Shallow impact: when crackpot conspiracy theories are touted as news, we all lose


by Peter Ellerton

Humans are fascinated by potential disasters, legends or prophecies that promise the end of the world. There is even a word for the study of such things: eschatology, from the Greek eschatos for “last” and -ology “to speak” or “to study”.

There is also something about the grandeur of such claims that makes them magnets for conspiracy theorists and religious fanatics.

But just because this fascination exists, it doesn’t mean it’s desirable to pander to it. Not when it’s without reason, and especially not in the name of science.

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Well The Sun has never been a reputable ‘news’ paper.  It’s most famous for it’s page 3 girls.  But it is among those that started a trend that’s seeped into all media outlets, which is to treat news as a form of entertainment rather than to actually inform people of anything that’s happening in the world.  People are more likely to click on headlines that say we’re all going to die than one that says we’re probably going to be fine, really.

It’s the same with Ancient Aliens and a number of conspiracy and paranormal ‘documentaries’.  TV producers don’t make them because they’re at all interested in uncovering the truth.  They make them because they know this shit sells.  When I watched Ancient Aliens I was struck by how little time was given to presenting opposing arguments from actual historians and archaeologists.  It was pretty clear from how it’s edited that the show was trying to manipulate me into believing there might be something to all this so I should keep watching.

Of course, the whole news as entertainment thing doesn’t affect science reporting, but politics as well meaning that we never know who to trust and so everyone just picks the narrative that appeals to them most.

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