Roswell Daily Record (8 July 1947). Image Source: Wiki.
The Space Review has just published a scathing review of a new book by Annie Jacobsen. The book, entitled Area 51, claims to explain the 1947 UFO mysteries and conspiracy theories about aliens at Roswell. The Space Review is having none of that though, and angrily dismisses the book:
I suppose once you're in Fox Mulder territory, you should go with the flow. If you're going to get into UFOs, you have to be prepared for things to get - strange. The Space Review is not willing to look at this book in the way the NYT has; the NYT made tongue-in-cheek references to Jacobsen's "dogged devotion to her research," which involved her talking to "a security guard — who, it turned out, had worked at Area 51 and became one of her most valuable sources." I find it hard to believe that that is a serious statement. Perhaps the NYT is standing back from this a bit, and taking the book as, say, a summer read that is an exercise in pop surrealism - or a metaphor for the Cold War? What would a serious investigation into Roswell look like, given that it is a cultural phenomenon in and of itself? It's the ultimate Millennial gnostic puzzle box. You can't get to the bottom of it, as this BBC reporter attempted to, without acknowledging the conspiracy theories. It's impossible to get to the 'real truth' - nor does anyone really want to. Jacobsen's book is out just in time for Roswell's 64th anniversary; the story still reflects a captured imagination about the incident, whatever it was. The most credible explanations I have seen point to some kernel of truth involving experimental aircraft and espionage. UFO reports conceivably prevent accurate information from circulating about new aviation and weapons systems. There may be some basis to this, considering the recent furor in the press about the downed helicopter in the bin Laden raid, which revealed stealth technology. But that notion just opens up a new maze of conpsiracy theories. Along those lines, there has been an upsurge in UFO reports and sightings in the past few years. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for a few of many examples.Although many reviewers claim that her research on atomic weapons tests and classified aircraft projects in the Nevada desert is well-researched and informative (it isn’t), the part of her book that the critics end up tripping over comes near the end of the 523-page book. That is where Jacobsen claims that children, perhaps as young as 13 years old and genetically or surgically altered by Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele, flew a Nazi “flying disk” into the United States as part of a plan by Joseph Stalin to cause mass panic of an alien invasion. The plane crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The United States then engaged in unethical Mengele-like research at Area 51.Read that paragraph again. I’ll wait.Now a normal, sane person would read that claim and conclude that Jacobsen is a nut, or, at the very least, pretty gullible. Unfortunately, we don’t live in normal, sane times, and various reporters have been eating this up with Cool Whip and a cherry on top and acting if the book is so well-researched that Jacobsen at least deserves the benefit of the doubt about the mutant Nazi teenage big-headed pilots, no matter how crazy that story seems. The New York Times even referred to the book as “levelheaded.”
But with this review, The Space Review touched on something far more important about information sourcing, journalism and copyrights in the Internet age, where 500+ page books can be written based on the testimony of agile sources and a Web full of wild material. The Space Review criticizes the professional credibility of the NYT reporter Janet Maslin, asserting that journalists should have held Jacobsen to account for her sourcing. One reader of The Space Review agrees: "The reception for this book - good reviews in the [former] mainstreet media despite its obvious flaws - echos the similar reception that Craig Nelson's train wreck of a book, Rocket Men, got in 2009. One can only conclude that journalism standards simply no longer exist and the NYT, WaPo, NPR and the like, only are interested in selling papers or pumping up ratings." The review concludes that Jacobsen swiped her idea from a James Blish sci-fi short story, Tomb Tapper, in the December 1956 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.
What struck me was what Jacobsen said about her sources: "When pressed about it on Nightline by Bill Weir, the only reporter who seems to remember what his job is, Jacobsen stated that as long as a source is credible to her, anything that source says is automatically credible and doesn’t require questioning—even if it defies common sense." Her subject matter and the degree of seriousness it merits notwithstanding, Jacobsen's statement reveals the erosion of previous standards for discerning reality beyond ourselves. This is the ultimate twisting of the purpose of citation, which is supposed to introduce some measure of historical objectivity into a study, by acknowledging a variety of opinions on a given question. In this case, Jacobsen's statement betrays a credo that expresses the opposite value. This is Postmodern subjectivity taken to a new extreme. It's a latter-day, Millennial version of the Boomer creed, "I'm OK, you're OK." If the source is 'believable' to Jacobsen personally as an individual, then it's 'good enough.' This makes me think of the hazards of egotism on the Internet, where narcissism is so often rewarded as an end in and of itself. Distinguishing truth from falsehood can be a tricky business at the best of times. But if the only modality for sorting out the difference is what any given random Internet egotist 'feels is true,' then we might as well say that in the Information Age, when data has triumphed, the means for recognizing truth and fiction in that data, as we once knew them, no longer exist.
Addendum: CIA documents have just been declassified that outlines some of the work done in Area 51: see reports here, here and other CIA information was released today, see here.
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