To the reader: The topic of the following still unfinished essay is a popular radio show hosted by Art Bell. Readers unfamiliar with the show can find out something about it here: The Art Bell Show. Readers can find out more about the author of this essay at his homepage: Ralph Greenberg's Home Page.


       I first heard the Art Bell Show in the summer of 1996. Some aspects of the show bothered me considerably, especially the extremely distorted view of science and the scientific community as articulated by a number of the frequent guests and also by Art himself. But my primary feeling was that the kind of show that he hosted had a tremendous potential that was far from realized. During the period from the Fall of 1996 to the Fall of 1998, I sent many e-mail messages to Art, and also a number of faxes and letters. He responded to many of them, and this encouraged me to feel that I could possibly have a constructive influence on the show. In what follows, I will describe some of my experiences with Art and will try to explain my point of view more fully.

         Some of my first messages to Art concerned a rather amusing incident that took place in late August and early September, 1996.. There was an individual who appeared as a guest for about an hour on Coast-To-Coast one night. He was introduced as a graduate student in the Astronomy Department at the University of Washington. I will refer to him as MTC (his initials). He seemed knowledgeable about Astronomy (as would be expected of a graduate student in that field), but he also had a strong interest in UFOs and seemed to have a great deal of respect for Richard Hoagland. That baffled me and so I decided to get in touch with MTC to try to understand what he admired about Hoagland. I was unable to locate him in the student directory. Art announced one night that MTC would again be a guest and so I sent an e-mail message to Art telling him that the fellow was not listed as a student at U.W.. Art responded quickly and suggested that I try a different spelling of his name. That didn't work and so I then walked across campus to the Astronomy Department and inquired about how to get in touch with MTC. But when I mentioned his name, the administrative secretary of the Department asked me who he was. They had received several calls about him and had no idea who he was. I then sent another e-mail message to Art telling him about this and urging him to contact the administrative secretary of the Astronomy Department himself to verify that my information was accurate. I provided him with her telephone number. He again responded, saying simply that MTC was a graduate student at U.W.. So I sent another message to Art about this and again urged him to contact the Astronomy Department himself. Art responded quickly, but still seemed to refuse to believe what I told him. And so, MTC appeared as a guest on Coast-To-Coast again (for four hours this time!). Art introduced him as an astronomer from the University of Washington and repeatedly referred to him in that way. The following week I sent a message to the administrative secretary telling her what happened. She then contacted Art directly. In response to my next e-mail message about MTC, Art told me that he had announced that MTC was indeed not a graduate student after hearing from the University. But Art knew that I was a Professor at U.W. and so I could not understand his response. It seemed to me that he had already heard from the University when I contacted him the week before.

         I didn't really know how to interpret that incident. It seemed like a harmless prank on the part of MTC, tricking Art Bell into having him as a guest. I believed that Art was so excited at the prospect of having a real astronomer talk about UFOs that he just let his guard down and didn't take my messages about MTC seriously. That was my reaction at the time, but eventually I came to see that Art's tolerance for dishonesty on the part of his guests was rather high. There were other occasions where I challenged the honesty of various guests, but it consistently turned out to be a frustrating experience. In some cases, Art could have easily determined the truth, but seemed unwilling to do that.

         The show was sometimes quite interesting and entertaining. I valued the opportunity to hear the views about paranormal phenomena, UFOs, etc. from those individuals who had pursued those topics with sincerity and dedication. Because of the talk-show format, it was also a chance for me to get some glimpses of what the public (or at least part of the public) thought about science. That was sometimes quite disturbing to me, especially when one could detect some real anger or hostility. It was a revelation to me to hear such views. Unfortunately, some of Art's frequent guests seemed intent on exploiting and exacerbating this kind of hostility. Occasionally, Art had "mainstream" scientists as guests, and he did an excellent job of interviewing them and bringing out their views about topics which one might never have had a chance to hear elsewhere, and that did help.

         I felt that the Art Bell Show had the potential of creating a real dialogue between the scientific community and the general public. The show often presented a very distorted view of science and the scientific community (or so it seemed to me). This made it clear to me how much misunderstanding there is, and one obvious remedy would have been to offer the show as an informal and relaxed forum in which scientists could give their views about their fields, and also about paranormal or UFO topics. To some extent, this did happen, but not nearly enough in my opinion. The balance seemed way out of whack, and I often complained to Art about that. .

         I frequently urged Art to have more scientists as guests, especially those whose interests were directly related to some of the common themes on the show. I suggested quite a few individuals who I felt sure would have been absolutely terrific guests. My one success was Seth Shostak. In 1997, I had had a brief e-mail exchange with Seth about Europa. I knew that Art was quite taken by the movie Contact. It seemed obvious that a SETI scientist like Seth might interest Art, and so, early in 1998, I sent him a message suggesting Seth as a guest. It seemed like a perfect match to me. Art responded immediately, asking me to contact Seth about it. I provided Art with Seth's telephone numbers, Seth with Art's contact information, and within a month or so, Seth actually appeared as a guest. He has become a semi-regular guest over the years since then.

         Some of the others suggestions that I made were: the Egyptologist Mark Lehner (author of The Complete Pyramids), the biochemist Robert Shapiro who had written Life Beyond Earth (with Gerald Feinberg) and Origins (about theories concerning evolution), and the planetary scientist John S. Lewis who had written Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets, and Planets and Rain of Iron and Ice: The Very Real Threat of Comet and Asteroid Bombardment. Unfortunately, to my disappointment, Art never pursued any of those possibilities. Once I made a suggestion that he should have a guest talk about "String Theory." I tried to make it tantalizing by mentioning that physicists often refer to that field as the "Theory of Everything" and offered to ask around about the best person to talk about that topic. Art never responded to that message, but eight or nine months later, Michio Kaku, a leading expert on the topic, contacted Art and quickly became one of his favorite guests.

         The show provided a forum for disseminating novel, unconventional, imaginative, even wild and farfetched ideas. I could not complain about that at all. But in addition to that, I felt that the show would benefit tremendously if we heard more mainstream scientists or scholars discussing the very same things that others guests discuss, but from their own perspective. More competition of ideas! More debate! I truly think that the audience of the Art Bell Show would have relished that, and learned a lot from it too. Unfortunately, as I gradually realized, Art seemed to be far too protective of some of his very frequent and popular guests such as Richard Hoagland who would have been threatened by direct challenges. I will describe later my own personal experiences concerning my attempts to challenge Hoagland and Art's very confusing reaction. In many of my messages to Art, I strongly complained that his loyalty should be to his listening audience and not to such guests.

         One would think that some of those farfetched or unconventional ideas presented by guests would have generated some really challenging responses from the audience. The format of the show could have encouraged debate between the guests and the audience. Art frequently read faxes sent in by listeners. Many of Art's guests were open to responding to callers. Since the topics were often scientific in nature, there must have been some scientists or scientifically-knowledgeable listeners in the audience who could have challenged the guests. But it rarely happened. This was often one of my greatest disappointments in listening to the show. It was very puzzling to me that guests such as Graham Hancock or Michael Cremo failed to generate some real debate with the audience. Perhaps it was simply a question of numbers - too few scientists among the audience to get through on the phone-lines even if they tried. Religious points of view were very well-represented by the call-ins, but a scientific point of view seemed virtually absent.

         Let me give some examples where the input of scientists would have made a great difference. I mentioned Michael Cremo before. He has written a book entitled Forbidden Archaelogy. I recall one of his appearances on Art Bell's show, which I believe was his first one. At the very start of the interview, the following quote was read from the dustcover of Cremo's book:

"Your book is pure humbug and does not deserve to be taken seriously by anyone but a fool" .

This quote was attributed to the noted anthropologist Richard Leakey. It certainly is a rather harsh evaluation of Cremo's book. Bell and Cremo just laughed it off. The implication was that this quote indicates a closed-minded attitude on the part of Leakey. The possibility that Leakey might be completely justified in his strong opinion was not addressed during the show. It was also never made clear precisely what Leakey was referring to.

         Cremo made two main points:

1. The existence of humans on Earth dates back much further than the few million years that scientists theorize, possibly even to the time when dinosaurs existed.

2. Scientists have rejected evidence which supports that possibility because of a "knowledge filter."

As is typical of the show, Cremo was interviewed for a long time and had an ample chance to explain those points, including examples of the evidence that has been "hidden." It seemed that Cremo was making a strong case that scientists are close-minded about some things - a common theme on the Art Bell show. In fact, one heard similar opinions from many guests on the show and from Art himself. If that is an accurate appraisal, then it should be very disturbing to everyone, and especially to scientists such as myself.

         But is that opinion really accurate. It seemed to me that Cremo has created a golden opportunity to look into this - a kind of case study. But that golden opportunity was missed. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, Art never invited any guest on the show to discuss Cremo's book, and especially the above points.

         I felt that this was a typical example of the fundamental problem in Art's approach to the show. The question of when humans evolved on Earth is a fascinating one. Are scientists right, or at least close to the truth about this? Or are they wrong? Did humans and dinosaurs really co-exist? Apparently, Leakey believes that the evidence concerning that last question is overwhelmingly clear. But Art showed no curiosity about these questions, at least not enough to probe into why scientists really believe as they do.

         Is there really a "knowledge filter" which has significantly hampered research in archaeology or other fields of science? Has Cremo really demonstrated this by the contents of his book? Again, Art was satisfied to leave this absolutely crucial issue up in the air. It is a serious accusation about the scientific community?

         Here is one suggestion of something that Art could have done which would have helped enormously. I believe that Cremo would have been willing to participate. Art could have asked Cremo to select two or three of the pieces of evidence presented in the book. Art could have asked scientists in the field to recommend a colleague who is both highly qualified and willing to take the time to carefully examine the evidence selected by Cremo. There are many scientists who are deeply concerned about the public perception of the scientific community, and soI I feel certain that finding such a volunteer would have been relatively easy. Then both Cremo and the scientist volunteer could come on the show and discuss that evidence thoroughly.

         The audience could then have a real opportunity to judge for themselves. But Art never did anything like that.

         Art was something of a puzzle to me. I recall one episode when he stated that he was going to try an experiment. His idea was to take an aerial photograph of some part of the desert near his home which was completely natural and then post it on his website. He would ask the audience to look for anomalies - objects or formations which looked artificial. That seemed like a great idea to me, but I was rather shocked that he would propose such an experiment. It could be perceived as a direct attack on one of his favorite guests - Richard Hoagland. Sometime later, he brought up this idea again, but unfortunately he never pursued it.