Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 1, 2011

April Fools: A Serious Post for the Day


In the past, I’ve had a bit of obvious fun on April 1 with my posts, such as last year’s where I explained how I had seen the light and was giving up science. And apparently it wasn’t too obvious to all that I was joking, as Michael Horn apparently thought I was serious.

Anyway, this year I thought I would use the day to look over several ideas and concepts that I address on this blog or that, in general, the modern skeptical movement takes issue with. The purpose of this is that, often, people who believe in any of these topics will claim that skeptics can’t have their pet idea be true because it would upset their worldview, destroy everything they “believe” in, etc. On the contrary, I would absolutely love for many of these things to be true. Let’s take a look …

Near-Death Experiences, Spirit Contacts, Ghosts

Any and all of these things, if real (and by “real” for NDEs I mean they actually cannot be explained by biology), would mean that there is some form of existence after we die in this one. Seriously, I would be delighted if this were true. I don’t care what people say about how I can’t have this be true because it would mean there’s accountability, or that I can’t just do anything in this life ’cause I’d be reincarnated as a cockroach, or whatever.

Living for maybe 75 years and then ceasing to exist is a scary thought. Occasionally late at night, it crops up in my mind and I get freaked out. But that doesn’t mean that I believe that there is a form of existence after this one. I see no hard, reproducible evidence for it, and all the purported evidence that people have put forth is generally easily refuted (especially when we’re talking about ghosts and mediums).

But I would love it to be true. I asked a friend of mine once what he believed and he unabashedly said he was an atheist. As did his wife, who had grown up in some form of Christianity in a very conservative town. I asked her why, and if that meant she didn’t believe in life after death, either. She explained the usual reasons, but then it was this that got me: “No, I don’t think there’s life after death. But believe me, if someone were taking a vote and if I had any say in the matter, I would vote ‘yes.'”

I agree: If I have a vote in the matter of whether there will be a life after this one, I would vote “yes, I want there to be one.” But do I actually believe there is one? No.

Present-Day Visitation by UFOs and Aliens

In what you’ll quickly discover is a theme with this post, I think this would be cool, assuming of course some sort of benevolence as opposed to an Independence Day style of alien invasion. More Vulcans, less Borg. But do I think that tiny light in the sky that I happen to not be able to explain at the moment is an alien craft? No. Do I “believe” the Betty & Barney Hill story? No. Do I think Billy Meier’s laughable evidence is proof of visitation? No.

Ancient Aliens and Alien Artifacts in the Solar System

Following from the last section, this would again be pretty cool. Though I find it odd some people think Earth was the brothel of the galaxy eons ago and the idea that deviant aliens came here to make sweet sweet monkey love is wacked out. Again, actual real evidence of alien visitation in the past would be very neat. Evidence of an alien civilization on Mars or some other body in the solar system would likewise, I think, be cause of great interest and people would flock to it.

Does that mean I think the Nazca Lines are ancient alien landing strips? No. Or that aliens built the pyramids? No. Just because we may not have a mundane explanation for something now does not mean that “aliens did it.” Or, following perhaps a frequent refrain of creationists, it does not mean that “aliensdidit” (a la “goddidit”). Similarly, Richard C. Hoagland’s ideas of crystal tunnels and ancient sculptures on Mars, Andrew Baggiago’s ideas of fossils on Mars, and – closer to home – Hoagland’s “Data’s Head” find on the moon are obvious and clear examples of pareidolia and bad image processing, not the desired evidence of ancient advanced civilizations.

Young-Earth Creationism

To be perfectly fair, I really don’t “care” how old Earth is. As far as I’m concerned, I only “know” for sure that it’s just under 28 years old. Or really, it could have been created just a second ago but with the appearance of age and with all of our individual memories forged and everything made with the appearance of age. After all, that’s what you have to believe to be a young-Earth creationist, that every single piece of geologic, historical, astronomical, archaeologic, etc. evidence that points to a planet – much less solar system, galaxy, and universe – older than 6000 years was planted there by some sick, twisted omnipotent being to make us scratch our heads in the fashion of a chimp. Or you have to invent new science that doesn’t fit with anything else in order to make your models work out.

I think that in the coming decades, young-Earthers are going to be looked upon the same as flat-Earthers: People who ignore all evidence to the contrary, invent ways around what they can, and otherwise stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “La La La! I can’t hear you!”

Magic (Powers/Abilities like psychokinesis, Elves, Fairies, etc.)

I’ll be honest here (as elsewhere) and admit to a guilty pleasure: The TV show Charmed was one of my favorites. And I’m a Harry Potter fan, though that’s more socially acceptable for a guy. Anyway, I love the idea of magic existing, either out in the open or the concept of a hidden world “beyond the veil” that exists alongside our everyday lives but is hidden from us normal folks. In fact, for the past 4 years I’ve been working on and off on my own novel exploring that idea. But here you have the problem of not just a lack of even shaky evidence or suggestions that it’s true, but a solid lack of any suggestions that it’s true beyond the stray anecdote from the mentally questionable.

[Pick Your] Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories are interesting because many of them actually could be true when first broached. It’s when people ignore all evidence to the contrary of a conspiracy theory that it begins to get stupid. For example, the Apollo Moon landings. Every claim by conspiracy theorists have been appropriately answered by reasonable explanations that adequately fit the model that the astronauts landed on the moon. And now we have Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo landing sites. This particular conspiracy theory may have made some sense WAY back in the day, but no anyone who clings to it is willfully ignorant or simply delusional. There really is no other, kinder way to say it.

2012 Doomsday

Do I want this one to be true? Of course not. I want to see the solar eclipse in 2017. I have plans set for 2013. I’d prefer not to die in some cataclysm at the end of next year. Does my desire for this not to happen cloud my judgement on whether it will? No. Again, much like with the conspiracy theories above, every idea put forward by 2012 doomsdayers has been shown to be simply wrong, not physically possible, or just an outright lie. If there were actual evidence or even a physical mechanism that could occur, then I would reevaluate my conclusion and start eating more ice cream and Doritos.

Vaccines Cause Autism

Actually, I think it would be great if there were any kind of simple cause of autism, be it the thimerosal that was used as a preservative in childhood vaccines, parents playing Beethoven to the pregnant mom’s stomach, or solar flares. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in the US a decade ago, and autism rates didn’t go down at all. No one knows what actually causes autism, but it’s definitely not vaccines. Concerned parents should be concerned, but they shouldn’t blame something that protects a child’s health and has conclusively been shown by every study to not cause autism.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up. Now, yes, this was posted on April 1st. No, this is not a “fake” nor joke post. In the end, this really boils down to this message for a “true believer” who harps on the “skeptics:” Get over yourselves. We are not “scared” that your-supernatural-belief-of-choice may be true. We would welcome it. Instead of wasting everyone’s time with that straw man, how about actually addressing the legitimate criticisms of the methodology instead of the claims?

What I’ve written above are my honest thoughts on the issues. What are yours?


  1. The existence after death one hits home all the time, I mean, pretty much on a daily basis.

    But like I was taught as a little girl, “Just because you really, truly, passionately want it to be true. Wish it to be true. Hope for it to be true. Just because you can IMAGINE it to be true … does not make it true.” That’s the rub. People’s imagination of the “what ifs” and “why nots” became the “for sures” became their certainty and reality.

    Comment by Maria — April 1, 2011 @ 6:21 am | Reply

  2. It takes a special sort of self-loathing and hate for the human race to continue to believe in doomsday crap in the face of refuting evidence. It takes the oddest kind of racism to feel like your own ancestors were incapable of building structures without alien help.

    However, this is the human race that both produced a 3-D Ferngully reenactment with really tall smurfs. Subsequently it produced movie-watchers who immediately became depressed about living on earth and discussed committing suicide to be reborn on Pandora. Even if most of the things you’ve listed get laughed at in the future as archaic beliefs, they’ll create new idiocies to cling to.

    Comment by Rachel — April 1, 2011 @ 11:20 am | Reply

  3. It’s simply a clear indication of the immaturity and amateur status of our friendly blogger that he attempts to dismiss Billy Meier and his evidence. The extensive expert scientific analysis that not only authenticated Meier’s physical UFO evidence but that CONTINUES to corroborate his prophetic scientific accuracy is simply too much for the ambitious but not terribly deep thinking junior scientist. (If Stuart doesn’t know who Michael Malin, David Froning, etc. are perhaps he should do some more research.)

    Nonetheless, while events will continue to unfold that will only further validate Meier, shallow thinkers will remain in denial, not stopping for a moment to consider that there are those with far more advanced technologies and abilities than ours who at least tried to warn us. Most of humanity has chosen to remain ignorant of the laws of cause and effect and some so-called scientists demonstrate that they are no wiser.

    When a so-called Swiss farmer describes 3-D, holographic, touch screen technologies – in 1982 – perhaps it’s time to disregard the arrogant, adolescent opinions of those who history has consistently shown to be intellectually inadequate and downright wrong. See: http://theyflyblog.com/meier-described-3-d-touch-screen-technology-in-1982/02/24/2011

    Comment by Michael Horn — April 1, 2011 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  4. If Michael Horn will look up “Holodeck” on Wikipedia he will see that touchable 3-D holograms were common science-fiction currency in 1974, if not earlier. Even a Swiss farmer might conceivably have heard of Star Trek.

    Comment by David Evans — April 1, 2011 @ 11:37 am | Reply

  5. The way we grew up, in a normal household with Christian parents following the same belief as their parents did and theirs before them; we became part of a system. Indoctrinated in a religion that was, to us at the time, reality. With the fear of being swept down to the depths of some indescribable hole filled with rot and flames, we were taught never to sin, and of course listening the Iron Maiden or Jethro Tull, will land you in hot water, pun intended. With sin in mind, time and man’s imagination armed with a book written with incongruities and filled with fear of the unknown, sins became more absurd, I suppose anything that was fun was a sin, or still is.
    With it, I believe that this fear that we were fed throughout the years still makes the idea of just ceasing to exist quite petrifying, I think about it too, and with the viewing of two autopsies and realizing that this is the end, nothing more, nothing less. Life is now, there is nothing after this. I hope to achieve something better to be remembered in the future.

    Imagination is great, but reality is just.

    Billy Meier’s best, achingly funny portrayal of absolute nonsense, is most certainly the “Ray-gun”, would have loved to share the photos but you can Google them. It shows that, some peoples imagination run away and create beautiful stories integrate this with some wicked CGI and voila, a wonderful movie appears. Others simply rip the dam from underneath the duck and drown it in the mud in the hope that people will be awe inspired by their stories.

    I suppose everyone loves a magic show, though in reality it is more a form of wrestling. Only in this case, the magician uses trickery by diverting the observers concentration and obviously using the ‘hand is quicker than the eye’ to his/her advantage. For the wrestling part, I know a number of people that truly believe that the ‘carnage’ is real; they use obvious choreography that is way too palpable to believe as fact. One cool view on Magic is a clip on TED.com with Keith Barry in ‘Brain magic’.

    Comment by Johan Duvenhage — April 4, 2011 @ 5:42 am | Reply

  6. I had to nod in agreement on every point: “Yeah, that’s about right”.

    I think people who delve into topics like skepticism, astronomy, science in general etc. tend to have somewhat converging worldviews (= scientific, rational and skeptical). Maybe not the same in every single detail, but in a general sense. You are bound to reach the same kind of conclusions, if you follow the same trail of evidence.

    Comment by Marko S — April 4, 2011 @ 2:10 pm | Reply

  7. Obviously not too many real scientists here.

    Re the holodeck comment, why not try actually paying attention; is it because you already KNOW everything before you look into it? I wasn’t referring to a holodeck, I was referring to 3-D, holographic TOUCH SCREEN technology that Meier described in the early 1980s. But of course you already knew that, right, and had published it yourself when you were two years old, right? And why do you assume that Meier had heard about Star Trek and hjolodeck’s…when the investigation revealed that, in fact, he didn’t have a TV or access to one then?

    The laser gun was a hoax, eh? Right, that’s why the holes through the (12″ diameter) trees were smooth as glass and slightly…OVAL. Why don’t you knock out a couple of those oval holes and show us how to do it?

    What a combination: contemptible arrogance and naked incompetence.

    Comment by Michael Horn — April 6, 2011 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  8. Michael, They are just pointing out that imagination is still possible and does not imply seeing into the future. But in the best interest of science… do you have a link which shows photos of these holes in the trees?

    Comment by Mick — April 9, 2011 @ 3:57 am | Reply

  9. “Contemptible arrogance and naked incompetence” – Wow, sounds like a title for a new movie.

    There are several photos of the ‘holes’ made by the apparent apparatus called the ‘Ray-gun’ or something. Then there are also several photos showcasing the ‘weapon’ itself on the web that clearly shows the lack of evidence for one and for two the obvious hoax played by Billy Meier. It is prudent enough to say that the photos portraying the weapon is absolute falsities, and therefore for any informed person with a little integrity and some sense of reality, a low-budget film form the Ukraine have more real looking devices in the script than that. Sad part is, if you look at these ‘photos’ the argument still persists that the ‘weapon’ is real, although you can clearly see the foil and box-shaped unit is a laughable object. Even Billy Meier’s former wife stated that all Billy’s photos were faked, like the female “Asket and Nera” with the ‘Ray-gun’ were acquaintances’ of Billy Meier covered in tanning foil.

    I am not a ‘sceptic’ I am a realist. The Billy Meier Saga is a big hoax and desperately trying to sell the silly project as real, Michael does his best to disparage any counterpart seeing through his fallacies. Anyone opposing the story is an atrocious, uninformed individual with lack of any knowledge whatsoever. I find Michaels ignorance very obnoxious, especially when a constructive argument in the quest for truth is scorned at, which simply makes him an annoying person with no sensible explanation but merely swaying from one fallacy to another and calling you foul.

    Comment by Johan Duvenhage — April 10, 2011 @ 11:14 pm | Reply

  10. Well id of thought you would have at least looked into fine sensitive/pineal gland perception, and developed mental abilities.. let me help you , heres the actual video of scientific tests done on uri geller by stanford decades ago http://www.youtube.com/user/DEBRISTHEREOF?feature=mhee#p/c/005F210DCD6F8B96/0/lERbTkN82go

    And as for you making fun of the meier case…well
    have you looked at what the experts are saying ?.. or like most people prone to ignorance did you skim through it?
    The best special effects guy to be found on the planet and hired by stanley kubrick for 2001[Mr gentleman] , was shown photos and in astonishment went looking for the rest of the photos and videos , he states meier would`ve needed 15 profesionals for the pics alone , and he doesnt believe that they were hoaxed .
    have you heard of david froning and associates who stated “me and my associates may have made breakthroughs in our understanding of faster than light travel from reading the reports of billy meier” contacts http://www.futureofmankind.co.uk/Billy_Meier/Main_Page

    Put your money were your mouth is !! ….. Investigate the meier case fully and openly.
    Billy was given new metal samples in the 90s for when a terrestrial scientist finds the courage to represent the findings openly and honestly.
    Marcel Vogel saw with his own eyes the futuristic quality of the samples and then mysteriously lost the sample which represented the final stage in the construction of the beamships, meier was then given new samples and they only await a scientist who will honestly stand by his findings.

    Comment by Mr.P.Wrenn — August 4, 2011 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

    • Mr. P – I don’t know if you’re the same person who JUST e-mailed me about this, but either way, here is my response:

      First, Uri Geller is pretty much a joke. Moving on …

      I have looked into some very SPECIFIC claims about the Meier case — you may have noticed on my blog I do NOT delve very much into UFOs at all. In the very SPECIFIC case I looked at – that of the supposed prediction of asteroid Apophis – I found any evidence of prophecy to be sorely lacking (first post, second post, third post). I suggest reading the third post first. I have no interest in a thorough exploration of his claims as others have already done so.

      As for money, I make none from this blog or related work so don’t feel the need to rise to such a challenge. As I stated, I’ve thoroughly investigated a specific claim, shown it to not be true – something that Michael has yet to acknowledge or refute directly – and for the time-being I really don’t feel the need nor inclination to look further, though others certainly have.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 4, 2011 @ 6:22 pm | Reply

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