Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 26, 2012

Do Skeptics Hate the People They Debunk?


I recently produced my first podcast/blog-related movie, and it was debunking a claim that Richard C. Hoagland made on a radio show a few nights ago that there is a pyramid on the Moon.

Since that time, Richard’s response has been indirect, speaking via e-mail with some of his supporters stating:

Working to finish the Eclipse Paper (which will blow everyone’s minds), so this “ziggurat herfuffle” comes as a bit of a distraction in the middle of that; however, it seemed appropriate to remind everyone — on the 43rd Apollo 11 Anniversary — how MUCH NASA has been hiding, all these years ….

And, you can quote me (until I can get back to Facebook and explain things more fully myself … )

I find it fascinating the amount of vitriol my posting this simple image on “Coast” seems to have caused.

“Hit a nerve,” perhaps ….?

Let’s ignore the obvious argument from persecution. Meanwhile, Mike Bara, who I only briefly mentioned in the video because he was claiming that he sent the photo to Richard, has gone all out. He wrote a blog post about it and has brought it up several times on his Facebook page. In all writings, he has referred to those of us who have pointed out why it is likely fake as “morons,” “faggots” (an insult in Bara’s mind), and the term used most of all is, “haters.”

Ignoring the obvious ad hominem fallacy with which most people are likely aware (and if not: post 1, post 2), I’m writing this post to briefly address the charge that skeptics are “haters.”

To be fair, I can only speak for myself 100%, but I can speak for several other skeptics (since I know many) indirectly, and I can speak for Expat, at whom most of Bara’s ire has been directed. We don’t “hate” purveyors of woo. Personally, I find interesting many of the claims because it makes me see where people who don’t really know what they’re doing go wrong in their analysis (yes, I realize this sounds condescending, but I’m working on a lack of sleep here — for a good example, see either my first post or my second post on Alex Tsakiris.).

I also see it as a very interesting psychology study. For example, in one of the many posts that Mike made to Facebook regarding this, people responded with things such as, “People are afraid of information that is not given to them by a governmental institution;” “RCH and Mike Bara arent making anything up. Its the idiots & morons who dont know a rats ass about the ancient man-made artifacts spread throughout the solar system;” “Attacking Hoag also. F__K them Mike.;” and “GREAT article Mike! Also just pre-ordered Ancient Aliens On The Moon! Can’t wait for October!”

These people (unless they’re there with false platitudes) follow Mike and/or Richard almost like a cult leader, believing whatever they present uncritically and unquestioningly. A “Thanks for clearing it up Mike, well done!” was posted to Facebook in response to Mike’s blog.

Meanwhile, I have seen no one actually point out any scientific nor logical flaws in my video (except for a brief mention of scattered light in shadowed regions, which I fixed in the updated version).

Anyway, the question returns to, “Do I hate Mike and Richard and that’s why I made the video?” Again, no. I made the blog post because I had already spent 30 minutes in a scavenger hunt in the initial image. I made the video because I thought it would be a good “first” video for my podcast/blog because it was a purely visual argument, and I also wanted to capitalize on Phil Plait’s tweet regarding my post on Hoagland.

Never have I said that I “hate” Richard nor Mike. I did state that in my opinion, based on my analysis, Hoagland was either incompetent in his image analysis or he was lying that he did any analysis on the image. That’s not the same thing. That is pointing out a flaw in a skill set (or lying about performing the task). That’s not hatred.

In speaking with Expat (in e-mail, Skype, and the interview I did with him last year for the podcast), it’s the same general thought process. He doesn’t explicitly “hate” Bara nor Hoagland. Expat finds it annoying and unconscionable that, after being shown wrong time and again, Bara and Hoagland would continue to spread disinformation, wrong science, and continue to fall for the same pareidolia, but that’s annoyance and dismay. Hatred directed at the person is not what’s going on. In fact, I ran this paragraph by Expat before posting, and he wanted me to add: “I don’t hate them. I’ve never met them. For all I know they’re great guys.”

Unfortunately, I doubt that Mike Bara’s tone will change; if he has never acknowledged he doesn’t know what an annular eclipse is nor how to measure an ellipse, then he’s not going to change his diction that gets his fans fired up. But, as with many of my posts, I’m attempting to speak to the “fence sitters,” those that really don’t come in with a dog on either side but want to know more about the situation.

To them, I say: Examine the language used on both sides. See who has substance to what they say. Examine the claims made. Examine who is attacking the messenger, and who is attacking the claims. See if there is ever a rebuttal to the specific claims made on either side. Then decide who seems to be “hating” who, but more importantly, who makes a more convincing argument.

July 24, 2012

Podcast Episode 45: The Moon’s Changing Recession Rate


A discussion of this young-Earth creationist claim, dating back about 3-4 decades, has been posted. The main segment is reasonably short, around 13ish minutes.

No new news segment, but all the others are there excepting a new puzzler: Q&A, Feedback, Puzzler solutions for episodes 43 and 44, and some announcements.

The main announcement is that I’ve re-released my Richard Hoagland lunar ziggurat debunking. If you downloaded it on Monday, that’s the old version. I released this new one at around 6AM GMT on Wednesday, July 25. It’s 5 minutes 29 seconds long — not the 4 minutes 25 seconds one. There’s a minor correction about shadows, and I also show the latest lunar imagery that shows no ziggurat. Plus Mike Bara complaining that Hoagland took the image from him without credit.

If you do nothing else, I would appreciate feedback on the video (post here, send e-mail, whatever). As I mentioned in my last post, these suckers take A LONG TIME, and I don’t want to do them if you don’t think they’re worth it. What you liked, what you didn’t like, what you think I should do differently or make sure to do next time, file size, etc. … all fair game.

July 22, 2012

Quick Follow-Up on Hoagland’s Lunar Ziggurat


Just a quick mention that I have created a video version of my debunking of Hoagland’s alleged ziggurat on the Moon. It’s up now on YouTube in HD resolution, if not quality (YouTube compression and all that).

This is my first published foray into video editions of stuff related to my podcast, so let me know what you think. And, FYI, those 4.5 minutes took me about 3-4 hours to put together.

July 21, 2012

Richard Hoagland’s Ziggurat on the Moon: Hoax or Fraud, but Not Real


Introduction

During TAM, I met with a listener of my podcast and one of his first requests was “more Hoagland!” So, this post is dedicated to Darrin.

Edit (Aug. 7, 2012): I have posted a 4.5-minute video of the debunking of this on YouTube.

Another Edit (Sept. 25, 2012): This is my wrap-up post on this subject that spanned over a month and 20,000+ words. This post you’re reading now is the first and is what generally shows up first in Google searches. I recommend reading this post, then visiting the last post which contains a list of all others in this series that relate to the lunar ziggurat.

Lunar Anomalies

One of Richard C. Hoagland’s main shticks is to find apparent photographic anomalies and then claim they are artificial things. Face on Mars, glass tubes on Mars/Moon, “Data’s Head” on the Moon, etc. are just a few examples.

Last night, he was on Coast to Coast AM and, courtesy of Expat, here’s a transcript of what Hoagland stated (GN = George Noory, RCH = Richard C. Hoagland):

GN: …will we ever go back to the Moon, Mr Hoagland?

RCH: “Yes, we will. What’s really astonishing, and the reason I wanted to do a little update tonight is… I’ve sent over to Lex, to be posted on the Coast website, an astonishing image taken from orbit … on the lunar far side, on the opposite side of the Moon from the Earth — almost as far away from the Earth as you can get, almost 180° — almost on the equator, just south of the equator, a mile-size — each side is a mile — ziggurat. It looks like an Egyp….a Sumerian pyramid. It’s extraordinary. It’s enormous.

It … you gotta go look because this is just absolutely astonishing — and I’ve spent now several days trying to make sure this is real, and to the best of our analytical abilities it’s real, there’s a whole bunch of little “tells” around it that tell us. For one thing, hoaxes are never subtle. This is subtle. This is the kind of thing that an expert would instantly recognize — and unless you have trained eyes it’s going to take you a minute or two maybe to see it, but once you see it, you’re never going to not see it.

And the most amazing thing, George, is where it’s located. It’s almost exactly opposite the Earth, on the far side of the Moon, where you would put a massive pyramid — because we now know from the Enterprise studies, including what I did with the eclipse here in May — that pyramids amplify torsion field energy enormously.

That’s why there are pyramids all over the world, you were asking your guest last night “Why are there pyramids all over the world? Do they talk to each other?” Yes, they do. They’re linked by hyperdimensional physics — and whatever the reason for this thing being built on the far side of the Moon was — part of it had to be, to look with this energy through the core of the Moon — which we now know from our eclipse studies amplifies torsion energy ENORMOUSLY — and to look through the core at the Earth and to monitor the torsion field changes in the Earth.

If some hoaxer had put this thing on the [..?..] they figured out all the right things to do to put it in the one place in the whole solar system where it would make sense from a hyperdimensional perspective, which is one of the reasons I think it’s real.

And you all ought to go and look at what Lex has posted … and I’ve got Steve Troy working on the footprints, on which orbit.. which astronaut took the picture. It may have been Collins, all by himself in the CM orbiting around the Moon while Neil & Buzz were down on the surface. But this is only a tip of the iceberg, George, as to what they’ve been hiding for 43 years, that we have got to take control of now.”

GN: “You’ve got that right…”

Quick Key Points

Let’s ignore how little this statement by Hoagland makes sense. Let’s ignore all the supposed implications. Let’s focus on just a few key statements (in bold):

I’ve spent now several days trying to make sure this is real, and to the best of our analytical abilities it’s real, there’s a whole bunch of little “tells” around it that tell us. For one thing, hoaxes are never subtle. This is subtle. This is the kind of thing that an expert would instantly recognize — and unless you have trained eyes it’s going to take you a minute or two maybe to see it, but once you see it, you’re never going to not see it.

An Hour of Investigation by Yours Truly

I was processing lunar images this morning for a new project that I hope to finish up soon, and once I set a new batch of images to go, I read my RSS feeds. Expat (a pseudonym), whom I interviewed in Episode 10 of my podcast about Mike Bara (one of Hoagland’s little buddies), had a new post up on his blog Dork Mission entitled, “The Eagle has landed, and Richard Hoagland offers absolute nonsense.” I clicked through and encountered the above transcript plus Expat’s comments.

Expat linked to the original image that Hoagland’s ziggurat came from, Apollo 11 photo AS11-38-5564. You can download a high-resolution scan from the Lunar and Planetary Institute. Which I did. And here’s the data page on the LPI website for that image. And, you can grab Hoagland’s ziggurat from the Coast page.

I spent around a half hour searching for Hoagland’s location, but it did not go well. Without knowing the exact rotation nor scaling, it was difficult to figure out. But, in the comments section of Expat’s post, we eventually got it:

Context of AS11-38-5564 with Hoagland's Ziggurat

Context – AS11-38-5564 with Hoagland’s Ziggurat, black box shows where it is
(click to empyramidate)

For the record, I took the original LPI image and rotated it clockwise 90°. I knew this was the starting point because of the shadows of craters in the image Hoagland presented. After finding the location, I rotated Hoagland’s image by 10.96°, and then I scaled Hoagland’s by 85.28%. I determined these by lining up craters.

Then I created this comparison so you can see the LPI scan and what Hoagland presented:

Comparison of Original and Hoagland Enhancement of Lunar Ziggurat

Comparison of Original and Hoagland Enhancement of Lunar Ziggurat
(click to enhancenate)

Hoax/Fraud

First, I will say that I do not know who made the “enhancement.” What I do know is that the original file was entitled “AS11-38-5564-Mike-oirginal-enhanced3.jpg” on Coast to Coast AM‘s website. Since Richard Hoagland used to work, and I believe still sometimes does, with Mike Bara, I’m guessing the image came from Bara. However, Richard is passing it off as his own, or at least hoping you think it’s his because he does not provide any attribution.

So again, I am not saying that it was Richard nor Bara who “enhanced” the image originally, but I would not put it past either of them.

That said, from my work over the past twenty years doing image processing and analysis (yay Photoshop 2.5!), Whomever did the “enhancement” would likely have gone through these steps:

First, they used a poorer quality image (see all the noise and loss of details in small craters?) or later deliberately added noise and reduced the quality.

Second, they darkened the image overall (look at the shadows near the lower left corner).

Then, they increased the contrast (the white spot near the upper middle (a crater highlight) is more saturated in the “enhancement” and covers a bit more area). This could have been combined with the previous step with a basic Curves adjustment.

Finally, they likely did some selective curves/levels adjustment to create the “ziggurat,” or they skipped this step entirely and went right on to just drawing it in.

There is no way you can get a ziggurat as presented without drawing it into this photo.

I figured this out in an hour. Half of that time was spent just locating the thing ’cause Hoagland never provides context, and 2/3 of the remainder was spent making the images I put up here.

Another Obvious Sign of Fraud/Hoax

There are few gradations of light and dark on the Moon because of a lack of atmosphere. If you’re in shadow, you’re in shadow and it’s going to be pitch-black (or almost pitch-black). You could potentially get a little scattered light from a hill that’s farther away, and you could get a teensy bit or Earthshine (though if this was from the far side of the moon, you can’t have earthshine as a source of light).

Now look at the “walls” of the “ziggurat” on the left side. They are in shadow, but they are clearly a lighter shade than the other shadows in the image. There is also no crater wall nor mountain to scatter light onto it. I would argue that the shading as presented is not possible on the Moon and is a fairly clear sign of a hoax/fraud right off the bat.

Finding the actual location in the original image and not having a ziggurat there is a secondary (though important) step.

Final Thoughts

At this point, I will bluntly state that (in my opinion) Richard C. Hoagland is either an incompetent person or a liar based solely upon this instance. That is an objective statement that I am making based upon the available evidence I presented above and explain below.

I justify the former position by again referring to his statement that he spent several days trying to make sure it’s real and to the best of his ability, he determined it’s real. I have shown in the above analysis it is not, unless you want to claim that Hoagland has access to a secret version and the one on the LPI website is the fraud. However, the lower quality and higher noise level of Hoagland’s would indicate to me that he is using a later generation copy the photo (as opposed to more original).

The other alternative is that Hoagland is simply lying. Either he did no analysis and just presented this as it was sent to him (ergo lying about spending several days in analysis), or he created it himself. Based on his previous track record for creating graphics, I personally doubt the latter, but I could easily believe that someone made this, sent it to him, and Hoagland just presented it without doing any of the analysis he claims he did.

Perhaps it was the same person who posted this on the Disclose TV forum back in February 2011, to which, again, Hoagland gives no attribution.

So, there you have it, the latest by Richard C. Hoagland.

Edited to Add …

After much searching, I have located the coordinates at approximately 174.34°E, -8.97°N. There does not appear to be any LRO Narrow Angle Camera images of the region, and you can explore it for yourself at this link. It’s smack dab in the center. This is a WAC image that has the location towards the bottom-center, though it’s actually slightly lower resolution than the original Apollo image (this is 76 m/px). I calculate that the length of the side of the “ziggurat” would be roughly 2 km, in line with Hoagland’s claim.

Also, there appears to be some evidence that this goes back before even 2003 with some posts on some other forums. Regardless, I maintain my opinion, that I think is fairly objective: Hoagland is either a liar (he did not spend days analyzing this, he just went with it), or he is completely incompetent (that he spent days analyzing this and thinks it’s real).

July 19, 2012

Free Science for All! (in England, Anyway)


Introduction

I’ll introduce this post by saying that, the more I age, the more my political/social/financial ideas turn somewhat libertarian. Not that I support Ron Paul, not that I support a teensy tiny impotent government, but I think that some models of business are antiquated and that many redundant bureaucracies need to be eliminated.

Why am I discussing politics? It’s because of how scientific journals work. A new proposal in Britain indicates we might be in for a change, and I think for the better.

How Journals Work

For at least the past several decades, if not century or two, most main-stream scientific journals would work as follows: Author writes paper, editor evaluates paper, editor rejects or sends out for independent review, reviews go back-and-forth for a bit, then paper is ultimately accepted or rejected.

At this point, or even upon initial submission, the author is required to sign over all copyright claims to the paper that they wrote. The journal then owns the copyright. The journal will publish the paper, maintain it in their archives, and has all rights of distribution and reproduction.

The author also has to pay the journal to publish their paper in what we call “page fees.” This can cost upwards of several thousand dollars (my last two papers were $2400 and $2600, respectively). In the past, authors were given personal “preprints” that usually numbered 50ish gratis after which they had to pay for more; they could then give these to colleagues. Otherwise, the authors had to pay for a copy of their paper. Nowadays, this is handled by author personal copy PDFs, and we are still legally forbidden from keeping copies of papers on our personal websites (though most violate this).

To recap: Author does work, then has to pay journal to publish their paper, journal owns all copyrights and author cannot distribute nor can colleagues get a copy unless they or their institution subscribes to the journal. The public getting free access? –forget about it.

Given my first paragraph in the intro, you can guess how I feel about this model. (I think it’s antiquated and outdated and we need something new, if you couldn’t tell). I understand that it was a model that probably worked well for awhile and I can understand the purpose in, say, the 1930s – and maybe even the 1990s – but not today.

It should also be noted that most of us are now funded through government agencies/institutes and that our grants pay both for our work. As in, public money paying for us to do research, then paying for us to publish them, but the publications being closed to people unless they pay for it yet again.

Open Access Journals

There are several journals that do not have paywalls, and I applaud them. Unfortunately, they are usually lower-tier journals that authors do not want to publish in because they have a low Impact Factor (IF) – a measure of how often articles from them are cited. (The journal Science has an IF of around 49, Nature has 52, while the highest IF planetary journal that’s NOT affiliated with either of those is around 3.5-4.0.)

There are some exceptions. The Astrophysical Journal is one of them, as is Astronomy and Astrophysics. These are two major astrophysics journals and their articles are generally free. But, no big planetary journal follows this model, and I do not know about other fields. Science and Nature, the two highest IF journals in the world, do not have open access.

The United Kingdom Takes Notice

Apparently, someone in the UK has taken notice of this and decided they agree with me. Well, not me specifically, but their thinking is similar to mine. To quote:

“Currently, scientists and members of the public have to pay the leading scientific journals to see research that has already been paid for from the public purse. Under new proposals the government will pay publishers a fee each time a paper is published. In return the research will be available to those who wish to see it. The total cost of the subsidy is estimated to be £50m a year which will be taken from funds that would otherwise have been spent on research.”

That last line makes sense to me. I’ve submitted two grants to NASA this year, and in the budget section, I had to guesstimate how many papers would come from the research, in what journal(s) I would publish them, and how much it would cost. Then this cost per year was added as a line-item to the budget. If I didn’t have to do that, it would make budgeting a tad easier and it would throw out several middlemen.

Final Thoughts

There are of course critics of this. And publishers will likely be ticked. I doubt the current model can survive too much longer, but I also doubt that the proposal in the UK will survive in exactly its current form, and I’m sure it will be even longer before it catches on in other countries.

I hope that it does, though, at least in some form that preserves the intent. I recently had a press release about some of my research, and several journalists asked me for a copy of the paper. I could not provide it to them legally because I had not been given my personal author copy yet, and I think that’s bad.

July 17, 2012

My TAM 2012 Experience – The Good, The Bad, The Looking-Forward-to-Next-Year


Introduction

This is likely going to be a long post, almost a travel log, and I’m writing it both to organize my own thoughts and because some folks asked me to write it. So, here you go, my thoughts from my first TAM (“The Amaz!ng Meeting”) experience at TAM 2012. The theme this year was “The Future of Skepticism.”

I want to make it very clear at the beginning: Overall I enjoyed TAM. It may seem like I complain a lot below, but that’s the nature of most things — it’s much easier to point out what you think was wrong versus everything that was right. And I do realize that this is a JREF fund-raising event. I also want to very much thank DJ Grothe (JREF president), Randi, George Hrab, and all the organizers for the event as I do realize how much work goes into it.

A James Randi Sighting

A James Randi Sighting

Cost Associated

I’m a scientist used to having grants pay for his travel to conferences. I look at the expenses, I generally don’t pay too close attention, though I try to find cheap hotels (if not at a conference center) and cheap flights. Registration costs for the three main conferences I go to each year are $100 student now $215 professional (Lunar & Planetary science Conference), free (Lunar Science Forum), and free (Planetary Crater Consortium meeting). This was the first conference I’ve ever gone to where I’ve had to 100% pay my own way with no expectation of reimbursement. I was a bit sticker-shocked, but I have this section here so that people who have not gone have a vague idea of what to expect.

Required Costs:

Registration: $425 — base cost for early registration, non-student
Additional Registration: $100 — all workshop pass (not “required,” but the only events for one out of the four days of the conference)
Hotel: $341.60 — five nights at the hotel/casino (South Point), Wednesday through Sunday nights, conference rate; I tried to find a roommate but I was unsuccessful (though honestly didn’t try too hard)
Airfare*: $108.80 + $149.80 — between Denver, CO and Las Vegas, NV; both within the USA
Ground Transportation: None, as there was a free shuttle between the airport and hotel.

Total Required Costs: $1125.20

*Note: I followed this conference up immediately with a work conference, flying Denver -> Las Vegas, Las Vegas -> San José (California), and then San José -> Denver (with coincidentally a layover in Las Vegas). The cost may have been a bit different if I had gone directly back to Denver, but I listed the flight out of Vegas as the cost.

Incidental Costs (your mileage WILL vary):

Swag: $82 — I bought a DNA tie for my dad for $22, a Penn Jillette bacon/doughnut party t-shirt for $20 that went directly to the JREF, and two shirts for $40 (one gift of “Praise Bacon,” one “Europa Fishing” for me) where the money went directly to the JREF, too.
Food: $60-70 — I tried to keep track of this but it’s likely I missed a charge or two

Total Incidental Costs: $122

Note: You can easily get by for much less here by not buying any swag and bringing your own food or eating much more cheaply than I. Similarly, you could go much higher on this by getting more swag and buying more expensive food and any alcohol (I don’t drink so that was not a cost I had to deal with). More if you see a show — I was lucky and my significant other was driving through town, met me on Thursday, and took me to a show so this was not a cost for me. Oh … and much more if you end up gambling (I did not).

All told, this conference cost me roughly $1250 USD. Plus, of course, vacation time from work.

Wednesday — Pre-TAM

I definitely recommend arriving Wednesday. Even though there’s really nothing formal going on, many people do arrive on Wednesday and it’s good for meeting people. I held the meetup for my podcast and along with my begging of 6 people to come, I had a total of 10 across the course of a few hours.

On Wednesday night in the Del Mar “lounge” area, I got to meet several “big name” people in the skeptics movement, also in said lounge, including the three Novella brothers (“The Novellum”) and Evan of the SGU, D.J. Grothe and his would-be husband (though I didn’t officially meet Thomas until Sunday night), and a few others such as Joshie Berger.

I should probably note for those who have not been to Vegas before (I had not): Be prepared for rampant commercialism, lots of blinking and flashy lights, and a smell of cigarette smoke wafting everywhere. I was a bit unprepared.

Thursday — Workshops

As I wrote above, I bought the all-workshop pass. I’m honestly not certain I would do that again. I went to Workshops 1B (“From Witch-burning to God-men: Supporting Skepticism Around the World”), 2A (“Dr. Google”), 3A (“Astronomy for Skeptics: Investigating “Lights” in the Sky”), and 4A (“Investigative Methods for the Skeptic”).

1B was excellent and I learned a lot about the persecution of anyone who thinks critically in much of Africa.

2A was interesting and I’m glad I went, though it was less of a workshop than mini-lectures by four doctors about why Google isn’t good for finding medical information unless you know what to look for and what to ignore. Steve Novella ran 50% over his allotted 20 minutes, which honestly pissed me off and is generally a pet peeve of mine (it’s rude to the other speakers, rude to the audience, and is arrogant to think you’re so important that (a) you don’t have to follow the rules everyone else does, (b) let others speak, and (c) work to trim your talk to the allotted time like everyone else did). He also was the moderator so he didn’t cut himself off. Otherwise, I would have preferred more interaction (see my discussion about Day 3).

3A I was NOT going to go to, rather I was going to go to 3B (“The Future of Skepticism Online: Crowd-Sourced Activism”). I had been told previously that James McGaha (who gave 3A) was a bad speaker, but then the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society (RMPS) folks convinced me to go anyway and see his approach to the subject. Instead of describing it here, I wrote a blog post describing just a few of the major issues with his presentation.

4A I thought was also an excellent workshop given by the RMPS guys, the hosts of MonsterTalk, and the hosts of the “Oh No Ross and Carrie” podcast. I catered it and got a “shout out” by Bryan and Baxter (the two RMPS guys) as one of the “excellent” experts they call on when confronted with claims they don’t have the expertise to address.

I went to the reception that was the official start of TAM at 7:00, but then left to go out as I mentioned above. I did not go to any of the late night shows that required a separate ticket purchase or other things.

Friday – Day 1

The official start of TAM was an included breakfast (which followed through Sunday) with a live recording of the SGU podcast for an hour. I was a bit surprised with how dirty the guys were when live – several penis and self-pleasuring (this is a PG blog …) references that I would be very surprised if they make it into the actual released show.

The official-official start was humorous and pleasant, as were the first two talks by Michael Shermer and Eugenie Scott (though Shermer had issues finding out where the “Play” button was on the presentation software). Which itself bears mention — the A/V at TAM was not good. It was surprising how often microphones were not working, slides were not working, and the large projectors showed a person’s head behind the podium instead of the slides they had said 5 seconds ago to leave up. I recognize they had four cameras going and three projectors plus microphones and a computer, but given the expense to attendees when compared with the conferences I normally go to with no A/V problems, I was surprised. Moving on …

I didn’t go to the next two talks, but instead became a temporary “groupie” of Eugenie Scott in the hallway and told her that it was she who really got me interested in the creationism stuff and back into skepticism in around 2004 after a brief interest around 1999 sparked by Phil Plait.

The next talk I went to was given by Dr. Karen Stollznow (fianceé of one of the two RMPS guys, so I know her well). I was honestly pleasantly surprised. Her talk title was, “Talking to Tomorrow – Prediction and Language,” and I thought it would be boring from the title — I always hated English class and my one goal in high school was to place out of it for college. Instead, Karen’s talk was about claimed mediums and ways to illustrate that they were con artists (e.g., the channeler and “the voice” speaking through them mispronouncing the same words). I would say her’s was one of the best talks, and I’m not just saying that ’cause I was her date the next day (more on that later).

“Free” (read: “included”) lunch was next and I was surprised with how good the food was for a hotel. I did not go to the fundraising lunch, though I saw the end of a recording of “Penn’s Sunday School” podcast.

I saw the next two talks, the interview with Randi being excellent, and the panel on “The Future of Skepticism” with yet another Colorado guy, Reed Esau, I also thought was pretty good.

I did not go to the next several talks, nor did I go to any of the separate-ticket-purchase-required evening events.

I almost went to a Sylvia Browne protest, but there was not room in the few cars so did not attend. I did get in the photo of the pre-rally, though.

Pre- Sylvia Browne Protest

Pre- Sylvia Browne Protest: Convicted Felon Sylvia Brown is a Horse’s Ass

I did go to Penn Jillette’s “Rock & Roll, Doughnut and Bacon Party 2: Bring the Stupid” party. It was in the hotel, it was free, it did require a ticket, and it was pretty neat at the beginning. Penn made no pretense about it having good music (it was him singing), but the shear number of doughnuts and amount of bacon – for free – was nice. I also got there early, was able to gift him some bacon-chocolate bark I made (with my professional and podcast business cards in the zip-top bag), and I was close enough to the stage to catch a t-shirt he threw (“Praise Bacon”) without even flashing my moobs. Well, to be completely honest, I co-caught it with Matthew Baxter, but it was a Large size (and he’s taller and larger than I) and he was gracious in letting me keep it. I left after two songs and bought the souvenir shirt, the $20 going to the JREF.

Doughnuts and Bacon at Penn Jillette's Doughnut and Bacon Party

Doughnuts and Bacon at Penn Jillette’s Doughnut and Bacon Party

Saturday – Day 2

I got up early for Day 2 and saw Ben Radford’s talk on 2012. I gave a summary of it here. I did not go to the next several talks because they did not interest me (and I really don’t understand why some of the presenters were even giving talks as I do not understand the reason for their celeb, but that’s all I’m going to say on this matter) except for the 9:00 panel on Skepticism and the Humanities. I regret not going to Jamy Ian Swiss’s talk, though. I did sit in for most of Pamela Gay’s talk and then left to meet people for the included lunch.

I went to most of the rest of the talks, skipping only Elisabeth Cornwell’s “Social Networks” one. During her talk, I went up to my room to change into something more presentable: I was going to the special speakers’ dinner at 6:30.

There were roughly eight of us in the Colorado contingent, and five of us were speakers in some capacity. The speakers’ dinner invites all speakers plus one guest each, so we were all able to go; I was Karen’s “plus one” though when she walked ahead of me with her fiancée, I ended up being Bryan Bonner’s “plus one” (one of the RMPS folks).

The dinner was one of the other highlights for me because, well, I got to gush to more people about how they influenced me and I looked up to them. I brought chocolate and was walking around attempting to network (thanks again to Reed Esau for introducing me to people). I talked with Eugenie Scott again, I spoke with Ben Radford about my issues with his talk in the morning (and he was amenable to the critiques) while explaining to him that I look up to him for his investigations, I spoke again with DJ Grothe about several things (surprised he remembered me from Wednesday) and I offered him my support (despite how relatively insignificant I am) with many of the claims of marginalizing women and sexual harassment at TAM.

(Note here I said “many,” not “all,” and I do not mean to marginalize any legitimate instances of sexual harassment, but I do think that much of the discussion that “went down” a few months ago was blown way out of proportion.)

Reed also put in many, many good words for me with DJ in an effort to get a talk/panel/workshop of some sort next year; DJ said to stay in touch, and I will be following up on that. I also spoke with Ray Hall, Rachael Dunlop, Brian Dunning, and others. With Ray Hall, I got some insight into potentially why my application to talk about 2012 astronomy doomsday stuff had been rejected (he was looking for solid data of influence, changed minds, reader/listenership, etc … none of this was asked on the application, though, which he acknowledged and said he would look at revising). He also said he had thought there would be more of the 2012 stuff at TAM this year and that was likely another reason my application was turned down.

Someone also had an extra ticket to the “A Carlin Home Companion” show, which I went to most of, and then I retired to bed for I was very sleep-deprived. I wish at this point that I hadn’t, though, because the Colorado group went to the Del Mar lounge afterwards and had a gay ol’ time with DJ Grothe and his domestic partner, among others, and I wish I had joined them.

Sunday – Day 3

On Sunday, I went to about half of the papers of which mine was not accepted. Some talks were good, some I was not impressed with. I was tweeted by one person who said one of the talks was so bad he was pretty upset that mine was rejected by comparison. I thanked him but chose not to make much of it and respect those people who did get Sunday morning talks. /me ≠ bitter. As I said, I greatly appreciate the time that people put into organizing this conference.

I went to the next panel on alt. med stuff that I thought was pretty good. I did not go to the next two talks, though I honestly do not remember what I was doing instead. Oh well. I swear I wasn’t drunk. Oh wait, now I remember. I went down to the casino lobby to use the one free wireless internet area because I had run out of the 1GB data plan on my iPad but only had two days before the next billing period so didn’t want to pay $20 for another GB. Since breakfast was the last included meal, I went for lunch in the lobby and then went to the remaining talks and panels.

Unfortunately, I missed most of the “Beware the Religio-Industrial Complex” talk because at 4:00 I went into a small room as someone who may be chosen to be a volunteer for a claimant for the Million-Dollar Challenge (MDC) that would take place starting at 7:30. I was the third to be tested by the claimant and put down as a “maybe” but was then passed over as he found 10 guys strong enough to do what he needed. This also meant I unfortunately missed the closing remarks and Reed Esau being given a prestigious JREF award for all his excellent work in getting Skepticamp created and going.

Reed Esau with James Randi and Reed's Award

Reed Esau with James Randi and Reed’s Award

I sat in workshop 5B, “Promoting Skepticism in Classroom Settings,” briefly before deciding that it was not what I had hoped, and it was less interactive than I hoped. Sorry, but when I hear the word “workshop” I usually think “audience involvement,” not “another lecture.”

I napped and then went to the Million Dollar Challenge. I did not go to the CosmoQuest meetup at 7 because I was still potentially an alternate for the MDC and because I did not have a ride. I went to the MDC and decided that I was glad I was not one of the volunteers selected. They sat up there on stage for 90 minutes doing nothing except for the ~8 minutes they were being tested. I sat in the audience and watched and listened and worked on processing my photos from the December 2010 total lunar eclipse.

December 2010 Lunar Eclipse

December 2010 Lunar Eclipse

There are numerous run-downs of the MDC, so I’m not really going to go into details of what the guy was claiming, how he was doing it, and the protocol established for testing. I’ll say it was a guy who was using applied kinesiology to try to prove that a chip he invented and embedded in a bracelet made your balance and strength better (his initial evidence: it increased his bench press by 20 lbs). There were going to be 20 trials where he had to determine if the band inside an opaque box held by a volunteer was a placebo band or his band. It was double-blinded. He needed to get 17 (or more) correct to pass, which had roughly a 0.1% chance of succeeding by chance alone.

His first trial took around 3 minutes and he got it wrong. I spoke with Banachek at length afterwards (he’s in charge of the MDC) and he said that the look on the guy’s face when he got it wrong was an “Oh sh-t” look, so he thinks the guy is a true believer rather than a knowing deceiver. All other trials took closer to 10 minutes.

The guy got pretty much exactly chance by the 10th try (4 hits, 6 misses), and when Volunteer #7, Rich Orman (another CO guy), was his fourth miss, speculation in the crowd turned from “how long before he’s out?” to, “what’s his rationalization going to be?” To his credit, he continued to try hard to figure out the remaining three (fortunately they all agreed to stop after 10) as opposed to just breezing through to get off the stage to go cry, which is what I would have done.

I thought the crowd was very generous, and I applauded more for him than for any other talk during TAM. It takes guts to stand up in front of hundreds of skeptics and do what he did. He was also gracious enough to take questions from the audience. He still, immediately, said that he believes in his product. The rationalization on why the test failed was that it was blinded and that the people did not know they were holding his band. AKA, they didn’t know they were supposed to experience the placebo effect. He pretty much said that his bands work by doing the placebo effect, which led most of us to think he doesn’t know what the placebo effect is. When asked how he developed it, his answer was the standard new-age / pseudoscience of, “I read” books and NASA sites and other things and put it all together. It should be noted that he did agree — like all MDC claimants — to the experimental protocol in advance.

I went to dinner with many of the Colorado folks afterwards and then went to the Del Mar lounge to try to talk with more of the famous folks. Miranda Hale introduced me to DJ’s partner and he introduced me to a few people. I ended up getting to sit down in a group with Jamy Swiss and Banachek and talk with them for probably close to an hour. DJ and Thomas had gone to bed by that point. I tried to leave to go to bed around 12:30, but it took me around an hour to cross the 20 feet of the lounge because I kept getting into conversations with other people.

Other Stuff

First, I need to state here that though I said above, “I didn’t go to” some talks, I went to about 70% of them. It may have sounded like I went to less, so I wanted to clarify. I’ll admit I have a difficult time sitting in one place for too long and concentrating on people giving lectures for hours in a row.

Next, I suppose I should specify that in previous parts of this post, by “Colorado group,” I meant middle/northern Colorado. There was another contingent from Colorado Springs, and they were generally managing the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science table. I stopped by them many times and hobnobbed.

Similarly, I was at the CosmoQuest (Pamela Gay’s) table a fair bit. Not for any significant amount of time, but I tried to stop by several times a day for a few minutes in case there were any questions on the immediate science we were doing.

Otherwise, there were lots of tables set up with numerous atheist and skeptic organizations. I perused them and bought some stuff (as I mentioned earlier under the cost of this conference). I was a bit surprised at the number of atheist booths. I realize that many skeptics are atheists, but there is a rather significant argument in the movement over how much each should embrace the other. Hence, I was a bit surprised.

I was also surprised – though I really shouldn’t have been – at how much the hotel/casino attempts to nickel and dime you. Need to withdraw money from an ATM? 5% fee. Need a corkscrew for a wine bottle? $5. Having a package delivered for you to the front desk? $5 handling fee. More pillows in your room? Up to 2 more that will be removed the next morning. Wireless? $13 per day per device except in the hotel lobby where all the gambling and smoke is. Power for the tables where people had their stuff set up? $90 per table.

In other “other stuff,” I handed out a lot of business cards for my podcast – probably over 100 – and I’m hoping at least a third of them are kept and the podcast tried out, word spreading, etc., but we’ll see. I also modified my cards for the next printing to include some additional information based on what I had wished I put down as I was handing them out and so had to write down on the back.

Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast Business Card v. 1.3b

Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast Business Card v. 1.3b


Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast Business Card v. 1.4

Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast Business Card v. 1.4

Final Thoughts

I guess the bottom-line question at this point is, based on all the above, was TAM worth the time and the expense? I’m sitting here in the Vegas airport writing this post and waiting for my delayed flight (slating this post to be published in a day or two to give the appearance of regular posting on my blog). It’s honestly hard for me to give a giant, resounding, unconditional “yes” that I’ll spend at least $1100 next year to come to TAM. The only way to reduce that cost is to share a hotel room with someone, and that would only cut it down to around $950. Possibly I could drive, as well, but it’s around 14 hours each way and not something I’d look forward to.

I would like to go next year. It was enjoyable, and I met people that I’d like to see again. Being able to talk one-on-one with some of the VIPs that I’ve come to respect (and know by voice) over the last few years was a great experience. I enjoyed many – but unfortunately, not all – of the talks that I went to. I also found the quality of the talks/workshops to be very inconsistent, and technical difficulties became a running joke along with the additional costs for nearly everything at the venue.

I think an improvement would actually be to run parallel talks even for the main ones so that people are more likely to find something they want to listen to the entire time. As I wrote above, there were several talks I had absolutely no interest in.

In talking with a few other people, I also think that there should have been a first-TAMers mixer, I think the MDC should have been closer to the beginning of the conference, and I was surprised there was no SGU informal meetup – at least for SGU fans / forum folks. There were also apparently some other mixers open to everyone, like an LGBT one, but the lack of formal advertisement for these meant that very few knew about them.

With all that said (written), will I go next year? As the Magic 8 Ball would say, “All signs point to ‘Yes.’”

July 16, 2012

Episode 44: Independent Evidence the Apollo Moon Landings Were Real


Episode 44 has been posted, a tad early. I recorded this episode almost a week ago, and I’m posting it now roughly on time, though a bit early, when I happen to have internet at this conference where it costs $13/day/device (yes, seriously).

Anyway, this episode ended up being surprisingly short even though I go through four of the primary ways that I use to demonstrate that people really landed on the Moon with the Apollo program (I would say “prove” but I’m very cautious using that word these days — real “proof” only comes in mathematics). The four methods I use are ultraviolet photos of stars, the rocks, lunar laser ranging, and actual photos of the sites from lunar orbit.

There’s also a Q&A, puzzler (solution to last puzzler and this one will be in July 24th’s episode), and the main segment. Otherwise, that’s about it and perhaps why it came in at about 21 minutes.

July 14, 2012

Some Astronomical Errors at TAM 2012


Introduction

As some of you know, I’m attending the James Randi Education Foundation’s annual skeptics meeting, “The Amazing Meeting” (TAM) this year for the first time. I’m excited to be here, meeting people I’ve grown to look up to for the past few years, getting thrown a shirt last night by Penn Jillette without even having to flash my moobs, gushing at idols, etc.

That said, in the absolute least bitter/arrogant way possible, and with all due respect, I’ve been amazed at the astronomy (and astronomy-related) mistakes that have made their way into talks at this conference.

Edited to Add (07/20/2012): I put an “Addendum” at the end of the post to explain a bit more about McGaha’s errors.

“Astronomy for Skeptics: Investigating ‘Lights’ in the Sky” Workshop

To be perfectly blunt, James McGaha’s workshop was bad. The workshop as a whole was scattered content-wise, not cohesive, and very little of the workshop focused on the advertised content. Besides this, roughly half of his informational statements were factually wrong.

After calming down after the workshop, I wrote down some of the main errors I remembered. Among them …

McGaha stated that the Maya didn’t have any math, they could only count, and that’s what the Long Count calendar was, just a count. True, that’s what the Long Count was, simply a count of days in multiples of 20 and 18 and 13. But the Maya – while not nearly as sophisticated as modern mathematicians despite what new-agers want to think – had a very complex mathematics system for their time. They could count, yes, but they could do things with those counts, and they could make astronomical predictions spanning hundreds of years with a good understanding of celestial cycles.

Technologically, McGaha claimed that all GPS compasses cannot actually tell direction via GPS, that they have a small magnetometer in them that must be calibrated every time. This may be true for some. Might be true for your cellphone, your tablet, and some GPS stand-alone devices. But I have a nice field GPS. It tells direction in part by simply seeing how I’ve walked the last few steps and thus taking a difference of the latitude and longitude in order to tell what direction I’m going. No calibration required. He also said that if you hold a battery close to it, it will throw the reading off. Um, no.

After he was finished doing demos with a two-inch device to a room of 300 people, he got into some photography stuff. Among many other things, McGaha consistently messed up “pixel scale” and “resolution” as well as focus and depth of field. I’m not going to get too much into the latter because I was busy with something else while he was going over it, but for the former … “pixel scale” is when you say something like how many pixels per unit of measure. Like, each pixel in a photo is 2 inches in real life of the object being imaged. Resolution, on the other hand, is how many pixels are there. A high-resolution photo is saying that it’s something like 26 megapixels versus 1.3. It may be the most out of focus, poorly imaged thing where you can’t separate two broad barn doors, but it’s still high resolution.

Later, McGaha tried to demonstrate the motions of the stars through the sky with some laser pointers. He got it wrong. He also had a graphic in his slide show trying to show how we define the coordinate system on the sky. His diagram was a bit wrong in how the celestial poles are defined (not from your local north/south, but exactly from Earth’s rotational axis projected onto the sky).

Finally, one of the last things that he talked about was how your eye tells color. He stated that your eye cannot figure out the color of a monochromatic light source directly, that it needs a comparison source to tell. That’s wrong. He also said that with a monochromatic light source, if you change the intensity, your eye will perceive a different color. Um, no. Take a 5mW and 25mW green laser pointer and your eye will see the same color, not different ones.

Ben Radford and 2012

This was a talk I went to because I wanted to see how a non-astronomer skeptic approached the topic. His half-hour talk was basically a run-down of previous failed doomsday predictions, the classes of doomsday prophetic ideas, some humorous clips and quotes from proponents of this particular one, and then a very very cursory (like, 5 minutes or so) overview of how this got started and the Mayan calendar.

There honestly (and unfortunately) wasn’t much meat to the talk, but when he did talk about the Maya, he made some mistakes. One was saying that the Long Count does end this year. This is wrong. It ends one of the 5125 parts of its cycle, but it ticks over to the next “one up digit” of it (like going from 9999 to 10,000). Another mistake was that Ben appeared not to know that this “next tick” may not be this year. It’s based on a correlation that may be wrong, and likely is based on the latest research. It could be easily off by any multiple of 52 years.

A third error in Ben’s talk was his statement that the “end date” only comes from one Mayan inscription. This was correct until a few months ago. Recently, archaeologists discovered another inscription from very roughly 1000 years ago that referred to it. Not a major issue, but it negated (or seriously minimized) his point, and for someone who is an investigator putting together a talk for a major skeptics conference, I was somewhat disappointed.

Ben also seemed to not realize that this meme did not start with recent movies and and books. It has a definite starting point in the 70s and a bit earlier with a few specific people (such as José Argüellas or John Major Jenkins or Zecharia Sitchen). He held up recent books, not the ones that started it.

Oh, and Ben, Tabasco sauce is not made in Mexico. It’s “produced by US-based McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana” — check Wikipedia.

I was okay with Ben not doing astronomy nor a summary of what people thought would happen. I was okay with the direction of his talk because, as I said, I wanted to see how a non-astronomer approached it. But factual errors and a lack of research from someone like Ben Radford was disappointing.

Final Thoughts

I realize this post may have sounded a bit annoyed and crotchety. But this is a skeptics conference where we’re pointing out where OTHER people are making mistakes. We should not be making our own.

Addendum

Several people have asked me how McGaha got the motions of the sky wrong. Here’s a short, abridged list:

  • He didn’t know which way was north in the room even though he had just been demonstrating compasses for the past ten minutes.
  • Second, he was trying to show motions of the stars about the north celestial pole with laser pointers but instead of continuously rotating his hand to show them moving around the pole, he just rotated back and forth, effectively running time forwards and backwards. Having taught intro astro for people who don’t know astronomy, they WILL think that’s the actual motion if that’s how you demo it.
  • Third, he said that no matter where you are on Earth, no matter what time of year, the stars will always rise 23.5° relative to straight up from the horizon. This is very wrong. For example, at either pole during the equinox, stars will never rise nor set, but they will move in a circle at the same elevation in your sky.

July 12, 2012

Phosphorus-Replacing Bacteria (with Arsenic) Falsified – Creationists React


Introduction

About a year.5 ago, I wrote a parody of the response of the creationist, intelligent design, and UFO crowd to the announcement of a paper that had been published – and for which NASA held a large press conference – about the discovery of arsenic-based bacteria. (Note that I had some real responses by the creationist and UFO folks in the comments section of that post.)

I presented the announcement on this blog in the context of creationism and UFO=aliens folks because, after all, the implication (and the whole reason that NASA held a big press conference) was that if there is this bacteria that can replace one of the key atoms (phosphorus) in DNA with another atom (arsenic), it has serious implications for extraterrestrial biology. For example, a perhaps obvious implication is that you could thrive in an arsenic-rich environment as opposed to a phosphorus-rich environment.

At the time, this was a HUGELY controversial claim – as well it should have been (which I’ll discuss more in a bit). Many biologists criticized the study’s authors because they did not do some basic tests that would have made their case more convincing. The Skeptics Guide to the Universe spent nearly half an episode discussing why the original study’s authors did not do as much work on it as they should have.

Perhaps most egregious, the study’s authors were incredibly unprepared for the every expected media frenzy that followed. When questioned, the lead author responded with (paraphrased), “I don’t have those slides with me, I left them at home because I didn’t think I’d need them.” Also, there was (paraphrased), “That’s a conversation that should play out in the scientific literature.” I’m sorry, but that’s a really naïve response to someone if you’re in the middle of a press conference about your work.

Not that NASA is not to blame. I would hope that it’s the NASA press office that made most of the mistakes here, but as an organization, NASA should have more safeguards in place for this sort of thing if they’re going to hold a MAJOR press conference about a new study.

Now, time has passed, and new studies have been done on these bacteria, and the end result is what most had thought at the time: The claim was pretty much falsified. This has been shown in several now-published articles in prestigious scientific journals.

Media Reaction Now

Most “mainstream” media outlets are often criticized by scientists and skeptics because they rarely do follow-up articles. It makes sense to their profit margins because the stories that people are most likely to read are the “more interesting” original stories that have the sexy new result — regardless of whether that result turns out to be accurate or not in the end. Three years later if fifty new studies come out that all refute the original, it’s unlikely that it will be reported because no one cares anymore (except us).

With that said, you can probably expect the reaction in the media from these papers: Almost non-existent.

Original Authors’ Reaction Now

I can understand how one would feel if a major paper of theirs’ was later disproven, especially when there was a media frenzy surrounding it and it practically made their career. The original paper’s first author is now on a NASA fellowship, for example. Her public response has been that there was probably contamination in the transport process of the bacteria from her lab to the independent ones, so she still believes her results.

Young-Earth Creationist Claims Now

Meanwhile, creationists are pulling an, “I told you so” with these new papers. It’s another case where the reporting has been reasonably good from the creationists, likely because it’s a result that they think supports their beliefs. Creation Ministries International calls this “A Publicity Stunt Gone Bad” in one of their sub-headings on the new papers.

For background as to why, as I’ve written about before, young-Earth creationists tend to completely reject any idea that life exists off-Earth. My understanding on the reason for this is two-fold. First, it’s because the Bible says nothing about God creating life anywhere except Earth. Second, it’s because Jesus would apparently have had to reincarnate on every planet with life and die for their sins, too, and again the Bible says nothing about this.

So, when the initial study came out, the creationists didn’t like it and reported what the dissent side said more than the press release side. Now, they feel vindicated.

How Science Works

I’m writing this blog post while sitting in a workshop discussion at “The Amaz!ng Meeting” (TAM) 10, and Steve Novella is currently talking about how journalism fails these days because they report on EVERY preliminary study as though it is now THE answer. The lay public gets the idea that, “Oh, this paper is out, there’s a press release, it’s picked up in the media, it must now be what Science Sez.” This is even though, to quote Steve just 15 seconds ago, “Most of the preliminary studies are wrong … not only [are they] mostly wrong, but [they're] mostly falsely positive[s] … and that’s massively misleading.”

This is more applicable in medicine (what Steve is talking about at the moment), but it’s applicable in probably every field of science. And, it definitely applies to this case.

Science is messy. It is a process that is usually long and involved. It takes time, it takes repetition, and it takes many people doing independent replications of the original work to verify the result (or, often, refute it).

The internet is a wonderful thing for science with collaboration and the ability of scientists to talk directly with the public. That’s what this blog is, in part — I’m a scientist talking directly with you. But it also means that, for one of the first times in history, the average person sees the intermediate science results before they become consensus. They see the mess.

The public is used to scientists knowing what they’re talking about and being The Authority on an issue, and most don’t realize that it’s really a long process that takes time and many different and independent studies. They learn about Newton’s Laws of motion and don’t understand it took years of development and trial-and-error to figure them out. They know about the atomic bomb, but they don’t realize it was a massive effort with many people working and many tests that failed or false leads that never worked out.

That’s really what this is: An example of how science works. It is self-correcting. It may take time, but in the end, it’s self-correcting.

Final Thoughts

And since this blog post is in part about creationism, I do feel the need to point out that Christianity is not self-correcting. That is pretty much the definition of dogma. People may ignore some of its tenants (how many different fibers are in your clothes today?), but those rules and apparent laws and facts are still part of the religion.

Why do our textbooks cost more? Because we revise them in light of new information. Bibles are cheap to produce because they don’t have to pay authors to revise them when new data is available.

That’s what this is: The scientific process in action. A paper was published that suggested a radical departure from what we thought was established, people disagreed with its methods and conclusions, and they did their own independent analyses. Many of those have now been done and are published, and as far as most scientists are now concerned, the original paper has been falsified. The scientific consensus is that we do not have any examples of bacteria that have replaced the phosphorus in their DNA with arsenic. Case 99% closed.

Except for the UFO people and conspiracy people who have incorporated it into their mythos. I’m sure they’ll still be referencing the arsenic-based life paper for years to come.

July 8, 2012

Podcast Episode 43: The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 3


In this episode, I return to the 2012 / Planet X mythos with another installment (at least 5 total are planned) about “The Fake Story of Planet X.” This particular one is a conspiracy claim where folks think that Planet X is coming from the south pole which is why we can’t see it. Except that the government knows about it so built a telescope down there to observe it.

This episode also includes a bit of new news, Q&A, a puzzler (yay!), and a single announcement. Since I’m writing next week’s episode today and need to record it today/tomorrow, I am holding off on Feedback likely until July 24. Note that the solution to this episode’s puzzler will be discussed in the July 24 one so that people have enough time to participate in the puzzler (hint hint, nudge nudge).

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