Brandeis is one of the world’s best colleges. We’re commonly ranked in the Top 40 in terms of general academic excellence. Most independent organizations who take a look laud us for our top-tier professors, quality science programs and superbly educated students. I know all these facts as well as any other student. There’s not a single person who goes to Brandeis who isn’t skilled in some subject, a fact that makes me exceedingly proud when we consider that Brandeis has about 6,000 students.
So why—and I have trouble even typing this out without feeling ill—did I have to have a series of arguments the other day with a student who didn’t believe in the moon landing? This is one of human history’s most defining moments. It’s the culmination of decades of research and work and incremental, hard-won scientific advancement. The evidence that it happened is overwhelming: Moon rocks can be dated as older than any Earthly rock, mirrors from Apollo 11 can be seen or detected with the correct equipment, and of course there’s the undeniable fact that the Soviet Union could have used their own telescopes and imaging equipment to watch the landings live. If the hostile power with the most to lose didn’t try to deny the reality of the situation, it becomes difficult to lend credence to the Brandeis students who say it didn’t happen.
A major part of the issue is the success of counter-culturism. It’s more popular than ever to go against the established narrative, and in a lot of ways that’s a good thing. We should absolutely question a cultural narrative that allows for things like racial oppression and gross class disparity. American culture is toxic in many ways—ways that Brandeis students, I am proud to say, have always striven to overcome.
The problem arises when it becomes popular to fight that narrative for the sake of the fight itself, especially when the scientific establishment is a part of that narrative. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to anti-vaxxer arguments, or people who firmly believe that pharmaceutical companies have already developed a Miracle Wonder Cure For All Cancer that they refuse to release because of some imagined damage to their bottom line. Sometimes, not everyone is out to get you.
I don’t want to sound too harsh here. As academics, it is our duty to question, to prod, to be skeptical. To say that all conspiracies are false by their nature of being conspiracies is just as anti-intellectual as denying any lunar landing, especially when Western governments have planned so many actual plots—Operation Northwoods and Project MKUltra both spring to mind, having been recently declassified. But when your skepticism is greater than that of the hostile superpower that had every conceivable reason to try to disprove the 1969 American moon landing, maybe it’s time to take a step back and think a little about what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. When you’re more paranoid than the U.S.S.R.—and I mean this in the gentlest possible sense—it’s time to take stock of your beliefs.