article, in the Digital Journal, a publication that offers scalable digital content “verticals,” is by Jonathan Farrell, who contacted me less than 48 hours ago to ask me to comment for the article. I hadn’t had a chance to reply to him before he published his piece. He linked to my website in his article.
In it, Farrell summarizes Sitchin’s major ideas, specifically that the Mesopotamian deities Anunnaki, who are also the Nephilim, came to Earth from the wandering planet Nibiru and created humanity to mine gold to repair Nibiru’s atmosphere. He said that he contacted his high school science teacher to ask for another view on Sitchin:
Intrigued by this theory, this reporter asked my former high school science teacher what he thought of Sitchin's book. "I read it years ago," said retired science, math and biology teacher Phil Amormino. "It's fascinating and I have my own theories on Sitchin's ideas. Yet, I am a man science but also of deep faith in God and have reservations on how he arrived at such conclusions."
Farrell’s article attempts to take a critical perspective on Sitchin, but in so doing it rests on Farrell’s interest in Christian perspectives on whether the aliens are “really” angels and the degree to which we can recontextualize Sitchin’s ideas in a Christian Nephilim-based framework. “If nothing else, his book clearly points to even more ancient texts and artifacts that pre-date the Bible as we know it. And, continue (sic) the ongoing quest of the question, ‘where did we humans come from?’”
You will, of course, recall that yesterday I reviewed a new book by Chris H. Hardy in which she, too, found Sitchin’s work essential for pondering the true origins of humanity, apparently due to a widespread dissatisfaction with materialism and evolution. I can’t help but wonder, though, why so many people are so deeply interested in ideas that fail to bear fruit. It’s been forty years and Sitchin’s research program has failed to produce any usable results, and indeed is based on claims that are demonstrably false. After four decades of sterility, at what point does one concede that a bad idea will not bear fruit?
This is of course a rhetorical question; fringe authors are still working on failed nineteenth century ideas like the lost race of the Mound Builders, and even older failed claims like the medieval belief that the Great Pyramid predated the Flood. I’m guessing we have at least another century before they concede that Sitchin Studies aren’t generating results.
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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