Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Punch in the Nose

Darryl Cunningham--creator of the graphic novel Psychiatric Tales and a webcomic taking apart the irrational voodoo of homeopathy whom I was happy to meet in London last month--marks the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing in a very appropriate way. His latest is a simple, direct, and devastating look at the Moon Hoaxers, the idiots (can't think of any way to say that nicer, or any reason to) who believe humans never landed on the Moon.

I just don't get the many species of hoaxers, truthers, and consipiracy theorists who seem to be everywhere these days. Is this something new, or did they always exist and just never have access to media like the Internet to spread their lunacy (heh)? I suspect they think they're acting in the best tradition of truth-seeking and skepticism; the difference is that they never apply Occam's Razor to conclude that the simplest explanation that fits the facts is probably the best. In their worlds, the simplest explanation is just part of the conspiracy, and the more obvious that explanation seems, the more insidious and deep the conspiracy. They also often seem to regard the laws of nature and physics as optional. My sense is that they're natural contrarians (which is a quality I admire and share) who like the smug satisfaction of knowing "secrets" no one else knows without having to do the actual heavy lifting of examining evidence or learning math, physics, engineering or biology.

As much as I liked Darryl's well-researched and -reasoned comic, I still think the best response to a Moon Hoaxer ever was delivered by astronaut Buzz Aldrin in 2002:

Just one of several reasons Buzz is a hero. Happy Moon Landing Day, all. Yes, it happened, and the evidence will rest on the Moon for millions of years after the last Moon hoaxer is gone. Go read Darryl's comic.


Miguel Rodriguez said...

I don't know if you ever watch the show Mythbusters on Discovery, but they did a pretty excellent special dispelling the arguments (insanity?) of the conspiracy theorists. It's worth checking out--probably on youtube.

Jim O'Kane said...

Buzz Aldrin introduced the final Showcase on The Price is Right today.

I'm not sure if that makes me happy, or sad.

Brian Fies said...

Miguel, I'm a Mythbusters fan and did see their Moon Hoax show, which I thought was well done. Not enough to convince the true believers, but then nothing would be. I saw one interview with Adam and Jamie in which they were asked what their ultimate Mythbusting demonstration would be, and they said it'd be building their own rocket and sending it to the Moon just to prove that it could be done. Impossible, but fun to imagine.

Jim, Buzz definitely represents a challenge to my hero worship. He'll appear on game shows, sitcoms, professional wrestling arenas, and in general isn't too shy about making a fool of himself. More than once, I've been watching TV with my kids when Buzz has done something...unseemly...and they'll just look at me like "This is your hero for the ages?!"

The way I look at it, there are a few people whose accomplishments are so great they deserve to indulge themselves. Whatever Buzz does now doesn't diminish what he did then, and whatever makes him happy and brings in a few bucks is OK by me. He's earned it. And that punch in the nose makes up for a lot.

Besides, if what you want in a hero is dignified humility and aw-shucks reticence, we'll always have Neil.

Jim O'Kane said...

Astronauts have a peculiar fame. Unless there's been a movie about them, few people recognize who they are or what they've done.

I met Gerry Carr last year at KSC - - he was on the final Skylab mission, and was also Capcom during the Apollo XII launch. He was doing the "have lunch with an astronaut" program with the tourists at KSC, and people were asking him the same tired three questions ("how do you pee in zero gee?" etc.) I remembered that Apollo XII nugget, and asked him to talk about what it was like in Mission Control when the ship got hit by lightning and things were pretty close to the first in-flight abort in the history of NASA. Gerry Carr got quite animated at that point and started talking about how the seconds felt like days, and how nobody had a clear idea as to what would happen next. Then, he had to back up and explain all the issues to the tourists, who mostly seemed to lose interest in the event because none of it was in the Apollo 13 movie.

Very depressing -- the NASA engineers were split-second heroes when it came to figuring solutions in real time, and the world nowadays doesn't seem to appreciate the skillset.

As to Buzz and his second wind of fame, I agree: he's earned it. Plus he's from New Jersey and I will not disrespect a fellow Son of the Garden State.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Whenever Buzz Aldrin has one of those escapades that should be embarrassing, I remind myself of something Paul McCartney said on an interview about ten years ago. He talked about a time when George Harrison was having a lot of anxiety about what people might think of his next album. McCartney told him, "George, who cares? You're a Beatle."

Buzz, who cares? You're Buzz Aldrin.

Mike said...

In the late 80's, I went to a party that was a combination of business and personal -- the hostess was a Realtor whom I knew both through my coverage of real estate issues and through our being very active in the Board of Realtors bloodbank. But I had only met her husband at the occasional monthly dinner meeting sort of thing. This was at their house, and I got to talk to him at greater length, and discovered that he believed Elvis was still alive, and that his death had been faked. And he had proof.

I don't know how those people got together before the Internet, but, of course, the moon hoaxers were active before the Elvis-lives people. As were the Birchers, but now we're getting into dangerous territory ...

Sherwood Harrington said...

There was another wild Moon hoax in the early 1830s that found similar wide acceptance among the gullible. This article from the Museum of Hoaxes recounts the New York Sun's 1835 "account" of the supposed discovery of a race of sentient beings on the Moon, the Selenites.

My favorite part of the article is this quote from a reporter almost two decades later:

Yale College was alive with staunch supporters. The literati—students and professors, doctors in divinity and law—and all the rest of the reading community, looked daily for the arrival of the New York mail with unexampled avidity and implicit faith. Have you seen the accounts of Sir John Herschel's wonderful discoveries? Have you read the Sun? Have you heard the news of the man in the Moon? These were the questions that met you every where. It was the absorbing topic of the day. Nobody expressed or entertained a doubt as to the truth of the story. (Bold-face emphasis mine.)

True believers have always been among us. Just ask the ghost of P.T. Barnum.

Namowal said...

The moon landings make me think Mankind can achieve amazing things! What a species.
Then I hear the conspiracy kooks and their silly "proofs" of how the whole shebang was "faked."- people old enough to operate a car and vote...
...excuse me while I bang my head of the wall.