Men in Black

I enjoyed Edward Summer's review of Contact in "Men in Black and Contact: Night and Day" (Skeptical Inquirer, November/December 1997). However, I was disappointed that he was so dismissive of Men in Black. In its own way, I think that Men in Black can do every bit as much as Contact to promote critical thinking.

The premise of Men in Black is that everything printed in the supermarket tabloid newspapers is true. Space aliens, government conspiracies, secret organizations, suppressed technologies, doomsday scenarios—everything. This premise leads naturally to some questions.

Men in Black weaves a consistent—fantastic, but consistent—story that answers all these questions. If, upon reflection, you don't find this story entirely credible—congratulations!—you're thinking critically.

If you don't believe this story, perhaps you'd like to make up one of your own. Anyone can make up a story. It just has to be internally consistent, and account for all the observed facts—in this case, everything printed in the tabloid press.

Be forewarned that once you've rejected one story because it didn't stand up to critical scrutiny, you may find it difficult to accept other stories uncritically. You may find it difficult to accept all the facts as reported in the tabloid press. You may find yourself thinking critically about matters besides space aliens and government conspiracies. Critical thinking is like that: it won't stay in its box.

Men in Black is entertainment, in the best big-budget, high-intensity, effects-laden Hollywood style. But the same intensity that entertains viewers also confronts viewers—in a very visceral way—with the implications of their beliefs. And that is the genesis of critical thought.

The Skeptical Inquirer, 1998 January/February


Steven W. McDougall / resume / swmcd@world.std.com / 1997 November 15