Try to imagine you are at a friends’ house, with a large group of people. Someone decides to order pizza for everyone. Someone brings you a slice, and you notice something… strange. The normal stuff of goodness is there: dough, sauce, cheese, pepperoni… There is something extra though, a slimy, salty piece of hatred and discontent: an anchovy.
The thought hits you: “What sadistic, horrible person would order a pepperoni and anchovy pizza?” (Here, I am assuming you don’t like anchovies, but in case you do please be aware I am not writing this for you as I assume you are a cat.) You sit there loudly telling everyone around you how you can’t believe this injustice to pizza, to humans and to your dignity. This must be a top down conspiracy to ruin pizza for everyone present. Heads must roll!
At this point, your friend, we will call her Leah, grabs you and your slice of life altering pizza and leads you back to the box it came from. She deftly opens the box while sliding your slice back into the previously empty space it came from. What you see is a now whole pepperoni pizza, with one single anchovy on what ended up being your slice. What do you do now? Do you whine about you being the lucky customer that got the errant anchovy on what was obviously ordered as a pepperoni pizza? Do you insist that there is no way your slice came from this pizza and there must be a massive cover-up possibly involving the CIA? Is it Ancient Aliens?!?
(Hint: It’s totally Ancient Aliens)
So why am I talking about pizza? I’m hoping to give a good analogy to how we receive and process information. Also, I’m kind of hungry. Most importantly though, I want to make an analogy between this fictional pizza scenario and such perennial favorites like conspiracy theories, miracle medical cures, UFOS and Bigfoot, and even every day political and social stories.
Pundits on 24 hour news channels are the masters of the single slice. If they took the time to check out the whole pizza, they would never get their airtime, and they wouldn’t have nearly as much to scream about. I have previously mentioned a lack of complete information on certain medical practices as well. While I won’t be focusing on either of those right now, they are definitely victims of the partial information fallacy. What I would like to focus on is… Ancient Aliens.
(I told you it was Ancient Aliens!)
Specifically old medieval paintings favored by the TV show Ancient Aliens, which is aired on the History Channel (which no longer apparently cares about history). No, not the Renaissance paintings of angels in Old Testament they love to use as evidence that Angels were aliens (because renaissance painters were totally around when the Old Testament stories were written). No, these are certain paintings, of either the crucifixion of Christ, birth of Christ or the Virgin Mary being celestially impregnated, that have some strange background features that look suspiciously akin to what we think of as UFOs. When I first saw this, I actually thought that it was somewhat convincing. Not that it meant there were UFOs bombing around in the 14th century, but that it was an odd thing to be included. However, I learned later that it is easily explained. I won’t go through a debunking here, as it has been too well done by others. Watch this excellent video on it though:
In case you don’t have 10 minutes, the TL;DW version: On their own or in low resolution, they seem like UFOs. Better resolution shows faces, people, or a ring of Angels. Basically once you look at other artwork from the time period, the UFO resembling bits seem less like definite alien spacecraft and more like stylized versions of something found in many other paintings from that time and subject matter. They just happen to kind of, maybe, look like a flying saucer, in these few incidents.
So starting from the Ancient Aliens viewpoint, we are given a close look at one slice, and it sure looks like it’s from an all anchovy pizza. Once we get just a little bit of context of the art style of the time and see that adding floating objects in the sky was representative of something clearly not meant to be actual flying saucers, our little slice seems less impressive and more distasteful in comparison. Sure, that small part still looks weird and different from the rest, but it’s just an anomaly. This isn’t the only time Ancient Aliens does this, but this one is the one that best fits into my horrible pizza analogy. It’s also an easy one to debunk by just giving a bit more information. The show can get away with this because most people do not have an in depth interest and knowledge in medieval Christian artworks. Though I’m sure there is someone well versed in that type of artwork was violently screaming at their television while family members got ready to dial 911.
Every subject is not as easy to get perspective on as the “Ancient Aliens can’t be bothered to look at more than three pieces of medieval art” example above. Finding out more information on some subjects doesn’t nullify the original premise, but it can at least put it into perspective. Many political scandals and social outrage stories can seem at least less offensive, if not inane, when the full information is given.
So the next time you hear a wild claim, whether it be aliens in paintings, medical stories that seem too good to be true or the latest outrage story that pundits are screaming about, just stop and think to yourself: “Is this just a slice? What would this whole thing look like if I found the whole pie?” Then go order some pizza, no anchovies.