Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 12, 2013

Podcast Episode 95: The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 8 – Zecharia Sitchin, Revisited


Is Zecharia’s
Planet X supported by
Recent discov’ries?

I revisit one of the classics in this episode, the Planet X claims of Zecharia Sitchin. This is NOT an episode where I specifically refute Sitchin’s claims. Rather, I go through some of the current events (current a decade ago) that Sitchin wrote about and claimed were evidence that his Nibiru exists. This was actually prompted by a recent e-mail that I had received and was BCC’ed to Michael Heiser (who will be a guest in Episodes 97 and 98, to be released in early January 2014).

As with last episode, I also managed to fit in a short Q&A and Feedback, though the Puzzler is repeated from last episode and the solution will not be discussed until, probably, Episode 101.

I’ll remind everyone that I will be at 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’ve also actually put fingers to keyboard and typed out the Intro in what may be my first eBook, currently with the working title, “Tilting at Monuments on Mars.” I also plan to do one on Planet X, , and I may finally work on some of the planned podcast-related videos while I’m on vacation in Australia.

February 13, 2013

The Peer-Review of Bigfoot


Introduction

Today, after a very long-awaited process, forensic DNA analyst Melba Ketchum released the results of her work that allegedly proves Bigfoot exists, being a species roughly 15,000 years old, and having resulted from the interbreeding of a human with an unknown primate at that time.

There are numerous people talking about this in the skeptical underworld … I recommend the Doubtful News story, JREF forum thread, and/or MonsterTalk Facebook page.

Clearly from the title of this blog, I am not a biologist, forensic anthropologist, geneticist, nor any other thing related. And people on those threads I just linked to are covering details of this such that much of anything I say would just be redundant. However, I have talked about the peer-review process on this blog before (mainly here, but also here, here, here, here, and here). And Melba Ketchum’s “publication” of her results is another good example to illustrate the purpose of peer-review and point out the fact that all because someone publishes something in a “science journal,” it does not mean it’s good science.

Edited to Add (2/14/2013): Some zoologists who have read the paper have chimed in, indicating that this paper is not of good quality nor up to general academic standards.

The Requisite Background

To make a long story short that you can read in much more detail at any of those first three links, Dr. Melba Ketchum received several samples of biological material (hairs mostly, I think), several years ago. After alleged detailed DNA analysis, they proved to themselves it was Bigfoot material. They wrote up a paper for a scientific journal – which is what you’re supposed to do in mainstream science – and submitted it for peer review (the process where people who do similar types of work look over the paper and try to figure out if there are problems with it).

As the story goes in this drastically shortened narrative, this was all under wraps until November of 2012 when it was leaked out by some overseas colleague (I want to say Russian? but I don’t entirely remember). This forced Dr. Ketchum to go somewhat public with it and face intense media scrutiny.

I listened to her for a full Coast to Coast AM show back on December 23, 2012, where she was on the defensive and offensive. In listening to her, I actually felt sorry for her and decided to reserve judgement to see what would happen if her results were actually published.

And that’s what happened today.

Publication

The problem is, it’s not in a typical peer-reviewed journal. It’s not even in a science journal that has any track record. She published in the “DeNovo Scientific Journal. Sounds okay at first …

… except that the domain was purchased anonymously 9 days ago for a period of one year. And this is the only paper that the journal has put out. And in fact, they admit that when other journals would not publish their results, they went out, bought a journal, renamed it, and published their paper.

That is not peer-review. This is like a case where your spouse won’t do something you want them to do so you go and build a robot spouse that you program yourself to do that something.

As I said, I felt sorry for her and I was willing to give Melba the benefit of the doubt. This, however, removes all pretense of an attempt at having people look at this work and judge it objectively and go back and fix mistakes that were pointed out.

She also apparently does not understand the concept of “open access” (meaning free) because it costs $30 to view the paper.

Other Signs

There are many other signs of a lack of any validity here. One is that, earlier today, the journal’s website was using stock photos from websites without any of the required attribution. Those photos are gone now, a few hours later, but other stock photos are present still without attribution (though maybe these were paid for, but most licenses still require posting attribution).

Another is that on the Contact Us page, the name “Robin Haynes” appeared earlier today, but it’s missing now (but visible at the moment in Google’s cached version). There is fairly good evidence that this is the renamed Robin Lynn Pheifer, who has gone by a few different names, and is a woman in Michigan who claimed to have 10 bigfoots on her 10-acre property to whom she would repeatedly feed blueberry bagels.

Another is that people have started to contact the co-authors to see if they actually participated in the paper. Of the two who have responded, one said that he did no analysis nor writing of the paper (though was aware of it), while another hasn’t seen any recent version and could not extract any DNA from the samples he had tested.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure this is going to continue to get very detailed scrutiny over the next several days. The problem is that at this point, almost regardless of what is determined, this move to create one’s own journal and call it peer-reviewed (and scientific — after all, “Scientific” is in the title!) is a gross violation of the terms and process. It’s worse than Answers in Genesis having their own “Creation” journal because at least they are clear about what it really is. And it uses stock images with proper attribution.

Peer-review is not a perfect process. But it’s the best we have. Invoking the Galileo complex (which she did) and then making your own publication only serves to further polarize people: Detractors will use this as fodder to point out that you’ve got nothin’, and people who already supported you already think there’s a vast conspiracy to keep them down.

January 9, 2013

How Astronomers Are, According to Popular Press, Constantly Discovering the Same Thing


Introduction

This post was prompted by a bit of discussion both at work and on my blog lately.

Regarding the blog, the question has come up of when people have known different things, and laypeople going to popular press to determine when stuff has been discovered.

Regarding work, an e-mail was sent out yesterday with one of the senior scientists wondering what the big deal was with a press release claiming to have discovered something new, but he pointed out a paper from 1984 that said the same thing.

So I thought I’d talk a bit about why the media (and official science organizations’ press offices) keep announcing a “new discovery” when it’s, in fact, a very old discovery.

Example from Yesterday: “NASA, ESA Telescopes Find Evidence for Asteroid Belt Around Vega”

On January 8, 2013, NASA released a press statement #13-006, “NASA, ESA Telescopes Find Evidence for Asteroid Belt Around Vega.”

If you read it, the very first part of the very first sentence states: “Astronomers have discovered what appears to be a large asteroid belt around the star Vega.” If you read further, it’s all about implications, comparing it with other recent discoveries, and what questions future studies hope to answer.

It all seems as though this is a very new and interesting finding, and as a press release (and from NASA, no less), it was picked up by many news outlets (looks like at least 35 from a Google News search as of posting this).

I’m not trying to minimize these researchers’ work, and if you want to read their paper, it’s posted here.

But, turn the clock back 30 years. In June 1984, in the journal Science – one of the preeminent journals in the world – there was a paper published by Paul R. Weissman with the title, “The Vega Particulate Shell: Comets or Asteroids?”

If you read the abstract, it states: “The [IRAS] science team has discovered a shell of particulate material around the star Vega. … The Vega shell is probably a ring of cometary bodies … . … A possible hot inner shell around Vega may be an asteroid-like belt of material a few astronomical units [the distance between Earth and the Sun] from the star.”

We didn’t have the internet back then, but based on a Google News archive, at least one newspaper, the Boston Globe, mentioned it in October 1984.

It is true that these are not exactly the same thing. It’s true that the new data are much better 30 years later. But the basic idea is the same: We knew 30 years ago that Vega had a debris disk around it of at least cometary and maybe asteroidal material as well.

Ergo, the press release title is misleading. And, anyone who does a news search who’s looking for when particular things may have been discovered – or at least probably discovered – in science will be mislead … in this case, by 30 years.

Why?

Listening to The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, I have definitely become somewhat jaded with news reporting. Having had my own press release come out about some of my work last year, I have had my own issues (a simple comma missing in the final copy – removed after I had approved it – completely changed the meaning to make it seem like I was talking about ice volcanoes on Mars).

Given my experience, my best guess is that it’s the press officers’ job to get as much publicity for their subject as possible. And we’re lucky if we get to see the final version before it gets sent out. A press release with the headline, “NASA, ESA Telescopes Re-Find [or Confirm] Stuff Found 30 Years Ago” is not going to stoke public interest.

For a topic closer to my own research, it’s the same case with water on Mars. We had darn good evidence back in the late 1960s and ’70s after the first spacecraft images were returned that there had been large amounts of surface water on Mars in its past. But, every few months it seems, a press release comes out stating that a new study has “discovered” water on Mars (or in Mars, or recently on or in Mars, etc.). It’s become something of a running gag during weekly science discussions.

Final Thoughts

To those who did the original (or previous additional “new discovery”), it’s frustrating they don’t get credit. It’s also somewhat insulting. The new Vega paper in this case doesn’t even cite Weissman’s work.

To be fair, this isn’t a huge issue. It’s not media misreporting something major, it’s just a short memory span. But, to those of us who do research in the field or closely related fields, it’s another example of marketing spin taking precedence over honesty. And for laypeople trying to figure out when something was known or discovered, it makes it seems as though everything was much more recently known than it actually was.

January 7, 2013

No, Asteroid 99942 Apophis Won’t Kill Us This Week


Introduction

Unfortunately, the UK’s The Guardian has a misleading title in an article that came out today (January 7, 2013): “Apophis – a ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid – flies by Earth on Wednesday.”

Now, technically, the headline is correct. For awhile, asteroid 99942 Apophis (or just “Apophis” for short) was potentially dangerous with as much as a 1 in 37 chance as calculated in December 2004 of striking Earth in 2029. Then, the worry was that in 2029 during a close approach, it might pass through a very narrow region in 3D space that would alter its orbit so it would come back in April 2036 and strike Earth.

Apophis’ Orbit

To be clear, from hundreds (if not thousands) of observations at this point, the chance of it striking Earth in 2029 is as close to 0 as you can get, and the chances of it striking in 2036 is about 1 in 250,000. Yes, 2029 will be a very close approach, with estimates being it passing by at only 5.6 times the radius of Earth. But that’s not a hit.

So what’s all this then about 2013?

It’s just a close approach. It’s the closest approach in awhile and it will let us refine its orbit even more.

Why do we need lots of observations over a very long time to get a better orbit? It’s like watching a hot air balloon in the sky: If you observe it for 3 seconds, you can get a very rough idea of how fast it’s going and where it’s headed. But if you watch it for 3 minutes, you’ll have a much better idea. And if you watch it for 3 hours, even better. It’s the same idea with asteroids, or really anything else.

That’s why this Wednesday, January 9, with its closest approach in awhile and for awhile, is important. The closer it is, the better we can pin-point its position and so the more accurate orbit we can derive in the future. We can also get a better estimate of its size. But, this approach is perfectly safe – Apophis’ closest approach this year will take it about 37-38 times farther than the moon.

Final Thoughts

I wasn’t even going to comment on this, but I’ve already seen people asking on various forums based on The Guardian‘s headline. So, there it is. Yes, technically Apophis is “potentially dangerous” because, based on our current orbit estimates, there’s a 0.0004% chance of it striking Earth in 2036. But no, the world is not going to end in 2 days after just “narrowly” surviving the “Mayan apocalypse.”

I’m hoping that the author of the article, Stuart Clark, didn’t select it. He’s written popular astronomy books and various other things, so he should know better unless he was trying to drum up page views. I’m guessing it was some editor.

January 2, 2013

A Psychic Predictions Addendum


For Michael Horn

Michael Horn, the Official North American Media Representative of alleged UFO-contactee Billy Meier, has attempted to send me various tasks and things to do, apparently failing to realize that I don’t work for him. I’ve pretty much ignored them as is my prerogative and for reasons I’ve explained in detail before.

One such “task” (literally, the subject of the e-mail was: “A new task”) was this:

Hi tehre Stuart,

As you may imagine I receive some interesting information from various people, among them a couple of astrologers who seem to have been pretty accurate.

So I’m copying you some fairly recent emails with content from them. You can of course feel free to examine it critically and see if the past info seems to be more than chance where it’s accurate and the foretold info/events should speak for themselves, one way or the other.

On August 31, Michael wrote in a comment on my blog:

P.S. When I have the time, I will post some interesting information pertaining to an email that I sent Stuart a while ago. In it I put information from a couple of astrologers who had gone on record with a number of specific things, and times they thought they would occur. It appears that they were…right. I notice that Stuart hadn’t put up a blog attacking these “silly” people, or whatever. Nor has he mentioned having checked them out and been confronted with their documented accuracy.

I wrote in response, to which Michael did not reply:

Oh, you mean your e-mail where your astrologer said, let’s see … “July will be a very busy month for the world … which … will also launch a major volcanic eruption, one of the largest we have ever seen, as well as major quakes around the world.”

Or “I see lots of major issues in the way of electrical power blackouts in 2012. There will be so many issues with power world wide, with huge black outs that last months even years. More black outs and rolling black outs then ever. Some very odd and completely un-explained by scientists.”

Or maybe this was more accurate? — “As I’ve said, I see major issues with the severe heat in many places. Temps could reach 130, even 140, this will also have a major effect on the power plants. July and August will be some of the worst times for this. The blame will partially be on sun solar storms that produces record breaking heat.”

Hmm. Unless I’ve been on some other planet the last two months, your astrologer doesn’t appear to be “right,” as you put it.

Let’s actually review the predictions of Michael’s astrologers who were “right,” shall we? I think that this will be informative because it shows how I got about evaluating predictions.

Reverend Michael Vanderpool, Astrologer & Intuitive — 0 hits || 3 can’t judge || 2 misses

First, the “Reverend” part — his “Doctor of Divinity” is from the Universal Life Church, an organization whose Wikipedia page starts by saying, “The Universal Life Church (ULC) is a religious organization that offers anyone semi-immediate ordination as a ULC minister free of charge. The organization states that anyone can become a minister without having to go through the pre-ordination process required by other religious faiths.” He also has a degree in “Healing Sciences” from the Jesus of Nazareth Church International. The certificates are scanned in and posted on his website. Not meant as an ad hominem, simply putting this out there since he consistently refers to himself as a Reverend.

Moving on, I listened to about an hour’s worth of his YouTube videos. The first was posted December 30, 2011. In it, he makes three predictions:

1. “January 9 to January 12, thus possibly affecting [January 8-16] … in terms of that war-like energy.”

2. He relates this to a war in Syria starting around January 15, and then Syrian president Assad is losing power in the time between February 24 and March 15 “with great probability.”

3. Markets will go up February 24, 2012. That’s the basic idea of this prediction, but he specifically stated: “Why do I say that [the Assad stuff]? Because in that window of time, the planet Jupiter will trine Pluto, and it almost always means that we see a a stabilization, or a maintaining of the markets, or an increase – a rising up of all markets when that happens.” He then says that last time this happened, markets went up. “And therefore, because I see that, the markets will go up with great probability February 24 …”

I then watched his video posted February 23, 2012. In this one, there was the very vague prediction:

4. There are “turbulent times” around June-July and a “difficult astrology time” around the November presidential election in the USA.

Analysis: WAY TOO VAGUE to be considered a hit or miss on any objective scale. As a predictor, this is useless.

Perhaps more interesting, he claims that he was 100% accurate in his market prediction that it’s “a very accurate prediction and quite a significant prediction.” This is based on a newspaper article from the previous day that stated the stock markets were at all-time highs since 2008. So taking that newspaper article, sure, he’s correct.

But let’s look at prediction 3 in greater detail, for which I’m using the Dow. The 10-year high for the Dow was October 12, 2007, at 14,093.08. The high in the year 2008 was May 2 at 13,058.20. 2008 ended at 8515.55, while the high in 2009 was at the end of the year at 10,328.89. Overall, the stock market has been improving ever since its low in early 2009, so the prediction that markets will go up on February 24, 2012, is not unlikely.

In fact, February 22-24 was not even the high for February, which came on Feb. 28 at 13,005.12, whereas Feb. 22-24 the Dow was around 12,940-12,985. It did NOT reach the high from 2008 in February in end-of-day trading, though it got close. Nor was this a high in 2012, the high close was 13,610.15 on October 5, 2012, though the actual high was up to 13,661.87.

Strictly speaking, he is correct, the markets did go up Feb. 24. But practically speaking, this was either (a) a high-probability hit that the market will go up on any given day, or (b) too vague for him to claim it was a hit with the specificity that he later did.

Similarly, he claimed that prediction 1 was actually “a great probability — a great possibility of war … in January 9-15, 2012 window, which can be evidence AS AN ABSOLUTELY ACCURATE PREDICTION” by looking at an Israeli news source from January 14, 2012, that said the largest war exercises in US history would be conducted between the US and Israel around that time. Sorry, again, this is way too vague to be considered a hit. He also did not even mention Israel in the Dec. 30, 2011, video, but thought it would have to do with Assad … see prediction #2. In fact, I watched it again because I had actually missed this ’cause I lumped it in with his Assad prediction.

And, the Assad prediction, #2, is a miss. He did not lose power in Feb-March 2012, and is still in power as I write this at the end of 2012. However, he claims that his Assad prediction was actually correct.

So far, we have 4 predictions, 3 claimed hits. I say three are too vague to score, and one is a miss.

The final video I watched was posted on April 6, 2012. He repeated #4, that there would be some potential problems with the banking system around June-July, which could manifest as the closing of the Straights of Hormuz. Could affect gas prices, food prices. The most specific thing I could pull out was:

5. “Gas prices shooting through the roof [in the summer]. … It would be wise for people to prepare for what could be incredibly high gas prices, and thus, in turn, if that does happen, it could affect food prices …”

Analysis: At best for the astrologer, this would be considered too vague, but under my scoring guidelines, I consider this a miss. Looking at 5-year gas prices in the US, we had a high in summer 2008 of $4.12/gal. In 2012, we had two peaks, one at $3.92 at the beginning of April — when his video was made, and a smaller peak in mid-September at about $3.87/gal. Other than the beginning and end of the year, gas prices were at a yearly low during the time period that he’s describing, June-July. Ergo, I consider this a miss.

And yet, in his e-mails to Michael Horn, he quotes news articles from June 30 stating that there are some rising oil prices and some analysts thinking that they’ll go up. Problem for Michael Vanderpool is that they did not.

Tony Vasquez — 1 partial hit || 3 can’t judge || 9 misses

These are all quotes from Michael’s e-mail to me on July 4, 2012. There were several different parts of it that I drew from to put these together. I included nearly everything written, with a few things left out that were preamble or more things simply too vague to judge.

1. “The U.S. presidential election turns out to be the dirtiest and most scandalous election ever.”

MISS

2. “Obama wins by a landslide.”

MISS — Obama won by less than he did the first time, hardly a landslide.

3. “I still see some kind of major controversy/scandal about Romney and it will completely jeopardize his chances at the presidency.”

MISS. Yes, he said some stupid things, but no one considers this a “major controversy/scandal.”

4. “I refer back to my previous predictions, and during this year’s astrological work, I continue to have no doubt that major chaos and destruction come from Iran, and to Iran.”

MISS

5. “I also believe that either Iran or Israel will be hit in a major way, possible hit by each other. This may not occur until late 2012, but July also looks like a possible time.”

PARTIAL HIT — One could consider the Israeli-Gaza conflict of November 2012 as the hit for this, but I consider it partial because (a) it was November and (b) Iran was not involved – at least not directly/obviously/admittedly.

6. “I believe Iran will also endure an attack from the U.S.”

Impossible to Verify with Present Info

7. “Also, as much as they are going to try and tell us Iran does not have a nuke or that they took out their nuke it will not be true.”

Impossible to Verify with Present Info

8. “I see lots of major issues in the way of electrical power blackouts in 2012. There will be so many issues with power world wide, with huge black outs that last months even years. More black outs and rolling black outs then ever. Some very odd and completely un-explained by scientists.”

MISS

9. “I still see major issues with the severe heat in many places. Temps could reach 130, even 140, this will also have a major effect on the power plants. July and August will be some of the worst times for this. The blame will partially be on sun solar storms that produces record breaking heat.”

MISS

10. “I do see 8+ earthquakes/tsunamis(3) hitting Japan and one 8+ hitting India – huge disasters with cities leveled.”

MISS

11. “Major “Events” in July and August will set off a chain reaction that will run right through 2014.”

TOO VAGUE

12. “I also see the Pope dying this year – the last pope then elected. Sept.-Nov. period for this.”

MISS

13. “July will be a very busy month for the world and a time when the planet’s energy shift goes into overdrive, which in turn will also launch a major volcanic eruption, one of the largest we have ever seen, as well as major quakes around the world. … I’m pretty sure there will be a major volcanic eruption – one of the largest ever – in July-August.”

MISS

Conclusions

A sum total of 1 partial hit, 6 too vague to judge, and 11 misses for a hit rate of around 4% and a too vague rate of 33%. This is right in line with the others from my main 2012 Psychic Predictions post.

With those all graded now, Michael, if you care to comment, feel free. But note that, as usual, I will block anything from you that is not SPECIFICALLY ABOUT THESE PREDICTIONS. No posting to your other stuff, no asking to look at other stuff, just comments about these predictions. Anything else will be blocked or edited out — you’ve posted enough stuff to your site that’s not related directly to the topic in other places on my blog.

December 29, 2012

2012 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Laypeople and Professionals Both Continue to Fail


Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

Introduction

Continuing a tradition that I started in 2010 and continued in 2011, I am posting a “psychic roundup” to celebrate the end of one Julian calendar year and bring in the next. In previous years, I have focused on Coast to Coast AM audience and professional predictions, and my conclusion has been, in one word: Bad. Average around 6% correct.

This year, I have branched out to other sources for three primary reasons. First, Coast has changed their format such that the audience predictions are more annoying and outlandish and it’s no longer one per person. Second, Coast is no longer doing a night or two of professional predictions where they bring in several guests per night to discuss the year ahead. It’s just a few people scattered over January. Third, last year, I was criticized for relying on Coast with people on some forums complaining that it wasn’t a good sample because no “reputable” person would go on the show anymore. I was also criticized for lumping different “kinds” of methods together, like astrologers with mediums.

So, I sniffed out seventeen other people who claim to make foresight-ful predictions who were not on Coast. I recorded their predictions, and I’ve scored them. I scored 549 predictions made by various people this year. If you want to just get right to ‘em, then see the link above or below. If you want more of a summary and a “how,” keep reading.

Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

People

Beyond the laypeople in the Coast audience, this year, the pros featured: Joseph Jacobs, Glynis McCants, Mark Lerner, Maureen Hancock, Paul Gercio, and John Hogue. The other 17 pros I looked at were: Concetta Bertoldi, Da Juana Byrd, Linda & Terri Jamison, Joseph Tittel, LaMont Hamilton, Carmen Harra, Judy Hevenly, Roxanne Hulderman, Blair Robertson, Pattie Canova, Cal Orey, Sasha Graham, Elaine Clayton, Denise Guzzardo, and Terry Nazon.

Many of these people are highly respected in their fields and charge a lot of money for readings (if they do readings). Let’s see how they did …

Scoring

I continued my tradition from last year with being somewhat strict in either calling something a miss or saying it was too vague or obvious or not a prediction. In one case, I had to call the “psychic” ignorant based on my reading of their prediction (that Antarctica would be found to have land under it?).

With that in mind, I was also what some may consider generous, giving some high probability hits (like Newt Gingrich would win the South Carolina primaries).

All numerical scores are the number of hits divided by the number of hits plus the number of misses. That means that predictions that were too vague/etc. were NOT counted against them, nor for them. The uncertainty is the square-root of the number of hits divided by the sum of the number of hits plus misses.

How They Did

I separated the folks into three groups: Coast audience, Coast professionals, and other professionals. Here’s how they did:

  • C2C Audience: 6.6±2.1%
  • C2C Pros: 15.6±7.0%
  • Other Pros: 7.5±1.7%

How They Did, Removing U.S. Presidential Election Stuff

The USA had a presidential election this year. About 3.3% of the predictions had specifically to do with who would run and be elected. These were pretty high-probability for the actual results followed what analysts were predicting months in advance.

So, to try to un-bias the predictions relative to previous years, I removed ALL predictions having to do with the either who would be the nominee on the Republican side or who would win the presidency. The results, and compared with previous years, are:

  • C2C Audience
    • 2012: 6.7±2.2% (4.7% too vague to score)
    • 2011: 5.8±2.3% (8.8% too vague to score)
    • 2010: 5.7±2.3%
  • C2C Pros
    • 2012: 13.8±6.9% (17.1% too vague to score)
    • 2011: 2.6±2.6% (39.0% too vague to score)
    • 2010: 11.5±4.3%
  • Other Professionals
    • 2012: 5.5±1.5% (27.1% too vague to score)

Several Conclusions from the Data

Note that these are discussed in more detail in the massive PDF file that lists all the predictions. For the shorter version …

First, I repeat this every year – and I predict that I’ll repeat it, in effect, next year – these “professionals” are NOT capable of telling the future any better than you or I, and some of them are in fact far worse.

Second, another thing I repeat every year and has held true this year, is that the pros are much vaguer than laypeople. On average, they’re a factor of around 3-5x vaguer in the sense that, percentage-wise, 3-5x more of their predictions are too vague to actually score. This means that they’re very easy to retrodict, after the event occurs, to claim accuracy. But, that “accuracy” is useless because it was not something that could be actionable when the “prediction” was made because it was so vague

Third, if the small numbers can be believed, the pros are better at setting aside their personal aspirations for politics — of the 12 predictions dropped because they were about the presidency, 1 hit and 2 misses were from the laypeople, while 7 hits and 3 misses were from pros. This indicates they got more right than the laypeople, which, while someone could point to that and say it proves they’re more psychic/intuitive/whatever, an objective person would look at that and point out that they were simply more likely to state what the polls and analysts were saying at the time.

Fourth, again if small numbers can be believed, when separating the pros into psychic-mediums, psychics, intuitives, and astrologers, the prediction rates were identical — except for the astrologers, who got 0. The only difference was that the psychics were much less vague, averaging around 19% unscorable versus about 35% unscorable for the others. I’ll have to watch that and see if it pans out in future years.

Scoring, Revisited

Before I wrap this up, I want to revisit the scoring and point out a major difference between the prognosticator and what I would consider an objective person looking to see if a “psychic” prediction is accurate or if it’s so vague that it can be retrodicted after the event to claim accuracy.

My example is Linda and Terri Jamison, the “Psychic Twins” who claim to be “psychic mediums.” They stated they see “one or two major schools being victimized by a young terrorist in the U.S.”

I consider that a miss. A terrorist is someone who commits their terrorism to create fear and panic, usually in the pursuit of political aims. By all accounts — except for the very conspiracy-minded, who unfortunately have been on C2C talking about this — Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hooke Elementary School shooter, was anti-social and disturbed. NOT a terrorist, not doing this for political gain, no cause in mind, and no greater demands for a group. To me, this is NOT a correct prediction for the twins. Sandy Hooke Elementary is – no offense – also not exactly what I would consider a “major school” (someone from Connecticut please correct me if I’m wrong).

However, I fully expect the twins to go out and claim that they predicted the Sandy Hooke shooting based on their above statement, just as they’ve been saying for over a decade they predicted the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks via the following exchange:

– Twin A: “We’re seeing a lot of natural disasters in terms of earthquakes and hurricanes, uh, blizzards and earthquakes coming up, especially in the next 10-12 years. A lot of activity like that because of global warming. We are seeing, uh, various terrorist attacks on Federal government, uh, excuse me — Federal buildings, um –”
– Twin 1: “– yeah, particularly, uh, South Carolina or Georgia.”
– Art Bell: “Really.”
– Twin 1: “Uh, by July 2002, and also uh, the New York Trade Center, the World Trade Center in 2002.”
– Art Bell: “Really.”
– Twin 1: “Uh, with something with a terrorist attack and, um, yeah, so that’s pretty much it.”

That is their claim for predicting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. I consider it a miss. But that’s a future blog post.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up for this year. I’m not going to repeat my small tirade from last year against the amount of money people waste on these professionals. I’ll just ask that you look at the data: They don’t do any better than you.

I’ll also ask that if you found this at all useful or interesting, please help spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, message boards, your favorite podcast (unless it’s mine, in which case I already know), etc. A lot of work went into it, and as far as I know, this is one of the most comprehensive looks at predictions for 2012 (and thanks again to Matt T. for help on scoring several items).

Also, if I got anything wrong, please let me know by posting in the comments or sending me an e-mail.

December 10, 2012

2012 Mayan Doomsday: One Post to (Almost) Rule Them All


Introduction

This post is headed up exactly 11 days before the winter (in the northern hemisphere) solstice of 2012, assuming I got the time zones correct.

You know … THAT day. The one “everyone” is saying – or at least “everyone” is saying that the Mayans said – that the world is going to end. Or we’re all going to become higher vibrational spiritual beings. Or Planet X will swing by. Or some such other stuff.

In other words, only 11 more days people can suckle the milk from the teat of a meme that has frightened people, bilked them from money, made them see a pretty bad movie, and various other things.

If you’re just finding this blog through an internet search and don’t follow me regularly, perhaps you can tell that I clearly put zero stock in such things. In fact, the main purpose of this post is to create a “master” post for the majority of my 2012-related posts and podcasts. I’ve been known to suckle a bit myself, and there’s no harm in doing another post that’s just a bunch of links … it’s a public service, ¿ya know? to have ‘em all in one place.

After all, the majority of people coming to my blog these days are coming here due to searches for 2012-related doomsday stuff.

The Posts and Podcasts

The main blog posts:

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

And my podcast episodes so far on 2012 and Planet X:

And podcasts on which I have been interviewed on 2012:

Other Sites

Why would you be going to other sites?

Well, if you must, I highly recommend 2012 Hoax.org.

Regrets

My one main regret is not doing my planned eBook on the subject. It was going to be free, but I just never got around to writing it. Even just as a compilation of blog posts. :(

I suppose my other main regret is that I have yet to do a post or podcast episode on the sun and 2012. The podcast episode will be coming out in 5-6 days, though … so, still have time, and it’ll come out.

Saving Face – Help Me Look?

All that said, there are lots of people who have made several explatives’-worth of money on 2012 stuff. I have to think that some of them are going to try to save face and back-pedal and make excuses.

If you find any, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! You can do this very easily by posting a comment in the Comments section below this post. I want to do a podcast episode on it early in 2012 (like February-ish).

End Stretch

So far, I really haven’t seen too much escalation of this stuff now that we’re less than two weeks away. Supposedly some people in Russia are worried, but I don’t know if that’s just the press making a big deal out of a few people.

Even Coast to Coast AM hasn’t really ramped stuff up — I almost expected that the producers would be having a 2012′er or Planet X’er on several times a week, but that hasn’t happened. Looking at their schedule for this week, Dec. 9-12 (what’s posted), we have Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the fiscal cliff, some mob-JFK show, and the “Watchers” and a cosmic battle with L.A. Marzulli. Only the last one is remotely 2012-ish. Perhaps “not with a bang but a whimper” is apropos.

Oh, and NASA’s come out with their “nothing’s going to happen” stuff, but the people who believe that “something” in 2012 is going to happen are rarely going to believe anything that NASA or any other part of any government says. It’s perhaps unfortunate, but that’s the case.

So that’s that for now. See ya on December 22.

Edited to Add (11/12/2012): Apparently now, even the Vatican is getting in on this, saying nottin’s happenin’. Which makes sense, considering that their holy book contains text that states no human (fairly sure it says “man,” but I’m generalizing here) will know the day nor the hour of the end stuff it talks about. Well, and the Maya, to them, are pagans so nothing they do should be taken seriously since the Vatican has a monopoly on spirituality, or some such thing.

August 7, 2012

Richard C. Hoagland (et al.) on Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) “Curiosity” Landing Last Night


Introduction

I attended a party at work for the Mars Science Laboratory (hereafter “Curiosity”) landing last night, so I wasn’t anywhere near the radio. I have to say that I am honestly a bit surprised everything worked exactly (or as near exactly) as planned and we had a very successful landing. A HUGE kudos/congratulations to all of the engineers who put that landing system together, and now the science team can start to learn more about Mars’ surface geology than hopefully most other landers put together.

That said, as promised on the Exposing PseudoAstronomy facebook page last night, Richard C. Hoagland was on Coast to Coast AM last night all four hours, each hour with a different person, discussing the landing. And I promised a blog post.

Warning: This post has snark. A non-trivial amount of it.

Hour the First

This was the hour that Curiosity landed. There was very little pseudoscience during this. A bit of wrong facts (such as the sky crane using steel cables to lower Curiosity when it used nylon), and a bit of Richard’s usual stuff, and then just four minutes before the top of the hour, we got to typical Richard.

There were prior two quotes perhaps worth mentioning. First: “There are several clues coming out of no less an authority than the White House that this mission, Curiosity, might be where NASA finally unveils a hint of the real Mars.” We know “real Mars” to Hoagland means ancient technology and life.

Second, in response to a question about finding fossils on Mars: “I am hearing officials – high officials in NASA – talking about Curiosity maybe spotting fossils. Now that means, politically, … if our trend curve / other data is accurate, this could be the mission where NASA comes clean and starts talking about actually what’s there on Mars.” I love how he always cites “officials” or “high officials.” Nameless, or course, to protect their identity, which also makes it uncheckable.

The typical Richard came out starting about 36:25 into the hour after George asked Richard what was “next” for Curiosity. Richard explained that it was going to be exploring the huge mound in the center of Gale Crater, Mt. Sharp, and that it would take years for the rover to get up to the top. But then we had: “The object itself – the mountain itself – [start talking in conspiracy voice as though he's talking to a 3-year-old] doesn’t quite look … uh … ¿natural? Mount Sharp, the very peak, looks in fact like an eroded tetrahedron, like somebody – someone built this thing. This is going to sound totally nuts to all my enemies out there …”

Yup, pretty much. Immediately following that was a dig at, I think, Phil Plait as he mentioned hair-pulling but that some doing the hair-pulling don’t have much hair to begin with. He continued: “There is no commonly accepted mechanism for the formation of Mount Sharp in the middle of this crater.”

Richard then proceeded to say that craters form when an asteroid strikes a surface, “blasting a huge hole in the surface of Mars. How do you get a mountain? covering the crater subsequently? Where’d the stuff come fro? to form the mountain?”

George: “It was brought there maybe.”

Richard: “Exactly! And some of the photographs that have been taken by MRO, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, that I have on the Coast website … they look down on incredibly geometric ruin-like structures photographed right in the path that Curiosity has to drive. … It is only the beginning.”

Apparently, Richard has no idea how craters larger than about 6 km on Mars form. At approximately that diameter and larger, craters are so large and create such a compressive force that the surface rebounds in the center and you get a central peak. Look at any reasonably fresh crater larger than 15 km on the Moon and you’ll see a central peak. Same with Mars (but the cut-off there is ~6 km as I mentioned). That explains a fair amount of Gale, but the rest of it – and why it was selected as the landing site – is what are thought to be sedimentary deposits. In other words, deposits made by water. Not a 50-mile-wide and 3-mile-high pyramid made by intelligent beings stupid enough to believe in your hyperdimensional physics, Richard.

Hour the Second

This hour was with John Brandenburg. This is not meant to be a poisoning of the well ad hominem nor non sequitur, but Brandenburg was introduced as having written books entitled, “Life and Death on Mars,” and “Beyond Einstein’s Unified Field.” He was further introduced as a plasma physicist and someone who was trying to “complete the work of Einstein” on unifying the fundamental forces mathematically. When one hears that, especially on a show like Coast to Coast, one’s B.S. detector should be tweaked.

Richard monopolized a lot of the time in the early part of this hour – and what I later found to be most of the show – and he reiterated his claim that the central mound in Gale Crater is a collapsed arcology. Some evidence, you might ask? Of course: “It’s got headlights! … Why, since you’re not driving at night, … why do you need headlights at night? They’re going into the structure where they don’t have any light!” Q.E.D. right?

He went on: “As we go through the morning I’m going to lay out more data points – carefully researched so I don’t sound like a total idiot, cause people can go and confirm this themselves; now, if they interpret the data the same way, that’s up to them, but the data is there … .”

That actually is a remarkably honest statement and it’s one of Richard’s many “outs” that he usually includes, and it’s also, incidentally, the way that creationists will often argue: It’s all about your worldview, we’re all looking at the same data! The problem with Richard is that he has his conspiracy/artifacts/life agenda, and the data – no matter what they are – will always support that from his vantage point.

He went on to say that the Obama administration is holding an “October Surprise.” I’m looking forward to November when George will come back and ask Richard why there wasn’t any no one holds Richard to this except for callers who don’t make it through and Facebook fans who get banned.

Anyway, after the bottom-of-the-hour-break, John explained that he believes Mars once had a thriving biosphere, that the climate changed dramatically with the formation of Lyot Crater (a crater that I have extensively studied and written three papers on …) that doomed the planet. Before that, it had an oxygen atmosphere and thriving biosphere according to him.

Well, real quick, in my papers I date Lyot Crater to about 3.3-3.7 billion years ago. There’s some VERY preliminary work I’m doing that might make it more like 2 billion years old, but that is in no way shape nor form an age that should be used at the moment.

On Earth, it took until something like 2.4 billion years before we had an oxygen atmosphere which was the pollution of the first bacterial life. This is a case where John Brandenburg can “believe” anything he wants, but it’s up to him to provide the evidence that supports his ideas and counters the established observations that disagree with his ideas.

Which get more strange. At 24:44 into hour 2: “There seems to have been a very large nuclear event. … One hypothesis I’ve put forth … [is] this was a natural nuclear reactor … and you can find a big radiation scar on Mars from the gamma ray spectrometer.” Okay, yes, natural nuclear reactors happened, it happened in Africa on Earth a long time ago. But there is NO evidence it happened on Mars. The Gamma Ray Spectrometer was designed to search for evidence of sub-surface hydrogen that is thought to be bound in water. Not search for nuclear blast sites. John cites several lines of “evidence” for his model that, honestly, are not evidence for anything he’s suggesting, but to get the whole story, of course you need to go buy his book.

No argument would be complete, though, without the argument from persecution, which comes at about 26 minutes into the episode when he said that he was denounced not only by the US but by the Soviets. I didn’t know he put forth his ideas prior to the 1990s.

But it gets better. The story continues when Richard comes back from listening to the NASA press conference and points out (first) that one of their lines of evidence for bombs going off is that some craters are in chains which look like bombing runs. Um, no. Craters occur in chains for at least three reasons: Pit craters (they are collapse features overlying voided lava tubes, so follow the lava tube), secondary craters (my specialty, ejecta thrown out from the formation of a primary crater), and craters formed by an object that was broken up by the gravity of the planet (think Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet impact). Bombing runs would be the last thing any reputable scientist would suggest for the formation of a crater chain on Mars.

But it gets better. Richard points out that an instrument on Curiosity will be for investigating the radiation environment on Mars, but that because NASA keeps emphasizing “natural radiation,” they doth protest too much and so he thinks it’s code for, of course, radiation from whatever technology the ancient Martians had. It couldn’t be, possibly, because if they don’t say “natural radiation” some generic member of the public would wonder about it and ask why there’s radiation on Mars? (It’s because of a lack of atmosphere shielding it from NATURAL radiation from the sun and extra-solar system cosmic rays.) It’s why I keep trying to say “impact crater” instead of just “crater” (even though I fail) because “impact crater” is more specific. Even though it’s usually assumed. But no, it’s ’cause they’re using Curiosity to look for a way to date when the civil Mars war occurred that wiped everyone out.

The final “data point” we get from Richard in this hour that was supposed to feature Brandenburg in the first half and callers in the second half is that the White House christmas card from last year supposedly had, reflected in the blinds in the window, the logo for the Curiosity rover. Talk about pareidolia. And the fact that it was in the library, where no other White House christmas card has ever been photographed “before or since” (not sure how we’ve had a Christmas since 2011), is because they’re sending the message that Curiosity is going to uncover the ancient knowledge (represented by the books) of Mars.

2011 White House Christmas Card

2011 White House Christmas Card

How Richard puts this together is beyond me and likely would get him committed to many psychiatric institutes.

Hour the Third

It bears mentioning during this hour that Hoagland remarked about “typical NASA arrogance” when, during the press conference, the principle investigator for the mission was asked by a 10-year-old when “the kids” get to drive Curiosity on Mars. Hoagland stated that the PI had no sense of humor and bristled and said, “Well, there are 400 scientists ahead of her in line.” Richard’s response? Well, I already told you: “Typical NASA arrogance.” Hmm. How about “Basic fact and responding in a way that a child can understand.” As opposed to the reality, which is “never.” That would have been more of an arrogant response.

Most of this hour was relatively tame until around 24 minutes in. Robert Zubrin is, by most accounts a reasonably sane person and though he thinks that there are fossils on Mars, he doesn’t claim any of the pareidolia evidence that Sir Charles Schultz III does, he just thinks they’re there but we haven’t gathered evidence for them.

At 23:20, Richard interrupts, as he often does. In fact, there was a “debate” a few years ago between the two on Coast and Zubrin at one point effectively said, “Richard, if you’re not going to let me talk, if you keep interrupting me, I’m just going to hang up.”

Anyway, Richard claims that several NASA people have said that we might find fossils on Mars with Curiosity. I have not heard this. I would be very surprised if anyone connected with the team or a scientist or official at NASA stated that. I’d like to know who and when, Richard. If you skip over the one caller they took after that, to around 30 minutes in, Zubrin starts to question Richard’s statement. Then they start arguing. Hoagland believes they already know of fossils (and will disclose a few days before the US presidential election), Zubrin is more rational, which is always a big no-no on Coast.

They took one more call and Richard interrupted him.

Hour the Fourth

The guest this hour was Richard Hoagland. Oh, and some other guy who Richard didn’t really let talk. Something-something-something. (Looks up the name …) David Livingston.

David really didn’t bring anything to the table this hour because Richard kept talking. It was really just more of the same but Richard let his hair down a bit more and let himself talk more. Err, go more into his weird ideas. More conspiracy stuff, more “they know and this mission is going to let them talk about it and we have pictures of fossils” etc. etc. etc.

Final Thoughts

Can you tell I was a bit jaded by the end? Yeah …

Anyway, the only good thing to come out of it is, as usual, Hoagland kept saying throughout the night one of the only things that I fully support him on: The space program is awesome and the landing of Curiosity is a great accomplishment. More resources should be invested in space, and the landing of Curiosity has given the space program a very good and very needed P.R. boost.

July 7, 2012

Creationists and the God Particle


Introduction

If you were living in a box this past week, you may not have heard the announcement by CERN that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) over in Europe has found evidence with 99.9999042% certainty of the long-theorized (since the 1960s) Higgs Boson. Big news in particle physics, probably the biggest news in science all week, if not month, possibly year.

Unfortunately for those of us who deal with pseudoscience, the Higgs Boson is popularly known as the “God Particle” — especially in the media. Which of course means that the young-Earth creationists have to comment on it.

Background

Okay, I’m going to assume here that if you’re reading this blog, you already know the jist of what’s going on. So I’m not going to go into a lengthy background, rather I’m just going to summarize:

  • The Standard Model of Particle Physics explains a lot but we don’t really know what “gives” particles any sort of mass. We know stuff has mass — I’m reminded of that every morning when I attempt to get out of bed.
  • The Higgs field was theorized in the 1960s to be a field that particles interact with that give them their mass.
  • The Higgs field is carried by / transmitted by / etc. the Higgs boson (the boson being a type of fundamental particle. This was predicted by and is a requirement of the Standard Model.
  • The Higgs boson was the last fundamental particle that was only in theory and hadn’t been yet observed.

And the results this past week are of the decay products that would be required from the Higgs boson, so by back-tracking those decay particles, they have the discovery of the Higgs.

Standard Model predictions found to be accurate, Higgs boson found, therefore Higgs field confirmed and we know why things have mass.

Since mass is a fundamental property of matter, and the Higgs field is commonly said to “give” particles mass (when it’s really a quantum interaction between the pervasive field and the particles), it has been deemed to be known as “The God Particle.”

That’s really about it.

Comic Sans

I suppose a very brief interlude needs to be made to discuss the Comic Sans font. Let’s be frank: It’s a stupid font that most people hate. It is childish. It was designed to be for dialog bubbles in comics (“Comic” in the name). It should never ever ever be used in anything professional.

Do people use it in professional settings? Yes. I’ve seen presentations at conferences that are written in Comic Sans. My friggin’ advisor made our entire poster for a conference in Comic Sans font. I gave him hell for it.

The media presentation at CERN for this discovery this week was done in Comic Sans. They should not have done it in Comic Sans. I don’t think there’s any excuse for this because any press officer worth anything would have told them to change the font. Period.

Does it change the results? No. I’m reminded of when a gay kid came out in his blog and it was all basic early 2000s formatting with plain background, plain text, nothing else. All his friends on Facebook gave him hell not for coming out, but for the 1990s HTML coding he used to do it. So let’s get beyond the stupid font the CERN folks used.

Creationists Respond

As most would probably expect for a particle physics news item, many people in the so-called “mainstream media” invented all sorts of things that the “God Particle” could do, though most didn’t. Many things could be taken out of context to lead people to false conclusions about what the Higgs boson “does,” and they’re ripe for quote mining.

And as we would expect, with something called the “God Particle,” every single creationist outlet I read had some reaction to the announcement this week.

In general, though, I was okay with what they wrote (apart from the whole, “True knowledge can only come from a literal reading of God’s Word!” part). The Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and Creation Ministries International all had articles that were basically saying the same thing: (1) Don’t believe the hype that with this discovery we now know all the deepest darkest mysteries of the universe, (2) “God Particle” is a misleading name, (3) it doesn’t have anything to do with the origins of the universe, (4) Praise Allah Jesus.

Final Thoughts

In my own opinion, the reporting by the young-Earth creationists on this matter is not bad, nor is it very distorted at all. They’re really just trying to reassure their followers that this discovery (which they can’t dismiss) in no way affects their faith in their god. And I’m okay with that.

July 1, 2012

Podcast Episode 42: Who’s Yo Mamma?! (Milky Way or Sagittarius Dwarf?)


Episode 42 has been posted — on time, I might add. We’re back to the 30-minute episode length and get back to some good ol’ Coast to Coast AM clips.

I take you on a whirlwind custody case that’s 10 years (or 5 billion years?) in the making, trying to figure out if our solar system is really a member of the Milky Way galaxy, or is it a member of the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy, a galaxy that was only discovered in 1994 and is currently being eaten alive by the Milky Way.

I also have another crater-based Q&A, discuss the solution to episode 40′s puzzler including the feedback that everyone sent in on what the fate of the puzzler should be, and then a few quick announcements.

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