The New York Times Sunday Styles section is usually an escape from hard news, the place we go to read stinging etiquette advice or learn about celebrities-turned-lifestyle-entrepreneurs.
The section’s Sunday cover story, though, was disturbing enough to qualify as hard news. As in hard-to-take. The story “E.T., We’re Here,” is about the television show “Ancient Aliens,” its fans, and a giant convention they attended in Pasadena, which may all sound harmless enough. It’s a nice piece of reporting, written in that breezy, sardonic tone that goes well with eggs and coffee. Look at this subculture! It has wacky stars! And grown-ups in costume!
But here’s the thing: It’s not entertaining when a celebrity or a hit show discredits science and pushes lies and speculation as fact. A public lack of trust in science leads directly to disease outbreaks, misplaced fear of life-saving technology, and humans’ inability (thus far) to stop man-made global warming. Gwyneth Paltrow peddling pseudo-science may seem hilarious. But it is very unfunny every time she convinces someone that “they”—doctors, scientists, rational people—are withholding the true secrets of healing out of stupidity or malevolence. AlienCon may look like a lark, but it is unfunny testimony to the disintegration of public trust in science.
I was alarmed to learn that:
-Ten thousand people paid to attend AlienCon, the Pasadena convention for people who “believe that aliens visited Earth before recorded history.”
-“Ancient Aliens” airs on the “History” Channel, where it is billed as a “documentary series.”
-This “documentary series” on the “History” Channel devoted a whole episode to how alien technology may have helped Hitler.
-The show, which is about to enter its 13thseason, was originally conceived of as a marketing tool for the entirely fictional 2008 film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Yet no one interviewed in the story seems to think “AlienCon” is short for “we made up some aliens to con you out of your money.”