You Will Never Be Taken Seriously

You Will Never Be Taken Seriously

I stumbled across a site called “The Iron Skeptic” and one of the articles had an excellent line that I wish I had written: “I enjoy writing, I enjoy reading about space aliens, and I enjoy calling people names.”

The site is about debunking and just plain criticizing all sorts of paranormal topics: crop circles, Bigfoot, alien abductions and encounters and so on and so forth. They’re the kind of subject that I also like to entertain myself with, mostly because I find claims of the supernatural or UFO visitations to be pure bunk. But when I do want to be serious about it or listen to a podcast on the subject, I’m often reminded why I cannot take people who call themselves “investigators of the paranormal” very seriously, why I probably never will, and why the idea of true scientific research into these topics is a pipe dream.

It’s about a lack of admitting what is a fact and what is not.

On occasion, I listen to a podcast called “The Paracast,” hosted by Gene Steinberg and Christopher O’Brien. I’ve heard like-minded shows before and what makes this broadcast different is that you have the sense that hosts, particular Mr. Steinberg, are a bit skeptical about many of the claims of UFO abductions and Bigfoot. They typically interview who I take to be a list of the usual suspects in this wide-ranging field, folks often hawking new books and what not, but the hosts (again, mostly Mr. Steinberg) will often ask the question, ”Is there anything new to these stories after so many years, or are we rehashing the same thing?”

That’s a very good question, and one not usually asked on a show dedicated to the topic of the paranormal. And after having listened to several months worth of podcasts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is “no.” These are the same stories being repeated over and over again; there’s nothing new, it's all a retread of the same material that one supposes *something* different may pop up after the 10,000th reading. Like others in this field, Mr. Steinberg and Mr. O’Brien speak a great deal about having evidence and doing research. There’s more of a push than ever among paranormal aficionados to appear more academic and credible by calling themselves “investigators” and assuming a patina of having been trained in an arduous research program. But it often comes down to something like this: reading a large number of books about Ancient Greece doesn’t make you a trained historian on the subject, despite how knowledgeable you've become in the process.

Now, understand that this does not mean these folks have nothing to say or the information they have gathered can’t be called “evidence.” It’s just that being trained in the scientific method means needing to accept certain facts as that: facts. And herein is the crux of my problem with the whole of paranormal investigators: they have a problem with basic facts and want to pretend what we know to be historically true is just someone's (suspect) interpretation.

Case in point: in an episode of “The Paracast,” (2 March 2014) the topic of the Apollo Moon landing came up and Mr. O’Brien kept hemming and hawing about if it really happened. He wanted to have it both ways: yes, we did go the Moon but we had a backup plan that was a sound stage to fool everyone in case something went wrong.

This is **precisely** the reason why paranormal investigators will never be taken seriously: the inability to state what is a fact and what is not. There have been scores of guests on “The Paracast” making all sorts of outlandish claims about the existence of certain creatures that goes completely unchallenged by the hosts. On the subject of the landing on the Moon, neither host definitively shut down the “do you think it’s a hoax” question from their forums by saying, “Look, this happened over 40 years ago. It’s a fact. Period. Move on.” Instead, Mr. O’Brien says with a straight face: ”...I think possibly some of the photographs and footage may have been pre-shot, in case they needed to use it.” He appeals to “photographic anomalies” to make that bold statement. Here we have a basic, verifiable historical fact that gets treated like as though there is some “other side” to the story that deserves to be heard or has equal validity on the basis of “photographic anomalies” which is a favorite device among the Moon-hoax crowd. (Later in the same episode, Mr. O’Brien describes himself as a very skeptical person. Perhaps that word does not mean what he thinks it means.)

The reason why the claim of a faked Moon landing angers me so much is that it’s symptomatic of a broader problem that is going unchecked in American public life: disputing accepted facts and offering up explanations for historical events as if there were viable and provable alternatives based on compelling and credible evidence. “Photographic anomalies” and charges of pre-shot Moon landing material just does not cut it: where is your proof? If you take the number of engineers alone who worked on the Apollo mission and weighed them against even a health stack of people who claimed they faked Moon imagery “just in case,” the former will still win out. Mr. O’Brien fancies himself a serious investigator, what with having written a huge new book called “Stalking the Herd” (I’ll let you guess what the topic is.) But he could not simply say, “What you are saying is wrong. We went to the Moon.No ifs, ands, or buts.” Or put another way, he could have done his audience a great favor by stating, “The amount of evidence we have that we did indeed go to the Moon far outweighs any claims that we did not.” It remains stupefying that he could not commit to a solid answer about the subject but yet expects everyone to believe he’s a credible investigator. (Of cattle mutilations, no less, but you get the point).

Even trained scientists can have their prejudices and refuse to accept a change in an historical paradigm that they’ve grown up with. Albert Einstein’s paper on general relativity wasn't accepted by all, and even after tests were conducted to falsify it (part of the scientific method) and demonstrated otherwise, there was still resistance. Georges Lemaître’s 1927 paper detailing an expanding universe was promptly forgotten by those who read it: now we know how important it actually was and is an accepted scientific concept. There is a tendency among paranormal researchers to portray “Academia” as an overbearing and intolerant organization (a secular Inquisition as it were) implacably hostile to new ideas. But if you’re still arguing that we didn’t go the Moon which is an historically provable fact that occurred 45 years ago, how is anyone supposed to take you seriously as a researcher who knows what to do with credible evidence?

If you can’t accept evidence because it violates your world view, or insist there’s some viable alternative that doesn’t need to be tested according to the scientific method because that also violates your world view, then you’re not a researcher. You’re not an investigator. And if you’re insisting to your listeners or readers that “there's another side to the story” when there isn’t, and you’re calling historical facts into question without any basis, you’re not only doing them a disservice, but you’re actively misleading them. Worse still, if you’re not challenging statements about certain things that you know are not true, you’re just as culpable and ignorant as the one making those claims. It’s that simple.