Exposing PseudoAstronomy

March 26, 2015

Science Conferences (#LPSC2015), Ivory Gates, and Who Gets In


Introduction

On this blog and in my podcast, I talk a lot about pseudoscience. I talk a lot about pseudoscientists. But I don’t think I’ve talked explicitly much about what really separates a pseudoscientist from a real scientist, nor have I talked about basic thresholds for being considered a real scientist.

Last week, I was at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), a conference that is the largest planetary science conference in the US, annually drawing over 1500 planetary (non-Earth-studying) scientists and receiving around 2000 abstract submissions.

Among those were at least two that bordered on pseudoscientific. I’m going to be interviewing the program committee chair in an upcoming podcast episode, so I’ll leave a discussion of what happens when they get those kinds of submissions to that interview.

But, in the meantime, I’m going to discuss what happened when one of these persons set up his presentation, in contrast with the standards of the field and conference, to illustrate how one should not behave if they want to be taken seriously by the scientific community.

Who Am I Talking About

In this particular case, I’m talking about John E. Brandenburg, a person whose claims about Mars being host to an intelligent civilization before they got nuked, I discussed in Episode 86 of my podcast. I also discussed his claims in the Feedback portion of Episode 93 and in the New News of Episode 121.

However, I want this blog post to stand on its own. Without any other background information, other than I’ve discussed his claims before, let’s take a look at just what he did at this conference.

Abstracts

Everyone speaking at LPSC is required to submit an abstract. The standard is two pages (which is fairly long for most conferences) that outlines what your work is and what you will be talking about. That way the program committee can decide if you will get a talk or a poster presentation (you don’t always get a talk, so by default you will get a poster) and the order of the session.

To give you an idea of what an abstract looks like, here’s one that I submitted to the most recent LPSC about progress on my work into studying the crater population of Saturn’s satellites. That is the standard template.

John Brandenburg submitted two abstracts, “Evidence for Large, Anomalous Nuclear Explosions on Mars in the Past” and “The NMS (New Mars Synthesis), Recent Data from Gale Crater and NWA 7034: Evidence for a Persistent Biologically Stabilized Greenhouse on Mars.”

So, there you go. I will note that these do not use the standard templates, and the copy-editing isn’t great, but not everything one spits out is going to be gold. There’s also the pet peeve of mine of using Excel for science graphs (see his first abstract), but again, others do it so Dr. Brandenburg hasn’t done anything yet that others don’t do.

Poster Session

LPSC 2015 Poster by John E. Brandenburg

LPSC 2015 Poster by John E. Brandenburg

I don’t know if he requested a talk, but he got a poster. He was scheduled for the first of two poster sessions, which was on Tuesday night. Each night has well over 600 poster presentations, where you set up your poster and then wait twiddling your fingers, hoping that people will at least read it and maybe even talk with you. I went through that for the abstract I linked to of mine, but on Thursday night. You can get an idea of what it looks like if you’re busy from some of the royalty-free images here.

The poster sessions are from 6:00P.M. until 9:00P.M. You are expected to be there the entire time. You are also expected to set up your poster before that time, and most people set up their poster the day before. For example, I set my Thursday poster up on Wednesday just after lunch. (The e-mailed instructions state, “Poster presenters are expected to be present at their poster on their assigned evening.”)

John Brandenburg began to set up his poster at about 7:55P.M. on Tuesday evening. It was a long, very tedious process, where he spent 45 minutes doing so, not completing his set up until 8:40P.M., only 20 minutes before the poster session ended and – to be honest – many people had already left for late-night drinks.

John Brandenburg Setting Up His Poster at LPSC in 2015

John Brandenburg Setting Up His Poster at LPSC in 2015

After he finished setting up, he left for a few minutes to get a beer from the cash bar.

His Poster

Let’s be fair: Not everyone has access to or money to spend on a poster printer. Those are the large-format printers that take paper spanning around 36″–44″ across and can print something of arbitrary length. LPSC allows up to 44″ by 44″.

But, as I said, some people can’t do that. Instead, some will effectively create a talk in presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint or Keynote) and then print that out on standard 8.5″x11″ sheets of paper and tack those up. It doesn’t look great, but it gets the point across.

That was John Brandenburg’s approach.

Among other things, I noted the following in terms of non-standard items:

  • Nothing was referenced. This is important in science for anything that is not new work. Considering he posted many images from other peoples’ papers, this is a big no-no.
  • One slide part showed “the” Face on Mars, another claimed face, and a “pyramid.”

John Brandenburg Highlighting the "Face" on Mars and Pyramids on Mars at LPSC 2015

John Brandenburg Highlighting the “Face” on Mars and Pyramids on Mars at LPSC 2015

Okay, so really two, but that first one (referencing) is a big issue for science if you want to be taken seriously and not tick people off (and came up when I engaged him — more on that later). And the second one, well, ditto.

The “Face” came up once, when I was eavesdropping on him talking with someone else: John was explaining blast site antipodes (the opposite point on the planet to some feature or event) and he then pointed to those photos and remarked, “And that’s to remind you of what’s there;” he added a knowing nod when saying that. The implication’s obvious, but he seemed unwilling to say it out loud, potentially for fear of seeming even crazier.

Rubber-Necking

Different people do poster sessions in different ways, but most people tend to walk through the aisles of posters and slowly skim over titles, perhaps pausing on one that seems interesting, maybe lingering a bit to read it, before moving on. Unless they are really interested, in which case they’ll stay and ask questions or generally engage the presenter, if the presenter is there.

While Dr. Brandenburg was getting his beer, I saw a few people walk by and effectively rubber-neck. I also saw their eyes go wide and then move on.

If They Don’t Come to You, Go to Them

I will admit at this point that I hid my name badge. There was a non-zero chance that Dr. Brandenburg would recognize my name based on my blog and podcast and e-mail exchanges we had. I didn’t want that to come up, I wanted to observe what happened without him knowing that a “skeptic” who had criticized his work before was there watching.

What I saw was that after Dr. Brandenburg came back with his beer, he waited a minute or two and then approached the two people standing across from him who were at their own posters. The friends I was with told me I should’ve written it down, and I wish I had, but what I remember from an hour later when I wrote down my notes was that he said, almost exactly: “It must be tough facing [or “being opposite?”] all this for the whole night.”  I really wish I had written it down then because this could be seen as really creepy – especially since at least one of those two people was a woman – though he really was referring to the posters he just put up and not something else.

For the next roughly 15 minutes (since that was all that was left of the poster session), when passers by would not engage him, he engaged people at surrounding posters, asking them about their work. That is reasonably fair, though a bit unconventional: The goal is to get people to come to your poster and talk about your work, especially when you only have 15 minutes left.

John Brandenburg's Discussion at LPSC 2015 that Mars was Nuked

John Brandenburg’s Discussion at LPSC 2015 that Mars was Nuked

One of the people he engaged was a friend of mine at her poster. I took the opportunity to slip around and take some photographs of his “poster” for future use, such as in this blog post. When I asked my friend later about what he talked about, she stated that he seemed surprised about some of her findings and remarked that it was, well, surprising. Unfazed, she told him “no” that it wasn’t surprising, most of the stuff she found was common and expected. It was another part that was surprising that she hadn’t yet mentioned to him.

This is not in itself a big issue: I have no idea what she’s doing. It’s not my field. But, it is very related to what Dr. Brandenburg claims his field is, and related to his second abstract. So this actually is a big issue: He tried to “talk the talk,” and he failed. He demonstrated ignorance of field that he should know if he’s talking about a very closely related one on his “poster.”

My friend also said that John seemed drunk, but she wasn’t sure if that was his personality. That did not surprise me. I wrote in a forum after listening to his interview on “Dark City” from February 2015: “Affect: For some reason, I find his constant laughs very off putting. I don’t know why. It has nothing to do with his arguments, but it makes it sound like he doesn’t take this seriously. I hear this in all of his interviews.”

Another commenter on the forum stated, in response: “I’d read the comment about his laughter before I listened to the show so was “analyzing” it as it occurred. It happened more frequently and for longer periods as the show continued. In my professional opinion, I think he started the interview with a 6 pack in front of him. By last call at the end of the show, he sounded like a someone who was regretfully set to go home after spending a few hours telling his ideas to the guy next to him at the bar.”

You, the reader might consider this gratuitous. Perhaps. but, it added to the general gestalt of Dr. Brandenburg’s presentation and interactions, and it adds to the general group of things not to do if you want to be taken seriously by the scientific community. I’ve seen people drunk at LPSC. I have never seen someone drunk who is presenting. I’m also not saying Dr. Brandenburg was drunk, rather it was the impression a few of us had, and a few of us who have listened to his various interviews have had.

Enter the Dragon’s Lair

I finally gave in while he was talking with some other people at his “posters” and joined them. He made his case, and the people seemed unconvinced.  At the end, the guy asked for a photo of his poster and John was happy to oblige and offered to be in it, too. From my perspective, I figured this was going in the “Crazy Times at LPSC” album, but of course my own views color that assumption.

John Brandenburg Claims Trinitie Is Wide-Spread on Mars, Using Unreferenced Figure that Only Shows Volcanic Glass

John Brandenburg Claims Trinitie Is Wide-Spread on Mars, Using Unreferenced Figure that Only Shows Volcanic Glass

The only engagement I gave was when John Brandenburg mentioned trinitite. I was prepared for that. It’s a recent addition to his claimed evidence for a nuclear blast on Mars, for trinitite “is the glassy residue left on the desert floor after the plutonium-based Trinity nuclear bomb test on July 16, 1945, near Alamogordo, New Mexico.” In other words, we’ve only seen it on Earth as a result from a nuclear blast. If we see it on Mars, that’d be interesting evidence for a nuclear blast, though we’d still need to do work to determine if there’s any other way to make it. That’s how science works.

I was prepared for the trinitite claim because in that recent interview on “Dark City,” he said that he had found it on Mars. So, when he brought it up from his “poster,” he presented a map showing it was all over the northern hemisphere of Mars near the north polar layered deposits. I jumped on that and asked what his source was.  He responded by reiterating what trinitite is (and that it’s only found at nuclear blast sites), and I told him no, I wanted to know what detected it and how.  He stuttered and didn’t remember but said it’s in his abstract — this is one reason why I said it’s important to provide references on your poster. Not only did that effectively stop the conversation because I couldn’t ask further, but it also allowed him to punt it back to the abstract and avoid questions.

The issue for me going into this was that trinitite is a very specific kind of glass, and it’s nearly impossible to pick up from orbit with the instruments we have around Mars today. First, the spectral signature of trinitite is very close to glass, so I would want to see how the researchers would have differentiated between them with orbiting probes. Second, if there had been trinitite discovered (and I did my homework and could not find any papers that mentioned Mars and trinitite), I would think I would be able to find it. Because, well, it’s only found on Earth near nuclear blast sites, so one would think it’d get a big press release.

After the poster session, I looked up his abstract and I found the reference. It’s a paper in “Geology” by Horgan and Bell from 2012, though he cited it as being from 2014 (as I said, sloppy abstracts).  The abstract of this paper is inconsistent with what Dr. Brandenburg says it says. Specifically, he claims (but the paper says otherwise) that the glass is only found there on Mars (they say it’s likely widespread), the glass is solid hunks of glass (versus just glass mixed into the regolith like we see all over Earth in volcanoes), and that it’s acid-etched glass and therefore trinitite (they say it’s iron-bearing glass and silica-enriched leached rinds on glass). So, his smoking gun has a common, mundane explanation. You don’t need a crazy explanation for a mundane (yet still new — not to belittle the authors’ work) observation when the mundane explanation will work (that it’s just volcanic glass that we see everywhere on Earth).

In a bit of fairness, John did say (direct quote) when introducing the claim of trinitite: “They” think it’s volcanic glass, “perfectly reasonable.  But, it also looks like trinitite.”

Closing

Over the last two years, LPSC has been a little trigger-happy about shutting down the poster session at 9:00 sharp. I remember being in there at my poster talking with people well past 9:30 before, but only in past years. This year, at 9:02, a volunteer told him he needed to take down his poster or they were going to take down everything that was left up.

In fairness to the volunteer, this was also in the instructions to presenters that was e-mailed out, that if posters were left after the end of the poster session, they would be “discarded.”

John responded, “What would you DO with it if you took it down?!”

He may have just been trying to be funny, but that capped off the encounter for me in terms of not following the instructions and seeming to think he’s special.

Hallmarks of a Pseudoscientist

John Brandenburg's LPSC 2015 Poster, Bastardizing Martian Chronology

John Brandenburg’s LPSC 2015 Poster, Bastardizing Martian Chronology

In his e-mails to me, John Brandenburg has clearly implied that he wants to and thinks he should be taken seriously. In those e-mail exchanges, however, he has failed to back up the majority of his claims, and he has failed to put together a cogent, cohesive story that does not conflict with well established other things (such as Martian chronology).

What I observed was more of the same at LPSC, and this illustrates a general failure to adhere to the standards of how a scientist should not only behave and present their information, but also present themselves.

As a short listed recap:

  • Arrival with an hour left in the poster session, way too long to set up, and only 15 minutes after getting a beer to present his work.
  • Drunk affect, if not actually drunk when you are supposed to be presenting.
  • Presenting known pseudoscience in an attempt to bolster your science claims (face and pyramids on Mars — sorry conspiracists reading this blog, it is: see here, here, here, or here).
  • Failure to demonstrate knowledge of the field you’re talking about.
  • Failure to reference others’ work you are using, especially when copying their images.
  • Making unsubstantiated other claims that are used in support of your claim, especially when your side-claim flies in the face of the generally accepted state of the field.

Final Thoughts

This has been a long post, but I hope that it gives you some insight into what (not) to do if you are going to be taken seriously at a scientific conference. Scientists really are open minded about new ideas (again, I know most people who aren’t skeptics or scientists reading this blog are going to think I’m crazy to say that, but we really are).

We scientists just demand better evidence than the average person because we know how easy it is to be fooled, how easy it is to let our own biases get in the way, and we know that the new ideas have to not only explain the observations better than the previous ideas but also have to mesh with everything else that may seem unrelated but still would be affected by that new idea. And write long, run-on sentences.

But, while we’re open to new ideas, we also have certain standards. And, we expect you to play by the same rules that we do.

John E. Brandenburg does not and he did not do that at LPSC last week.

I don’t know what will happen if he submits abstracts to LPSC next year, but I hope that the program committee takes note of how he behaved this year and will use that to make an informed decision next year. He now has a documented case (here) of abusing the privilege of presenting at a scientific conference.

And you, the reader, can see what that abuse is like. While these conferences are not meant to be gates closed to everyone but those “in the club,” they are still a privilege that one is granted to attend, it is not a right.

33 Comments »

  1. Regarding bad referencing practices, this seems to be an inevitable part of classical pseudo-scientific method. Interesting to see it attempted at such a high profile academic conference.

    I’ve seen (on Youtube) a lecture by Dean Radin, given to academics, where he claimed that a clear example of esp had been reported in a particular highly reputed academic journal. Then he mentioned two researchers whose work he said was biased and gave a reference for their study as The Boston Globe newspaper. These “references” were all quickly flashed on the screen behind him.

    After some googling, I discovered their paper had been published in the very journal that Radin had given as the source for the esp incident. In fact these researchers had mentioned the esp incident as being a claim without substance. But that was good enough for Radin to say the claim had “been reported” there. Had he followed normal referencing practices, he would have given as reference for the esp incident a New Age book from 1979 and the game would have been up. If a high school student tried to pull a trick like that they’d get their butt kicked in front of the class.

    Comment by Yakaru — March 27, 2015 @ 2:16 am | Reply

    • I had the same issue with Gregg Braden. He references lots of stuff, but the references he gives are wrong. When I really can find them, they tend to say the opposite of what he says. Same is true with Kent Hovind.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — March 27, 2015 @ 10:30 am | Reply

    • I occasionally visit the blog of UFO believer Kevin Randle and recently he posted two entries on footnoting both provided excellent examples of how pseudo-scientists handle references. (All direct links in this entry use DoNotLink.)

      In the first entry (“Chasing Footnotes Again”) he describes how he was looking up the references to a particular UFO tale and finding a footnote that pointed to a source that was simply a retelling of the story rather than original source material.

      http://www.donotlink.com/ec16

      In the second entry (“Chasing My Own Footnotes”) deals with one of his own ‘early’ footnotes and then finishes with what he now considers the proper way to do it.

      http://www.donotlink.com/ec17

      Both are well worth looking at for this reason alone, I find his arguements about Alien Visitation and the cover-ups thereof to be shall we say, highly dubious.

      Comment by Graham — March 29, 2015 @ 2:33 am | Reply

  2. Does not anyone do peer review on the submissions, or do they allow anyone who submits an abstract to have at least a poster?

    Comment by Michael Finfer, MD — March 27, 2015 @ 4:52 am | Reply

    • I just did my interview with Dave Draper, chair of the program committee. Stay tuned for April 16.🙂 But as a very brief answer, it’s a very basic peer-review, and they try to err on the side of being more inclusive than exclusive. We did not speak to Brandenburg in particular in this episode (Dave didn’t want to do anything about naming names), but from looking at his abstract, I think the saving grace at least in the first one was a basic (trivial, trite) acknowledgement at the end that he may be wrong.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — March 27, 2015 @ 10:33 am | Reply

  3. For citation abuse, it would be hard to beat the pseudoscientists Richard Hoagland & Mike Bara:

    http://dorkmission.blogspot.com/2013/02/strong-lunar-glass-real-story.html

    Comment by expat — March 27, 2015 @ 7:41 am | Reply

  4. Of course this gets the Coast To Coast radio show exposure with all due seriousness. There’s rarely impartial questioning of critical scrutiny from listeners or the host. No one wants to knock anyone’s block off, but extraordinary claims require… well, you know the rest. The blogger crosses the line I think by bringing Mr. Brandenburg’s character into it. Yes, the blogger qualifies his observations as “gratuitous”, but it still looks like, “I don’t believe his crap and I’m gonna smear him. Oh by the way, I guess that looks a little subjective.” Apart from that, the blogger tries hard to relate the events carefully from memory without coming off as a barracuda.

    The trinitite issue I found particularly interesting. It is the tool of the crank to find something unnatural to an environment and make it fit. First comes the idea. What if Mars once had intelligence, but blew themselves up hundreds of millions of years ago? First they look up what happens in a nuclear explosision. Ahhh, it creates trinitite! If there’s trinitite on Mars, then it supports my hypothesis.

    So, as much I dearly love the exotic idea of a long lost civilization on Mars, it’s just wonderful science fiction. Even if we had a concrete conjecture of the possibility, I think a long lost civilization of hundreds of millions of years old would be impossible to confirm. The only remnants of a nuclear civilization easiest to detect would be space junk in perpetual high orbit around Mars. Although, over hundreds of millions of years most artificial satellites and junk would still disintegrate into dust I would think. Even archaeology on Mars would be futile. Everything on the surface you can forget about for sure. Artificial monuments, such a pyramidical mountain shapes are just too “flimsy” to withstand sandblasting of such long timeframes. Although, I will say that the so-called “pyramids” are interesting features on Mars and are worthy of investigation in their own right as a natural anomaly.

    That leaves what is buried under Mars. That’s pretty much impossible to investigate. If we can’t even examine what lies 2 miles under the Antarctica plateau ice sheet, what chance do we have with Mars as our technology stands?

    So while it’s fun to imagine a ancient (I mean really ancient) civilization on Mars, the proof of the reality is not something any human government could possibly even have to withhold from anyone.

    Comment by Richard — March 27, 2015 @ 11:54 pm | Reply

    • Nothing is from memory except for his remark to the one or two women across from him. Everything else is documented in photographs or audio recordings. The remark about his affect is relevant to how one should conduct themselves at a science conference or in general if one wants to be taken seriously. It’s not meant as a smear.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — March 27, 2015 @ 11:58 pm | Reply

    • Yes, the blogger qualifies his observations as “gratuitous”, but it still looks like, “I don’t believe his crap and I’m gonna smear him.

      I think that’s quite unfair. “The blogger” has clearly labeled his personal impressions as such. (You have noted this, but not practiced it! — “but it still looks to me like…” would have been better.)

      The subject of the post is the differences in way a pseudo-scientist presents himself in general, in a highly professional academic environment. The links at the start of the post to detailed analyses of Brandenburgs claims, which form the context for this more personal impression about the hallmarks of pseudo-science.

      Comment by Yakaru — March 28, 2015 @ 2:53 am | Reply

      • Goddammit, italics fail.

        Comment by Yakaru — March 28, 2015 @ 2:54 am

      • Okay, okay. “To me”, a lot of the character attack seemed petty and really not something relevant. Okay, the guy was a bit bumbling about the protocol of the thing, but to start inferring drunkeness and so forth is just looking for personal traits to fault. His abstract was rudimentary maybe, but the content is the thing – fringe or not. Carl Sagan once believed it was possible that Venus was a perpetually rainy place. The difference between Sagan and these guys is that he followed the evidence and not his idea.

        Comment by Richard — March 28, 2015 @ 3:23 am

  5. Almost every pseudoscientist wants to be taken seriously by real scientists, so being able to present a poster at LPSC was likely a dream come true for Dr. Brandenburg. From the blog and photos, I got the impression that he is probably more used to being at Ancient Aliens/UFO conventions, with a very relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by credulous true believers.

    He obviously was full of nervous energy, which probably explains why he wanted a beer, to help him calm down a bit. Even then, he wandered over to talk to the other nearby presenters, including the friend of Dr. Robbins. I agree that he should’ve been putting all that energy to use trying to convince passers-by to look over his poster. Perhaps his constant laughter is simply a sign of nervousness or stage fright?

    However, I was puzzled why he showed up so late to begin setting up. What day did the conference start? Was he told ahead of time when he would be presenting his poster? Did he arrive late due to flight delays or printing problems, or something else outside his control? I wish I had a bit more background information, but that might not be possible to obtain.

    Comment by Rick K. — March 28, 2015 @ 9:20 am | Reply

    • I can give you some more background. (1) Brandenburg has submitted abstracts to LPSC for many, many years, since 1986, in fact. So he is not new to this. (2) Every person who gets any talk or poster is e-mailed multiple times months in advance with when they are scheduled to present, when the poster should be up, rules, guidelines, and general recommendations for how to make a good poster. (3) The laughter was referring to past interviews (C2C, Dreamland, and Dark City). (4) I looked for his poster last year and it was not up, though based on this year that could be because he showed up late again. (5) Conference starts Monday and runs through Friday, though you can of course go for a more limited time. Regardless, as I said, you are told months in advance what you’re supposed to do. (6) I have heard through the grapevine that when his abstract from last year was rejected, he threatened to sue, and when they relented, he showed up late and was very rude to the logistical support at the conference.

      That’s about all the background I have for this particular conference and John Brandenburg.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — March 28, 2015 @ 9:38 am | Reply

      • Thank you, I appreciate the additional information. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear about my guess about his laughter, but it wasn’t specifically about his behavior at LPSC, but more general. I know I have a tendency to laugh a bit more than normal when I’m nervous, which is why I suspected he might do the same.

        So he did have sufficient warning about when he would be required to have his poster in place. Even if he planned on arriving that Tuesday, you’d think he would already have his poster ready to go in his carry-on luggage, so he could read it over during his trip and familiarize himself with the details. That way, he could go immediately to where the conference was being held and get his poster in place, well before the 18:00 start time. After that, he could then handle other things like checking into his hotel, getting a drink, changing clothes, whatever.

        If I’m getting this right, he doesn’t plan very well; he doesn’t follow conference rules; he puts a lot of energy into bragging to and chatting up other presenters instead of convincing passers-by to look over his poster. He’s been submitting abstracts since 1986, so he should have some experience with the whole process, but he shows all the signs of being a total newb.

        If he truly wants to be taken seriously, he should sit down and completely rethink his approach towards doing presentations at conferences like LPSC.

        Comment by Rick K. — March 29, 2015 @ 12:06 am

      • Yes, Rick, that’s basically it.

        Regarding laughing: I can’t read his mind, but I really don’t think that he’s nervous. The fact that he was going up to people at the conference – at a real science conference – indicates to me that he’s pretty outgoing / confident. I would think the same for a paranormal radio interview where the hosts are MUCH more likely to just take your word for things.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — March 30, 2015 @ 9:09 am

  6. Sorry to have to say it but both this blog and the comments following it provide no concrete engagement with the question raised by Brandenburg’s research. Everything written here concerns merely the blogger’s personal impressions of Brandenburg himself and of gossip by unnamed individuals passed along some personal grapevine. This purports to be science?

    Comment by Jeanne Ruppert — December 13, 2015 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

    • No, this post purports to discuss how you should act at a science conference and observations, with some pictures, of how Dr. Brandenburg violated most rules of how to act during a poster session.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 13, 2015 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

  7. That’s not a very interesting question, and it’s of course irrelevant to the significance of his research concerning the degree and type or radioactive isotopes on Mars and its potential significance relative to the history of Mars.

    Comment by Jeanne Ruppert — December 13, 2015 @ 6:13 pm | Reply

    • correction ^ : degree or type of (nor or)

      Comment by Jeanne Ruppert — December 13, 2015 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

    • What you are doing is the equivalent of reading a restaurant menu and complaining that it’s not a sci-fi thriller. This blog post had a very specific intent. You are complaining that it did not address something different. As I stated in the first paragraph under “Who Am I Talking About,” I have addressed Dr. Brandenburg’s claims several times before in other media and posts. The purpose of this post has nothing to do with his science claims.

      This post is important for several reasons, but perhaps most important to Dr. Brandenburg’s claims, is that in every interview I have heard him give about his Mars ideas, he makes efforts to state that he has presented his views at scientific conferences and that no one has challenged him. In those interviews, he uses this as a way to argue for the veracity of his claims (i.e., by saying that it has passed through a review, open for challenges, by people in the field). In this blog post, I gave a first-person account of one such presentation that he gave. If all such presentations of his are similar, and if he acts the same way at others, then not only is the claim itself* worthless, but he has shown a lack of how to purport oneself at a science conference and follow very basic, standard protocols (such as showing up on time and providing references for others’ work that you have used).

      *Presenting at a science conference in and of itself does not mean that your ideas are correct, and not being challenged by anyone at a science conference also does not mean that your ideas are correct.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 13, 2015 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

  8. I shouldn’t have commented here at all. I linked here by chance in looking for discussions of Brandenburg’s evidence for hypothesizing that Mars was subject to a nuclear holocaust. I’m still looking for an informed discussion concerning that evidence. If you’ve discussed it here, please give me a link to the page. If you know of other discussions of the evidence he offers, please link them, or just name the forum(s). Given the seriousness of his claim, I became slightly irritated by the concentration on his character, manner, style, disorganization etc. It wasn’t worth making an issue of that so I’m sorry I did. Please delete my posts if you prefer to do so. Best wishes.

    Comment by Jeanne Ruppert — December 15, 2015 @ 12:47 am | Reply

    • @Jeanne: I find it interesting that in one moment, you’re giving us drama about how much you regret having posted here, then the next minute, you arrogantly insist that Dr. Robbins do your work for you by digging up links to Brandenburg. If you don’t want to bother with this thread anymore, don’t post here again. If you still want to engage in conversation here, accept that this isn’t about Brandenburg’s evidence, but rather about how cavalier he is with his presentations at a scientific conference.

      As I remarked earlier in this thread, if Brandenburg wants to be taken seriously concerning his claims, he needs to be more willing to follow the rules that everyone else was going by at the conference. Otherwise, he won’t be taken as seriously by scientists as he’d like. Whether non-scientists like you or me believe his claims or not is irrelevant; scientists working in fields close to his topic would be the best to discern if there’s anything worth considering in what he’s saying, and if he has sufficient evidence to back him up.

      I hope you eventually find the links you’re looking for concerning Brandenburg’s assertions, and that you find an online conversation that is more conducive to your actual lines of interest about him.

      Comment by Rick K. — December 15, 2015 @ 7:48 am | Reply

    • I discussed his claims about Mars being host to an intelligent civilization before they got nuked in Episode 86 of my podcast. I also discussed his claims in the Feedback portion of Episode 93 and in the New News of Episode 121.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 15, 2015 @ 8:56 am | Reply

      • Thank you for linking me to your other discussions of Brandenburg’s hypothesis. Much appreciated.

        Comment by Jeanne Ruppert — December 15, 2015 @ 12:13 pm

  9. Not to be backing Brandenburg up here but your claims of him being drunk is about as weak as his claims about Mars. Your rebuke of his work is pretty thin here as well you actually spent more time knocking his presentation style and time keeping than you actually did his work. Can you provide me with some solid information on why you don’t like his work an maybe leave his character out of it. I don’t mind the fact that you don’t trust his work but there seems to be some character assassination going on here as well

    Comment by Daniel MC daid — June 6, 2016 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

  10. Why don’t you spend some ink actually addressing what he has to say rather than this snooty and bloated ramble on his affect and presentation? Perhaps you can attend the upcoming conference of the American institute of astronautics and Aeronautics, where his paper has been accepted, and give him some tips.

    Comment by David Williams — August 26, 2016 @ 7:05 am | Reply

    • David, please learn how to read. I’ve responded to this exact comment numerous times in this post.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 26, 2016 @ 8:06 am | Reply

      • Thanks – just had a read and came across this from you “No, this post purports to discuss how you should act at a science conference and observations, with some pictures, of how Dr. Brandenburg violated most rules of how to act during a poster session”

        Now Stuart, I dont know you from a bar of soap, I havent listened to your podcast, I know nothing about your motivations, your background, your assumptions..nothing at all. I’ll make a huge assumption and have a guess that you are a science academic of some description with good motivations to protect the scientific method of inquiry. But now a little about my background – Ive been a barrister (what Americans call a trial attorney) for 16 years, a popular science reader for as long, and I studied all science and maths at college before university – so Im acutely aware of differing standards between balance of probabilities, beyond reasonable doubt, methods of historical enquiry, and the difference between anecdotal evidence and replicable results achieved under proper protocols. And accurate referencing.

        What offended me about this particular post is the assumption that amateurism = bad science. If you know your science history it is replete with examples of amateurs persisting in the face of orthodoxy and being integral to the next paradigmatic scientific shift.

        There are lots of people, including me, all around the planet, and we are growing quickly in number, who have become very cynical about the way that the science funders are shutting out legitimate enquiry in areas I suspect you what call the “fringe” or “woo”. Careers, reputations, grant money (all of which are connected to an academic’s ability to make his/her mortgage payments) are entrenched upon prevailing orthodoxy, and to the extent that the orthodoxy has to change, managing that change. There are now numerous studies which demonstrate that science trials are influenced by the outcome that is desired by the entity funding the trial. That has horrible consequences for proper inquiry.

        We are getting impatient. People like you are losing us as an audience. Your faithful audience is becoming people who have gone beyond scepticism to science fundamentalism.

        This is not the forum to engage in particular studies on ESP, near death experiences, statistical studies on the accuracy of mediumship, time slips, UFOs etc etc etc – but I can assure you Stuart that really interesting work is being done by people with real academic credentials all around the globe on these “woo” areas. The tragedy is that many are doing it on the quiet in their own time because it jeopardises their careers.

        Are you reading their papers? Are you keeping up to date? Have you read Brandenburg’s paper which his latest book is based on? Are you being intellectually open and honest Stuart?

        The coming shift needs open minded scientists on board sooner rather than later. If not, it becomes a war between new age Youtube bullshit propagandists, and increasingly closed-minded academics – with a gullible public in the middle increasingly open to fundamentalism and manipulation.

        So back to Brandenburg: he’s not strictly an amateur but he is undoubtedly amateurish at times in his methodology and presentation. But he has something really interesting to say – which is what I care about more than his amateurism – so lets play the ball and not the man. Debunk the science, not the man.

        Comment by David Williams — August 26, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

      • I do find it interesting, Mr. Williams, that you immediately state you have done zero research about Stuart Robbins before you began your reply. You also spend a brief time bragging about how much experience you have in matters of law, which is not the same as experience in doing scientific research. In other words, you admit that you are profoundly ignorant of Dr. Robbins and how the scientific method works.

        Just about everything you say after that amounts to conjecture. Scientists do not use a standard of “reasonable doubt” in testing their hypotheses; that’s for the courts. Let’s put it simply: if you don’t have repeatable, testable, falsifiable evidence to back your claims, scientists will not accept what you’re saying.

        I’m sorry if I have the exact wording wrong, but it’s that simple, and that difficult. Especially when the person making the claim is bordering on the edge of “woo”. For example, Alfred Wegener, a meteorologist who came up with what would eventually become plate tectonics, didn’t have any real evidence to back his claim. It was an outrageous thing to put forward at the time. Scientists then wouldn’t accept his idea. Eventually, other scientists took his idea and ran with it, using better measurement technology available in the 1960s and beyond. Thus we have a theory with lots of good evidence supporting its validity.

        If Brandenburg does have something useful to contribute to science, he needs to find a way to back his claim, without looking like a hopeless, self-deluded amateur. If he’s more interested in kicking back and drinking a beer or two at the conference, while trying to sell his claim like a used car salesman, instead of doing the hard work beforehand to come up with a decent hypothesis and some supporting evidence that isn’t obviously cobbled together out of whole cloth, then he doesn’t even deserve the moniker of amateur scientist.

        Maybe we should just wait and see if future scientists dust off his documentation and give it another try, once our society has advanced enough technologically to actually test what he’s talking about.

        Comment by Rick K. — August 27, 2016 @ 12:32 am

  11. Rick, have you read his paper?

    Comment by David Williams — August 27, 2016 @ 2:52 am | Reply

    • David, have you read about any of the other possibilities for Xe-129? You know, what real geologists are saying as opposed to someone who already has his mind made up that Mars had an intelligent form of life on it. I’ve said this many times before, but you’ve apparently missed it so I’ll say it again: If he wants to be taken seriously by any scientists, he has to publish in the peer-reviewed literature. As this post clearly points out, and I discussed in episode 130 when talking with one of the people in charge of organizing these science conferences, the threshold of evidence for what is presented at a scientific conference is orders of magnitude below what is required for peer-reviewed literature.

      I would posit that the reason John hasn’t is because (a) he knows that his evidence could never pass through real experts who have to sit down and read it, and (b) because his appearance at scientific conferences is enough to keep him on the alternative media circuit for people to buy his books so he has zero motivation to try to go through peer review (and where, as this post documented with his appearance at LPSC, he can just show up very late, get a beer, and barely interact with people, and still claim he “held fort” and “no one contradicted” him, making it sound like he was there the whole time and had loads of people asking him questions).

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 27, 2016 @ 3:13 pm | Reply

    • David, if you’re referring to his claim that intelligent life on Mars was eradicated by nuclear weapon attacks, then yes, but that was quite a while back. It seemed he had already made up his mind about certain unsubstantiated details. This invalidated everything else he said, since he didn’t have evidence to back up anything except the large amount of Xenon-129 in Mars’ atmosphere. Up until recently, no scientist had come up with a convincing explanation for that phenomenon. Mr. Brandenburg thought he saw an answer, but he started off with his own assumptions, and didn’t bother to provide any evidence for them. Instead, his argument was almost circular, saying the Xe-129 suggested a nuclear explosion, which in turn suggested intelligent life to produce such an explosion, bringing him back to his initial idea that intelligent life was once on Mars.

      What I’ve learned about the scientific method has come from reading and listening to talks by various scientists willing to educate enthusiasts like me. Mr. Brandenburg strikes me as an enthusiast as well, but somewhere along the way, he got lost in “woo”. I think he definitely wants to prove he’s a scientist, but he doesn’t seem to want to do the tedious, repetitive work necessary to actually be one. I know I could never do it, which is why I am not a scientist. I can sympathize with him, but now that I understand the scientific method better, I was able to spot where he went awry. And if I could see the flaws in his paper, scientists in fields close to that topic would tear his argument to shreds.

      Comment by Rick K. — August 28, 2016 @ 1:45 pm | Reply


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