Exposing PseudoAstronomy

May 1, 2012

Podcast Episode 33: Flat Earth

Filed under: astronomy,flat earth concept,podcast — Stuart Robbins @ 10:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This episode only has a ~12-minute main segment and then a short Q&A. You can stop at the 11 min 45 sec. point if that’s all you’re interested in. It’s the Feedback section that I spent around 8 minutes on, going into some detail on feedback from Episode 32 (Billy Meier UFO case), Episode 31 (Moon Hoax photos), and some general feedback for the show. The puzzler starts at about 22 minutes.

I’m not entirely sure what the next episode will be. I have a presentation to give at the local coin club Thursday, Skepticamp Denver all day Saturday (and still need to write that talk). And I have a lot of baking to do for that, too :). So, next episode will either be a recording of my Skepticamp talk, or it will be about pyramids and Orion’s belt.

April 1, 2011

April Fools: A Serious Post for the Day


Introduction

In the past, I’ve had a bit of obvious fun on April 1 with my posts, such as last year’s where I explained how I had seen the light and was giving up science. And apparently it wasn’t too obvious to all that I was joking, as Michael Horn apparently thought I was serious.

Anyway, this year I thought I would use the day to look over several ideas and concepts that I address on this blog or that, in general, the modern skeptical movement takes issue with. The purpose of this is that, often, people who believe in any of these topics will claim that skeptics can’t have their pet idea be true because it would upset their worldview, destroy everything they “believe” in, etc. On the contrary, I would absolutely love for many of these things to be true. Let’s take a look …

Near-Death Experiences, Spirit Contacts, Ghosts

Any and all of these things, if real (and by “real” for NDEs I mean they actually cannot be explained by biology), would mean that there is some form of existence after we die in this one. Seriously, I would be delighted if this were true. I don’t care what people say about how I can’t have this be true because it would mean there’s accountability, or that I can’t just do anything in this life ’cause I’d be reincarnated as a cockroach, or whatever.

Living for maybe 75 years and then ceasing to exist is a scary thought. Occasionally late at night, it crops up in my mind and I get freaked out. But that doesn’t mean that I believe that there is a form of existence after this one. I see no hard, reproducible evidence for it, and all the purported evidence that people have put forth is generally easily refuted (especially when we’re talking about ghosts and mediums).

But I would love it to be true. I asked a friend of mine once what he believed and he unabashedly said he was an atheist. As did his wife, who had grown up in some form of Christianity in a very conservative town. I asked her why, and if that meant she didn’t believe in life after death, either. She explained the usual reasons, but then it was this that got me: “No, I don’t think there’s life after death. But believe me, if someone were taking a vote and if I had any say in the matter, I would vote ‘yes.'”

I agree: If I have a vote in the matter of whether there will be a life after this one, I would vote “yes, I want there to be one.” But do I actually believe there is one? No.

Present-Day Visitation by UFOs and Aliens

In what you’ll quickly discover is a theme with this post, I think this would be cool, assuming of course some sort of benevolence as opposed to an Independence Day style of alien invasion. More Vulcans, less Borg. But do I think that tiny light in the sky that I happen to not be able to explain at the moment is an alien craft? No. Do I “believe” the Betty & Barney Hill story? No. Do I think Billy Meier’s laughable evidence is proof of visitation? No.

Ancient Aliens and Alien Artifacts in the Solar System

Following from the last section, this would again be pretty cool. Though I find it odd some people think Earth was the brothel of the galaxy eons ago and the idea that deviant aliens came here to make sweet sweet monkey love is wacked out. Again, actual real evidence of alien visitation in the past would be very neat. Evidence of an alien civilization on Mars or some other body in the solar system would likewise, I think, be cause of great interest and people would flock to it.

Does that mean I think the Nazca Lines are ancient alien landing strips? No. Or that aliens built the pyramids? No. Just because we may not have a mundane explanation for something now does not mean that “aliens did it.” Or, following perhaps a frequent refrain of creationists, it does not mean that “aliensdidit” (a la “goddidit”). Similarly, Richard C. Hoagland’s ideas of crystal tunnels and ancient sculptures on Mars, Andrew Baggiago’s ideas of fossils on Mars, and – closer to home – Hoagland’s “Data’s Head” find on the moon are obvious and clear examples of pareidolia and bad image processing, not the desired evidence of ancient advanced civilizations.

Young-Earth Creationism

To be perfectly fair, I really don’t “care” how old Earth is. As far as I’m concerned, I only “know” for sure that it’s just under 28 years old. Or really, it could have been created just a second ago but with the appearance of age and with all of our individual memories forged and everything made with the appearance of age. After all, that’s what you have to believe to be a young-Earth creationist, that every single piece of geologic, historical, astronomical, archaeologic, etc. evidence that points to a planet – much less solar system, galaxy, and universe – older than 6000 years was planted there by some sick, twisted omnipotent being to make us scratch our heads in the fashion of a chimp. Or you have to invent new science that doesn’t fit with anything else in order to make your models work out.

I think that in the coming decades, young-Earthers are going to be looked upon the same as flat-Earthers: People who ignore all evidence to the contrary, invent ways around what they can, and otherwise stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “La La La! I can’t hear you!”

Magic (Powers/Abilities like psychokinesis, Elves, Fairies, etc.)

I’ll be honest here (as elsewhere) and admit to a guilty pleasure: The TV show Charmed was one of my favorites. And I’m a Harry Potter fan, though that’s more socially acceptable for a guy. Anyway, I love the idea of magic existing, either out in the open or the concept of a hidden world “beyond the veil” that exists alongside our everyday lives but is hidden from us normal folks. In fact, for the past 4 years I’ve been working on and off on my own novel exploring that idea. But here you have the problem of not just a lack of even shaky evidence or suggestions that it’s true, but a solid lack of any suggestions that it’s true beyond the stray anecdote from the mentally questionable.

[Pick Your] Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories are interesting because many of them actually could be true when first broached. It’s when people ignore all evidence to the contrary of a conspiracy theory that it begins to get stupid. For example, the Apollo Moon landings. Every claim by conspiracy theorists have been appropriately answered by reasonable explanations that adequately fit the model that the astronauts landed on the moon. And now we have Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo landing sites. This particular conspiracy theory may have made some sense WAY back in the day, but no anyone who clings to it is willfully ignorant or simply delusional. There really is no other, kinder way to say it.

2012 Doomsday

Do I want this one to be true? Of course not. I want to see the solar eclipse in 2017. I have plans set for 2013. I’d prefer not to die in some cataclysm at the end of next year. Does my desire for this not to happen cloud my judgement on whether it will? No. Again, much like with the conspiracy theories above, every idea put forward by 2012 doomsdayers has been shown to be simply wrong, not physically possible, or just an outright lie. If there were actual evidence or even a physical mechanism that could occur, then I would reevaluate my conclusion and start eating more ice cream and Doritos.

Vaccines Cause Autism

Actually, I think it would be great if there were any kind of simple cause of autism, be it the thimerosal that was used as a preservative in childhood vaccines, parents playing Beethoven to the pregnant mom’s stomach, or solar flares. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in the US a decade ago, and autism rates didn’t go down at all. No one knows what actually causes autism, but it’s definitely not vaccines. Concerned parents should be concerned, but they shouldn’t blame something that protects a child’s health and has conclusively been shown by every study to not cause autism.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up. Now, yes, this was posted on April 1st. No, this is not a “fake” nor joke post. In the end, this really boils down to this message for a “true believer” who harps on the “skeptics:” Get over yourselves. We are not “scared” that your-supernatural-belief-of-choice may be true. We would welcome it. Instead of wasting everyone’s time with that straw man, how about actually addressing the legitimate criticisms of the methodology instead of the claims?

What I’ve written above are my honest thoughts on the issues. What are yours?

December 23, 2008

Happy Christmas Eve from the Moon – 40 Years Later

Filed under: apollo moon hoax,flat earth concept,moon — Stuart Robbins @ 7:02 pm

Introduction

The Apollo 8 mission was the first to successfully orbit the moon and the first manned craft to escape Earth’s gravitational pull (as the primary gravitationally attractive object).

The mission was launched on December 21, 1968, and it landed December 27, 1968. On Christmas Eve (UTC), the crew (Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders) saw something that no human had ever seen in -person: Earth rising over the lunar horizon, on December 24, 40 years ago.

Earth rising over the moon as seen by Apollo 8 astronauts.  Photo AS8-14-2383.

Earth rising over the moon as seen by Apollo 8 astronauts. Photo AS8-14-2383.

Why Is This on a PseudoAstronomy Blog?

The purpose of this blog is not to really post news nor pretty pictures nor random religious holiday messages. Rather, a photograph of Earth from the moon is directly relevant to two things I’ve discussed before – the Apollo Moon “Hoax” and the Flat Earth Society.

Both claim that we never actually went to the moon. The first does so through many different, random claims that fail to create any cohesive story as to what “really” happened. The latter do so really out of necessity – when you believe the Earth is flat and that a giant glass dome holds the air in, you kinda have to reject any of this modern space-age stuff (such as going to the moon, weather satellites, or even GPS).

The purpose of this very brief post is not to get into those claims here, but rather to remind my readers that actually do think we’ve been to the moon what those pioneers went through. Imagine being one of those three men, watching that small blue marble rise over the barren lunar landscape, and thinking that all of our history – from dinosaurs to cars, bacteria to your kitchen blender – happened on that small blue globe floating in the inky blackness of space.

And now, 40 years later, there are people who vehemently deny the trip was ever taken.

For further reading, Time magazine has a good article on this.

September 20, 2008

Flat Earth Society – Introductory Post

Filed under: flat earth concept — Stuart Robbins @ 11:27 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Like my series on the Apollo Moon Hoax, the idea of a “Flat Earth” will be a topic that I will come back to in future blog entries, discussing some specific claims that are made.  For this first post on the topic, I am going to briefly outline the core concept and explain why it is flawed relative to what we know about the Earth, space, physics, and just plain ol’ common sense.

The main premise of the “Flat Earth” idea is that Earth is, well, flat.  People who believe this idea believe that our planet is a a few miles thick, and everything that is on it – continents, oceans, and ice caps – rest on this flat object (“flat” being a relatively thin object considering how large in diameter it would be).  In terms of basic geography, the North Pole is at the center of this disk, and Antarctica is actually a wall of ice that surrounds the outer rim, keeping the oceans from sloshing over.  I kid you not.  Earth is also the fixed center of the Universe, with everything “revolving around it in a plane level with the flat Earth.”

Flat Earth believers (for brevity, I will call them “flaterthers,” a term that I just made up with the emphasis on the second syllable and the first “a” being pronounced like the “u” in “fluff”, fla-TER-thers) point to five main arguments for their beliefs:

  1. Earth says still in space relative to … something.  In the 1800s, physicists thought that there was a universal “thing” called the “ether,” through which light was supposed to travel.  But an 1887 experiment now called the Michelson-Morley experiment disproved this concept by showing there was no preferred direction (even though they were trying to prove it) in perhaps the most famous “null result” in physics history.  However, the flaterther argument somehow uses this to say Earth does NOT move, there actually IS an ether, and somehow this supports their idea … though I honestly don’t understand how.
  2. The second argument that is made is that Earth can’t possibly orbit the Sun because (a) there’s no way for it to maintain its velocity over billions of years given that it’s traveling through an ether and therefore feels resistance, and (b) because when you orbit an object, there’s an acceleration, and any object “ahead” of the acceleration would get squashed and an object “behind” the acceleration would float away.
  3. Objects on a curved surface would fall off.  They’d slide “down” and when they reached the bottom, they’d fall off.  Hence, according to flaterthers, it’s not possible for people in the USA to be standing up and people in Australia to be upside down, relative to those in the USA … Australians would fall off.
  4. On a curved surface, there’s an inconsistent “down” direction, so if someone from the USA were to fly to Australia, they’d now be upside down!  (I’m not sure why this is a separate argument from #3, but they consider it one on their website).
  5. The only way to keep an ocean on the Earth is to keep it in the large bowl that is bound by the great sheets of ice that we normally think of as Antarctica.  And, the only way to keep the air on Earth is to protect it with a large dome.

Since I honestly don’t understand how #1 is used to justify the Earth being flat (they seem to equate that with Earth being the unmoving center of the Universe), I am not going to address it.  In other words, this is the “Non-Sequitur” logical fallacy – the argument that Earth may be stationary relative to some permeating substance doesn’t say anything about Earth being flat. 

#2 is a little difficult to address because it requires some basic physics concepts and math in order to understand.  First off, there are a few things they say that just aren’t true.  For example, they state that Earth orbits “the sun at a radius of around five-hundred million kilometers.”  This is not true.  Earth’s average distance from the Sun is 149,600,000 km, or about 93 million miles.  At the risk of sounding flippant … every school child knows this.  In addition, they say that “Earth is supposed to be a large, spherical shaped ball of rock flying through space at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour …”  Again, this is over-stated to make it sound impossibly big.  Earth’s average orbital velocity is 29.78 km/s, which is 107,200 km/hr, or about 66,470 mph.  Still pretty fast compared with our every-day lives, but not as big as they make it seem.

Their actual arguments (as opposed to bad math/numbers) are a little more difficult to address with this claim.  First off, no one has actually said Earth has maintained the exact same orbit and the exact same speed for billions of years – that is a Straw Man logical fallacy.  And Earth does travel through a medium – not the ether, but rather the solar wind.  The solar wind is made up of charged particles that are emitted from the Sun and stream outwards in all directions.  In addition, Earth sometimes encounters asteroids that hit it.  Every time something hits Earth, whether it be a giant asteroid or an elementary particle, the momentum from that object is added to Earth’s, and this can act to slow it down or speed it up.  Because asteroids are so much more massive than the solar wind, I’ll address the impact of asteroids:

Earth weighs 5.97*10^24 kg.  That’s a lot.  Let’s look at a dinosaur-killing, mass-extinction-causing asteroid impact – an asteroid that’s, say, 15 km in diameter – or around half the size of Manhattan.  The average velocity of an Earth-crossing asteroid is around 15-20 km/sec, and most asteroids are made of rock, with a density of 3-4 gm/cm^3.  That’s a total mass of 5*10^6 kg, or a difference of 18 orders of magnitude.  That’s about the difference between the mass of our entire galaxy vs. the mass of the planet Mars.  In other words, a dinosaur-killing asteroid event hitting Earth is like you, a person, running into a piece of dust.  Even if that dust is going faster than a speeding bullet, you are not going to feel it.  Similarly, even if Earth gets whacked by these things once every million years, it’s still not going to feel it.  So, unless they are claiming that the ether is more massive than these asteroids, this claim doesn’t hold water (so to speak).

As for the acceleration argument, this is just pretty much wrong.  Our reference frame – the reference frame of EVERYTHING on Earth – is Earth.  We move relative to our planet, our point of view is relative to our planet, and our velocity is relative to our planet.  Yes, Earth goes in a really big circle around the Sun, and so there is a very very very slight accelerating “force outward” away from the Sun, but it is so small that there is no way you can feel it, and you folks who go to Weight Watchers don’t need to try to plan to go and weigh yourself at midnight instead of noon to get a lighter weigh-in.

Argument #3 and 4 I’m going to lump together into the basic concept of a misunderstanding of gravity.  As I said in the paragraph above, Earth is our reference frame for everything in our daily lives, and that’s because it is so big and we are so close to it (relative to everything else) that we are completely dominated by its gravity.  In their third point, they argue that people would simply fall off of a round Earth once they get to the edge that “goes down.”  Their analogy is a beach ball, where if you simply pour sand on the top of a beach ball, it will follow the curve of the ball until it gets to the side and then just fall off.

The reason why this analogy doesn’t work is that the beach ball has effectively no gravity when compared with Earth.  Things “fall down” because gravity pulls it “down.”  “Down” is always towards the center of Earth (until you get beyond Earth’s gravitational pull).  Now, if the beach ball were out in empty space and it was the most massive object around, a grain of sand that was placed on it wouldn’t move … it wouldn’t “fall” anywhere because “down” would be towards the center of the beach ball, regardless of whether the sand was placed next to the part where you blow into the beach ball or placed on the opposite side.

This is why when an American goes to Australia, the American is not standing on their head when they get there.  Throughout the flight (or boat ride) over, “down” is constantly changing so that it always points towards the center of Earth.  In other words, yes, the plane effectively does turn upside down during the flight.  It just does it very very slowly and you don’t notice it because it’s just following the curve of the planet, with the bottom of the plane always facing the surface of Earth.  (And as a side note, if you go to Australia, stay longer in that country than it took you to fly there, speaking from personal experience.)

As for argument #5, I really just have to resort to the ad hominem response:  This is absurd.  The belief that Earth is covered by a dome to keep the air in and that the edge is a giant sheet of ice to keep the ocean in is a juvenile concept that requires massive conspiratorial claims to maintain (which they do) since it negates space telescopes, the Apollo lunar missions, and expeditions to Antarctica, among other things.  In addition, it flies in the face of simplicity, plausibility, and most people who are older than 5.

That’ll wrap up this post on introducing the Flat Earth concept (and flaterthers).  In future posts, I will address more specific problems with it, such as their explanation for seasons, sunsets, tides, their concept of gravity, and other tidbits.

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