Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 21, 2014

Philosophy: On Skepticism and Challengers


Introduction

I’m taking a break because I don’t want to work on this proposal at the moment. I’m great at procrastination, when I get around to it.

Anyway, I want to muse philosophical-like for a few minutes, reacting to some recent things I’ve heard regarding skepticism and people challenging your views.

“Healthy” Skepticism

George Noory, the now >1 decade primary host of late-night paranormal radio program Coast to Coast AM, had Dr. Judy Wood on his program for the first two hours of his “tribute” to the September 11, 2001 (I refuse to call it “9/11” because I think that trivializes it — we all have our quirks) terrorist attacks. Judy Wood is author of the book, “Where Did the Towers Go?” Her thesis is that a directed “zero-point energy” weapon “dustified” the towers, or that they suffered “dustification.”

It was a very difficult interview for George, I’m sure, since Judy refused to speculate on anything. I’m also growing slightly more convinced that he may have questions written down on cue cards because he asked the exact same question a few minutes apart (“how much energy is required to ‘dustify’ the towers?”) and she refused to speculate both times. Just repeating what she “knows she knows that she knows.” She is also incredibly defensive and clearly doesn’t know what the word “theory” is.

All that aside, early in the interview, George did a tiny disclaimer saying that they always get people writing or calling in saying that doing shows like that is unpatriotic and/or disrespectful to everyone who died in the attacks and the aftermath. But, that it’s healthy to have skepticism and to always question the official story.

*cough*

Okay, George, you are correct in theory (yes, I used that word purposely), but completely wrong in practice. Skepticism does not mean doubting or denying or not accepting everything. Skepticism, as we use the term today, means to not accept something unless we have good evidence to do so. It’s a method of investigation, to look into claims, examine the evidence, and put it in context with all the other evidence and plausibility given what has been established about the way the world works.

At least, that’s how I tend to define it, and it’s how I tend to practice it.

Do I believe “the government” on everything? No. For example, President Obama recently announced that the US is going to take on ISIS in some form or fashion, but that there would be “no boots on the ground.” Given past experience when politicians have said that, and given the realities of ISIS and the Middle East area in general, I’m … shall we say … “skeptical,” and I will reserve acceptance of his statement until it actually plays out.

Do I believe that NASA “tampers” with photographs of the moon to “airbrush out” ancient ruins and alien artifacts, or do I accept what “they” give us? (I put “they” in quotes because “NASA” is an organizational administration within the federal government; it’s the people involved who do everything, and it’s contractors and grant awardees who deal with data and other things.) I accept what they give us. I tend to not question it.

Why? Because of past experience and my own experience in investigating the claims to the contrary. I look at other images of the area from multiple spacecraft. From spacecraft from other countries. They are consistent. They don’t show different kinds of anomalies you’d need in order to have the scenario that the conspiracists claim is happening. They do show what you’d expect if the data were faithfully represented, as it was taken, after standard spacecraft and basic data reduction steps (like correcting for geometric distortion based on how the spacecraft was pointed, or removing artifacts from dust on the lens).

George, there is a difference between healthy skepticism – looking into claims – and beating a dead horse. Or beating over 3000 dead victims to a terrorist attack.

There is no plausibility to Dr. Wood’s arguments. Her claims made to back them up are factually wrong. (Expat has addressed some of them in his blog, here, here, here, and here.) She is ridiculously defensive, refuses to delve further into her model to actually back it up, and has a name for herself only because people like you give her airtime to promote her ideas. True skepticism is to examine the arguments from both sides and draw a conclusion based on what’s real and what’s most probable. Which has been done by thousands of people who debunk every single claim the conspiracists make about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But you won’t go to them. You bring on Dr. Wood, or people from the Architects and Engineers for Truth.

A one-sided investigation is not faithful, not genuine, and is disrespectful to everyone.

Challenging Your Conclusions

In a related vein, but completely different context, I was reading through my RSS news feeds and came upon the headline to the effect (because it’s disappeared from my feed since I started to write this): Michelle Obama explains to school children that challenges [probably, though I read it as “challengers”] are a good thing.

So true. Most people in the skeptical movement know that this is “a True.” Most scientists know this is “a True.” Most pseudoscientists are vehemently against being challenged.

I’ll take the subject of my last blog post to illustrate this example, not that I want to pick on him per se, but he’s the last person I listened to in detail that I can use to illustrate this point, other than Dr. Wood, who I discussed much more than I want to in the above section. Mike Bara.

Mike was somewhat recently on another late-night (though not quite as late) internet radio program, “Fade to Black,” where Jimmy Church is the host. It’s on Art Bell’s “Dark Matter Radio Network,” where I was also a guest several months ago. I have since called in twice to the program, both times to discuss the possibility of debating Mike Bara on some of his claims.

The very brief backstory on that is Mike was on Coast to Coast, and basically attacked me. I called in, George said he’d arrange a debate, then stopped responding to my e-mails. A year later, the same thing happened, and George actually e-mailed me (I couldn’t call in because I lost power that night — happens sometimes in the mountains of Colorado, though we now have a generator), he wanted to arrange a debate, he claimed on air that I had stopped responding to his e-mails … and then he stopped responding to mine so the debate never happened. Later, I learned that it was Mike who may have dropped his acceptance. I related that to Jimmy.

Jimmy asked Mike if he’d be willing to debate me, and Mike’s response was effectively, “what do I get out of it?” Mike opined that what I (Stuart) would get out of it is a platform and attention which, according to Mike, I so desperately want (or maybe that’s Michael Horn’s claim about me … I get some of what each says is my motivation a bit confused). Meanwhile, Mike already has attention, so he said that he wouldn’t get anything out of it and therefore didn’t want to do it. Jimmy countered that it would make great radio (which I agree with).

I did call in, but unfortunately Mike got dropped when Jimmy tried to bring me in. It was the last 10 minutes of the program, anyway, so I told Jimmy what I thought we both (me and Mike) would get out of it: We would each have to back up what we say, and when challenged, it forces us in a radio setting to make our arguments concise, easily understandable, and actually back up what we’re saying.

That’s what we do in science: We have to back up what we say. We expect to get challenged, we expect to have people doubt our work, we expect to have people check our work, and we expect people to challenge our conclusions. Only the best ideas that can stand up to such scrutiny survive. That’s how science progresses. That’s where pseudoscience fails. Science is not a democracy, and it is not a communistic system where every idea is the same and equal as every other idea. It’s a meritocracy. Only the ideas that have merit, that stand up to scrutiny, survive.

The point of science is to develop a model of how the world works. If your model clearly does not describe how the world works and make successful predictions (and have repeatable evidence and have evidence that actually stands up to scrutiny), then it gets dropped.

Final Thoughts

I hope you found these musings at least mildly interesting. And let me know if you agree or disagree. Challenge my ideas, but if you do so, make sure you back them up!

8 Comments »

  1. I thought the “Okay, George, you are write in theory (yes, I used that word purposely),” was a very funny if unintentional pun. Noticed you already corrected it above.

    “Mike opined that what I (Stuart) would get out of it is a platform and attention which, according to Mike, I so desperately want…” Is Mr. Bara projecting here? You have an extraordinary amount of patience, to put up with his tactics and insults.

    Comment by Rick K. — September 21, 2014 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

    • I think the “write” was an auto-correct thing on my laptop, so that’s why I fixed that homophone. And yes, if that was Mike B as opposed to Mike H, I think a tad of projection might be in play. That said, Mike B has his radio show appearances and TV shows. He definitely has more public presence than I, but I wouldn’t want the kind he has.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 21, 2014 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

      • Sorry, didn’t realize you’d shifted to talking about Mr. Horn. It’s interesting how each of them mostly stays away from the other’s focus, as if by unspoken agreement. That is, we rarely hear Mr. Bara talk about aliens in contact with humans in the present, while Mr. Horn doesn’t seem to talk much about ancient aliens.

        Comment by Rick K. — September 22, 2014 @ 9:49 am

      • I really wasn’t talking about Michael Horn, I was just musing that it may have been him who is the one who says that I feel a need for more publicity. I think he says it more than Mike Bara, though Mike certainly said that as what he thinks the reason is that I want to debate him. I just didn’t want to listen to the whole 3-hour show to find the exact quote.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 22, 2014 @ 9:55 am

      • I can understand it, especially since you’re really busy right now.

        Comment by Rick K. — September 22, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

  2. Yes, most interesting and absolutely no disagreement from here, Stuart. Well said. However it did raise some other questions for me that can wait until you’re less involved with more important matters.

    Comment by JayB — September 22, 2014 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

  3. Michael Horn’s / Billy Meier’s followers’ mockery of this blogpost deserves mockery of its own. However, he perhaps has a point in writing that your statement “Dr. Wood’s arguments … are factually wrong” could do with some supporting data. You may have your own ideas, but to me, her claim that nothing from the top 80% of the towers hit the ground can be shown to be wrong with consummate ease.

    As I wrote in my blog, if what she says were to be true, the lower 20% plus the six below-ground levels would still be pristine, since the dustification of the floors above them would have actually REDUCED the load on them, not increased it per the conventional pancake theory. The fact that the lower part of the towers collapsed just as completely as the upper part is a very grave problem for Judy Wood and her supporters. One of those supporters (or maybe it was Wood herself incognito) wrote to me “I hope the rest of your life is not as miserable as it appears now.” The ultimate argumentum ad hominem.

    Comment by Expat — September 24, 2014 @ 8:49 am | Reply

  4. Too bad that doesn’t seem to apply to “Global ……….” (fill in blank w/ your pet theory,cooling ,warming changing etc.) Its ridiculous the excuses that are made for BAD science!

    Comment by theLoc Doc — October 31, 2014 @ 3:07 am | Reply


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