Last week I wrote a little post about a crop circle documentary I had fun watching on youtube. The post was titled ‘Cereal Crop Circlist’. Admittedly, it was more from the angle of the fantastic and the perspective of a believer. It was more a study of the believers themselves than a look at the phenomena. I wanted to follow up that post with another about a doc from the skeptic’s corner as a sort of one-two punch of cereology.
In 2005, The National Geographic channel started a series called “Is It Real?” where the producers looked at ‘fringe’ topics like bigfoot, UFO’s, and sea monsters. The very first episode was on crop circles and the documentary immediately sets out to debunk the believers. Even though the perspective of all crop circles being hoaxed isn’t as “sexy” as the believer camp, they do make their point with the same directness and come across as convincing.
Personally, I tend to fall into the skeptic’s corner on this one but I don’t think all can be as easily explained as they make it appear. It’s more the people than the information that make both of these docs interesting. That said, neither of the two documentaries discuss the good evidence from the opposing side. I get the distinct impression that their minds are already made up before making the shows. I suppose they have to do that in order to have a solid, coherant show that will easily compress into an hour or so. If you’ve listened to our podcasts you can obviously tell how difficult it is for us. (But in our defence we try to be as unbiased as possible and we don’t have a gigantic production with much editing. What you hear is pretty much the conversation we actually had.) But the inadequacies of American television programming is worthy of an entirely new post. I won’t get into that here.
In the end, it’s going to be up to you to decide what you believe. But sofa-science is pretty hard to do when no one with the means takes it seriously enough to put together a REAL science documentary that pits believer vs skeptic. So this gets to my fundamental gripe.
We’re approaching a new season of crop circles this summer/autumn. If someone wanted to make a really engaging scientific documentary about crop circles why not take the representatives from each camp and evaluate two crop circles together with the use of a ‘blind’ scientific team to evaluate the data (whatever that is)? One of the crop circles would be man-made by the producers of the show. Both parties would have an opportunity seperately to prove the validity or dismiss the circles alltogether, and in the process show the scientific methods used to arrive at each conclusion. Then show the results…and give each of them a battle axe. Winner takes all…
Sorry, I got carried away there. But this is my point you see. We watch the science shows to validate our skepticism, and we watch the believer shows in the hope of seeing something new and exciting and there never is. It never happens. I love letting my mind fantasize through a good mystery, so given that criteria I might as well just go back to watching Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. The material might be a little outdated but at least good ol’ Mr. Clarke presented both sides to the viewer from an equal footing rather than the slanted programming we have today. I’ll take that any day over the “sensational new evidence that EVERYONE is talking about!!” Because usually that sensational new evidence is just more of the same old crap in a new wrapper. Pretty on the outside, but you can smell the turd within from a mile away. And I’m sorry skeptic shows, but you’re not getting off easy either. If you’re going to make a show that touts the merits the of scientific method, you’re going to have to explain it all. Not just the bits that make the best argument to a skeptic. You also have to show the areas that aren’t so easily explainable as well.
See, I said I wasn’t going to get into talking about bad television and yet I did anyway. I couldn’t avoid it. My apologies. But if you were to force me to come to a conclusion as all good mystery shows must after a thorough investigation, I would say that today’s believer shows are nothing more than programming filler to fuel the mystery book market and convention circuit, and the skeptic shows are just more of the same. At their best, they are both the shell of someone’s real work. At their worst, a freaking commercial. There’s only so many of these shallow battles one can take. It’s kind of like watching The Jersey Shore. I’m going back to watching original re-runs of The A-Team. At least B. A. Baracus had pity.