Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 16, 2015

Podcast Episode 130: Dealing with Pseudoscience at Scientific Conferences (and #LPSC2015)

The Iv’ry Tower
Of science: Who can get in,
And who remains out?

Second in the three-part series: Have you ever wondered how decisions are made about who can and who cannot present at a scientific conference? Then listen to this episode! I interviewed Dr. Dave Draper, who chairs the program selection committee for the largest annual planetary science conference in the world. We talked about a lot of things, from the basics on the (incredibly minimal) requirements of submitting a presentation request to how decisions are made. We also discussed a few hypotheticals using real-world examples of pseudoscience that I’ve talked about on the blog and podcast.

The episode, like most of my interviews have been, is nearly an hour long, but I found it an interesting discussion and learned some things, so hopefully you will, too. There were not other segments in this episode, though I did do a follow-up because of what happened to air on Coast to Coast that evening, a mere 12 hours after Dave and I had finished recording, and it led me to disagree with him at least a bit on one point.

The next episode is going to be a bit of a catch-up on things that have been piling up since I started the Hale-Bopp saga back in March. I’ll do a bit of pseudoscience with whether or not the lunar eclipse we had in April was really a full one – and implications for the “Blood Moon” crapola – a lot of feedback including discussion about some points raised by Pamela Gay in episode 130, and the Leonard Nimoy tribute.



  1. Thank you for conducting the interview. Dr. Draper was very nice in letting you lead him around, but he probably suspected (or knew) you were planning on indirectly discussing Dr. Brandenburg. And sad to say, your prediction about the latter getting some extra “traction” from his presentation has come true, at least with RCH believing him.

    I know you are concerned about several hundred thousand people being influenced by this, but statistically, that is just a drop in the bucket of the entire population of humans. Those who will believe Mars was nuked were probably inclined to accept such anyway. Many will dig further and hopefully stumble onto your blogs and/or podcasts. All you can do is present the facts and the evidence pointing to what is really happening on Mars, as far as we’ve been able to determine.

    I think Dr. Brandenburg’s hypothesis is essentially a variation on the “gaps” apologetic, with aliens filling in where we don’t have sufficient knowledge. Or since you’ve been talking about fallacies lately, this is an argument from ignorance: “We don’t know everything that happened on Mars, so it’s possible that aliens used nuclear weapons there sometime in the past.”

    Going by what Dr. Draper said during the interview, he will likely not approve any more discussions of this matter at LPSC, but will encourage Dr. Brandenburg to move on to other topics instead. That shouldn’t slow Dr. Brandenburg down, since as you pointed out in an earlier blog, he’s been submitting abstracts since 1986. He should consider learning how to write well, and start turning out science fiction stories.

    Comment by Rick K. — April 17, 2015 @ 5:35 am | Reply

    • For some background, we had talked a lot about this before-hand. I met with him at LPSC and we talked for a half hour in addition to a few e-mails prior to that, and his only restriction was that we did not name names. That’s why we didn’t talk about Jon Brandenburg specifically.

      But, everything he said about following up with these kinds of presentations holds, and my report will be used next year.

      I also agree that, as I said during the episode, I may be somewhat hypersensitive to the issue when I hear about this on C2C. And you’re right, a few hundred thousand is around 0.1% of the US population, and there are non-US listeners in that number.

      I e-mailed Dave when the episode was posted, and his response was along similar lines, that while he may not have realized that it would be used by quite as broad an audience, it’s more that most of those people only talk to each other rather than to others and to policy makers, and that’s his bigger concern. If someone were to submit an abstract saying that climate change is a hoax, that would probably get more scrutiny because that could have the potential to affect policy a lot more than whether Mars was nuked by aliens.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 17, 2015 @ 8:59 am | Reply

  2. Thank you for a very interesting interview. Co-incidentally I was watching a skeptical vodcast series about a long running series of youtube videos called “Spirit Science” (Rationalwiki has a great page on it.), which peddles a lot of sacred geometry nonsense and cites Hoaglands work on the Face on Mars in support of the same.

    One of the other people cited in support of the claims made by the “Spirit Science” is a peddler of pseudo-physics named Nassim Haramein (Who also has a page on Rationalwiki), supposedly he went to a Computer Conference and gave a paper in which he claimed that photons are actually black holes and the people running the conference stated that it was the best physcis paper given at the computer conference….

    So it seems that pseudo-scientist will go to any conference and claim whatever they want, which is pretty much what the do all the time anyway.

    Comment by Graham — April 19, 2015 @ 5:54 am | Reply

    • Yup, I remember Nassim making that argument before. Very, very annoying.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 19, 2015 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  3. Not related to anything but I wanted to make a request for a podcast topic… Apparently early this May some ‘earth shattering’ alien autopsy slides will be released. I know it’s not in your usual set of topics but I thought maybe there could be some discussion of it. Info about older photography methods, dating, deterioration, provenance, etc would be interesting especially in light of your earlier episodes on digital photography.

    I’ve for the first time been educating myself on the stuff behind Roswell, some other ideas: intro to Project Bluebook, military protocols or other procedures that might/not exist for alien landings, or weather balloons and mistaken identity.

    Or you know, whatever. You’re in charge of content and I hate it when people dictate copy to the podcaster 🙂

    Comment by flip — April 20, 2015 @ 5:28 am | Reply

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