I have it on good authority that conspiracy researcher and self-described open-minded skeptic Micah Hanks thinks I have serious issues that are driving me to attack fringe researchers rather than collaborate with them on exploring the truth. This is of a piece with his earlier statements from October in which Hanks said that my “hubris of this sort is actually worthy of study.” It’s reflective of the ethos of the relentlessly positive that offering criticism, no matter how constructive, is considered pathological. Why are you so negative? Why can’t everyone get a trophy? After all, fringe researchers are really trying even if they don’t know what they’re talking about.
On Thursday Hanks published an article about ancient astronauts that managed to get a good number of facts wrong, and to misrepresent chunks of ancient astronaut history. But he tried, so I guess that’s what counts, even if the results ended up misinforming Mysterious Universe readers.
Here’s the paragraph that contains the greatest number of errors and misinterpretations:
While the concept of “ancient aliens” has been entertained by some of the brightest minds, the concept is generally attributed to–of all people–Carl Sagan, who posited as early as 1966 that what he called paleo-contact might account for knowledge brought to Earth by extraterrestrials, in a book he coauthored with astrophysicist I.S. Shklovski called Intelligent Life in the Universe. Earlier roots predating Sagan and Shklovski’s writing have been linked to H. P. Lovecraft and his mythos of “Elder Gods” who could fling themselves about the stars, and occasionally land here on Earth to wreak havoc.
Let’s take them from the top.
No one attributes the invention of the ancient astronaut theory to Carl Sagan. He did not invent the hypothesis in its modern form, which had previously been popularized by Robert Charroux in One Hundred Thousand Years of Man’s Unknown History (1963), building on Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels popularization of the same hypothesis in Morning of the Magicians (1960), in turn derived from Soviet claims of ancient astronauts from the 1950s. While Sagan did suggest that the myth of Oannes could be read as evidence for ancient aliens in 1966, Hanks neglects to note that after conducting more research into ancient myths and legends Sagan rejected the ancient astronaut theory in 1973 in Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective.
In his next sentence, Hanks uses the passive voice to avoid acknowledging my research linking the ancient astronaut theory to the influence of H. P. Lovecraft. He also appears to know my research only from summary or caricature since he fails to note that Lovecraft didn’t invent the ancient astronaut theory either (nor did he typically refer to the Old Ones as the “Elder Gods,” a term more frequently used by August Derleth). Lovecraft wasn’t even the first science fiction writer to do so; back in 1898 Garrett P. Serviss wrote that Martians built the Sphinx! Lovecraft got the idea from Charles Fort and the Theosophists. Fort, writing in chapter 12 of the Book of the Damned (1919), was fairly clear (for him) on the point: “If other worlds have ever in the past had relations with this earth, they were attempted positivizations: to extend themselves, by colonies, upon this earth; to convert, or assimilate, indigenous inhabitants of this earth.” The nineteenth century Thesosophists were less clear, but no less important, when they described humanity as the result of interventions by beings who came from Venus in an armada of ships—the direct inspiration for the wave of Venusian UFO “contact” claims in the 1950s.
A little later in the article, Hanks uses more indirect language to sort of, but not quite, say that “some believe that legends prevalent among some modern cultures, including the Dogon of Africa, indicate that these very sorts of interactions did occur.” He fails to acknowledge that Robert Temple’s belief that the Dogon legends reflect alien knowledge was undercut by the revelation that the sources he used for The Sirius Mystery, particularly French anthropological research on the Dogon by Marcel Griaule, didn’t hold up to restudy. No subsequent anthropologist has found any trace of the supposed Sirius knowledge among the Dogon.
Hanks did, however, get one thing right when he wrote that the ancient astronaut theory provides “minute quantities of intellectual fodder.”
So here’s the bottom line: If Micah Hanks wants to be an expert, he needs to step up his game and demonstrate expertise in the subjects he discusses. If he just wants to be a gadfly “exploring” issues without really understanding them, what is the point of listening to him at all? Or is saying that too negative and full of hubris?
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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