James Mellaart was a showy and well-known archeologist who made a name for himself as an authority figure. This article should now dispel any notion of such lofty accolades:
A famed archaeologist well-known for discovering the sprawling 9,000-year-old settlement in Turkey called Çatalhöyük seems to have faked several of his ancient findings and may have run a "forger's workshop" of sorts, one researcher says.
James Mellaart, who died in 2012, created some of the "ancient" murals at Çatalhöyük that he supposedly discovered; he also forged documents recording inscriptions that were found at Beyköy, a village in Turkey, said geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, president of the Luwian Studies Foundation. Zangger examined Mellaart's apartment in London between Feb. 24 and 27, finding "prototypes," as Zangger calls them, of murals and inscriptions that Mellaart had claimed were real.
This is nothing new, and I had outlined such cases of fraud in my book Don't Believe It!: How lies become news.
But science journalism isn't as knowing as it pretends it is. Discover gave Mellaart a free pass here and here, making him out to be some sort of Great Man. Science also committed the same error in judgement.
But the STEM-based beats have always been more advertorial than actual news. The hack is simple: defer to the Great Men in lab coats, and assume those disciplines know everything and never make mistakes or commit frauds. Assume their studies are infallible, and that there is complete agreement and no debate at all.
The coverage never questions, let alone be critical, scrutinizing the methods of studies, or the findings that result from flawed and even fraudulent studies. If a scientist said it, then it must be right.
And that is public relations, not journalism.
That is how the Mellaarts of the world get away with their games. They know how to get attention for themselves, sound authoritative, and then do all sorts of shady and sketchy things to pretend to be right. Their feints and ruses go unchallenged by journalists, who do not know how to navigate through the ways of academia. They do not understand that most studies are flawed, and must be challenged by default.
You have to ask questions. You have to challenge everything because even if a collective theory sounds right, it doesn't mean it is -- or that you do not have charlatans weaselling in under the cover of legitimate researchers, making up studies and their results.
Anyone who shuts down scientific debate by trying to make skeptics sound evil or stupid or doing it so people do not take a closer look at the experimental design, methods, and veracity of results. A legitimate study can be examine critically, and still stand up to scrutiny. Those studies can be replicated. There is solid evidence and proof of the truth.
Journalism has enabled many such bad studies and fraudulent findings over the years by reporting it as if it were verified fact -- and it wasn't.
It has always been a prevalent problem that most have no acknowledged -- but should have decades ago. Appealing to authority is a logical flaw for a reason -- because it opens the door for unscrupulous grifters to waltz in and destroy lives and infect the information stream with ease.