Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
New Heroes, or The Kitchen of Sensations

Where they get reports about spaceships in Tunguska and little green men?

From time to time reports appear in the mass media about "sensational" quasi-scientific projects whose inventors no one know as "trailblazers" and "heroes". This and the "deepwater exploration" for the sunken steamship "Chelyuskin" and the discover of the wreckage of a "spacecraft" in Tunguska, and "facts" from the other world. Why do they appear in the press with enviable regularity? Who is propagandizing this "research" and why are considerable financial resources devoted to it? Sergey Melnikoff, a man whose whole life has been spent dealing with the organization of expeditions to the most inaccessible corners of the planet, the author and producer of the serials "Chas priklyucheniy [An Hour of Adventures]", "Okhotniki za sokrovishchami [Treasure Hunters]", and "Dlya dikikh zhivotnikh mesta v mire net [There are no Places in the World for Wild Animals]" answers these questions exclusively for Vip.Lenta.Ru.

Sergey, what do you think is the main reason for the fabrication of such reports?

The factor is the human ego. There are an enormous number of people who wish to seem heroes and trailblazers, but the majority of such people do not have any basis for this, neither the education, nor persistence, nor talent. Then fantasy enters. There are somewhat classical means of creating and "hyping" what interests the public. The prescriptions are not ingenious. By the way, neither are the methods of refuting them.
The first means. Take a topic known to interest a large number of readers with a low educational level. Let's say, some question from the field of religion or history. For example, let's take "Noah's Ark". There is a countless amount of literature dedicated to historical "research" of the existence of this legendary vessel. At the same time, there are completely scientific papers which discuss the discovery of artifacts testifying to a catastrophic flood in various parts of the Earth. There is a third level of information - blatant inventions of the type of the "space" pictures of Ararat with details of an unknown large object in the side of a glacier. Here's a ready theme for you for a "research" expedition. Further "hyping" of such a project depends on the skill of the organizer in finding sources of financing, a favorable supply of materials to the mass media, and, of course, the authors' personal fantasies.
It is necessary to say honestly that often the organizers of such expeditions themselves wholeheartedly believe in the information they have fabricated. They do not subject it to critical thinking, do not conduct a comprehensive analysis of the information, and are ready to take on faith any really crazy theory supporting their hypotheses. I call these people "white" adventurers. Sometimes their efforts lead to accidental discoveries (usually unconnected with the initial goals), which actually are valuable and enrich our civilization with new knowledge. But this happens quite rarely. Most often such search expeditions end with nothing.

That is, in your classification, there also exist "black" adventurers?

Undoubtedly. Only I call them something else, "dirty". They include people who are consciously juggling facts or presenting well known events as mysterious. As a rule such people are motivated by a thirst for glory and money which they can get for projects often conducted virtually. I'll explain what I have said with examples.

”The author of a book, famous ophthalmologist and researcher Eh. R. Muldashev, continues to talk about his scientific expedition to Tibet in search of the legendary City of Gods. According to ancient legend told by lamas, the bearers of age-old wisdom in the City of Gods, under a statue of "Reading Man" there are stored gold tablets of Lemurians in which the knowledge of ancient civilizations is recorded. In this book the reader finds out about new adventurers of the participants of the expedition to the mysterious cave of Kharati where the golden tablets are stored and also finds out many interesting things about the Lake of Demons, the portents of Shambala, etc. The adventures begin....”
(This is the advertisement for the publication of the second volume of the "Cities of the Gods"; the publisher is Olma-Press, 2003).

One of the largest projects of this type was the "discoveries" of ophthalmologist Ernst Muldashev of his City of the Gods (this is what the three-volume book he published is called) which he fabricated from beginning to end. The subtitle of the book is as follows: "Sensational Discoveries of a Tibetan Scientific Expedition". I cite this subtitle especially since it contains a complete selection of the key words of scientific charlatanism. It is especially troubling that the "hyping" of this opus has been taken up by such periodicals as "Argumenty i Fakty", which was once considered a serious publication.
So, AiF published 70,000 copies (this is an enormous press run for these times) of a book about a virtual expedition. But in the 540-page publication there is not one expedition photograph!!! How can one be in such places and not bring back a single photograph! Only drawings and sketches. Rather, there is one photograph, Muldashev himself in an expedition cloth cap. Obviously, as proof of his field surveys. If the works of [Madame] Yelena Blavatskaya are interesting and useful for their ethnographic excursions, then Muldashev's book is a collection of 6,666 stupidities.
Muldashev was never in those regions which he writes about. I personally called him from the office of Sergey Shumakov, who was at that time the chief producer of ORT entertainment programs, and proposed organizing an expedition at my company's expense plus an honorarium of $500,000 if Ernst Rifgatovich would point out the mysterious cave with the aliens. This was when Muldashev was actively searching for sponsors for his expedition. The author of the future bestseller declined.

But what can you say about the discovery of the alleged remains of an alien spacecraft in the Tunguska River?

This is one more classic example of "dirty" technologies. Primitive, wretched, but also fruitful. It is in the very example of such reports that the method of their preparation becomes apparent. An obligatory condition for such "news" are the key words "secret", "sensation", "scientific expedition", "space photosurvey", "scientists’ version", etc. They force the uneducated reader to trust in the seriousness of the charlatans' intentions. To trust their "scientific" approach to the "study" of what they themselves nicknamed with the word "problem".
For example, let's take the report of the results of the expedition, "Scientists Have Found the Remains of a Crashed UFO in the Tunguska". I cite the "official" account:

”On Friday Yuriy Labvin, the President of the "Tunguska Space Phenomenon" Siberian Public State Foundation, confirmed to the press the sensational information about the results of an unique expedition to the location where the Tunguska meteorite fell.
As Yuriy Labvin reported, the scientists have managed to discover material in Evenkiya belonging to a technical device of extraplanetary origin. In his words, scientists have found some "technically advanced assemblies" between Baykit and Poligus. "Judging from everything, the assemblies themselves are enormous, they've been overgrown in the taiga for almost 100 years. But we managed to break off two small handfuls of material. I note that this was not easy", declared Labvin. A preliminary analysis of the material has been made: the metal is an alloy of iron silicate and an unknown substance. A scientist noted that iron silicide is used to manufacture missile valves. "These and other finds on the basis of data we already had earlier allowed us to make a hypothesis: a meteorite actually exploded over Evenkiya. But an alien spacecraft whose remains we managed to discover also exploded at the same time. Analyses which we plan to finish by the end of 2004 will help us determine the correctness of this idea", the scientist noted”.
(From an account of the press conference of Yuriy Labvin)

First, information about the idea which needs to be checked and rechecked is immediately and unconditionally awarded the status of a sensation. Second, look who is the author of the report. A club of interests from some Krasnoyarsk basement which has suddenly become a Siberian Public State Foundation, naturally with its own president. I'll give a million to one that there is no such foundation even in the phone book. The very concept of Public State is a complete heresy. People simply do not read carefully and attentively what is stuffed into them. Or here, the key phrase in this report:

“At a press conference in Krasnoyarsk President Yuriy Labvin told about the unique results of an expedition to the location of the crash of the Tunguska meteorite. A scientist confirmed the sensational reports that the participants of the expedition had discovered fragments of an alien flying object at the site of the crash”.

Have read such a "weighty" text of "a scientist" who confirmed to representatives of the mass media the clever words he had said, the reader should not for a minute should fail to suspect that the respected publication is feeding him primitive "disinformation" made up in the taiga by a newly-christened priest of science whose arguments are fortified by reference to participants of an expedition (as a rule, nameless).
Ordinary psychological tricks come into play, forcing the reader to believe in the earnestness of the undertaking (there were many expeditions, but only the latest one gave a unique result) and its strong technical resources (equipped with metal detectors and other instruments...), the seriousness of the preliminary preparations (Labvin reported that the information of the space photosurvey of this region of Evenkia is evidence of the presence of metallic fragments which might be related to "an almost 100-year-old accident caused by technical reasons", and in the colossal difficulties associated with acquiring factual material (but we managed to break off two small handfuls of material. I note that this was not easy).
As a result the reader is presented with complete nonsense. In order to understand this, it is sufficient to have a high school education and read the text of the “scientific" report carefully. No serious scientist has ever commented on similar "research". But in vain. If one doesn't rebut crooks in science, then science itself will soon lose its authority.

Sergey, you recently sharply criticized the results of the Chelyuskin-70 expedition. In your opinion, was this the same sort of adventure?

Unquestionably. I have already described my thoughts about this, but this is what one of the participants of this expedition wrote to me. The participant was also a person very interested in propagandizing a new Chelyuskin epic. However the conscience of a real scientist forced him to look at what had happened objectively (the letter is published with the author's permission):

”I am Aleksandr Shchegortsov, one of the participants of the Chelyuskin-70 expedition, chief of staff of the Federation Council Committee on Youth and Sports Affairs, and a doctor of sociology. I am a CMAS [lifesaving] instructor. I familiarized myself with your publication "The Issue of the Discovery of the Chelyuskin". I want to clarify that the Russian Academy of Sciences did not participate in the Chelyuskin expedition. At our request, it assisted in its organization. In particular, in renting the ship. Specialists and RAN scientists were not involved.
Initially the captain of the scientific research ship Akademik Lavrent'yev was given only a transport mission, to deliver a group of people from point A to point B, specifically from the port of Anadyr' to the place the Chelyuskin was lost. Therefore the ship did not have specialists able to conduct search operations with appropriate equipment. The deepwater apparatus was also not equipped with search equipment and was used only, as you have correctly noticed, as a trivial "teletorpedo". The search was conducted spontaneously and was not done systematically. The expedition was extremely poorly prepared. This means its scientific support, both technically and organizationally. There are many questions about the makeup of the expedition and its program. You will well note that the success of an expedition is established at its preliminary preparation stage. All the attention turned out to be concentrated on PR actions. I unfortunately wasted a lot of time in the expedition. It did not have a scientific character, but rather a tour advertising and commercial nature.
The findings and statements made by A. Mikhaylov (the leader of the Chelyuskin-70 expedition), reflect only his personal point of view. Statements that the Chelyuskin was caught in mud seems to me naive (to put it mildly). The "teletorpedo" relayed the sea bottom along which large Kamchatka crabs and starfish moved. Their habitat could not be such muddy parts of the sea bottom. The remains of the Chelyuskin could hardly have been destroyed by the keels of ice fields. Their length (depth) in the Chukotka Sea can only reach 10-12 meters. A thorough search for sectors of the possible location of the Chelyuskin was not conducted, there was no trawling, no soil samples from the sea bottom were brought up, and no measurements of magnetic anomalies confirming the presence or absence of masses of metal on the sea bottom were made.
There is no strictly scientific evidence that the Chelyuskin is at the indicated place. Therefore, there is no justification for saying that the information about the loss of the Chelyuskin was falsified. The account of the expedition does not have a scientific character and does not contain factually useful material. It is possible that an expedition with a different makeup and more scientifically and organizationally prepared might make dives to the Chelyuskin, although there is no practical sense in this. Our Commission supported this action as a publicity measure, drawing attention of the public to the feat of the Chelyuskin crew and the pilots who rescued them on the 70th anniversary of this event. The Commission will not give these organizers support again”.

Such "research" is not as shameless as can appear at first glance. Most often, organizers have to resort to outright forgery and the falsification of facts in order to support their ideas. In the case of the search for the Chelyuskin this was displayed in a most serious fashion. For example, BBC News' Russian Service passed off a photograph of the American deep-water craft Alvin made by the Smithsonian Oceanographic Institute as the "Titanic", passing off a photo known to the entire world as photographs of the First Russian Channel in the Chukchi Sea.
The fact of the virtual nature of the Russian underwater museum itself is interesting; Aleksey Mikhaylov calls himself the general director. Here is what certain Moscow scuba divers wrote to me about this:

“I was invited on this adventure and declined and there are many reasons for this. Aleksey Mikhaylov is no leader, but an ordinary charlatan...There is no Russian underwater museum, it is the fruit of the imagination of Mikhaylov (try to even call this museum; I am not saying look at its exhibits).
As regards Aleksey, his "malfindings" are no secret to anyone. He pushes scams with envious persistence: this dive center in the Maldives, and the opening of a store trading in equipment for divers in Moscow, and writing out Trimix cards without the active status of an instructor (there were strong complaints among instructors). Right now he has organized "The Russian Underwater Museum". What this mythical museum does, no one knows”.

In your opinion, why then was this expedition organized and what is the mechanism of attracting organization sponsors?

In this case, there are two levels of interest. The first is the personal ambition of Mikhaylov. He himself declared them when he wrote an article (already after the publication of articles which had been panned), modestly calling it "The New Chelyuskinites"! He even listed the names of the participants. Obviously, as an awards list. By the way, Shchegortsov wasn't on it. The "chief" of the expedition punished the obstinate "subordinate". He was not considered a "patriot".
The second level is governmental. Putin's Russia is desperately looking for new symbols. They need to seed minds with something different from acts of terrorism and the unceasing pressure of the special services on society. They need ideals. And if the sunken Kursk is not suitable for this concept then the handy, neat data of the Chelyuskin has been completely inserted in the Procrustean bed of the new ideology.
The mechanism of attracting sponsors is also no wonder. The general director of the non-existent museum himself relies on the total ignorance of people sitting at their televisions. They were presented with an opportunity to find and show the "Russian Titanic" in the depths of the severe Arctic seas. There was only not enough mystery for a completely classic connection. Mikhaylov did not start to rack his brains. Understanding that no one would check his word in the literature, much less the archives, he concocted a chain of "riddles", beginning with the reason for the loss of the ship. Operating like an Ostap Bender virtuoso, he simply explained that the ship sank in mysterious circumstances. And that's all! The mass media snatched up an excellent excuse for a sensation.
But then he flooded the fountain of uncontrolled fantasy - a place was found for the "forgotten" ship's log on the bridge and the secret of the place where the damaged ship sank. Mikhaylov even wanted to make a sensation out of his own failure. True, in a purely small-town way. He accused the previous expeditions to the Chelyuskin of lying about the location of the ship using the simple national formula, "a real fool". But feeling political support at his back at the very highest level, the "new hero" was ready to go for broke even when he was caught red-handed according to the principle "lie until a successful finish".

But did the government actually support all this?

At least it doesn't interfere. For the government is a living organism with its own weaknesses and shortcomings. And the work of people who, in sensing this unique ideological commission try to think up something, sometimes absolute nonsense, plays his game. That alone, even a report about some private Russian company planning to send an expedition to Mars in 10 years composed of six (!?) cosmonauts. Note that this happened right after discussions revived in the press about launches of Western private spacecraft.
This is about things that are really fantastic: two large housing modules with a total weight of 300 tons, a greenhouse, the "implantation" of cosmonauts on this wonder-station "somewhere beyond the Moon", and an enormous Mars Rover whose landing gear alone weighs 10 tons...Obviously, in order to heat up interest in their brainchild even more, the organizers thought up [the idea] that the crew would be mixed (men and women) and planned to install video cameras on board which would transmit what was happening inside the craft in real-time. What is this, a scientific project or the next "Behind the Glass" show?
The organizers, among whom, for example, is Oleg Aleksandrov, the representative of an unnamed private company, state with complete seriousness that this entire event will cost them $4-5,000,000, allowing for "the use of existing Russian space industry equipment". And they name completely official organizations which, in their words, have joined this project: the Lavochkin NPO [Scientific Production Organization], the MAI NII [the Scientific Research Institute of the Moscow Aviation Institute], and the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems.

Yes, it sounds like the purest fantasy.

Try and re-read this opus armed with those elementary rules which I talked about earlier. One can say unambiguously that this is about the latest virtual project with the purpose of self-advertisement and maintaining government prestige. Five million dollars and, voila, our guys are on Mars! I want to note that when I talked with Mr. A. Derechin, the deputy general director of RKK Energiya for foreign economic relations, about his flight to the Russian Mir (I was the author of the "space tourist" program back in 1995 and these plans went quite far), he would not agree to launch me into orbit at all for less than $20 million. Just one special launch of a Soyuz costs $45 million. And Mars, three years in one direction, six men, and 300-plus tons of cargo...
In order not to be unsubstantiated, I permit myself to cite Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Portnov, doctor of geological and mineral sciences, professor, and academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences who, having found out about the enterprising "cosmonauts", said the following:

"...the announcement of a group of Russian businessmen, several scientists, and leaders of Russian space enterprises about [their] readiness to send a mixed (men and women) crew to Mars by 2010 seems no less amoral and, undoubtedly, what is more, revolting. Businessmen are ready to invest in this enterprise. In exchange they plan to organize a reality show from the space expedition. The TV cameras will following the lives of the crew and this multi-year serial will be broadcast to Earth in real time. The crew is mixed, men and women, and this gives a spicy touch to a purely scientific expedition. It is hard to say who is taking whom for a ride: the businessmen the scientists, or the scientists the businessmen. But one thing is obvious: even the very "promotion" of such an idea in a semi-impoverished country is evidence of the last stage of moral degradation".

Since we've already talked about space, what can you say about the theories about UFO's and visits of aliens to Earth?

But what you're talking about, "little green men"...this is the most shameless show of them all. A world view and a level of education of a person determine his interests and belief in facts which are in fact quite something else. I'll explain by a simple example. Any village grandma unquestionably believes in some little devil in the local cemetery and will tell you lots of "reliable" stories from village folklore. Try and retell all this nonsense to a second-rate scientist. What will his reaction be?
That's also the case in these questions. They exist only for a certain circle of people. And for those who are able to get some profit from these stories. Circulation, profit, notoriety...Or they even contrive to become "new heroes".

Sergey, you take photos of all the little-known and mysterious on our planet. You've spent thousands of hours underwater, worked in caves, in jungles, and in the most inaccessible areas of the world. Strictly speaking, your work can just be described as chasing after sensations. And you are saying that after decades of wandering in dozens of countries of the world you have not encountered the notorious "Abominable Snowman", not photographed a UFO in flight, have not observed traces of ancient contact"...

I've lived an amazing life. I have walked along and across all the mountain systems in the world, sailed the Northern Sea Route, searched for lost cities in the jungles of Central America, panned for gold in Chukotka and Alaska, floated on rafts on rivers in the Taiga, flown, swam, and dived in the Bermuda Triangle, made several around-the-world expeditions, including by air on a motorized aircraft…I knew Cousteau, Darel, Grzimek, Akimushkin, and Senkevich personally. I was friends with Nikolay Drozdov, but not just I, but many of those I have named never saw anything which the “new heroes” relate with such zeal. It is possible, of course, to say that I have simply not been lucky, but that’s your latest story, a whole week old.
I am planning on making a new film in the heart of the Kyzyl Kum desert. Wondrous places, very beautiful. Hundreds of cliff drawings have been found in the wild, sun-scorched foothills of the southern Tien Shan which scientists are just now beginning to catalog and study. My group was invited by gold miners. [Gold mining] is a serious, huge, city-scale enterprise. As we say, we met it 10+. Everything was provided, from all-terrain vehicles to aircraft. And from the very first hours they began to tell a mass of improbable urgent-sounding stories about...UFOs. They’re saying after all simply that extraterrestrials have landed. And they appear over the city and fly over the sand dunes, but most often over the open-pit mines. At the same time, the stories are not in the retelling, as is usual, but from witnesses and eyewitnesses, so to speak. They promised also to show recordings of the radar tracking and fill a bag with ground burned off the landing site. Meanwhile I drove and heard a lot, so much that I could hardly not believe. By the time I left I had minerals of rare beauty, vertebrae of dinosaurs, and pieces of petrified wood in my backpack. They forgot to bring in only the scorched earth.
But the inveterate skeptic has still another year of work in these places. And I promise the editors of that if the lens of my camera catches even the most shabby unidentified flying object, I will immediately make the storyboard of the film public at your website. And we will put the unbelievers to shame together.

Translated by Gary Goldberg