IT’S BEEN a quiet old time in the Waikato, these past few months. My cat hasn’t channelled any past lives, nor has she been abducted by aliens.

I suspect, though, the little green guys made off with a few of the brain cells of a journalistic friend of mine. I should not be too unkind about it, but it’s a little disappointing when someone you know is responsible for a gullible item appearing in the local press.

Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s reality, she begins, and goes on to tell the story of Alec Newald, who, on a late summer day in 1989 set off on the drive from Rotorua to Auckland. Except he got abducted en route and 10 days of his life were mysteriously swallowed. The aliens chatted to him about evolution, he remembers, and following his experience, he has been “hounded by what he sees as Government agents working to a secret international agenda.”

And Alec was such a normal lad, before all this started. Now he’s written a book about his experiences, which will be on the shelves as we speak. The paper was even giving away two copies of the book.

What saddens me is that the writer, Sue, knows I’m a skeptic. In fact, she wrote a small piece on “What Skeptics Are” prior to last year’s conference. I wish she’d thought to pick up the phone and try to get in a small, even token, comment from the other side of the fence.

I decided I’d make a friendly phone call to her and make the above point — and found she was out of the office. Did I want to leave a message? her colleague asked.

And then the Devil he did grip me. Rather than leaving a nondescript message, I informed the unknown journalist that yes, I would leave a message, and as editor of the NZ Skeptic I wished to nominate Sue for the Bent Spoon Award, for gullibility in journalism. The reception was cool. Distinctly. But later, speaking with Sue, I felt I’d made my point. Interestingly, a few days later, we got a call from another reporter on the same paper who wanted comments regarding clairvoyants. I doubt there was any connection, however.

As a journalist, I am aware you cannot cover every aspect of a story, it’s simply not possible given time constraints. However, I believe journalists should try to give as balanced an account of a situation as possible, rather than merely regurgitating, especially when the issue is contentious. Which is not what happened here. Sue told me that after the story was published she got a few calls, one from a Hamilton medium who said now that the paper was obviously writing New Age pieces, did she want to do something on them.

The other day I was visiting my dear old mum, and one of those ghastly American chat shows was on the TV. I never listen to these things and I had no idea if the anchorwoman was Sally Raphael or Elle McPherson, but the topic was aliens. And they had a captive, token skeptic. The poor man, every time he leaned forward in his chair and tried to say something, the rest of the onstagers jeered and the audience hissed. It was not an environment conducive to rational, informed discussion. He probably wished he could be whisked away on a flying saucer. They even had an alien present, a busty, blond-haired woman, no doubt from California. Of course, the body she was in (apart from its plastic surgery) was human, she was just visiting, as it were.

Have to laugh really. It’s the only possible solution.

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