Fake News: An Archaeological Battleground

In the recent years the development of political affairs in the US has started a global concern on the effects on our society of what has been called alternative facts. So, basically lies. That governments lie is a constant element throughout history; nothing much to say about that. But what we are confronting here is not the occultation or rejection of facts. It is the statement, the profound belief by some people that there is another reality based on their opinions and that it is equally valid. Confusing, is it not? Let us clarify some concepts first, to be clear about what we are talking about.

Recreation of Atlantis in Doñana National Park. Photo credit Raising Atlantis.

What we are discussing here are not opinions, this is, interpretations of facts based on personal knowledge, experiences and personal biases. Let us imagine that today it is raining outside and the maximum temperature is 12ºC. If you are like me that would be a fine day, since you like rain and, being from Galiza, 12ºC in winter is not too bad. But I am sure other friends and relatives from the same place will consider this day a miserable one, since they hate rain and 12ºC is not precisely summer. If you are from a very arid country you would love to see the rain and if you live in Iceland you would make fun of those crazy guys who believe 12ºC is way too cold. These are all personal opinions, an it is absolutely fine to feel about this rainy day the way you want but, and here is the trick, nobody will ever question that it is raining (water is pouring from the sky) and the temperature is above freezing but not melting the asphalt. The rainfall and the temperature are facts, not opinions.

We are now in an international scenario in which it does not matter if it is raining, if you have data from pluviometers, pictures, videos, eye witnesses… and anything else you want. Somebody will come with the alternative fact that you are enjoying a beautiful sunny day and the opinion of this person has the same validity as all the data you can gather. We do not always agree in academia, and debates and different opinions are held constantly in publications and conferences. But when a lie becomes a truth, and somebody with access to the media spread those alternative facts then we all loose. And I told you this was going to happen. Welcome to our battleground, the fight between archaeology and pseudoscience.

I know that today my fights against History Channel, Ancient Aliens and Atlantis seekers may seem small and worthless. Do not get me wrong, they are. Facing the government of an egomaniac with less preparation for the position than the lemur king of the films of Madagascar, with the social fabric of the country torn apart, being concerned about the extraterrestrial engineers that erected the pyramids and the heads of Rapa Nui may seem extremely frivolous. But the alternative facts of today are the lies we have been fighting for years. The creation of this blog is behind this war, and several posts have already dealt with the topic. They are all the same for me. Some should go higher on our priorities, some are, right now, less important. But all are related to the same problem. The are all born in the anti-intellectualism traits that have been harming our society for decades. Perhaps they have just become real for you, but for scientists like me this has been a fight that, unfortunately, is lasting too long. You might think that making up the number of attendants in the Presidential Inauguration is not the same that questioning climate change or questioning human evolution with a new scenario in which the Anunnaki (the new fashion in pseudoarchaeology) engineered us all. Well, you are right. The Inauguration attendance is just the symptom of the problem, a pathetic egotistic exercise. Questioning evolution is more delicate, because in this pseudocseintific theory in which we are all engineered by extraterrestrial beings we usually end in a scenario where a hierarchy of more and less genetically perfect beings is established. And we all know where that ends up.

So, to sum up, criticizing Ancient Aliens, the Atlantis of James Cameron, or the new archaeology show of Megan Fox may seem frivolous when compared to apparently more relevant matters such as the anti-vaxine movement, climate change or the several humanitarian crises around the globe. But do not mistake yourself, at the core, it is just the same problem: a well-informed society, therefore free, being hijacked by misinformation.

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