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16 October, 2012

The BBC’s UFO fiasco

Did anyone see Conspiracy Road Trip – UFOs on BBC3 last night? I never expect much from UFO documentaries, as most of the ones I’ve seen have been pretty one dimensional and disappointing, as they only ever seem to represent the two flip sides of the true believer coin. In other words, the documentary will either be dominated by rabid debunkers, on the one hand, or the tinfoil hat brigade on the other, with little scope for rational inquiry. Perhaps the BBC might take a more balanced and responsible approach, I thought, as I waited for the show to start. Wrong. This one was even more disappointing than usual.


The characters taken on the road trip came across as fully paid-up members of the true believer, tinfoil hat brigade, purposefully selected to heap ridicule on the whole subject. Yes, there are undeniably many absurd and laughable aspects to so-called ufology – the whole Billy Meier debacle for instance, with images of supposed intergalactic spacecraft clearly made from everyday items held close to the camera. Or Greer’s CSETI organisation claiming to have an image of an extra-terrestrial, which is clearly a cactus. Such absurdities deserve all the ridicule we can hurl at them. But the fact remains that unknown objects have been tracked on radar, reported by reliable witnesses such as pilots and police officers, and have, on occasions, endangered civilian or military aircraft with their antics. Surely THAT warrants a more serious approach to the subject?

Conspiracy Road Trip took the typical, blinkered ignoramus approach to the whole topic. It promoted the notion that the only people interested in the UFO topic are paranoid conspiracy theorists, extra-terrestrial hypothesis (ETH) enthusiasts, deluded, lonely females with a secret alien lover fantasy, or New Age hippy dippy types seeking to commune with the cosmos. What about those of us who come to the subject with an open mind, who won’t ignore the evidence presented by radar, pilots, police officers, etc, but who equally refuse to blindly subscribe to conspiracy theories or the ETH, who don’t fantasise about sexual liaisons with other-worldly beings or get our chakras in a tizzy every time a light zips across the night sky? What about those of us who say, ‘hang on, there’s SOMETHING going on here, we don’t know what, so we’ll keep an open mind and keep probing?’.  As usual, the film-makers didn’t want to know, and chose the freak-show  option.

I also have to question why they chose to include some of the so-called experts featured in the film. On the pro side, they trotted out John Lear. Like so many so-called UFO experts, he promulgates personal opinions and unsupported narratives as fact, without offering the tiniest bit of concrete proof of anything he says. Why not bring someone on to present radar data confirming the presence of an anomalous object? I’ll tell you why – there would be no giggle factor. They only wanted people who were prepared to make outlandish and unsupported statements in favour of the existence of UFOs. On the anti side, they trotted out Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine. He seems pretty rational, at a first glance, but his refusal to accept any UFO sighting as potentially anomalous, is just as blinkered as a UFO true believer’s insistence that every light in the sky is an intergalactic mothership. Each stance is equally myopic and untenable.

As the film wound on, it became clear the Conspiracy Road Trip team had no intention of taking an objective approach to the subject matter. They had their own agenda, which was to entertain their audience by mocking the subject matter, and encouraging their unfortunate band of road trippers to make utter pillocks of themselves on camera. It was cheap TV, tackily assembled, without even the promise of a cheap thrill. All in all, the show was a total waste of licence payers’ money, and said more about the warped and condescending agenda of the production team than it did about any of the participants, pro or anti UFO,  or the validity of their respective belief systems.


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