This article appeared in the "Editor's File"
in The Textbook Letter, March-April 1996.

NBC's "Science" Hoax

William J. Bennetta

The National Center for Science Education informs us that it has received a number of inquiries from teachers whose students were deceived by The Mysterious Origins of Man, a program that was broadcast over the NBC television network on 25 February. Mysterious Origins was a farrago of claims about a "new breed" of "scientists" and "investigators" who have made astounding discoveries -- e.g., that humans lived side-by-side with the Mesozoic dinosaurs, that the prevailing scientific account of human evolution and human history is all wrong, and that the lost city of Atlantis lies in the Antarctic. These discoveries and the evidence that validates them have supposedly been suppressed by the scientific establishment.

The program was a hoax -- a fake from start to finish. The claims were phony, the "evidence" was bogus or imaginary, and the people who were presented as scientists and investigators were actually cranks. For example, Carl Baugh -- who was billed as an archaeologist in Mysterious Origins -- is really a creationist preacher who has set up a "Creation Evidences Museum" in Texas. He cherishes the notion that humans coexisted with the ancient dinosaurs, and he has made various foolish attempts to "prove" that notion by publicizing bogus fossils. Don Patton, who was billed as a geologist, is actually another creationist and a confederate of Baugh. And so forth. To round out its cast of experts, Mysterious Origins offered the actor Charlton Heston as host and chief bamboozler.

While Mysterious Origins could not have fooled any informed adult, there is no doubt that the program deceived many young people, loaded them with wrong notions about the processes and achievements of science, and undermined the work of many science teachers. Teachers who would like help in exposing and refuting Mysterious Origins may contact Eugenie C. Scott, executive director, National Center for Science Education, P.O. Box 9477, Berkeley, California 94709. (Telephone 800-290-6006.)

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


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