It is the twenty-first century and we are living in the most advanced, rational civilisation that has ever existed. And yet, a substantial proportion of our fellow citizens still waste their sense of wonder on rubbish like telepathy, astrology and UFO sightings.
One of the most blatantly irrational aspects of contemporary culture is the cynical way in which institutions that should and do know better (particularly the media, though governments are not blameless either) pander to this tendency. Browse the so-called ‘documentary’ channels on your cable TV, and you are more likely to find a program on astrology than on astronomy.
It should not be necessary for us to stress – but let's do so anyway – that we are not calling for regulation or censorship (even self-censorship) as a means of replacing bad television by good. In fact we are implacably opposed to any such measure, which would be rather like trying to cure pneumonia by firing a Gatling gun at the patient's head. The problem originates in the foolish audiences, not the venal producers, and we have no objection to bad programmes being produced and aired whenever there is a market for them. But it is one thing to show bad programmes, and quite another to endorse their content, either explicitly or by associating them with genuine science or genuine news reporting. It is dishonest to present notorious falsehoods or silly urban myths as if they were true. It is irresponsible to treat nonsense with the respect due to genuine discovery. And it is wilfully stupid to claim that one does not know, or need not take a position on, the difference.
The Sci Fi Channel shows such programmes too, but at least it has the (thin) defence that most of its other programes are avowedly fictional. But now they too have crossed the red line. They are sponsoring a campaign to have the US government be “more forthcoming and aggressive in investigating UFO sightings” and to reveal “what the Pentagon knows” about them.
“The Sci-Fi channel has had an interest in [UFOs] for some time. The difference here is that they are focusing attention on the serious, factual side of the issue, and that scientists have not had a chance to thoroughly examine it,” Rothschild said.
“Of course it could help programming. But Sci-Fi thought they had some resources they could bring to the table.”
Shame on you, Sci-Fi Channel.