Six former members of Congress will hold a faux congressional hearing this week on whether the American government has covered up evidence of the existence of aliens. This could have been fantastic, because aliens are cool, and because science says the idea of life on other planets is not crazy. But the fake congressional panel has a fatal flaw: it is all Mulders, without a single Scully.
In The X-Files, Agent Fox Mulder believes in all the things — little green men, Roswell, men in black, whatever — and Agent Dana Scully believes in science. Scully forces Mulder to find hard evidence that there's a massive conspiracy to coverup aliens' existence. The problem with this week's alien panel at the National Press Club is that any of the participating members of Congress who might naturally be a Scully have an incentive to suspend their disbelief — because the Citizen Hearing Foundation is paying them $20,000-plus expenses to listen to the testimony.
The panelists are former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, former California Rep. Lynn Woolsey, former Michigan Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, former Oregon Rep. Darlene Hooley, former Maryland Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, and former Utah Rep. Merrill Cook. In an opening statement, Barlett said he hadn't fulfilled his duty in office by failing to hold hearings on extraterrestrials. The ex-politicians will hear some unusual claims, like that there have been 3,500 pilot sightings of UFOs or that "craft" shot down missiles at nuclear bases in the 1960s. In another opening statement, Canadian researcher Stanton Friedman said the government had engaged in a "cosmic Watergate," the Detroit News reported.
Compounding the problem of eyebrow-raising testimony is that several of these politicians have reputations for being a little wacky. Kilpatrick
quit was ousted from Congress after her son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, struggled with accusations of corruption. Bartlett has warned of the dangers of an electromagnetic pulse — a theoretical nuclear blast in space that would fry electrical circuits and kill the Internet. Woolsey once wrote a judge asking for leniency for an acquaintance who pled guilty to rape, and then apologized. Gravel got into trouble for giving a speech about direct democracy at an event cosponsored by a group that denies the Holocaust (Gravel is not a Holocaust denier), and when he ran for president in 2008, he won nothing, but The New York Times said he stole a debate "with outrageous, curmudgeonly statements."
The panel comes as funding for space exploration continues to be cut. The White House's budget asks for $17.7 billion for NASA in 2014, which, as Slate's Phil Plait points out, is $55 million less than its 2012 budget and $170 million lower than in 2013. Funding for planetary science has been brutally cut, even though those have been some of NASA's most successful missions. A little alien-related publicity couldn't hurt the space exploration cause. But it should come from people who actually care about science.