Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 14, 2014

As We Approach the Era of the Blood Moon Tetrad, Here’s What You Need to Know


Introduction

Coming out of the 2012 (Mayan apocalypse) non-event, many of us wondered what the next doomsday would be. At the time, I said in several interviews that I didn’t know. This “blood moons” thing, however, seems to have grasped the attention of many, and since it has another 18 months to play out, I anticipate it might grow considerably. I hope not, because it’s silly, but we’ll see.

For those just coming here from an internet search, and you haven’t followed this blog at all, a few months ago I put out a podcast episode that thoroughly addressed this issue. I suggest it as a starting point.

The purpose of this blog post is to briefly summarize those issues again, and to go over a few small things that I did not address in that episode. And to say, once again, there is absolutely nothing to worry about, the whole thing smacks of people for thousands of years fearing comets or eclipses because they didn’t understand them. This time, we understand them, but some people still irrationally fear them.

Edited to Add: Conspiracy Skeptic Karl Mamer interviewed me and got the interview up really fast. It’s an hour:15 about these issues.

Terminology

Tetrad: Lunar eclipses can be penumbral (it just dims a bit), partial (only part of the moon is in total shadow), or total (full moon is in Earth’s shadow). They can happen in any order or combination, but when four lunar eclipses in a row are total, that’s called a “tetrad.”

Blood Moon: A spooky/scary -sounding name for a total lunar eclipse because the only light that can reach the moon is filtered through Earth’s atmosphere, leaving only long wavelengths of light, the red light. So, the moon appears dark and red. Yeah, scary.

Lunar Eclipses

Very briefly, the moon orbits Earth, and the plane of its orbit is tilted about 5.1° relative to Earth’s path around the sun. So, it crosses that path twice in its orbit (called nodes). Only on those points could an eclipse possibly occur. And, only when those points happen during a new or full moon do you actually get an eclipse.

When it happens during a new moon, that’s a solar eclipse. Full moon, it’s a lunar eclipse. If a part of the moon would see the sun partially eclipsed by Earth, that’s a penumbral eclipse and you just get a small dimming. If a part of the moon would see the sun totally eclipsed by Earth, then that part is totally eclipsed, called an umbral eclipse. When the whole moon is in an umbral eclipse, it’s a total eclipse.

Eclipse Seasons

Because of the way the moon’s orbit works and the nodes line up, if you have an eclipse, you will likely have the other kind (solar or lunar) 2 weeks earlier or later. And, then they go out of alignment. Six months later, they’re back in alignment, and so you’ll usually get another 2 or 3 eclipses, 2 weeks apart.

And, the whole thing repeats something like every 18.6 years.

Jewish Calendar and Holidays

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, meaning that new moons start a new month and full moons are in the middle of the month.

Most Jewish holidays are tied to the Jewish calendar and happen on either the first of the month or on the middle day of the month.

Therefore, by definition, most Jewish holidays will happen during either a new moon or a full moon. Therefore, by definition, the likelihood of a lunar or solar eclipse happening exactly on a Jewish holiday is much, much higher than for holidays based on a solar calendar.

Aside: Who’s Behind the Phenomenon?

That would be Pastor Mark Biltz. He originated this back around 2008, and it got very little attention. That’s changed.

Biltz’s story is that he went to NASA’s website and saw that there were these eclipses and tetrads, he saw that some of the tetrads happened during Jewish holidays, in his mind he thought that some of those resulted in doom (more on that later).

When he relates the story, he makes a big deal about how the data all comes from NASA in an apparent argument from authority. While it’s true that you can get a whole bunch of eclipse data from NASA, Pastor Biltz apparently has some issues reading big bold text. For example, he claims that NASA posts eclipse data for the “past 5000 years.” Except, it’s for the past 4000 and next 1000.

It’s a minor issue, but it calls into question how good he is at reading even less obvious signs which is the entire basis for his claims. (And Pastor Biltz claimed that Christopher Columbus was Jewish – he insisted on it – despite the fact he was a Roman Catholic. Again, signs of poor scholarship and a willingness to warp something to fit his ideas.)

More to This Phenomena: How Often Do Lunar Eclipses Occur?

Pastor Biltz claims that NASA data shows that 3479 total lunar eclipses have happened in the past 5000 years. It’s actually past 4000 and next 1000, but, whatever. He says that this means you only get an average of 1 total lunar eclipse every 1.5 years (it’s 1.4, but moving on), but OMG we get 4 in the space of only 18 months this time!!!!

This sounds like it’s way over the average. Which it is. But, using an average is the wrong statistics for this on the short-term. Eclipse seasons and the way the orbits work out mean that you typically get these occurring in spurts. You get a lot of penumbral, then a few total. Or, 2-3 total, then 1 partial, 2 total, 5 penumbral. Before this April, we had 1 partial, 1 penumbral, 1 partial, and 2 penumbral. No total eclipses for 2.5 years!!!!

My point is that it’s fine to say that, on average, these happen once every 1.5 years over the long term. But, then going ahead and using that to say that a particular year, two years, or even decade is above or below “average” is an abuse of the statistics.

More to This Phenomena: How Often Do Tetrads Occur?

There’s no nice, simple formula predictor that gives you a way to figure this out. Happily, Universe Today has a nice table. It shows that during the 11th-13th, 17th-19th, 23rd-24th, and 28th-29th centuries, there are 0. 14th there were 6, 15th there were 4, 16th there were 6, and 20th there were 5. This century, we get a whopping 8, and next century we get 4.

So, they are not exceedingly rare, but, they’re not that common. This generation has or will see several. Our great-great-great-great grandparents saw none.

More to This Phenomena: How Often Do Tetradal (is that a word?) Eclipses Occur on (Major) Jewish Holidays?

Well, because tetrads are relatively rare, and they tend to precess through the months (because lunar eclipses precess through the months), it is somewhat more rare than tetrads. But again, by definition, it is likely that they will happen on Jewish holidays. Not necessarily major ones, but on Jewish holidays. This time, they just so happen to fall on major ones.

More to This Phenomena: What Happened Last Time?

So, the last time the tetrad happened during Passover, Sukkot, Passover, Sukkot, was April 24, 1967 – October 6, 1968. Pastor Biltz says the big thing that happened to Israel during that time was the 6-day war, which was June 5-10, 1967. So, during the “blood moon season,” but not during or even really near any eclipse (in fact, about as far as you could get – 3 months before and 3 months after the next/last one). And, based on an objective look at the history, Israel won. And Israel increased its land holdings significantly. I wouldn’t call that a “bad” thing for Israel.

What about before that? The previous tetrad also happened over two successive Passovers and Sukkots, and that was April 13, 1949 – September 26, 1950. What does Pastor Biltz point to as the major bad event concerning Israel that this Sign in the Heavens pointed to? Israel was founded. May 14, 1948. 11 months before the first eclipse in that tetrad.

Ummm … not a bad thing for Israel, and the fact that he has to search nearly a year to find something significant makes me, well, skeptical.

Retrodiction, Prediction, Cherry-Picking …

By this point, it should be very clear how I feel about this issue. But, let’s put it another way: You have a somewhat rare event, and you find something bad (or good) that happened during or within a year of that event, and say the two are related (correlation = causation fallacy). That is what Pastor Biltz has done. Nothing more, nothing less.

Why do I say this? Well, I took a simple internet search of “Timeline of Jewish History” and, nicely, Wikipedia has something on that. Yeah, some of you may not like Wikipedia, but regardless, you can still use it as a starting point. And, gasp!! pretty much every year, something important happens to Jews. Or, same thing with a timeline of Israeli history.

My point is that if your criteria is vague (“something” has/will happen) and you’re allowed to include events that happened practically within a year of the event that already lasts 18 months (so you have 42 months, or 3.5 years to find something), well, I’m unimpressed. Now, if something catastrophic that was a once-in-a-lifetime event happened exactly on the date that these tetrads started but only on the tetrads that coincided with the major Jewish holidays, then I might be more interested and look more closely.

But, let’s take a look at the last tetrad: May 4, 1985 – October 17, 1986. Biltz doesn’t say anything about that because the cycle happened +1 month from the Jewish holidays. Looking at those timelines of Jewish and Israeli history, the First Intifada started in 1987, just a year after the tetrad ended!

Or what about the importance of 1982, when Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula? Or 1956, the war which brought Israel into the Sinai in the first place?

And Yet, There’s More!

Pastor Biltz has many other bits and pieces that feed into this. For example, that 2015 is a Shmita year, every 7 years when Jews are supposed to let their fields lie fallow. Oh, and all debts, except foreign ones, are remitted.

Biltz claims that the last one (Sept. 13, 2007 – Sept 29, 2008) finished just as the Dow fell 7%! And the one before that (Sept. ?, 2000 – Sept. 17, 2001) the Dow fell 7.1%! Not being able to carry this much further, he pointed to the one in 1994 (Sept. ?, 1993 – Sept. 5, 1994) when, not on the last day of the Shmita, but sorta in the middle, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter with 21 fragments (it was actually many more than that, but hey, 21/3 = 7 so we get 7 again, so don’t let facts get in the way) in July 16-22, 1994.

Again, retrodiction.

Final(?) Thoughts

This is a really long post. And there’s a lot of stuff that Biltz and many others (such as John Hagee) have heaped onto this non-significant (but still neat!) astronomical event. I’ve tried in this post and the podcast to cover the major components and claims, and hopefully set some of you (who may have come here from an internet search for more information, or referred here by a friend) at ease.

Let me try to summarize more succinctly: The Jewish calendar is defined such that most holidays must happen during new or full moons, and lunar eclipses can only happen during full moons. Total lunar eclipses are called by fear-mongers “blood moons.” Yes, a tetrad is somewhat rare, and because elf the way things line up, it’s more rare that it will happen on the Jewish holidays, but not ridiculously rare because of the way the calendar is defined. But besides that, nothing bad happened the last two times. The time correlation that he and others have attempted to draw is flimsy and reeks of vague retrodiction to fit the story he/they want to tell. In fact, based on the events named, good stuff happened for the Jews and Israel.

So, I recommend that if you’re in a part of the world where you can enjoy this and the weather cooperates, go outside, take a look up, take your camera, and enjoy this not-everyday neat celestial event.

June 17, 2013

Podcast #77: 2012 Back-Peddling


Twenty-twelve doomsday
Is said and done. What doomsday
Is next, yet to come?

A just-over half-hour episode reviewing some peoples’ failed predictions for the 2012 “doomsday” that did not happen, and their response (or lack-there-of) when it didn’t. A few notes on this episode:

(1) I sound a bit stuffed up in this episode because I recorded it just after I woke up and couldn’t seem to clear my nose. I’m fine health-wise (so far’s I know).

(2) Yes, this was delayed. I submitted a quarter-million-dollar grant due on Friday the 14th and a 78-page, 19,500-word paper on Friday, too. Now is catch-up on everything I put off. So yes, the episode has been back-dated by six (yikes!) days, and I do expect to be putting out an episode on the 21st of the month (on geocentrism). This of course also means I’m WAY behind on responding to feedback if you’ve e-mailed me.

(3) I’ve been wanting to do this episode for a long time. I had grand ideas about holding people accountable and going through dozens of examples. This isn’t that. It’s a bit disappointing. At least to me … let me know what you think.

There’s no puzzler this episode, but there is a lengthy A to a Q. Here’s the main announcement at the end, similar to the one at the end of the last episode: If you’re going to TAM, I’m planning another li’l get-together, probably Saturday night during dinner time, in a suite in the hotel. Assuming this happens and it’s more than just me and one or two other persons, I’m also going to try to record it and the hope is for it to be sorta a Q&A and/or discussion or something like that about the general topics of the show. You can tell this is incredibly well planned at the moment. IF you’re at all interested, send me an e-mail so I can give you updates.

January 24, 2013

Podcast Episode #62: Interview with Bill Hudson About 2012hoax.org


The Alexa web traffic tracking service currently has 2012hoax.org as among the top 120,000 most-visited sites in the world. (In contrast, my own domain, sjrdesign.net, is currently #3,578,209. whitehouse.gov is #1644 in the world and 435 in the US.)

In episode 62 of my podcast, I interview the man behind 2012hoax.org, and we discuss his motivation behind creating it, some of the stats, most contentious articles, and his favorite 2012 back-peddlers (so far). We also discuss his latest work, Cosmophobia.org (where 2012hoax.org is redirecting).

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.

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.

December 21, 2012

Podcast Episode 58: Post-December 21, 2012 Solstice – We’re Still Here


This post/podcast is going out as we pass through the December 21, 2012, solstice at 11:12 AM GMT. We’re still here.

That’s all.

December 16, 2012

Podcast Episode 57: Doom from the Sun on December 21, 2012


SOHO and the SDO saw white and then nothing. Militaries scrambled as every satellite went dark. Then the people on the ground saw enormous arcs of light — the aurora seen across the planet, so bright they were even visible during the day. Mesmerized by the display, awe quickly turned to panic as every electronic device sparked and died. The lights went out across the planet. The Sun had spoken.

Or at least, that’s what some people think is going to happen in about 5 days. It ain’t great literature, but I’m throwing a party that starts in 2.5 hrs and need to get this posted. And get dressed …

This episode, the last of the 2012 series, is all about the one topic I haven’t really discussed yet: Something from the sun doing something bad on December 21, 2012. You know … in 5 days. This episode is all about how that’s not going to happen.

Solar Disk as of December 16, 2012

Solar Disk as of December 16, 2012

Otherwise, this episode has the Q&A, puzzler solution for 56, feedback (with minor correction on episode 56), and announcements:

I’m starting to look for back-peddling by doomsday proponents for a follow-up episode very early next year. If anyone listening to this podcast happens to come across something by anyone who claimed stuff like Planet X would cause a pole flip, a big solar storm would wipe us out, or even on the positive side that we’ll all be able to levitate and do instant healing, and you see these people start to make up excuses for why it’s not happening, please send it in to me.

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.

September 16, 2012

Podcast Episode #51: The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 4 (Nancy Lieder)


Episode 2 of 2 for September is now posted, another in the series on the Fake Story of Planet X, this time the the saga of Nancy Lieder from 2003.

Yes, it’s an older case by over a decade, and very, very few people still take Nancy and her ZetaTalk site seriously.

But, I think it’s important for the sake of “complete” coverage of the Planet X phenomenon, of which she has been a major part. I also think that it’s informative of what’s going on today with doomsday ideas related to Planet X and 2012: The same crap that she spouted back then for the pole shift she said would happen in 2003, people are still using today for 2012.

Other segments: Feedback, Puzzler, Announcements.

July 14, 2012

Some Astronomical Errors at TAM 2012


Introduction

As some of you know, I’m attending the James Randi Education Foundation’s annual skeptics meeting, “The Amazing Meeting” (TAM) this year for the first time. I’m excited to be here, meeting people I’ve grown to look up to for the past few years, getting thrown a shirt last night by Penn Jillette without even having to flash my moobs, gushing at idols, etc.

That said, in the absolute least bitter/arrogant way possible, and with all due respect, I’ve been amazed at the astronomy (and astronomy-related) mistakes that have made their way into talks at this conference.

Edited to Add (07/20/2012): I put an “Addendum” at the end of the post to explain a bit more about McGaha’s errors.

“Astronomy for Skeptics: Investigating ‘Lights’ in the Sky” Workshop

To be perfectly blunt, James McGaha’s workshop was bad. The workshop as a whole was scattered content-wise, not cohesive, and very little of the workshop focused on the advertised content. Besides this, roughly half of his informational statements were factually wrong.

After calming down after the workshop, I wrote down some of the main errors I remembered. Among them …

McGaha stated that the Maya didn’t have any math, they could only count, and that’s what the Long Count calendar was, just a count. True, that’s what the Long Count was, simply a count of days in multiples of 20 and 18 and 13. But the Maya – while not nearly as sophisticated as modern mathematicians despite what new-agers want to think – had a very complex mathematics system for their time. They could count, yes, but they could do things with those counts, and they could make astronomical predictions spanning hundreds of years with a good understanding of celestial cycles.

Technologically, McGaha claimed that all GPS compasses cannot actually tell direction via GPS, that they have a small magnetometer in them that must be calibrated every time. This may be true for some. Might be true for your cellphone, your tablet, and some GPS stand-alone devices. But I have a nice field GPS. It tells direction in part by simply seeing how I’ve walked the last few steps and thus taking a difference of the latitude and longitude in order to tell what direction I’m going. No calibration required. He also said that if you hold a battery close to it, it will throw the reading off. Um, no.

After he was finished doing demos with a two-inch device to a room of 300 people, he got into some photography stuff. Among many other things, McGaha consistently messed up “pixel scale” and “resolution” as well as focus and depth of field. I’m not going to get too much into the latter because I was busy with something else while he was going over it, but for the former … “pixel scale” is when you say something like how many pixels per unit of measure. Like, each pixel in a photo is 2 inches in real life of the object being imaged. Resolution, on the other hand, is how many pixels are there. A high-resolution photo is saying that it’s something like 26 megapixels versus 1.3. It may be the most out of focus, poorly imaged thing where you can’t separate two broad barn doors, but it’s still high resolution.

Later, McGaha tried to demonstrate the motions of the stars through the sky with some laser pointers. He got it wrong. He also had a graphic in his slide show trying to show how we define the coordinate system on the sky. His diagram was a bit wrong in how the celestial poles are defined (not from your local north/south, but exactly from Earth’s rotational axis projected onto the sky).

Finally, one of the last things that he talked about was how your eye tells color. He stated that your eye cannot figure out the color of a monochromatic light source directly, that it needs a comparison source to tell. That’s wrong. He also said that with a monochromatic light source, if you change the intensity, your eye will perceive a different color. Um, no. Take a 5mW and 25mW green laser pointer and your eye will see the same color, not different ones.

Ben Radford and 2012

This was a talk I went to because I wanted to see how a non-astronomer skeptic approached the topic. His half-hour talk was basically a run-down of previous failed doomsday predictions, the classes of doomsday prophetic ideas, some humorous clips and quotes from proponents of this particular one, and then a very very cursory (like, 5 minutes or so) overview of how this got started and the Mayan calendar.

There honestly (and unfortunately) wasn’t much meat to the talk, but when he did talk about the Maya, he made some mistakes. One was saying that the Long Count does end this year. This is wrong. It ends one of the 5125 parts of its cycle, but it ticks over to the next “one up digit” of it (like going from 9999 to 10,000). Another mistake was that Ben appeared not to know that this “next tick” may not be this year. It’s based on a correlation that may be wrong, and likely is based on the latest research. It could be easily off by any multiple of 52 years.

A third error in Ben’s talk was his statement that the “end date” only comes from one Mayan inscription. This was correct until a few months ago. Recently, archaeologists discovered another inscription from very roughly 1000 years ago that referred to it. Not a major issue, but it negated (or seriously minimized) his point, and for someone who is an investigator putting together a talk for a major skeptics conference, I was somewhat disappointed.

Ben also seemed to not realize that this meme did not start with recent movies and and books. It has a definite starting point in the 70s and a bit earlier with a few specific people (such as José Argüellas or John Major Jenkins or Zecharia Sitchen). He held up recent books, not the ones that started it.

Oh, and Ben, Tabasco sauce is not made in Mexico. It’s “produced by US-based McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana” — check Wikipedia.

I was okay with Ben not doing astronomy nor a summary of what people thought would happen. I was okay with the direction of his talk because, as I said, I wanted to see how a non-astronomer approached it. But factual errors and a lack of research from someone like Ben Radford was disappointing.

Final Thoughts

I realize this post may have sounded a bit annoyed and crotchety. But this is a skeptics conference where we’re pointing out where OTHER people are making mistakes. We should not be making our own.

Addendum

Several people have asked me how McGaha got the motions of the sky wrong. Here’s a short, abridged list:

  • He didn’t know which way was north in the room even though he had just been demonstrating compasses for the past ten minutes.
  • Second, he was trying to show motions of the stars about the north celestial pole with laser pointers but instead of continuously rotating his hand to show them moving around the pole, he just rotated back and forth, effectively running time forwards and backwards. Having taught intro astro for people who don’t know astronomy, they WILL think that’s the actual motion if that’s how you demo it.
  • Third, he said that no matter where you are on Earth, no matter what time of year, the stars will always rise 23.5° relative to straight up from the horizon. This is very wrong. For example, at either pole during the equinox, stars will never rise nor set, but they will move in a circle at the same elevation in your sky.
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