Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 15, 2012

Nostradamus and 2012: Some Internet Folks Get Punk’d


Introduction

Among the modern “scientific skeptics” movement – which is already small – I count myself (in the least arrogant way possible) among the even smaller subset who are actual career scientists. Being in that sub-set, a not uncommon question is: If you had no morals, what kind of scam would you perpetrate?

As in, if I wanted to go out and be on Oprah and Motel and Coast to Coast and sell hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions of dollars?) worth of pseudoscientific crap, what kind of crap would I shovel out to the masses?

To say that I haven’t thought about it would be lying. To say that I haven’t thought to try a social experiment would be lying. But this April, I unwittingly did just that.

April Fools

Some of you may remember my April Fools post for 2012: “New Nostradamus Quatrain for 2012 Discovered.” The idea was that people keep making up new things that Nostradamus “said,” after some event, and then claim it applied to that event. This happened with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. And, as also happened with that attack, people “reinterpret” quatrains that Nostradamus actually did write in order to fit them to the event.

In that spirit, I wrote my post about a “newly discovered” quatrain. And of course, tied it very obviously to the 2012 doomsday stuff. I even posted it on April 4, but I set the date back in WordPress so that it appears I posted it on April 1. People started posting in the comments pretty quickly and sniffed it out as an obvious prank.

And that was that.

December 2012

Fast-forward to the last week or two. WordPress is neat in that it tells you what people have searched for in search engines to get them to your blog. Usually, the top terms have something to do with Planet X or December 21, 2012. For a very brief few days about two weeks ago, the top term was “Glynis McCants fraud” — for which my blog is still among the top ten, and was briefly #2, in Google search results for that term.

But, for the last week, and indeed, now looking at the stats, for the past quarter (3 months), the top term outpacing all others by nearly a factor of 2 is “nostradamus quatrains 2012.” Ooops.

Search Terms for Blog Hits, 4th Quarter 2012

Search Terms for Blog Hits, 4th Quarter 2012

Disclaimer?

A few days ago, I added this disclaimer to my April Fools post:

Edited to Add (Dec. 09, 2012): Okay folks, one of the top search engine directs I’m getting to my blog is for stuff along the lines of “nostradamus quatrain 2012″ and folks are getting this post. Let me be clear: THIS WAS AN APRIL FOOLS POST. That is all. Now, on with the show …

Still on Forums

As of this writing, people on three different forums have picked upon this and are treating it as a genuine Nostradamus quatrain. One is a “Topix” forum, another is on a forum for people who own the Dodge Challenger (a car), and the third is Aantares.com forum. Intriguingly, none of them are cited, though the first two quote more of my post than just the quatrain I made up.

In fact, the last one made it up even more than I did. The poster took the first two lines that I wrote and then made up the last two lines.

Final Thoughts

Is this of large impact? No, of course not. Three people on random forums taking it and quoting me and thinking it was genuine does not a big issue make. And hopefully with this post, too, people coming to this blog will realize that there’s nothing to fear.

But, the fact that the most hits to my blog these days – and now every day for the past nearly two weeks – are for Nostradamus quatrains relating to 2012 … well, it does say something about the state of critical thinking in our society.

Exactly what does it say? Well, I know the answer, but if I told you, then you wouldn’t be thinking for yourself …

Housekeeping

WordPress has just informed me that this has been my 300th post. That’s an average of 5.3 days between posts for the last 4 years 4 months I’ve been blogging. Not horrible, though not great, I suppose.

April 1, 2012

New Nostradamus Quatrain for 2012 Discovered


Edited to Add (Dec. 09, 2012): Okay folks, one of the top search engine directs I’m getting to my blog is for stuff along the lines of “nostradamus quatrain 2012″ and folks are getting this post. Let me be clear: THIS WAS AN APRIL FOOLS POST. That is all. Now, on with the show …

 

I usually don’t pay any heed to alleged prophecies or stuff like that, and I have written extensively about the 2012 stuff that won’t happen, but I was just made aware of this quatrain of Nostradamus that talks about 2012 and is uncannily foretelling:

In the year the sun shows his phases
And the second planet eclipses the brightest star,
The grand empire’s calendar foretells
The secret death of the world.

Now, as an astronomer, I found this particularly interesting. The first line seems crazy – the sun can’t show phases because it’s a star and is always “lit” relative to, well, any vantage point. But … during a solar eclipse, when the moon starts to cover it, it does sorta look like the sun is going through different phases. There’s a total solar eclipse in May 2012.

The second line also seems interesting. The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius, which is at a declination of -16° 43′, meaning that Venus could never eclipse it – pass in front of it. But, then I remembered a joke that we sometimes play on people. Ask someone on the street what the brightest star in the sky is, and most won’t know and they’ll throw out random guesses. The answer, of course, is the sun! (This also works for the closest star, though most will guess proxima Centauri.) And, in June 2012, Venus passes in front of the Sun as viewed from Earth, an event that won’t happen again for over 100 years.

So we have two lines that seem to uncannily point towards 2012. The third one, if we want to go with 2012, seems to point towards the Mayan calendar, though one could argue about how “grand” the Mayan civilization was. After all, they let themselves be destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors.

And then there’s the fourth line (I did mention this was a quatrain, right?). Doom and gloom in 2012? Kinda raises goosebumps on your skin, even if you don’t believe in 2012 stuff. After all, how could a guy writing in the 1500s know about this?

April 1, 2011

April Fools: A Serious Post for the Day


Introduction

In the past, I’ve had a bit of obvious fun on April 1 with my posts, such as last year’s where I explained how I had seen the light and was giving up science. And apparently it wasn’t too obvious to all that I was joking, as Michael Horn apparently thought I was serious.

Anyway, this year I thought I would use the day to look over several ideas and concepts that I address on this blog or that, in general, the modern skeptical movement takes issue with. The purpose of this is that, often, people who believe in any of these topics will claim that skeptics can’t have their pet idea be true because it would upset their worldview, destroy everything they “believe” in, etc. On the contrary, I would absolutely love for many of these things to be true. Let’s take a look …

Near-Death Experiences, Spirit Contacts, Ghosts

Any and all of these things, if real (and by “real” for NDEs I mean they actually cannot be explained by biology), would mean that there is some form of existence after we die in this one. Seriously, I would be delighted if this were true. I don’t care what people say about how I can’t have this be true because it would mean there’s accountability, or that I can’t just do anything in this life ’cause I’d be reincarnated as a cockroach, or whatever.

Living for maybe 75 years and then ceasing to exist is a scary thought. Occasionally late at night, it crops up in my mind and I get freaked out. But that doesn’t mean that I believe that there is a form of existence after this one. I see no hard, reproducible evidence for it, and all the purported evidence that people have put forth is generally easily refuted (especially when we’re talking about ghosts and mediums).

But I would love it to be true. I asked a friend of mine once what he believed and he unabashedly said he was an atheist. As did his wife, who had grown up in some form of Christianity in a very conservative town. I asked her why, and if that meant she didn’t believe in life after death, either. She explained the usual reasons, but then it was this that got me: “No, I don’t think there’s life after death. But believe me, if someone were taking a vote and if I had any say in the matter, I would vote ‘yes.’”

I agree: If I have a vote in the matter of whether there will be a life after this one, I would vote “yes, I want there to be one.” But do I actually believe there is one? No.

Present-Day Visitation by UFOs and Aliens

In what you’ll quickly discover is a theme with this post, I think this would be cool, assuming of course some sort of benevolence as opposed to an Independence Day style of alien invasion. More Vulcans, less Borg. But do I think that tiny light in the sky that I happen to not be able to explain at the moment is an alien craft? No. Do I “believe” the Betty & Barney Hill story? No. Do I think Billy Meier’s laughable evidence is proof of visitation? No.

Ancient Aliens and Alien Artifacts in the Solar System

Following from the last section, this would again be pretty cool. Though I find it odd some people think Earth was the brothel of the galaxy eons ago and the idea that deviant aliens came here to make sweet sweet monkey love is wacked out. Again, actual real evidence of alien visitation in the past would be very neat. Evidence of an alien civilization on Mars or some other body in the solar system would likewise, I think, be cause of great interest and people would flock to it.

Does that mean I think the Nazca Lines are ancient alien landing strips? No. Or that aliens built the pyramids? No. Just because we may not have a mundane explanation for something now does not mean that “aliens did it.” Or, following perhaps a frequent refrain of creationists, it does not mean that “aliensdidit” (a la “goddidit”). Similarly, Richard C. Hoagland’s ideas of crystal tunnels and ancient sculptures on Mars, Andrew Baggiago’s ideas of fossils on Mars, and – closer to home – Hoagland’s “Data’s Head” find on the moon are obvious and clear examples of pareidolia and bad image processing, not the desired evidence of ancient advanced civilizations.

Young-Earth Creationism

To be perfectly fair, I really don’t “care” how old Earth is. As far as I’m concerned, I only “know” for sure that it’s just under 28 years old. Or really, it could have been created just a second ago but with the appearance of age and with all of our individual memories forged and everything made with the appearance of age. After all, that’s what you have to believe to be a young-Earth creationist, that every single piece of geologic, historical, astronomical, archaeologic, etc. evidence that points to a planet – much less solar system, galaxy, and universe – older than 6000 years was planted there by some sick, twisted omnipotent being to make us scratch our heads in the fashion of a chimp. Or you have to invent new science that doesn’t fit with anything else in order to make your models work out.

I think that in the coming decades, young-Earthers are going to be looked upon the same as flat-Earthers: People who ignore all evidence to the contrary, invent ways around what they can, and otherwise stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “La La La! I can’t hear you!”

Magic (Powers/Abilities like psychokinesis, Elves, Fairies, etc.)

I’ll be honest here (as elsewhere) and admit to a guilty pleasure: The TV show Charmed was one of my favorites. And I’m a Harry Potter fan, though that’s more socially acceptable for a guy. Anyway, I love the idea of magic existing, either out in the open or the concept of a hidden world “beyond the veil” that exists alongside our everyday lives but is hidden from us normal folks. In fact, for the past 4 years I’ve been working on and off on my own novel exploring that idea. But here you have the problem of not just a lack of even shaky evidence or suggestions that it’s true, but a solid lack of any suggestions that it’s true beyond the stray anecdote from the mentally questionable.

[Pick Your] Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories are interesting because many of them actually could be true when first broached. It’s when people ignore all evidence to the contrary of a conspiracy theory that it begins to get stupid. For example, the Apollo Moon landings. Every claim by conspiracy theorists have been appropriately answered by reasonable explanations that adequately fit the model that the astronauts landed on the moon. And now we have Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo landing sites. This particular conspiracy theory may have made some sense WAY back in the day, but no anyone who clings to it is willfully ignorant or simply delusional. There really is no other, kinder way to say it.

2012 Doomsday

Do I want this one to be true? Of course not. I want to see the solar eclipse in 2017. I have plans set for 2013. I’d prefer not to die in some cataclysm at the end of next year. Does my desire for this not to happen cloud my judgement on whether it will? No. Again, much like with the conspiracy theories above, every idea put forward by 2012 doomsdayers has been shown to be simply wrong, not physically possible, or just an outright lie. If there were actual evidence or even a physical mechanism that could occur, then I would reevaluate my conclusion and start eating more ice cream and Doritos.

Vaccines Cause Autism

Actually, I think it would be great if there were any kind of simple cause of autism, be it the thimerosal that was used as a preservative in childhood vaccines, parents playing Beethoven to the pregnant mom’s stomach, or solar flares. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in the US a decade ago, and autism rates didn’t go down at all. No one knows what actually causes autism, but it’s definitely not vaccines. Concerned parents should be concerned, but they shouldn’t blame something that protects a child’s health and has conclusively been shown by every study to not cause autism.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up. Now, yes, this was posted on April 1st. No, this is not a “fake” nor joke post. In the end, this really boils down to this message for a “true believer” who harps on the “skeptics:” Get over yourselves. We are not “scared” that your-supernatural-belief-of-choice may be true. We would welcome it. Instead of wasting everyone’s time with that straw man, how about actually addressing the legitimate criticisms of the methodology instead of the claims?

What I’ve written above are my honest thoughts on the issues. What are yours?

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