Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Area 51, mutant teenagers, and flying bunnies

As a general bit of advice to woo-woos and conspiracy theorists out there; if people think that a particular explanation for a mysterious event is ridiculous, contrived nonsense, the appropriate response is not to come up with one that is even worse.

For example, suppose a clump of animal hair is found snagged on a bush in a forest in the Cascades.  Someone says, "Wow!  Sasquatch hair!"  If you then snort derisively, and say, "Sasquatch hair?  Are you kidding me?  This is clearly hair from the Giant Carnivorous Flying Bunny of the Pacific Northwest," people will think you've lost your mind.

Apparently no one ever gave advice of this sort to Annie Jacobsen, to judge by her recent book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base.  Jacobsen, an investigative reporter, used "74 sources, 32 of whom lived and worked at Area 51 for extended periods of time."  In the course of her research, she took advantage of the recent declassification of formerly top-secret government documents to study US covert activities in the 1940s and 1950s.  "In many previously classified documents relating to activities at the base, the words 'Area 51' are conveniently blacked out," Jacobsen said.   "There's always a euphemism for it -- like 'the test facility' or 'the base' -- but never Area 51."

So basically, she has two sources: government documents with all of the important stuff covered up, and anecdotal reports from people of uncertain veracity.  And from this, she cooks up quite a story.

You know how the Roswell Incident, which happened in the summer of 1947, allegedly involved the crash of an alien spacecraft near Roswell, New Mexico?  And that alien corpses were dissected in top-secret US military installations in Area 51 in Nevada?  And the spacecraft remnants were analyzed and formed the basis of US radar-evading aircraft technology, such as the Stealth bomber?

Bah, Jacobsen says.  Don't be a gullible ninny.  None of that is true.

What really happened is that after World War II, Josef Stalin and Dr. Joseph Mengele (the Nazi "Angel of Death") got together and used experimental genetic techniques to create mutant hairless human children with gigantic heads and tiny bodies, and put them aboard a flying saucer that was powered remotely from Moscow, so that they could fly it and land it in the United States to create another War of the Worlds-style panic over an alien invasion.  What Stalin and Mengele would do then, how they planned on capitalizing on the ensuing chaos, she never says.  Maybe she thinks that given their status as two of the world's most evil human beings, it would have been sufficient for Stalin and Mengele to watch the whole thing from their Top Secret Command Center and cackle maniacally, and the US would be so demoralized that we would capitulate immediately.

Or maybe she thinks that being divebombed by a flying saucer with huge-headed hairless teenagers would have softened our defenses, and opened the way for attack by the Giant Carnivorous Flying Bunnies.  I dunno.

I think what amazes me is that the media are taking what she has to say seriously.  Take a look at an interview she got on MSNBC.  The interviewer, first of all, clearly believes all of the alien nonsense, and seems completely bowled over by her chance to talk about it on public television.  So, you're immediately set up to think that there are going to be some mind-blowing revelations.  Listening to Jacobsen, however, I was immediately struck by how completely unremarkable her information was.  The US was working on radar-evasion technology back during the Eisenhower administration!  If you can imagine!  And I outright guffawed at the part about Area 51 being connected by underground tunnels to other military bases.  Does she have any idea how impossible this is?  Let's say that somehow, there is a tunnel connecting Area 51 to say, Hill Air Force Base, right next door in Utah.  This is a distance of about four hundred miles.  So, we're to believe that without anyone knowing, the US government built four hundred miles of tunnels through solid rock, just so they could avoid having to get on the Interstate?

Oh, but she has proof!  She says that she knows of a military base where the work stations are underground and they are connected by "a tunnel that is above ground."  Myself, I thought that the concept of "tunnel" implied "underground," and therefore that an "above-ground tunnel" would basically be a "hallway."  But what do I know?  Those US Government Guys are pretty damn tricky.

Anyhow, here's another book for your collection.  You can put it on your bookshelf right next to Nick Redfern's The Real Men in Black.  It does, however, make me think that I've missed my calling.  If Annie Jacobsen can become rich and famous, and get interviews on MSNBC, for writing this kind of tripe, then maybe there's more money to be made from that sort of thing than there is from writing about skepticism and critical thinking.  So, look for my new bestseller, Hare-mogeddon: The Upcoming Flying Bunny Invasion, and What You Can Do To Avoid Being Eaten.  Soon in bookstores everywhere.  I'll be waiting for MSNBC to contact me.

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