Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 10, 2017

About Accepting and Rejecting Claims

I was contacted in the recent past by a listener inquiring about various claims that I’ve written (here) or spoken (podcast) about, and whether me not talking about certain things or choosing to ignore certain claims means that I agree with them. I explained my position via email, but in lieu of an on-time podcast episode (sorry … now a week late), I thought I’d explain my position here, too.

For me, to either accept a claim or to reject a claim means that you (or me, in this case, since I’m talking about me) would need to actively form an opinion about something and then state that opinion somewhere so others know about it. That latter part isn’t necessarily required, but it does constitute documentation of acceptance or rejection of said claim.

In this case, the opposite is also true: If I do not actively form an opinion about something, I have neither accepted nor rejected it. Is red wine or white wine better? For me, someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I have no opinion in my own mind nor have I stated that opinion because I simply have not thought about it.

Could there be a knee-jerk reaction to something or could one accept or reject something by default before exploring it? Sure — Brian Dunning did an episode of Skeptoid about this maybe a year or so ago that, to exist in normal society, we can’t be a skeptic about everything. For example, I take it for granted that the electromagnetic force making me a solid object will keep me in my car, and I and my car won’t fall through the road. I take it for granted that my alarm clock will go off when I tell it to, that the operating system on my phone will just keep working, and I could go on with a myriad of other examples.

On the other side, I’ve gotten all sorts of “outside the mainstream” feedback for my Exposing PseudoAstronomy “brand.” For example, I had a woman e-mail me earlier this year claiming that chemtrails are crazy conspiracy, but that she had proof in a photograph that a certain cloud formation was actually the angelic Host of Heaven coming forth to Earth. I ignored the e-mail.

In ignoring that e-mail, does that mean that that woman should think that I accepted her position? Absolutely not – it would be pretty crazy to interpret a non-response as an acceptance of someone’s position. Should she assume that I don’t agree with her because I did not respond? She might, and my knee-jerk reaction is to disagree with that kind of message, but in fairness, I did not investigate and so I opted not to form a formal opinion on the matter. Do I consider it unlikely? Of course. But formally, I have neither accepted nor rejected her claim.

The same goes for many other kinds of messages I get from other individuals, as well: While I appreciate feedback, though am always behind in responding, if you send me a claim that you believe in, my failure to respond indicates neither acceptance nor rejection of that claim. However, if that claim is one that I have already looked into and have copious writings on in the past – for example, a young-Earth creationist claim, or Planet X, or much of Richard Hoagland’s material – then one can look to that material and likely infer my response.

But, to interpret a lack of response as me accepting your position is dishonest and could be considered libelous, depending on how far you go.


January 3, 2016

On Tap Today: Update

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Stuart Robbins @ 2:16 pm

This blog has fallen by the wayside, and I feel horrible about both that and my delays in getting out the podcasts for mid-December and January 1. I definitely owe those of you who follow my work an explanation, and I’m going to try to be at least a teensy bit better about the blog.

The Explanation

First off, work. Last year was major for me for two big reasons: New Horizons and funded grants. New Horizons extended me such that I was employed from mid-2014 to mid-2015, and I wrote 5 grant proposals in late 2014 as a last-gasp attempt to stay a planetary scientist. New Horizons gave me a lot of work post-June, and I received two of the five grants I wrote. The total time that I have allocated — as in, Money ÷ wage — is more than 100% time now.

I’m a salaried employee, meaning I cannot charge more than 100% time. Meaning that I can get extensions on my grants to spread the work over more years (4 instead of 3), and I’m working to hire someone so I can use the money faster and work less. But, I also actually want to do the work that I’m funded to do, and I need to show the NASA program officers that I’ve actually done work before I can get money for years 2 and 3 of the grants.

In addition to that, I have work on 4 other projects, besides New Horizons, that are lead by other researchers and they require (perhaps obviously) that I do the work for them in a timely manner, as well. This means that I’ve been averaging a lot of time worked, though of course still charging only 40 hours per week (the “full-time” rate in the United States).

Because of this, I’ve had very little time to work on this blog or my podcast.

I’ve also been traveling a lot for work. In 2015, it was 16 trips. In 2016, I already have 13 on the calendar, possibly up to 3 more. This is not conducive to regularly scheduled things like a podcast.

To give you an idea of my current work load over the next 5 weeks, I have about 300 hours of work to get done. Doable, but I also have 3 trips during that time period, two of them being ones where I cannot get ANY other work done. I also have a journal paper due on January 31 based on New Horizons work.


So here’s what my plans are right now. I’m still going to try to put out two podcast episodes that are dated in a calendar month. So you’ll still get a December 16 and January 1 and January 16, etc. episode. But they may be backdated. A lot. The Dec 16 and Jan 1 will be modern Flat Earth stuff, in two parts.

For the blog, I’ve found myself posting a lot to the Facebook page for the podcast, just little snippets of things I’ve been listening to or news stories. I’m going to try to move that to this blog, which automatically posts to Facebook.

And I’m going to try to do it more often by not having such long blog posts that really turn into essays. These posts might be 100 words or less. But, it should be more frequent. I also will try to do just one per day (max) such that if I have more than one, I’ll schedule it to post later such that you get more regular content.

It also won’t have these kinds of section headers anymore … short posts don’t merit them.

Final Thoughts

So, that’s the plan right now for 2016. It’s not ideal, but I enjoy being employed, and I’m not going to give up a grant at this point because they are quite difficult to get (funding rates for 2014 proposals, which were awarded in 2015, by NASA, averaged 15%). I’m hoping my new hire will help things significantly, but we’ll see.

Thank you for understanding, and I appreciate all of you who comment, interact in other ways, and have kept following my outreach efforts despite their irregularity.

August 3, 2014

No New Podcasts This Month

Filed under: Miscellaneous,podcast — Stuart Robbins @ 6:49 pm

I announced this on Twitter and on Facebook, but I forgot here: There will be no new podcast episodes this month. I am simply way too busy. I have two conferences that span two weeks total, back-to-back, several grant proposals to work on, and about five different projects for work. Unfortunately, the podcast takes several dedicated days to do each month, and in August, I do not have that time I can devote to it to give it some semblance of quality.

I hope to return to the regular schedule in September.

January 10, 2013

Another Completely Arbitrary Milestone Reached: 500,000 Blog Views

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Stuart Robbins @ 3:00 pm
Tags: , ,

On September 3, 2008, roughly 4 years 4 months 7 days ago, I launched this blog. It took me 17.5 months to get to 100,000 views. It took another 18 months to get to 250,000 views. It took 16 months after that to double it and get to 500,000 views. One can almost fit a straight line there :).

As with the last two times, I think it’s apropos to take a brief look at some of the stats over the last very roughly 1589.8097 days.

  • My busiest day was still on June 16, 2010, thanks to Phil Plait when he blogged about my run-in with and subsequent threats by the astrologer Terry Nazon. Over 12,000 people visited my blog thanks to Phil, but in that day, it topped at 7,985.
  • Over the last year, the busiest day was December 20 (due to all my posts regarding December 21, 2012), with 2,798 page views. December 21 added another 2,303, for over 5,000 views due to 2012 stuff on those two days.
  • I have made 313 posts (this is 314), and there have been 3,507 comments. Obviously the comments are not evenly distributed among the posts. Meanwhile, over 75,700 spam comments have been caught.
  • The top link people have clicked on, with 9,011 clicks, is to my image of what the sky looks like on December 21, 2012 … again (this was the top last time). The next-top is to the NASA site with images of Apollo from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, with 707 clicks, though that’s only about 60 above what it was at 250,000 posts. If you narrow it to the last year, then the next-top click was to my context image of the claimed lunar ziggurat.
  • With the top-clicked file in mind, it is perhaps fitting that the top five posts people have read are about Planet X & 2012. The most popular with 27,428 views is on What the Sky Looks Like on December 21, 2012, which pushed down the previous top two to second and third place (magnetic pole shift and proof Earth is not currently undergoing a geographic pole shift). For the year of 2012, though, the third-most-popular post with 4,839 views was, “Richard Hoagland’s Ziggurat on the Moon: Hoax or Fraud, but Not Real.” The video I created for that has been downloaded nearly 9,000 times (how’s that, Expat?).
  • In how people are getting here, the top non-search-engine referrer is Facebook (in 2012) and Phil Plait’s blog for all time.
  • Also on the topic of referrers, the top two search terms that get people here are “Terry Nazon” with 1,789 clicks, “Planet X” with 1,195 clicks, “pseudoastronomy” for 1,183 clicks, and “Define:Theory in Science” with 1,146. The first and third are new for this time, and in 2012, the top was “exposing pseudoastronomy.” I think that’s both a good and bad thing. Good in that it means I’m generating a “brand” much in the same way that “Bad Astronomy” = Phil Plait and it has name recognition. It’s bad in the sense that I would like if more people got here by searching for the topics that I write about.
  • Something new that WordPress added in early 2012 was country stats. The vast majority of people who read this come from the USA with 106,500 views. Next comes the UK at nearly 17,000 views, and Canada is third at 12,775 (I’m assuming that Karl Mamer doesn’t account for all of those). The first non-English-speaking country is in 5th place overall, India, at 3,000 views.

With all that in mind, I’ll wrap up this short, self-congratulatory post and work towards the next arbitrary milestone of … one million views! Assuming I stay on WordPress, I predict I’ll be able to write that post before the end of 2015 … a reasonably safe bet after accounting for extra traffic due to 2012 stuff.

July 19, 2012

Free Science for All! (in England, Anyway)


I’ll introduce this post by saying that, the more I age, the more my political/social/financial ideas turn somewhat libertarian. Not that I support Ron Paul, not that I support a teensy tiny impotent government, but I think that some models of business are antiquated and that many redundant bureaucracies need to be eliminated.

Why am I discussing politics? It’s because of how scientific journals work. A new proposal in Britain indicates we might be in for a change, and I think for the better.

How Journals Work

For at least the past several decades, if not century or two, most main-stream scientific journals would work as follows: Author writes paper, editor evaluates paper, editor rejects or sends out for independent review, reviews go back-and-forth for a bit, then paper is ultimately accepted or rejected.

At this point, or even upon initial submission, the author is required to sign over all copyright claims to the paper that they wrote. The journal then owns the copyright. The journal will publish the paper, maintain it in their archives, and has all rights of distribution and reproduction.

The author also has to pay the journal to publish their paper in what we call “page fees.” This can cost upwards of several thousand dollars (my last two papers were $2400 and $2600, respectively). In the past, authors were given personal “preprints” that usually numbered 50ish gratis after which they had to pay for more; they could then give these to colleagues. Otherwise, the authors had to pay for a copy of their paper. Nowadays, this is handled by author personal copy PDFs, and we are still legally forbidden from keeping copies of papers on our personal websites (though most violate this).

To recap: Author does work, then has to pay journal to publish their paper, journal owns all copyrights and author cannot distribute nor can colleagues get a copy unless they or their institution subscribes to the journal. The public getting free access? –forget about it.

Given my first paragraph in the intro, you can guess how I feel about this model. (I think it’s antiquated and outdated and we need something new, if you couldn’t tell). I understand that it was a model that probably worked well for awhile and I can understand the purpose in, say, the 1930s – and maybe even the 1990s – but not today.

It should also be noted that most of us are now funded through government agencies/institutes and that our grants pay both for our work. As in, public money paying for us to do research, then paying for us to publish them, but the publications being closed to people unless they pay for it yet again.

Open Access Journals

There are several journals that do not have paywalls, and I applaud them. Unfortunately, they are usually lower-tier journals that authors do not want to publish in because they have a low Impact Factor (IF) – a measure of how often articles from them are cited. (The journal Science has an IF of around 49, Nature has 52, while the highest IF planetary journal that’s NOT affiliated with either of those is around 3.5-4.0.)

There are some exceptions. The Astrophysical Journal is one of them, as is Astronomy and Astrophysics. These are two major astrophysics journals and their articles are generally free. But, no big planetary journal follows this model, and I do not know about other fields. Science and Nature, the two highest IF journals in the world, do not have open access.

The United Kingdom Takes Notice

Apparently, someone in the UK has taken notice of this and decided they agree with me. Well, not me specifically, but their thinking is similar to mine. To quote:

“Currently, scientists and members of the public have to pay the leading scientific journals to see research that has already been paid for from the public purse. Under new proposals the government will pay publishers a fee each time a paper is published. In return the research will be available to those who wish to see it. The total cost of the subsidy is estimated to be £50m a year which will be taken from funds that would otherwise have been spent on research.”

That last line makes sense to me. I’ve submitted two grants to NASA this year, and in the budget section, I had to guesstimate how many papers would come from the research, in what journal(s) I would publish them, and how much it would cost. Then this cost per year was added as a line-item to the budget. If I didn’t have to do that, it would make budgeting a tad easier and it would throw out several middlemen.

Final Thoughts

There are of course critics of this. And publishers will likely be ticked. I doubt the current model can survive too much longer, but I also doubt that the proposal in the UK will survive in exactly its current form, and I’m sure it will be even longer before it catches on in other countries.

I hope that it does, though, at least in some form that preserves the intent. I recently had a press release about some of my research, and several journalists asked me for a copy of the paper. I could not provide it to them legally because I had not been given my personal author copy yet, and I think that’s bad.

March 31, 2012

Upcoming Posts This Week

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Stuart Robbins @ 2:39 am
Tags: , ,

As my busy travel schedule winds down until July, you can hopefully expect some more blog posts beyond the podcast announcements. And Coast to Coast AM is going to offer up some “good” ones. Tomorrow night (March 31) they’re interviewing John Lear. April Fools Day is Hugh Ross, one of the main young-Earth creationists who knows something about astronomy. April 2 will be Richard Hoagland to “share the latest space news.” Three shows right in a row that should provide some material for blog posts. And then we have some stuff on Jason Lisle, another young-Earth creationist who knows about astronomy.

December 31, 2011

My Prediction for 2012

2013 will come without a problem with the human race pretty much as it is now, with nothing happening on the Dec 21, 2012 date that 2012ers claim.

To quote my favorite psychic prediction from Coast to Coast AM last year, “There will be no really big changes, it’ll be ‘pretty much the same-old-same-old.’ There’ll be some crises, medical advances, etc., but that’s what happens every year.”

Enjoy whatever celebrations you may do on today, this arbitrary date of a major calendar ending … and starting again.

September 12, 2011

Completely Arbitrary Milestone Reached: 250,000 Blog Views

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Stuart Robbins @ 2:08 pm
Tags: , ,

I launched this blog back on September 3, 2008, for all intents and purposes 3 full years ago (and 9 days for you OCD’ers). It seems fitting, then, that my arbitrary milestone of 250,000 blog views has occurred today.

Just like my 100,000 blog-view milestone back in March, 2010, I missed the tipping point. This time it was because I was baking for a conference as opposed to being at a conference.

It took 18 months to get to 100,000, and it took another 18 months to get to 250,000. You can almost fit a line between those.

I think it’s apropos to take a brief look at some of the stats for the last three years.

  • My busiest day was on June 16, 2010, thanks to Phil Plait when he blogged about my run-in and subsequent threats by the astrologer Terry Nazon. Over 12,000 people visited my blog thanks to Phil, but in that day, it topped at 7,985.
  • I have made 175 posts (this is 176), and there have been 1,798 comments. Obviously the comments are not evenly distributed among the posts.
  • The top link people have clicked on, with 4,452 clicks, is to my image of what the sky looks like on December 21, 2012. The next-top is to the NASA site with images of Apollo from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, with 648 clicks.
  • With the top-clicked file in mind, it is perhaps fitting that the top five posts people have read are about Planet X & 2012. The most popular with 15,972 views is on the magnetic pole shift, while the very close second is on proof Earth is not currently undergoing a geographic pole shift.
  • In how people are getting here, obviously the top referrer is from Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” blog, with the second-highest from 2012 Predictions.net.
  • Also on the topic of referrers, the top two search terms that get people here are “Planet X” with 1,195 clicks, and “Define:Theory in Science” with 1,146.

With all that in mind, I’ll wrap up this short, self-congratulatory post and work towards the next arbitrary milestone of 500,000! Let’s see if we can get there before the world ends, shall we?

August 22, 2011

New Comments Policy

Filed under: introduction,Miscellaneous — Stuart Robbins @ 4:20 pm

This is a short announcement: Recent events have caused me to decide I need a formal comments policy. It can be found here.

June 12, 2011

I Welcome My Argument from Authority and Location in My Ivory Tower

Hello all. I know I haven’t posted in awhile – I think twice in the last five months or so. As stated back in January, I was working on graduating. As the title for this very short post suggests, I did. I’m now in that ~5% of people in the world that has a Ph.D. Actually, a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. And we all know what those stand for (since this is a PG-rated blog, I won’t go into that, but you can look it up).

And so, I am now able to use the argument from authority, “I have a Ph.D. I’m right, you’re wrong.” And I can be content living in my Ivory Tower of academia, isolated in my own field without any consideration for others, thinking deep thoughts and adding to the elitist knowledge that the Illuminati and Bilderberg Group use to run the world behind the scenes.

Or — wait. Maybe not. I have two half-time postdocs, one continuing my previous work, one being project and science lead of the citizen science project Moon Zoo, and yet other than a small salary increase, nothing has changed. I still work most of the time from my apartment and I still drive the same budget car. I’m still studying craters, though I’ve expanded from Mars and am obviously also now looking at the Moon. I still have to tie my findings into the bigger picture since nothing in science exists in isolation, and I’m still just as fallible as I was before. Or maybe that’s just what I want you to think.

Anyway, now that I’m done with my degree and starting to figure out how to get my motivation back in gear, you can start to expect more regular blog posts. I’m still working on my 2012 Astronomy eBook/PDF doc, and — shhh! don’t tell anyone! — I’m tossing around the idea of a podcast based upon this blog (if the Dumbass can do it, so can I). As far as I can tell, other than Phil Plait’s defunct but still-available-on-iTunes podcast, no one actually has a “bad astronomy” podcast out there (if I’m wrong – which I can’t be because I have a Ph.D. now – please post a link to it in the comments). The format would be short and sweet, I’m thinking of bi-monthly and a 15-20 minute format.

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