Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 14, 2014

As We Approach the Era of the Blood Moon Tetrad, Here’s What You Need to Know


Introduction

Coming out of the 2012 (Mayan apocalypse) non-event, many of us wondered what the next doomsday would be. At the time, I said in several interviews that I didn’t know. This “blood moons” thing, however, seems to have grasped the attention of many, and since it has another 18 months to play out, I anticipate it might grow considerably. I hope not, because it’s silly, but we’ll see.

For those just coming here from an internet search, and you haven’t followed this blog at all, a few months ago I put out a podcast episode that thoroughly addressed this issue. I suggest it as a starting point.

The purpose of this blog post is to briefly summarize those issues again, and to go over a few small things that I did not address in that episode. And to say, once again, there is absolutely nothing to worry about, the whole thing smacks of people for thousands of years fearing comets or eclipses because they didn’t understand them. This time, we understand them, but some people still irrationally fear them.

Edited to Add: Conspiracy Skeptic Karl Mamer interviewed me and got the interview up really fast. It’s an hour:15 about these issues.

Terminology

Tetrad: Lunar eclipses can be penumbral (it just dims a bit), partial (only part of the moon is in total shadow), or total (full moon is in Earth’s shadow). They can happen in any order or combination, but when four lunar eclipses in a row are total, that’s called a “tetrad.”

Blood Moon: A spooky/scary -sounding name for a total lunar eclipse because the only light that can reach the moon is filtered through Earth’s atmosphere, leaving only long wavelengths of light, the red light. So, the moon appears dark and red. Yeah, scary.

Lunar Eclipses

Very briefly, the moon orbits Earth, and the plane of its orbit is tilted about 5.1° relative to Earth’s path around the sun. So, it crosses that path twice in its orbit (called nodes). Only on those points could an eclipse possibly occur. And, only when those points happen during a new or full moon do you actually get an eclipse.

When it happens during a new moon, that’s a solar eclipse. Full moon, it’s a lunar eclipse. If a part of the moon would see the sun partially eclipsed by Earth, that’s a penumbral eclipse and you just get a small dimming. If a part of the moon would see the sun totally eclipsed by Earth, then that part is totally eclipsed, called an umbral eclipse. When the whole moon is in an umbral eclipse, it’s a total eclipse.

Eclipse Seasons

Because of the way the moon’s orbit works and the nodes line up, if you have an eclipse, you will likely have the other kind (solar or lunar) 2 weeks earlier or later. And, then they go out of alignment. Six months later, they’re back in alignment, and so you’ll usually get another 2 or 3 eclipses, 2 weeks apart.

And, the whole thing repeats something like every 18.6 years.

Jewish Calendar and Holidays

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, meaning that new moons start a new month and full moons are in the middle of the month.

Most Jewish holidays are tied to the Jewish calendar and happen on either the first of the month or on the middle day of the month.

Therefore, by definition, most Jewish holidays will happen during either a new moon or a full moon. Therefore, by definition, the likelihood of a lunar or solar eclipse happening exactly on a Jewish holiday is much, much higher than for holidays based on a solar calendar.

Aside: Who’s Behind the Phenomenon?

That would be Pastor Mark Biltz. He originated this back around 2008, and it got very little attention. That’s changed.

Biltz’s story is that he went to NASA’s website and saw that there were these eclipses and tetrads, he saw that some of the tetrads happened during Jewish holidays, in his mind he thought that some of those resulted in doom (more on that later).

When he relates the story, he makes a big deal about how the data all comes from NASA in an apparent argument from authority. While it’s true that you can get a whole bunch of eclipse data from NASA, Pastor Biltz apparently has some issues reading big bold text. For example, he claims that NASA posts eclipse data for the “past 5000 years.” Except, it’s for the past 4000 and next 1000.

It’s a minor issue, but it calls into question how good he is at reading even less obvious signs which is the entire basis for his claims. (And Pastor Biltz claimed that Christopher Columbus was Jewish – he insisted on it – despite the fact he was a Roman Catholic. Again, signs of poor scholarship and a willingness to warp something to fit his ideas.)

More to This Phenomena: How Often Do Lunar Eclipses Occur?

Pastor Biltz claims that NASA data shows that 3479 total lunar eclipses have happened in the past 5000 years. It’s actually past 4000 and next 1000, but, whatever. He says that this means you only get an average of 1 total lunar eclipse every 1.5 years (it’s 1.4, but moving on), but OMG we get 4 in the space of only 18 months this time!!!!

This sounds like it’s way over the average. Which it is. But, using an average is the wrong statistics for this on the short-term. Eclipse seasons and the way the orbits work out mean that you typically get these occurring in spurts. You get a lot of penumbral, then a few total. Or, 2-3 total, then 1 partial, 2 total, 5 penumbral. Before this April, we had 1 partial, 1 penumbral, 1 partial, and 2 penumbral. No total eclipses for 2.5 years!!!!

My point is that it’s fine to say that, on average, these happen once every 1.5 years over the long term. But, then going ahead and using that to say that a particular year, two years, or even decade is above or below “average” is an abuse of the statistics.

More to This Phenomena: How Often Do Tetrads Occur?

There’s no nice, simple formula predictor that gives you a way to figure this out. Happily, Universe Today has a nice table. It shows that during the 11th-13th, 17th-19th, 23rd-24th, and 28th-29th centuries, there are 0. 14th there were 6, 15th there were 4, 16th there were 6, and 20th there were 5. This century, we get a whopping 8, and next century we get 4.

So, they are not exceedingly rare, but, they’re not that common. This generation has or will see several. Our great-great-great-great grandparents saw none.

More to This Phenomena: How Often Do Tetradal (is that a word?) Eclipses Occur on (Major) Jewish Holidays?

Well, because tetrads are relatively rare, and they tend to precess through the months (because lunar eclipses precess through the months), it is somewhat more rare than tetrads. But again, by definition, it is likely that they will happen on Jewish holidays. Not necessarily major ones, but on Jewish holidays. This time, they just so happen to fall on major ones.

More to This Phenomena: What Happened Last Time?

So, the last time the tetrad happened during Passover, Sukkot, Passover, Sukkot, was April 24, 1967 – October 6, 1968. Pastor Biltz says the big thing that happened to Israel during that time was the 6-day war, which was June 5-10, 1967. So, during the “blood moon season,” but not during or even really near any eclipse (in fact, about as far as you could get – 3 months before and 3 months after the next/last one). And, based on an objective look at the history, Israel won. And Israel increased its land holdings significantly. I wouldn’t call that a “bad” thing for Israel.

What about before that? The previous tetrad also happened over two successive Passovers and Sukkots, and that was April 13, 1949 – September 26, 1950. What does Pastor Biltz point to as the major bad event concerning Israel that this Sign in the Heavens pointed to? Israel was founded. May 14, 1948. 11 months before the first eclipse in that tetrad.

Ummm … not a bad thing for Israel, and the fact that he has to search nearly a year to find something significant makes me, well, skeptical.

Retrodiction, Prediction, Cherry-Picking …

By this point, it should be very clear how I feel about this issue. But, let’s put it another way: You have a somewhat rare event, and you find something bad (or good) that happened during or within a year of that event, and say the two are related (correlation = causation fallacy). That is what Pastor Biltz has done. Nothing more, nothing less.

Why do I say this? Well, I took a simple internet search of “Timeline of Jewish History” and, nicely, Wikipedia has something on that. Yeah, some of you may not like Wikipedia, but regardless, you can still use it as a starting point. And, gasp!! pretty much every year, something important happens to Jews. Or, same thing with a timeline of Israeli history.

My point is that if your criteria is vague (“something” has/will happen) and you’re allowed to include events that happened practically within a year of the event that already lasts 18 months (so you have 42 months, or 3.5 years to find something), well, I’m unimpressed. Now, if something catastrophic that was a once-in-a-lifetime event happened exactly on the date that these tetrads started but only on the tetrads that coincided with the major Jewish holidays, then I might be more interested and look more closely.

But, let’s take a look at the last tetrad: May 4, 1985 – October 17, 1986. Biltz doesn’t say anything about that because the cycle happened +1 month from the Jewish holidays. Looking at those timelines of Jewish and Israeli history, the First Intifada started in 1987, just a year after the tetrad ended!

Or what about the importance of 1982, when Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula? Or 1956, the war which brought Israel into the Sinai in the first place?

And Yet, There’s More!

Pastor Biltz has many other bits and pieces that feed into this. For example, that 2015 is a Shmita year, every 7 years when Jews are supposed to let their fields lie fallow. Oh, and all debts, except foreign ones, are remitted.

Biltz claims that the last one (Sept. 13, 2007 – Sept 29, 2008) finished just as the Dow fell 7%! And the one before that (Sept. ?, 2000 – Sept. 17, 2001) the Dow fell 7.1%! Not being able to carry this much further, he pointed to the one in 1994 (Sept. ?, 1993 – Sept. 5, 1994) when, not on the last day of the Shmita, but sorta in the middle, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter with 21 fragments (it was actually many more than that, but hey, 21/3 = 7 so we get 7 again, so don’t let facts get in the way) in July 16-22, 1994.

Again, retrodiction.

Final(?) Thoughts

This is a really long post. And there’s a lot of stuff that Biltz and many others (such as John Hagee) have heaped onto this non-significant (but still neat!) astronomical event. I’ve tried in this post and the podcast to cover the major components and claims, and hopefully set some of you (who may have come here from an internet search for more information, or referred here by a friend) at ease.

Let me try to summarize more succinctly: The Jewish calendar is defined such that most holidays must happen during new or full moons, and lunar eclipses can only happen during full moons. Total lunar eclipses are called by fear-mongers “blood moons.” Yes, a tetrad is somewhat rare, and because elf the way things line up, it’s more rare that it will happen on the Jewish holidays, but not ridiculously rare because of the way the calendar is defined. But besides that, nothing bad happened the last two times. The time correlation that he and others have attempted to draw is flimsy and reeks of vague retrodiction to fit the story he/they want to tell. In fact, based on the events named, good stuff happened for the Jews and Israel.

So, I recommend that if you’re in a part of the world where you can enjoy this and the weather cooperates, go outside, take a look up, take your camera, and enjoy this not-everyday neat celestial event.

April 10, 2014

Alien Lights or Cosmic Rays on Mars


Introduction

I was not going to talk about this because I didn’t think I had much to add. And I thought it was stupid. And, I’ve had run-ins with UFO Sightings Daily before (well, one).

But, people keep talking about it, so it at least deserves a mention here.

Origin Story

Everybody likes a good origin story. Wolverine made quite a lot of money.

The timeline, so far as I can tell, is that UFO Sightings Daily “discovered,” on April 6, 2014, and then posted, on April 7, 2014, the following:

Light on Mars in Curiosity Image (from UFO Sightings Daily)

Light on Mars in Curiosity Image (from UFO Sightings Daily)

An artificial light source was seen this week in this NASA photo which shows light shining upward from…the ground. This light was discovered by Streetcap1 of Youtube. This could indicate there is intelligent life below the ground and they use light as we do. This is not a glare from the sun, nor is it an artifact of the photo process. Look closely at the bottom of the light. It has a very flat surface giving us 100% indiction that it is from the surface. Sure NASA could go and investigate it, but hey, they are not on Mars to discovery life, but there to stall its discovery. SCW

Houston Chronicle Posts

It would’ve been relegated to everything else of random bright spots in images except that the Houston Chronicle‘s reporter Carol Christian decided to write a story about it.

And then two people posted to my podcast’s Facebook page (thanks Linda and Maryann). And Doubtful News picked it up, as did Phil Plait.

What Is It?

It’s a cosmic ray. >99% chance. Here’s what happens: High-energy particles constantly stream throughout the universe. We’ve been detecting them for decades, and their energy varies considerably.

Electronic imagers typically work when a photon – a bit of light – kicks up an electron within a pixel. Those electrons are counted after the exposure is done, and that’s how you get your image.

When high-energy particles randomly stream into a detector, they are higher-energy than the photons we’re usually trying to collect, and they appear as bright streaks. Digital cameras that you use for normal photography have algorithms to remove those as known noise sources, so you typically never see them. We also see them more rarely on Earth because many are blocked by the atmosphere.

Those of us who use research-quality cameras on telescopes, however, see them all the time. In fact, Phil said the exact same thing: “I’ve worked with astronomical cameras for many, many years, and we see little blips like this all the time.” (It’s nice when we agree.)

Right now, some of my research is focusing on using images from the Cassini spacecraft in orbit of Saturn, studying some of Saturn’s moons.

Rhea from Cassini (W1594713967_1)

Rhea from Cassini (W1594713967_1)

Here is one image of Rhea, taken by the ISS camera. It’s a raw image, about as original as you can get with respect to almost no processing has taken place. And look at all those stray bits of light! Pretty much every single one of them, including the two long streaks, and including the dots, are cosmic rays.

More evidence? Courtesy of Phil Plait, we have an animation:

Light, No Light (Phil Plait)

What’s nice is that this is from Curiosity’s NAVCAM, which has a pair of cameras. From the right camera, we have the bright spot. From the left camera, we don’t. The reason that you’re seeing a small shift in position is due to parallax between the two cameras (by design, since this helps tell distance). (FYI, Mike Bara, who addressed this just a half hour ago on Coast to Coast AM, claimed that the cosmic ray was the least likely explanation, and while he posts the parallax GIF on his website, he said he refused to name the source because “I dislike him [Phil Plait] intensely.” Despite showing a another image that Phil linked to, so clearly he read Phil’s blog. Mike’s seemingly only explanation for why it was not a cosmic ray is that he said it didn’t look like other cosmic rays people are pointing to. That’s like me saying that a rose is not a plant because all the examples of plants you’re showing me are trees. It’s a class of object, every cosmic ray on a detector looks a little different, especially when you have blooming factored in (see the next section).)

Why a Rectangle?

Either the cosmic ray hit at an angle, so we see it as a streak (see above example ISS image), or, as is also common with CCD images, when an individual pixel collects too much light, it tends to overflow, and spill over into neighboring pixels, almost always along columns. We call this “blooming.”

But Wasn’t It Seen In a Second Image in the Same Spot a Day Later?

Mike made this claim, and I saw it from a commenter on Phil’s blog. Thus far, no one has actually posted or linked to such a second image that I can find. If anyone has seen this claimed image, please let me know. And by “please let me know,” I mean providing the NASA image ID so I can find it. I know that Mike put an “Enhancement of April 3rd image” on his blog, but it’s useless for proving anything without the ID it came from.

Anything Else?

Maybe? This post might be slightly premature, and it’s a bit stream-of-consciousness, but I wanted to get it up before bed. The station on which I was listening to Mike on C2C decided to cut out the second half hour because of some crash somewhere, something about people dying, breaking news, etc. When I get the full audio, I may add to this, but it sounded like George was taking the interview in a separate direction after the bottom-of-the-hour break, though a caller may have brought it back up.

Let’s be clear about a few things, though:

1. The object is seen in one camera, not in another, despite the two cameras taking an image at the same time of the same spot.

2. There is a claim that it showed up in another image a day later, but so far as I can tell, this is just a claim and no one has pointed to that image. If it exists, I’d like to see it and I’ll re-examine my curt analysis.

3. We see similar artifacts in other Mars images, and we see them all the time in space-based cameras, and we see them generally in all electronic cameras (at least those that don’t get rid of them for us).

4. The story comes from UFO Sightings Daily and only became mainstream because a reporter at a somewhat mainstream paper picked it up.

So, what could it be? Aliens? Architecture that glints just right so it’s only in one camera of two that are right next to each other imaging something a few miles away? An impact flash from a crater forming? A dust devil reflecting the light just right? Lens flare?

Or a cosmic ray? I don’t think any of those previous explanations are likely, I think this is most likely.

Bara, as with other UFO / aliens protagonists, say that Curiosity should live up to its name and drive over there and investigate. Yup, take days, power, money (gotta pay the ground crew), and investigate what is very likely to be a high-energy particle that made it through the atmosphere and onto a camera’s CCD.

What do you think?

Edited to Add (10 hrs later): Per Phil’s latest blog post: “Except not really. Another expert on Mars hardware said it may have actually been a “light leak”, a bit of sunlight that somehow got into the camera through a hole, or crack, or seam somewhere in the hardware. He also says it may be a sharp reflection of sunlight off a glinty rock. Those are certainly plausible, though right now we don’t have enough evidence to say for sure which of these explanations may or may not be the right one.” Yup, another possibility. As is a defect in the camera sensor itself (see discussion in the comments to this blog post).

My Interview on Reality Remix


Right-click me and save as!!

This never made it to my To Do list which is why it’s taken so long for me to put it up. And I apparently recorded a huge echo on my end, so I had to get the official version.

On Wednesday evening, March 26, 2014, I was interviewed on the Above Top Secret internet radio program, “Reality Remix.” We covered a variety of topics and because I was so verbose, the main interviewer threw his script on the floor and we just winged it. Most of the topics focused on more conspiracy-minded things, but that’s because this was from Above Top Secret, probably the premier internet destination to discuss conspiracy theories. Among them are topics I do and don’t cover (like I don’t cover a lot of UFO stuff), Apollo moon landing hoax ideas, is peer review reliable, and the Ringmakers of Saturn.

I am tentatively scheduled to be back for a May 7 interview again where we should be covering more, similar, and different topics, including the Dark Knight satellite and the infamous guy from UFOlogy, Bob Lazar.

I’m not releasing this into the podcast feed because I personally don’t like it when other shows do that (early on with “Skeptics with a K,” excluded), so you’ll need to right-click and save as on the link: Right-click me and save as!!

March 22, 2014

Podcast Episode 104: Pyramids on Mars


Pyramids on Mars
Could be made by aliens
Or, just by nature.

I’ve wanted to do an episode on the pyramids on Mars for quite awhile, so, here ’tis. It’s also good to get this researched and put out because it will be a chapter in an eBook I’m working on (yet another project that hopefully will have a better ending than many of my others). So, if you have any suggestions for it, please let me know so that I can incorporate changes in this episode into the eBook chapter.

With that in mind, this is a very straight-forward episode with of course the obligatory C2C clips. It’s also brought to you by:

  • Fallacy of the Single Cause
  • Argument from Authority
  • Argument from Ignorance
  • Proving a Negative

All that said, I will be interviewed on the “Reality Remix” internet radio on Wednesday, Marcy 26, at 11:00PM EDT (March 27, 3AM UTC) … sorry for the late notice. I will try to record it and if I’m able and allowed, I will post a copy when it’s all said and done. To listen live, go to their website!

February 22, 2014

Podcast Episode 101: The Chualar Barley Field Crop Circle


Chualar crop circle
Was claimed by many as “real.”
Or, was it a stunt?

After a bit of a break due to the monumental effort in Episode 100, I bring you #101, my first foray into crop circles. I’ve wanted to do a crop circle episode for a LOOOOONG time, I think originally scheduled as far back as to be episode 16 in late 2011. But, this is the first time that I’ve found a good example of credulous reporting, “professional crop circle researchers” pulling out all the stops to say that this couldn’t possibly have been done by humans, the big reveal that it WAS done by humans, and the subsequent denial.

The episode was brought to you by:

  • Sacred Cows
  • Argument from Ignorance
  • Anomaly Hunting
  • Argument from Authority

Anyway, ‘n-joy and as always, let me know what you think (constructive criticisms, not rants, please).

February 17, 2014

Interview for a Japanese Program on the Apollo Moon Hoax


Introduction

Two weeks ago, I was contacted by a Japanese production company, asking me if I’d be willing to do a short interview for a program that they are producing – and probably broadcasting – around March or April. In Japan.

I agreed, and I was sent a few different questions to get an idea of what I should prepare. I had only heard of some of them, so I did some research and, as a way to prep, I wrote up “brief” responses. Obviously I wasn’t reading while being recorded, but it was a way to organize my thoughts.

And get a free blog post. So, here are ten interview questions and my responses, as prepared. On the show, they weren’t all asked, and a few additional ones were, so I don’t think I’m pre-empting anything by putting these online. Please note that the questions were originally in Japanese, translated into English, and I have edited them a bit for grammar.

Interview Questions and Answers

1. Why did the moon landing conspiracy surface? Did it start with the 1976 book written by Kaysing Conspiracy?

For anything before the internet era, it’s really hard to pin down the start of anything — all you can do is find the earliest example, but there could always be something before that that you simply could not find.

Bill Kaysing’s book in 1976 was the first book to claim that it was a conspiracy, yes, and the very fringe Flat Earth Society was one of the first organizations to do so in 1980.

However, there are various people who were NASA watchers back during the Apollo era who have variously claimed that even in the late 1960s, there were some people who were claiming that it was all a hoax. But, in terms of contemporary, printed material with a definite copyright date, Kaysing’s book was the first.

2. Do you know what the initial reaction to Kaysing’s book when it was just released was?

[No …]

3. Following the book’s publish, the movie, Capricorn One, was released. Do you think the movie was released because of the public’s initial reaction to the Kaysing’s book?

It’s likely it was written due to general hoax sentiment, not due to Kaysing’s book in particular, but it would be interesting to have gotten a contemporary interview with writer-director Peter Hyams to learn his motivation. He said, “There was one event of really enormous importance that had almost no witnesses. And the only verification we have . . . came from a TV camera.”

It’s important to mention that NASA actually helped with the production of the movie, loaning them equipment as props, including a prototype lunar module. If NASA were trying to cover up an Apollo conspiracy, one might think they would not have helped make a movie about them covering up a Mars landing conspiracy.

Do you know how much attention the book and movie received at that time? Was there any media coverage about it?

I don’t know about the book, but the movie became one of the most successful independent films of 1978.

4. The conspiracy theory surfaced in the 70s, and media brought it back again in the late 1990s and early 2000s, such as FOX’s TV special program, “Conspiracy Theory” and the book, “Dark Moon,” which are about the moon landing conspiracy. Why do you think the media covered this topic again after decades?

I’m not sure, but the 1990s saw a resurgence of missions of the Moon and Mars by the United States. People who believed in the hoax could then use that to gain traction. And, if you find a sympathetic producer, or even one who thinks that they can get ratings by making something so sensational like the FOX docudrama, then you can get your show made.

5. The points that conspiracy theorists bring up: Despite the fact that there was a large amount of thrust, there was no blast crater left on the moon.

There’s no real reason to have expected a “blast crater” in the sense of an explosion. There was some disturbance of the ground under the nozzle, but it was a blast as in a blast of air.

You can also use very basic math to show why you wouldn’t expect one: If you use the specifications, you can show that the pressure under the engine was only about half a pound per square inch. The average adult when walking exerts about three times that pressure. When you clap your hands together, you exert more pressure than the lunar module’s engines did on the surface of the Moon.

If astronauts did land, there should have been a large amount of dust floating around, yet we can see no sign of dust on the space suits or their surroundings.

There actually shouldn’t have been. This is a case where your every-day experience on Earth does not prepare you for what to expect on the Moon. If I take dust and blow on it in this room, it billows out and slowly falls down after swirling around for a long time.

But, there’s no air on the Moon. Any particle that’s kicked up will go up and then drop right back down. There’s no air to suspend the dust. In fact, you can go to movies of the lunar rover and see it kick up dust and fall right back down to the surface which requires the vacuum of the Moon rather than an air-filled sound stage on Earth.

6. About the “identical background” claims on Apollo 16 mission footage, how do you dispel this claim? Some people (such as Phil Plait) have said that it’s just a simple error with the video. They say that Erick Jones, who is the editor of the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, says that those two clips were taken about only a few mins apart. According to our research, the “identical background” video clips were taken from the NASA-sponsored documentary video, “Nothing so Hidden.” And the documentary is produced by other production company outside of NASA. Therefore, our understanding is that it’s an error on editing stage of production: the production company took wrong clips and audio and used in the documentary. What do you think of our theory?

Makes sense. This is an innate problem with conspiracies: You have to suppose this vast maniacal group of people trying to hide the truth, so you can’t trust them on anything. And yet, this claim requires you to trust an original claim that was shown to be in err and not trust the correction.

There was a lot of footage taken on the Moon, a lot of audio and video. Stuff gets mislabeled, put in the wrong box, or edited wrong in production of documentaries afterward. Despite all attempts, the people involved were only human, and mistakes are bound to happen. You shouldn’t contribute to a conspiracy what simple human error can very easily explain.

-How did NASA usually archive footage back then during the Apollo project

[Explanation courtesy of "Expat" of the Dork Mission blog, who worked with the BBC during the Apollo era on the Apollo missions.]

Everything was transferred to 16mm film, by the kinescope process. A contractor, The AV Corporation of Seabrook (just a few miles from JSC, or MSFC as it was then known) handled all media requests. They had a pretty good catalog. No doubt there were also copies for internal use. By the time I made a documentary about Skylab, AVCorp was out of the picture and NASA’s own film editors worked with me to search the archive.

If mastering on film seems illogical by today’s standards, it wasn’t back then. The point is that film is independent of TV line standards. In those days transcoding between the US and European standards was a highly imperfect process. All our documentaries were produced on film anyway, so a video release would just have been a nuisance for us and the end result would have been degraded.

As late as 1981, when I was location producer for the BBC coverage of STS-1, I had BBC engineers getting on my case and refusing to transmit images shot by a US-based ENG (video) crew. We had to go through a ridiculous pantomime pretending that it was a film crew instead. By the time we sent the material back to London via satellite, how could they tell?

-For what purpose did NASA produce these documentary videos of the Apollo project?

A better question would be, why wouldn’t they? Practically every government agency has a public relations department, tasked with disseminating their work to the public and gathering support and more funding. In addition, Apollo returned a lot of useful science that we’re still using today – including myself in my own research – but it was also a world-wide public relations endeavor to prove that the United States was better than the Soviets. Of course you’re going to make documentaries and put out material to make people aware of it and such a triumph of human engineering.

7. Why do these theories continue to surface even until today? Do you think it’s because we now have easier access to footage from space? Is it a sense of distrust of NASA?

I think there are a lot of reasons. One is of course a distrust of government. Another reason is that people like to think they know secrets, and a conspiracy is a big secret.

Another reason is that a lot of the lines of evidence that people point to for the hoax are not easily explained because they are contrary to our experience on Earth. For example, one claim is that there should have been stars in the sky because the sky is black, so it must have been night like on Earth and at night you can see stars. But, the sky is black because there’s no atmosphere, it was actually daytime, and the cameras were set to properly expose the lunar surface and astronauts for day. You can’t capture photos of stars with those settings. But, the time I just took to explain that was much, much longer than just throwing out the, “there should be stars!” claim and it’s much easier given our every-day experience to think that there should be stars, rather than take the time to understand why there aren’t.

8. Why hasn’t NASA given their opinion on the Apollo moon-landing hoax ever since 2001? (What is the reason NASA doesn’t answer the conspiracy theorists?)

I would guess because they don’t want to give it any more publicity. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation for NASA:

a. If there is no official statement, conspiracy people will point to that and say that NASA won’t even defend themselves.

b. But if there is an official statement, then conspiracy theorists will say that NASA took the time to respond to them so there must be a controversy and they must be hiding something and you can’t trust anything the government says anyway.

c. In addition to that, Congress will wonder why they should be paying NASA to respond to ridiculous claims, and so NASA risks having their budget cut.

This happened maybe a decade ago when NASA was going to pay James Oberg, an American space journalist and historian, to write a book dispelling the hoax claims. And NASA lost-lost-lost: First, conspiracy people said it was a disinformation campaign; second, Congress wondered why NASA was spending money to do this; and third, when NASA cancelled it because of the outcry on all fronts, the conspiracists claimed NASA cancelled it because it really was a hoax.

Not Related to the Moon Hoax

9. There are still images taken by the Voyager of Saturn that Dr. Norman Bergrun, as author of “Ringmakers of Saturn”, claimed to show a UFO. What do you he possibly mistook it for? This is an example article about Dr. Burgrun’s claim.

Bergrun’s process was to take photos that were published in things like newspapers and magazines, put them under a microscope, and take a photo of them through the microscope’s eyepiece, and then look for weird tings. When going through that process, you are going to find weird things. Every example of a spaceship or alien or whatever that he has can be VERY easily explained by dust or gunk getting in the photo, or uneven illumination, or film grain, and the anomalies he found do not appear in ANY other version of the images.

In fact, one such example that Bergrun points to as a UFO is a bright speck in the bottom of an image, except the bottom part of that image is clearly NOT part of the image that Voyager took because the rings cut-off about 20% of the way from the bottom. This shows that the photo he’s using is a reproduction, including blank area, and he’s pointing to image anomalies caught in that duplication.

- And there are the 1996 infrared photos by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1996 [SJR-- actually, 1995], and some people insist that that is a UFO. What do you think of it? What do you think it possibly is? The refereed photos are shown here.

They look like moons to me. Each exposure was 5 minutes long, and stuff moves in 5 minutes. In fact, one of the outer-most moons that’s within the rings, Atlas, goes around Saturn every 14 hours. In the time that photo with Hubble was taken, it went about 0.6% of its orbit, which would mean it should be a bit elongated. Every moon interior to it would be even longer because they would have moved farther in its orbit in the same amount of time.

10. In addition, there is now footage that NASA releases to the public on their homepage, and this footage or stills sometime show space debris or mini-jets that NASA has captured. Then, some people look at those debris or mini-jets, and introduce them as UFOs on the Internet. Why do you think people often do that?

I think people “want to believe.” They are going to look for any sort of anomaly or object they can’t explain and then say that, because they don’t know what it is, it is aliens. In skepticism, we call this an “Argument from Ignorance” – they are ignorant of what it really is, so they make up what it is in a way that fits their preconceived ideas.

Final Thoughts

The interview was more focused on the origin of the conspiracy and a bit more on general conspiracies than on debunking particular claims made by hoax proponents. I have no idea how I came off on camera – this was my first “real” moving-picture-type interview other than for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science that I did at TAM last year that has yet to be put online (but apparently they ARE working on it!). We’ll see.

They might send me a DVD copy when it comes out. I know my mom wants a copy.

February 1, 2014

Episodes 100: The Hundredth Episode Spectacular!


Ep’sode 100
Thanks for listening so far,
There’s lots more to come!

Two years six months after launch, I bring you the hundredth episode of the Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast. There are two “hours” to this episode, two separate files. Because I use so many clips from various paranormal broadcasts, this entire 100th episode(s) is an homage to those paranormal shows. I play the credulous host, have guests on, and some “open line” callers. I also included bumper music and commercials.

I hope that it turned out well — it’s one of those ideas that looks and sounds great in your head, but you’re not sure how well it turned out or if other people will like it.

This episode couldn’t have happened without all the people who contributed their time and voices, so I want to thank: Karl, Mike, Expat, Parrot, Dave, Warwick, Tim, and Justin. Also a very big “Thank You” to the folks at The Reality Check – Adam, Elan, Darren, and Pat – for sending me a promo to use, Sharron Hill of Doubtful News and Tim Farley of The Virtual Skeptics for their last-minute scrambling to also send me promos. And to Pamela Gay for sending me a promo literally just after I finished editing everything, but hadn’t done a final listen-through so could still fit it in. I will note that I did contact several other skeptical groups and outlets for promos, but for various reasons they were not able to get me an audio file to use in time.

So … with all that said, sit back, relax, and hopefully you enjoy the episodes that is and are, Episode 100. Feedback, as always, is appreciated (constructive feedback).

January 29, 2014

Skeptiko Host Alex Tsakiris Compares Scientists’ Passivity with Wikipedia Editing to Christians’ Views on Abortion Clinic Bombings


Introduction

I’m getting my roughly one post per year about Alex Tsakiris, the host of the podcast Skeptiko, in early. In the past, I’ve written a lot about how Alex makes consistent mistakes about the scientific process and how science works in general. This post is not dedicated to that.

One of Alex’s high horses lately has been censorship (or perceived censorship), especially with respect to Wikipedia. On episode 236, “Rome Viharo, Wikipedia, We Have a Problem,” Alex talked extensively about the issue with respect to one of his heroes, Rupert Sheldrake.

The allegation is that Sheldrake’s Wikipedia page has been targeted by a few skeptics (he claimed by the Guerrilla Skeptic group, which has disavowed the Sheldrake editing). And, those skeptics have been acting in a most unfair way towards Rupert and his supporters. I don’t really want to get much more into this issue because it’s a side-issue for what I want to write about here. If you’re interested, listen to the episode.

What’s important for this blog post is just the basic context in which Alex makes two statements.

First Statement, ~27 min

The first of two statements I want to talk about starts about 27 minutes into the episode. I’m going to quote from Alex’s own transcript, which I haven’t verified, so it’s possible it contains an error or more (emphasis is mine):

I think that’s really the more interesting issue and I think we can sit on the sidelines and go, “Oh my gosh, isn’t this horrible and will things ever get better? These crazy skeptics!” The thing I always point out to people is the dogmatic skeptics, the fundamentalist Atheists, who these people represent, are really the tip of the spear for scientism. We always want to do like you did and say it’s really not a problem with science, is it? It’s a problem with scientific materialism. It’s a philosophical issue. No, forget it. It’s about science.

If we’re going to talk in general terms, science media has been completely co-opted by this point of view. The reason I’d come back and say it’s the tip of the spear is because you don’t see scientists rushing to the aid of Rupert Sheldrake just on principle saying, “Hey, this is a colleague of ours. This guy is clearly a biologist. He’s a Cambridge Fellow. We need to defend this.” No. They sit on their hands and silently cheer. Some of them sit on their hands and hope the arrow doesn’t point to them next.

So it’s really akin to what you were talking about with religious fundamentalism back when they were bombing abortion clinics. Of course there was an outcry of “Stop the violence” from other Christians. But there wasn’t too much of an outcry, right? There’s a lot of sympathy. “Well, we can certainly understand how upset people are by all those babies dying.”

So these frontline soldiers, these tip of the spear of an ideological debate, I think we have to be careful when we separate them and bifurcate and say, “Well, they don’t really represent science.” Yeah, I think they do. They form a pretty good representation of the crazy scientific materialism that really grips science as we know it right now. I don’t see any relief from that.

Wow. Logical fallacy of a false analogy, anyone? Alex is clearly making an analogy, saying that scientists not rushing to support Rupert Sheldrake and his Wikipedia page being edited is equivalent to Christians remaining quiet when abortion clinics are bombed in the name of Christianity. Not only is this a false analogy, it’s a fairly offensive one.

Here’s one way it’s wrong: Scientists, for the most part, have never heard of Rupert Sheldrake. Despite what Alex and Rome argued in the episode, Rupert Sheldrake by most measures would also NOT be considered a “practicing” or “active” scientist, or at least active biologist. I would guess that less than 1% of active scientists have ever heard of the guy — mostly the people who know of him are people in the paranormal field and skeptics. Of those very very few scientists who have heard of him, even fewer know what he does. Of those, even fewer actively scour Wikipedia to look up names. Of those, even fewer actively look at the Talk or History pages to even see if there have been lots of edits. and apparent “editing wars” going on.

So, we have a very small fraction of the population who are scientists, multiplied by a small fraction who have heard of Sheldrake, multiplied by a small fraction who know anything about him other than his name, multiplied by a small fraction who look at Wikipedia for him, multiplied by a small fraction who look at the Talk or History pages to investigate.

Compare that with the number of people who have heard of abortion. I knew what abortion was when I was twelve years old because it was a topic we could write on for a persuasive paragraph in English class. I would guess that by their teen years, almost everyone knows about abortion. But, let’s be generous and say that 50% of the global population knows what abortion is. Multiply that by around 2.1 billion Christians in the world. Multiply that by the fraction who read political news.

One of these is a bigger number than the other … my point is that there are an enormous number of Christians “in the know” about abortion clinic violence who can call it out, and there is a vanishingly small number of active scientists who know about Sheldrake, what he does, and what’s on his Wikipedia page, and what’s going on with the editing of it. Ergo, false analogy.

It’s a false analogy in another way because he has people speaking out about violence by people because of religion with respect to abortion clinics, and he’s comparing that with a guy throwing a hissy fit about what people are writing about him on the internet. Sorry Alex, but the bombing of an abortion clinic is a bigger deal to me than Sheldrake being unhappy that people point out on his Wikipedia page that he says and does a lot of stuff that is not supported by any reputable data.

Second Statement, ~44 min

The second statement I wanted to talk about for this post happens during Alex’s closing monologue, about 44 minutes into the episode.

What does this say about science? And I know I keep saying “science,” and people go, “Well, it’s not really science, science means this or science means that,” but I tend to disagree. I think this situation really speaks to the larger problem with the way science is applied. And I think – as I said in the show – the lack of support for Sheldrake, in a situation where the scientist should obviously be supported by his peers, speaks loudly and clearly that this is a problem with science in general. But maybe you disagree; I’d like to hear your opinion.

Well, I guess I was mistaken when I started this post and said it wasn’t going to deal with Alex’s lack of understanding of how science works. (And, that most scientists, and probably people in general, would not consider Sheldrake’s work in the last ~decade to be “science.” Doing an experiment on whether dogs are telepathic, or writing a book bemoaning what he calls “scientific dogma”, don’t count as “science” as far as most of us are concerned.)

First off, Alex Tsakiris is not a scientist. And, so far as I can tell, he has never taken a philosophy of science class. He is in no position to decide what is or is not science. When actual practicing scientists tell him he is wrong, that something is not science, he can of course disagree, but he will very likely be wrong. Yes, this is a bit of an argument from authority, but beware of the fallacy fallacy here — just because I used an argument from authority does not mean my argument is wrong.

Second, very, very rarely will scientists be drawn into any sort of public debate with respect to an actual scientist (as opposed to what Sheldrake is now) being “dissed” (my word). The most recent example I can think of would be Michael Mann and the huge amount of political pressure he faced in Virginia because of his research on climate change. Even then, I don’t remember many individual scientists coming forward to back him up, though I do seem to recall some professional scientific societies issuing statements about it. And Michael Mann was facing MUCH more pressure than Rupert Sheldrake: Political, social, financial harassment and threats versus a few people editing his Wikipedia page unfavorably.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure there’s much else to say on this issue at this point. I decided to write this post when I heard Alex compare scientists remaining silent on Sheldrake’s Wikipedia page with Christians remaining silent on abortion clinic bombings. That was just so over-the-top and (I think) offensive that I wanted to put it out there so others knew about it.

The extra bit showing how Alex – yet again – does NOT understand how science works was gratuitous. But, as I said, I seem to consistently write about one post a year on something that strikes me about what Alex says on Skeptiko, so I got this year’s in early.

January 25, 2014

Episode 99: The Saga of the Lunar Ziggurat


Lunar ziggurat
Keeps on giving and giving …
Is there end in sight?

Sorry this one took so very, very long to get out. Jet lag is not fun. I gave two talks while I was in Australia, and both were versions of this, “The Saga of the Lunar Ziggurat.” The audio this time is from a recording at the Launceston Skeptics in the Pub event and a group about two weeks later in Melbourne. It was “live” and hence of variable quality, including street noise. But, the quality isn’t bad.

January 12, 2014

Podcast Episode 98: Interview with Michael Heiser on Ancient Aliens and Zecharia Sitchin, Part 2


Sitchin’s Planet X
From the view of an ancient
Languages scholar.

For the second episode of 2014, I give you the second part of a two-part series of one interview with Michael Heiser, a scholar and expert in ancient languages. Michael is about a once-a-year guest on Coast to Coast AM and he talks about evidence people claim from text about ancient aliens and related material.

In pretty much every Coast interview, George Noory brings up the fact that Michael isn’t a “fan” of Sitchin’s work (I emphasize his work because that’s what should be addressed, not the person but the claims). To this effect, Dr. Heiser has created the website Sitchin Is Wrong that explains in detail the faulty scholarship behind Zecharia Sitchin’s claims. In this roughly 35-minute interview part, we don’t get into specifics, but we instead address methodology and overall problems. I think it shows very well that the techniques I’ve discussed on this podcast and in this blog for astronomy also apply to a field about as far removed as you can get — that of ancient languages and texts.

Dr. Heiser has many websites, so I’ll just point you to his main website for now. All the others are linked in the shownotes.

With my Australia trip now in its last 10 days, I’m still still alive, and looking around for food to bring back. TimTams for sure. Also got some nice Huon Pine stuff from Tasmania.

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