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?

January 5, 2012

2011 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail … Again


Introduction

Last year, in what rapidly became a very well-read post, I wrote about the “psychic” predictions for 2010 by the audience and pros from the Coast to Coast AM late-night radio program. After reviewing nearly 200 predictions, my conclusion was that the audience did no better than the pros, and that both did miserably.

With a record number of Tweets and Facebook postings, how could I not do another analysis for 2011?

I’m a bit behind, but I’ve finally compiled the audience and professional predictions for 2011 that were made on C2C and I have scored them, as well.

So without further delay: The Predictions (PDF)! Please let me know if you find any mistakes in scoring, and I will correct them. If you enjoy this, please be sure to rate it (those stars at the top), leave feedback, and/or link to it from your portal, forum, social media, and/or wikis of choice! It’s the only way I know that it’s worth going through the many days’ of work to compile these.

Before We Get to Details … Scoring

I was a bit stricter this year in terms of what I counted as a “hit.” For example, Major Ed Dames stated, “Buy gold and silver if you can … because those commodities will be worth something.” I counted that as a miss as opposed to too vague. True, gold closed roughly $150 higher at the end of 2011 than it opened. If he has simply said “Gold will be up by the end of the year,” I would give him a hit (if an obvious one). But he said both gold and silver, and silver went down by $2.50 over 2011. On the other hand, he simply said they “will be worth something.” I interpreted that to mean as they will go up. Otherwise, taken at strict face value, this is like saying “Bread is something you can eat.” It’s just a statement of fact.

As with last year, I wrote down what predictions I could pull out of the professionals (more on that later). Many of them, however, were too vague or obvious – I considered – to be scorable. For example, Linda Shurman stated, “People are going to come out of their collective coma” because of the transit of Uranus in Pisces. I considered that too vague to be a hit or a miss. Similarly, Joseph Jacobs stated there would be rough times in Somalia. It does not take a claimed psychic to say there will be rough times in Somalia, so I did not score that.

Coast to Coast AM Audience

Every year, Art Bell would do the predictions show on December 30 and 31 for a “full” eight hours of predictions from the audience. He would have strict rules – one prediction per call, one call per year, nothing political rant-like, no soliciting, and Art numbered them. With Art having unofficially/officially retired (again) after the “Ghost to Ghost” 2010 show, Ian Punnett took over and, well, he wasn’t Art. He didn’t follow any of Art’s rules. This made the predictions a bit more annoying to figure out and write down, but I tried. Sometimes there were two per caller.

In the end, I counted 114 distinct predictions. 6 of them were hits, 99 misses, and 9 were non-scorable as too vague, obvious, or not for 2011. That’s a hit rate of 5.7% (6/(114-9)≈0.057). Very impressively, that’s the same rate as I gave the audience in 2010, so, huzzah for consistency!

Here are some of my favorites:

11. Subterranean tunnels will be found, huge caverns, a “huge city-like thing,” under America or the Russia-Asia continent. “This could lead to the big foot theories being solved.”

23. Within the Bilderburger / Illuminati, there will “be a wild sex slavery factory where blond-haired teenage girls are enslaved to make Illuminati babies they’re trying to create the perfect race. There will be sex slavery.” This will be revealed this year when someone is “caught red-handed with these girls.”

27. Synchronized walking will become very popular, such as in malls, with people walking in formation.

73. There will be a Christian worldwide movement that starts in the US around the time of the Super Bowl. They will force ABC/NBC/CBS/FOX to show Biblical stories.

Coast to Coast AM Professionals

Yes, as a skeptic we always say “alleged” psychic or whatever. I’ve done that enough in the intro and we’ll just go with their titles. Pages 14-25 of the predictions document list the different people that C2C had on for 2011 predictions.

I’ll state that, like the audience ones, these predictions were not as easy to record this year as they were for 2010. Instead of having the first few days of 2011 be devoted to several of these people, George had them scattered throughout the month of January and then did another set in July with three people. So, I recorded what I could.

The people involved were:

  • Jerome Corsi (Claim: General Conspiracist)
  • Joseph Jacobs (Claim: Psychic)
  • Major Ed Dames (Claim: Remote Viewer)
  • Linda Schurman (Claim: Astrology)
  • Starfire Tor (Claim: Psychic -> “Psi Data Downloads”)
  • Glynis McCants (Claim: Numerology)
  • John Hogue (Claim: Nostradamus Interpretor, Psychic)
  • Maureen Hancock (Claim: Psychic and Medium)
  • Angela Moore (Claim: Psychic)

All in all, they made a total of 64 predictions. I counted one hit, 38 misses, and fully 25 that were too vague or obvious to grant a hit or miss to. That’s a hit rate of 2.6% (Joseph Jacobs got the one hit by saying perhaps the obvious “I see maybe a temporary measure as far as lifting the debt ceiling”). That’s somewhat worse than 2010, when I gave them a combined (if generous) hit rate of 11.5%, for getting 6 correct out of 53.

Here are some of my favorites (there were many more from Starfire Tor, but you’ll have to read the document for more):

Joseph Jacobs: We’ll be “getting closer and closer to [UFO] disclosure.”

Major Ed Dames: We’re right at the cusp of a global flu pandemic that WILL happen in 2011.

Starfire Tor: Earthquakes continuing to accelerate due to the time shifts and time wars.

Starfire Tor: “You are going to see an advancement of the whale and people project … . It’s gonna be an agreeable movement around the world where cetaceans – whales and dolphins – who are self-aware are actually non-human people. So the status of them is going to change from ‘animal’ to ‘person,’ therefore people are going to have to stop killing them, and this is going to – every country every people in the world are going to have the opportunity to understand that there is more to intelligent life on the planet than humans.”

Maureen Hancock: “Decent relief” from high gas prices. “I see it coming down to at least a buck a gallon by November” in New England.

Differences Between Lay People and Pros

I brought this up last year, but it definitely bears repeating this year. The audience made 114 predictions and 9 (8%) of them were too vague or obvious to score. The pros made 64, and 25 (39%) of them were too vague or obvious to score.

That is a classic difference between a lay person and a “pro” in the business of telling people what they think the future will bring. Normal people will generally give you unqualified – if seemingly outlandish – statements. Such as, “The Saints will win the Super Bowl.” The pros will give you qualified vagaries, such as, “If the Saints do well and live up to their potential, I see them as possible winners of the Super Bowl since Mars in Virgo is favorable to them.” Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but let’s look back on some real examples:

Audience: We’ll see “a Clinton” for VP this year.

Professional: There will be new manufacturing ideas here in the US, opening doors for the unemployed.

Audience: A private research company without federal funding will start to clone people for organ harvesting.

Professional: In response to a question about the Carolinas being hit by a hurricane in the fall: “That is a possibility.”

See? This is also why they can stay in business. I’m fairly strict in my scoring. Someone who paid an alleged psychic $25 for a reading, remembering what the psychic said two weeks later, will be very likely to easily retrodict what the psychic said into a “hit” rather than a miss.

Take John Hogue’s, “Get ready for mother nature to be on the warpath.” I said that’s too vague to score. Let’s say he said that a month before Hurricane Irene hit New York in 2011. Most would count that as a “hit,” and they would not put it in context of Irene being only a Category 3, only doing $10 billion in damage, and Hogue not stating that the year of Hurricane Katrina when it’s much more apt.

No, this is not a rant, and I apologize if it comes off as one. I’m trying to point out why these people are still in business when they are no better than, sometimes worse than, and frequently more vague than the average person making a prediction. And with that in mind, let’s see … Joseph Jacobs charges $90 for 30 minutes, $150 per hour for readings. Maureen Hancock has her own TV show. Ed Dames sells kits on remote viewing, and most of these people sell books and other things. Maybe I should start selling my scoring of their predictions.

Final Thoughts

To continue from the above before transitioning back to the “fun,” yes, there is a substantial “where’s the harm” issue whenever we give these alleged soothsayers the power to make decisions for us based on vague statements. I point that out because it’s important.

But I also want to get back to this because I think they’re funny. I posted on Facebook a few nights ago, “Is it wrong for me to take distinct delight when alleged ‘psychics’ who are well known get things incredibly wrong?” I enjoy shaking my head at all these people being shown to be the shams they are.

And I enjoy the, well, I’ll just say “out there” predictions that make it through. Obama being a reptilian? Whales and dolphins being considered “people”? (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like whaling and dolphining, etc., but let’s not go crazy.) When you hear some of these, you just have to roll your eyes.

And hopefully when you hear some of these that don’t sound quite as crazy, you’ll pay attention to and notice some of the tricks of the trade, and not spend your hard-earned money on something you could come up with on your own.

 

P.S. I realize that WordPress has a habit of adding Google Ads to posts for those who are not ‘pressers and due to the content of this post, most of the ads are probably for psychic or astrologic readings. I’m looking into the potentiality of migrating my blog to my own server so I won’t have to deal with all of that, but I’m afraid of losing Google rankings and all the link backs that I’ve established over the past ~3.5 years. If someone is knowledgable in how to preserve all those with redirects, etc., please get in contact with me.

P.P.S. Looking forward to 2012, if anyone has found a psychic/numerologist/astrologer/medium/whatever who has put out specific predictions, I’d like to extend beyond C2C for my tallies. Let me know in the comments or by e-mail of these and I’ll look into them.

March 24, 2010

Planet X and 2012: Young-Earth Creationists Actually Can Do Real Science Reporting


Introduction

This post is brought to you by the letters, “A-G-E-N-D-A.” That’s really the key word here, “agenda,” to keep in the back of your mind as you read this post. I’ll tie it back to that word at the end.

For those of you who don’t know or haven’t figured it out, every day I look at the headlines from three Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) websites – Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and Creation.com. I do this to see if they mention astronomy, geology, or physics, to get ideas for potential blog posts since they will normally skew the information or leave out important parts to fit their worldview.

This time, however, the Institute for Creation Research and it’s “science” writer, Brian Thomas (who I have lambasted profusely on this blog before) had no agenda in terms of trying to get science to fit into the literal biblical worldview. Rather, for once, we faced a common foe: 2012 Doomsday proponents.

The Christian Bible and Revelation

From everything I have heard, a consistent theme that many Bible proponents/scholars/etc. have is that it is very clear that we will know neither the time nor the day in advance of Armageddon. From an outside position evaluating this in the same way I evaluate other predictions, that’s one of the most intelligent things the Bible could do that many of today’s alleged psychics still haven’t figured out — be vague and do not make specific predictions that could later be proven false. Saying that you can’t know ahead of time when something is going to happen ensures that you are never wrong.

Yet throughout time, nearly every generation has thought it’s lived in the End of Days, whether that be from the Christian Bible’s book of Revelation, some vague cosmic event, the Jewish Bible’s various predictions, Nostradamus’ quatrains, etc.

2012 “Earth Changes”

I have written extensively about the idea that Earth’s rotational axis is going to shift in 2012, and I’m not going to get into that here. Suffice to say, one of the lines of “evidence” that proponents of this idea point to is an increasing number of earthquakes that are reported each year.

Indeed, though, this has come to pass! In 1990, there were 16,590 earthquakes around the world. Nearly every year since then, the number has been increasing! In 1995, there were 21,007. In 2000, there were 22,256. In 2005, there were 30,478 …

NEARLY TWICE AS MANY THAN JUST 15 YEARS EARLIER!!!!!

(Sorry for the bold/italic/caps/color … I was trying to do what the doomsday websites do.)

Enter the Institute for Creation Research

As Brian Thomas writes in, “More Earthquake Data Does Not Mean More Earthquakes:”

On the surface, earthquake data compiled by the United States Geological Survey appear to show a sharp increase in the number of earthquakes in recent decades. … However, the increased number of recorded quakes does not correspond with an increase in seismic activity. Rather, it is due to the proliferation of seismometers deployed worldwide over the last few decades. A USGS fact sheet reminds readers that “as more and more seismographs are installed in the world, more earthquakes can be and have been located.”

Exactly! Very large earthquakes, such as those of magnitude 6 or 7 and larger, are hard to miss even when they’re over 100 km away. Hence, you do not need a dense network of seismometers to pick them up. Smaller earthquakes – because they release less energy – are not felt over nearly as large a distance. The consequence? If you don’t have a seismometer nearby, you can’t detect it.

So we have a hypothesis: As the density of seismometers increases over the world, we would expect to see an increase in the number of earthquakes recorded/detected that are small.

We have a way to differentiate this from a general increase in earthquakes: If this is due to an actual increase in the number of earthquakes on the planet, then we should see a uniform increase in number across all energy levels (magnitudes).

Let’s look at some of the data (from the above links, graphed by me):

USGS Earthquake Data from 1995-2008, Magnitude 7.0-7.9

USGS Earthquake Data from 1995-2008, Magnitude 7.0-7.9, Error Bars are Counting Statistics

USGS Earthquake Data from 1995-2008, Magnitude 4.0-4.9

USGS Earthquake Data from 1995-2008, Magnitude 4.0-4.9, Error Bars are Counting Statistics

The data clearly show that, yes we do see an increase in the number of small earthquakes, but the number of earthquakes that are magnitude 6 and larger are constant. Note that the error bars are purely due to counting statistics and do not take into account the density of the seismometer network.

Hypothesis that it’s due to better data recording – supported.

Hypothesis that it’s due to increasing earth activity in preparation for a pole shift – falsified.

In addition, as the world’s population increases and cities become more densely populated, the more people will be affected by any given earthquake. Hence, the number of injuries, deaths, and property damage will also be expected to rise, completely independently of any increase in the actual number of earthquakes.

Final Thoughts

The crux of this post was about earthquake data. But this was presented against the backdrop of an agenda. I have shown many times that Brian Thomas will not hesitate to bend the actual science to fit his YEC views (such as here, here, here, here, or here). I’ve no doubt that if the New Testament stated that the end of the world was in 2012 that Thomas would completely ignore the actual reason behind more earthquakes detected per year, as the other 2012-doomsdayers do (like Brent Miller does here).

But Thomas’ agenda seems clearly to uphold the Bible. And the Bible says that we won’t know the time nor place, hence biblical literalists are against the 2012 doomsdayers. That’s part of the agenda of Thomas’ article, and in this case, at least, I have found common ground with him.

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