Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 15, 2012

Nostradamus and 2012: Some Internet Folks Get Punk’d


Introduction

Among the modern “scientific skeptics” movement – which is already small – I count myself (in the least arrogant way possible) among the even smaller subset who are actual career scientists. Being in that sub-set, a not uncommon question is: If you had no morals, what kind of scam would you perpetrate?

As in, if I wanted to go out and be on Oprah and Motel and Coast to Coast and sell hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions of dollars?) worth of pseudoscientific crap, what kind of crap would I shovel out to the masses?

To say that I haven’t thought about it would be lying. To say that I haven’t thought to try a social experiment would be lying. But this April, I unwittingly did just that.

April Fools

Some of you may remember my April Fools post for 2012: “New Nostradamus Quatrain for 2012 Discovered.” The idea was that people keep making up new things that Nostradamus “said,” after some event, and then claim it applied to that event. This happened with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. And, as also happened with that attack, people “reinterpret” quatrains that Nostradamus actually did write in order to fit them to the event.

In that spirit, I wrote my post about a “newly discovered” quatrain. And of course, tied it very obviously to the 2012 doomsday stuff. I even posted it on April 4, but I set the date back in WordPress so that it appears I posted it on April 1. People started posting in the comments pretty quickly and sniffed it out as an obvious prank.

And that was that.

December 2012

Fast-forward to the last week or two. WordPress is neat in that it tells you what people have searched for in search engines to get them to your blog. Usually, the top terms have something to do with Planet X or December 21, 2012. For a very brief few days about two weeks ago, the top term was “Glynis McCants fraud” — for which my blog is still among the top ten, and was briefly #2, in Google search results for that term.

But, for the last week, and indeed, now looking at the stats, for the past quarter (3 months), the top term outpacing all others by nearly a factor of 2 is “nostradamus quatrains 2012.” Ooops.

Search Terms for Blog Hits, 4th Quarter 2012

Search Terms for Blog Hits, 4th Quarter 2012

Disclaimer?

A few days ago, I added this disclaimer to my April Fools post:

Edited to Add (Dec. 09, 2012): Okay folks, one of the top search engine directs I’m getting to my blog is for stuff along the lines of “nostradamus quatrain 2012″ and folks are getting this post. Let me be clear: THIS WAS AN APRIL FOOLS POST. That is all. Now, on with the show …

Still on Forums

As of this writing, people on three different forums have picked upon this and are treating it as a genuine Nostradamus quatrain. One is a “Topix” forum, another is on a forum for people who own the Dodge Challenger (a car), and the third is Aantares.com forum. Intriguingly, none of them are cited, though the first two quote more of my post than just the quatrain I made up.

In fact, the last one made it up even more than I did. The poster took the first two lines that I wrote and then made up the last two lines.

Final Thoughts

Is this of large impact? No, of course not. Three people on random forums taking it and quoting me and thinking it was genuine does not a big issue make. And hopefully with this post, too, people coming to this blog will realize that there’s nothing to fear.

But, the fact that the most hits to my blog these days – and now every day for the past nearly two weeks – are for Nostradamus quatrains relating to 2012 … well, it does say something about the state of critical thinking in our society.

Exactly what does it say? Well, I know the answer, but if I told you, then you wouldn’t be thinking for yourself …

Housekeeping

WordPress has just informed me that this has been my 300th post. That’s an average of 5.3 days between posts for the last 4 years 4 months I’ve been blogging. Not horrible, though not great, I suppose.

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9 Comments »

  1. Dr.Robbins, I have been following your posts with great interest “scientifically”. I am as every human being, I think, hard wired with caveat emptor and mother’s dictat, “beware of strangers”. Over the years I have learnt from experience that Men have motives including the ones that want to go to heaven and hence save other’s souls. And also that the human is fallible. So far, from this site I gather that (1) There is this pure educated “scientific” class that tell the truth and only the truth and everything is absolutely altruistic and genuine and (2) there are this class that are not so “honest” and are capable of and indulge in hoax and the gullible fall prey for a variety of reasons. So, the purpose of this site is to save the victims / potential from the wrong doings of the class (2) The history of science and (1) unfortunately is replete with exanples of hoaxes being perpetuated for a variety of reasons by (1) though it may or may not be called hoax. For example Lysenko, a famous Russian biologist claimed proof of theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics which classical geneticists refuted. Mendel’s data too has been questioned by some as being “doctored” to suit the theory. Now, my question is how does someone uncover a hoax perpetuated by (1). (a) What are the scientific methods one must adopt (b) what are the steps one should take to place the reality before the world? thanks

    Comment by sleeping8 — December 15, 2012 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

  2. 300th post?! Stuart, considering that, unlike so many of the others, you have a day job (and a rather demanding one at that), I think that’s outstanding! Congratulations!

    Comment by JayB — December 15, 2012 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Jay.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 15, 2012 @ 7:24 pm | Reply

  3. Your April Fool’s hoax is quite subtle. You were kinda debunking elements of the quatrain or at least potential interpretations of it. I have a feeling you would have been able to utterly annihilate that particular hoax quatrain, though… Even if you did perpetrate it so it’s rather accurate.

    Comment by Julian Janssen — December 15, 2012 @ 11:20 pm | Reply

    • Well, the other thing was that I completely made up that quatrain.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 15, 2012 @ 11:40 pm | Reply

      • That’s what I meant. You made it up, so you tried to make it fit actual astronomical events pretty well, but I still think you could take yourself down without challenging the authenticity if the quote.

        Comment by Julian Janssen — December 16, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

  4. It is not a big surprise that hoaxers, charlatans and other ‘prophets’ are making good profits and long career. Very sad.

    Comment by Jennifer — December 16, 2012 @ 1:55 am | Reply

  5. Seems like once one goes down the pseudoscience road, turning away from it becomes more and more difficult as time goes on. The money and “fame” might be too much of an attraction. I guess the only real incentive that keeps genuine scientists at their jobs is they love what they’re doing too much to want to throw it all away to pursue ill-gotten wealth and the wrong kind of notoriety instead.

    I’m not surprised you considered doing something along those lines, Dr. Robbins. You’re human. I’m very glad you decided against that path.

    The fact that people would take an obvious spoof and treat it as if real shows how incredibly gullible we all are. And the one person who changed part of your phony quatrain with even more bogus stuff shows there’s at least one person out there looking to make something out of it for themselves.

    Comment by Rick K. — December 16, 2012 @ 2:41 pm | Reply

  6. I dipped my toe into the scam pool with my http://karma-exchange.org but so far no goldfish shoal nibbles, not even with my special 2012 message. Aw.

    Comment by Torsten Pihl — December 17, 2012 @ 12:41 pm | Reply


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