An exciting, limited time, exclusive offer for science

By Matthew M. Robare

Courtesy NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

How would you like to lose 100 pounds in just two weeks, build muscle, add to the size of your genitalia and discover the secrets the “pros” use to have sex with beautiful women and pick the stocks guaranteed to triple your net worth overnight, all at the same time?

We’ve all seen ads like this. We can even imagine the announcer’s voice in our mind, and wonder whether he’s creepy or just plain cheesy.

They prey upon our insecurities and worries, trying to intensify and exploit them. Some part of us that wants to be able to trust other people, buried somewhere deep in the subconscious, an innocent part of our souls which knows nothing of Original Sin or cynicism or whatever you might call it; it whispers to us, urging us to call that toll-free 800 number, pay in our life’s blood or first-born child or whatever the company is demanding, on the off-chance that they can deliver on their promises.

But we don’t, because we know that would be idiotic.

But there’s another amoral group out there also aiming to propagate fraud as fact, question the findings of hardworking scientists, denigrate all opposing viewpoints as the propaganda of a sinister conspiracy to hide the truth, all while making obscene amounts of money in the guise of educational television.

I’m talking about History Channel, Discovery Channel, Biography, History International, TLC, the National Geographic Channel and A&E, and their line-ups full of content centering on the paranormal, the extraterrestrial, the conspiratorial and the psychic.

History Channel is infamous for this kind of junk. In fact, it’s easier to be featured on a History show if you’re a raving lunatic than if you’re a serious, professional scientist.

Erich von Daniken, the fraud and charlatan whose book “Chariots of the Gods?” started the “ancient astronauts” craze back in the late 1960s (although it wasn’t the first such book) has been exposed as a liar and a cheat so many times it boggles the mind, but he can always get a show on Discovery or History to promote his latest “theory,” such as the Mayan and Egyptian civilizations sharing a common precursor civilization, because they both built pyramids. Never mind the facts that the Egyptians stopped building pyramids over 2,000 years prior to the Mayans starting, that Mayan pyramids were used as temples and Egyptian for tombs, that making pyramids is easier for pre-industrial civilizations than, say, a geodesic dome and that Mayan and Egyptian religion, language and culture are light-years apart.

None of that matters to von Daniken and his quest to misinform the public.

His “protégé,” Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, publisher of “Legendary Times” magazine, is also visible on the “History” circuit. His solemn judgment on issues archeological, historical and supernatural, delivered in front of the cameras for “documentaries” on such subjects as crystal skulls, flying saucers, ancient myths and other sundry and various pseudosciences, take the cake. The only documentary he belongs in is one focusing on patients in mental hospitals.

And then there is “Ghost Hunters.” At least von Daniken and Tsoukalos can say they theorize based on evidence other, more credible, individuals have collected (except for the stuff von Daniken had faked, of course). The Ghost Hunters actually claim they’re collecting evidence right on the show, however – a total sham.

On the air since 2004, this piece of televised trickery, with its pretension of being science, has been inexplicably popular. The greatest advantage of “Mythbusters” has always been in making science fun and accessible. It’s a model that could easily be repeated. But instead, these new waves of paranormal shows use the medium to give credibility to unscientific propositions that are impossible to prove one way or another. The sheer mind-numbingly anti-scientific premises of these shows give the sciences a bad name, and allow nutcases to make millions.

It’s the exact same kind of thing as those cheesy TV ads. They promise the Moon, but can’t deliver – because it’s all a load of nonsense. They even appeal to the same segments of the mind. Who doesn’t want scientific evidence of the afterlife? Who wouldn’t spend years trying to harness their latent psychic powers if they were at all real? And who wouldn’t click on an add promising to add five inches to their penis?

When we willingly suspend our abilities to think critically we do ourselves a grave injustice. If we allow ourselves to be misled out of hope or for any other reason, all we do is set ourselves up to be robbed blind and ruined.

Next Friday is October 22. Back in 1844 a group of preachers who followed a man named William Miller said that Jesus would return to Earth that day. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country believed them, and gave up their homes and businesses and went out to await Christ’s second coming.

Unsurprisingly, He Himself didn’t show up. Meanwhile, the people who believed Miller’s sales pitch lost everything. Miller continued to believe that Jesus was about to return, which didn’t work out too well for him.

Don’t be a Millerite. Learn about real science, not this fake junk on TV.

Matthew M. Robare is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]