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!

January 12, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

January 1, 2014

Podcast Episode 97: Interview with Michael Heiser on Ancient Aliens and Zecharia Sitchin, Part 1


Ancient Aliens
From the view of an ancient
Languages scholar.

For the first of 2014, I give you the first part of a two-part series of one interview with Michael Heiser, a scholar and expert in ancient languages. How does that have anything to do with pseudoastronomy? Glad you asked: Listen to the episode! But briefly, Michael is about a once-a-year guest on Coast to Coast AM and he talks about evidence people claim from text about ancient aliens and related material. Especially Zecharia Sitchin … but that’ll have to wait for Part 2.

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

And with my Australia trip almost half over, I’m still alive, though I have photos of (1) jellyfish, (2) vegemite, and (3) high winds on Mt. Wellington … three things for the album of Things in Australia that Will Kill You but I Survived.

March 26, 2013

Why I Do What I Do


Introduction

First post back from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, probably the second-largest annual gathering of planetary scientists in the world, and largest of those with a non-Earth focus (December AGU being more terrestrial geology). Whilst I was away, The Star Spot podcast posted an interview I did with them a month or so ago. It focuses mainly on different ideas about Planet X, about which I’ve both written and podcasted extensively.

At the end of the interview, I was asked, effectively, why I do what I do. I admit I hadn’t had much sleep before the interview, and I didn’t exactly have my A-game on. And so I may have come off as being somewhat more self-centered than normal. I have been asked this a few times before, like last year when going back-and forth with Mike Bara about that whole lunar ziggurat thing.

So, here’s the self-reflective but hopefully not as self-centered post. And the announcement of me being interviewed.

Being a Better Scientist

Let’s get this one out of the way because it’s what I mostly answered with when interviewed. One of the things needed to be a good scientist is the ability to ask good questions (let’s not get started on the, “There’s no such thing as a bad question!” because there really are). You have to be able to ask those questions and then investigate them. You have to have a high threshold for evidence. In my opinion, a good scientist needs to set a high threshold for the acceptance of new conclusions and needs to think about what may be mitigating factors.

What I mean by this is that you have to be skeptical. At least one commentator to my blog likes to claim that being skeptical is the antithesis of being a good scientist. That particular person couldn’t be more wrong. While Mike Bara has definitely flung more mud at me, the harshest substantive critiques of what I’ve written have always come from reviewers of papers I’ve written.

That’s what we do: When we sit down to review a paper that describes someone’s data and conclusions, we question everything. Does their data make sense in light of what’s been done before? Do they reference what’s been done before? Does their data description match their diagrams? Does the way in which the data were gathered make sense? Are their conclusions supported by the data? Are they reaching in their conclusions beyond what they have evidence for?

And those are just the big-picture questions. Most reviewers will also bluntly tell you that your grammar is bad, that the paper is poorly written, the figures are illegible, and so-on. I once had a reviewer say that my use of a three-word term once in a 10,000-word paper made everyone in the field look stupid.

This bit of a digression gets back to my main point: Scientists are skeptical, whether they self-identify with that term or not. If you cannot learn how to support your conclusions, if you can’t think of holes others might poke in your arguments and pre-emptively fill those holes, and if you can’t deal with people picking apart your work, you’re not going to make it in science.

Every little claim that I look into, every argument by a young-Earth creationist or UFOlogist that I pick apart, helps me hone my own skills in sorting through evidence and figuring out how to back up my own claims better.

Public Outreach

Yes, to you the public, who are not scientists, it is important to convey good science and to NOT convey and anti-convey (is that a term?) bad science. Not just for the broader utopian goals of a more intellectual society that’s better informed, but let’s face it: It also comes down to money. Pretty much all astronomy-related science is supported by government grants. I should not have to compete with someone like Richard Hoagland for a grant to do research when his stuff is clearly pseudoscience. But, to someone who is uninformed and who doesn’t know the tools and methods and background of how science is done and what he’s claiming, Hoagland’s nonsense may seem just as valid as what I do.

Case in point is that the National Institutes of Health have their “Complimentary and Alternative Medicine” division/institute/thing that actually DOES dole out money for studies into things that have been shown by the normal rules of evidence to not help treat nor cure anything. Real doctors and medical researchers have to compete against chiropractors and homeopathists for a dwindling pool of federal funds. And that’s sad.

I hope that by doing what I do, I can help people realize what science is, what good science is, and how to tell it from bad science.

Applicability to Every-Day Life: Critical Thinking

What this really teaches is critical thinking. Let’s say that you didn’t believe me that Planet X wasn’t going to cause a pole shift on December 21, 2012. I went through numerous posts on it and I got many people writing in the comments that we were all going to die. It’s late March 2013, so clearly they were wrong.

But, clearly they at least read some of what I wrote. It’s not always the conclusion that matters. But, what always matters is the process. The process that I try to go through in my blog and podcast when dissecting claims really boils down to critical thinking. No, not thinking critically (as in badly) about something, but thinking about it in detail and analyzing it in all ways possible.

That method of going through a claim in agonizing detail, showing what it would have to be in order to be correct, showing what it would mean for completely unrelated fields and applications (like, if magnetic therapy bracelets worked, you would explode when you go into an MRI), is – more than most other things – what I hope people get from the work I do here.

You probably aren’t going to come up against someone who’s going to make you decide between whether Billy Meier’s dinosaur photos are of real dinosaurs or of a childrens’ book and depending on your answer you stand to lose $1M or something like that. But, let’s say you’re going to invest money in a high-risk venture. You’ll be thrown a bunch of marketing hype. If you have the critical thinking tools and know where to look for the background knowledge, you could save yourself from quite a bit of financial loss. Perpetual motion scams companies do this all the time, trying to bilk rich people who don’t know any better out of their ¢a$h.

Final Thoughts

Skepticism, to me, is a process. It’s not a conclusion, it’s starting point and a process. I use it in my every-day work, and the more I practice it, the better (hopefully) I get.

I also happen to be in a position where I know more than the average person about a narrow topic range. My hope is that by showing where people go wrong in their thinking, I can help others avoid mistakes. People often learn better by understanding how they got the wrong answer than being told the right answer. That’s the goal here: Understanding the critical thinking process to be better equipped to deal with things that might not be so obvious in the future.

June 29, 2012

An Interview with Me About Lunar and Martian Craters


Quick announcement ’cause I forgot to do it earlier and I forgot to mention it on the last podcast: Nancy Atkinson, a reporter of Universe Today (among other things), interviewed me last-minute last week about lunar and martian craters. The interview’s about 15 minutes long and was broadcast to both 365 Days of Astronomy podcast and the NLSI (NASA Lunar Science Institute) podcast.

Link to NLSI podcast page.

Link to 365 Days of Astronomy page.

The description, as Nancy wrote it:

Description: It’s a showdown! The Moon Vs. Mars. These are two very different planetary bodies. But there’s one thing they have very much in common: both are covered with craters. So how do the two compare in the crater department? With us to give us some blow by blow insight is Stuart Robbins, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Southwest Research Institute, and he also works with the CosmoQuest Moon Mappers citizen science project.

Bio: NLSI brings together leading lunar scientists from around the world to further NASA lunar science and exploration.

Stuart Robbins in a Planetary Geologist with a PhD in Astronomy. He works at the Southwest Research Institute and the University of Colorado, Boulder and is the science lead for the Moon Mappers project.

December 26, 2011

New Interview of Me on “Point of Inquiry” Podcast


Quick post to let you know that Karen Stollznow interviewed me for the December 26th episode – last of 2011 – of Point of Inquiry podcast. The subject matter was a summary of the 2012 phenomenon and associated phenomena, and it was appropriately titled, “The End of the World as We Know It.” It’s very, very roughly a 42.62-minute podcast, about the length of my own (so less detail on each subject). Enjoy!

And for reference, I figure it’s time to update my list of 2012 posts so far:

I have also written a few posts that are tangentially related to the 2012 subject:

And my podcast episodes so far on 2012:

October 10, 2011

Making the Rounds … Another Interview of Me (with someone else, too!)


Here’s a quickie post to let anyone who is interested know that I have been interviewed by my frenemy “Parrot,” AKA “The Dumbass” (he calls himself that) for his new podcast, the Invisible Sky Monster (which I think is a thinly veiled allusion to atheism, but that’s just a hunch). I was interviewed along with Rebecca O’Neill of the Skeprechauns podcast.

The topics we discussed were highly varied, spanning things such as the organic and natural food movements, death of Steve Jobs, “alternative” medicine, the role of critical thinking in life, and womens’ place in society the amount of advocacy that we each personally feel is appropriate or not for apparent minority groups in society at large and in groups/movements (specifically related to women in skepticism, but I expanded it a bit to homosexual advocacy, too).

VERY little astronomy was discussed in this discussion, which lasts about 75 minutes, so if you’re interested in learning my views on some other things, this podcast episode is well worth a listen. Just don’t give it a 4-star rating in iTunes*.

*This will make sense if you listen to the first few minutes.


I also want to clarify my position on this last point (advocacy of minority or under-represented groups) because I don’t think I made it very well in the last 6 minutes of the episode. My personal views are ideally along the lines of “live and let live.” I think that if you push too hard for any one thing that is not an objective fact, you risk a very vocal counter-movement and appearing to be militant and intolerant yourself (since we’re talking about social interactions and groups here, that’s not an “objective fact” like Earth is round).

This does not mean that I don’t think people should be able to join whatever group they want, nor do I think that it’s “okay” that women are highly under-represented in academia or other things because of some real or perceived bias. Again, in the “live and let live” approach, ideally, there wouldn’t be any sort of bias and so there wouldn’t need to be any sort of advocacy on behalf of an under-represented group.

I think all should be welcome and all should feel free to join or not if they want to, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. But I, personally, am not a huge fan of the rallies and workshops and endless meetings of how to fix a problem that may not actually exist. And I say this as a member of an under-represented group, one that is actively discriminated against by the majority.

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