Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 28, 2010

2010 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail


Introduction

Every year, the late-night number-one-rated four-hour radio show Coast to Coast AM spends December 30 and 31 taking “psychic predictions” from the audience, and January 1 with invited “psychics” for predictions for 2010. I had a lot of free time while taking pictures at the telescopes in early January so I listened diligently to all 12 hours and recorded every prediction.

Let’s see how they did, shall we?

Edited to Add: It’s come to my attention (Oct. 2011) that Cal Orey (see the “Professionals” section below) has this post listed on her homepage as me indicating that she was the highest hit-rate “psychic” on Coast to Coast for 2010 predictions. I’ll repeat here what I do below: She was highest because she got 1 right out of 3 that I considered specific enough to actually judge; the other 6 were too vague or obvious to refute or deny. One correct prediction about an earthquake in California is not something that I, personally, would be bragging about. But I’m happy to have her link to my blog.

Audience

Art Bell ran the audience nights and he was very specific: One prediction per customer per year, and no predictions about assassinations, politically-motivated, nor abstract religious ideas would be taken. This year, there were a total of 110 predictions that were recorded. I actually recorded all the ones that made it to air, so in the document I link to below, you will see some items crossed out. Those are ones that Art did not record. My own comments are included in [square brackets] and are things that were not said on the show.

Click here for the PDF with all the audience predictions.

I have now gone through and – with a little help on some items I didn’t know about, scored them. First off, there were 5 predictions that I considered too vague or not actually for 2010, so that gets us down to 105 predictions. Based on my information, 6 came true. That’s a hit rate of 5.7±2.3%. (Uncertainty is calculated by taking the square-root of the number of counts and dividing by the total — this is standard Poisson statistics.)

Here are some of my favorites:

14. Obama goes live on NBC saying that aliens do exist and there will be an alien with him who speaks to the whole world.

16. A lot of people who are handicapped will get out of their wheelchairs and will walk again. (Qualifier: “If they truly believe.”)

26. Re-discovery, by September, of the entrance to the hollow Earth at the North Pole.

52. God is actually a being of light and he is moving back towards us at the speed of light. The result is that he’ll send a laser pulse in that direction and tell us what a bad job everyone’s doing.

81. A celebrity will be exposed as a cannibal.

And my all-time favorite … one of the only hits: 102. There will be no really big changes, it’ll be “pretty much the same-old-same-old.” There’ll be some crises, medical advances, etc., but that’s what happens every year.

Professionals

As a skeptic, I will admit that I derive great joy in seeing professional purveyors of woo resoundingly fail. And the “professionals” that C2C invited on did just that, none with a hit rate above 33%, and that high one was by virtue of only making 3 specific enough predictions to score.

Click here for the PDF with all the “professional” predictions.

In scoring these, I think I was fairly generous, as you may note if you look at the document linked above.

Edited to Add: The percentage correct that I list below are based on (# correct) / ((# predictions) – (# too vague)). I add this because I noticed some confusion on how I gave Orey 33% instead of 11% (1/(9-6) vs. 1/9).

To summarize, here are the scores for each person:

  • Christian von Lahr: 3 out of 15 with 1 too vague for 21%.
  • Paul Guercio: 0 out of 6 with 2 too vague for 0%.
  • Glynis McCants: 0 out of 9 with 8 too vague for 0%.
  • Tana Hoy: 1 out of 16 with 5 too vague for 9%.
  • Cal Orey: 1 out of 9 with 6 too vague for 33%.
  • Terry and Linda Jamison: 1 out of 17 with 5 too vague for 8%.
  • Mark Lerner: 0 out of 5 with 4 too vague for 0%.
  • Jeffrey Wands: 1 out of 16 with 1 too vague for 7%.

The combined generous hit rate was 11.5±4.3%. This is statistically identical to the audience’s hit rate. The one who got the most right was Christian von Lahr with 3, though due to small numbers because of incredible vagueness or obviousness, Cal Orey came out on top percentage-wise.

A trend you will note if you look at the document linked above is that the pros were all, in general, fairly vague in their predictions (fully 1/3 of them were unusable). Or, they were incredibly obvious to the point that they couldn’t be used to score any “psychic-ness.” For example, Cal Orey “predicted” that Italy will have “another quake.” Well, considering that there are tens of thousands of earthquakes of magnitudes >4.0 every year across the planet, this is like saying, “During 2010, the sun will appear in the sky,” or “a politician will tell a lie or half-truth.” Duh.

Some of my favorites were:

von Lahr: Something really big with one of Obama’s daughters involving the letters “P,” “I,” “N,” and “K.” Note that the letters may have spiritual meaning instead or be turned, like the “P” into a “b,” “d,” “6,” or “9.” It could also look like a bed or a wheelbarrow [so, basically you can retrodict anything to this]. The letters are also in the word, “kidnap.”

Orey: If San Francisco gets another quake in 2010, Arnold won’t be very happy.

Lerner: There won’t be a catastrophe.

The one that ticked me off the most was, by far, Tana Hoy, who, if you were/are able to listen, almost seemed scared that we all knew he was just making things up. He started off the interview by calling the host, Ian Punnett, “Ryan,” and then stated obvious things that had already been announced.

The pair that I thought were most full of themselves were the “psychic twins,” Terry and Linda Jamison. They started the interview by claiming that everything they predicted for 2009 had come true, and when they were on later in 2010, they claimed that everything they had predicted in January would still come true. I couldn’t find a C2C interview they did for 2009, but I found one for 2000.

On November 2, 1999, they claimed AIDS would be cured by 2002, “breast cancer drug break-through by 2003,” “a cancer cure, especially for breast cancer by 2007,” 60% of cancer cured by 2008, a cloning of body parts “in the not too distant future … in diagnostic chambers,” and people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, MS, and spinal cord injuries will be walking “within the decade.” Yeah …. didn’t quite happen. And by my tally, they only had one hit for 2010, and it was incredibly vague but I gave it to them. They had some monstrous fails, such as shiitake mushrooms as a prevention for breast cancer and hurricanes devastating Florida. They even failed on some actual statistically likely hits, like a major storm hitting the gulf.

Final Thoughts

As we go into 2011, many, many people will look to alleged psychics, astrologers, mediums, etc. for forecasts about the year ahead. When I first started my blog in late 2008, I averaged about 10-25 hits/day. Then I did a parody of my own psychic and astrologic predictions for 2009, and my hit rate spiked by a factor of 5.

And yet, when we actually write down what these people say and we look at the misses along with the hits, we find that these people are basically full of you-know-what. They aren’t any more “psychic” than the average person making wishful forecasts.

The main difference between these professionals and the lay person is their vagueness. The C2C audience members were willing to make generally very specific predictions such as “Lake Tahoe is actually a volcano,” versus the professionals who know that being specific is to their detriment so will usually try to be more vague, such as “no major tsunami for quite awhile.”

Please let me know if you enjoyed this post – either by commenting and/or taking a moment to rank it with a star count just under the tags for the post. It took a lot of time to write these down and score them and I want to know if it’s worth doing for 2011.

Also, if I have made any mistakes in my scoring, please let me know and I will correct it ASAP.

December 22, 2010

ESP/Psi Effects Are Faster than the Speed of Light?


Introduction

First, this is going to be a short post – more of a musing. Many times when listening to or reading material put out by the “alternative researchers,” I will come across the claim of a psi experiment that seems to defy the universal speed limits of light. Could this be possible?

Speed Limits

Anyone older than 5 years living in a place with roads is familiar with the concept of a “speed limit.” You’re not supposed to go faster than it. If you do and you are caught by law enforcement, you can be fined or incur more severe consequences. But it’s more of a, “You’re not supposed to go faster than this” rather than, “It is not physically possible for you to go faster than this.” If it were the latter, then no one would get speeding tickets because their vehicle, by definition, could not exceed the speed limit.

Such is one of the key concepts behind Special Relativity: There is a “cosmic” speed limit where one of the physical laws of the universe are that nothing can exceed the speed of light in a given medium. In “empty” space, this is roughly 300,000,000 meters per second (or 186,000 miles per second as it is more commonly expressed for those who don’t use metric). The purpose of this post is not to get into the finer points nor evidences for Special Relativity, so suffice to say for the moment that it is a theory in the scientific sense — it has withstood every experimental test.

The one possible exception is the idea of “quantum entanglement,” where if two particles (as in not people, people are not made of one single atom or sub-atomic particle) are entangled, and one’s state is changed, the other will change instantaneously, faster than Special Relativity would seem to allow. This is part of the reason why relativity breaks down at quantum scales, while quantum mechanics breaks down at relativistic scales, and why unifying the two is one of the great goals of physics today.

Anyway …

Size of Earth

Earth is about 6378 km in radius. Its circumference around the equator is 40,075 km (24,902 miles). My point here is that 40,075 km < 300,000,000 m (24,902 miles < 186,000 miles).

In fact, light can go around the entire planet about 7.5 times in a single second. This is one of the few things I actually remember from watching a video in 3rd grade.

Claims

The psi claim will often go along the lines of this example I just heard on an old 2006 Coast to Coast AM episode: “A mother and child are separated by a vast distance, about 100 km apart, and the child is induced with pain by pricking them with a pin repeatedly. Amazingly, the mother, who is hooked up to an EEG, shows a response to the child’s pain faster than the speed of light would allow!!”

Let’s see … 100 km apart, and light travels at 300,000 km per second. So it took light 0.33 milliseconds (0.00033 seconds) to go from the child to the mother — and that’s assuming that we’re talking about some form of light that can travel through buildings. And let’s actually assume that we are talking about something that really could break this speed limit imposed by Special Relativity.

In order for this claim to be true, the following conditions must have been met:

  1. The person or machine pricking the child must be timed to sub-millisecond accuracy, preferably microseconds, but at least on the order of 100 microseconds.
  2. The mother’s EEG must also have resolution on the order of 100 microseconds. Based on this article, the best EEGs have resolutions 10x worse.
  3. The clocks at the two locations must also be synced and have resolutions better than on the order of 100 microseconds.

What’s the likelihood of all these conditions being met? And then, what is the likelihood that there was not an experimental error, as opposed to overturning other very precise timing experiments that have been done that verify Special Relativity?

Final Thoughts

When listening to shows and reading articles where people talk about ESP/psi research, this claim crops of fairly frequently without any real justification nor details into how the experiment was done and the actual controls on the timing. People do not seem to have a concept for how quickly light really travels, for they seem to ignore that these experiments would require the effect to be timed down to the microsecond across significant Earth distances. If you’re talking about a similar experiment done in the same building (say, 100 m instead of 100 km), then you would need timing resolutions down to the nanosecond.

When you hear these claims, they may sound interesting, but be skeptical and search further to see if – for lack of a better way of putting it – the person knows what they’re talking about. And in many cases, find out if the alleged experiment even took place.

December 7, 2010

“I’m Just Putting it Out There …”


Introduction

While drawing circles for my ever-elusive crater database so I can graduate, I was listening to an old Coast to Coast AM episode that featured Neal Adams as a guest. For those of you who do not know, Neal Adams made a name for himself decades ago bringing the character Batman back from a comical character to the dark knight that we know and love today.

But Adams is infamously known for something else: He is a proponent of a whole new field of physics he created in order to explain that Earth, and indeed all the planets, are expanding and creating new matter in their cores.

This post is not about that, however, but rather about the refrain by a branch of pseudoscientists, “I’m just putting it out there …”

The Refrain

I’ve heard this a few times. It’s not done by many die-hard people, such as anti-vaxers, or vehement conspiracy theorists who state their positions with absolute and unwavering conviction, often in a very in-your-face way.

Rather, it is a more insidious method of promoting their particular pseudoscience that comes off as appearing rather humble. My case study here is, as stated in the intro, Neal Adams. Throughout his interview on March 16, 2006, and other interviews of him that I have heard (such as on one of the first Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe episodes), Adams will make some very wild claims, but then he gives the appearance of being humble and backing away. He will make his claim and then state, “But I don’t want you to necessarily believe me. I’m just a comic book artist. I’m just putting this out there.”

Richard C. Hoagland – the “face on Mars” guy – does the same thing frequently where he will talk for hours about some new implication for his special brand of crazy (“hyperdimensional physics”) and then say, “George, I’m just putting this out there for our listeners so they have the information and can do their own research.” More arm-chair conspiracy theorists will also do this: “I’m just putting it out there that shadows should be parallel but aren’t in the Apollo photos.”

False Modesty

To a point, one can accept that. I’m finishing up a paper at the moment about secondary cratering on Mars (I briefly talked about these in my post on why there is no crisis in crater age-dating). In my research, I discovered a new phenomenon related to these craters, and in the paper I suggest a possible explanation – a hypothesis that could be tested by more work (plea$e fund m€!). I’m “putting it out there.”

The first time it’s said, one may accept it. Perhaps the second. But when it is repeated every 10 minutes for three hours, it gets annoying. And it is hollow. And it’s simply a “get out of a corner free” card.

For example, Adams was claiming that you can start with a hydrogen atom (a proton) and by adding a neutron create helium (which is wrong — helium is 2 protons). When a caller confronted him about that, Adams backtracked and appeared to show complete deference to the caller and again reiterated, “I’m just a comic book author, I believe you.” Yet in future interviews I’ve heard and read, and in his current material, Adams claims the same or similar things. When called on pretty much all his claims, he’ll repeat the Argument from Personal Incredulity (“well that just doesn’t make sense to me”), sometimes appear to accept the arguments of his confronter, and then when the conversation is over he’ll go back to what he said before.

More information is usually good. I’m having oral surgery next week to extract two wisdom teeth and I’ve been reading up a lot on the effects of N2O versus IV sedation and what I can expect for recovery (twinkie and ice cream diet for 4 days, here I come!). But the dental websites I’m reading are not trying to convince me that they’re correct and then saying, “Oh, by the way, I’m a law student and have no expertise in this subject, but I’m just putting this information out there.”

Final Thoughts

Neal Adams – and people like him – should stand behind what they say or not say it at all. Creating a whole elaborate “alternative” scenario, and then extolling the cop-out of, “But I’m not an expert, I’m just putting this out there,” and falling back on it when confronted is disingenuous, slippery, and sleazy. Pretending that you are effectively musing out loud when in fact you are actively and consistently promoting yourself is more annoying than the loud and proud true believers. At least they have the guts to really stand behind what they claim.

For skeptics, this is yet another catch phrase to be aware of. If someone is promoting an idea but constantly qualifies it with, “I’m just putting this information out there, you don’t have to believe me but isn’t this interesting …” be wary! Do your own independent research on the subject, post in a skeptics forum, or ask an actual expert in the field. Don’t rely upon an artist who thinks he has independently rewritten all the physics textbooks to have any factual knowledge about the subject.

December 2, 2010

NASA’s Announcement of Arsenic Life: A Parody by Creationists, Intelligent Design, and UFO Crowd


Introduction

In this blog, I try to be reasonably respectful to the claims made by other people, meticulously breaking down fantastic claims and showing how they do not fit the science, data, observations, etc.

This post is a bit different. It is meant to parody what I fully expect will be done in the next few days with today’s announcement by NASA of the discovery of life using arsenic in place of phosphorus in cells. I’m not going to get much into that and its implications, since practically every science news source is talking about it.

Instead, I’m going to provide three parodied views that I expect will be taken up almost verbatim in the next few days. If you get offended by parody, are a young-Earth creationist, etc., by further reading you are removing me from liability for the bile that may build up in your gut.

Creationist Response

The discovery of a new form of life by evolutionist NASA researchers today shows just how much our glorious Creator can do that Darwin never thought possible. All life that scientists had known of until now operates with a few basic atoms, and evolutionary researchers had thought that substitution of any one of these would be impossible, especially substitution of the poisonous element arsenic.

But in a lake in California, a research team discovered the inconceivable: A bacterium that survives on arsenic instead of phosphorus.

The response from evolutionists is once again to “rewrite the textbooks,” NASA’s astrobiology website proclaiming, “Get Your Biology Textbook…and an Eraser!” A biogeochemist associated with the research calls it “fantastic.”

But as Christians we know that God can do anything He wants. If evolutionists don’t want to constantly be “erasing” words in their textbook, then they should take up the unchanging and infallible Word of our Lord as written in the Bible. It should not surprise us that discoveries such as this will be made because they are only a further testament to the glory and wonders of our Creator.

Intelligent Design Response

Evolutionists are hailing a new discovery today of a microbe named GFAJ-1 that has the remarkable property of using arsenic in place of phosphorus in its metabolism. All life as known before and described by Darwin uses phosphorus — the six elements essential to life were thought to be carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur. In fact, in the energy molecule of cells – ATP – the P stands for phosphorus, and the DNA double helix is intelligently designed with a phosphorus molecule.

Arsenic is so poisonous to life because it is easily confused for phosphorus and used in its place by cells, killing them.

Until now. This microbe, of the marine family Halomonadaceae, was placed in a growth medium of arsenate and it thrived, completely baffling darwinists who were studying it.

How could such a system arise with no simpler precursor? The system needed to use arsenic could not have arisen through random evolutionary chance because of the myriad of places in the cell that use phosphorus. The ability to use it in one location in the cell would still be poisonous to another.

In celebrating this, evolutionists are glossing over the fact that it shows yet again how improbably Darwin’s theory really is.

UFO Response

It seems like it’s from an episode of the Twilight Zone, a bacteria that survives on poison. All life from planet Earth uses six essential atoms, but scientists from the space agency NASA today announced the discovery of a strange form that substitutes one of those – phosphorus – with arsenic.

The scientists are claiming that this has huge implications for the field of astrobiology, or at least the civilian one. Of course they completely ignore all the hundreds of thousands of UFO sighting reports, cattle mutilations, crop circles, government coverups, crashes like Roswell and Bentwaters, and abduction stories that we know prove alien life already exists.

But at least this is a first step. The “red rain” from India was apparently not convincing enough, but now the scientists are embracing the idea that this is unlike any life they have discovered before. This is just a small step in the road to full disclosure.

Final Thoughts

Well that was fun. I hope you at least laughed a little. If not, I apologize for my unrefined parody-ing skilz. And, by the way, if you do find any print reports from any of the crowds I identified above in the next few days about this event, feel free to post links in the Comments section. I’d be interested to see how well I did. Though I will note that I purposely went a bit overboard on all of them, or at least tried to.

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