Thursday, May 10, 2012

South African Crank of the week: Michael Tellinger

I'm calling this "Crank of the Week" because it's something I'd like to write every week. It's an ambitious goal, given my dearth of blogging recently, but I'm determined (at least I am today) to make this a regular thing.

In this series, I'm going to be doing little summaries of the pseudo-science of a number of notable South African cranks - people advancing dodgy, and often demonstrably false, factual claims about the world, who have made a bit of a name for themselves in the media.

I chose Michael Tellinger for my inaugural edition because he was one of the very first cranks I blogged about, back in the day. And, interestingly, that post is still the most popular one on my blog. (The fact that I didn't write it myself is a perpetual thorn in my ego, but what can you do?)

Okay, let's get started.

Michael Who?

Look! A Rock! Aliens!
(image from
used without permission)
Tellinger's been around. His only formal qualification is as a pharmacist (the height of that career seems to have been appearing in a Sentrum ad a decade or so ago as the designated pharmacist - even though he wasn't practicing at the time). His CV also includes having been a rapper in the 1980's. Word.

But we don't care about that. The interesting parts start in 2005 when he published Slave Species of God.

What's He On About?

Slave Species is essentially a plagiarism retelling of the ideas of Zecharia Sitchin. The idea goes like this:

There is another large planet in our solar system, unknown to science, named Nibiru. It spends most of its time in the outer solar system, but its highly elliptical orbit brings into the inner solar system once every 3600 years or so. When that happens, it has weird gravitational interactions with Earth, causing all manner of catastrophes including, but not limited to, geographic pole shifts.

Nibiru is also inhabited by a super-intelligent race of aliens called the Annunaki. From time to time, they've visited Earth and its inhabitants, meddling with, creating and enslaving the local apes - essentially founding the Human race, as well as laying the foundations for all our technology and our entire civilisation.

If the terms "Nibiru" and "Annunaki" sound familiar to you, you'll recognise that they are names that arise from Sumerian mythology. Sitchin and Tellinger use a creative silly wrong set of translations of ancient Sumerian texts and symbols to "prove" that just about all ancient mythology should be taken as literal, historical fact - just replace terms like "gods", "angels" and so on with "aliens", and you're all set.

Built by aliens, obviously!
(image from
used without permission)
Tellinger has taken this notion a step further, applying it to the South African context. In Slave Species and his subsequent two books, he's gone touring around South Africa, looking for interesting and old archaeological sites (as well as uninteresting rocks) and making up stories about how they were built by aliens as landing pads for their spacecrafts or whatever.

Why Is He A Crank?

Well, because his ideas are demonstrably false, and yet he continues to promote them. Zecharia Sitchin promotes obviously wrong interpretations of Sumerian and Akkadian artwork (mistaking depictions of regular stars for depictions of the planets of our solar system, for instance) and claiming that these, and other, ancient people had knowledge they lacked (as well as lacking knowledge they had).

Most of what Tellinger and Sitchin say sounds reasonable and even plausible to the uninformed lay-person, but doing just the slightest bit of real research reveals it all to be nonsense.

But it doesn't stop there. Tellinger is also actively involved in the local UFO community, having organised a UFO conference late last year. In addition, he's currently trying to get out of paying his bond on a property in Midrand by suing the banks for being, um, banks. Oh, and he's just started his own political party based on a platform of communism (that he has transparently rebranded "contributionism"). How he intends to buy his way onto the ballot with his currency-free-society platform remains unanswered.

Although I haven't actually met the man, he and I do have a number of acquaintances in common. Based on what I've heard of him, seen in his videos and read in his books, my assessment of the man is that he's clearly very bright, and even a rational person. I have a hard time accepting that he seriously believes the stuff he publishes, although I can't be certain of that. He's clearly a charismatic character, and has surrounded himself with a dedicated (dare I say 'cult-like') following of truth-seekers who buy every word he says.

As a sceptical community, I think Tellinger bears watching. His influence is hardly diminishing, and his nonsense shouldn't go unchallenged.