Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 10, 2011

Mike Bara’s New-Agey Anti-Science Beliefs, from Bad Geometry to Astrology to Exploding Planets


Introduction

In the latest episode of my podcast, I interviewed a man, “Expat,” about some of the claims of another man, Mike Bara. In setting up the interview with Expat, I agreed to limit the scope of the interview to just cover his call into the show and very closely related claims.

However, during Mike Bara’s interview on Coast to Coast AM on November 10, 2010, he made many many basic science claims, errors, and outright pseudoscience statements. On this “Baraversary” of his interview on Coast to Coast, I wanted to delve a little more in-depth into some of his other claims.

About the Man, Mike Bara

I rarely go into someone’s detailed past or give a short biography, but since this post is about him and his claims, I thought it would be informative to give a little bit of context. My background on him is that he hooked up with Richard Hoagland a few years ago and co-authored Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA. Already by this point, you know the man is a conspiracy hypothesist, believes pareidolia-based observations are the real deal, and employs some magical thinking and numerology as he agrees with Hoagland’s mythos (which I’ve written about before and will write about again).

After listening to him talking for three hours and taking copious notes about what he says, I can also tell you that he can be classified in general as “new agey” and a general “modern science denialist.” That latter classification is not one I make lightly, but I do for him.

That’s my impression. In complete and total fairness, I’ll also give you what he says in his own words, copied and pasted on November 10, 2011, from his about page:

“A self-described “Born Again conspiracy theorist,” Mike’s first book Dark Mission-The Secret History of NASA (co-authored with the venerable Richard C. Hoagland) was a New York Times bestseller in 2007 for Feral House books. His essay “The Occult History of NASA” appears in Secret and Suppressed II, also from Feral House. Mike has made numerous public appearances lecturing on the subjects of space science, NASA, physics and the link between science and spirit, and has been a featured guest on radio programs like Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. He began his writing career after spending more than 25 years as a “Card carrying member of the Military-Industrial complex” where he worked for a wide variety of aerospace companies as an engineering consultant and designer. In 2010, Mike returns with “The Choice” a new book for New Page Books which he describes as “The unified field theory of physics and metaphysics.” He promises that “The Choice” will peel back the layers of mystery around the Mayan calendar, 2012 and the future we can expect if we don’t heed nature’s warning signs.”

So you can see that I’m not being unfair in my painting of him as a new-ager nor a conspiracist.

He also looks kinda badass in his photo, like he’d be at home on a noisy motorcycle — much cooler than I do. This is a totally irrelevant point, but since I rarely talk specifically about a person, I thought I’d bring it up in the rare case when I do.

The next several sections are my attempt to organize the basic statements made by him during his Nov. 10, 2010, C2C interview.

Hyperdimensional Physics

Bara is an ardent believer in Richard Hoagland’s hyperdimensional physics. Starting in hour 2 at 12 minutes 29 seconds in, he claims that hyperdimensional physics means that everything is connected to something higher, a higher spatial dimension, which is where energy comes from. At 13:16 into hour 2, he states, “I can back up all this stuff that we’ve all believed in … with some actual physics and physical experiments that pretty much prove that the so-called ‘laws of physics’ that we’re taught in school, really aren’t real, they don’t really work, and they kinda fall apart when you get into them a bit, and there’s something much richer and much more beautiful … a more elegant solution, and that’s the theory of hyperdimensional physics.”

This is a very bold claim, to be able to turn over all of modern physics. It would be nice if he presented actual evidence of this that were well documented. Unfortunately for him, he does not. Throughout the episode when asked about this, what he does seem to harp on is that during eclipses, pendulums will move backwards or change their rate of swing. Bara presents this, for example, at 11:15 into the third hour: “Free-swinging pendulums [before eclipses will] be swinging with the rotation of the earth suddenly start going very rapidly backwards against the rotation of the Earth.”

I actually assumed this was total nonsense, but I was intrigued to find, after 5 seconds on Google, that it’s only total nonsense the way he explained it. There is an actual named effect, the Allais effect (named after frenchman Maurice Allais who later won a Nobel Prize in economics). You can read more about it on everyone’s favorite website, Wikipedia. The effect is that Allais observed that during a total solar eclipse, the rate of swing of a pendulum changed very slightly.

To summarize, experiments about a decade ago on normal pendulums found that the very very very slight differences in period could be easily accounted for by changes in temperature and air currents during an eclipse. The effects on a torsion pendulum (one that twists rather than swings) have been unreplicatable after they’ve been reported. This can really be summarized (as Wikipedia nicely does) by: “No unambiguous detections [of an Allais effect] within the past 30 years when consciousness of the importance of [experimental] controls was more widespread” (original source, subscription required).

So, the evidence for this seems to be a tiny effect that can be explained conventionally or an effect that does not exist.

But perhaps I’m closed-minded about hyperdimensional physics because I don’t believe in God. Bara states at 21:47 in hour two, “[Scientists] don’t want to admit that there’s a god, and that’s another reason why hyperdimensional physics is not accepted.” Um … sure. Not.

Bara 0, Science 1.

Astrology

And auras and crystals and consciousness. He believes in all that, clearly explicitly states it, but I want to focus in this section more on the astrology (though this will be short). I’ve written quite a bit about astrology before. If interested in the short version, I recommend this post first. If interested in reading more, I recommend this post second. Or, if you’d rather listen, I can now link you to my podcast episode on astrology (ep. 6 for those who already subscribe but want to re-listen).

Anyway, there are several short quips about astrology in the C2C interview, so it’s a bit hard to pull out a true gem. I’ve chosen the one at 37:55 in hour 2:

George Noory: “I mean, you’re even a believer in astrology now, aren’t you?”

Mike Bara: “Yeah well you know again, that goes back – that goes back to the hyperdimensional physics because the idea is that the planets are generating energy, which is traveling through these higher dimensions, and it is like this wave after wave of energy affecting us here on this planet. And, uh, there’s lots of, uh, interesting cases, there’s lots of experiments that show that-that this is really the case. That the planets and their positions relative to the Earth do have an effect, not just on physical instruments here, but actually on the way we think! And our consciousness.”

As an example – “the best example” – he tells a story of John Nelson in the 1950s who tried to find out why short-wave radio signals went wonky sometimes. Bara claims that he (Nelson) found a correlation with planetary positions and activity on the sun which Bara says is evidence for this: When the astrology for the planets said good things should happen, the sun was quiet, and then the opposite was the case. If you do a Google search for this (as I just did), you will find this study reported on astrology sites and … yeah, Richard Hoagland’s site in an article written by Bara. A bit more digging and you can actually find a PDF of the article Nelson wrote which was NOT in a peer-reviewed journal, but it was in a technical memo for RCA. The abstract clearly does state that Bara is not misrepresenting the basic findings from Nelson:

“An examination of shortwave radio propagation conditions over the North Atlantic for a five-year period, and the relative position of the planets in the solar system, discloses some very interesting correlations. As a result of such correlations, certain planetary relationships are deduced to have specific effect on radio propagation through their influence upon the sun. Further investigation is required to fully explore the effect of planet positions on radio propagation in order that the highly important field of radio weather forecasting may be properly developed.”

There are several important things to note here. First, this was not peer-reviewed meaning that there was no external unbiased rigorous check of his work. Second, correlation does not equal causation. Third, this was a single study, and even if 100% true and valid, it has not been replicated by anyone else that I have been able to find (I searched for about a half hour). Fourth, it has not been used to actually make predictions, which all testable hypotheses must.

Fifth, there is overwhelming science showing that astrology does not work, that it is nothing but magical thought and cold (and sometimes hot) reading. I don’t even think I need to refer to argument from authority vs. scientific consensus here (but I did anyway …). At 12:22 in the third hour, though, Bara stated, “If the planets can affect radio signals, then they can also affect our brainwaves.”

At the absolute very least, one can conclusively state that this does not prove astrology affects our “consciousness.” And if this is the best evidence, well, that’s sad.

Bara 0, Science 2.

2012 Galactic Alignment

It’s nice when one’s research involves going back into their own blog archives. In this case, for background in why the 2012 purported galactic alignment is not worth the electrons its printed on, I’ll refer you to this post of mine.

With that out of the way, Bara stated during the second hour at 27:48 into the hour: “We do get hit by a pulse of energy from the center of the galaxy right around this December 21[, 2012] period, in fact it goes for about a month before and a month after that where we’re really in this energetic pulse from the center of the galaxy at this time.” Then he went on to say that the energy is neutral and we can choose whatever we want to come out of it and it’ll happen. (Did I mention that the tagline for his book, The Choice, is, “You’ve heard of The Secret, now you can make The Choice”?) He also states around 10 minutes into the third hour, “We are aligned with the center of the galaxy [around the winter solstice].” Again, see my post linked in the paragraph above. And he brings in astrology. See the section before this one.

I’m not even going to go into detail on this. For this claim, it’s up to him to provide the evidence for this energy blast. What it is, what it’s made of (since “energy” is not a nebulous thing that just passes through stuff like new-agers think), why we need to go through an alignment that isn’t actually happening, etc. Otherwise …

Bara 0, Science 3.

Planets: Burped at Birth, Exploded at Death

In addition to this other stuff, Bara is a fan of the idea “planets were given birth to by the sun, the sun spewed the plants out, kinda from her belly” (16:31 into hour 2). Because of this, the planets are connected, and all our woes today are because there are missing planets, “quite obviously” the missing one between Mars and Jupiter (“Planet V”), of which Mars used to be a moon. When you lose planets in the system, you have less life energy and the “system gets out of harmony.” As evidence, “What happens is the Earth is tilted off its vertical axis by about 23°, and that makes us vulnerable to different waves of energy that are created when different planetary geometries – that is, the orbits of the planets around the Earth affect what’s going on here, they affect physical instruments, things like pendulums, they swing backwards during eclipses” (starting at 18:46 into hour 2).

So yeah, back to pendulums with a really really wonky idea of solar system / planetary formation, including the completely fallacious idea that the asteroid belt was once a planet and Mars was somehow its moon (“Mars itself which was absolutely devastated by … Planet V, the signatures are all over Mars” (18:20)). I actually do plan to go into the whole “exploding planet ‘hypothesis'” in some future blog post and likely in some future podcast episode, as well. For now, I hope that most people recognize that this is very hard to make happen by any known process, and the onus is on Mike Bara to really provide VERY convincing theory and evidence for why it’s the case. Yeah, I’m punting, but this is a LONG post.

I’ll forgo scoring this one for now. Someone remind me when I do that future post to add a link here.

Scientists Don’t Know Not’in’

This is very common in many new-ager claims or those of pseudoscientists or “amateur scientists:” Professional scientists are too entrenched in their thinking to really “get it.” Bara talks about this quite a bit starting around 22.5 minutes into hour two of the program. Among other gems are that evolution is wrong and Lloyd Pye is the guy to believe on this. (Lloyd Pye is the infamous “caretaker” of the “Starchild Skull” as well as the author of Everything You Know is Wrong (where “You” refers to him if you even get a page or two into the book), and he believes that ancient ETs were what created or at least modified us to be as we are today. Yes, that’s the person whom Bara would like us to believe about human origins and evolution.)

One particular gem was spoken starting at 24:03 in hour 2:

“There was only about 30% of the matter necessary to be holding the universe together. What does the physicist and the astronomer do? Do they say, ‘Oh, well gee, maybe our ideas are wrong.’ Um, no, they say, ‘Well the matter must actually be out there, it’s just invisible, we can’t see it, we can’t measure it, we’ll call it “dark matter” and we’ll start to look for it.’ [laughs] It’s just ridiculous ’cause what’s holding everything together is what’s literally the hand of god through a force that I talk about a lot in The Choice which is called ‘torsion.'”

Yeah, that’s right, instead of an extra term in Newtonian gravity or there being material out there that does not interact with light but does interact with other matter (that is the definition of dark matter), it’s God. It’s really difficult to know where to start here. So I won’t bother. I’ll refer you to wiki to get an overview of dark matter, and then for laughs I’ll refer you to my post on how Conservapedia calls dark matter a liberal pseudoscience.

As I noted with the galactic alignment, at the very least, Bara needs to provide evidence at least as convincing as the conventional explanation for his ideas to be even considered. Though I guess you can always claim “God can do anything” (by definition, right?), but that’s not science.

Bara 0, Science 4.

Ellipses in Planetary Orbits

It seems fitting that the section after I talk about Bara’s claim that is summarized as “scientists don’t know anything,” that I should come to this last one about ellipses that shows Bara knows less than the average middle school geometry student. I discussed this with Expat in the podcast, but it really bears repeating here, with diagrams.

On page 34 of The Choice, Bara states: “Many of the planet’s orbits, which … should be perfectly circular by now, are highly elliptical. In fact, Mars’s orbit is so eccentric that its distance from Earth goes from 34 million miles at its closest to 249 million miles at its greatest.”

It’s really simply incredibly stupid of Mike to claim that Mars’ orbit is highly eccentric because it comes as close as about 0.38 A.U. (“astronomical unit” is the distance between the sun and Earth) but goes as far as 2.67 A.U. (Actually, in fairness, the numbers that he gives equate to 0.37 A.U. and 2.68 A.U.; he and I rounded slightly differently.) Therefore it’s an eccentric orbit that’s evidence for his fission model of solar system formation.

The problem here, for those who didn’t listen to the podcast or don’t remember their middle school geometry is that you measure the long and short axis of an ellipse from the center of the ellipse. Not some crackpot arbitrary point inside or outside of it. In this case, the sun is one of the foci of the ellipse that is Mars’ orbit. The sun is one of the foci of ALL solar system objects that are in orbit. Earth is not. Measuring your axes from Earth is just stupid. It’s made up. It makes no sense. It has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever talked about on this blog, and that’s saying a lot.

It’s as though Bara missed math classes after 5th grade, missed the Copernican Revolution that started over 500 years ago, heliocentrism in third grade, and then he simply lies about it that he didn’t claim he said what he did, and then he makes the original claim again.

Bara 0, Science 5. Though I’d like to count this last point more as ∞ because of its shear stupidity, so … we’ll just wrap it up with Bara 0, Science ∞.

Final Thoughts

This was a long post and took me over two hours to write. There’s a lot in here. I return, though to what I wrote in the background on the man. I think he is anti-science and is so clouded by his sense of new-ageyness that he clearly refuses to admit that he may be wrong about something or that the conventional explanation is real.

His many claims that are related to astronomy are, well, many. I’ve gone over six in this post in some detail. Every single one is wrong. But when challenged, as was clear in my interview with Expat, Bara goes on the attack and defense, lashing out at the accuser, calling them a stalker, crazy, obsessed, etc., that nothing he said is wrong, and then refuses to address it in any way. From a psychology standpoint, it’s quite interesting. From an intellectual standpoint, well, there simply is none. There is no sense of intellect there that can be addressed.

October 15, 2011

Podcast Episode 8 Is Posted: The Hollow Earth


This is actually a topic I have NEVER addressed in my blog before, in part because it’s a lot of quotes from various people and it’s a pain to transcribe. In this episode, I spend the first half going through some of the actual “science” claims of the hollow Earth, including some of the history. I spend the latter half of the episode discussing four independent, distinct ways that we know Earth is not hollow.

This is also my longest episode so far (other than the live talk). As I state at the beginning of this episode, I don’t know how long episodes are going to evolve to be. In a manner of speaking, they’ll be as long as they “need” to be to address the singular topic I’ve chosen for the episode. Just like when a teacher gives that response for the required length of a paper, I know it’s unsatisfying. But I also don’t know how long it’s going to take to address each topic. I thought initially when I started the podcast it would be in the 10-20 minute time frame. Obviously I was mistaken for the last few. We’ll see what happens.

October 14, 2011

The New-Age Conspiratorial World of Gregg Braden


Introduction

I started listening to Coast to Coast AM somewhat regularly when I started to “get into” modern science-based skepticism. I wanted to know what the “true-believers” thought and to learn about all sorts of ideas that are out there. Often, the ideas are anti-“establishment,” which is why they are a supporter of Ron Paul or “alternative medicine.” Often they’re “new-agey.” Sometimes they’re both.

Sometimes they’re so over the top that you have a difficult time believing people actually think that. Sometimes the people on the show (often, actually) will distort the actual facts to support their claims. Sometimes they will make them up.

This long rambling introduction is to point out all of the things that various C2C guests bring. The one I’m going to discuss here brings in all of them. This is a somewhat long post, but there is a lot to say about Gregg Braden. If you’re wondering who this person is, I’m not going to give a short bio section, rather I’m going to illustrate his views through time throughout this post, like dipping a candle in successive colors.

Through Time

I first got curious about this person last weekend when I was looking at the C2C schedule for the week ahead and saw he was on. I did a search through the ~135 gigabytes of episodes I have of C2C for the past two decades. His name popped up not infrequently, so I started to listen to him starting with his 1999 interview conducted by Art Bell. (Note that he had been on earlier shows, at least dating back to 1992, but I do not have those.)

I listened to about 16 hours of interview, and then I re-listened to about half of them to pull out the quotes and points I wanted to use for this (and maybe an eventual podcast).

The “Early” Years – Pre-2001

Okay, technically I only had one episode from February 5, 1999, and then the next was in 2006. But based on later material, things changed for Braden in the few years after Sept. 11, 2001. I’ll talk about that later.

During this earlier time, Braden comes off as your standard new-agey anti-establishment person: Darwinism is evil, consciousness rules. There really wasn’t much unique about his message.

He was an avid advocate of “free energy” devices, claimed there was copious evidence that our DNA was currently evolving rapidly even though he doesn’t “believe” in evolution, that through consciousness we can “activate junk DNA” and do kewl stuff, and generally ranted for four whole hours on how scientists won’t let the “real” knowledge out to the general public. Fairly run-of-the mill, really.

May 6, 2006 Interview

In this interview, I noticed something of a shift in Braden’s attitude. While he was still hawking his books and advocating his ideas, he seemed to have shifted more towards alleged evidence for his claims and “research” he was doing. This was much more evident in the later interviews (next section).

January 6, 2008 Interview

Now we really got into the idea of “let’s throw out some sciencey stuff that sounds more real than what I peddled a decade ago” (no, he didn’t actually say that, that was my impression).

He makes a few interesting claims. The first I noted down is during hour 2 of the program at 17 minutes into the hour, he states that Nature (one of the top science journals in the world) published a study by Silvertooth in volume 322, August 26, 1986, page 590. It’s actually August 14, but I’ll forgive that. (Here’s the “study,” subscription required.) Problem is that this was not an article Nature “published,” it’s a letter that they included that spans less than 1/3 of a page. In it, Ernest W. Silvertooth claims to have conducted an experiment that proved there is an “ether” through which light propagates, disproving General Relativity, and the famous Michelson-Morley Experiment (conducted where I got my undergraduate degree … a century earlier).

Interesting. It’s a letter to the editor. Not peer-reviewed. Silvertooth’s name shows up on Anti-Relativity.com. And the only way he got a paper out is by publishing it himself. And yet Braden claims this is undeniable proof that scientists won’t let the secrets of the universe out and that this guy irrefutably showed that the standard ideas are not real.

However, he takes this a step further to say that the “ether” is not just a medium through which light travels, rather it’s the general consciousness field in which we all exist.

Later in the interview, in hour 3, starting at 8:25 in, he states:

“What our own science has found is that our heart is the strongest electrical field generator in the body, and it is the strongest magnetic field generator in the body, and the reason that’s important is our physical world hinges largely on electric and magnetic fields. … [In atoms,] if we change EITHER the electric or magnetic field, we can change and influence the way that atom behaves, and our heart creates BOTH, not just one or the other. …

“(9:37) And this is why feelings in our heart are so much more powerful than thoughts in our mind, because our own science now is telling us that our heart creates electrical fields that are 60-100x stronger than the fields of our brain. … And magnetic fields 5000x stronger from our heart than those of the brain, and that explains to us why thoughts aren’t as powerful … and it’s much easier to heal and create peace and alter our physical reality from our hearts than it is through our thoughts, and our hearts are where we have the feelings, and the beliefs, that communicate with this field and connects everything.”

Got all that? I warned you he’s a new-ager. But he made some specific statements. The easy first one to check on is the field strength of the heart and brain. According to this source, the brain’s value is on the order of 0.1-1.0 pT, or picoTesla (10-12 = 1 pico). And according to this source, the strength of the heart is around 10 pT. So he’s sorta right in his first statement that at the extremes, the heart’s magnetic field at the surface of the body is 100x stronger than the brain’s. But not 5000x as he states a few sentences later. And it bears mentioning that Earth’s field is on the order of 10-4 T at Earth’s surface, or 107 times stronger than the human heart’s as measured from the surface of the body.

He also was talking about how magnetic and electric fields are different, which I really don’t want to get into in this post, but basically he’s stretching the truth.

The kicker comes about 14 minutes 55 seconds into the episode where he states:

“This is how science is kinda backing into the fact that we are connected with our world. They’re seeing that the human heart – literally – can change the physical stuff our physical world is made of through this electric and magnetic fields. And they’re also finding that we’re literally tuned to layers of the atmosphere of the Earth through these fields.”

Yeah. Please show your work.

March 17, 2009 Interview

At this point, he is invested more fully in the idea of his Institute of HeartMath and Global Coherence project and he starts to bring in alleged evidence for his claims. This was where I really got interested, and frankly it’s about the only part that really gets into the topics I discuss on this blog (astronomy, physics, geology).

Its within these that he adopts the standard “amateur science” motif that we ridicule in skepticism: He misinterprets basic data and misrepresents other data (one could call it lying, but that implies I actually know that he knew he was doing these things, and I don’t — at the very least, he is sorely mistaken and data-mines).

I already addressed the whole atom an magnetic field and electric field and heart-brain fields with the 2006 interview. And evolution with the 1999 interview. He also talks about 2012 in this one, but there’s really nothing new he contributes to the mythos so I don’t want to go into it here.

He also makes a specific reference to another Nature paper about the Milky Way’s black hole and energy shooting towards us, saying it’s by “Rhode and Miller” in volume 434, October 2004. Problem is that volume 434 is for March-April 2005, and October 2004 is in volume 431. I searched all and could not find it. So much for that.

He even carries on again with a basic rant 15 minutes in about how the ancients knew everything and we know nothing. But I’m not going to go into that, either

Nay, the one I want to talk about here comes from this rather lengthy quote from the March 17, 2009 interview:

“2001, scientists were measuring the geomagnetic field of the Earth, from two satellites, one int he Northern Hemisphere, one in the Southern Hemisphere, called GOES … . Every 30 minutes they send back a signal that tells the strength of the magnetic field … and it fluctuates, but it’s always within this range. And in 2001, all of a sudden, there was a big spike in this field, and scientists said, ‘Well, you know, what happened to the magnetic field of the Earth to create this change?’ They overlaid the data onto the calendar, and it’s probably no surprise to our listeners, that the date was Sept. 11, 2001. And it was 15 minutes after the first plane struck the first tower in the World Trade Center that the magnetic fields of the Earth showed this big spike. …

“That led to a series of studies that showed that it was the collective emotions of humans on this planet that had such a profound effect on the magnetic field of the Earth that our satellites, 22,000 miles above the surface, detected this change, and these scientists said, ‘Woah! That means that we are literally … part of the field that sustains the life on Earth.’ That led to a series of experiments that showed that when many people learn to create this quality of emotion inside of their hearts that the magnetic fields of the Earth convey this change to all life on Earth, and that is what I think the opportunity of our time in history is all about.”

In fact, he has this in print, in his book Fractal Time a short excerpt I found on scribd.com:

“September 2001, two geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES) orbiting the earth detected a rise in global magnetism that forever changed the way scientists view our world and us. The GOES-8 and GOES-10 each showed a powerful spike of Earth’s magnetic-field strength in the readings they broadcast every 30 minutes. It was the magnitude of the spikes and the time they occurred that first called them to the scientists’ attention.

“From a location of about 22,300 miles above the equator, GOES-8 detected the first surge, followed by an upward trend in the readings that topped out at nearly 50 units (nanoteslas) higher than any that had been typical for the same time previously. The time was 9a.m. eastern standard time, 15 minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center and about 15 minutes before the second impact.”

Yes, those were long. The bottom-line claim here is that Earth’s magnetic field was altered by human emotion during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. This is similar to claims by the Global Consciousness Project, but different. The nice thing is that this is highly objective data that’s easy to find and check. Which I did. I even contacted the institution that runs the GOES to get a bit of help and information (thanks to Dan Wilkinson and Ted Haberman).

For brief background, GOES are and have been many different satellites, and they are periodically launched and decommissioned as one wears out and technology advances. We’re now on GOES 11 and 13 as the main two, though GOES 12, 14, and 15 are in orbit. In September 2001, GOES 8 and 10 were in operation (it looks like there were some issues with GOES 11 at that time).

These satellites orbit at about 6.6 Earth radii from the planet, and our magnetic field extends to about 10 Earth radii, so it is correct that they can measure the magnetic field, and they do contain instruments to measure magnetic fields at their location. Though they send back data that’s binned in 5-minute intervals, not 30-minute intervals.

The data that Braden and others present at their Global Coherence Institute is the exact image below (I’m directing to their web site so you know I’m not making it up).

Global Coherence Image for GOES Data on Sept. 11, 2001

Global Coherence Image for GOES Data on Sept. 11, 2001

Looks kinda interesting. The field is varying between about 50 and 125 nT (nanoTeslas) in the four days leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, and then it spikes to 173 nT as seen from one satellite and 153 nT as seen from another. Then it seems to vary slightly more than it had in the few days after. Do we have something here? Are they making these data up?

Actually, they’re not. The data do show that spike. You can view it for yourself here for GOES 8 or here for GOES 10.

So now the logical question in evaluating this claim is, “They’re showing a week-long window. What does the field look like at other times? What’s the normal variability?” And let’s avoid any idea they might claim of contamination from the craziness of that month.

To answer that, I chose a random month and I skipped back to June 2001. The data I show below (all data is on that site, specifically downloaded from here) show that the normal variations for the magnetic field are about 60-125 nT (so that agrees with the Sept. 2001 baseline), but in this random month of June, there were spikes all the way up to 186 nT (higher than Sept. 11, 2001 by about 15 nT). Hmm.

GOES Magnetic Data, June 2001

GOES Magnetic Data, June 2001

In fact, since I have the data in my grubby little hands, I can actually do some basic statistics. The average from GOES 8 during June 2001 was 113 nT, and from GOES 10 it was 97 nT. The standard deviations were ±10.6 and ±14.6 nT, respectively. In September 2001, the averages and standard deviations were 109±14.2 nT and 95±20 nT. So they agree with each other. September 2001 was not an odd month at all.

I then chose a different random month and year, January 1998 (the Global Consciousness Project people would probably say they’d expect at least two significant events during this month, one for the new US Congress taking office and one for New Year’s Day). Or November 2007. Both of those months’ data are displayed below. The maxima were 173 for GOES 9 in January 1998 (but a minimum of only 22 nT!) and 188 nT in November 2007 with GOES 11 (there was some data drop-out in the last week of the month from GOES 10).

GOES Magnetic Data, January 1998

GOES Magnetic Data, January 1998

GOES Magnetic Data, November 2007

GOES Magnetic Data, November 2007

The inescapable conclusion at this point is – as I said before – at best it’s “window-shopping” or data-mining. At worst it’s willful deceit of their audience. As is clearly shown by these data, the September 11, 2001, “spike” in Earth’s magnetic field is not an abnormal “spike,” but rather we see fluctuations even larger than that several times a month.

Final Thoughts

This actually brings me back a bit to what I consider “fair game” in terms of skepticism and this blog. I’m okay if you want to be a creationist, a UFO believer, a new-ager, or whatever (so long as you don’t try to force your beliefs on me). But when you actually start to point towards observable, checkable evidence for your claims, it’s totally fair game. And as I’ve shown here, Braden would be much better off sticking to his random new-agey claims than trying to use science to back them up.

December 28, 2010

2010 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail


Introduction

Every year, the late-night number-one-rated four-hour radio show Coast to Coast AM spends December 30 and 31 taking “psychic predictions” from the audience, and January 1 with invited “psychics” for predictions for 2010. I had a lot of free time while taking pictures at the telescopes in early January so I listened diligently to all 12 hours and recorded every prediction.

Let’s see how they did, shall we?

Edited to Add: It’s come to my attention (Oct. 2011) that Cal Orey (see the “Professionals” section below) has this post listed on her homepage as me indicating that she was the highest hit-rate “psychic” on Coast to Coast for 2010 predictions. I’ll repeat here what I do below: She was highest because she got 1 right out of 3 that I considered specific enough to actually judge; the other 6 were too vague or obvious to refute or deny. One correct prediction about an earthquake in California is not something that I, personally, would be bragging about. But I’m happy to have her link to my blog.

Audience

Art Bell ran the audience nights and he was very specific: One prediction per customer per year, and no predictions about assassinations, politically-motivated, nor abstract religious ideas would be taken. This year, there were a total of 110 predictions that were recorded. I actually recorded all the ones that made it to air, so in the document I link to below, you will see some items crossed out. Those are ones that Art did not record. My own comments are included in [square brackets] and are things that were not said on the show.

Click here for the PDF with all the audience predictions.

I have now gone through and – with a little help on some items I didn’t know about, scored them. First off, there were 5 predictions that I considered too vague or not actually for 2010, so that gets us down to 105 predictions. Based on my information, 6 came true. That’s a hit rate of 5.7±2.3%. (Uncertainty is calculated by taking the square-root of the number of counts and dividing by the total — this is standard Poisson statistics.)

Here are some of my favorites:

14. Obama goes live on NBC saying that aliens do exist and there will be an alien with him who speaks to the whole world.

16. A lot of people who are handicapped will get out of their wheelchairs and will walk again. (Qualifier: “If they truly believe.”)

26. Re-discovery, by September, of the entrance to the hollow Earth at the North Pole.

52. God is actually a being of light and he is moving back towards us at the speed of light. The result is that he’ll send a laser pulse in that direction and tell us what a bad job everyone’s doing.

81. A celebrity will be exposed as a cannibal.

And my all-time favorite … one of the only hits: 102. 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.

Professionals

As a skeptic, I will admit that I derive great joy in seeing professional purveyors of woo resoundingly fail. And the “professionals” that C2C invited on did just that, none with a hit rate above 33%, and that high one was by virtue of only making 3 specific enough predictions to score.

Click here for the PDF with all the “professional” predictions.

In scoring these, I think I was fairly generous, as you may note if you look at the document linked above.

Edited to Add: The percentage correct that I list below are based on (# correct) / ((# predictions) – (# too vague)). I add this because I noticed some confusion on how I gave Orey 33% instead of 11% (1/(9-6) vs. 1/9).

To summarize, here are the scores for each person:

  • Christian von Lahr: 3 out of 15 with 1 too vague for 21%.
  • Paul Guercio: 0 out of 6 with 2 too vague for 0%.
  • Glynis McCants: 0 out of 9 with 8 too vague for 0%.
  • Tana Hoy: 1 out of 16 with 5 too vague for 9%.
  • Cal Orey: 1 out of 9 with 6 too vague for 33%.
  • Terry and Linda Jamison: 1 out of 17 with 5 too vague for 8%.
  • Mark Lerner: 0 out of 5 with 4 too vague for 0%.
  • Jeffrey Wands: 1 out of 16 with 1 too vague for 7%.

The combined generous hit rate was 11.5±4.3%. This is statistically identical to the audience’s hit rate. The one who got the most right was Christian von Lahr with 3, though due to small numbers because of incredible vagueness or obviousness, Cal Orey came out on top percentage-wise.

A trend you will note if you look at the document linked above is that the pros were all, in general, fairly vague in their predictions (fully 1/3 of them were unusable). Or, they were incredibly obvious to the point that they couldn’t be used to score any “psychic-ness.” For example, Cal Orey “predicted” that Italy will have “another quake.” Well, considering that there are tens of thousands of earthquakes of magnitudes >4.0 every year across the planet, this is like saying, “During 2010, the sun will appear in the sky,” or “a politician will tell a lie or half-truth.” Duh.

Some of my favorites were:

von Lahr: Something really big with one of Obama’s daughters involving the letters “P,” “I,” “N,” and “K.” Note that the letters may have spiritual meaning instead or be turned, like the “P” into a “b,” “d,” “6,” or “9.” It could also look like a bed or a wheelbarrow [so, basically you can retrodict anything to this]. The letters are also in the word, “kidnap.”

Orey: If San Francisco gets another quake in 2010, Arnold won’t be very happy.

Lerner: There won’t be a catastrophe.

The one that ticked me off the most was, by far, Tana Hoy, who, if you were/are able to listen, almost seemed scared that we all knew he was just making things up. He started off the interview by calling the host, Ian Punnett, “Ryan,” and then stated obvious things that had already been announced.

The pair that I thought were most full of themselves were the “psychic twins,” Terry and Linda Jamison. They started the interview by claiming that everything they predicted for 2009 had come true, and when they were on later in 2010, they claimed that everything they had predicted in January would still come true. I couldn’t find a C2C interview they did for 2009, but I found one for 2000.

On November 2, 1999, they claimed AIDS would be cured by 2002, “breast cancer drug break-through by 2003,” “a cancer cure, especially for breast cancer by 2007,” 60% of cancer cured by 2008, a cloning of body parts “in the not too distant future … in diagnostic chambers,” and people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, MS, and spinal cord injuries will be walking “within the decade.” Yeah …. didn’t quite happen. And by my tally, they only had one hit for 2010, and it was incredibly vague but I gave it to them. They had some monstrous fails, such as shiitake mushrooms as a prevention for breast cancer and hurricanes devastating Florida. They even failed on some actual statistically likely hits, like a major storm hitting the gulf.

Final Thoughts

As we go into 2011, many, many people will look to alleged psychics, astrologers, mediums, etc. for forecasts about the year ahead. When I first started my blog in late 2008, I averaged about 10-25 hits/day. Then I did a parody of my own psychic and astrologic predictions for 2009, and my hit rate spiked by a factor of 5.

And yet, when we actually write down what these people say and we look at the misses along with the hits, we find that these people are basically full of you-know-what. They aren’t any more “psychic” than the average person making wishful forecasts.

The main difference between these professionals and the lay person is their vagueness. The C2C audience members were willing to make generally very specific predictions such as “Lake Tahoe is actually a volcano,” versus the professionals who know that being specific is to their detriment so will usually try to be more vague, such as “no major tsunami for quite awhile.”

Please let me know if you enjoyed this post – either by commenting and/or taking a moment to rank it with a star count just under the tags for the post. It took a lot of time to write these down and score them and I want to know if it’s worth doing for 2011.

Also, if I have made any mistakes in my scoring, please let me know and I will correct it ASAP.

December 22, 2010

ESP/Psi Effects Are Faster than the Speed of Light?


Introduction

First, this is going to be a short post – more of a musing. Many times when listening to or reading material put out by the “alternative researchers,” I will come across the claim of a psi experiment that seems to defy the universal speed limits of light. Could this be possible?

Speed Limits

Anyone older than 5 years living in a place with roads is familiar with the concept of a “speed limit.” You’re not supposed to go faster than it. If you do and you are caught by law enforcement, you can be fined or incur more severe consequences. But it’s more of a, “You’re not supposed to go faster than this” rather than, “It is not physically possible for you to go faster than this.” If it were the latter, then no one would get speeding tickets because their vehicle, by definition, could not exceed the speed limit.

Such is one of the key concepts behind Special Relativity: There is a “cosmic” speed limit where one of the physical laws of the universe are that nothing can exceed the speed of light in a given medium. In “empty” space, this is roughly 300,000,000 meters per second (or 186,000 miles per second as it is more commonly expressed for those who don’t use metric). The purpose of this post is not to get into the finer points nor evidences for Special Relativity, so suffice to say for the moment that it is a theory in the scientific sense — it has withstood every experimental test.

The one possible exception is the idea of “quantum entanglement,” where if two particles (as in not people, people are not made of one single atom or sub-atomic particle) are entangled, and one’s state is changed, the other will change instantaneously, faster than Special Relativity would seem to allow. This is part of the reason why relativity breaks down at quantum scales, while quantum mechanics breaks down at relativistic scales, and why unifying the two is one of the great goals of physics today.

Anyway …

Size of Earth

Earth is about 6378 km in radius. Its circumference around the equator is 40,075 km (24,902 miles). My point here is that 40,075 km < 300,000,000 m (24,902 miles < 186,000 miles).

In fact, light can go around the entire planet about 7.5 times in a single second. This is one of the few things I actually remember from watching a video in 3rd grade.

Claims

The psi claim will often go along the lines of this example I just heard on an old 2006 Coast to Coast AM episode: “A mother and child are separated by a vast distance, about 100 km apart, and the child is induced with pain by pricking them with a pin repeatedly. Amazingly, the mother, who is hooked up to an EEG, shows a response to the child’s pain faster than the speed of light would allow!!”

Let’s see … 100 km apart, and light travels at 300,000 km per second. So it took light 0.33 milliseconds (0.00033 seconds) to go from the child to the mother — and that’s assuming that we’re talking about some form of light that can travel through buildings. And let’s actually assume that we are talking about something that really could break this speed limit imposed by Special Relativity.

In order for this claim to be true, the following conditions must have been met:

  1. The person or machine pricking the child must be timed to sub-millisecond accuracy, preferably microseconds, but at least on the order of 100 microseconds.
  2. The mother’s EEG must also have resolution on the order of 100 microseconds. Based on this article, the best EEGs have resolutions 10x worse.
  3. The clocks at the two locations must also be synced and have resolutions better than on the order of 100 microseconds.

What’s the likelihood of all these conditions being met? And then, what is the likelihood that there was not an experimental error, as opposed to overturning other very precise timing experiments that have been done that verify Special Relativity?

Final Thoughts

When listening to shows and reading articles where people talk about ESP/psi research, this claim crops of fairly frequently without any real justification nor details into how the experiment was done and the actual controls on the timing. People do not seem to have a concept for how quickly light really travels, for they seem to ignore that these experiments would require the effect to be timed down to the microsecond across significant Earth distances. If you’re talking about a similar experiment done in the same building (say, 100 m instead of 100 km), then you would need timing resolutions down to the nanosecond.

When you hear these claims, they may sound interesting, but be skeptical and search further to see if – for lack of a better way of putting it – the person knows what they’re talking about. And in many cases, find out if the alleged experiment even took place.

December 7, 2010

“I’m Just Putting it Out There …”


Introduction

While drawing circles for my ever-elusive crater database so I can graduate, I was listening to an old Coast to Coast AM episode that featured Neal Adams as a guest. For those of you who do not know, Neal Adams made a name for himself decades ago bringing the character Batman back from a comical character to the dark knight that we know and love today.

But Adams is infamously known for something else: He is a proponent of a whole new field of physics he created in order to explain that Earth, and indeed all the planets, are expanding and creating new matter in their cores.

This post is not about that, however, but rather about the refrain by a branch of pseudoscientists, “I’m just putting it out there …”

The Refrain

I’ve heard this a few times. It’s not done by many die-hard people, such as anti-vaxers, or vehement conspiracy theorists who state their positions with absolute and unwavering conviction, often in a very in-your-face way.

Rather, it is a more insidious method of promoting their particular pseudoscience that comes off as appearing rather humble. My case study here is, as stated in the intro, Neal Adams. Throughout his interview on March 16, 2006, and other interviews of him that I have heard (such as on one of the first Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe episodes), Adams will make some very wild claims, but then he gives the appearance of being humble and backing away. He will make his claim and then state, “But I don’t want you to necessarily believe me. I’m just a comic book artist. I’m just putting this out there.”

Richard C. Hoagland – the “face on Mars” guy – does the same thing frequently where he will talk for hours about some new implication for his special brand of crazy (“hyperdimensional physics”) and then say, “George, I’m just putting this out there for our listeners so they have the information and can do their own research.” More arm-chair conspiracy theorists will also do this: “I’m just putting it out there that shadows should be parallel but aren’t in the Apollo photos.”

False Modesty

To a point, one can accept that. I’m finishing up a paper at the moment about secondary cratering on Mars (I briefly talked about these in my post on why there is no crisis in crater age-dating). In my research, I discovered a new phenomenon related to these craters, and in the paper I suggest a possible explanation – a hypothesis that could be tested by more work (plea$e fund m€!). I’m “putting it out there.”

The first time it’s said, one may accept it. Perhaps the second. But when it is repeated every 10 minutes for three hours, it gets annoying. And it is hollow. And it’s simply a “get out of a corner free” card.

For example, Adams was claiming that you can start with a hydrogen atom (a proton) and by adding a neutron create helium (which is wrong — helium is 2 protons). When a caller confronted him about that, Adams backtracked and appeared to show complete deference to the caller and again reiterated, “I’m just a comic book author, I believe you.” Yet in future interviews I’ve heard and read, and in his current material, Adams claims the same or similar things. When called on pretty much all his claims, he’ll repeat the Argument from Personal Incredulity (“well that just doesn’t make sense to me”), sometimes appear to accept the arguments of his confronter, and then when the conversation is over he’ll go back to what he said before.

More information is usually good. I’m having oral surgery next week to extract two wisdom teeth and I’ve been reading up a lot on the effects of N2O versus IV sedation and what I can expect for recovery (twinkie and ice cream diet for 4 days, here I come!). But the dental websites I’m reading are not trying to convince me that they’re correct and then saying, “Oh, by the way, I’m a law student and have no expertise in this subject, but I’m just putting this information out there.”

Final Thoughts

Neal Adams – and people like him – should stand behind what they say or not say it at all. Creating a whole elaborate “alternative” scenario, and then extolling the cop-out of, “But I’m not an expert, I’m just putting this out there,” and falling back on it when confronted is disingenuous, slippery, and sleazy. Pretending that you are effectively musing out loud when in fact you are actively and consistently promoting yourself is more annoying than the loud and proud true believers. At least they have the guts to really stand behind what they claim.

For skeptics, this is yet another catch phrase to be aware of. If someone is promoting an idea but constantly qualifies it with, “I’m just putting this information out there, you don’t have to believe me but isn’t this interesting …” be wary! Do your own independent research on the subject, post in a skeptics forum, or ask an actual expert in the field. Don’t rely upon an artist who thinks he has independently rewritten all the physics textbooks to have any factual knowledge about the subject.

November 23, 2010

Please, Don’t Appeal to Quantum Mechanics to Propagate Your Pseudoscience


Introduction

There is no formal logical fallacy that I know of called “Appeal to Quantum Mechanics,” but I think it should be on the books. It is a frequently utilized term by purveyors of New Age beliefs and other ideas to try to make their ideas seem more sciencey when, in fact, to anyone who actually knows quantum mechanics and slaved away for tens of hours a week on QM homework, it just makes them sound stupid.

This post is another about Andrew D. Basiago, in particular his interview on the Coast to Coast AM radio show from November 11, 2010. In it, he discussed his supposed involvement in “Project Pegasus,” alleged the early time travel work done by the U.S. government. For those of you who have a very good memory, you may recall I have discussed Andrew Basiago before in the context of his pareidolia-fueled claims of discovering alien life on Mars and demanding that National Geographic publish what he found after blowing up images 5000%, stretching them, and then wildly extrapolating.

Statements by Andrew Basiago

The following are direct quotes from Basiago, mostly from hour 3 of the broadcast:

“In fact, I spent four ‘phantom summers’ in New Mexico … . There was an extensive cover-up of our summers in New Mexico, uh, in this sort of quantum displacement sort of way.”

“I was involved in actual wormholing where I was moving through the quantum tunnel.”

“So the very act of sending the same child or different child to the same ‘event’ was – I guess as a result of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – changing that event a little bit.”

“Actually, what happens is when you go back and visit yourself in the past, you’re somebody from the future visiting your alpha-timeline, then if you interfere with your past at that moment, um, basically Schrödinger’s cat takes over and a new timeline branches off that’s affected by your visit, but then you return to the future that you left.”

George Noory: “Did anything go wrong with Project Pegasus? Anything?”
Basiago: “… Certainly the notion that propagating holographs of past and future events somehow destabilizes the quantum hologram, that was suggested by the Dan Burisch testimony, provided to Project Camelot, is not true.”

What Is Quantum Mechanics?

Without going through math and a lot of explanation that is not the focus of this blog post, quantum mechanics is basically the physics of the very small. We’re talking about what happens on atomic scales, what happens with electrons (sub-atomic particles), and light. We are not talking about time, space-time, nor any object on the macro-scopic scale, where “macroscopic” means in this context objects that are about the size of a cell or larger (collections of millions of atoms).

Quantum mechanics is weird. In fact, it almost fits the very definition of “weird” since many of the observations at atomic scales defies our concept of how objects “should” act. I think this is why a lot of purveyors of modern pseudoscience rely on an appeal to quantum mechanics to describe how their ideas work: Since most people don’t understand quantum mechanics beyond the “things get weird” part, people are more willing to accept a “quantum mechanics says this can happen” claim and just trust it.

But quantum mechanics is not magic. You cannot use quantum mechanics to argue that psychic powers work. Or that time travel is possible. Or even that information (which also has a very specific definition) can be transmitted instantaneously.

Quantum mechanics has a very specific set of rules and governing equations that have been verified to be correct to within measurement capabilities. (Hence it is also a “theory” in the scientific sense.)

Because quantum mechanics does not make sense to many people in our every-day world, physicists have come up with some analogies that are used to describe some of the consequences of the field. For example …

Schrödinger’s Cat: One of the consequences of quantum mechanics is that a particle‘s state will not be known until it is observed. I remind you that in this field, “particle” and “observed” have very specific definitions and cannot be extrapolated to, for example, “person calling the telephone” and “picking up the phone” (yes, people do make that extrapolation). In fact, the consequences of this had three different interpretations in the early days of the field, where the Copenhägen interpretation was that the particle actually exists in all states until it is observed. This turns out to be the actual way it works (experimentally determined a few decades ago), but in the early days there were two competing ideas, one being that it exists in a particular state, we just don’t know what it is until it is measured. This is where the famous Einstein quote comes from: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”

In order to think of this from a more familiar scenario rather than an electron’s energy level, the idea of Schrödinger’s cat is used, where Schrödinger is effectively the founder of quantum mechanics: A cat is placed in a sealed box from which no information can escape. A piece of radioactive material is placed in there before it’s sealed, where the release of the poison is a purely random process (governed by quantum mechanics). After the box is sealed, an outsider cannot know whether the cat is alive or dead because they do not know if the poison has killed the cat. Therefore, for mathematical purposes, the cat is described as both alive and dead. It is only after the box is opened and you make the observation that you know which is the case.

Definition of “Quantum:” In physics, quantum does not mean “magic” nor “[fill in the blank with something].” It has a very specific definition: A discrete quantity, usually of energy. In fact, the whole field of quantum mechanics is based around the idea that energy cannot come in a pure spectrum of intervals, but it can only happen in discrete – albeit very small – packets. This was a very novel idea 100 years ago and it still surprises many people. But, that’s what “quantum” means, no more, and no less. Putting it in front of another word does not make that other word suddenly mean something different. In fact, as it is normally applied, it makes the other word meaningless.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: Again, this has a very specific definition – and a mathematical one at that: Δx·Δpħ/2. What this means in words is that the change in position times the change in momentum must be greater than or equal to half of h-bar, where h-bar is h/(2·π), where h is Planck’s constant (a very small number). Unless you’re a physicist or have really studied the field, you are probably thinking some combination of, “huh?” and/or “what the heck does that mean?” In plainer English, the consequence of this is that when we measure a particle’s position or momentum, the more precise we measure that value, the less precisely we can know the other. This is not because of our measuring equipment, rather it seems to be a general rule of the universe, that the particle’s other quantity really, literally, becomes less defined and knowable.

Let’s Apply This to That

Now that you have taken a crash course in quantum mechanics, let’s take another look at some of Basiago’s comments:

Basiago: “In fact, I spent four ‘phantom summers’ in New Mexico … . There was an extensive cover-up of our summers in New Mexico, uh, in this sort of quantum displacement sort of way.”
Analysis: Sticking “quantum” in front of “displacement” makes it next to meaningless. If anything, a “quantum displacement” would mean that he has physically moved less than the width of an atom.

Basiago: “I was involved in actual wormholing where I was moving through the quantum tunnel.”
Analysis: Again, sticking “quantum” this time in front of “tunnel” still makes this a meaningless phrase. “Quantum” does not have anything to do with, effectively, the fabric of the universe, and wormholes are more of an application of General Relativity, something very different from quantum mechanics.

Basiago: “So the very act of sending the same child or different child to the same ‘event’ was – I guess as a result of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – changing that event a little bit.”
Analysis: Now that you know what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is – you cannot know both the position and momentum of a particle to arbitrarily high precision – you can see that the idea of time travel paradoxes has nothing to do with it. This is an appeal to a scientific term and equation that has zero bearing on the claim, showing (a) his lack of understanding of quantum mechanics, and (b) fairly good evidence (if you didn’t have it already) that his claims are made up.

Basiago: “Actually, what happens is when you go back and visit yourself in the past, you’re somebody from the future visiting your alpha-timeline, then if you interfere with your past at that moment, um, basically Schrödinger’s cat takes over and a new timeline branches off that’s affected by your visit, but then you return to the future that you left.”
Analysis: This is very much like the above example where Basiago made a conjecture from his story and then inserted a thought exercise from quantum mechanics to try to make it sound more believable, when in actuality the insertion shows again he has no idea what he’s talking about.

Noory: “Did anything go wrong with Project Pegasus? Anything?”
Basiago: “… Certainly the notion that propagating holographs of past and future events somehow destabilizes the quantum hologram, that was suggested by the Dan Burisch testimony, provided to Project Camelot, is not true.”
Analysis: This is another example of the first two where Basiago has inserted the word “quantum” into his sentence in the apparent hope to make it sound more sciencey and hence believable when, again, it makes the phrase even more meaningless than it would be without it.

Final Thoughts

Please, whenever anyone uses any form of appeal to quantum mechanics to explain their fringe claim, do a little bit of research to figure out what the term actually means and whether it applies to that situation. I have tried in this post to point out the three most commonly used quantum mechanics terms that have been borrowed by today’s pseudoscience in the hope that you are now armed with some of the information necessary to critically analyze various claims.

And for those of you who are prone to make these kinds of claims, a few words of advice: Stop using quantum mechanics. It does not mean, “Anything you can dream up, I can do.”

October 4, 2010

Comic Strip “Get Fuzzy” Tackles Pseudoscience with the “Big Bonk” Theory


Introduction

I listen to a lot of Coast to Coast AM. I know that a good fraction of the guests are quite literally certifiable, but it’s a good distraction from the mundane work day and, well, it can get addicting.

One of the hallmarks of the show, and something that its originator Art Bell would frequently say, is that that they will put ANYONE on to talk about ANYTHING (so long as it’s civil, etc.). This means that you get a lot of crazies. Same with folks who call in (despite the screeners). People who advocate pretty much anything and everything that the “mainstream” does not advocate. And a frequent refrain is that their “theory” is just as good as the mainstream one.

The Parody

Note: All images posted here can be opened in a new window and will be roughly double the posted size for easier reading.

Early in my college career I was introduced to the comic strip Get Fuzzy drawn by Darby Conley, one of the only things to which I’m thankful for my roommate. But that’s a different story. Anyway, the premise behind the strip is a single guy, Rob, living in an apartment with an anthropomorphized talking cat and dog. The cat, Bucky, is fairly insane while the dog, Satchel, is fairly dopy. I think the height of the strip was a few weeks where the cat was suing the ferret next door for knocking out his tooth … on Judge Judy.

Anyway, starting September 20 and going through October 2, barring the Sundays, the artist ran a story where Bucky decides to challenge, in a very Coast to Coast AM -like way, the idea that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs. The September 21, 2010 strip follows:

September 21, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

September 21, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

Well, when put like that, the scientific consensus seems laughable. But that’s because you have left out a significant amount of information. But it gets better. In the strip from September 24, 2010, the final line from Satchel is actually one that the Coast to Coast AM host, George Noory, has stated many times to someone’s crazy idea:

September 24, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

September 24, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

Continuing:

September 27, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

September 27, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

September 29, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

September 29, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

September 30, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

September 30, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

October 2, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

October 2, 2010, Get Fuzzy Strip

The Moral of the Story: Final Thoughts

Why am I taking the little free time I have these days to make a post about a comic that has little to do with astronomy? Because it has everything to do with how people think. And it has everything to do with how that maybe 1% of the population is willing to elevate any hair-brained notion to the same status as a scientific theory that has theoretical and observational backing and has withstood all attempts at falsifying it. And I do mean all.

This series may be a comic strip, but people really do this kind of thing, and worse, there are people who unquestioningly believe the one lone nut who promotes it!

The next time you read about or hear about or see about someone’s “theory,” pause and think. Don’t just accept it at face value. Is there evidence behind it? Are they giving you all the background information? Are they making things up, or are they “on the level?” In the end, is it something that’s worth your time to investigate further and seek out independent information, or is it just another “Big Bonk?”

Legal note: All images shown here are housed on the original server and I did not download them. All are copy written by Darby Conley and distributed by UFS, Inc. and posted online at comics.com. For brevity, I have not posted all strips in the series but picked the most relevant.

September 4, 2010

Stephen Hawking, God, and Design, and the Universe


Introduction

I know I haven’t written for awhile, and unfortunately, you can expect more of the same sporadic posts probably for the next several months. I apologize. Just keep this in your RSS reader and you’ll get ’em when they come out. Blog’s not dead, just me. 🙂

Anyway, if you had to pick one topic this week that’s in the news other than politics, it would probably be Stephen Hawking and the conjecture that the universe does not need a god to have come about or be as it is. I know folks are probably tired about this, but I thought I would give a few brief observations, hopefully ones that aren’t actually in most news outlets.

My Thoughts

First, I agree. I do not think there’s any hard, scientific evidence that you need a god to create the universe or to have it turn out as it is. You’ll note I wrote “think,” not “believe.” This particular word choice is one that I’ll hopefully address in another short, future post.

Anyway, what really brought on this post was I was yet again listening to an episode of Coast to Coast AM where the host, George Noory, brought on a theologian to react. Only, in a very C2C twist, this particular theologian, Dr. Barry Downing, thinks that the Bible is the inspired word of space aliens who talked to Moses through maybe some sort of hologram of the burning bush.

Moving on … George stated effectively, “I don’t see how you can look at the universe and all that it contains and think that there wasn’t some sort of designer or planner or plan.”

That got me thinking: Well, what would a universe look like if it hadn’t been planned? How would we know? What would the difference(s) be?

I think what George and many people forget is that we have a sample size of 1. If you think the universe did not have a creator nor planner nor plan, then this is what it looks like without one and hence we don’t need one to explain it. If you believe that the universe did have a creator or planner or plan, then this is what it looks like with one and hence we do need one to explain it.

Very circular reasoning here. Perhaps an argument from ignorance, perhaps a tautology. Or begging the question / unstated major premise. So many logical fallacies to choose from!

Final Thoughts

I the end, I think this debate is a bit silly. I think the reactions of condemnation from world religious leaders was a “necessary” response to a statement by someone as famous as Stephen Hawking. And Hawking does have a book he’s trying to sell.

I think this is a fairly futile argument because neither side is going to be able to convince the other for the simple reasons I stated above: Those who believe this universe’s form could only arise from a guiding hand or noodly appendage are always going to cling to that design argument. Those who think this arises from random chance or underlying physical laws that we do not yet know will continue to think that.

But it does make for headlines and gives people something to talk about other than the latest Paris Hilton snafu.

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