In the summer of 2009 the United States celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the first Moon landing, Apollo 11. Amidst all of the hoopla virtually every news story, especially in the electronic world, made some comment about a supposedly rising belief that humans have never landed on the Moon. Why?
Of course, from almost the point of the first Apollo missions, a small group of Americans have denied that it had taken place. This group seems to be expanding as the events of Apollo recede into history. Aided by a youth movement that does not remember what went down in the Apollo era and for whom distrust of government runs high, it is among that cadre of Americans where those who are skeptical have proliferated. Jaded by so many other government scandals, these younger members of society whose recollection of Apollo is distant to begin with finds it easy to believe the questioning they see on myriad Moon hoax web sites. Lack of understanding of science and failure to employ critical analytical skills make them more susceptible to this type of hucksterism. There has been considerable research on the parts of society that embrace conspiracy theories of all types. Arguing that conspiracism writ large represents a fundamental part of the political system, legal scholar Mark Fenster claims in Conspiracy Theories:Secrecy and Power in American Culture (Minnesota, 2008), that such conspiracies represent “a polarization so profound that people end up with an unshakable belief that those in power ‘simply can’t be trusted’.” At the time of the first landings, opinion polls showed that overall less than five percent “doubted the moon voyage had taken place.” Fueled by conspiracy theorists of all stripes, this number has grown over time. In a 2004 poll, while overall numbers remained about the same, among Americans between 18 and 24 years old “27% expressed doubts that NASA went to the Moon,” according to pollster Mary Lynne Dittmar. Doubt is different from denial, but this represents a trend that seemed to be growing over time among those who did not witness the events. Perhaps this situation should not surprise us.
A lot of other truly weird beliefs exist in society. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt has been philosophical about this turn: “If people decide they’re going to deny the facts of history and the facts of science and technology, there’s not much you can do with them. For most of them, I just feel sorry that we failed in their education.” While it is inappropriate for us to take this denial seriously and opinion surveys show consistently that few do, for those raised in the postmodern world of the latter twentieth century where the nature of truth is so thoroughly questioned it is more likely to gain a footing. The media, especially, have fueled doubts over the years. While this may not be viewed as a definitive statement, a child’s bib I have seen places the blame squarely on the media’s back. It reads: “Once upon a time people walked on the moon. They picked up some rocks. They planted some flags. They drove a buggy around for a while. Then they came back. At least that’s what grandpa said. The TV guy said it was all fake. Grandpa says the TV guy is an idiot. Someday, I want to go to the moon too.” No question, the February 2001 airing of the Fox special Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? changed the nature of the debate. In this instance a major network presented a conspiracy scenario without any serious rebuttal that might have been offered. As USA Today (April 9, 2001) reported in the aftermath of the show: “According to Fox and its respectfully interviewed ‘experts’—a constellation of ludicrously marginal and utterly uncredentialed ‘investigative journalists’—the United States grew so eager to defeat the Soviets in the intensely competitive 1960s space race that it faked all six Apollo missions."
President John F. Kennedy in his historic message to a joint session of the Congress, on May 25, 1961 declared, "...I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." Shown in the background are, (left) Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and (right) Speaker of the House Sam T. Rayburn.
The Fox show raised the profile of Moon landing deniers. And it sparked considerable response. Marc Norman at the University of Tasmania quipped, “Fox should stick to making cartoons. I’m a big fan of The Simpsons!” Whereas NASA had refrained from officially responding to these charges—avoiding anything that might dignify the claims—the Fox show demanded that it change its approach. After the Fox program first aired, NASA released a one-paragraph press release entitled, “Apollo: Yes, We Did,” that was minimalist to say the least. It also posted a NASA information sheet originally issued in 1977 to readdress some of the concerns and pointed people with questions to various Internet sites containing responses. NASA officials added, “To some extent debating this subject is an insult to the thousands who worked for years to accomplish the most amazing feats of exploration in history. And it certainly is an insult to the memory of those who have given their lives for the exploration of space.” Denials of the Moon landings appropriately should be denounced as crackpot ideas. I look forward to the time when we return to the Moon and can tour “Tranquility Base” for ourselves.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans made it possible to reach the Moon. This launch of Apollo 11 represents one of the most watched events in human history. It defies credulity that so many people could have perpetrated such a hoax.
Yesterday, Channel 5 screened a documentary (and I use that term so loosely it essentially qualifies as a liquid) called "Did we land on the moon?", which looked at the arguments for the well-established conspiracy theory that the moon landings, that defining achievement that inspired generations and showed the true potential of humanity, was an elaborate sham.
The programme caused a lot of anger among the science community on the social networks, and arguably rightly so. The programme portrayed the conspiracy theorists as having legitimate arguments and unanswered questions that support their claims, making scant effort to show dissenting views or counterarguments from people who have the audacity to be qualified to discuss the matter.
In a way, this is actually the fault of the science community. We've been complaining about the media distorting science via their obsession with presenting a balancedargument for some time now. We should probably have specified that when we argued that balance is unnecessary, we didn't mean "drop the actual science". Whatever you say about programmes like this, they're not balanced, so we can't complain on that front.
But giving such a high-profile media platform to the conspiracy theorists and letting them go unchallenged is a very dangerous move; it infers undeserved credibility to their claims, meaning more people take them seriously. It would be like inviting David Icke onto Question Time, or having Stephen Green of Christian Voice on as the main guest to discuss the significance of the discovery of the Higgs Boson.
That last one actually happened, by the way, on a BBC Radio Wales phone in. I know this because I was invited to be on the show too, but refused once I found who I'd be sharing airtime with. I'm happy to be "token science guy" at times, but I'm not letting what little credibility I have get sullied further by having to speak to that guy as if his views should be taken seriously. Interestingly, on that same programme they had a moon landing denier on to explain why the moon landing, and by association science in general, is a big con. And thus this article gets back on track.
Despite the fact that the moon landing conspiracy has been debunked many manymany times, it endures. I've had a number of discussions with conspiracy theorists myself, as you may have guessed. For example, I've been told that the moon landings were faked as a publicity stunt. "If the moon landing was real, why didn't they go back?" is one argument used. And apart from the further five times they went back, that's a fair point. Those other ones were probably publicity stunts too, but they kept those quiet.
"It was a scam to get one over on the Russians" is another argument I've heard. Another good point, the USSR and USA were involved in a space race, so the USA decided to cheat to get to the moon first. Sure, the USSR could have disproved their claims if they'd wanted, but they clearly trusted the Americans not to lie. They may have been willing to wipe out the planet over their ideological differences, but when it came to important stuff like space-based contests, they trusted the Americans implicitly.
So why, if the evidence is so damning, does the moon landing conspiracy endure? Well, it's gone on long enough, someone has to finally come clean, and I guess I'm the only one who feels the public has a right to know.
Yes, the moon landings were faked. You can take my word on this, I'm a scientist. A scientist who wasn't even born at the time and who has no official connection to space travel or any space-based discipline, but you know us scientists, we're all in on it together.
Yes, the moon landings were faked. Even more fake than you know. Never mind the secret studios in warehouses or what have you, the whole moon landing saga was just realistic CGI. That's right, all the footage you've seen of the supposed moon landing is entirely computer animated. The USA had access to computer technology decades ahead of what was normal in the 1960s in order to do this. But, you may say, if that was the case, why wouldn't they use their massive technical advantage to dominate everyone else on the planet economically, militarily and in every other way, rather than piss about concocting an elaborate moon landing façade? Because that wouldn't have been fair to everyone, and if there's one thing you can be sure about the US government of the 60s and 70s, they were unerringly honest about their dealings, give or take the occasional massive conspiracy.
The thing is, it doesn't stop there. Revelations rarely happen in isolation, so now that I've let the cat out of the bag with regards to the moon landings, it's only a matter of time before the true extent of the deceptions carried out by the scientific community come to light. So, in the interests of transparency, here are some other conspiracies and outright lies that science has been feeding people.
THE HIGGS BOSON = The Higgs Boson isn't a real thing, I'm afraid. It doesn't even sound like a real thing. A "boson" is a member of a ship's crew, isn't it? The whole thing was concocted as a ruse to build the Large Hadron collider, which is actually a cover for the world's biggest go-kart track, something that would never have got funding on its own merits.
If we're being honest about particle physics, the atom as is commonly portrayed doesn't exist either. There are actually only four known elements, "Earth", "Wind", "Fire" and "September". Nuclear power is actually the name given for when there is a higher density of fire in one place than normal.
VACCINATION = Although rational types have been decrying antivaxxers for years, unfortunately they are correct. Vaccinations are unnecessary; they're a cover for the true nature of disease. It was discovered long ago that all diseases were actually spread by the Dodo. Upon this realisation, scientists decided to initiate a brutal extermination campaign, which lead to their apparent extinction. However, racked by guilt over their actions, the science community concocted the whole vaccine story to explain why people weren't getting so sick anymore, and have persevered with it to this day.
Dodos actually still exist, but in real life they closely resemble pigeons. The story about them being extinct was made up to prevent panic, and the image of the dodo as a large bemused chicken is based on a model created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, commissioned to back up the story.
RELATIVITY = The theory of relativity is, as many have guessed, made up. It doesn't make any sense when you think about it, time slowing down as you go faster? Gaining mass as you approach light speed? It's all based on an incident Einstein experienced when on a particularly long train journey where his watch was broken and he went to the buffet car a few too many times. He came up with relativity as an excuse for why he was late and bloated, and the other physicists just went with it. By the time it was discovered what had happened, Einstein was the most famous physicist around and they kept it going rather than risk undermining their most respected scholar.
THE WORLD IS ROUND = It isn't I'm afraid. It's flat. But it's not static, the land is constantly moving across it like a supermarket conveyer belt. Hence we get night and day, night is when the belt is on the underside of the Earth. This also explains why some long-haul flights take less time on the way back than the way there or vice versa. Planes are either going the opposite way to the direction of travel of the belt, or trying to accelerate in the same direction, which takes longer.
SCHRODINGER'S CAT = It was actually a ferret, but 'Schrodinger's ferret' just sounds wrong. And a little bit rude. Also, it was dead.
GENERAL ANAESTHETICS= These don't actually do anything, they're a money-making scam by pharmaceutical companies. People undergoing surgery fall asleep of their own accord as operating theatres and surgeons are kept as boring as possible.
There are many more I could tell you, but that will do for now. You may think these claims are ridiculous and so farfetched they couldn't possibly be true.
Yeah, people used to say that about the moon landing conspiracy theories.
Dean Burnett, if he is real, can be found on Twitter, @garwboy