Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 1, 2014

Podcast Episode 117: Eyewitness Accounts and UFOs, Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Loftus


Human memory,
UFO reports, and their
Reli’bility.

Finally, a new episode is out. I saw Dr. Elizabeth Loftus talk at TAM this year, and I asked her to come on the podcast to discuss her research into human memory and how malleable human memory is, with implications for UFO reports.

I tend not to discuss UFO = aliens much on my blog or podcast. That’s because so much of the claimed evidence these days has mostly to do with eyewitness reports which I really find fairly unconvincing. I also find the Argument from Authority angle – that this was a report made by a “trained observer” or someone with “impeccable credentials” – very off-putting, for it really doesn’t mean their memory is any better than anyone else’s, it’s just an attempt by the proponent to make it sound more trustworthy.

What Dr. Loftus discusses in the roughly 15-minute interview are some of the details of her research over the past three decades into how much human memory can be manipulated. She hasn’t studied UFO reports in particular, so could not directly comment on that, but she is familiar enough with them and with the topic of how to interview a witness and how manipulate memory in general that she could comment on it.

Due to ongoing ridiculously large and numerous time commitments, I’m not sure how many episodes I can put out this month, so it’s possible that this one is it. Hopefully not, but we’ll see.

July 26, 2014

Joining the Cast of ATS Live

Filed under: conspiracy theories,interview — Stuart Robbins @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

Ive been forgetting to mention this in the podcast for over a month now, but since we go live in 40 minutes, I finally remembered for here:

Many moons ago (2 lunations?) I was interviewed on the “Above Top Secret” Forum’s live internet radio show, “ATS Live.” It’s a three-hour program, it goes out 6-9PM Pacific Time, 9PM-12AM Eastern Time, and convert for yourself for other time zones because I dislike timezones. This followed my appearance on their Wednesday night program, “Reality Remix” (different hosts, different show, just tied together because of the ATS forums).

For those who don’t know, Above Top Secret is one of the largest conspiracy-discussing websites on the internet.

I apparently did good, after talking about astronomy and space ‘n’ related topics (a bit of the conspiracy, but really we talked more about mainstream science than I had anticipated, so I threw out my notes about Bob Lazar and “Element 115″). I say I “did good” because they have since had me back as a regular panelist. Weekly. Except when I’m super-busy or am out of town, like when I was at TAM two weeks ago.

The topics for each show can be found on this forum, and they are posted a few hours before the show. Tonight is episode 219. Usually, the first hour discusses a few topics on the ATS forum, the second hour is an interview (I got to ask Nick Pope a question about a month ago, for example), and the third hour is more about some ATS forum topics.

All the panelists tend to offer their opinion / expertise (more opinion) on the topic at-hand. I usually have my line on mute because I have little to say about, for example, the Israeli war last week (well, I had a lot to say, but I chose to remain apolitical and so didn’t say anything). Or on the consciousness of trees.

But usually about once an episode, I’ll “cue” in and offer my opinion or some tidbit or fact, like some skepticism about the 9/11 attacks being a nuke. Tonight I might cue in on a video about the beginning of the universe to the end of Earth in 2 minutes, or about biologists warning of the 6th mass extinction on Earth (caused by us).

Some of the panelists call me “The Professor,” or “Doc,” or whatnot, and despite some appearance of on-air tiffs, we seem to get along fairly well.

Anyway, the point of this post is to let you know yet another outlet where you can find me these days, and to advertise for the show a bit. As I said, I’m not always on, and I rarely talk more than 20 minutes total, but it is still interesting and you might have it on the background while you play poker with your friends on Saturday nights or some such thing.

Update: I was apparently so excited to be on last night that it slipped my mind: You can listen by following the links here.

July 21, 2014

Podcast Episode 116: The Electric Universe, Part 2, with Dr. Tom Bridgman


Sun models from the
Electric Universe. Do
The predictions work?

Practically on time comes part 2 of the two-part overview of the Electric Universe. This one is also a bit heavy with the math, so I recommend heading over to Tom’s site for more information and many, many more details.

So, um, with the deadline for a major grant program coming up in a few days, that’s it folks!

July 11, 2014

Podcast Episode 115: The Electric Universe, Part 1, with Dr. Tom Bridgman


Overview of the
Electric Universe! Been
A long time coming.

Happy TAM for all those who are here in Vegas, and attending TAM. As my own kick-off, since (for those who don’t know) today’s the first official day of stuff, we have Episode 115 of the podcast, the Electric Universe, Part 1. Part 2 will be out later this month where we’ll get more into the electric sun ideas, and why they fail. In other words, while this episode is an overview of the concept, and a lot of the history, the next episode is going to get more to specific examples of predictions and how the data fail to support them.

And, that’s about it. I’m writing this a day ahead of time, sitting in the Las Vegas airport for an hour.5 waiting for the airport shuttle so I don’t have to pay for a taxi. And I got 3 hours of sleep last night. So …

Oh, and the interview, for those who don’t read the title of the blog post, is with Dr. Tom Bridgman of the “Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy” blog.

April 21, 2014

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!

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.

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,347 other followers