Exposing PseudoAstronomy

August 29, 2012

Final Words on the Lunar Ziggurat? Pareidolia, Language, and Conspiracy


Introduction

I’ve now written nearly a dozen posts and 19.5k words (notice I don’t claim 20,000, even though Mike did when he wrote 17,650) on this lunar ziggurat “issue:”

The purpose of this post is to wrap up a few loose ends and return to the beginning, where this started. So there are four sections to this post, then a summary of where we are and why I don’t think there’s much more to be said (though I may revise that thought) on this.

Pareidolia

To quote from Mike’s part 5 of 5 posts on this:

“The actual truth is that there is no such thing as “Pareidolia.” It’s just a phony academic sounding word the debunkers made up to fool people into thinking there is scholarly weight behind the concept. It’s actually a complete sham. … The word was actually first coined by a douchebag debunker (is that my first “douchebag” in this piece?! I must be getting soft) named Steven Goldstein in a 1994 issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Since then, every major debunker from Oberg to “Dr. Phil” has fallen back on it, but it is still a load of B.S. There is no such thing.”

First, let’s get this out of the way: I never claimed that the ziggurat image is pareidolia. It’s clearly not. The question for the ziggurat is whether someone superposed a terrestrial ziggurat on a lunar photograph.

As far as I can tell, Mike’s etymology of the word is correct — he may have used the same resource I did, and I can’t find any previous references. (Updated per comments: Actually, the term goes back at least to the mid-1800s. From an 1867 journal: “… or, there is necessary an external and individual object very nearly corresponding in character to the false perception, whose objective stimulus blends with the deficient subjective stimulus, and forms a single complete impression. This last is called by Dr. Kahlbaum, changing hallucination, partial hallucination, perception of secondary images, or pareidolia. Those manifestations which have been hitherto termed illusions, are only in very small proportion actual delusions of the senses (partial hallucinations). For the most part they are pure delusions of the judgement, while a few are false judgments, founded on imperfect perception, or deceptions produced in the peripheral organs of sense and in external conditions.”)

Regardless, claiming that there is no such thing is about at the level of Mike’s claiming that centrifugal force makes you heavier, an annular eclipse is when the moon is closer than normal to Earth, you measure the major and minor axes of an ellipse from two arbitrary points within it, and dark matter denial (stay tuned for a podcast on that last one at some point).

Whether it has a word or not, it is a real phenomenon. The Rorschach ink blot test was created to make use of pareidolia. People make pilgrimages to distant places because they think Jesus or Mary is visible within the knot of a tree or an oil spot on a building window. And that’s just visual pareidolia.

The whole “EVP” (electronic voice phenomenon) is an example of audio pareidolia where you think you hear something in random noise. Skeptoid had a good episode on this, #105.

I’m really not sure why Mike decided to introduce such a blatant falsehood about human perception when it’s not even relevant to the ziggurat stuff.

Language

Another loose end is language. I’ve commented on this before, but it bears some repeating. Mike’s language throughout this was originally pure insults, and when he realized I have a Ph.D., it turned into mocking conspiracy (see next section for more on that). Mine has been remarkably restrained (in my never humble opinion). I’ve refrained from direct insults except in my initial analysis, in which I said my opinion was that Richard was either lying that he had spent weeks studying the image, or that he was incompetent in that image analysis. As far as I can tell, those are the only direct insults, and they’re relatively minor at that.

Contrast that with, say, Mike’s entire Part 1 blog post on this stuff.

The only real progress we’ve made over the last month is that he’s stopped calling me a hater.

Mike also stated that I feel the need to brand him a “heretic,” which is a term I have never used nor implied. I found that particularly humorous because just this past week, Skeptoid addressed that very issue — the need of pseudoscientists to claim that they are being branded as heretics. To quote from Brian Dunning’s transcript:

“It’s noteworthy that the term “heretic” is only ever used by dogmatic authorities. For example, the Catholic church used it during the Inquisition. I’ve never heard a working scientist call anyone a heretic in reference to their scientific work; instead, they simply point out that they’re wrong and why. But promoters of pseudoscience want to be called heretics, because that would make the scientific mainstream into a dogmatic authority. Whenever you run into a lone researcher who’s outside the mainstream and claims to have been labeled a heretic, you have very good reason to be skeptical.” (emphasis his)

That’s really all I have to say on this aspect, but I thought it important, yet again, to point out.

Another thing about language, though. Mike has claimed to “destroy” my arguments and to provide absolute proof that the ziggurat is real. I, on the other hand, have never used such black-and-white terminology. My position has always been that it is my opinion, based on the available evidence, and based on my analysis that I’ve now gone through at great length, that the ziggurat is more likely to be fake than real.

You might think I’m pointing out semantics, but they’re important semantics. Scientists will rarely speak in terms of absolutes except in rare cases (for example, I’ve made declarative statements of facts about noise in images). When stating their position, it is almost always couched in “the evidence shows [this]” or “based on a preponderance of the evidence.” That’s because science is always open to revision, always open to being shown that previous conclusions were wrong based on new evidence brought to light.

And then there are the declarative statements of the pseudoscientists. There’s also, oftentimes, a failure to admit when they’ve made mistakes, even obvious, trivial ones that don’t really matter for their main arguments. I’ve pointed out many that Mike has made that don’t really impact his argument (and I’ve pointed out many he’s made that do impact his argument), but he’s never back-tracked on any of them.

Nor, as an aside, has he backtracked from any of the mistakes he made in his book, “The Choice.” For example, on August 12, someone wrote on his Facebook page: “Mike likes to say in his defence “I never said that, you are trying to get me to defend things I never said.” Well Mike, you DID say on page 32 of “The Choice” that centrifugal force makes us heavier. So you DID actually say that, and it’s simply completely wrong.”

Mike followed that up immediately with, “Show me the quote asshole. It doesn’t say that. And it was a misprint anyway.” Interesting how something isn’t there but that it was a misprint at the same time that it’s not there being wrong. And just last night, he’s now claiming that his book had two minor misprints, 10 words out of 50,000. Anyway, we’re getting somewhat off-topic, so if you’re at all interested in the many more than two basic, fundamental mistakes in “The Choice,” I’ll direct you to this post.

Fear and Conspiracy

Mike has claimed that it is fear (and money) that has driven me to write about this subject. Fear that my worldview will be turned upside-down, that I’m afraid of aliens or what alien artifacts would imply, that the Brookings Report is my Bible (you know, THE report, as opposed to all the other reports that think-tank has released over the decades), etc.

I know that regardless of what I say he won’t be convinced otherwise, but I’ll say it again anyway: It’s not true. As I have written innumerable times on this blog, the whole reason for doing science is to make new discoveries and overturn paradigms (and this is a real plug post for Skeptoid ’cause Dunning addressed this in the latest episode 324, too).

Let’s do a little test: Raise your hand if you recognize the name Albert Einstein. Now raise your other hand if you recognize the name Francis Everitt. For those who don’t have both hands raised, Everitt is the principle investigator of the Gravity Probe B mission that was a test of some of Einstein’s theories. He’s not a household name because he has upheld a paradigm; Einstein is a household name because he created it. ‘Nough said.

Which brings us to the conspiracy and likely why this will be my last post on this subject. After all this discussion, we’re really, in sum and substance, back at the beginning because almost all evidence that I have brought forth is simply dismissed as either apparently wrong (which I’ve explained is incorrect or likely incorrect) or it’s apparently not trustworthy because it’s all a conspiracy.

Mike claims that I lack honesty, and then he corrected himself on the radio and used the term “intellectual honesty.” Meanwhile, Mike has stated at least twice that he baited me with blog posts to do his work for him in finding other images of the location. And then he both dismissed them as part of the conspiracy while also saying that I had the location wrong, which I showed again was not the case. Lying about one’s reason for something and then dismissing it anyway when it shows what you don’t like … and then accusing me of intellectual dishonesty? Seriously?

I had taken more notes of stuff to say at this point, but after writing the above, I really don’t think any more needs to be said. It won’t convince anyone who believes what Mike says, and the people who don’t believe Mike are already convinced and know roughly what else I was going to say, anyway.

Real Quick – The Ziggy Location, Again

I think this bears repeating. Mike claims that I missed the location of the ziggurat.

Here’s my evidence that it’s where I claim it is, courtesy of “GoneToPlaid:”

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, D

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, D

Here’s Mike’s:

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

And here’s Mike’s with the actual, correct craters matched up:

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

As you can see, it’s fairly clear that Mike got his craters wrong, misjudging the scale and relative positions. He might be better off in the future paying attention to what the planetary geophysicist who actually studies craters says.

Where We Are Now

The question I asked a few posts ago was: What would it take to falsify your belief? Mike has not directly answered that. He’s also pointed out that he doesn’t give (a few swear words) what I think nor about my challenges. Which is then interesting that he spent so much time on responding.

I laid out three primary categories of reasons that I think it’s fake. Mike’s responses to each can be summarized by the indented, bulleted text below each.

1. Why there is less noise in the NASA original but more noise in Mike’s, and why is there more contrast (more pure black and more saturated highlights) in Mike’s? Both of these pretty much always indicate that the one with more noise and more contrast is a later generation … you can’t just Photoshop in more detail like that.

  • Mike spent a lot of time changing his definition of noise and going through a few misconceptions about it, but in the end, he claims that the noise in his version is texture from a poorly stored photo in an album that was later scanned, hence it’s an earlier generation because it’s from an old print. There is no evidence for this other than what he has interpreted as texture, and I argue that the more likely explanation is that it’s a late-generation copy.
  • Mike claims that there is more contrast in the NASA version because the black shadows are pure black (greyscale 0) while the shadows in his version are between ~18 and 31, so show a range. I argue that the range is due to noise, that the dynamic range of his version is roughly half the NASA version, and that the dynamic range within the bright areas is less in his version, thus supporting my statement that there’s more contrast in his version.
  • Mike misinterpreted my statement about Photoshopping in detail thinking I meant details like craters. The point still stands that once you have a saturated pixel, you cannot bring the information back without assumptions and then modeling what you think it should be.

2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.

  • One claim Mike made is that I missed the location of the ziggurat. I have shown that I did not.
  • He also claims that he does not believe any of the current NASA images nor those from the SELENE (Japanese) mission, nor much of anything else except the old Apollo images, and even then, only some of them such as the one that shows what – at first glance to most normal people – appears on its face to be fake. He clearly stated that if the Chinese images don’t show anything there, it’s because they’ve been pressured to not release them or they’re part of the conspiracy or some such thing.
  • He’s brought in other Apollo photographs of the region taken from orbit and when none showed a convincing feature, he stated that they were airbrushed out. Except for one of them, which to me, looks even less like a pareidolia-ized ziggurat than the first (though Mike doesn’t believe in pareidolia … see above).

3. Why the shadowed parts of his ziggurat are lit up when they’re in shadow, on top of a hill, and not facing anything that should reflect light at them?

  • Much of Mike’s response was that scattered light will brightly light any shadowed region, and he has seen hundreds of examples of this.
  • This is something I have stated – that scattered light can illuminate some things, faintly, but not to the effect it allegedly had on the ziggurat:
  • What he showed were mainly examples of scattered and refracted light within the optics of the camera itself rather than on the surface. One of his examples did have some stuff in shadow that was very, very faintly lit by scattered light.
  • To have the ziggurat shadowed part lit by scattered light would require an incredibly reflective surface that somehow withstood [insert time length] years of asteroid impacts to still reflect all the light that’s scattered onto it from a very small crater wall. I suppose this in itself is not impossible, but it strains credulity, especially when taken with all the other very unlikely things needed to be true for this to be real.

I could go through a timeline of stuff, too, but I don’t think that’s really worth getting into. The string of posts at the beginning shows it pretty well, I think.

So that’s where we are. Neither of us are going to convince the other, of course. I’ve stated for awhile now that this would end in one of probably three ways, in order of increasing likelihood:

  1. Mike would admit it’s likely a fake. (near-0% chance)
  2. Mike would just start to ignore it and move on with his other stuff.
  3. Mike would say that any evidence or explanation I bring forward is wrong or that he can dismiss it because it’s part of the conspiracy. After all, he already claims I’m bought and paid for so nothing I say can be trusted (Mike – how much do you make from promoting your ideas?). (near-100% chance)

Final Thoughts?

Clearly, Option #3 was always the most likely and it is primarily what he’s gone with. Which really gets me back to ¿why are we going through this whole thing, anyway?

I cannot read minds, though I often wish I could, but my guess is that Mike feels the need to defend this considering that he’s put so much effort into it and made it a centerpiece of his book due out in October. It also fits entirely within and reinforces the worldview that he sells (literally). He’s also said he really doesn’t care WHAT my analysis shows nor opinions are, so in that sense, I’m not sure why he’s decided to continue writing so much on it even after Richard Hoagland suggested he not.

I’ve continued on with this in part because I’m stubborn, but also because I’ve been learning and teaching as I’ve been going. In terms of the former, I’ve learned how to obtain and process the SELENE images, how to be more precise, how to create videos, and techniques to bolster my claims. That will help me not just in this kind of education and public outreach work, but also in my career. For example, I’m headed to a conference in Flagstaff, AZ (USA) next month on cratering and I’ll be giving two presentations. My work is going to be challenged. If I can’t defend it, then it falls and I’m back to square one.

In terms of the latter, I’ve tried to gear each blog post on this not just towards the boring “debunking” stuff, but to illustrate to everyone who’s reading how to do their own investigations into this stuff and NOT to take my word for things, and also about how certain things are done and stuff works. For example, I’ve gone into great depth now in a few posts AND two podcasts on image processing and about images in general, such as dynamic range, noise, geometric correction, and how some basic filters work. In an age where nearly everyone who has internet (and so is reading this) has a digital camera, this is useful information to have, and I’ll likely refer back to it in future posts on many disparate topics.

But, by this point, I think the impasse is more obvious than ever. I acknowledge that some of Mike’s ideas are possible (i.e., the poorly stored print idea), but in my opinion they are unlikely – and many unlikely things would ALL need to be true for this – when compared with the null hypothesis: The ziggurat is a hoax by someone. Mike has not admitted to being wrong even when he’s contradicted himself, and pretty much every argument I’ve made that he hasn’t attempted to show is wrong has been relegated to a conspiracy. Nothing I say is going to change his mind on that, though that was pretty much known from the beginning.

I think it is probably time for a graceful exit on this issue by both parties. Mike’s explained his position, I’ve explained mine, and you, the reader, are encouraged to do your own investigation and make up your own mind. If you decide the conspiracy is accurate, and you like the way Mike argues by primarily flinging insults, them more power to you because you’ve made The Choice, go buy Mike’s books, spend money to hear him talk, and have fun.

 

Oh, and P.S., this should not be construed as a concession post by any stretch of the imagination.

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