Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 27, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Circular Reasoning, AKA the Tautology


In my continuing series on logical fallacies, today we’re going to explore circular reasoning, more formally known as a “tautology” or a “tautological argument.”

What is a Tautology?

Throughout this post, I’m probably going to mainly use the term “tautology” rather than “circular reasoning” because it’s less to type. Circular reasoning is, like most fallacies, just what it sounds like: Making a circular argument, or when each stage of an argument refers back to the previous stage, or uses the previous stage as justification for that one. You just go around in circles.

Another way in which a tautological argument is used is to simply state the same thing twice, but in different ways. Like saying, “This is a brand-new never-before seen product!” is considered a tautology because “brand-new” and “never-before seen” mean the same thing.

The Example of Biblical Authority

This isn’t directly related to astronomy, but it underlies almost all young-Earth creationist claims and so I’ll put it in here. It would seem that the idea of biblical authority would be better-relegated to my upcoming post on the Argument from Authority, but it actually is a tautological argument as well.

If you ask a young-Earth creationist (YEC), or probably any person who believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, why the Bible is true, you will get a tautology as illustrated in the diagram below:

Let’s have a hypothetical conversation:

Me: Why is the Bible true?
YEC: Because the Bible is infallible.
Me: Why is it infallible?
YEC: Because the Bible is the word of God.
Me: How do you know it’s the word of God?
YEC: Because the bible says it is the word of God.
Me: But how do you know that it’s telling you the truth?
YEC: Because the Bible is infallible.

We have entered the tautology. The YEC has not brought in outside information into the argument to back up the claim, they simply continue to go in circles.

Example from Family Life

An example of a tautology that’s closer to the second use I explained above is often found in every-day parlance, especially between parents and their children:

Parent: “It’s bed time, go to bed.”
Child: “Why?”
Parent: “Because I said so.”

Final Thoughts

Circular arguments and/or tautologies are yet another illogical way to argue because they do not bring any new information into the discussion. Rather, they argue what has already been (correctly or incorrectly) stated, and do not back it up with something else.


November 25, 2009

Logical Fallacies: The Non Sequitur


In my continuing series on logical fallacies that, once completed, will be organized into a somewhat methodical outline and links posted at the top of all relevant posts, I’m going to now address the incredibly common “Non sequitur” fallacy.

What Is the Non Sequitur Fallacy?

The phrase, “non sequitur,” is Latin, and it literally translates as, “It does not follow.” And like most logical fallacies, it really means just that: The non sequitur fallacy is when any rebuttal is given that, well, just has nothing to do with the original claim. In that sense, many logical fallacies could be non sequiturs, such as the Straw Man, but this post is really about the broad, more obvious type rather than sub-types.

Example of a Non Sequitur from Young-Earth Creationism

I’ve been wanting to bring this in for awhile, an example from Kent Hovind, possibly better known as “Dr. Dino,” and definitely better known now as the, “I’m-an-employee-of-God-so-I-don’t-have-to-pay-taxes” guy who’s serving a 10-year prison sentence, with his wife, for tax evasion.

Anyway, in Hovind’s very long video lecture series on young-Earth creationism (YEC), which I have watched over 10 hours of, he makes several examples of this fallacy. One of them is when he is discussing ages of fossils, specifically within the context of how radioactive dating methods work.

Hovind makes a rather interesting claim when he is trying to make the point that radioactive dating methods don’t work, and they don’t work to the point that “even scientists” won’t use them. One of the many examples is that he says fossils are NOT dated by radiocarbon methods.

*Gasp!* But how could this be!? Surely, geologists would use carbon-14 dating methods to determine how old a fossil is, like a dinosaur, right? And if they don’t, then how can we, the common citizen, trust that carbon-14 is a valid method? And if carbon-14 doesn’t work, then why should we trust anything else that those scientists say!?

This is probably what Hovind wants you to think. However, the claim that we don’t date fossils through radiocarbon methods is perfectly true, but a perfect non sequitur. Pointing out that we don’t use the decay of carbon-14 into nitrogen-14 is like pointing out that a repairman won’t use a hammer to apply paint. It’s completely base and unnecessary.

Why? Because fossils don’t contain carbon. A fossil is formed when minerals replace the organic material that was there. The organic material was what had the carbon in it, but the fossil does not. Hence, we can no more use carbon-14 dating to determine how old a fossil is than a surgeon can use his or her car keys to form a triple bypass.

An Example from a Grant Review

Last March, I received back a review of a grant that I had submitted in order to fund the rest of my grad student career separately from my advisor (save him money, great CV builder). Unfortunately, I did not get funded, but when I got the comments back, most of them were, well, non sequiturs, which frustrated me to no end.

For example, without trying to get into 15 pages of background information, my proposal was to complete my database of craters on Mars. One of the key points in any database is to actually identify the objects. I had stated how I would do that, by outlining (tracing) the rim of every crater, and that each point along the rim would be recorded in decimal degrees (such as, 56.23421345° North, 128.2342134239° East). Fairly straight-forward.

One of the “Intrinsic Merit Weaknesses, Major” that was noted was, “There is no information provided on the projection and coordinate system that will be used.” That’s a non sequitur because it doesn’t matter — if the data is recorded in decimal degrees, then it can be projected into any coordinate system someone wants.

Another example was the following paragraph. I had stated in the proposal that the database, when completed, would be distributed among the general research community for them to use (that’s right, I learned how to share in kindergarden … I also learned that I was mentally retarded because I’m left-handed). I stated twice in the proposal that it would be distributed through the Mars Crater Consortium’s website, PIGWAD (the USGS’s data website), and PDS (NASA’s data website). This was what the reviewers noted: “No detail is provided as to how the resulting database will be distributed, a task that will not be straightforward given that the [researcher] will be using in-house algorithms.”

Okay, so, first-off we can see that the reviewer missed where I stated that information, twice. But we can also see the non sequitur because the algorithms are to do things like fit a circle to the crater rim, or calculate the average elevation. Those are used to create the database, while the database itself is, well, just a database. “In-house,” “commercial,” “GPN,” and other algorithms are irrelevant to how the final database would be released.

Final Thoughts

The non sequitur is generally fairly easy to spot because it’s one of those things that, when used, will usually make you go, “Huh?” because it doesn’t make sense — it doesn’t follow from the original argument/claim. It’s frequently used in everyday life, just like the ad hominem, though probably the non sequitur is a little harder to spot.

November 23, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire (AKA, Hasty Conclusion, or Jumping to a Conclusion)


In my continuing series on logical fallacies and how people use them in pseudoastronomy, this post will be on the somewhat interesting fallacy of, “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.” And it’s being written at a comfortable cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.

What’s the “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire” Fallacy?

This fallacy is best-known as the, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” phrase because it’s catchy and easy to figure out what it means. The idea is simple: Where you see smoke, that means there’s a fire. The fallacy occurs because you have jumped to that conclusion without actually knowing what caused the smoke — several different things can create smoke or smoke-like effects without there being a fire involved.

This fallacy is more formally known as the “Hasty Conclusion” or “Jumping to a Conclusion” for that very reason — one jumps to a hasty conclusion without actually examining the evidence or anything behind the claim.

Example from UFOlogy

While most of my examples of fallacious logic have centered around Young-Earth creationists, some of the better examples of this fallacy in the realm of bad astronomy is employed by people who believe that UFOs are alien craft.

A timely example has to do with the very recent Vatican conference on astrobiology, where they invited many scientists from around the world to meet in the Vatican City to discuss the latest in that field. This is prefaced by, in recent years, the Vatican releasing edicts (sayings?, papers?, speeches? … whatever official stuff from the Vatican is called) stating that the existence of extraterrestrial life does not conflict with Church teachings.

UFOlogists have used the recent conference and each of these proclamations by the Vatican to to jump on this as evidence the “Vatican knows something,” and “The Vatican is about to do disclosure [of the UFO phenomenon.”

In my occasionally humble opinion, it is much more likely that the Vatican realizes it’s a distinct possibility that astrobiologists will, in the coming decades, find evidence of past or present life on other planets. Rather than take a very firm stand on something they realize could alienate more of the faithful by simply denying that would-be discovery, they are laying the foundation to be able to say, “See, it’s okay that life exists elsewhere, it doesn’t mean God didn’t create us, it just means that he also created life elsewhere!” As opposed to, “Yeah, that little green guy who’s shaking hands with the President? The Bible says he can’t exist, so he doesn’t.”

Another UFOlogy Example

One of the key tenants of the UFO = aliens movement is that The Government knows what’s going on and does its darndest to cover it up so the general public caan’t figure it out. Among The Government’s key enforcers are the “Men in Black” and the military.

Hence, whenever there’s a UFO sighting that gets any press, if there is any military activity in the area, be it troop movements, air drills, or the like, UFO proponents will call fire to that smoke: The military activity is proof that it really was an alien spaceship. This conclusion is made without any actual evidence of an alien biological entity or technology, it’s simply concluded after an unexplained sighting and then any subsequent military activity.

Final Thoughts

The Hasty Conclusion / Jumping to a Conclusion / Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire fallacy is usually an easy one to pick out. The fallacy simply relies upon, well, jumping to a conclusion on very limited evidence without actually trying to figure out what’s really going on.

November 19, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Straw Man Argument


In my ongoing series about logical fallacy types, the discussion this time is about the “Straw Man.”

What is the “Straw Man” Fallacy?

In a nutshell, a “Straw Man” is an argument against a claim that was never made. An extreme case would be that someone claims, “The sky is blue,” and then the person who argues against it says that that person actually said, “The sky is green” and chose to argue against the sky being green.

Example from Creationism

As seems to be the case so far, my example from Creationism of this claim is the origin of the universe. Cosmologists argue that the Big Bang was the first thing that happened in our universe. From this event, everything that we know originated. Cosmologists do not know how the Big Bang happened/occurred/originated, but there are several different hypotheses that are being worked on (bubble universes, brane theory, etc.). For two sentences, that’s a fair description of the state of things.

However, what you will often see creationists argue is that we came from “Nothing.” Yep, the common claim is that, “Nothing happened to create something which created us.” They then go through hoops to effectively say, “Well isn’t that silly,” or, “Isn’t that the same thing as God created everything?”

But, what the creationist argument really is, is simply a Straw Man — they are taking something that astronomers never claimed and then arguing against it. This is done usually because either (a) they don’t actually understand the claim and hence the difference between it and what they argue, or (b) because they are purposely trying to make the original claim or claimant appear foolish.

Final Thoughts

Straw Man arguments are usually fairly easy to pick out if the incorrect argument is actually stated. To use my original contrived example of the color of the sky, if the second person does not explicitly state something to the effect of, “Well if the sky is green …” to indicate that is what they are arguing against, it can be a little tricky. That’s because you will have to pay careful attention to how and what they argue in order to see what they are actually arguing against.

November 17, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Ad hominem Follow-Up

Ad hominems and Assessing a Person’s Veracity

One thing I left out of my discussion of the ad hominem logical fallacy is that of assessing whether someone is actually being truthful or whether they may be trusted given their level of expertise with an issue.

While an ad hominem is still an ad hominem if it attacks a person rather than a claim, it can still speak towards the level of whether you should actually believe what someone claims.

For example, one of my secret pleasures is to watch Judge Judy court cases. Often during those cases, litigants – both defendants and plaintiffs – will try to bring up ad hominem attacks against their opponent in order to try to undermine the other’s case. Such as, “But he does drugs [so you shouldn’t trust him].”

While these are blatant ad hominems and the Judge often either ignores them or tells the person to just answer the question that was asked and to leave out commentary, sometimes very relevant ad hominems are allowed to stand and are explored. These are often of the circumstantial ad hominem variety. For example, if the plaintiff is suing for vandalism and brings up that the defendant has been prosecuted before for unrelated vandalism. While that does not provide any evidence as to whether the person did it this time, it does speak to the person’s character and a Judge can and often does consider that. Likewise, in federal and civil cases in “real” courts, cases will often hinge simply upon whether a jury believes one person or the other, and that is done based upon an analysis of their character as opposed to hard evidence about the actual circumstances.

Final Thoughts

While an ad hominem is still an ad hominem and does not speak at all to the actual claims or evidence that is presented, and hence it cannot be used to say whether or not that evidence is valid, they can be used and often are to asses whether the person’s claims actually should be looked at. Think of it as a “first pass:” If someone often lies about a topic, then they are unlikely to be believed about the next claim they make, regardless of whether that claim is true. For example, Rich Orman on the Dogma Free America podcast recently stated that Scientologists lie so often that if they said the sun rises in the east, he would start looking for it to come up in the west.

November 13, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Ad Hominem Attacks and the Sub-Types of Tu Quoque and Poisoning the Well


In my third installment of my series on Logical Fallacies, we’re going to cover the “ad hominem” attack along with several sub-types.

What’s an Ad hominem?

Ad hominem is a Latin phrase that literally translates as, “to the person” (and because it is in a language other than English, when using it in an English sentence it should be italicized). This is apropos because the fallacy is when one attacks a person making claims rather than the claims themselves — in other words, they address their arguments “to the person” rather than the claims. Because this is a fairly general fallacy, there are several sub-types.

Example of the Ad hominem, Abusive

There is no real standard ad hominem that I could think of in terms of creationism, intelligent design, UFOs, 2012 doomsday people, Planet Xers, astrologers, and all the rest of the pseudosciences that I’ve addressed on this blog. Really, the ad hominem is usually a spur-of-the-moment type of fallacy and generally used when one is just plain annoyed and wishes to use malice.

A contrived example would be the following situation: A die-hard UFO=aliens believer is debating with the virtuous skeptic when, frustrated, the UFO believer cries out, “Well of course you don’t believe me, you just believe whatever those scientists tell you to believe.”

Now, of course, this can easily go both ways. For example: A skeptic walking down the street sees a sign for a Psychic / Palm Reader / Tarot Card Reader / Astrologer, sees someone walk in, and obnoxiously declares, “Yeah, you’re gonna trust her — she doesn’t even have a real job!” The skeptic has just addressed the person rather than the actual claims.

Example of the Ad hominem, Circumstantial

This variety of ad hominem, rather than direct character assassination, uses circumstances rather than the person. For example, to pick on the Noble Skeptic, a skeptic might claim of a seriologist (someone who studies crop circles), “Well of course they believe crop circles are caused by aliens. That’s because they run a tour company and charge lots of money to bring people to see the formations.”

Assuming the seriologist in question actually does this, then the skeptic has just used the circumstantial ad hominem where they have drawn an albeit valid link that may be some of the seriologist’s motivation, it still does not address the actual claims of crop circle believers.

Sub-Type: Tu quoque

Lots of Latin in this blog post! Tu quoque literally translates as, “You, too.” This form of ad hominem attack, rather than being used initially, often follows one lobbied against its user. It’s really the quite childish playground taunt of, “Oh yeah! Well so do you!”

To continue my above example of the seriologist, once the Noble Skeptic has used such a logically fallacious circumstantial ad hominem, the seriologist may come right back with, “But you charge admissions to your lectures against aliens, crop circles, and UFOs!” In other words, they’ve just pointed out that the very ad hominem used against them – financial ties to the cherished belief – can also apply to the skeptic.

But again, the actual claim itself of whether crop circles are caused by aliens has not been addressed.

Sub-Type: Poisoning the Well

“Poisoning the Well” is a sub-type of ad hominem where, rather than outright attacks on a person or group, the attack is subtle and tries to get the listeners to distrust the person or group being attacked. They have been, effectively, “poisoned.”

An example of this that is often used by both creationists but much more so by the Intelligent Design proponents is calling pretty much anyone who disagrees with them a “Darwinist,” “Evolutionist,” or even “Evilutionist.” In other words, without addressing any of the claims themselves, they have already biased their audience against those people by giving them a seemingly unfavorable characteristic.

The Inverse ad hominem

I’ll address this more in my upcoming post on the Argument from Authority as a sub-sub-sub-…-sub type of that, but suffice to say here that the inverse ad hominem is just what it would seem to be. But rather than used to argue against someone or something, it’s used to try to give undue support for their position.

For example: “That Creationist on-stage is much better dressed than his opponent. He must really know what he’s doing to show up like that.”

Or, in every-day life, when walking down the street people will usually give much more sidewalk space to someone dressed in a tuxedo, evening gown, or priestly garb than a person walking in sweat pants and a t-shirt.

Final Thoughts

Everyone uses ad hominem attacks. I’ve used them, you’ve used them, we’ve all used them. But, it’s an argument ad populum (again, future post!) to say that because everyone uses them, they’re a good way of arguing. They’re so often used in politics that most people have turned away from politicians and created the joke of “politicks = poly + ticks, or “many” + “blood-sucking insects.” Of course this, in itself, is an ad hominem.

I should note, by the way, that something is only an ad hominem IF it is used as an argument in itself. Just using it in an argument or on the school playground to call someone a “jerk” for example is NOT an ad hominem. However, the poisoning the well fallacy is not as subject to this restriction.

And before some commenter points it out, I used ad hominems and inverse ad hominems throughout this post, such as the “Noble Skeptic” or “die-hard UFO=aliens believer.” Yes, I know I used them. I did it on purpose. Thank you for not using your own tu quoque in the Comments section.

November 11, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Argument from Final Consequences


Continuing my series on logical fallacies, this post will address the fallacy of the Argument from Final Consequences.

What is the “Argument from Final Consequences?”

The “Argument from Final Consequences” fallacy can effectively be stated as: “Something exists, therefore [this] caused it.” In other words, it confuses cause and effect, starting with an effect and then assuming a cause.

Main Example from Creationism

One of the best astronomy/physics-related examples of this logical fallacy from Creationism (and Intelligent Design) proponents is the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. Since I have addressed this argument in detail in a previous post, the very short argument goes as follows: “In order for us to exist, the universe has to be very fine-tuned in order for that to happen, therefore God (or an “Intelligence”) was the one that created it.”

If we deconstruct that argument, we have an observation and conclusion of an effect — the universe must be fine-tuned for us to exist here — and then we have the cause — God did it. In other words, we have the effect placed before the cause in the argument, or an Argument from Final Consequences logical fallacy.

A more honest ay of addressing this situation is to observe that we exist the way we do because of the way the universe is. We have the cause — the universe is the way it is — and the effect — we exist as we do to take advantage of the physical laws of the universe that we inhabit. Saying that we could not exist if the universe were different is probably true, but that does not mean that no type nor form of life could exist, just our particular kind of life.

Final Thoughts

The Argument from Final Consequences is a little harder to spot in discussions because you generally have to pause, deconstruct the argument, and really look at what they’re claiming to be the cause and effect to determine if they are using the effect to justify the cause.

November 9, 2009

Logical Fallacies: God of the Gaps


I’ve wanted to do a series on logical fallacies for quite awhile. In general, I am going to use young-Earth creationist (YEC) arguments because, well, they commit a lot of them, despite Jason Lisle’s recent series on the Answers in Genesis website about fallacious arguing.

What is “God of the Gaps?”

The “God of the Gaps” argument is really just what it sounds like: It is a way to fill a gap in our knowledge with God.

Young-Earth Creationist Astronomy Example

Probably the most prolific use of the God of the Gaps fallacy in YEC arguments is that of the universe’s “first cause.” The YEC claim goes as follows: “Something must have caused the Big Bang. Astronomers don’t know what that was. It was God.” Or, substitute for that last sentence, “Why couldn’t it have been God?”

The answer is simple — it could have been. But it also may not have been. We now know what causes lightning. Three thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks did not, and they created an elaborate pantheon of gods where the King of the Gods, Zeus, was the one who threw lightning bolts to earth after they were made by his son, the god Hephaestus. They literally stuck not one, but two gods into that gap. Now that we know what causes lightning, I don’t think I’ve met any modern religious person who still claims that it is caused by a god.

Similarly, Apollo was once thought to draw the sun across the sky each day, since the ancient Greeks could not explain naturally why the sun seemed to cross the sky every day, only to return back where it was for the next. Today, we know why – because Earth rotates on its axis. That gap in human knowledge is no longer there.

The same could happen for the origin of the universe. Right now, we don’t know what happened to originate it. Many Christians – if not people from most religions around the world – use the God of the Gaps to fill that void in our knowledge with a divine creation. But we may in the future know what natural means caused the Big Bang. We may not. Regardless, to jump to the conclusion that God did it and we cannot know the mind of god or find a natural cause is to invoke this logical fallacy.

God of the Gaps: The Science-Stopper

Scientists, rational thinkers, and skeptics will often argue that the God of the Gaps fallacy is a “science-stopper.” I have seen Intelligent Design proponents and YECers argue that it is not, though I remain fairly unconvinced by their arguments.

The reason that this fallacy is a science-stopper is that once you say “God Did It,” you don’t have to go any further. If Benjamin Franklin followed the Greek pantheon and believed that lightning was simply Zeus throwing things ’cause he was mad, then what impetus would he have had to find out its true nature?

Using God as an answer simply gives you a supernatural answer. It doesn’t cause you to look for a deeper, natural explanation, but leaves you satisfied that it is beyond our understanding ’cause God Did It.

The Shrinking Role of God

Philosophically, if I were a believer in the divine, I don’t think I would care to use this fallacy, and that’s because of the ever-shrinking role of God. Each time someone uses the fallacy – that God is used to explain something – and then we are able to explain it in a purely naturalistic method, then God’s role has suddenly diminished, shrinking away from that claim.

Final Thoughts

The God of the Gaps fallacy is usually a pretty easy one to spot.

November 5, 2009

Pareidolia and Pixellation … Or, Why Blowing Up Photographs Beyond 100% Resolution Is Bad


Pareidolia: (noun) /pærɪˈdoʊliə/ — The tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the viewer; such as interpreting marks on Mars as canals or seeing shapes in clouds. From the Greek para- (“beside,” “with,” or “alongside”—meaning, in this context, something faulty or wrong (as in paraphasia, disordered speech)) and eidolon (“image”; the diminutive of eidos (“image,” “form,” “shape”)).

Pareidolia is something that I addressed in my “Pareidolia – The Face on Mars” post in January 2009. In this post, however, I’ll be addressing a different twist on pareidolia that has a different genesis given the modern age of computers, where everyone with an internet connection can be an armchair geologist.

In this particular case study, I will not be talking about Richard Hoagland and his glass cities on the moon and Mars, but rather a more obscure person, Andrew Basiago, of his self-made “Mars Anomaly Research Society.” In 2008, he put out a “research paper” entitled, “THE DISCOVERY OF LIFE ON MARS,” with the first sentence of the abstract being five simple words, “There is life on Mars.”

His evidence? Read further to find out …

What Does Basiago Say He Found, in General?

Basiago is a lawyer and self-described “amateur scientist.” In late 2008, he made headlines by complaining that National Geographic was refusing to publish his work. The following quote is from his press release:

“I was astonished by what I found,” he said. “There, on the Red Planet, were beings in blue bodysuits and the abstract artwork of a Martian civilization. I was looking at the first evidence of life beyond Earth!”

In his letter to the National Geographic Society, the lawyer writes that careful evaluation of PIA10214 reveals “a cosmic treasure trove of pictographic evidence of life on Mars, including humanoid beings, animal species, carved statues, and built structures.”

According to Basiago, the humanoid beings photographed in PIA10214 have bulbous heads and elongated bodies, like the extraterrestrials described in alien contact accounts. Some have two arms and legs like human beings, while others have multiple appendages and segmented or larval bodies, as if they are human-insect hybrids.

Here are two news stories about it (link 1, link 2).

The original image in question can be found here.

A Famous Photo

This photograph, or panorama of photographs, from Mars was taken by the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) “Spirit” during the last few months of 2007. It is within the Gusev Crater on Mars on the plateau that NASA has named, “Home Plate.” What makes this photograph interesting is that it itself caught the news cycle due to a fairly “obvious” piece of pareidolia, the “Big Foot” on Mars.

If you download the full version of the panorama from NASA, the “Big Foot” is located about 30″ down, 12″ over (2150 px down, 850 px over to the right). Below is a FULL-RESOLUTION version of just that section. Note that the figure itself is about 37 px tall and 18 px wide. At full resolution. And, it really does look like a person sitting with a hand resting on one knee.

NASA Image PIA10214 with a Close-Up of "Big Foot"

However, with MER Spirit having photographed well over a million rocks on the planet, some are bound to look like something that we’re familiar with. Just like the cloud I saw today looked a lot like Mr. Spock.

While the image of “Big Foot” on Mars garnered some press on its own and made the rounds on Coast to Coast AM, it quickly came out that the rock in question was just a few inches tall and it fairly quickly dropped from the public consciousness.

Expanding Beyond 100% Size

The etymology of the word “pixel” dates back to the 1960s, when it became an abbreviation for “picture element.” In other words, the smallest part of a picture. The smallest “piece” of information that was recorded. A pixel cannot be subdivided into more than one pixel to yield more data because it simply does not exist in the image.

And yet, graphics programs have no problem expanding an image beyond that 100% scale, to make 1 pixel into 2, 3, 4, or more. Software does this through a variety of algorithms, and it may really look like it has smoothly added information to the image, but it has not. It has also introduced artifacts through the expansion process that were not previously there. If, for example, you expand a photograph to 250% its original size, and then you shrink it back to the original 100%, you will not have the same photograph you started with, and you will have lost a little bit of information.

This basic concept is not something that Basiago seems to understand. He took NASA photograph PIA10214 and blew up various parts of it, stretching objects that may have originally been only 5 pixels tall and 7 pixels wide into something 50x that size. In other cases, he has stretched the aspect ratio, making the image much wider or taller than it should be if given a simple expansion.

Let’s look at two examples. In the example below, Basiago describes as: “These and other animals on Mars defy classification by any known system on Earth. We would include among the new forms of fauna on Mars the animal whose giraffe-like head can be seen peering from behind the cliff literally within feet of Spirit. This animal has red lips, a patch of blue beneath its bulging eyes, and a crest atop its head like some dinosaurs. Even the most spirited disinformation that this report will inspire will have difficulty finding a mundane, non-biological explanation for The Spying Giraffe.”

Basiago Pareidolia Example 1

Basiago Pareidolia Example 1

In this second example below, Basiago describes: “Maybe the creatures seen – including both living plesiosaurs (left) and dead ones (right) – are plesiosaurs that survived on Mars the extinction that befell plesiosaurs on Earth.”

Basiago Pareidolia Example 2

Basiago Pareidolia Example 2

I’ve been kind with these examples. In the many, many photographic blow-ups that he includes in his paper, these are among the best few that actually sorta kinda look like what he claims. However, any normal reader with pretty much any amount of common sense can tell that these are simply rocks. Or, at the very least, one would need higher-resolution photographs to really tell anything, as opposed to just blowing up a low-resolution image (e.g., the far-right one in the first example).

Final Thoughts

What automatically enters my mind when someone claims they see something anomalous in a photograph, or that they see “data’s head” on the moon or subway systems on Mars, I first think “pareidolia,” and my second thought is, “what’s the resolution?” In other words, is the object they’re describing actually fully resolved, or are they stretching the pixels to bring out something that’s not really there? As was the case in the examples of “amateur scientist” Andrew Basiago, both of these were at play, and what he was really looking at was simply a bunch of rocks.

November 3, 2009

Planet X and 2012: Why Gilbert Eriksen’s “Wormwood” Won’t Be Showing Up


It’s been awhile since I’ve posted more “research”-type information on the whole 2012 and Planet X nonsense that abounds upon the internet. I was looking through my notes and came across some notes I made while listening to the June 29, 2009, episode of Coast to Coast AM that had an interview with Gilbert Eriksen.

Eriksen is big on Biblical prophecy (given the name he uses for Planet X, “Wormwood,” you could probably guess that). I will not be addressing his links to the Bible in this blog post as that is for someone else to do and is not the subject of this blog, nor is it my area of expertise. Rather, I will focus on the astronomy/geology/physics that he brought up in his interview on the radio show. If for some reason you are more interested in his work, you can visit his website, The Millennium Prophecy.

All posts in this series:

Eriksen’s Sense of Wormwood / Planet X

Eriksen claims several specific things about this object. First off is its orbit. During the second hour of the program, about 11 minutes in, he claims, “[The solstice] line is the line that Wormwood comes in on, arcs up over the sun, and goes back out on. It follows the solstice line produced.” About 12 minutes in, we also have, “Its transit time is about 1800 years … outbound … [so a round-trip of ~3600 years].”

Another area of interest for any astronomical body is its mass, which Eriksen says about 12 minutes into that second hour is “about 60 times Jupiter’s mass, it is about 1/17th of a solar mass.”

What about its diameter? “From the best that we can tell …, military sources, they think that it’s the size of Saturn, possibly as large as Jupiter.” (~12 min. in)

And what about the composition of this giant object? “[I]nstead of being a gas, it’s an iron-oxide [rust] ball – just a big giant iron ball. And it’s really heavy.” (~12 min. in)

But, this conflicts with what kind of object he claims it is: “Wormwood is a brown dwarf star, it is the sun’s binary companion.” (~12 min. in)

And, from what I can tell of his diagrams, he thinks that it is right now within the orbit of Jupiter.

Problems with this Basic Data

Let’s forego the very basic fact that if an object the size of Saturn or Jupiter were within the orbit of Jupiter that everyone on Earth would know about it. I’ve addressed this elsewhere. To be fair, though, he does claim that an amateur astronomer “can probably find it [Woormwood] now.” And it will be visible to any southern hemisphere observer. Of course, none have found it, which to any honest researcher would be a big clue that they should re-examine their hypothesis.

Let’s also forego the idea that an object with a 3600-year orbit in our solar system can’t work, either, as I’ve also already addressed that claim.

Rather, let’s look at his description of the object – a brown dwarf star, but also an object made of solid iron – and the size and mass.

Let’s get the math over with first. The density of pure water at room temperature at sea level on Earth is 1 gm/cm3 (this is by definition). The density of Jupiter is 1.33 times this. So it would sink. The density of Saturn is 0.69 times this, so it would float. Earth’s bulk average density of 5.52 gm/cm3.

Eriksen claims that his object is 60 times the mass of Jupiter. But its volume is somewhere between Saturn’s and Jupiter’s. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt in this calculation and say that it’s the volume of Jupiter. That would mean that the density of the object is 60×1.33 = 80. That’s right, 80 times the density of water. And yet, the density of iron is 7.85 times the density of water.

For comparison, the average density of the sun is 1.41 times that of water. Though, to be fair, the core is about 150-160x (depending upon what model you trust). But still, having such a high average density is an untenable situation. for an object with the features he claims.

Eriksen’s Claims of Activity

Besides the basic parameters of this object, part of the crux of his argument is that this Wormwood has active surface geology: “It’s probably volcanic. It throws massive amounts of iron oxide dust out, which are distributed through the inner node rings.” (~12 min. in)

And then we get to the real pseudo-science (as opposed to fake pseudo-science … or as opposed to what he claimed before) about 16 minutes into the second hour of the program:

What causes the grief is …this thing will spin, too. … This object has a very powerful baryonic field – you know, it has a lot of mass – and you spin it, it develops a node ring or ‘distortion field’ like a series of concentric hula hoops. These concentric hula hoops are then reflected back from the dark matter / dark energy of space (the dark soup, you know), and what you end up with are these concentric rings. Where those rings are around the sun, that’s where the planets orbit. Where the rings are around the Earth, that’s where the moons are. The same thing for Jupiter, Saturn. … If you take a planet like Saturn and really rev it up fast … then the thing will not only generate node rings for moons, but rings for ice and junk and all sorts of stuff. And the Cassini space craft got some excellent pictures. … Each one of the rings are spinning at a different speed with the fastest ones on the inside and the slowest ones on the outside. So spinning bodies generate these gravitational distortions. … And that’s where the asteroids and the space junk orbits Woormwood.


Let’s attempt to dissect what Eriksen is claiming in that long quote. He’s basically saying, (1) Objects that have mass and that spin will generate “concentric nodal gravitational rings;” (2) it’s on the sun’s rings that planets orbit, on the planets’ rings that moons orbit, etc.; (3) these rings are also duplicated and made more complicated via reflections off of dark matter and dark energy; and (4) it’s on these rings that space junk orbits and will cause destruction on Earth.

Let’s address the foundational claim, that of the very existence of these concentric rings. Now, I took 14 physics classes in my undergraduate career, and I took 10 astronomy classes. I don’t happen to remember any mention of such a thing as gravitational nodal rings. But, I did a quick Google search just to see if my memory was failing at my ripe young age of 20-something. A Google search of “gravitational nodal rings” turns up only references to 2012, Planet X, Wormwood, or the like. Now, I don’t mean to dismiss this out of hand on that evidence, I suppose it’s possible that such a thing exists (perhaps they are thinking of gravitational waves that are thrown off by very massive objects like colliding neutron stars or spinning black holes?). But, the fact that the only people who are talking about them on the whole of the internet are Planet Xers should tell you something.

So then why (2) do the planets and moons orbit where they do? Because it’s where they happened to have formed or evolved into a resonance with another object. For example, three of the four main moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, and Ganymede – orbit in a 4:2:1 resonance meaning that for one full orbit of Ganymede around Jupiter, Europa orbits twice, and Io orbits four times. The system probably didn’t form that way, in fact there’s evidence that Ganymede didn’t make it into that resonance until about 1-2 billion years ago, but it has nothing to do with gravitational nodes or rings.

As for (3), Eriksen is throwing out scientific-sounding terms when he has no idea what he’s talking about. Dark energy has to do with the expansion of the universe and is not something tangible that something can reflect off. Dark matter is non-baryonic material (you are made up of baryonic material) that we can only detect via its gravitational effects … again, not something that a mystical gravitational node ring could reflect off.

Since I’ve effectively explained why 1-3 are ridiculous, I really think we can eliminate (4) as there’s no longer anything to base it off.

What Destruction Does Eriksen Claim?

Like any good doomsday-sayer, Gilbert Eriksen of course makes specific claims of how this is going to destroy Earth. He has 6 specific claims that he makes during the second hour of the radio show, between about 18 minutes and 25 minutes. The first is taken as a quote from the radio show, while 2-6 are quotes from his website:

  1. “Number 1, a great earthquake. this is where the node rings of Woormwood take ahold of the Earth and just shake the livin’ liver out of it. … I think the first [earthquake] was the [December 25/26, 2004] tsunami, and that grabbed ahold of the plates down there.”
  2. “We get volcanic activity at tectonic plate edges … rims of fire that eject high tonnages of ash plume into the upper atmosphere that block out the sun light over large areas of the earth.”
  3. “Wormwood throws large tonnages of iron oxide dust and debris between the Earth and the moon or into Earth’s atmosphere. When we look through the veil of iron oxide dust, the moon takes on a blood red color.”
  4. “Wormwood throws asteroids and various forms of space junk into Earth’s atmosphere that impact on the surface as meteorites. Expect some severe tsunami events if there are impact pieces landing in the ocean that are of significant size.”
  5. “At least one of the volcanic eruptions will be a large pyroclastic explosion … a volcanic cone that will “blow its top” like Mt. St Helens in May, 1980. The blast concussion feels like the sky is ‘splitting apart’ anywhere within sound range of the cone. The curling action of the mushroom cloud when viewed from below looks like a scroll when it is allowed to spring back into the rolled up position.”
  6. “Tectonic shifting from the Wormwood node ring earthquake will shift the mountains and islands into different places. Displacements may be measured in tens or hundreds of feet of difference but the shifts will be measureable [sic] with modern surveying equipment. Again, with major earthquake activity and island movements expect severe tsunami events to follow for various coastal cities.”

For good measure, at 29 minutes into the program, he also states, “It can reach right through the Earth … and pull a continent down under the waves on one side of the Earth and pull a continent up out of the waves on the other side of the Earth and do it in 20 minutes. Does Atlantis ring a bell? What about Lemuria? There’s a very good chance you’ll see Atlantis rising in 2012 – that’s Woormwood talking.”

Are We Going to See This Destruction?

In a word, “no.” First, #1, 2, 4, and 5 are very general claims. Earthquakes happen. Space junk falls to Earth and we see meteorites landing on a daily basis. And volcanos also blow their tops. It just happens.

#3 won’t happen because in the previous section I explained his entire mechanism is fallacious, which then also applies to why #6 will not happen. As for Atlantis? I’ve addressed Atlantis before, too.

Final Thoughts

Gilbert Eriksen is another doomsday proponent with a Biblical twist that has a book to sell for $16.95, people to scare, but nothing to back him up except a lot of misunderstood terms at best and outright deceit at worst. He has no training in relevant physics, astronomy, nor geology fields, but rather is a “psychologist, linguist, and former helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.”

What’s strange about him is that he makes specific predictions that are demonstrably false, some now (such as the visibility of this object), and some in the very near future (claiming, for example at 15 minutes into the interview, that in “May/June/July [of 2010] … it’s gonna get close enough to exchange atmospheric gases with the Earth”).

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