Newsweek Discovers Racism in Ufology; Plus: "Ancient Aliens" Stars Give Depressing Interview
This weekend, Newsweek ran an interesting article on racism at MUFON and the broader problem of alt-right infiltration in ufology. The magazine basically laid the blame on the fact that ufologists are largely a group of cranky old white men, the same demographic that overlaps heavily with extreme conservative and alt-right beliefs. “The combination of demographics likely to align with far-right viewpoints, and the overlap between UFO researchers and conspiracy theorists, produces an environment that [ufologist Ryan] Sprague and others argue can be toxic to minorities,” the magazine told its readers.
The article was pegged to the controversy over Chris Cogswell’s resignation from MUFON following its refusal to disavow high-ranking member John Ventre’s racism comments that suggested civilization was a gift from white Europeans to “F’ing blacks” and that scientific racism was a justified, fact-based response to Black inferiority. When Newsweek asked him about the comments, Ventre maintained that the comments were a unique moment in his life when he had become overwhelmed with anger over the “hate crime” of “white genocide” and that he cannot be racist because he knows a black guy.
“I don’t hate anybody, I apologized for what I said. It was in a fit of anger, it was one time in my entire life,” Ventre said, mentioning his multiracial grandson and a black man from his gym for whom he arranged a job interview. “I’m feeling like because I’m a 60-year-old white man I’m getting totally unfairly attacked here.”
Meanwhile, ufologist Mark O’Connell of the High Strangeness blog responded with his own posting about racism at MUFON and the reasons he quit the organization last year, after Ventre’s comments first became public. He asks two interesting questions for which there are no good answers: (a) Why are minorities less likely to report UFO sightings? And (b) how does the racism of ufologists affect how reports from minorities are taken, processed, and understood? I don’t have the answers for these questions, but one might suspect that UFOs, like Bigfoot, tend to be cultural myths more closely associated with a certain demographic, much like the way Chupacabra began in the Puerto Rican and, after that, the broader Latino communities before TV popularized it elsewhere.
But what interested me more this weekend was an interview with Ancient Aliens star Giorgio Tsoukalos and the show’s executive producer Kevin Burns that ran on Monsters and Critics to promote last Friday’s episode of Ancient Aliens. It was disturbing because it showcased how little the so-called experts on the ancient astronaut theory understand about their own subject matter.
One thing that stood out to me is that Tsoukalos is still repeating a lie he borrowed from Erich von Däniken about aliens give the Egyptians plans for the pyramids. “Even though I’ve never personally suggested aliens built the pyramids, the show has suggested that the engineering knowledge with which the pyramids were built came from the extraterrestrials. They refer to them as ‘The Watchers’ or the ‘Guardians of the Sky’.” I’ve been debunking his repeated use of this lie since 2011, but my longest and most detailed explanation of why he is wrong can be found here. Basically, he’s using a mangled up version of the medieval pyramid myth known to the Arab writers, and he has taken from von Däniken’s English translators the wrong translation of the Enochian “Watchers” as “Guardians” and folds it into the Arab story because he misunderstood von Däniken’s assertion of similarity, not identity.
He also repeated years-old false claims about the mysteries of Puma Punku that were debunked five or six years ago—I forget the exact number.
The sadder part of the interview was Burns’s. Here is Burns lying about the pyramids and relying on the same false material as Tsoukalos, mistaking medieval legend for ancient reports:
So, what I tell people who challenge us and say, “Well, you’re the show that says aliens built the pyramids,” I say, “No, no, no. We do not say that aliens built the pyramids. The pyramids say aliens built the pyramids.”
They do not. Not even the medieval legends say that. Tsoukalos’s misunderstanding of von Däniken’s summary of Arab pyramid lore and Enochian tales of fallen angels stands behind both—and the leading lights of the ancient astronaut theory are completely ignorant of their own subject matter.
Burns explains that we have Indiana Jones to thank for Ancient Aliens because the series grew out of an attempt to create a special about the alien mysteries of the crystal skulls to tie in with the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls movie that included ancient astronauts. This is especially ironic since the Indiana Jones franchise was itself built atop of Erich von Däniken. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had read Chariots of the Gods, and they seemed to take him seriously as a historian, and it was from his discussion of the electrical properties of the Ark of the Covenant that they developed the climax for Raiders of the Lost Ark. In a tape recording of the brainstorming sessions for the movie, Lucas even suggests making von Däniken the inspiration for the movie’s villain: “The thing of it is that in the end they convince him to do it because they say this Professor Erich von Däniken, or whatever, this German version of himself is the one who found it.” So, basically, Theosophy inspired H. P. Lovecraft who inspired the authors of Morning of the Magicians, whom Erich von Däniken copied from shamelessly, and von Däniken inspired Indiana Jones, which bequeathed us Ancient Aliens. (Burns adds that Ancient Aliens inspired Curse of Oak Island as well.) The fiction-to-fact-to-fiction-to-fact merry-go-round is unspeakably depressing. But it’s appropriate that Burns can’t even remember the name of the book that has made him so much money. He calls it Chariots of the Galaxy multiple times.
Burns is also the brains behind the remake of Lost in Space on Netflix. I imagine that explains why it is an overlong, bloated boondoggle in which not very much happens. Just like Ancient Aliens!
Burns comes dangerously close to self-awareness when he tries to explain why Ancient Aliens remains popular: “Because…my argument is that we are a species living in a more and more and increasingly secular world where science has become, effectively, a religion that seeks to answer all of our questions and I don’t think we believe all the answers. […] I think we want to believe in magic, I think we want to believe in wonder in the universe. We want to believe that there is something more to our life than death.” The mistake he made is that the ancient astronaut theory actually is a religion, with a theogony and theology, sacred texts, ritual gatherings, and infallible priests who offer absolution in the name of unseen gods. He projects onto a science he distrusts the failings of his own pet dogma, and he basically admits that he would rather believe in fictitious godlike aliens than contemplate a cosmos without the divine. This is a failing of mainstream religion, manifesting as bonkers cultural revitalization movement.
In the interview, Burns also offers the depressing news that Ancient Aliens and Curse of Oak Island will be doing crossover episodes, one of which will be centered on the “giants” of Sardinia (in reality a Bronze Age culture). But listen to how Burns describes it: “Marty Lagina will be doing a guest appearance on Ancient Aliens and maybe you’ll see Giorgio coming up to Oak Island. When I was a kid, I used to love it when the Beverly Hillbillies met with the Green Acres people at Petticoat Junction.” Just try unpacking that. I think it tells you everything you need to know about how he views his pet crackpots, and the audiences who worship them.
5/1/2018 09:25:25 am
Skeptics: Old, angry, gay white men. Sometimes gay white women.
5/1/2018 01:30:46 pm
Templars: Old, angry, gay white men. Sometimes gay white women.
5/1/2018 06:22:26 pm
Americanegro: angry, old, gay, white man pretending.
5/1/2018 10:35:59 pm
You just wish you had as many angry old gay white friends as I do.
An Anonymous Nerd
5/1/2018 06:26:02 pm
Skeptics: The folks who try their best to keep a slowly devolving society on some kind of rational ground.
5/4/2018 07:51:49 am
I'm not racist, coz I got a colour Tv!
5/1/2018 10:14:19 am
Marty Lagina has blown whatever credibility he's ever achieved by getting into bed with Prometheus Entertainment. Sure, he has to know, as an attorney/engineer/millionaire, that there is no treasure on Oak Island, no 90 foot stone, no flood tunnels and no good reason to even believe anything went on there other than a two century old con job. But he allows the lies to continue each week on his Curse of Oak Island television show, and recently took on executive producer duties on the Prometheus excrement known as Curse of Civil War Gold; where a non-existent treasure is the basis for the absolute uncalled for desecration of historical/philanthropic figures by a group of incompetent imbeciles who can't even keep their bogus origin story straight.
An Anonymous Nerd
5/1/2018 06:04:48 pm
No one here is "injecting political animus into debunking." Rather myself, Jason, and now Newsweek have taken note of the special relationship between the fringe and the right. There's no animus, and no fallacy, in pointing that out. It's not like anyone is saying the Right alone has a monopoly on the fringe.
5/1/2018 08:58:35 pm
5/2/2018 11:17:52 am
I appreciate the kind words Machala. Good sports are few and far between here, and I count you among them.
5/2/2018 11:18:58 pm
Truth many times isn’t political but a disturbing trend I’ve noticed is the views of different political parties on matters of science. While the political spectrum of ideologies has its flaws, I’ve found that the Right tend to be more anti-science than others. Here in America, most Republicans are climate change and evolution deniers according to many studies and polls. That’s not including their attack on the social sciences and humanities. Even “left-wing” science denial like GMOs and vaxxers have a equal home in the Right-wing. Supposedly respectable Right-Wing sites have now been giving space for conspiracy theories, science denial and a attack on skepticism. So let’s stop with this false equivalence of the Left being as bad the Right. Studies have shown that Republicans tend to make laws and policies based on their science denial than the Left does.
5/3/2018 09:17:54 am
Case in point...
5/5/2018 09:51:08 pm
Well, Joe, when someone gives you a list of studies and figures that support a conclusion that the Right is significantly more dominated by religious extremism, racism, and conspiracy theories, and your response is to toss it out the window as "you're just being politically biased," you really don't come across as particularly open-minded or open to science. Study after study after study, poll after poll after poll, from source after source after source, is all saying the same thing. How much evidence do you need before you have to admit that it's not a political bias, it's a massive problem with the conservative right that needs to be fixed?
5/5/2018 10:59:23 pm
And again... case in point.
5/1/2018 11:27:28 am
What does research say about IQ differences of races? Do some races run faster than others?
5/1/2018 02:02:17 pm
The claims by some researchers suggest that based on IQ score you should probably be doing yard work for an Asian American family.
5/1/2018 04:58:19 pm
I'd still be willing to bet I have more A.A. friends than you.
An Anonymous Nerd
5/1/2018 06:23:18 pm
As to IQ: The literature on IQ is rather complicated, as is the concept of IQ. There's an old joke among some folks who study this stuff, that, when it comes down to it, IQ is just what IQ tests measure.
5/1/2018 07:16:39 pm
Fun fact, a Japanese man won a competition against a Kenyan recently at Boston marathon. Something most people wouldn't bet their shirt on that given stereotypes.
5/1/2018 09:03:18 pm
Even many of the most ardent supporters of the Race= IQ scores position acknowledge that socioeconomic environment plays some role in the process. Their hole card is the assertion that it just doesn't play enough of a role to explain the entire gap in scores. However, the only way to support that position would be thru a rather large, long and elaborate (and probably unethical and illegal) social experiment under conditions that could eliminate socioeconomic environment as a variable.
5/1/2018 10:33:31 pm
The fact that a Japoman beating a Kenyan is noteworthy is interesting in a man bites dog kind of way and reinforces the undeniable stereotype of Kenyans winning marathons.
5/1/2018 10:53:21 pm
Last time I checked you didn't research Haiti's track and field teams at all.
5/1/2018 11:07:40 pm
Yeah I did.
5/2/2018 06:40:49 am
I spent much of Grad School administering IQ tests to college students. This was at the time that “The Bell Curve” was first published.
5/2/2018 08:56:09 am
5/1/2018 12:17:28 pm
Looking at the human body as a five pointed star, Petticoat Junction is a reference to the sacred feminine.
Wim Van der Straeten
5/1/2018 02:40:47 pm
"(a) Why do minorities less likely to report UFO sightings?"
5/1/2018 03:18:57 pm
Of course people from all colors have seen UFOs and reported them; the question, though, is why minorities are less likely to report them, if we believe O'Connell's analysis of the data. (I haven't seen figures to confirm this.) There are many possibilities. One is that minorities tend to be concentrated in cities where, do to light pollution, they are less likely to see strange things in the sky.
5/1/2018 05:06:25 pm
If minorities are less likely to report them how do we know minorities are less likely to report them?
5/1/2018 05:25:10 pm
I would assume that some of this is just basic demographics. Depending on how one wants to crunch the numbers, whites comprise about two-thirds of the US population. They are also, with some exceptions, the population most distributed among the 50 states. If something buzzes the greater Chicago area, who is most likely to see it? If something buzzes Podunk county Montana or Dog Knot County, Utah who is far, far more likely to see it?
5/1/2018 06:25:31 pm
Oh, my. I must be tired. I wrote "do" instead of "due."
5/1/2018 06:26:33 pm
"If something buzzes the greater Chicago area, who is most likely to see it?"
5/1/2018 08:28:13 pm
Jason said: "....One is that minorities tend to be concentrated in cities where, do to light pollution, they are less likely to see strange things in the sky. "
5/1/2018 09:10:55 pm
The best place to see UFOS is North Korea:
5/2/2018 07:04:06 am
Yes, Machala, we are talking about the U.S. It would be interesting to see if similar patterns hold in other countries.
5/5/2018 10:04:55 pm
Stickler, you compare the statistics of who reports UFO sightings with the general population statistics. If you have 10% of the area you're looking at as minorities of various types, but only 2% of reports are from minorities in that area, then you know that minorities are less likely to report UFO sightings. You don't know WHY--are they not having the sightings? Are they not interpreting them as UFOs? Are they having the sightings and interpreting them as UFOs, but are not comfortable making reports for any of a number of reasons? Even are they actually reporting them but those reports are being ignored?
5/1/2018 07:35:19 pm
Well, I finally caught up on all the blog posts after being away to visit family. Let's dive right in.
5/2/2018 12:53:57 pm
I guess we can simply say that these tv shows are entertainment crafted to appeal to people's sense of strangeness and wonder. It is bad they are presenting a false version of history to the public but the public should be able to discern it is entertainment. In the end it is still damaging in a very real way due to the way people connect their political beliefs to all of this. Propaganda of the highest order. It is weird how enmeshed Nazi's and UFO's are.
5/5/2018 10:08:42 pm
The thing is, this information is being offered in a format that is explicitly taught to be a "nonfiction" format--ie, the documentary style. This is taught as early as first or second grade. It's something so ingrained that even the most skeptical of minds can have difficulty viewing it as "entertainment." Or more specifically, as FICTIONAL entertainment, since "entertainment" does not in fact HAVE to mean "fictional." In short, you are very correct that this is propaganda--MEANT to create an impression of truth out of fiction.
Jason is a pos
5/6/2018 05:45:29 am
Jason is a POS! As a LIBERTARIAN EVERY NUTJOB THAT BELIEVES THUS ANCIENT ALIEN UFO CRAP IN THE BAY AREA IS A LEFTIST SOCIALIST POS LIKE JASON. I KNOW HUNDREDS THAT TUNE IN AND WENT TO ALIENCON NEARBY. ALL SANDERS NUTTERS AND CLINTON SYCOPHANTS LIKE JASON THE POS. SO GET OFF THE ALT RIGHT NONSENSE ASSHOLE. EVERY POS LIKE YOU IS A MINORITY THAT BELIEVES THIS CRAP IN THE BAY AREA. HOMOS LIKEYOU TOO.
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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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