I’m feeling a bit uninspired today, so I’ll share a grab-bag of small stories I haven’t figured out how to spin into something more substantive.
Micah Hanks Thinks I Am Too Snarky
Sunday on the Paracast “investigator” Micah Hanks took time out to criticize me by name for criticizing ufology the wrong way. In discussing the state of modern ufology, he explains that he’s happy to draw people to conferences and TV shows by featuring Erich von Däniken, but “I am adamantly opposed to calling him a ufologist. He is not ufologist. Giorgio Tsoukalos is not a ufologist.”
Hanks accuses me of conflating ancient astronauts with ufology, as though the two fields were inherently separate. He also finds my tone too snarky.
A good example—Jason Colavito, a skeptical blogger. He basically really spends most of his time dissecting the books that people who are fringe theorists like to talk about. Well, that’s fine and he offers some very intelligent commentary. He’s a bit negative at times, and frequently a little too snarky for my taste, but I still think he has every right to try to deconstruct the arguments of a lot of these researchers, and really, frankly, I don’t agree with a lot of it myself. But I realize there’s an entertaining component to that, and I find it entertaining just as well. It is absolutely not ufology, though.
Hanks believes that ufology should be defined entirely as the “attempted” scientific study of anomalous aerial phenomena. This leads to an interesting demarcation question: Why is it “scientific” to study Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 sighting, but not one from, say, the Basel “UFO battle” of 1566? Neither can be verified with instruments, physical evidence, or photographs. What makes telling stories about one more scientific than the other? The date?
Going back to the 1950s, we can see in works like Flying Saucers Have Landed and Stranger than Science that ufologists have always tied UFOs to ancient historical “sightings.” But as I point out in my article on the “ultra-terrestrial hypothesis” in the journal Paranthropology, there are many threads that have been folded into modern ufology. One does not get to pick and choose whose approach to ufology is “official” ufology. You’re welcome to restrict your study to simply testing for lights in the modern sky, but I can’t control the fact that Ancient Aliens has explicitly tied ufology to ancient astronauts and to spiritual exultation. I equally can’t pretend that they didn’t do it to help you feel more scientific.
Oh, and since I have stated over and over again that I write about fringe history, not scientific ufology, what angle did Hanks expect me to take on the subject?
Red Ice, Black Hearts
Do you remember Red Ice Radio? The online radio program is a mainstay of the fringe circuit. It’s played host to such guests as Robert Bauval, Scott F. Wolter, Scotty Roberts, Richard J. Dewhurst, David Icke, Yuri Geller, Richard Dolan, and more. Well, on Monday Red Ice Radio played host to Dennis Wise, a British filmmaker who believes that Adolf Hitler was unfairly libeled by the Allies and that the Holocaust never happened. Wise denies that Hitler was a racist, for example. The host agrees that Hitler and the Nazis were “incredible” for Germany, and agrees that the Holocaust denial story told in Wise’s film Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told provides “another level of truth” that the mainstream media are hiding. The two men agree that the Jews “stabbed him (Hitler) in the back” after he made a deal with the Zionists to facilitate their rapid transfer to Palestine in order to remove what Wise calls Jewish-homosexual “decadence” from “German culture.” It will be interesting to see which fringe history figures continue to patronize Red Ice Radio after its host declared his support for Hitler and Nazism.
I am increasingly concerned, though, that so many fringe outlets are descending into Nazi apologetics. It’s everywhere!
Scott Wolter’s Night at the Theater
I previously wrote about a musical that debuted at the Minnesota Fringe Festival that tells the story of the Kensington Rune Stone in the form of an encounter between an investigator modeled on Scott F. Wolter and several ghosts. The playwright described the musical as a way to get back at academia. Well, Wolter attended the performance and shared his reaction on his blog, and he loved the musical, especially its flattering portrayal of the character modeled on him:
The play told the story of the human tragedy that results when, scholars in this case, are more concerned with being “right” than getting the “right answer.” The cast did a beautiful job of demonstrating how facts trump the beliefs of so many scholars who abused (and continue to abuse) their positions of perceived authority and credibility. In an age where science and technology rules, I’m often dumbfounded how so many intelligent people still don’t understand the basic principles of evidence and logic. It just goes to show how far we as humans have not progressed.
More Lovecraft Zaniness
Christopher Loring Knowles is continuing his campaign to troll Lovecraft scholars, and apparently me in particular, with more poorly reasoned claptrap about how no one would have read W. Scott-Elliot’s The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria in 1926 because the book was more than 20 years old, neglecting of course to note that while the two source books were decades old (1896 and 1904), the omnibus volume Lovecraft actually read had been published in 1925, and Lovecraft read it in early 1926, just before starting “The Call of Cthulhu.” Knowles, however, has struck upon a new issue: He wants to know how Lovecraft could afford to travel to visit friends when he was so poor that he was living off of canned food and crusts of bread. Lovecraft was poor, but not destitute, and he ate little and save his pennies to finance his trips. But they weren’t as expensive as Knowles assumes. The only real expense was train or bus tickets. He stayed at friends’ houses and apartments and, frankly, ate their food. (Back then, hosts were expected to provide for their guests without the expectation of payment… the horror!) He wore one suit of clothes and washed the collar of his shirt each night to avoid needing a second shirt. Shorter jaunts were made with friends who took him in their cars.
Skeptic’s Strange Videos
Have you seen the “witty and satirical” video the Skeptics Society released this week? Part of the “Skeptic Presents” series, the video features Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer conducting a fictional interview with “Pope Francis” in which he pushes the fake pope on issues such as female priests, homosexuality, and abortion. Only one issue in the video is actually related to skepticism—exorcism—and that is summarily dismissed with guffaw.
I found the video uncomfortable to watch and not really very funny. Shermer seemed to tie skepticism to a politically specific set of social views, but the question of whether to recognize gay marriage or support abortion or contraception isn’t one of skepticism or science but of politics. The video seemed like the kind of thing designed to provoke a supportive response from secular humanists, but I don’t see how it’s going to help promote the idea of critical thinking or reason-based analysis.
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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