The History Channel presents self-appointed challengers of science who take on the idea that aliens caused the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs
Until now, I have assiduously avoided Ancient Aliens. I had a feeling that if I watched the show—which popularizes far-fetched, evidence-free idiocy about how human history has been molded by extra-terrestrial visitors—my brain would jostle its way out of my skull and stalk the earth in search of a kinder host. Or, at the very least, watching the show would kill about as many brain cells as a weekend bender in Las Vegas. But then I heard the History Channel’s slurry of pseudoscience had taken on dinosaurs. I steeled myself for the pain and watched the mind-melting madness unfold.
I’m actually glad that my editors don’t allow me to cuss a blue streak on this blog. If they did, my entire review would be little more than a string of expletives. Given my restrictions, I have little choice but to try to encapsulate the shiny, documentary-format rubbish in a more coherent and reader-sensitive way.
The episode is what you would get if you dropped some creationist propaganda, Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods and stock footage from Jurassic Fight Club into a blender. What results is a slimy and incomprehensible mixture of idle speculation and outright fabrications which pit the enthusiastic “ancient alien theorists,” as the narrator generously calls them, against “mainstream science.” I would say “You can’t make this stuff up,” but I have a feeling that that is exactly what most of the show’s personalities were doing.
There was so much wrong with the Ancient Aliens episode that I could spend all week trying to counteract every incorrect assertion. This is a common technique among cranks and self-appointed challengers of science; it is called Gish Gallop after young earth creationist Duane Gish. When giving public presentations about evolution and creationism, Gish rapidly spouted off a series of misinterpretations and falsehoods to bury his opponent under an avalanche of fictions and distortions. If Gish’s opponent tried to dig themselves out, they would never be able to make enough progress to free themselves to take on Gish directly. Ancient Aliens uses the same tactic—the fictions come fast and furious.
While the main point of the episode is that aliens exterminated dinosaurs to make way for our species—a sci-fi scenario accompanied by some hilarious, mashed-together footage of dinosaurs fleeing from strafing alien craft, perhaps a preview of Dinosaurs vs. Aliens the movie—the various ancient alien experts do little more than assert that such an event must have happened. Surprise, surprise, they provide no actual evidence for their claims. Instead, they borrow evidence for fundamentalist Christians, who are never actually identified as such. Creationist Michael Cremo is identified only as the author of Forbidden Archeology, and Willie E. Dye is credited as a biblical archaeologist without any mention of his young earth creationist views. Ancient Aliensproducers clearly did not care about the credentials or expertise of the talking heads they employed—just so long as someone said the right things in front of the camera.
And the creationists didn’t disappoint. About halfway through the program, Cremo says, “Some researchers found human footprints alongside the footprints of dinosaurs.” The quote is a line out of context from Cremo’s interview, but is played in a section claiming that American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Roland T. Bird found human footprints associated with dinosaur trackways in the vicinity of Glen Rose, Texas.
Bird didn’t find any such thing. He found many dinosaur footprints and trackways—one of which he and his crew partially excavated and anachronistically placed behind the AMNH’s “Brontosaurus“—but no human tracks. Strangely, though, hoaxed human tracks did have a role to play in Bird’s decision to initially visit the tracksites.
Erich Von Daniken is one of the noisiest blow-hards propagating the myths and archeological lies of the Ancient Aliens family. He is a big proponent of the theory that the Nazca Lines in Peru were space alien landing strips. The aliens travel billions and billions of miles through outer space to get to earth and they need landing strips?!!
The show can’t seem to decide whether aliens exterminated dinosaurs 66 million years ago or whether dinosaurs somehow survived to the modern era. Which is it? Did aliens clear away dinosaurs so that we might live? Or did some dinosaurs escape extinction somehow? Competing ideas bounce around like ping-pong balls during the whole episode. Grandpa Simpson tells more coherent stories.
Ancient Aliens is some of the most noxious sludge in television’s bottomless chum bucket. Actual experts are brought in to deliver sound bites that are twisted and taken out of context while fanatics are given free reign. Fiction is presented as fact, and real scientific research is so grossly misrepresented that I can only conclude that the program is actively lying to viewers. To present the show as a documentary, on a non-fiction network, is a loathsome move by the History Channel spinoff. (Technically, Ancient Aliens airs on an offshoot of the History Channel called H2.) If the network and the show’s creators want to present Ancient Aliens as a light survey of fringe ideas and make it clear that the ideas aren’t meant to be taken seriously, I can’t quarrel with that. But Ancient Aliens and shows like it winnow away at actual scientific understanding by promoting absolute dreck. Ancient Aliens is worse than bad television. The program shows a sheer contempt for science and what we really know about nature.
The narrator on the show does nothing but postulate conjecture. Question after question: Is it possible…, could it be…, is there a chance…, what if…,? The questions go on and on. And the ancient alien theorists assume that their speculation has to be true!