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The Truth really IS out there, but it's on PBS, not Fox

At least kids can get comfort from 'Scooby Doo.' Adults are seldom shown the reality behind the paranoia of the paranormal.

Published: Thursday, November 18, 1997


Page: 13A

By DANIEL B. CATON, Special to The Observer

With the new TV season cranking up it appears that shows based on conspiracy theories and pseudoscience are spreading like cancer. Fox itself seems to be turning into the Alien Network.

In an attempt to spread some truth, PBS will air a Scientific American Frontiers special Wednesday 11/19/97 (WUNG 8:00 pm). This month's episode, Beyond Science?, explores several areas of pseudoscience, all of them involving bogus services you can pay money for, even in Charlotte. Host Alan Alda guides us through segments including palmreading, graphology (handwriting analysis) , and dowsing. Each involves a demonstration where the practice fails miserably, and, more importantly, each refers to hundreds of studies that have shown there is no validity to these procedures. True to form, Alda looks skeptically at all of the phenomena with the eye of a hawk.

One of the most interesting pieces begins with a scratchy, black and white movie of an 'alien' being subjected to autopsy. Soon it melts seamlessly into clean color footage, and the surgeons disrobe. One of them is Alda, who had donned his M*A*S*H surgery gown again, this time to reveal a Mock Alien Scientific Hoax. A clip from the original Roswell film is shown, and errors are pointed out--the alien's lack of body weight, the strange inability of the cameraman to maintain focus when zooming in, and the view being conveniently blocked during critical procedures. The original film has been recently featured in a special on Fox (no surprise)

It's interesting that other than this special, there are few shows that try to reveal the quackery of pseudoscience. Some, like those on the Learning Channel, mostly present the 'facts' in a way that at best is seemingly detached, leaving the viewer to interpret them. This neglect is intentional--in most of these cases there is ample evidence to provide simple explanations, and the omission is essentially wilful deceit on the part of the show's producer. Mysteries sell, apparently solving them does not. These cable channels also run commercials for various 'psychic hotlines'. I guess P.T. Barnum was right.

At least we do a little better for our children. The cartoon series 'Scooby Doo' involves a dog (Scooby), his owner and friends. In many episodes they begin with some kind of paranormal phenomenon--a monster, ghost, whatever they stumble upon. They gather evidence to finally show that there is a natural explanation, usually involving a villain.

I wondered about the origin of Scooby--had the program been designed to dispel nightmares in kids? I tracked down the Hanna-Barbera company and had the pleasure of talking with the show's originator, Joe Barbera himself--85 years old and still going to work every day. Mr. Barbera revealed that my theory of the origin of Scooby's theme was not an original intention, but evolved as the show itself did. Adding Scooby to Shaggy and the rest of the gang turned the show from a dog into a winner, and the theme grew that it's Ok to be scared, and scary things are explainable. Joe said that "a child gets a feeling of relief" from Scooby Doo. I wish we had a regular series for adults that explored the unusual and gave comfort with nature instead of a paranoia of paranormal.

But there is no such show for us 'big kids'. This would not be so bad if we the public were scientifically literate enough to interpret what is on TV. I've watched a few of the X-Filesshows and I am disturbed by my reaction: essentially none. I cannot get swept up into the FBI- military-conspiracy-aliens thing. It does not hold my interest--it just does not work for me.

The reason I am disturbed is that I do like good science fiction. You can rest assured I will be in a theater for the premier of Alien Resurrection! Nobody is expected to believe such things are real, so I can detach from reality and enjoy it. That does not work for X-Files--it seems to me that one would have to believe that it could be true to enjoy it. Since this show is very popular, I must assume that a great number of people believe it could be true, or can't tell the difference. This is what bothers me.

So, tune in to some reality Wednesday--the show is very good. And, next Wednesday, go enjoy some good science fiction, too. Not on Fox but at your theater--go see the only 'Alien' we really know anything about. Because, like the other aliens, we made this one up.

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