Exposing PseudoAstronomy

January 31, 2012

Podcast Episode 21: The Geographic Pole Shift, Part 1


It’s February 1, or at least it is in some parts of the world, which means another episode of the podcast has been posted. I was working on writing an all-inclusive episode on geographic pole shifts and then I realized that there was no way it would all fit in an hour episode, much less a half-hour episode.

So this is Part 1. In it, I talk about what one particular person and group claims to be the mechanism for a geographic pole shift, the past evidence that it’s happened, and the current evidence that it is happening. The person in question is Brent Miller, the group is The Horizon Project. You can buy their DVD for only $24.95!! Or if you do a bit of Googling (which according to my spell-checker is actually a word), then you can find at least the audio posted online.

I’ll warn you that this is a bit Coast to Coast AM clip-heavy. So if those annoy you, well, sorry. I actually practiced some restraint and didn’t include two additional clips (as-is, there are five).

Part 2 will come for the February 8 episode and will focus instead on the alleged evidence, what the only known mechanism(s) would be for flipping or moving Earth’s geographic poles. It will also address the conspiracy ideas that we already have undergone a geographic pole shift in the last few years and that NASA has just been hiding it … somehow. You’ll have to listen to Episode 22 to get more on that.

In the mean time, enjoy Episode 21.

January 28, 2012

Talks at Science Conferences Doesn’t Mean They’re Science


Introduction

My work load is starting to diminish from the 80 hrs/week as I prepare to head off to, um, “lovely” Houston next week for a conference on Early Solar System Bombardment (as in big chunks of rocks hitting other, bigger chunks of rocks).

The small conference – such that it’s called a “workshop” officially – has all the abstracts posted online, and I was browsing and downloading them today. I then came across abstract #4008, entitled, “Questions About Lunar Origin.” It’s by Fred S. Singer, and he’ll be talking about it on Wednesday evening during the poster session.

Innocuous Title

The title itself is fairly innocuous, and scientists know that there are questions about how the moon formed the way it did. Of course, if this were like “Intelligent Design” and their “teach the controversy,” then Singer would likely advocate teaching students that there is just as much evidence that the moon was (1) captured, (2) formed in Earth orbit originally, (3) was flung off Earth, (4) was formed when a Mars-sized object hit Earth, or (5) was put here by space aliens.

But I get ahead of myself.

Reading the Abstract

First off, the abstract is not in standard format. Almost all the rest of us put our abstracts in the same, required format by the conference, but there are always some people who think they’re special and don’t have to do what the rest of us do. But I’m not bitter or anything.

The abstract, I think, can be classified as a rant. The first three paragraphs read like a “Woe to the people who accept the impact hypothesis of lunar formation, but if you do …”

The remainder is a list of “12″ questions that actually have many questions within them where he basically shows that he does not know how science operates. They read like “… well how do you explain THIS?! Huh!?”

I’m not going to bore you with reiterating everything from his two-page abstract, but I want to point out a few examples just to give you an idea of how pseudoscience works. This is really one of the first very clear-cut examples I’ve seen where someone is arguing about astronomy who is not a creationist in a very creationist way – by pointing out examples of apparent contradiction or lack of consensus in the literature as a way to argue that it’s all wrong, no one knows what they’re talking about, therefore he’s correct.

Example 1

3. At what stage of terrestrial accretion does the hypothetical impact occur? Early or late? Different papers give different answers.

4. What is the mass of the impactor? Twice lunar or more like that of Mars? Different papers give different answers.

These “two” questions are clear examples of, first, not citing your sources (he refers to “different papers give different answers” but he does not give those different answers nor does he list those different papers). Second, it’s pointing out what could sound like major issues to someone who does not know about the subject, but to those that do, it just seems silly.

For #3, the answer is “we don’t know” but we do have constraints. Dating of lunar rocks puts the moon’s formation at no later than 4.527 billion years ago (source). The age I’ve seen for Earth is about 4.54 billion years old (source). Quibbling over whether this was early or late-stage terrestrial accretion (when the planets formed) to me does not seem to actually be an issue in the literature. Hence why it’d be nice to see his “different papers.”

For #4, the canonical mass I’ve always heard is “Mars-sized.” Mars is about 45% the diameter of Earth, while the moon is around 25%. If they were the same density (they’re not), then the mass difference would be the ratio of their diameters cubed (0.45/0.25)^3 ≈ 5.8x different). Mars is actually 10.7% the mass of Earth while the moon is 1.2% Earth’s mass … meaning that Mars is 8.7x the mass of the moon.

Fred is arguing that the factor of 4.4x in range (2x Moon to 1x Mars) is apparently a major issue here. It’s not. There is absolutely no way to know the mass of the original impactor. The range comes about because of different potential impact models (I assume … if I had his “different papers” then I could look). If you have a different velocity or impact angle, you need a different initial mass. If you have a different initial mass for Earth, you’ll need a different mass for the impactor. A difference of a factor of 5x does not seem to me to be a deal killer.

Example 2

6. What happens to the splashed-out material from the impact; how many particles escape and how many return on ballistic orbits? Whence comes the angular momentum for a bound lunar orbit? How and where does “captured” material assemble and what exactly is the initial lunar orbit?

Asking “this” question is missing the point. Dr. Singer has had a varied career in science over the years, but from reading this question I doubt he’s ever done any N-body modeling (the kind of code where you have many particles and you simulate how they interact). If he had, then the question about “how many particles escape” is nonsensical. For example, if you had a simulation with 1 million particles and 10,000 escaped and 50,000 returned on ballistic orbits and the rest did something else, then I just gave you the numbers there. But then if you ran a simulation with 10 million particles you’ll get a completely different answer. Maybe he means “how many” in terms of a fraction?

The “how and where” of the moon’s formation in the impact hypothesis is a head-scratcher. The answer has pretty much always been that it “assembles” in orbit of Earth, actually fairly close to the planet, and the “how” is through normal processes of agglomeration (stuff hits other stuff and sticks).

The exact initial lunar orbit is kinda like a creationist asking, “What was the exact functionality and makeup of the very first cell?” We don’t know, but we can make educated guesses based on modeling and observations of what we see now. He’s asking unanswerable questions in their specificity, but ones that have been answered to most peoples’ general satisfaction.

Final Thoughts

The point of this post is to teach a little astronomy while also pointing out, as the title suggests, that presence at a science conference does not mean what you’re doing is science. Creationists actually have a habit these days of going to geology conferences, presenting something, and then coming back and saying, “See! We presented at a scientific conference even!”

Similarly, this is not to imply that there are no questions about the moon’s origin (as I mentioned above), nor observations that do not fit with the “Big Splash” model that is currently in favor. If you want to bring those points up, that’s fine. But going back and asking questions that are already answered, or cannot possibly be answered to your desired specificity, is not the way to argue your case.

And look, I got through that entire thing without mentioning that Dr. Singer is also a climate change denier.

Update: Singer was the only person to present today who was a no-show. No him, no poster.

January 26, 2012

Newt to the Moon and Mars?


Introduction

When I first started this blog back in 2008, one of the things I said I’d be writing about is bad astronomy in the media. I’d say that bad astronomy by a (somehow) front-runner for the US Republican presidential nomination is close enough (example article).

And by the way, this post is going to have some politics in it; if you disagree with my particular politics, as long as you’re civil, comments will go through, but I honestly don’t really care if you disagree with my politics.

Seriously?

Newt Gingrich is known for saying grandiose things. I wasn’t really paying attention to politics when I was in middle school so I don’t know if by “grandiose” people mean “stupid,” but this would definitely count. In what is either pure delusion – in which case he should not be President – or over-the-top pandering (which would be typical for a politician), Gingrich was on Florida’s space coast and said that, if he were president, by 2021 (the end of his second term), we would have a permanent base on the moon and “regular” flights to Mars.

Why this Is Not Possible Politically

To put it succinctly, Congress is a nearly non-functional mess with a large fraction completely unwilling to spend any more money nor raise any taxes. (Speaking of which, can anyone get me a good deal on TurboTax 2011? My taxes are going to be complicated this year with all the government disinfo money stuff.) This is a statement of fact.

Congress could not agree on a billion dollars or so for the James Webb Space Telescope. The Apollo program cost many $10s billion, and at its height in 1966, NASA’s budget was 4.41% of the federal. Lately, we’ve been hovering around 0.6%. Call me a cynic or pessimist, but I don’t see any Republican – nor most Democrats – voting to appropriate $50-100 billion to get to the moon in 8 years with a permanent base and regular trips to Mars.

Why this Is Not Possible Legally

I’m not sure how much of a snag this would put in Swingrich’s plans, but the Outer Space Treaty forbids any signatory government from owning any land off Earth. So how we would have a permanent lunar base and grant them statehood (something else Gingrich wants) would probably require pulling out of this treaty. I’m not entirely sure how that works, but I think Congress would also need to be in on that. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong – it’s been awhile since I’ve read the Constitution.)

Why this Is Not Possible Logistically

Let’s assume Congress gives us the money and the UN its blessing. Logistically speaking, with the amount of bureaucracy and infrastructure in place, you cannot build the equipment (also see below), hire and train the people, and figure out all the other logistical things that need to happen to make this happen. That is, unless you completely gut the bureaucracy (that’s a separate issue) and replace it with something lean that gets things done quickly. Perhaps a DARPA model?

The next generation space capsules had to wait for the shuttle to stop so they could use that infrastructure. The death of the Orion capsule took something like another year before that program could be completely mothballed. Changing direction yet again would add significant time to this stuff.

And let’s not forget all of the commissions and committees that would need to be set up to study the issue and write up their reports before funding would happen, and don’t forget the obligatory 3-month extensions, either.

Why this Is Not “Possible” Scientifically/Technologically

And then we get into this area. So many ways to go here. We could start with lunar dust being a huge issue, getting through almost every seal, with just ideas and laboratory experiments on how to deal with it (magnetic fields or microwaving it are the two I’m familiar with off the top of my head).

What about a propulsion system? If we use the Apollo-style giant rockets, what about building them? Transporting them? Re-kajiggering them to upgrade them for +50 years tech?

What about the actual craft to the moon that can lug stuff for a lunar base – not just people, but food, water, equipment, building supplies? There aren’t any trees on the moon, you can’t just go out like the old American Frontier and chop down some logs and build yourself a cabin. These are things that have been thought of, but none of them have really been tested nor built.

How about a big one – radiation? Radiation is not a huge issue during a solar minimum for a 2-week trip to the moon. But a 6-month voyage to Mars, plus time there under an atmosphere that won’t protect you, plus the trip back, carries a huge radiation problem not just from the sun but from cosmic rays and the like. In this case, the problem has been thought of, but I have not read anything that suggests that anyone’s solved it, even on paper.

Final Thoughts

If it wasn’t obvious, I don’t like Newt. I don’t like most politicians, especially when they are pandering beyond normal stupidity. This was one of those cases. Or Newt is just incredibly ignorant. Either way, this is one of the more obvious empty promises that I hope comes back to bite him in debates. Romney or Obama, if you’re reading this, you should be taking notes.

P.S. I don’t agree with Santorum on much of anything (I suppose I agree with him that air is generally a good thing to breathe), but I do agree with what he said here: “The idea that anybody’s going out and talking about brand new, very expensive schemes to spend more money at a time when we do not have our fiscal house in order in my opinion is playing crass politics and not being realistic with the people of this country as to the nature and gravity of the problem.”

Followup: This has been getting a lot more play in the media in the last day or so. Every article I read basically treated it as a joke – as in Newt Gingrich was the joke for proposing such a stupid idea. Here’s a nice paragraph from Time, as it’s along my line of thinking:

“Leave aside for a moment that the professor, politician and former not-a-lobbyist for Freddie Mac either doesn’t understand that “grand” and “grandiose” are two very different things, or does understand and is copping to more delusion and fabulism than one might want in a president. The real problem is that Gingrich often doesn’t seem to get that merely being willing to say any damn thing is not the same as being able to do any damn thing, especially when the challenges you’re taking on don’t involve just political rivals and government policy, but the hard laws of engineering and physics, which are a wee bit less amenable to jawboning and deal-making.”

January 23, 2012

Podcast Episode 20: Interview with a High School Student Combating Creationism


Episode 20 has been posted. This is a shorter episode, an interview with Peter from the Eye on the ICR blog. Since I talk about young-Earth creationist claims on my blog, he and I have crossed paths in the blogosphere before and I thought it would be interesting to interview someone who deals with these issues as a high school student. I certainly wasn’t doing this as a high school student.

And as an aside, I know I haven’t been posting much lately. January kinda sucks. February should be better!

January 16, 2012

Podcast Episode 19: John Lear (and Some of His Claims)


The long-delayed episode 19 is now posted: John Lear. John is the son of the famous inventor of the Lear Jet but just kinda threw out all credibility when he bought into … UFOs, aliens, cities on the Moon and Mars and Venus and Mercury and Pluto and Neptune etc., a soul catcher on the moon, the Kennedy conspiracy, 9/11 “truth,” crop circles, and many other things – those are just naming a few.

In the episode – which may be a Part 1 if people want more (comments people, feedback people!) – I talk about three of his claims: The atmosphere of Venus, the atmosphere of the moon, and lunar formation. I also spend a fair amount of time finally getting into details about pareidolia, including a short spelling lesson.

Also what bears announcing is that I now have a Facebook page for the podcast (and blog). And, I now have a Twitter account for the podcast/blog: @PseudoAstro .

January 8, 2012

Podcast Episode 18: Ancient Aliens Interview with The Dumbass


Episode 18 of my podcast has been posted. This episode is another interview one, this time with “Parrot,” AKA “Dumbass” who has spent a lot of time on his blog and podcast going over many of the claims by ancient aliens proponents.

First, we address some of the broad reasons for aliens to visit us in the past, such as enslavement, a tourist stop, or as a brothel.

The bulk of the episode discusses some of the main evidential claims put forward, including: Pyramids, the “golden flyer,” the Christian Bible, Nazca lines, Face on Mars, a spaceship painting from A.D. 776, and bone calendars from 30,000 years ago.

The next subject we addressed were about some of the people involved in the ancient aliens phenomenon and some of their specific takes. These were Giorgio Tsoukalos, Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, David Hatcher Childress, and Christopher Dunn.

We wrapped up the ~70-minute interview with a summary of some of the broad reasons for ancient aliens and why people think they came here: argument from ignorance, argument from personal incredulity, making things up, and especially anomaly hunting.

January 5, 2012

2011 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail … Again


Introduction

Last year, in what rapidly became a very well-read post, I wrote about the “psychic” predictions for 2010 by the audience and pros from the Coast to Coast AM late-night radio program. After reviewing nearly 200 predictions, my conclusion was that the audience did no better than the pros, and that both did miserably.

With a record number of Tweets and Facebook postings, how could I not do another analysis for 2011?

I’m a bit behind, but I’ve finally compiled the audience and professional predictions for 2011 that were made on C2C and I have scored them, as well.

So without further delay: The Predictions (PDF)! Please let me know if you find any mistakes in scoring, and I will correct them. If you enjoy this, please be sure to rate it (those stars at the top), leave feedback, and/or link to it from your portal, forum, social media, and/or wikis of choice! It’s the only way I know that it’s worth going through the many days’ of work to compile these.

Before We Get to Details … Scoring

I was a bit stricter this year in terms of what I counted as a “hit.” For example, Major Ed Dames stated, “Buy gold and silver if you can … because those commodities will be worth something.” I counted that as a miss as opposed to too vague. True, gold closed roughly $150 higher at the end of 2011 than it opened. If he has simply said “Gold will be up by the end of the year,” I would give him a hit (if an obvious one). But he said both gold and silver, and silver went down by $2.50 over 2011. On the other hand, he simply said they “will be worth something.” I interpreted that to mean as they will go up. Otherwise, taken at strict face value, this is like saying “Bread is something you can eat.” It’s just a statement of fact.

As with last year, I wrote down what predictions I could pull out of the professionals (more on that later). Many of them, however, were too vague or obvious – I considered – to be scorable. For example, Linda Shurman stated, “People are going to come out of their collective coma” because of the transit of Uranus in Pisces. I considered that too vague to be a hit or a miss. Similarly, Joseph Jacobs stated there would be rough times in Somalia. It does not take a claimed psychic to say there will be rough times in Somalia, so I did not score that.

Coast to Coast AM Audience

Every year, Art Bell would do the predictions show on December 30 and 31 for a “full” eight hours of predictions from the audience. He would have strict rules – one prediction per call, one call per year, nothing political rant-like, no soliciting, and Art numbered them. With Art having unofficially/officially retired (again) after the “Ghost to Ghost” 2010 show, Ian Punnett took over and, well, he wasn’t Art. He didn’t follow any of Art’s rules. This made the predictions a bit more annoying to figure out and write down, but I tried. Sometimes there were two per caller.

In the end, I counted 114 distinct predictions. 6 of them were hits, 99 misses, and 9 were non-scorable as too vague, obvious, or not for 2011. That’s a hit rate of 5.7% (6/(114-9)≈0.057). Very impressively, that’s the same rate as I gave the audience in 2010, so, huzzah for consistency!

Here are some of my favorites:

11. Subterranean tunnels will be found, huge caverns, a “huge city-like thing,” under America or the Russia-Asia continent. “This could lead to the big foot theories being solved.”

23. Within the Bilderburger / Illuminati, there will “be a wild sex slavery factory where blond-haired teenage girls are enslaved to make Illuminati babies they’re trying to create the perfect race. There will be sex slavery.” This will be revealed this year when someone is “caught red-handed with these girls.”

27. Synchronized walking will become very popular, such as in malls, with people walking in formation.

73. There will be a Christian worldwide movement that starts in the US around the time of the Super Bowl. They will force ABC/NBC/CBS/FOX to show Biblical stories.

Coast to Coast AM Professionals

Yes, as a skeptic we always say “alleged” psychic or whatever. I’ve done that enough in the intro and we’ll just go with their titles. Pages 14-25 of the predictions document list the different people that C2C had on for 2011 predictions.

I’ll state that, like the audience ones, these predictions were not as easy to record this year as they were for 2010. Instead of having the first few days of 2011 be devoted to several of these people, George had them scattered throughout the month of January and then did another set in July with three people. So, I recorded what I could.

The people involved were:

  • Jerome Corsi (Claim: General Conspiracist)
  • Joseph Jacobs (Claim: Psychic)
  • Major Ed Dames (Claim: Remote Viewer)
  • Linda Schurman (Claim: Astrology)
  • Starfire Tor (Claim: Psychic -> “Psi Data Downloads”)
  • Glynis McCants (Claim: Numerology)
  • John Hogue (Claim: Nostradamus Interpretor, Psychic)
  • Maureen Hancock (Claim: Psychic and Medium)
  • Angela Moore (Claim: Psychic)

All in all, they made a total of 64 predictions. I counted one hit, 38 misses, and fully 25 that were too vague or obvious to grant a hit or miss to. That’s a hit rate of 2.6% (Joseph Jacobs got the one hit by saying perhaps the obvious “I see maybe a temporary measure as far as lifting the debt ceiling”). That’s somewhat worse than 2010, when I gave them a combined (if generous) hit rate of 11.5%, for getting 6 correct out of 53.

Here are some of my favorites (there were many more from Starfire Tor, but you’ll have to read the document for more):

Joseph Jacobs: We’ll be “getting closer and closer to [UFO] disclosure.”

Major Ed Dames: We’re right at the cusp of a global flu pandemic that WILL happen in 2011.

Starfire Tor: Earthquakes continuing to accelerate due to the time shifts and time wars.

Starfire Tor: “You are going to see an advancement of the whale and people project … . It’s gonna be an agreeable movement around the world where cetaceans – whales and dolphins – who are self-aware are actually non-human people. So the status of them is going to change from ‘animal’ to ‘person,’ therefore people are going to have to stop killing them, and this is going to – every country every people in the world are going to have the opportunity to understand that there is more to intelligent life on the planet than humans.”

Maureen Hancock: “Decent relief” from high gas prices. “I see it coming down to at least a buck a gallon by November” in New England.

Differences Between Lay People and Pros

I brought this up last year, but it definitely bears repeating this year. The audience made 114 predictions and 9 (8%) of them were too vague or obvious to score. The pros made 64, and 25 (39%) of them were too vague or obvious to score.

That is a classic difference between a lay person and a “pro” in the business of telling people what they think the future will bring. Normal people will generally give you unqualified – if seemingly outlandish – statements. Such as, “The Saints will win the Super Bowl.” The pros will give you qualified vagaries, such as, “If the Saints do well and live up to their potential, I see them as possible winners of the Super Bowl since Mars in Virgo is favorable to them.” Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but let’s look back on some real examples:

Audience: We’ll see “a Clinton” for VP this year.

Professional: There will be new manufacturing ideas here in the US, opening doors for the unemployed.

Audience: A private research company without federal funding will start to clone people for organ harvesting.

Professional: In response to a question about the Carolinas being hit by a hurricane in the fall: “That is a possibility.”

See? This is also why they can stay in business. I’m fairly strict in my scoring. Someone who paid an alleged psychic $25 for a reading, remembering what the psychic said two weeks later, will be very likely to easily retrodict what the psychic said into a “hit” rather than a miss.

Take John Hogue’s, “Get ready for mother nature to be on the warpath.” I said that’s too vague to score. Let’s say he said that a month before Hurricane Irene hit New York in 2011. Most would count that as a “hit,” and they would not put it in context of Irene being only a Category 3, only doing $10 billion in damage, and Hogue not stating that the year of Hurricane Katrina when it’s much more apt.

No, this is not a rant, and I apologize if it comes off as one. I’m trying to point out why these people are still in business when they are no better than, sometimes worse than, and frequently more vague than the average person making a prediction. And with that in mind, let’s see … Joseph Jacobs charges $90 for 30 minutes, $150 per hour for readings. Maureen Hancock has her own TV show. Ed Dames sells kits on remote viewing, and most of these people sell books and other things. Maybe I should start selling my scoring of their predictions.

Final Thoughts

To continue from the above before transitioning back to the “fun,” yes, there is a substantial “where’s the harm” issue whenever we give these alleged soothsayers the power to make decisions for us based on vague statements. I point that out because it’s important.

But I also want to get back to this because I think they’re funny. I posted on Facebook a few nights ago, “Is it wrong for me to take distinct delight when alleged ‘psychics’ who are well known get things incredibly wrong?” I enjoy shaking my head at all these people being shown to be the shams they are.

And I enjoy the, well, I’ll just say “out there” predictions that make it through. Obama being a reptilian? Whales and dolphins being considered “people”? (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like whaling and dolphining, etc., but let’s not go crazy.) When you hear some of these, you just have to roll your eyes.

And hopefully when you hear some of these that don’t sound quite as crazy, you’ll pay attention to and notice some of the tricks of the trade, and not spend your hard-earned money on something you could come up with on your own.

 

P.S. I realize that WordPress has a habit of adding Google Ads to posts for those who are not ‘pressers and due to the content of this post, most of the ads are probably for psychic or astrologic readings. I’m looking into the potentiality of migrating my blog to my own server so I won’t have to deal with all of that, but I’m afraid of losing Google rankings and all the link backs that I’ve established over the past ~3.5 years. If someone is knowledgable in how to preserve all those with redirects, etc., please get in contact with me.

P.P.S. Looking forward to 2012, if anyone has found a psychic/numerologist/astrologer/medium/whatever who has put out specific predictions, I’d like to extend beyond C2C for my tallies. Let me know in the comments or by e-mail of these and I’ll look into them.

January 1, 2012

Podcast Episode 17: Gregg Braden and Data Mining


Quick post for a new Gregorian calendar year: Episode 17 of my podcast is now posted. This is a ~31-minute episode that focuses on two of the claims of Gregg Braden (which you may remember from this blog post about 45 days ago). I also use it as a case-study for the fallacious way of arguing known as “data mining.”

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