Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 21, 2014

Podcast Episode 107: Clip Show #2


Gravitational
Force, lunar holograms, and
Rainbows. Yay clip shows!

You get three different claims in this episode, from simple misunderstandings to what some may classify as outright crazy (or, as I like to write, cräZ). More specifically, I talk about whether gravity is an accelerative force, whether the moon is a hologram, and something having to do with rainbows. And no, I’m not talking about the sprinkler rainbow lady.

The possibly newly forming moon around Saturn is a Q&A in this episode.

Graham, I swear I’m getting ready to do the Pioneer Anomaly …

My Interview on “Fade to Black” from April 16


Introduction

has been posted. I start after about 30 minutes, though the host, Jimmy Church, intros / prefaces the interview during the first half hour. You might as well just listen to the whole thing. :)

(And for some reason, my audio seems a bit quiet relative to the host’s (Jimmy Church) … sorry ’bout that).

Emphasis

My goal during the interview was to provide plausible, science-based explanations for, well, whatever we talked about, to show that the scientific explanation is at least as plausible as the conspiracy or pseudoscience one, and to be reasonable.

I think I sounded a bit like a broken record towards that effect, and I probably could’ve said it a bit less often. But, for those who aren’t going to listen, let me re-state it now in print: I would love for lots of the stuff common to paranormal radio programs to be true. I would love for there to be aliens visiting us and sharing or giving us advanced technology. For there to be bases on the moon, or other kinds of artifacts on Mars that provide evidence for ancient “high technology” beyond a reasonable doubt. But, the evidence that has been presented simply doesn’t meet that threshold, in my opinion.

If the best evidence for aliens is a mesa that at high-resolution looks like a natural eroded rock formation, or a few bright pixels that can be explained as a camera defect because it doesn’t show in other pictures of the site taken at the same time, then that simply does not meet my own personal threshold. It may meet yours. It obviously meets some peoples’. But, that is why the scientific community, as a whole, does not accept these things.

Would I Have a Conspiracist / “Alternative” Person on My Podcast?

No. I was asked this a little before the first hour (of the three-hour program). It was in the context of would I ask Bart Sibrel on the show. The answer, again, is no.

The reason that I gave is that the purpose of my podcast is not to be sensationalist, not to present a false balance or appearance of balance. It is a science-based podcast that addresses claims that are “out there” in general or promoted by specific persons. They are up against the entirety of science and evidence to-date. Ergo, a true balance would be to let them have, perhaps, a single second out of my normal ~half-hour show.

Ad hominems Versus Claims a Person Makes

I think it’s important that whenever one addresses this kind of stuff that they address the claims and not the person. Yes, sometimes it’s important to give context. But in the end, the claims should stand on their own. That’s also why, when I was asked around the 1hr 12min mark, about “what makes a hoaxer” and why they do what they do, I honestly replied that I didn’t know and tried not to speculate too much.

In the interview, I tried to do that. I realize it sounds, a few times, like we were bashing on Richard Hoagland. That was not my intent. The reason that Richard was the proponent of several of the claims we talked about is that he is simply one of the main proponents of space-based image-based claims out there, and he has a huge back-catalog of claims spanning at least 30 years. If you get into addressing fringe astronomy claims, you will with almost 100% certainty run into Richard C. Hoagland.

I hope that comes across that I was focused on his claims and not him, himself. If it doesn’t, I’ve restated it here for the record.

And, since the interview, at least one person has said that Richard should get a “right of reply.” Also for the record, I have no control and no say in that. That is up to the host, producer(s), and Richard himself. I know that Richard is friends with the producer (Keith Rowland), so that may play a factor. That is also why I tried to be particularly sensitive to addressing the claims and not the person.

What follows are some of my musings and observations after listening to my interview again, and perhaps some things I wish I would have stated differently. This is not comprehensive to the interview, so you will not be able to get a guide to it by reading this post, nor will you get a flavor for the tone/tenor or total content. For that, you need to listen to the 2.5 hrs I was on.

Planet X

We talked about this for about 20 minutes at the beginning. I referenced the WISE survey with respect to the latest all-sky survey of faint infrared surveys. Here is the press release / story / paper that I was referring to.

Also I mentioned the common claim that IRAS discovered it in 1983. Here’s the episode of my podcast (#54) where I addressed this claim. Oh, and IRAS = InfraRed Astronomical Survey.

Apollo Moon Hoax

Going into this, I should have been better prepared. Jimmy had interviewed Bart Sibrel, one of the major four proponents of the hoax conspiracy idea, and the only one who is still alive. It was one of the five interviews (that’s still 15 hrs) I had listened to in preparation for my interview on his show. And, it made me mad. I had posted this to the BellGab internet forum (Art Bell fans) after I listened:

Ug. I wish I knew about the show a month ago. Listening to Sibrel is painful, and every single one of these claims have been debunked.

The whole psychology stuff? Utterly unconvincing. Why do the astronauts punch or kick Sibrel? Because they’ve spent 40 years dealing with jerks like him accosting them in public about this stuff. Forty years later (well, maybe 35 at that time), you have Sibrel, a tall, relatively young guy, marching up to an older Aldrin and demanding he swear on a bible while calling him “a coward, and a liar, and a thief,” … what would you do, especially after having been lured there under false pretenses?

Or Armstrong looking depressed or upset at the news conference right after the landings … how would you feel if you just spent three days in a tin can, a day on the friggin’ moon (wow!), but then another three days in a tiny tin can. Your every move scrutinized, in the same clothing, having to urinate and defecate in small bags, eating crappy food, and then you finally get home and you’re dragged on stage to talk to a bunch of people when all you want is a shower and bed (and a real toilet)? I don’t know about you, but I don’t do well the first few days being in a HOTEL (I have issues sleeping in a new bed for the first 2-3 nights), let alone in a tiny capsule for a week. I’d be miserable.

Sorry Jimmy, your analogy of just coming off the Super Bowl win doesn’t hold in this case. It would if you then stuck all the players (before they’ve had a chance to shower or change clothes) in a tiny room for three days – give ‘em a few bags of freeze-dried food and a few bags to “do their business” in – and THEN have them go talk with the press.

Sorry if I come across as P.O.’ed, but Sibrel and his ilk really tick me off by playing these one-sided games, giving you outright lies (yes, we could certainly read the original tapes if they were found), mis-statements (van Allen belts are NOT as dangerous as he portrays, or the stuff about lunar rocks from Antarctica), misdirection (see van Allen belts, or statements about why TV stations couldn’t read the raw feed, or even his statements about how many hours in space the Russians had (it’s quality, not quantity)), or these kinds of “well what would YOU do?” psychology things that leaves out the whole story.

Especially if you want to play that whole human psychology stuff, then actually put yourself in the WHOLE situation, with all the crap (literally) they had to deal with, how tired they would be after getting back, etc. As opposed to, “Hey, they are the first people to get back from the moon, they should be excited and want to tell everyone about it!” Remember, these are people, not robots.

I could go on, but I think I need to relax a bit, and that I’ve made my point. [...]

Since I had posted that, very obviously I should have been prepared to discuss it. And I could discuss practically any aspect of the Moon Hoax stuff at any time, except for the van Allen Belts. Electricity and Magnetism (E&M) and I do not get along. I hated the three semesters I studied it in college, and I did not go into solar physics in grad school because of it. And, he asked me about the radiation.

In my tiny defense, there had been a bit of feedback in my headset up to the point when Jimmy asked the question. That disappeared. And it seemed as though he ended the question a word or two short (at 1:03:54, he says, “So, how do you say?” prefaced by talking about the radiation … to me, since the feedback cut out right about that time, and it really does seem as though there should be a few more words to that question). So, I was fumbling trying to pull up a link where I had discussed it before to get my talking points (not realizing I hadn’t actually done a blog post on it), all while also looking at my network transfer speeds and Skype to make sure I was still connected. But, I sounded like a flummoxed moron, and I think it was by far my worst moment during the interview.

For the record, here is my podcast episode (#5) when I discussed this. There’s also Clavius.org and Phil Plait who both debunk this.

Otherwise, I think I did reasonably okay in this discussion, and I think that my end point should be emphasized again: Conspiracy ideas are easy to make because you just need something that doesn’t make sense to you, and you can state a conspiracy in 5 seconds or less. Debunking them requires a huge amount of specialized knowledge in various fields and takes much longer than 5 seconds. Meanwhile, if I were to satisfactorily explain away every single claim but one, then you would still believe in the hoax because of that one claim. Instead, you should be thinking, “Wow, all of those were bologna, maybe that other one is, too, and Stuart just gave a crappy answer. I should investigate!” I said as much in what I thought was a shining come back for a few minutes around 1hr 17-20min.

What I find truly disingenuous of hoax proponents, though, is all this stuff has been pointed out to them so many times. And yet, they keep making the claims without acknowledging any of the refutations.

Finally, something I thought of after the show that I should have responded with when Jimmy kept coming back to the technology claim is this: It’s very easy to say, “But they didn’t have the technology!” But, that’s a very general and vague statement. What specific technology is needed? Can there be any substitutes? Now with that list, let’s see what they did have.

Scientists and the Status Quo

It is a frequent refrain by any non-mainstream person that scientists just want to uphold the consensus, they don’t want to find anything new, they don’t want to upset the apple cart, blah blah blah. I talked about this in the “Fear and Conspiracy” section of my last post on the lunar ziggurat, but I wrote an entire post on it in 2010, as well.

Do I Think Intelligent Life (Aliens) Have Visited Us, and/or Are “Out There?”

I think Jimmy was frustrated with my very qualified answer to this, starting around the 1hr 35min mark, so let me give a slightly more thought-out response.

For me, there is a difference between “think” and “believe,” the entire subject of another 2010 blog post. I don’t think there is any evidence for this. But, I want to believe that it is true. If I ignore my “thinking brain” part, I, like probably most people, have a desire to know if we’re alone or not. I believe the universe is too vast to not have other intelligent life out there. I’m not sure I believe there’s any reason for them to visit Earth at any point in our past versus any other of the countless billions of planets in the galaxy, but sure, it’s possible.

But then that concrete part of my brain kicks in when I’m asked this kind of question, and I try to look for evidence. And, I just don’t see any good evidence for it.

So yes, I want to believe, I would love for it to be true, but all of the evidence presented so far is not good enough, it does not meet the very high threshold that I hold for such a spectacular and important “thing.” And, some of that evidence has been discussed previously on this blog and/or my podcast.

Face on Mars and Other Stuff on Mars

We spent a lot of time on this, starting around 1hr 50min. I don’t really have too much to add, except that I did an in-depth two-part podcast series on the Face on Mars (part 1 || part 2). Jimmy also said that we would have to address “19.5°” at some point during the evening, which we didn’t get to — I did podcast and blog about it in the past.

We also talk about the layout of the “city” and other stuff in the Cydonia area; that is something that I have yet to blog or podcast about, but it is something I’m working on for some as-yet-undisclosed projects (undisclosed because I seem to disclose stuff and then it never gets done; this way perhaps I’ll finish something and then disclose it).

Bright Spot in Curiosity NAVCAM

Around 2hr 30min, for several minutes, we talked about this bit of news. That I blogged about here. As promised, about a half hour after we got off the air, I sent this e-mail to Jimmy with more examples of bright spots in the images:

Here are a couple images, most of them courtesy of the scientists who are actually discussing what this could be (as opposed to UFOlogists / anomaly hunters over on UFO Sightings Daily who first came up with this), via the Unmanned Spaceflight forum: http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showtopic=7825 . There’s a lot of discussion on there about what people think it may be — I suggest skimming through the thread (like posts 20 and 21 or 95).

First, here’s the original left/right where it only shows up in one: http://curiosityrover.com/imgpoint.php?name=NRB_449790582EDR_F0310000NCAM00262M_ versus http://curiosityrover.com/imgpoint.php?name=NLB_449790582EDR_F0310000NCAM00262M_ .

Second, here’s another left/right NAVCAM image that shows another one. Same camera was the only one to catch it, though if real (“real” = actual feature on Mars) it could be because of perspective/parallax: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/?rawid=NRB_449700848EDR_F0301254NCAM00252M_&s=588 versus http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/?rawid=NLB_449700848EDR_F0301254NCAM00252M_&s=588nor . When people talk about “the other one of the same site from a different day,” this is what they’re talking about — and no, it’s not the same site.

Here’s another pair of another bright spot in right but not in left: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/proj/msl/redops/ods/surface/sol/00568/opgs/edr/ncam/NRB_447920587EDR_F0291020NCAM00295M_.JPG vs http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/proj/msl/redops/ods/surface/sol/00568/opgs/edr/ncam/NLB_447920587EDR_F0291020NCAM00295M_.JPG

Next, here are two images that show a hot pixel with a HUGE amount of blooming, exact same spot on the two images, but they are completely different images of different places: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/msss/00582/mcam/0582MR0024340330400325E01_DXXX.jpg and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/msss/00580/mcam/0580MR0024070490400044E01_DXXX.jpg

And, here’s a lone cosmic ray hit (or whatever artifact is plaguing apparently the right NAVCAM more than the left): http://www.midnightplanets.com/web/MSL/image/00107/0107MR0682028000E1_DXXX.html (click the image to enlarge it, bright spot is vertically in the middle, horizontally on the right side).

Here’s one of the guys who built/engineered the cameras saying it might be a light leak: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/nasa-explains-martian-flash-its-not-what-you-think-n74931

Bottom-line: I’m not 100% sure it’s a cosmic ray. I think it’s likely. When most of us astronomers saw it, we immediately went to “cosmic ray” just as aliens people said “alien artifacts.” I do think it’s a bit coincidental to be right on that horizon line. But, I still think it’s more likely to be an imaging anomaly than spot lights or a city. I would love for it to be evidence of that. But, I don’t think it’s good enough when there are other explanations. And as I said, I think the process should be to figure out all the things it *could* be, what fits with all the evidence, and then decide what you think is most likely.

Longitude

Here’s an article describing how the Prime Meridian (longitude 0°) is defined on Mars. And here’s Dava Sobel’s excellent book Longitude.

Fin

As I said, this is not comprehensive of what we talked about. But, it’s about all I wanted to follow-up on. If you listened to the interview and have a question, let me know, I can respond to you in the comments and/or append this post.

April 15, 2014

Live Interview Tomorrow on Art Bell’s Dark Matter Radio Network on the Fade to Black Show


What could be better than reading my blog or listening to me reading a pre-written script on my podcast? (“Nothing!” you might exclaim.) Well, there is something better (and you may want to re-examine what you do for fun if your answer was “Nothing!”): I’ll be interviewed live tomorrow night (US time) on Jimmy Church’s “Fade to Black” program which runs on the Dark Matter Radio Network, a radio network launched by National Radio Hall of Fame’er Art Bell, late last year. That’s 7:00-10:00PM PDT on April 16, which I think is 2:00-5:00AM UTC on April 17. I think I would start a minimum of 15 minutes in, probably closer to 30.

As with the network, the show is still somewhat young and may grow and change, but the basic format is a “living room discussion” with no written questions on notecards that might get out of order or repeated, no pre-recorded scripts or statements (though I’ll have some at my fingertips in case I need to look up a number or something), and it’s a general discussion about what the guest does and what they may claim.

I think it will be an interesting discussion, and we’ll see where it leads. I think it will be much closer to my ATS Reality Remix interview than anything I’ve done on skeptical shows or podcasts, where I think my theme may be focused on why scientists (and skeptics) in general don’t think there is enough “good” (and we’ll probably discuss what that means) evidence for certain phenomena.

That said, I was asked to supply a gallery of images that we could use to support any discussion we may have. I’ve no idea if we’ll get to these topics, but they’re about the only visual thing that I thought we may discuss that I could show. I’ll post a link to that when it’s up, but the images I sent are about the lunar ziggurat, Face on Mars, and spaceship on Mars (this last one because I think it’s a great example of how a small feature without any context leads to amazing pareidolia, where you don’t even know which way is “up,” but with context it’s a boring geologic feature).

But other than that, I have no pre-conceived ideas about what we’ll discuss. Jimmy has said he’s listened to most of my podcasts, so he has a good idea about what I do and my position on things (and he’s still having me on!). Given timing, we may discuss “blood moons,” he may ask some general astronomy/geology/physics things, it may be entirely focused on the pseudoscience stuff (including Planet X, some of Richard Hoagland’s claims, etc.) or … who knows?

Wow, this has been a rambling post. To wrap it up, on that main page, you can find a live feed of the show, or after the show (within a few days) he posts it to YouTube and you can download the whole thing. He’s also on Twitter, Facebook (has nearly 20x the followers my podcast does), and has a call-in number and Skype address and e-mail address so you can ask your question(s) live!

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.

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).

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.

December 24, 2013

The Reason for the Seasons

Filed under: astronomy,general science — Stuart Robbins @ 6:46 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Introduction

As the majority of the world’s population celebrated the Winter Solstice a few days ago, a smaller number of persons celebrated a different event, the Summer Solstice. And yet, polls seem to show that somewhere around 20-60%* of people don’t seem to know what causes the seasons, and the statement I made in the first sentence would have them scratching their heads in confusion. Since this is the Exposing PseudoAstronomy blog where the original intent was to cover common misunderstandings and even media mistakes in astronomy, I thought I’d do a post on this.

*Poll 1, Poll 2, Famous 1980s video of Harvard Graduates.

Proximity to Sun

The most common thought is that seasons are caused by Earth’s changing distance from the sun. After all, Earth has an orbital eccentricity of 0.0167, meaning that from its average distance of about 149.6 million km from the sun, it actually varies between 147.1 million at its closest and 152.1 million km at its farthest. “Obviously,” the thinking goes, “this distance change should affect temperature!” It’s a whopping 5 million km.

And it does. Very slightly. Mars, with its higher eccentricity, has significantly warmer southern summers than northern summers because of this.

But on Earth, the day during which we are closest to the sun is around January 2, and it is farthest from the sun around July 5.

If you’re close to a heat source, you should be warm, right? But doesn’t winter happen in January for the majority of people around the world?

Therefore, this can’t be the cause.

What also doesn’t make sense for this explanation is that the northern hemisphere experiences the opposite seasons as the southern hemisphere. Though, many people are not that well traveled and wouldn’t know this from first-hand experience. However, being in Australia right now, and wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I can guarantee you that it is warm down here. Last week, it was around 40 °C, or about 105 °F. I took my friend’s nephew to the beach.

Earth’s Tilt

The only thing that can explain why a spherical object would experience different seasons in one part than another, at the same time, is if it has something not to do with something that applies to the entire object (like distance to the sun), but rather something that applies to one part and then the other, and can’t apply to both parts at the same time in the same way.

Seasons

Seasons

The solution is Earth’s tilt. Earth rotates about its axis, and it orbits around the Sun. Earth’s rotational axis is tilted relative to the path around the sun by about 23.5°. The explanation for seasons is given in the diagram above and has to do with the directness of light. Take a flashlight and aim it straight at a wall. You have a certain amount of light, and it’s spread over a small area. Now, aim it down but still at the wall. You have the same amount of light, but it’s spread over a larger area.

The same thing happens with the sun’s light. When the northern hemisphere is tilted more towards the sun, such as in June, the light from the sun strikes it most directly. But, the same quantity of light is spread over a larger area in the southern hemisphere. That given packet of energy cannot heat a wider area the same amount, so it is cooler. Six months later, same thing happens, but in reverse for the hemispheres.

Vacation

The reason for this post is that I’m here in Australia and it’s warm. A few days ago was the Winter Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. I didn’t experience the shortest day this year. And I kept having to correct myself a few days ago, just as above, because it really is hemisphere-dependent.

Similarly, right now it’s about noon on December 25, Christmas from TomorrowLand. For someone who grew up and lived his entire life except for 2 weeks (so far) in the northern hemisphere, it does not “feel like” Christmas (despite being an apathetic atheistic agnostic, everyone except perhaps in China and North Korea cannot help but be inundated by Christmas stuff). It’s warm. It’s sunny. I’m <1 km from the beach and last night I walked outside after dark with shorts and a t-shirt on.

It's amazing how many of our experiences are driven by the weather and climate, and how northern-hemisphere-centric many of us are. Even our emotional state and how we feel about certain events are tied with the weather. And yet, the larger, yearly cycles of seasons, are so poorly understood by hundreds of millions of people.

December 20, 2013

Podcast Episode 96: The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View with Aaron Adair


When Jesus was born
The Star of Bethlehem told
The way. Maybe not?

For the first episode of several interviews, and the last episode of 2013 (Julian calendar), I give you an interview with Aaron Adair who is a recent physics Ph.D. awardee from THE Ohio State University. If you’re wondering “What on Earth could POSSIBLY be new about this?” you’re not alone — it’s the first question I asked him. The interview runs about 45-50 minutes and there are no other segments.

And Australia is fun! Nothing has killed me yet … so far …

December 1, 2013

Podcast Episode 94: Error and Uncertainty in Science


Terminology
Episodes. Hopefully not
A boring topic?

Another unconventional episode, this one focuses on terminology and what is meant by “accuracy,” “precision,” “error,” and “uncertainty” in science. And, especially, different sources and types of error.

The episode also – surprisingly given my time constraints right now – has all of the other usual segments: Q&A (about asteroid Apophis), Feedback about the Data Quality Act, and even a Puzzler! (Thanks to Leonard for sending in the puzzler for this episode.) And the obligatory Coast to Coast AM clip.

I also talk a bit about meetup plans in Australia, especially the Launceston Skeptics in the Pub on January 2, 2014, where I’ll be talking about the Lunar Ziggurat saga, not only from a skeptical point of view, but from an astronomical one as well as from a more social science point of view — dealing with “the crazies.” I have not yet started to write the presentation, but I personally think it’s fascinating, how it’s playing out in my head.

November 21, 2013

Podcast Episode 93: The Importance, Methods, and Faults of Peer Review


How work is reviewed
Within the fields of science …
Vers’s pseudoscience.

This one’s an unconventional episode where I talk about one of the most basic ideas and processes in science: That of Peer Review.

As I gear up to do an episode every few days in prep for my trip to Australia, Dec. 16 – Jan. 21, more of these different kinds of episodes will be coming up – and episodes with just the main segment and not other ones like Q&A and Puzzler – and I’m also planning/conducting a lot of interviews to make putting out episodes over those ~5 weeks easier on me. There’s also still the reminder to let me know (if you haven’t yet) if you’re interested in participating in the 100th episode spectacular. To do so, you should have a decent microphone and be able to ad lib and come up with crazy ideas.

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