I don't usually highlight the nasty, ugly comments and email I regularly receive from defenders of alternative theories, but today I'm making an exception because my faithful correspondent makes important points that I would like to discuss. In my review of Ancient Aliens S04E02, I noted that talking head Sean-David Morton was listed as a PhD, and on his website he claimed to hold that degree from a Canadian school whose name matches no institution in Canada. After doing some research, I discovered that the school he most likely attended, the International Institute of Integral Human Sciences, is not accredited in Canada to award doctorates. Therefore, I invited Mr. Morton to provide documentation of his degree, which, should it be real, is a relatively simple task.
Instead, I received a stream of invective from either Morton or his defenders, which, sadly enough, seems to be a regular occurrence when writing about Mr. Morton, the criminal fraud charges pending against him, and the failed lawsuit he launched against another of his critics.
Let's take a look at some of the comments. Warning: GRAPHIC language.
Sadly, the commenter manages to include some genuinely important points that are lost in his or her extremely vulgar tirade. The writer is quite correct that Mr. Morton's education should not matter, only his ideas. But, as I noted, his ideas are demonstrably false, and his educational credentials become important because he is using them to create an argumentum ad verecundiam (argument from authority) in which we are to accept his ideas because of his alleged expertise. He offers no other proof, forcing us to consider his credentials. The writer seems vaguely aware of this when writing that "any person can gives [sic] their ideas about anything."
I should also note that Giorgio Tsoukalos, the most prominent ancient astronaut theorist, also holds no advanced degree. (We both have bachelor's degrees from Ithaca College.) I have never criticized his education, only his ideas--and I can do that because Tsoukalos has actual ideas, no matter how much I disagree with them, and tries to use actual evidence to support them, even if, again, I find his use of evidence wanting. Mr. Morton's comments on Ancient Aliens are mere assertions without the pretense of independent truth. This might be due to editing, but I doubt it.
In further comments, the writer demands to know "how about ur [sic] PHd, is it from Africa." Disregarding the implied racism, I refer back to the writer's own earlier comment about the content of an argument standing independent of its advocate. I do not have a doctorate. I have never claimed to have one, and I have no need to make up fake degrees to support my views. My writing stands or falls on its merits, which I present with arguments, evidence, and references; by contrast, Mr. Morton's claims on Ancient Aliens are not even his own. As I mentioned, he is merely reiterating the discredited work of Zecharia Sitchin and Immanuel Velikovsky wholesale, as in his assertions that wooly mammoths were flash frozen by a comet.
In multiple comments, the writer complains that "Jason[,] mother fucker[,] do[es] criticism only." I'm not sure how to plead to this one. Do I criticize ancient astronaut theorists? Sure. Is that all I do? No. I have also traced the origin of the Chupacabra, went in search of the Scholomance, proposed a new framework for understanding the horror genre, and collected the first major anthology of early horror criticism. This is hardly "criticism only."
At the same time, yes, I am primarily a critic. But so is Roger Ebert, and so was Edmund Wilson. Part of being a critic is explaining what is wrong with a work, especially works like Ancient Aliens that want us to overturn centuries of carefully established verities. Another part of being a critic is talking about what is good. I try, especially on my Twitter feed, to celebrate archaeology. I have even discussed what ancient astronaut theorists get right that mainstream scientists do not.
Do I spend more time criticizing that championing? Well, yes. But that's because history is important, and every time someone tells an untruth about it, human knowledge is damaged just a little bit more. My time is limited, and there are others with far better credentials and far greater scientific understanding than I to celebrate the good work archaeologists do every day. What I can do, and what I do well, is comparing what alternative theorists say to the sources they claim support them. All too often, the original sources tell a different story, and I think it's important that someone stand up for the ancient people whose lives and works are being perverted.
Therefore, I can think of no better way to end than to present the insightful words of my erstwhile correspondent whose thought-provoking comments sparked this blog post:
"Colse ur motherfuking Weebly free web site bitch,,,,U PHd Sucker..... Hey I go Phd.....woooooo."
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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