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lunar image
Can you see the giant extraterrestrial structure in this image of the Moon? No? Look harder. (credit: NASA)

The truth, it is out there…

<< page 1: Hoagland’s conspiracy theory

Hoagland has some traits of a good salesman and some traits of a lousy salesman. He is good at public speaking, by which I mean stringing words together in coherent, if nutty, sentences without awkward pauses or verbal crutches like saying “um” or “basically” or “you know?” every other pause. But his biggest problem is that he doesn’t realize that the best salesmen get up, make their pitch fast, shut up and get off the stage so they can start collecting their money from the marks. He stretches every little bit of his story out, throwing in things that he obviously think bolster his point but in reality simply dilute it.

So finally, after about an hour of boring exposition (this is what newspaper editors call “burying the lead”), Hoagland got to the point. Hoagland’s “evidence” consists of an Apollo 14 image that he took from Johnston’s collection which he scanned and then turned up the contrast dramatically to reveal “stunning, astonishing, amazing” data.

Let me pause for a moment here to note something about Hoagland. Like any salesman he uses adjectives to ratchet up the salesmanship—he hasn’t simply made a discovery, he’s made a “stupendous discovery that will shatter paradigms and rock the very foundations of our world.” That’s what any magic elixir salesman does—talk about the amazing, astonishing, unprecedented medicinal benefits of the castor oil that he is selling. But the problem with Hoagland is that he lays it on really thick—really really thick—and then totally fails to deliver anything. He doesn’t present evidence that looks like anything at all. No flying disks or blurry images of Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster. Not even artist drawings of sexy alien females in form-fitting jumpsuits seeking to teach earthlings about love. He doesn’t even have anything remotely as interesting as the old Mars Face. As they say in the biz, this is all tease and no tickle.

But the problem with Hoagland is that he lays it on really thick—really really thick—and then totally fails to deliver anything. As they say in the biz, this is all tease and no tickle.

So here he was, prepping his audience for the incredible evidence he had. He then put on the screen a ghostly blue image that shows the previously black space above the astronaut’s head, which now contains… blue fuzz. That’s it. There are some thin lines there that he claims are the latticework of a giant structure made out of glass rising miles into the sky and battered by micrometeorites over the millennia. But all I saw were fuzzy scratches. He showed another image, taken from another location, and claimed that there is a light patch in the same area of the sky. But this just looked… like a light patch. In fact, it’s so amazingly unspectacular that any normal person would suspect natural causes. Light leaking into the camera, scratches on the film, or tension stresses from pulling the film tight on a spool, or perhaps imperfect processing of the original negatives. Or maybe even a smudge on the camera lens. Equally likely seems some kind of problem with Hoagland’s scanner. Seriously, it doesn’t look like anything, let alone a giant building, miles high, built by extraterrestrials.

He showed more photographs, all with tiny smudges or squiggles in them. Each of these he claimed was the top of an alien glass tower jutting miles above the lunar surface. (Hoagland has concluded that because we cannot see them, they must be made of glass. A simpler explanation is that because we cannot see them, they’re not there at all.) As an amateur photographer, to me these all looked like lint or dust in front of, or on, the lens or the film, magnified a hundred times. (I’ve had similar problems photographing my dog.) In a weightless environment everything floats, including all the crap inside a spaceship. That seems a likely explanation for these tiny amorphous blobs in highly magnified photographs. There’s an old saying that when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras—and certainly not unicorns or centaurs. Hoagland sees dust specks and thinks ancient giant extraterrestrial ruins.

But, let’s be clear on this: these photographs have been in the public domain for several decades now and nobody other than Hoagland has seen anything in them. Why is he the only guy who can see giant extraterrestrial structures? Is he the only sane person and everybody else is nuts? Or maybe there’s a more logical explanation?

After finishing his talk, Hoagland took questions, and they went like this:

Reporter 1: I have a question.
Hoagland: Yes?
Reporter 1: This is a joke, right? I mean, really… come on… really? Is that all you’ve got?
Hoagland: I assure you that I am totally serious…
Reporter 1: No, really? Come on!

Reporter 2: This is pretty boring stuff. Have you perhaps considered inventing something more interesting that will sell more books? Maybe something with flying saucers and hot alien babes?
Hoagland (becoming irate): Are you calling me a liar?
Reporter 2: No. Not a liar. I mean, if you were lying, you’d have come up with a better story, right? Something more entertaining. This is just not very clever. Not very imaginative. The X-Files was waaaay better…

Reporter 3 (from The National Enquirer): If this is true, and NASA is behind a Massive Government Conspiracy™ to hide this and prevent the collapse of civilization, shouldn’t they be given medals or something? Isn’t the collapse of civilization a bad thing?
Hoagland: Civilization includes Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and O.J. Simpson, so maybe it’s not worth saving.
Reporter 3: I fail to see your point.

Reporter 4: If you’ve uncovered this Massive Government Conspiracy™ don’t you fear for your life? Are you being followed? Is that guy sitting in the back of the room in the National Reconnaissance Office windbreaker here to liquidate you?
Hoagland: Well, I certainly hope not.
Me: Hey, I’m not here to liquidate anybody. I was hoping to meet Batboy. You’re not even as interesting as Lyndon Larouche.

Reporter 5: Zzzzzzz…

Reporter 6: The Soviet Union put spacecraft in lunar orbit. The Swedes did it last year. There is a Japanese spacecraft orbiting the Moon right now and a Chinese one arrives there next week. And the Indians are planning on launching one next year. Plus, people look at the Moon with telescopes all the time. How come nobody else has spotted these giant extraterrestrial structures?
Hoagland: …

Reporter 7: Can you comment on the President’s most recent statement concerning Iraq?
Hoagland: Er… that press conference is in the room next door…

Reporter 1: Just a follow-up. …Really? I mean, REALLY?!!

Okay, I’m making that all up in order to make this seem more interesting than it actually was. There were no reporters that I could see, and I walked out before Hoagland ever got to answering questions. I went into the beautiful Washington weather (thanks Cheryll Jones!) and took a walk. I hadn’t ingested any caffeine that morning and the whole story was just so boring that I started to lose interest. Well, to be honest, I started to lose interest ten minutes into the press conference (once he failed to answer how George Lucas was in control of the space shuttle launch schedule; I was hoping that Chewbacca would factor into this somehow, but no such luck), but I stuck it out for about 95 minutes on the off-chance that he would say something good. He never mentioned the Free Masons, although they’re in his book. They control NASA or something. The Nazis, too. No, I’m not making that up either. Apparently before every space mission NASA officials hold some secret Free Mason/Nazi meeting where they drink the blood of The Last Remaining Unicorn, toast Henry Kissinger and the Trilateral Commission, sing the theme song to Spongebob Squarepants, and then plan the mission so that the launch time corresponds with some celestial event—like a stupid 1971 George Lucas student film filled with bald people.

I assure you, I’m not making this up.

The THX 1138 thing? I thought that was weird until somebody explained that people like Hoagland think that the Free Masons—or some other shadowy group—decrees that every major political action have some numerical meaning. It’s like that Jim Carrey movie from last summer, The Number 23. Remember that? Okay, nobody remembers that movie. But it’s like that—these people start looking for numbers in everything. The only problem is that the conspiracy theorists flunked math, so they have to use convoluted routes to avoid doing anything more complicated than multiplication.

Hoagland sees things that aren’t really there. But he believes they are, and that’s what’s important, right? Well, no.

Now although I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I am rather fascinated by the psychology of conspiracy theorists, which I think informs the study of history (stay with me on this). Conspiracy theorists have this basic psychological need to explain the world, particularly major events, in terms of grand interconnected—and very complicated—theories. They find it hard to believe that often momentous things happen for banal reasons—in their view a lone nut with a rifle could never have killed a president as powerful/wonderful as John F. Kennedy. So because simple explanations are unacceptable, they search for an explanation for the event that matches the enormity of what happens: important man must be killed for important reasons by important people. Closely tied to this is the fact that a conspiracist, by investigating an event, believes that they have gained access to “secret knowledge” and ultimately they become part of the event themselves. They are important, because they alone Know The Truth. Just like all the members of the Lil’ Orphan Annie Club.

There are, of course, other psychoses at play as well. There actually was a conspiracy to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. It was a conspiracy involving a bunch of Arab radicals. But for many people, this conspiracy does not fit the worldview that they have, so they have sought to invent other conspiracies—the CIA, the Jews, the Mossad, the Bush administration—to explain what happened that terrible day in a way that makes them feel good.

My point is that conspiracy theories are not really intended to explain the world, but to service the conspiracist’s own psychological yearnings.

Conspiracy theorists have this basic psychological need to explain the world, particularly major events, in terms of grand interconnected—and very complicated—theories. They find it hard to believe that often momentous things happen for banal reasons—in their view a lone nut with a rifle could never have killed a president as powerful/wonderful as John F. Kennedy.

But how does this theory inform the study of history? For starters, it teaches a lesson about methodology. A historian, like a lawyer, needs to establish a clear chain of evidence to prove a case. And unlike a teacher, they have to close the circle themselves—in other words, they cannot allow the listener/reader/student to take the evidence presented and draw their own conclusions, they have to present them all the evidence in a convincing narrative, acknowledge holes and weaknesses in their interpretation, and only then let them draw conclusions. Hoagland thinks he does that, but he doesn’t. He’s taken tiny little datapoints and claimed that they add up to a big picture. He claims he’s found motive (the collapse of civilization baloney), opportunity (the Apollo program), and evidence (smudges on a few pictures), and connected the dots into a giant story of earth-shattering proportions. He ignores contradictory evidence or even better explanations for what he’s seen (light leaking into the camera; dust on the lens). Of course, that’s because he is nuts. But at least he provides a teachable moment.

My problem, however, is that he’s boring. Where’s the fun in all of this?

Years ago I played a really cool video game called Deus Ex. That game had it all, international terrorists, space aliens, secret underground bunkers, and a vast conspiracy consisting of MJ12, the Illuminati, the Knights Templar, and several other famous secret societies all twisted together in some totally incomprehensible plot that culminated at Area 51 (the game was later parodied quite effectively on South Park). I couldn’t understand it, but the game was addictively great. Plus, you could shoot things. Compared to Hoagland, it was a lot of fun… even if it was insane.

I’m gonna go play Deus Ex now. The Knights Templar are going down…


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