Exposing PseudoAstronomy

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.

October 21, 2013

Podcast Episode 90: Investigation into Billy Meier’s Alleged Foreknowledge About Stuff About Jupiter and Saturn


Investigating
When people knew what about
Jup’ter and Saturn.

I’ve been doing some research on and off for this episode for quite awhile and finally had enough to post it: Episode 90: “Investigation into Billy Meier’s Alleged Foreknowledge About Stuff About Jupiter and Saturn.” The shownotes for this episode are extensive with lots of references. It’s been scheduled as Episode 90 for about two months. I decided to do it because I found it an interesting scavenger hunt, despite the fact that UFO-related posts are among my least-read blog posts.

The blog entry I reference towards the end of the episode is from January: “How Astronomers Are, According to Popular Press, Constantly Discovering the Same Thing.” I recommend looking through it because it’s a good example that has nothing to do with the Meier case where even peer-reviewed, professional science papers will sometimes ignore work that has shown the same “new” thing before, and it’s a good example of how press releases can play up various “discoveries” … even if they’ve been made before.

The podcast episode also has a few notes at the end, and there’s some feedback clarifying the discussion about why oxygen isotopes are important for understanding where objects formed in the solar system.

 

Given what’s happened in the past when I’ve talked about Meier’s material, I’m going to reiterate my comments policy: Comments need to be on-topic, and I make the final decision of what comes through; I do not owe you an explanation if your comment is not posted, my comments policy is pretty clear. Any comment to this post needs to be specifically about this podcast episode.

If you’re going to dispute material in it, you need to provide specific references and be specific about what you are disputing. You need to be succinct. That means no lengthy essays. That means no posts with numerous links to random stuff. That means no links to videos about trees — no embedded videos period, I will remove them and I will remove posts that are simply a bunch of random links to Meier material, especially if they do not support the specific thing you are refuting / referencing. That means not debating whether trees in a video are real or models.

This episode is specifically about certain claims about Jupiter and Saturn, whether those claims/statements were true, and whether it was known or openly speculated before Meier’s writing that they were true or existed, which is what the claim is for Meier’s prophecy: “… with literally dozens of other such documented examples of Meier’s having published specific, accurate information years, and even decades, before terrestrial scientists, the case must be recognized as being authentic based on these irrefutable facts alone.” It is not the claim that this stuff was known on Earth but Meier didn’t have access to that information so he still got it from ETs — and if that’s what is going to be claimed now, then that is an unfalsifiable and unverifiable claim and is moving the goalpost.

September 24, 2013

David Wilcock: Skeptics Argue Because They Get High Off It


Introduction

I’m behind on a lot of things these days. The Colorado flooding and being with out power for a week put me more behind. On my To Do list was to address a quote from August 19, 2013, spoken by David Wilcock on the paranormal late-night radio program Coast to Coast AM.

The Quote

This sucker is long and it took much longer to transcribe it than the ~3 min 45 seconds it comprised. It started at 9:37 into Hour 3:

What we’re seeing is, okay, not only is this time pattern is cyclical, but we can use those cycles to make predictions about things that haven’t actually happened yet, and it happens that we’re at the end of a whole big cycle, 25,000 years, and what it predicts in over 30 ancient cultures — so, I’ve harped on the Bible here, but this is not a Christian– a strictly Christian prophecy, it’s over 30 ancient cultures that all said we’re going to go into a golden age, and they gave very specific mathematical codes about these various cycles, and-and you know we go through that in the book.

So, the point is, we have a global nemesis. Now skeptics, to some degree, have been influenced by this force that tries to take anybody who tries to look at the very real corruption in our world and–and–and marginalizes them.

And so, there was a fascinating scientific study that just came out the other day, and I love to quote references but I don’t remember who it was because I just read it and I haven’t written about it yet, so I just have to say there was a study – right for now, but I’ll have it in an article coming up – and, a group of scientists recently researched why people laugh. And it’s amazing that it’s been so long before someone really got into that! And what they ultimately concluded was, similar to things like hunger or thirst or sexual arousal or being tired and wanting to go to sleep, that our biology has given us a basic mechanism that wants to look for errors and mistakes in our environment, and ma– and tickles our brian when we find a mistake or an error in our environment. And that’s the basis of all humor, that’s why we laugh. After all this scientific research they did, that’s the conclusion they came to. And I think they’re right. Um, John Clease, from the Monty Python Flying Circus said that humor is about embarrassment, and you’re embarrassed when things don’t go the way they should for you. Because there’s an error or mistake in your environment.

So, I think that a lot of times what skeptics are doing is that they’re so conditioned to believe that anybody who talks about the stuff that’s on your show or anybody who’s out there listening to your show, those people are an error and a mistake in the environment, and these skeptics are so much– th-they get such a serotonin rush – such a high – off of being right and making other people wrong that it is like an addition.

And then they start trolling and then they start writing all these hateful comments in discussion forums, and every time they do that, they’re getting high. And they’re actually getting high off of like, you know, denigrating people. But, I make a very interesting– there’s a– there’s a whole chapter in the book where I talk about scientific proof of energy vampires, and we actually all have a certain degree of vital energy, and other people can in fact absorb your vital energy by denigrating you, humiliating you, shaming you, and creating a negative emotional state in you. And I actually spell out, with a great deal of scientific evidence, that this actually works, and that people can get totally addicted to that rush that they get, because there is an energy transfer, they actually do absorb your energy, and on a microbiological level we see it happening in laboratory experiments.

Premise

The setup for this quote was that he was talking about cycles of enlightenment and spiritual progress and history repeating. That lead into the first paragraph.

And then something about humor and some study that says something and therefore the stuff about skeptics. It’s really those last two paragraphs, roughly the last ~1 min 30 sec of the quote, that I wanted to address.

Purpose

I can’t speak for other people because I am not other people. But I can guarantee that I don’t get a “high” from showing that people are wrong. I normally get a headache. Especially from listening and transcribing nearly four minutes of B.S. from Wilcock. (For those who don’t know, Wilcock now makes a living off of claiming to be the reincarnation of Edgar Cayce, and also making various spiritual or practical predictions that never come true — such as alien disclosure in the fall of 2010. I guess I just got a little giddy from pointing that out.)

I would also point out that skeptics don’t “make other people wrong.” Other people are wrong. Skeptics use critical thinking of the claims and actual demonstrable and repeatable observations of the world around us to analyze claims and make a conclusion based on those claims. It just so happens that the vast majority of the ones that David makes – and that are made on C2C – are wrong.

I’m not addicted to pointing that out. I consider it a public service and personal growth. I’ve discussed this many times before, but briefly, (1) it helps me know how to qualify and better present my data as a scientist, and (2) critical thinking is important in all aspects of everyday life and not just to deciding if Planet X is going to kill you next year.

Final Thoughts

Just after talking about how skeptics get high on “making other people wrong,” lamenting how skeptics post “hateful comments in discussion forums,” and generally complaining that they’re hurtin’ his new-age buzz (my terms), he talks about energy vampires. And how there is allegedly “scientific evidence” that there is an actual transfer of “energy” when you denigrate someone and get high off it. Evidence on the microbiological level.

Now, in fairness, he did go on to cite one or two of about five studies that get trotted out on Coast to Coast whenever this kind of claim is made. Studies that I’ve looked into but have either not been able to verify or find anyone who’s replicated them (see my podcast on David Sereda’s claims, part 1, specifically about Masaru Emoto’s work on water).

So, yeah. Energy vampires. David, sometimes you make it too easy.

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