Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 7, 2010

“I’m Just Putting it Out There …”


Introduction

While drawing circles for my ever-elusive crater database so I can graduate, I was listening to an old Coast to Coast AM episode that featured Neal Adams as a guest. For those of you who do not know, Neal Adams made a name for himself decades ago bringing the character Batman back from a comical character to the dark knight that we know and love today.

But Adams is infamously known for something else: He is a proponent of a whole new field of physics he created in order to explain that Earth, and indeed all the planets, are expanding and creating new matter in their cores.

This post is not about that, however, but rather about the refrain by a branch of pseudoscientists, “I’m just putting it out there …”

The Refrain

I’ve heard this a few times. It’s not done by many die-hard people, such as anti-vaxers, or vehement conspiracy theorists who state their positions with absolute and unwavering conviction, often in a very in-your-face way.

Rather, it is a more insidious method of promoting their particular pseudoscience that comes off as appearing rather humble. My case study here is, as stated in the intro, Neal Adams. Throughout his interview on March 16, 2006, and other interviews of him that I have heard (such as on one of the first Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe episodes), Adams will make some very wild claims, but then he gives the appearance of being humble and backing away. He will make his claim and then state, “But I don’t want you to necessarily believe me. I’m just a comic book artist. I’m just putting this out there.”

Richard C. Hoagland – the “face on Mars” guy – does the same thing frequently where he will talk for hours about some new implication for his special brand of crazy (“hyperdimensional physics”) and then say, “George, I’m just putting this out there for our listeners so they have the information and can do their own research.” More arm-chair conspiracy theorists will also do this: “I’m just putting it out there that shadows should be parallel but aren’t in the Apollo photos.”

False Modesty

To a point, one can accept that. I’m finishing up a paper at the moment about secondary cratering on Mars (I briefly talked about these in my post on why there is no crisis in crater age-dating). In my research, I discovered a new phenomenon related to these craters, and in the paper I suggest a possible explanation – a hypothesis that could be tested by more work (plea$e fund m€!). I’m “putting it out there.”

The first time it’s said, one may accept it. Perhaps the second. But when it is repeated every 10 minutes for three hours, it gets annoying. And it is hollow. And it’s simply a “get out of a corner free” card.

For example, Adams was claiming that you can start with a hydrogen atom (a proton) and by adding a neutron create helium (which is wrong — helium is 2 protons). When a caller confronted him about that, Adams backtracked and appeared to show complete deference to the caller and again reiterated, “I’m just a comic book author, I believe you.” Yet in future interviews I’ve heard and read, and in his current material, Adams claims the same or similar things. When called on pretty much all his claims, he’ll repeat the Argument from Personal Incredulity (“well that just doesn’t make sense to me”), sometimes appear to accept the arguments of his confronter, and then when the conversation is over he’ll go back to what he said before.

More information is usually good. I’m having oral surgery next week to extract two wisdom teeth and I’ve been reading up a lot on the effects of N2O versus IV sedation and what I can expect for recovery (twinkie and ice cream diet for 4 days, here I come!). But the dental websites I’m reading are not trying to convince me that they’re correct and then saying, “Oh, by the way, I’m a law student and have no expertise in this subject, but I’m just putting this information out there.”

Final Thoughts

Neal Adams – and people like him – should stand behind what they say or not say it at all. Creating a whole elaborate “alternative” scenario, and then extolling the cop-out of, “But I’m not an expert, I’m just putting this out there,” and falling back on it when confronted is disingenuous, slippery, and sleazy. Pretending that you are effectively musing out loud when in fact you are actively and consistently promoting yourself is more annoying than the loud and proud true believers. At least they have the guts to really stand behind what they claim.

For skeptics, this is yet another catch phrase to be aware of. If someone is promoting an idea but constantly qualifies it with, “I’m just putting this information out there, you don’t have to believe me but isn’t this interesting …” be wary! Do your own independent research on the subject, post in a skeptics forum, or ask an actual expert in the field. Don’t rely upon an artist who thinks he has independently rewritten all the physics textbooks to have any factual knowledge about the subject.

8 Comments »

  1. I’ve seen this from ghost hunters and ufo researchers as well.

    It can be a form of “Mystery Mongering” where one presents a biased (often speculative) information and asks leading questions in the hope of getting a gullible audience to draw a predetermined conclusion.

    In Adams’ case, he has repeatedly been corrected on his numerous errors and misconceptions. That he continues to make statements that perpetuate those errors makes him a pathetic and sad individual who has no regard for his own intellectual integrity.

    Comment by Reed Esau — December 8, 2010 @ 1:45 am | Reply

  2. My sympathies on your upcoming oral surgery. I went through it quite some time ago. It wasn’t fun but I survived. I think I had propofol when it was new, and despite Michael Jackson having made it notorious it’s still a popular anesthetic from which you can recover very quickly.

    Be absolutely sure you have some Percocet on hand when you wake up – you’re gonna need it.

    Comment by Phil — December 8, 2010 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  3. Just a small correction, I’m afraid – its “Neal Adams”, not “Neil Adams”.

    Comment by F-ZeroOne — December 8, 2010 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

    • Whoops! Fixed ….

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 8, 2010 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

      • Another correction. Neal did not claim to invent any physics. Why you felt the need to exaggerate is beyond me. If you look at the helical model of the universe, expanding through accration of cast of solar matter over eons makes perfect sense. And as we discover more super earths in deep space, it only adds credence to the expanding earth theory.

        The sun losses matter while it travels through space.

        The planets tailing behind. Attract all that ejected solar matter into their gravity wells.

        Its not difficult to grasp this cosmologocal model.

        Comment by Anon — August 24, 2015 @ 2:38 am

      • If anything you said were true, then no, it would not be difficult to grasp or believe. But almost nothing that you said is true.

        First: Neal claims to have invented a new field of physics to explain how things grow, where protons and neutrons are made of something like 900 sub-particles he invented. That’s wholly Neal Adams, from everything I can tell.

        Second: Planets formed from the sun casting material off does not make sense when you look at the material the planets are made of: They are different in chemical.

        Third: Discovering “super earths,” so-called because they are larger than Earth, is a matter of our technology and observing time length; there is no reason to think it’s because that’s a favored size for planets. Just as ten years ago, there was no reason to suspect that the only exoplanets were “hot Jupiters” even though that’s pretty much all we’d found.

        Fourth: Planets’ don’t trail behind the sun as we travel through the galaxy. This was a well-animated piece of junk non-science that came out over a year ago to advocate a “vortex” model, but it’s wrong. We travel as a group, the sun doesn’t go first and pull us along. If it did, then the planets would not be in the same plane of space as the sun in our sky, they’d be significantly “above” or “below” it — and ALL in the same direction. But that’s not the case.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 25, 2015 @ 9:22 am

  4. Another variant of this is: “I’m just asking questions…” Disguising itself as justified by curiosity. Even though the questions has been answered before.

    Comment by Sparx — December 11, 2010 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  5. Even creationists have adopted this tactic. They call it “teach the controversy” and “let the kids decide”. And they don’t take this seemingly humble and even-handed position because they’re honestly undecided themselves about whether evolution or creationism is the better scientific explanation for present and past life on earth.

    Comment by Phil — November 26, 2011 @ 2:59 am | Reply


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