I should probably spend a few minutes marking the passing of Brad Steiger, a longtime writer of fringe books, but to be entirely honest, it’s hard for me to say kind words about the written work of a man who steadfastly refused to learn from his mistakes for half a century. Between the 1960s and today, Steiger continued to repeat the same false claims borrowed from other writers, failed to check sources, and generally never let facts get in the way of a sensational story. That might have made him a great storyteller, but it made him a lousy researcher.
By all accounts, Steiger, who was born Eugene E. Olson in Iowa in 1936, was a beloved family man who leaves behind a wife, several children, and even more grandchildren. But his published work, which runs into the thousands of articles and nearly 200 books, is a depressing read. Steiger had an undeniable talent for spinning stories, or else he would never have maintained that level of output for most of the past five decades, but the content of his stories ranged from the speculative to the outright fake. Steiger attributed his love of the paranormal to a near-death experience he had as a child in 1947, but his lack of critical thinking and basic skepticism marked him as a full-fledged member of the New Age-adjacent fringe.
Steiger was an advocate for the existence of Atlantis and even old lost high civilizations. He was indifferent to ancient astronauts for most of his years, but six years ago, he explained that he believed that Star Gods came to Earth 250 million years ago and tried to make lizard-people, but, failing that, returned to induce evolution to produce humans, remembered in the Bible as the mating of the Sons of Gods and Daughters of Men.
In honor of Steiger, I will rerun a brief piece I wrote seven years ago about his classic compendium of shopworn fake “mysteries,” Mysteries of Time and Space.
The mid-1970s were a golden age of ancient astronaut silliness. Not only was Erich von Daniken putting out the first dozen or so of his ancient astronaut books, but his acolytes, including Alan Landsburg, were busy putting out their own versions of the demonstrably false thesis. Landsburg brought the story to film, producing three full-length documentaries narrated by Rod Serling: In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, and The Outer Space Connection. Among this collection of the outrageous, we find Brad Steiger's Mysteries of Time and Space (1974), which claimed to provide "Amazing Proof That We Are Not Alone."
Let's take a look at one supposed piece of "amazing proof"...
In 1968 what appeared to be fossilized sandal prints were found in Utah. One print had a squashed trilobite in it. According to paleontology, this would indicate that someone was walking about in sandals more than 500 million years before man is supposed to have evolved. (p. 12)
Now that is one heck of a paragraph. Note how quickly Steiger moves from the apparent nature of the prints in the first sentence to a conclusive declaration in the following sentences. Then, in sentence three Steiger tries to both appropriate science (paleontology) and also cast doubt on the theory of evolution, adopting the awe and wonder of 500 million years but tempering it with an adjective ("supposed") indicating that science knows much less than Brad Steiger.
And all that doesn't even take into consideration the fact that these sandal prints, known in alternative science circles as the "Meister tracks," is nothing more than wishful thinking, credulous minds projecting their imagination onto ambiguous natural phenomena. As Glen J. Kuban writes:
The overall shape is seen to consist of a spall pattern in a concretion-like slab, similar to many others in the area. There is no evidence that it was ever part of a striding sequence, nor that it was ever on an exposed bedding plane, as real prints would be. The "print" is very shallow and shows no sign of pressure deformation or foot movement at its margin. However, on one side of the print, extending to the side of the supposed toe end is a rim or lip that is typical of similar concretions from the area, but which is incompatible in position and form to be a pressure ridge. Also, of the two halves of rock, the side that has the heel indented shows raised relief at the toe end, and vice versa, whereas in a real print one should show impression or raised relief throughout each half.
But of course. One thing is certain: Steiger can pack one heck of a lot of false evidence and misinterpretation into the briefest of passages.
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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