Exposing PseudoAstronomy

February 4, 2017

Podcast Episode 157: Special Cross-Over with The Reality Check, Astronomy Edition

Altern’tive Title:
Yes, Virginia, there really
Is a Canada.

An episode three months in the making, a cross-over with the crew of The Reality Check (Cheque?) podcast: Astronomy! I had wanted to have the group on this podcast because they had been so generous over the last few years having me on several times, but I couldn’t figure out a good angle. Then, someone (sorry, forget who, but it wasn’t me) suggested we just do a TRC-style show but with astronomy topics. The Reality Check, for those of you who do not know, is a weekly Canadian show that is now just under a half-hour that has four hosts and typically three completely random segments per show. It’s almost nine years old, and it’s kept with that basic format throughout its entire run.

For almost all the segments, I asked them to choose topics from various requests that I’ve gotten over the years. We also did a quiz, in TRC style, that gave me a new appreciation for those on the show who conduct those quizzes every few episode. It clocks in at a little over an hour, which is still short considering that my original audio was nearly 1 hour 50 minutes. Pat Roach, the producer of TRC, did the first cut at merging everyones’ audio and cutting out all the stutters and restarts, so a big thanks to him because I did very little after his first cut.

Totally Not Creepy Podcast Cross-Over Episode

Totally Not Creepy Podcast Cross-Over Episode

October 23, 2016

Podcast Episode 150: Is Dark Matter Liberal Pseudoscience?

WTF is this
“Dark Matter” stuff, anyway?
Lib’ral poppycock?

Getting away from Earth and going to the biggest scales of the universe, this episode addresses dark matter. I think I can justify it as being on such an important episode (150!!) because I spend the bulk of the episode trying to make the case to you, the listener, that dark matter is real science, in contrast with pseudoscience.

There are two additional segments in this episode: Logical fallacies and two announcements, including an announcement about the release schedule (duh — it’s not exactly on the 1st and 16th of the month).

I also must apologize for the audio – again – on this episode. Only in the editing process did I hear that it sounds horribly muffled/garbled, especially during the first 6 minutes. I’ve had issues with my Blue®™ Yeti® microphone ever since I bought it more than five years ago. I think it might finally be dying, but I’ll try a few things next time and test. Sigh. Thought based on the audio starting around 20 minutes in, which is when I re-started the software, I think it’s possible that I was going in through my laptop’s microphone instead of the Yeti. Again: Sigh.

Conservapedia on the Liberal Pseudoscience of Dark Matter

Conservapedia on the Liberal Pseudoscience of Dark Matter

February 1, 2015

Podcast Episode 125: The Black Hole Conspiracy

Black holes: Are these dense,
Massive objects for realz, or
Are they just Sci Fi?

This is a bit different from a straight-up old-school “debunking” episode where the emphasis is more on the process of science and process of elimination rather than solid, cannot-be-dismissed evidence for something. That’s because, by definition (we think), black holes cannot be directly observed. That’s why I use a part of a blog post by Mike Bara as a very rough outline to go through some of the theoretical reasons for why we think black holes exist and then some of the observational evidence from material interacting with the theoretical objects.

This episode continues the Logical Fallacies segment and introduces you to the Burden of Proof fallacy. Which is a tricky one. There are also some old stalwarts like Argument from incredulity, argument from ridicule, ad hominem, straw man, and argument from authority.

And, for the first time in what seems like a year, there’s Q&A!!!

I’m still doing my listening “research” for the Hale-Bopp episodes, which is looking like there’s so much material that I may turn it into a three-parter. We’ll see. Hard to say at this point. It’s slated to be the next episode, but I may have to postpone that if I haven’t finished listening in time, and I’ll do a different episode instead. I’m also trying to line up at least two future interviews, but given past experience, I’m loathe to announce them before they’re recorded.

March 22, 2010

Conservapedia Calls Black Holes and Dark Matter “Liberal Pseudoscience”


I’ve yet to really do any post that has anything to do with politics, as that’s usually not relevant to astronomy (one would hope …). Alas, I have found a case where it is: The bastion of knowledge, Conservapedia.

What’s Conservapedia?

For those few of you who may not know, Conservapedia is a reaction to what was and is perceived by some to be a “liberal bias” in the omnipresent Wikipedia. For more information on that, you can view Conservapedia’s entry on “Bias in Wikipedia”. Among issues it cites are: “Wikipedia’s article on engineering features a photo of … an offshore wind turbine, which is an inefficient liberal boondoggle and certainly not a representative example of engineering. None even exist off the shores of the United States because they are not competitive.”

That may give you an idea of what Conservapedia is about. Additionally, almost all of their “science” articles contain large amounts of space devoted to the Creationist perspective, and they recently began a project to re-write the Bible in order to remove what they see as liberal biases in it. If you really need more examples, take a look at their entries on evolution, abortion, homosexuality, and Barack Obama. I choose not to hot-link these on purpose.

“Liberal Pseudoscience”

It may not be surprising to readers of this blog, but some fundamentalist, literal-Bible believers have some issues with the conclusions of modern science. That’s not the point of this post — I’ve been told I ramble somewhat, so let’s get straight to the point: Conservapedia lists Dark Matter and Black Holes as “Liberal Pseudoscience.” For some reason, it lists these along side “Moral Relativism” and “Wormholes” in its “Liberal Pseudoscience” category under the Theory of Relativity. How Moral Relativism fits in there is beyond me … same with wormholes, for that matter.

Final Thoughts

That’s really the point of this non-rambling post – point this out, and just kinda shake my head. First, I have no idea what black holes or dark matter ever did to conservatives. Or young-Earth creationists, for that matter. The existence of black holes and dark matter are completely compatible with what creationists have come up with in their “models” of a <10,000-year-old universe, unless they're just offended by the joke that, "Black holes are where God divided by zero."

I've been considering doing a post on the evidence for dark matter, so I guess I'll ask here — is anyone interested in a post on the evidence for the existence of black holes? Let me know in the Comments.

December 17, 2008

The Milky Way’s Black Hole Verified – Creationists Still Work Around It with Non Sequiturs


About a week ago, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) sent out a press release about a very long 16-year study that tracked the positions of several stars in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. By watching the stars move, they can infer the gravitational force that affect their orbits, and hence the mass in the center of the galaxy. The result was verifying the presence – and shrinking the error bars on the mass of – the black hole that resides in the center of the Milky Way.

I didn’t realize that this was in any way related to young-Earth creationism, and yet, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) today (Dec. 17) published an article by Brian Thomas entitled “Fast-Orbiting Stars Puzzle Astronomers” that somehow connects this research to imply support for their creation “model.” It is made of five distinct inferences and conjectures that I address below.

Claim 1: This Shows Stars and Planets Can’t Form in Stable Orbits Naturally

To quote from the article:

An ESO news release stated, “The mystery still remains as to how these young stars came to be in the orbits they are observed to be in today.” Given a purely naturalistic origin scenario such as that offered in the Big Bang theory, one wonders how so many stars and planets came to be in orbits at all, rather than swirling off into space.

This is a non sequitur (“doesn’t follow”) logical fallacy. The mystery is how these stars seem to be on quasi-stable orbits around the black hole since the requisite velocity of the stars to not fall into the black hole is fairly high and, given what we know of galaxy formation, it is unlikely that these stars formed in that location with that velocity.

This has nothing to do with solar system formation. The prevailing model of solar system formation is that a giant nebula of swirling gas and dust will collapse and have a net rotation. As the cloud collapses, the center of it will accumulate the most material and form the star. Other parts of it – that are rotating – will also collapse and form planets. It is actually thought that many would-be planets do get ejected from the system due to interactions with any massive planets (like Jupiter).

Objects get ejected when they are given too much energy – a velocity boost. If the mass of the system is no longer large enough to overcome that velocity, then the object will escape. If the object is gravitationally bound, then by definition, it will be in orbit. And ultimately, that’s pretty much how we measure the mass of all objects in the universe – how fast objects that are gravitationally bound to them are moving.

It’s really hard to see how the ESO quote honestly has anything to do with why planets “came to be in orbits” — it’s just a complete non sequitur.

Claim 2: How Could Stars Share Orbits?

Even more curious is that the astronomers closely observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital pattern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel.

I’m not sure if this is a logical fallacy or not: Mis-reading the press release (I’ll assume an honest mistake). Contrast the ICR article statement of “astronomers … observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital parttern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel,” with the actual statement from the researchers:

“The stars in the innermost region are in random orbits, like a swarm of bees,” says [Stefan] Gillessen. “However, further out, six of the 28 stars orbit the black hole in a disc. In this respect the new study has also confirmed explicitly earlier work in which the disc had been found, but only in a statistical sense. Ordered motion outside the central light-month, randomly oriented orbits inside – that’s how the dynamics of the young stars in the Galactic Centre are best described.”

I read the ICR statement 3 times and each time got the impression that they are reading the article as saying that these six stars are on the same orbit – hence the Ferris wheel analogy. A better analogy would be the six cars being on a race track contrasted with a swarm of bees. The six stars orbit in the same plane like the planets in the solar system, but they don’t “share” the same orbit. The stars that are closer to the black hole orbit in more random orbits, like bees, or to extend the solar system analogy, more like comets.

Claim 3: The Stars Should Be Shredded … Much Less Be on Similar Orbits

The next claim is the sentence following Claim 2 (repeated for context):

Even more curious is that the astronomers closely observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital pattern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel. The question is complicated by the likely effects of the violent “forces of the black hole” that would rip stars apart, not place them on a galactic train track.

This is a case of quote-mining. When the press release talks about “forces of the black hole” (in this case, tidal forces which occur when the gravity pulls more on one side of an object than another causing it to stretch), it does so in the context of it’s hard to get our current models to actually form stars near the black hole … it has NOTHING to do with the stars’ orbits.

\And that – what the press release says – is interesting science: Researchers want their theories to be tested and if they can’t explain something, that’s good because it forces them to revise their theories. If we already knew everything, there’d be no point in doing science.

Claim 4: Somehow Tying in SETI Makes Creationism Real

When I read the next paragraph, I honestly had to read it twice to see if there was any natural progression from the quote from the ESO press release to their claims about SETI. It may be there, but it’s extraordinarily tenuous:

The ESO also stated, “Excitingly, future observations are already being planned to test several theoretical models that try to solve this riddle.” These models will certainly not include one that involves an outside intelligence having placed the stars in their orbits, even though other cosmologists have dedicated themselves to the search for alien intelligence, which some believe may have even seeded life on earth.

Let’s analyze this:

(1) ESO is saying that more research needs to be done and that it is planned to be done to answer the question of how stars could either form close to the black hole or could migrate there fast enough (since they’re young stars). … Okay …

(2) ICR says that us secular scientists will no doubt NOT include models that say “God Did It.” … Okay …

(3) We won’t do this despite people who are dedicated to looking for signs of extraterrestrial intelligent life. … Non sequitur …

(4) Some people believe in pamspermia – the idea that it was extraterrestrial life that originally seeded life on Earth. … Okay …

So the problem here really centers along that same non sequitur logical fallacy: Somehow, because the astronomers are looking for a natural means to get these stars here as opposed to an omnipotent being, that’s bad because other astronomers are actively searching for extraterrestrial life (effectively, SETI). It really is just that, a non sequitur; it’s hard to actually explain why because the two have NOTHING to do with each other.

Claim 5: Universal Fine-Tuning

The precise construction parameters of cosmic structures like these stars and the rules that govern them will only be intelligible as products of a supernatural Creator.

Rather than drag this post on any longer, I will refer you to my post where I directly address the issue of fine-tuning of cosmological parameters (basically a god of the gaps logical fallacy): Why the Universe’s Fine-Tuning Is NOT Evidence of Intelligent Design.

Final Thoughts

I really don’t have much else to say about this one. The only way Brian Thomas’ article makes sense is to completely ignore the non sequiturs – ignore any sense of logical progression from one claim to another, and simply take – on faith – that he’s tied it all together for you.

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