Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 22, 2014

Everyone’s Talking About Ken Ham Denigrating Space Exploration — Let’s Stop Talking About It


Okay folks, this is going to be a short post because I’m sick of it already. People are talking about Ken Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis who “debated” Bill Nye in February, wrote on his blog yesterday that space exploration is silly because it’s a search for aliens who don’t exist and would be damned anyway because of Jesus’ Love™. (I’m paraphrasing here.) If you really need a link, I’ll point you to Jerry Coyne’s blog post on it.

Ham may believe this. I wouldn’t be surprised. But you know what? I don’t care. And neither should you. And you shouldn’t be talking about it, and you shouldn’t be linking to his site (which is why I am not).

True — I have talked about AiG’s work in the past on this blog and in my podcast. But it was a specific science claim where we could learn something about science by exploring the claim.

This is just stupid. This seems almost certainly a cry for publicity under the adage “Any publicity is good publicity!” He had to know it would create controversy and that people would ridicule him. But in doing so, he would get publicity. People talking about him and his ministry and his (by most accounts) failing museum. The Bill Nye debate was almost six months ago, and they saw an immense surge in support and donations around that time, so much that their failing fundraising effort (such that they were issuing junk bonds) for a Noah’s Ark theme park suddenly was viable and they raised all their money.

Let me repeat: What Ken Ham said here was stupid. We know it was stupid. Even if he’s right that there’s no alien life out there, exploring space to learn more about the world/universe in which we live is worth it for its own sake. Now, can we stop talking about how stupid Ham was in saying this? Can we stop giving him publicity? I’ve dealt with pseudoscientists (or just idiots) who just say inflammatory things to get publicity. You haven’t heard about a lot of it on here – especially some recent stuff – precisely because I don’t want to give them publicity.

June 14, 2014

Podcast Episode 112: Is Mercury’s Magnetic Field Decaying? Does that Prove Recent Creation?


Magnetic field of
Mercury: Has it decreased
Or just stayed the same?

For this episode, we return to an old stalwart of the blog: Young-Earth creationism, and I examine the relatively recent claim that Mercury’s magnetic field is decaying, therefore God.

It’s a bit of a nuanced topic, since, to understand it, we have to get into magnetic fields and how you measure them around planets. Hopefully my squishy water balloon analogies make sense.

It’s a bit of a shorter episode, three days late, but I’ve been pretty busy catching up with work that I let slide while I was working on the Cydonia movie.

Oh, and the logical fallacies in the episode are: Cherry picking, and quote-mining.

March 12, 2014

Podcast Episode 103: Does Jupiter Support Young-Earth Creationism?


Jupiter, gas giant:
Why do you oh-so confound
Evolution? Hmmmm?

Young-Earth creationism! Jupiter! What else do you need for a fun episode? (Other than an engaging host?) I had not planned on doing this episode, and I realize that it’s a day late. Why? Because I was going to do an episode entitled, “ε, Newton, Einstein, and Schrödinger.” And I had it mostly written. And then I looked back at episode 64 on quantum nonsense and realized that everything I was going to put in this new episode had already been done as the last section of the main segment in that episode. This was realized at about 6PM last night.

So, I quickly dug up an older blog post and converted it to an episode, had to go to sleep, woke up to the roofers (new roof due to flood damage), and got to record tonight). Here ’tis.

It has been requested (Hi Dori) that I post the current plan of upcoming episodes. This is highly subject to change (see above), but right now, they are:

  • Episode 104 – Pyramids on Mars – 2014/03/21
  • Episode 105 – Solar System Mysteries that were PseudoSolved, Part 3 – 2014/04/01
  • Episode 106 – James McCaney (General, Conspiracy, Electric Universe) – 2014/04/11
  • Episode 107 – The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 9 (Marshall Masters) – 2014/04/21
  • Episode 108 – The Norway Spiral – 2014/05/01
  • Episode 109 – Practical Application of Uncertainty – Orbits and Spacecraft Observations – 2014/05/11

February 27, 2014

Follow-Up on Saturn’s Moon Titan, its Craters, and its “Youth”


As a quick follow-up to my last blog post, a reader wrote in and their comment was published on the Creation.com website. From Mark V. of New Zealand:

You mentioned that Titan has fewer impact craters than would be expected. Does this mean that a moon or a planet which has a lot of impact craters such as earth’s moon Mercury Mars etc. is therefore old? I would suggest that the reason for the few craters is Saturn, which with its much higher gravity, would draw the various comets meteors etc away from Titan.

The CMI (Creation.com / Creation Ministries International) astronomy guy, Jonathan Sarfati, responded (links removed):

In answer to your question, no it does not. This would be committing the fallacy of denying the antecedent, as explained in Logic and Creation. The explanation for lots of craters on the moon is a brief intense swarm of meteoroids, travelling on parallel paths, probably during the Flood year. This is supported by ghost craters, evidence of rapid succession of impacts, and by the fact that 11 of the 12 maria are in one quadrant, evidence that the major impacts occurred before the moon had even moved far enough in one orbit (month) to show a different face to the swarm. See On the origin of lunar maria and A biblically-based cratering theory.

In my original blog post, I said there were two alternative ideas to cratering that would save the creationist idea behind this article:

The alternative is that the crater calibration stuff is off, and radiometric dating is wrong. So, the Moon is not 4 billion years old, it’s 6000 years old. With the crater population of Titan, that means Titan can only be, oh, around 15-150 years old. Except that it was discovered in 1655.

Or, the entire crater calibration stuff is completely wrong. Which means you can’t use it to say Titan’s surface is young, which is what he is claiming — that it is young because scientists are showing it’s young because it has few craters.

When writing that, I specifically left out the special pleading idea even though I thought that CMI would probably try to use that in responding to anyone’s question. Which they did. The special pleading is that, “Hey, we actually can’t use the Moon as a guide to cratering because its craters came in a quick, special burst!” (that some creationists attribute to Noah’s Flood because, well, ¿why not?)

I left that out because it’s really a form of my second alternative: The crater calibration techniques are bogus, you can’t use them. By Jonathan Sarfati claiming that the lunar cratering is unique and special, it means that the cratering calibration is way off because cratering chronology is BASED on the Moon. And, if it’s off, if we don’t know how to calibrate any ages with craters, then you can’t possibly use them to say Titan’s surface is young or old, which is the basis of the claim that the CMI article is based on.

So again, this doesn’t solve the problem, it introduces more problems and shows yet again that the young-Earth creation model is internally inconsistent.

You can be a young-Earth creationist and claim Titan is young (you’ll be wrong, but you can claim it). Just don’t use the crater chronology to do it. If you do, you’ll wind up going in circles as I’ve demonstrated in this and the previous post. Why? Because it’s inherently inconsistent to do so. If the consequence of a CONSISTENT crater chronology were that Titan’s surface was <6000 years old, then that would be the mainstream science thinking on the subject. It's not. Because the crater chronology doesn't show it, if you use a consistent chronology across solar system bodies.

February 24, 2014

Under a Creationist’s Reasoning, Titan (moon of Saturn) Is Just a Few Years Old


Introduction

I’m always amazed at the penchant for young-Earth creationists (YECs) to use science for part of their argument and creationism for another part, when it relies on the science being right, but they’re arguing that the science is wrong.

If that was confusing to you, let me explain …

Crater-Age Modeling

The basic idea behind using craters to estimate the age of a surface is that, if you have an older surface, it’s been around longer and has had more time to accumulate more craters. So, more craters = older.

We can use samples from the Moon to correlate crater densities with absolute ages and get a model for how many craters of a certain size equals a certain age.

That’s the basics … if you want more, see my podcast, episodes 40 and 41: Crater Age Dating Explained, Part 1 and Crater Age Dating and Young-Earth Creationism, Part 2.

So, we have, from the moon, the idea that a heavily cratered surface equates to one that’s been around for billions of years. This REQUIRES radiometric dating to be correct and the basics of crater age-modeling to be correct.

The implication is that a surface that has just a few craters is much younger.

Titan

Titan is Saturn’s largest moon, its atmosphere is thicker than Earth’s, and the Cassini and Huygens probes have shown that its surface is geologically active. It also has very few impact craters.

YEC

Enter David Coppedge, a man I’ve talked about on this blog quite a bit. His latest writing was published by Creation Ministries International, “Saving the ‘Billions of Years’ Age of Titan.”

In his article, he is keying in on a recent popular article that explains that Titan’s surface looks young, and there are a few ways that it can still be geologically active (as in have a young surface, like Earth) and still have formed over 4 billion years ago.

The problem is that, for us to say it looks young, that’s because of the few impact craters. Versus old, that’s because of radiometric dating and then the calibration to lots of impact craters on the Moon. For Coppedge to say (effectively) “Yes, scientists are right, Titan’s surface looks young because it has few impact craters,” then he is REQUIRED to accept the basics of the crater chronology system, which he clearly doesn’t. Because, if Titan is young because it has few craters as he is agreeing with, then the Moon and other bodies must be much older under that same crater chronology system.

Yes, confusing. To get to point B, he must accept A. He thinks B is true, but he does not think A is true. Hence the confusing cognitive dissonance he just ignores.

Alternative

The alternative is that the crater calibration stuff is off, and radiometric dating is wrong. So, the Moon is not 4 billion years old, it’s 6000 years old. With the crater population of Titan, that means Titan can only be, oh, around 15-150 years old. Except that it was discovered in 1655.

Or, the entire crater calibration stuff is completely wrong. Which means you can’t use it to say Titan’s surface is young, which is what he is claiming — that it is young because scientists are showing it’s young because it has few craters.

Final Thoughts

Does anyone have a headache now? I think I gave myself one.

February 2, 2014

Because Volcanoes Can Form Quickly Means … Jesus and Young Earth?


Introduction

I have a vast number of young-Earth creationism articles to write about, but this one, just put out by creation.com, will be quick.

Background

I remember learning about the Volcán de Parícutin in grade school: In 1943, a Mexican farmer was in his field and suddenly a fissure opened and a volcano literally rose to over 100 meters high over the next few days, destroying the field and neighboring villages (the villages of Parícutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro).

It was a story that I believed unquestioningly (as many children do), but then wondered if it was real later on, and then looked up the details.

In the first year, the volcano grew to 336 meters (1102 ft), and by 1952, it reached a final height of 424 meters (1391 ft) and has been dormant since. It likely was formed from a small branch of a much larger volcanic feature and magma chamber, and that branch has likely collapsed and the volcán will never erupt again.

Therefore Recent Creation

The entire thrust of Jonathan O’Brien’s article is that because this volcano formed in the space of a few years, it means that everything on Earth can form in just a few years and you don’t need “millions of years” (there’s an entire section of the article called “Millions of years not needed”) to form geologic features:

They assert that most geological features took many thousands or millions of years to form. Yet we know from actual eyewitness testimony that Mount Parícutin took only 9 years to form, from beginning to extinction, with most of its growth having occurred in the first year. With much larger forces at work in the earth’s crust, as occurred during the terrible year of the global Flood, even the largest geographical features we see in the world today would have formed in months, weeks or even days.

Straw Man and Technique Misuse

This is a straw man. Geologists don’t claim that “most geological features took many thousands or millions of years to form,” at least not the way that Mr. O’Brien is implying. Non-volcanic mountains? Yes. Some volcanoes? Yes. The Hawai’ian island chain? Yes.

But geologists have various ways of estimating how long different processes take. One way for volcanoes is to look at the layers of material and the kinds of plants and/or animals trapped within them. Another way is radiometric dating, such as Rb/Sr dating. With a half-life on the order of 50 billion years for rubidium-87, that means the technique is only usable on features that are 10s to 100s of thousands of years old, at a minimum, with current laboratory techniques.

I mention this because of the feedback to the article … of the five comments, four of them are mocking radiometric dating, along the lines of “Nic G.” from Australia: “Has any radiometric dating been carried out at the site? That’d make for some confronting results.”

This is a common tactic of creationists who try to show that radiometric dating methods are flawed: Misusing a technique with known constraints, and going outside those constraints. The most famous example (probably) is that of Mt. St. Helens, where a creationist got a sample of rock from the 1986 eruption and sent it to a lab and got ages of 340,000 to 2,800,000 years.

Final Thoughts

What’s somewhat reassuring is that I’ve addressed all this kind of stuff before on this blog. This is reassuring because it shows that there really are very, very few “new” arguments for young-Earth creationism, that they stick to a set script of explanations that have been debunked an innumerable amount of times in more ways than you can think of. Perhaps that’s the price for placing your belief system on text from 1500-5000 years ago that refuses to be updated.

November 11, 2013

Podcast Episode 92: Spiral Galaxies and a Young Universe


Spiral Galaxies,
Young-Earth Creationists … a
Potent mixture here.

I managed to get this episode on young-Earth creationism out on time, somehow. It is not the expected episode on the Pioneer Anomaly, but, well, that required some work. This topic I could do more quickly and get out on time.

As I gear up to do an episode every few days in prep for my trip to Australia, Dec. 16 – Jan. 21, it’s going to be probably more of the same, and I have a lot of interviews slated for that time (yet to be recorded … most are yet to be confirmed, so we’ll see). I’m trying to figure out how to make an episode about the peer review process and an episode about uncertainties and errors sound interesting, for those are the next two planned at the moment.

May 21, 2013

Podcast #75: Young-Earth Creationist, David Coppedge, Sues NASA for Discrimination, and He Loses


You’re just a jerk. Don’t
Sue NASA for religious
Discrimination.”

I’ve been wanting to do this episode for three years now, and I finally get to: The case of David Coppedge, who sued NASA for religious discrimination (he was an employee), a case that was trumpeted by the Discovery Institute … and early this year, the judge rejected every single one of his arguments.

The episode is an interview with a legal professional who is going by the name of Harold Ormansky (or “Harry”) – a pseudonym because of various issues with his name being associated with this kind of stuff. But I can vouch for him. And anyone who may recognize his voice due to this person’s other endeavors will agree. But, let’s keep his real name on the “q-t” or “d-l.”

The main interview is about a half hour long, and then I go through a few points of clarification. All of the other normal segments will be back for the next episode.

April 1, 2013

Podcast #69: The Solar Neutrino “Problem”


I was all set to do a few other episodes, and I was re-kajiggering the schedule of episodes for the next several months. I realized that – gasp! – I had almost nothing planned picking on young-Earth creationists! And it had been about 20 episodes since I had last done it.

Clearly, I had been neglectful, so this episode deals with one of the more technical but one of my more favorite topics in young-Earth creationism: The Solar Neutrino “Problem.” Listen to the episode, especially towards the end of the main segment, and I think you’ll see why I like it so much.

Otherwise, in this episode we have the solutions to the past two puzzlers, a new puzzler for this one, and three announcements of upcoming talks: Colorado School of Mines on April 12 (Apollo moon hoax), Denver Skepticamp on April 27 (image anomalies), and TAM in mid-July.

December 26, 2012

2012 Year in Review for “Exposing PseudoAstronomy”


Introduction

I haven’t done one of these before, but I thought that since everybody’s doing it, of course I should, too. I’m not going to talk about overall stats or stuff like that except in specific cases. More, I’m going to talk about content on here and my podcast.

Podcast

I’ll start with this first to get it out of the way. This year saw me start by changing my podcast from two to four promised episodes per month, which I then had to drop down in September to two again. January should see me go back up to four.

Topic-wise, I covered a vast variety, with Planet X and image processing, age modeling / dating and pyramid-star correlations (claimed). I also produced my first video, and while promising a second, I still have yet to deliver it.

On with the blog topics …

Psychics (and related)

The year started out with my first actual blog post on scoring psychic predictions for 2011. I posted it January 5 and it failed to reach the page views I had hoped, despite Phil Plait tweeting about it mid-February. I’m working on getting 2012’s out much sooner (next few days … by Jan. 1).

Anyone who has suggestions about places I can post/link/send my 2012 psychic predictions run-down to (I’ll be grading over 300 predictions by about 15 “pros”), let me know.

2012 / Planet X

I really didn’t have too many posts on this until “the end” – the last few days leading up to December 21, 2012. Obviously this was the major topic for “pseudoastronomy”-related topics this year, at least in terms of public consciousness. As such, it was by far the most common search term that got people to the blog, and my page views rose steadily in the weeks up to 12/21/2012. They then doubled in the two days before and on that date, and now dropped down to about 10-15% that level.

I’ve been approached by the admin of the 2012hoax.org website to get involved with his next project — I’ve agreed as my time allows, so you may hear more on that later.

Lawsuits

I wrote a post about this but never actually posted it. I’m still not going to mention specifics because I don’t see a huge need to at the moment, but I can talk about it without using names nor subject matter. I may also screen comments that make specific allegations about it — just FYI on that — and I will not respond to requests for more specifics.

I was (peripherally) threatened with a lawsuit in September over a series of posts I had written relating to what is considered by the vast majority of scientifically literate people to be a pseudoscience. The person in question said I had lied about them, that I had made false allegations about them, and that I seemed fixated on them and it made them uncomfortable (despite having written one blog post referencing their material in the 2012 calendar year). And there were many others in this person’s field-of-choice whom I could pick on.

I say that I was “peripherally” threatened with a lawsuit because I was never contacted directly by this person nor an agent acting on their behalf with regards to this matter. Rather, I found out about this when my boss e-mailed me telling me that this person had written to him about me and talking about suing me. And then I found out that this person had written to my university saying that they may try to sue the university, as well, because of what I had written.

And then within about two days, it all disappeared. The posts on this person’s website about me were taken down, the person’s Twitter feed went private, and even the Cyber Security ad that this person or this person’s agent had posted went unfulfilled.

My guess – and this is not a statement of fact, it is my own musing based on the evidence that I have – is that this person actually did contact a lawyer as they had threatened. And the lawyer told this person that not only did this person have zero case against me (not only because the case was without merit but also because of the statute of limitations on libel in the US), but now I would have a fairly good case against this person for libel, harassment, and employer (attempted) intimidation.

I’ve maintained all my documentation about this, including what this person had posted, and perhaps at a later date I will post it (after the statute of limitations, perhaps?).

Lunar Ziggurat

Probably one of my more interesting topics – not for its actual subject matter, but more for what ensued as a result – was the whole shindig with Richard Hoagland’s claim of Mike Bara’s claim that there is a ziggurat on the far side of the Moon.

A lot of stuff went into this, and that link provides an itemized and in-order contents of all the blog posts I wrote about it as well as three podcasts (including one video).

It also resulted in Mike slamming me in his new book and going on at least a half-dozen radio programs and speaking out against my analysis. In the process, Mike continued to make numerous mistakes and conspiracy claims (such as he trusts no new images from NASA, or that he hasn’t trusted the Japanese (and so their lunar images) since Pearl Harbor).

I’ve written and submitted an article for Skeptical Inquirer summarizing “what went down” and if it’s accepted, I’ll let y’all know. I’d consider this perhaps one of the more interesting things I did related to skepticism in 2012.

Not So Much Creationism, More Richard Hoagland (and related)

In the past few years, some of my bread-and-butter was young-Earth creationist claims and going through them and showing why they’re wrong. This year, though I still have a dozen articles open that I plan to (eventually) write about, I definitely migrated to write more about other things. A larger theme this year was related to Richard C. Hoagland’s claims.

Some have been just so crazy that I’m not sure I could even write about them. The fall into a category that I recently learned: Not even wrong. As in, it’s just so “out there” that there’s no place to even start to debunk it. It’s so wrong that saying it’s wrong is under-stating the wrongness of it. It’s off the charts on the Wrongitude® meter. Such as his phone-in to Coast to Coast AM on December 21, 2012, stating that HAARP was finally fulfilling its purpose and had been active all day, preventing the world from tipping over. I mean, how do you even start to address that?

Some Philosophy

It was related to the lunar ziggurat stuff, but I don’t normally dip into many deep, personal feelings nor thoughts nor philosophy on this blog. I’m opinionated, definitely, but I don’t normally get into much detail.

Probably the post that best exemplified philosophy this year was my post, “Do Skeptics Hate the People They Debunk?” I wish it had gotten more reads ’cause I considered it a pretty good post. Oh, and then I did a, “What’s a Skeptic?” post a month later.

How Science Is Done

I also had a few posts this year on the basic scientific process. From grant reviews to how scientists are funded, to the fact that a presentation at a science conference doesn’t mean it’s not pseudoscience.

TAM Conference

This was also my first year at TAM. I wrote two blog posts about it, the first one on that page being quite lengthy and describing my experience, and the second one on that page being about errors in some of the talks. Looking back, 6 months later, I’d like to say that my views have mellowed somewhat, and that chances are >50% that I’ll go back in 2013. I’m also still attempting to convince D.J. Grothe to book me in some sort of speaking role (panel, workshop, maybe even talk?), but as you can likely imagine, doing so can be difficult.

Unfinished Posts

I also started to write a few blog posts this year that I never finished … but will, as soon as I get unbusy. I swear ;).

Well, some perhaps not. But the ones that I do plan on finishing are, “How To (and Not To) Give an Oral and/or Poster Presentation,” “How Is Science Vetted and Reviewed?” and ““John Carter” Movie Was Historical/Science Faction, According to Richard Hoagland.” That last one should be fun. :)

Year Ahead

Obviously, as I’ve shown with my 2010 and 2011 psychic predictions, no one can predict the future. But, we can make some educated guesses.

On the podcast front, I do plan on getting back to 4 per month. I may have to cut back again, but that’s the plan at least for the near future. I also want to get more into making some videos related to these topics.

I have so many topics to write about in the queue that I’m not hurting for them, but finding time to do it will be interesting, at least for the first half of the year. I just heard back this morning from a large grant I had submitted that I thought had a very good chance of getting funded, but it did not. So, come July, I may have a heck of a lot more free time forced upon me. Anyone know the cheapest place to buy ramen?

Conference-wise, I discussed TAM above. I will also be giving a reprise of my moon hoax talk at the Colorado School of Mines’ Yuri’s Night celebration in April, and I’ll be at the Denver Skeptics’ SkeptiCamp this May(?) giving some TBD talk — maybe about image processing gone wrong, maybe about UFOs.

I’m also still trying to get on Coast to Coast AM. George Noory (the host) did state twice in the episode that Mike ranted about me that he would have me on. My last e-mail to George, about two months ago, did get a response, but it was very non-commital. Recently, I was fortunate and a recurring guest on the show who has followed some of my work suggested to Lisa (the executive producer) that I be on. So, we’ll see. I’m hesitant to nag, but if I go a year without mentioning it, chances are it’ll never happen.

I will still post announcements for podcast episode releases to the blog. I realize for some people that may be annoying, but just stick the RSS feed in your reader and ignore those if you don’t want to read them. I’m not the best at marketing, but this is one outlet I can use.

Edited to Add (12/27/2012): I’m also thinking I may finally try to do an eBook of some sort. Perhaps on Planet X and various peoples’ ideas for it and why NONE of them work.

Final Thoughts

And with that all said, I think that about sums up 2012 for my Exposing PseudoAstronomy® franchise. To those who’ve made it this far, perhaps you’d like to Comment on what your favorite and/or least favorite topic(s) have been over the last year, and what you’d like to see different in the future.

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