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Space Center Houston Review

From: Rebecca Keith <rebeccas@airmail.net>
Date: Wed, 09 Oct 2002 22:00:46 -0500
Fwd Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2002 06:39:53 -0400
Subject: Space Center Houston Review


Source: The Houston Press

www.houstonpress.com/issues/2002-10-10/calendar2.html/1/index.html

Space Center & Me
Or, how I learned to stop caring and accept the dumb
by Dylan Otto Krider


A bird's-eye view of bullshit.


"Crop Circles"
Details: Through January 5. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays through
Sundays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. $15.95,
$11.95 for children. 281-244-2100.
Where: 1601 NASA Rd. 1

Every clique has an "out" group that insiders make fun of. For
stoners, it's kickers; for kickers, it's hipsters. When I was a
research assistant during my brief stint as an astrophysics
major, our whipping boys of choice were the UFO believers and
perpetuators of the theory that aliens built the pyramids. Our
views of these "pseudoscientists" varied from mild amusement to
fear their wackiness could bring about the end of civilization.

Ironically, the first story I ever wrote for the Houston Press
turned out to be on the Roswell exhibit at Space Center Houston.
I had expected the alien angle to be simply a way to lure people
in, at which point they would discuss NASA's search for microbes
on Mars. What I found instead was the center's CEO calling the
few informational plaques on display "wall candy," used to
justify his latex masks and spaceships. He had no problem
peddling NASA conspiracy; it was the science he took issue with.

The argument for privatizing Space Center was that the
organization could become more efficient without compromising
its original mission. Every compromise that followed has been
excused as "what the people want." There was "Extreme Sports,"
then a tribute to farts and burps called "Grossology" (the least
offensive, since it passed on real information about biology).
But none could equal the Roswell exhibit -- until now.

It would not be possible to come up with an exhibit more at odds
with everything a research institution like NASA stands for than
"Crop Circles." A TV documentary -- which, scientists complained
to The Dallas Morning News, creatively edits their "this is
crap" answers to make them look like supporters of this kind of
madness -- plays in the background. The walls display official-
looking newspaper clippings, which use fancy terminology like
"plasma" and "magnetic fields." Exactly two of them express what
most scientists believe, which is that those groups that
admitted to pressing down the cornstalks with boards weren't
lying. They are adjacent to an article that says "scientists"
are angry that these "hoaxters" trivialize the idea of alien
origins. (No, scientists fear crop circles delegitimize honest
scientific pursuits like SETI.)

Where have these articles appeared in print? Nowhere. They were
written by the exhibit curator, taken mostly from the book Vital
Signs, by Andy Thomas.

Among the quotes used to push the idea of alien creation is Carl
Sagan's "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." What
Space Center fails to mention is that Sagan devoted much of his
career to debunking claims of UFO visitation. This particular
quote is from Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit"; it's given as an
example of common logical fallacies pseudoscientists use to sell
you a line of bullshit.

For Space Center, the mandate to "bring people in" has gone
beyond movie tie-ins. They now feel obligated to trump up and
sell ideas that NASA scientists give absolutely zero credence.
And they're getting more visitors as a result. But understand:
Space Center Houston has nothing to do with science. It's about
selling tickets, even if they have to sell out NASA to do it.




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