Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 21, 2014

Philosophy: On Skepticism and Challengers


Introduction

I’m taking a break because I don’t want to work on this proposal at the moment. I’m great at procrastination, when I get around to it.

Anyway, I want to muse philosophical-like for a few minutes, reacting to some recent things I’ve heard regarding skepticism and people challenging your views.

“Healthy” Skepticism

George Noory, the now >1 decade primary host of late-night paranormal radio program Coast to Coast AM, had Dr. Judy Wood on his program for the first two hours of his “tribute” to the September 11, 2001 (I refuse to call it “9/11” because I think that trivializes it — we all have our quirks) terrorist attacks. Judy Wood is author of the book, “Where Did the Towers Go?” Her thesis is that a directed “zero-point energy” weapon “dustified” the towers, or that they suffered “dustification.”

It was a very difficult interview for George, I’m sure, since Judy refused to speculate on anything. I’m also growing slightly more convinced that he may have questions written down on cue cards because he asked the exact same question a few minutes apart (“how much energy is required to ‘dustify’ the towers?”) and she refused to speculate both times. Just repeating what she “knows she knows that she knows.” She is also incredibly defensive and clearly doesn’t know what the word “theory” is.

All that aside, early in the interview, George did a tiny disclaimer saying that they always get people writing or calling in saying that doing shows like that is unpatriotic and/or disrespectful to everyone who died in the attacks and the aftermath. But, that it’s healthy to have skepticism and to always question the official story.

*cough*

Okay, George, you are correct in theory (yes, I used that word purposely), but completely wrong in practice. Skepticism does not mean doubting or denying or not accepting everything. Skepticism, as we use the term today, means to not accept something unless we have good evidence to do so. It’s a method of investigation, to look into claims, examine the evidence, and put it in context with all the other evidence and plausibility given what has been established about the way the world works.

At least, that’s how I tend to define it, and it’s how I tend to practice it.

Do I believe “the government” on everything? No. For example, President Obama recently announced that the US is going to take on ISIS in some form or fashion, but that there would be “no boots on the ground.” Given past experience when politicians have said that, and given the realities of ISIS and the Middle East area in general, I’m … shall we say … “skeptical,” and I will reserve acceptance of his statement until it actually plays out.

Do I believe that NASA “tampers” with photographs of the moon to “airbrush out” ancient ruins and alien artifacts, or do I accept what “they” give us? (I put “they” in quotes because “NASA” is an organizational administration within the federal government; it’s the people involved who do everything, and it’s contractors and grant awardees who deal with data and other things.) I accept what they give us. I tend to not question it.

Why? Because of past experience and my own experience in investigating the claims to the contrary. I look at other images of the area from multiple spacecraft. From spacecraft from other countries. They are consistent. They don’t show different kinds of anomalies you’d need in order to have the scenario that the conspiracists claim is happening. They do show what you’d expect if the data were faithfully represented, as it was taken, after standard spacecraft and basic data reduction steps (like correcting for geometric distortion based on how the spacecraft was pointed, or removing artifacts from dust on the lens).

George, there is a difference between healthy skepticism – looking into claims – and beating a dead horse. Or beating over 3000 dead victims to a terrorist attack.

There is no plausibility to Dr. Wood’s arguments. Her claims made to back them up are factually wrong. (Expat has addressed some of them in his blog, here, here, here, and here.) She is ridiculously defensive, refuses to delve further into her model to actually back it up, and has a name for herself only because people like you give her airtime to promote her ideas. True skepticism is to examine the arguments from both sides and draw a conclusion based on what’s real and what’s most probable. Which has been done by thousands of people who debunk every single claim the conspiracists make about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But you won’t go to them. You bring on Dr. Wood, or people from the Architects and Engineers for Truth.

A one-sided investigation is not faithful, not genuine, and is disrespectful to everyone.

Challenging Your Conclusions

In a related vein, but completely different context, I was reading through my RSS news feeds and came upon the headline to the effect (because it’s disappeared from my feed since I started to write this): Michelle Obama explains to school children that challenges [probably, though I read it as “challengers”] are a good thing.

So true. Most people in the skeptical movement know that this is “a True.” Most scientists know this is “a True.” Most pseudoscientists are vehemently against being challenged.

I’ll take the subject of my last blog post to illustrate this example, not that I want to pick on him per se, but he’s the last person I listened to in detail that I can use to illustrate this point, other than Dr. Wood, who I discussed much more than I want to in the above section. Mike Bara.

Mike was somewhat recently on another late-night (though not quite as late) internet radio program, “Fade to Black,” where Jimmy Church is the host. It’s on Art Bell’s “Dark Matter Radio Network,” where I was also a guest several months ago. I have since called in twice to the program, both times to discuss the possibility of debating Mike Bara on some of his claims.

The very brief backstory on that is Mike was on Coast to Coast, and basically attacked me. I called in, George said he’d arrange a debate, then stopped responding to my e-mails. A year later, the same thing happened, and George actually e-mailed me (I couldn’t call in because I lost power that night — happens sometimes in the mountains of Colorado, though we now have a generator), he wanted to arrange a debate, he claimed on air that I had stopped responding to his e-mails … and then he stopped responding to mine so the debate never happened. Later, I learned that it was Mike who may have dropped his acceptance. I related that to Jimmy.

Jimmy asked Mike if he’d be willing to debate me, and Mike’s response was effectively, “what do I get out of it?” Mike opined that what I (Stuart) would get out of it is a platform and attention which, according to Mike, I so desperately want (or maybe that’s Michael Horn’s claim about me … I get some of what each says is my motivation a bit confused). Meanwhile, Mike already has attention, so he said that he wouldn’t get anything out of it and therefore didn’t want to do it. Jimmy countered that it would make great radio (which I agree with).

I did call in, but unfortunately Mike got dropped when Jimmy tried to bring me in. It was the last 10 minutes of the program, anyway, so I told Jimmy what I thought we both (me and Mike) would get out of it: We would each have to back up what we say, and when challenged, it forces us in a radio setting to make our arguments concise, easily understandable, and actually back up what we’re saying.

That’s what we do in science: We have to back up what we say. We expect to get challenged, we expect to have people doubt our work, we expect to have people check our work, and we expect people to challenge our conclusions. Only the best ideas that can stand up to such scrutiny survive. That’s how science progresses. That’s where pseudoscience fails. Science is not a democracy, and it is not a communistic system where every idea is the same and equal as every other idea. It’s a meritocracy. Only the ideas that have merit, that stand up to scrutiny, survive.

The point of science is to develop a model of how the world works. If your model clearly does not describe how the world works and make successful predictions (and have repeatable evidence and have evidence that actually stands up to scrutiny), then it gets dropped.

Final Thoughts

I hope you found these musings at least mildly interesting. And let me know if you agree or disagree. Challenge my ideas, but if you do so, make sure you back them up!

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September 24, 2013

David Wilcock: Skeptics Argue Because They Get High Off It


Introduction

I’m behind on a lot of things these days. The Colorado flooding and being with out power for a week put me more behind. On my To Do list was to address a quote from August 19, 2013, spoken by David Wilcock on the paranormal late-night radio program Coast to Coast AM.

The Quote

This sucker is long and it took much longer to transcribe it than the ~3 min 45 seconds it comprised. It started at 9:37 into Hour 3:

What we’re seeing is, okay, not only is this time pattern is cyclical, but we can use those cycles to make predictions about things that haven’t actually happened yet, and it happens that we’re at the end of a whole big cycle, 25,000 years, and what it predicts in over 30 ancient cultures — so, I’ve harped on the Bible here, but this is not a Christian– a strictly Christian prophecy, it’s over 30 ancient cultures that all said we’re going to go into a golden age, and they gave very specific mathematical codes about these various cycles, and-and you know we go through that in the book.

So, the point is, we have a global nemesis. Now skeptics, to some degree, have been influenced by this force that tries to take anybody who tries to look at the very real corruption in our world and–and–and marginalizes them.

And so, there was a fascinating scientific study that just came out the other day, and I love to quote references but I don’t remember who it was because I just read it and I haven’t written about it yet, so I just have to say there was a study – right for now, but I’ll have it in an article coming up – and, a group of scientists recently researched why people laugh. And it’s amazing that it’s been so long before someone really got into that! And what they ultimately concluded was, similar to things like hunger or thirst or sexual arousal or being tired and wanting to go to sleep, that our biology has given us a basic mechanism that wants to look for errors and mistakes in our environment, and ma– and tickles our brian when we find a mistake or an error in our environment. And that’s the basis of all humor, that’s why we laugh. After all this scientific research they did, that’s the conclusion they came to. And I think they’re right. Um, John Clease, from the Monty Python Flying Circus said that humor is about embarrassment, and you’re embarrassed when things don’t go the way they should for you. Because there’s an error or mistake in your environment.

So, I think that a lot of times what skeptics are doing is that they’re so conditioned to believe that anybody who talks about the stuff that’s on your show or anybody who’s out there listening to your show, those people are an error and a mistake in the environment, and these skeptics are so much– th-they get such a serotonin rush – such a high – off of being right and making other people wrong that it is like an addition.

And then they start trolling and then they start writing all these hateful comments in discussion forums, and every time they do that, they’re getting high. And they’re actually getting high off of like, you know, denigrating people. But, I make a very interesting– there’s a– there’s a whole chapter in the book where I talk about scientific proof of energy vampires, and we actually all have a certain degree of vital energy, and other people can in fact absorb your vital energy by denigrating you, humiliating you, shaming you, and creating a negative emotional state in you. And I actually spell out, with a great deal of scientific evidence, that this actually works, and that people can get totally addicted to that rush that they get, because there is an energy transfer, they actually do absorb your energy, and on a microbiological level we see it happening in laboratory experiments.

Premise

The setup for this quote was that he was talking about cycles of enlightenment and spiritual progress and history repeating. That lead into the first paragraph.

And then something about humor and some study that says something and therefore the stuff about skeptics. It’s really those last two paragraphs, roughly the last ~1 min 30 sec of the quote, that I wanted to address.

Purpose

I can’t speak for other people because I am not other people. But I can guarantee that I don’t get a “high” from showing that people are wrong. I normally get a headache. Especially from listening and transcribing nearly four minutes of B.S. from Wilcock. (For those who don’t know, Wilcock now makes a living off of claiming to be the reincarnation of Edgar Cayce, and also making various spiritual or practical predictions that never come true — such as alien disclosure in the fall of 2010. I guess I just got a little giddy from pointing that out.)

I would also point out that skeptics don’t “make other people wrong.” Other people are wrong. Skeptics use critical thinking of the claims and actual demonstrable and repeatable observations of the world around us to analyze claims and make a conclusion based on those claims. It just so happens that the vast majority of the ones that David makes – and that are made on C2C – are wrong.

I’m not addicted to pointing that out. I consider it a public service and personal growth. I’ve discussed this many times before, but briefly, (1) it helps me know how to qualify and better present my data as a scientist, and (2) critical thinking is important in all aspects of everyday life and not just to deciding if Planet X is going to kill you next year.

Final Thoughts

Just after talking about how skeptics get high on “making other people wrong,” lamenting how skeptics post “hateful comments in discussion forums,” and generally complaining that they’re hurtin’ his new-age buzz (my terms), he talks about energy vampires. And how there is allegedly “scientific evidence” that there is an actual transfer of “energy” when you denigrate someone and get high off it. Evidence on the microbiological level.

Now, in fairness, he did go on to cite one or two of about five studies that get trotted out on Coast to Coast whenever this kind of claim is made. Studies that I’ve looked into but have either not been able to verify or find anyone who’s replicated them (see my podcast on David Sereda’s claims, part 1, specifically about Masaru Emoto’s work on water).

So, yeah. Energy vampires. David, sometimes you make it too easy.

July 11, 2013

Podcast Episode 80: The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 7 – Mark Hazlewood


Planet X, again,
With claims like Nancy Lieder’s,
By Mark Hazlewood.

A bit of a longer episode, this is yet another in the ongoing saga that is Planet X. A lot of the basic claims about Planet X itself, by Mark Hazlewood, are very similar to those made by Nancy Lieder. However, the narrative that Mark tells is interesting in and of itself, and that’s what I focus on in this episode. Especially on the conspiracy aspects and the level of evidence that Mark considers trustworthy.

There’s also a Puzzler and Feedback in this episode.

This episode was written and recorded a few days early so that I could put it out whilst I’m at TAM … as in, now.

The next episode will probably be about young-Earth creationists’ contention that the speed of light changes — it’s one of the main methods they use to argue that the universe can be young in light of modern cosmology. The next episode was originally going to be about the claims of David Serida, but, that is going to have a lot of Coast to Coast AM clips, and since the last two episodes (including this) have a lot of C2C clips, I figured I would give y’all a break. At least for one episode.

June 4, 2013

My Additional Project: C2C Watch Blog … Reprinted Post on James McCanney


Introduction

A few weeks ago, while on my 40-minute morning walk to burn 260 calories – the number in an average-sized doughnut (yes, I count calories in units of doughnuts), I was absolutely disgusted by Coast to Coast fill-in host John B. Wells and his guest, Steve Pieczenik, talking about stupid things such as the government will charge you for having a baby because of gene patents, but then just disgusting things like “no child was killed at Sandy Hook.” I mean, stuff that you might expect to hear out of a psychopath (and I’m using the definition here – someone who is characterized by antisocial behavior, a diminished capacity for remorse, and poor behavioral controls).

It was really disgusting.

That’s when I reached out to a few people and decided to start a community blog, Coast to Coast AM Watch. The idea is that those of us who sometimes listen to the program and hear something particularly outrageous can blog about it and post real information. (And if you think this is you and you can contribute, let me know and I’ll set you up with an account.)

To cross-pollenate a bit, I am going to sometimes cross-post. So, here is a post I wrote a few days ago on James McCanney. I haven’t written about him before on this blog before because he’s a bit like Hoagland: He’s built up such a mythology that it’s very difficult in just a single post to get into it all. I do plan to put out a podcast episode later this year about some of his main stuff.

Note that I plan to be a bit more snarky on that blog, and this post reflects it.

The Cross-Post

James McCanney is a not infrequent guest on C2C, usually for a quick news blurb in the first hour, or for an hour here-and-there. May 23 saw him in the third hour with questions from the audience in the second half of that.

Trying to explain McCanney’s misconceptions is a bit like saying you’re going to spend an hour debunking Answers in Genesis: It can’t be done. Nearly every sentence he says is just plain wrong. Until I do my own podcast summarizing some of the major issues, I’ll direct you to Phil Plait’s take-down of about half a dozen of them.

In the spirit of this blog, where just a few things that catch our ears each show are things we want to address, I’m going to take on a claim he made in the early part of the hour. To summarize, he stated that we had weird weather in the US throughout Spring and early Summer. Since McCanny believes that all weather on Earth has to do with electrical interactions with stuff in the solar system, he searched and searched for something to explain it. And lo!– he found Saturn. That’s right … somehow, an electrical connection with the ringed planet made it snow here in America in the spring. The occasional teacher in me says: Please show your work.

That’s a problem with people like McCanney: They claim to make all these predictions (some of which are bound to come true) and therefore claim to overthrow all of science and yet they haven’t shown how the math works out.

In this case, let’s assume we believe Maxwell’s equations and that electricity follows an inverse-square law for intensity (it’s called a “law” for a reason, mind you — it’s a fact that the intensity of electricity falls off with the square of the distance, so if you’re 5x farther away from something, the intensity is 1/25 (1/52)).

Let’s also assume that we have a spacecraft that, gee, operates on electricity that’s in orbit of Saturn. Which we do. It’s called Cassini and has been in orbit since 2004. Cassini does not orbit in a nice, circular orbit, but it’s widely variable. From what a quick search got me, we can put a very rough number of 1 million km from Saturn. For a very round number, Saturn’s a bit over 1 billion km from Earth.

Now let’s apply the inverse-square law: ( (1 billion) / (1 million) )2 = (1 thousand)2 = 1 million.

So an electrical connection with Saturn, at Earth, would necessarily have had to have been 1 million times stronger at Cassini. Even if we’re talking some sort of directed energy weapon like a Star Trek phaser, the electrical discharge from Saturn would have had to have done something to Saturn’s magnetosphere that would have affected Cassini. You can’t get out of this. A 1 million-fold increase of electrical output magically happening from Saturn would have fried Cassini, and yet it’s still operating just as well as before.

That’s about as kindly as I can put this, that it’s just WRONG. And you can now see why a debunking of McCanney would take a very very long time: Just from those two or three sentences, I spent 500+ words.

February 1, 2013

Podcast #63: Clip Show #1


It was bound to happen at some point, that episode that’s just a hodgepodge of short, random bits of crä-crä that I put together as a clip show. This one features five bits of silliness — or maybe six, I lost count. Big-name stars you may remember from other episodes are Brooks Agnew and Gregg Braden, but making their first time appearance we also hear from Christopher Knight and Alan Butler, Ken Parsons, and Jeffrey Grupp. Coast to Coast AM clips feature heavily, so if you don’t like ’em, you may want to skip this episode.

Other segments were Announcements and a Puzzler. You’ll need to go to about 24 minutes into the episode for the puzzler, it’s not in the usual place.

December 29, 2012

2012 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Laypeople and Professionals Both Continue to Fail


Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

Introduction

Continuing a tradition that I started in 2010 and continued in 2011, I am posting a “psychic roundup” to celebrate the end of one Julian calendar year and bring in the next. In previous years, I have focused on Coast to Coast AM audience and professional predictions, and my conclusion has been, in one word: Bad. Average around 6% correct.

This year, I have branched out to other sources for three primary reasons. First, Coast has changed their format such that the audience predictions are more annoying and outlandish and it’s no longer one per person. Second, Coast is no longer doing a night or two of professional predictions where they bring in several guests per night to discuss the year ahead. It’s just a few people scattered over January. Third, last year, I was criticized for relying on Coast with people on some forums complaining that it wasn’t a good sample because no “reputable” person would go on the show anymore. I was also criticized for lumping different “kinds” of methods together, like astrologers with mediums.

So, I sniffed out seventeen other people who claim to make foresight-ful predictions who were not on Coast. I recorded their predictions, and I’ve scored them. I scored 549 predictions made by various people this year. If you want to just get right to ’em, then see the link above or below. If you want more of a summary and a “how,” keep reading.

Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

People

Beyond the laypeople in the Coast audience, this year, the pros featured: Joseph Jacobs, Glynis McCants, Mark Lerner, Maureen Hancock, Paul Gercio, and John Hogue. The other 17 pros I looked at were: Concetta Bertoldi, Da Juana Byrd, Linda & Terri Jamison, Joseph Tittel, LaMont Hamilton, Carmen Harra, Judy Hevenly, Roxanne Hulderman, Blair Robertson, Pattie Canova, Cal Orey, Sasha Graham, Elaine Clayton, Denise Guzzardo, and Terry Nazon.

Many of these people are highly respected in their fields and charge a lot of money for readings (if they do readings). Let’s see how they did …

Scoring

I continued my tradition from last year with being somewhat strict in either calling something a miss or saying it was too vague or obvious or not a prediction. In one case, I had to call the “psychic” ignorant based on my reading of their prediction (that Antarctica would be found to have land under it?).

With that in mind, I was also what some may consider generous, giving some high probability hits (like Newt Gingrich would win the South Carolina primaries).

All numerical scores are the number of hits divided by the number of hits plus the number of misses. That means that predictions that were too vague/etc. were NOT counted against them, nor for them. The uncertainty is the square-root of the number of hits divided by the sum of the number of hits plus misses.

How They Did

I separated the folks into three groups: Coast audience, Coast professionals, and other professionals. Here’s how they did:

  • C2C Audience: 6.6±2.1%
  • C2C Pros: 15.6±7.0%
  • Other Pros: 7.5±1.7%

How They Did, Removing U.S. Presidential Election Stuff

The USA had a presidential election this year. About 3.3% of the predictions had specifically to do with who would run and be elected. These were pretty high-probability for the actual results followed what analysts were predicting months in advance.

So, to try to un-bias the predictions relative to previous years, I removed ALL predictions having to do with the either who would be the nominee on the Republican side or who would win the presidency. The results, and compared with previous years, are:

  • C2C Audience
    • 2012: 6.7±2.2% (4.7% too vague to score)
    • 2011: 5.8±2.3% (8.8% too vague to score)
    • 2010: 5.7±2.3%
  • C2C Pros
    • 2012: 13.8±6.9% (17.1% too vague to score)
    • 2011: 2.6±2.6% (39.0% too vague to score)
    • 2010: 11.5±4.3%
  • Other Professionals
    • 2012: 5.5±1.5% (27.1% too vague to score)

Several Conclusions from the Data

Note that these are discussed in more detail in the massive PDF file that lists all the predictions. For the shorter version …

First, I repeat this every year – and I predict that I’ll repeat it, in effect, next year – these “professionals” are NOT capable of telling the future any better than you or I, and some of them are in fact far worse.

Second, another thing I repeat every year and has held true this year, is that the pros are much vaguer than laypeople. On average, they’re a factor of around 3-5x vaguer in the sense that, percentage-wise, 3-5x more of their predictions are too vague to actually score. This means that they’re very easy to retrodict, after the event occurs, to claim accuracy. But, that “accuracy” is useless because it was not something that could be actionable when the “prediction” was made because it was so vague

Third, if the small numbers can be believed, the pros are better at setting aside their personal aspirations for politics — of the 12 predictions dropped because they were about the presidency, 1 hit and 2 misses were from the laypeople, while 7 hits and 3 misses were from pros. This indicates they got more right than the laypeople, which, while someone could point to that and say it proves they’re more psychic/intuitive/whatever, an objective person would look at that and point out that they were simply more likely to state what the polls and analysts were saying at the time.

Fourth, again if small numbers can be believed, when separating the pros into psychic-mediums, psychics, intuitives, and astrologers, the prediction rates were identical — except for the astrologers, who got 0. The only difference was that the psychics were much less vague, averaging around 19% unscorable versus about 35% unscorable for the others. I’ll have to watch that and see if it pans out in future years.

Scoring, Revisited

Before I wrap this up, I want to revisit the scoring and point out a major difference between the prognosticator and what I would consider an objective person looking to see if a “psychic” prediction is accurate or if it’s so vague that it can be retrodicted after the event to claim accuracy.

My example is Linda and Terri Jamison, the “Psychic Twins” who claim to be “psychic mediums.” They stated they see “one or two major schools being victimized by a young terrorist in the U.S.”

I consider that a miss. A terrorist is someone who commits their terrorism to create fear and panic, usually in the pursuit of political aims. By all accounts — except for the very conspiracy-minded, who unfortunately have been on C2C talking about this — Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hooke Elementary School shooter, was anti-social and disturbed. NOT a terrorist, not doing this for political gain, no cause in mind, and no greater demands for a group. To me, this is NOT a correct prediction for the twins. Sandy Hooke Elementary is – no offense – also not exactly what I would consider a “major school” (someone from Connecticut please correct me if I’m wrong).

However, I fully expect the twins to go out and claim that they predicted the Sandy Hooke shooting based on their above statement, just as they’ve been saying for over a decade they predicted the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks via the following exchange:

– Twin A: “We’re seeing a lot of natural disasters in terms of earthquakes and hurricanes, uh, blizzards and earthquakes coming up, especially in the next 10-12 years. A lot of activity like that because of global warming. We are seeing, uh, various terrorist attacks on Federal government, uh, excuse me — Federal buildings, um –”
– Twin 1: “– yeah, particularly, uh, South Carolina or Georgia.”
– Art Bell: “Really.”
– Twin 1: “Uh, by July 2002, and also uh, the New York Trade Center, the World Trade Center in 2002.”
– Art Bell: “Really.”
– Twin 1: “Uh, with something with a terrorist attack and, um, yeah, so that’s pretty much it.”

That is their claim for predicting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. I consider it a miss. But that’s a future blog post.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up for this year. I’m not going to repeat my small tirade from last year against the amount of money people waste on these professionals. I’ll just ask that you look at the data: They don’t do any better than you.

I’ll also ask that if you found this at all useful or interesting, please help spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, message boards, your favorite podcast (unless it’s mine, in which case I already know), etc. A lot of work went into it, and as far as I know, this is one of the most comprehensive looks at predictions for 2012 (and thanks again to Matt T. for help on scoring several items).

Also, if I got anything wrong, please let me know by posting in the comments or sending me an e-mail.

August 7, 2012

Richard C. Hoagland (et al.) on Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) “Curiosity” Landing Last Night


Introduction

I attended a party at work for the Mars Science Laboratory (hereafter “Curiosity”) landing last night, so I wasn’t anywhere near the radio. I have to say that I am honestly a bit surprised everything worked exactly (or as near exactly) as planned and we had a very successful landing. A HUGE kudos/congratulations to all of the engineers who put that landing system together, and now the science team can start to learn more about Mars’ surface geology than hopefully most other landers put together.

That said, as promised on the Exposing PseudoAstronomy facebook page last night, Richard C. Hoagland was on Coast to Coast AM last night all four hours, each hour with a different person, discussing the landing. And I promised a blog post.

Warning: This post has snark. A non-trivial amount of it.

Hour the First

This was the hour that Curiosity landed. There was very little pseudoscience during this. A bit of wrong facts (such as the sky crane using steel cables to lower Curiosity when it used nylon), and a bit of Richard’s usual stuff, and then just four minutes before the top of the hour, we got to typical Richard.

There were prior two quotes perhaps worth mentioning. First: “There are several clues coming out of no less an authority than the White House that this mission, Curiosity, might be where NASA finally unveils a hint of the real Mars.” We know “real Mars” to Hoagland means ancient technology and life.

Second, in response to a question about finding fossils on Mars: “I am hearing officials – high officials in NASA – talking about Curiosity maybe spotting fossils. Now that means, politically, … if our trend curve / other data is accurate, this could be the mission where NASA comes clean and starts talking about actually what’s there on Mars.” I love how he always cites “officials” or “high officials.” Nameless, or course, to protect their identity, which also makes it uncheckable.

The typical Richard came out starting about 36:25 into the hour after George asked Richard what was “next” for Curiosity. Richard explained that it was going to be exploring the huge mound in the center of Gale Crater, Mt. Sharp, and that it would take years for the rover to get up to the top. But then we had: “The object itself – the mountain itself – [start talking in conspiracy voice as though he’s talking to a 3-year-old] doesn’t quite look … uh … ¿natural? Mount Sharp, the very peak, looks in fact like an eroded tetrahedron, like somebody – someone built this thing. This is going to sound totally nuts to all my enemies out there …”

Yup, pretty much. Immediately following that was a dig at, I think, Phil Plait as he mentioned hair-pulling but that some doing the hair-pulling don’t have much hair to begin with. He continued: “There is no commonly accepted mechanism for the formation of Mount Sharp in the middle of this crater.”

Richard then proceeded to say that craters form when an asteroid strikes a surface, “blasting a huge hole in the surface of Mars. How do you get a mountain? covering the crater subsequently? Where’d the stuff come fro? to form the mountain?”

George: “It was brought there maybe.”

Richard: “Exactly! And some of the photographs that have been taken by MRO, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, that I have on the Coast website … they look down on incredibly geometric ruin-like structures photographed right in the path that Curiosity has to drive. … It is only the beginning.”

Apparently, Richard has no idea how craters larger than about 6 km on Mars form. At approximately that diameter and larger, craters are so large and create such a compressive force that the surface rebounds in the center and you get a central peak. Look at any reasonably fresh crater larger than 15 km on the Moon and you’ll see a central peak. Same with Mars (but the cut-off there is ~6 km as I mentioned). That explains a fair amount of Gale, but the rest of it – and why it was selected as the landing site – is what are thought to be sedimentary deposits. In other words, deposits made by water. Not a 50-mile-wide and 3-mile-high pyramid made by intelligent beings stupid enough to believe in your hyperdimensional physics, Richard.

Hour the Second

This hour was with John Brandenburg. This is not meant to be a poisoning of the well ad hominem nor non sequitur, but Brandenburg was introduced as having written books entitled, “Life and Death on Mars,” and “Beyond Einstein’s Unified Field.” He was further introduced as a plasma physicist and someone who was trying to “complete the work of Einstein” on unifying the fundamental forces mathematically. When one hears that, especially on a show like Coast to Coast, one’s B.S. detector should be tweaked.

Richard monopolized a lot of the time in the early part of this hour – and what I later found to be most of the show – and he reiterated his claim that the central mound in Gale Crater is a collapsed arcology. Some evidence, you might ask? Of course: “It’s got headlights! … Why, since you’re not driving at night, … why do you need headlights at night? They’re going into the structure where they don’t have any light!” Q.E.D. right?

He went on: “As we go through the morning I’m going to lay out more data points – carefully researched so I don’t sound like a total idiot, cause people can go and confirm this themselves; now, if they interpret the data the same way, that’s up to them, but the data is there … .”

That actually is a remarkably honest statement and it’s one of Richard’s many “outs” that he usually includes, and it’s also, incidentally, the way that creationists will often argue: It’s all about your worldview, we’re all looking at the same data! The problem with Richard is that he has his conspiracy/artifacts/life agenda, and the data – no matter what they are – will always support that from his vantage point.

He went on to say that the Obama administration is holding an “October Surprise.” I’m looking forward to November when George will come back and ask Richard why there wasn’t any no one holds Richard to this except for callers who don’t make it through and Facebook fans who get banned.

Anyway, after the bottom-of-the-hour-break, John explained that he believes Mars once had a thriving biosphere, that the climate changed dramatically with the formation of Lyot Crater (a crater that I have extensively studied and written three papers on …) that doomed the planet. Before that, it had an oxygen atmosphere and thriving biosphere according to him.

Well, real quick, in my papers I date Lyot Crater to about 3.3-3.7 billion years ago. There’s some VERY preliminary work I’m doing that might make it more like 2 billion years old, but that is in no way shape nor form an age that should be used at the moment.

On Earth, it took until something like 2.4 billion years before we had an oxygen atmosphere which was the pollution of the first bacterial life. This is a case where John Brandenburg can “believe” anything he wants, but it’s up to him to provide the evidence that supports his ideas and counters the established observations that disagree with his ideas.

Which get more strange. At 24:44 into hour 2: “There seems to have been a very large nuclear event. … One hypothesis I’ve put forth … [is] this was a natural nuclear reactor … and you can find a big radiation scar on Mars from the gamma ray spectrometer.” Okay, yes, natural nuclear reactors happened, it happened in Africa on Earth a long time ago. But there is NO evidence it happened on Mars. The Gamma Ray Spectrometer was designed to search for evidence of sub-surface hydrogen that is thought to be bound in water. Not search for nuclear blast sites. John cites several lines of “evidence” for his model that, honestly, are not evidence for anything he’s suggesting, but to get the whole story, of course you need to go buy his book.

No argument would be complete, though, without the argument from persecution, which comes at about 26 minutes into the episode when he said that he was denounced not only by the US but by the Soviets. I didn’t know he put forth his ideas prior to the 1990s.

But it gets better. The story continues when Richard comes back from listening to the NASA press conference and points out (first) that one of their lines of evidence for bombs going off is that some craters are in chains which look like bombing runs. Um, no. Craters occur in chains for at least three reasons: Pit craters (they are collapse features overlying voided lava tubes, so follow the lava tube), secondary craters (my specialty, ejecta thrown out from the formation of a primary crater), and craters formed by an object that was broken up by the gravity of the planet (think Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet impact). Bombing runs would be the last thing any reputable scientist would suggest for the formation of a crater chain on Mars.

But it gets better. Richard points out that an instrument on Curiosity will be for investigating the radiation environment on Mars, but that because NASA keeps emphasizing “natural radiation,” they doth protest too much and so he thinks it’s code for, of course, radiation from whatever technology the ancient Martians had. It couldn’t be, possibly, because if they don’t say “natural radiation” some generic member of the public would wonder about it and ask why there’s radiation on Mars? (It’s because of a lack of atmosphere shielding it from NATURAL radiation from the sun and extra-solar system cosmic rays.) It’s why I keep trying to say “impact crater” instead of just “crater” (even though I fail) because “impact crater” is more specific. Even though it’s usually assumed. But no, it’s ’cause they’re using Curiosity to look for a way to date when the civil Mars war occurred that wiped everyone out.

The final “data point” we get from Richard in this hour that was supposed to feature Brandenburg in the first half and callers in the second half is that the White House christmas card from last year supposedly had, reflected in the blinds in the window, the logo for the Curiosity rover. Talk about pareidolia. And the fact that it was in the library, where no other White House christmas card has ever been photographed “before or since” (not sure how we’ve had a Christmas since 2011), is because they’re sending the message that Curiosity is going to uncover the ancient knowledge (represented by the books) of Mars.

2011 White House Christmas Card

2011 White House Christmas Card

How Richard puts this together is beyond me and likely would get him committed to many psychiatric institutes.

Hour the Third

It bears mentioning during this hour that Hoagland remarked about “typical NASA arrogance” when, during the press conference, the principle investigator for the mission was asked by a 10-year-old when “the kids” get to drive Curiosity on Mars. Hoagland stated that the PI had no sense of humor and bristled and said, “Well, there are 400 scientists ahead of her in line.” Richard’s response? Well, I already told you: “Typical NASA arrogance.” Hmm. How about “Basic fact and responding in a way that a child can understand.” As opposed to the reality, which is “never.” That would have been more of an arrogant response.

Most of this hour was relatively tame until around 24 minutes in. Robert Zubrin is, by most accounts a reasonably sane person and though he thinks that there are fossils on Mars, he doesn’t claim any of the pareidolia evidence that Sir Charles Schultz III does, he just thinks they’re there but we haven’t gathered evidence for them.

At 23:20, Richard interrupts, as he often does. In fact, there was a “debate” a few years ago between the two on Coast and Zubrin at one point effectively said, “Richard, if you’re not going to let me talk, if you keep interrupting me, I’m just going to hang up.”

Anyway, Richard claims that several NASA people have said that we might find fossils on Mars with Curiosity. I have not heard this. I would be very surprised if anyone connected with the team or a scientist or official at NASA stated that. I’d like to know who and when, Richard. If you skip over the one caller they took after that, to around 30 minutes in, Zubrin starts to question Richard’s statement. Then they start arguing. Hoagland believes they already know of fossils (and will disclose a few days before the US presidential election), Zubrin is more rational, which is always a big no-no on Coast.

They took one more call and Richard interrupted him.

Hour the Fourth

The guest this hour was Richard Hoagland. Oh, and some other guy who Richard didn’t really let talk. Something-something-something. (Looks up the name …) David Livingston.

David really didn’t bring anything to the table this hour because Richard kept talking. It was really just more of the same but Richard let his hair down a bit more and let himself talk more. Err, go more into his weird ideas. More conspiracy stuff, more “they know and this mission is going to let them talk about it and we have pictures of fossils” etc. etc. etc.

Final Thoughts

Can you tell I was a bit jaded by the end? Yeah …

Anyway, the only good thing to come out of it is, as usual, Hoagland kept saying throughout the night one of the only things that I fully support him on: The space program is awesome and the landing of Curiosity is a great accomplishment. More resources should be invested in space, and the landing of Curiosity has given the space program a very good and very needed P.R. boost.

July 22, 2012

Quick Follow-Up on Hoagland’s Lunar Ziggurat


Just a quick mention that I have created a video version of my debunking of Hoagland’s alleged ziggurat on the Moon. It’s up now on YouTube in HD resolution, if not quality (YouTube compression and all that).

This is my first published foray into video editions of stuff related to my podcast, so let me know what you think. And, FYI, those 4.5 minutes took me about 3-4 hours to put together.

July 21, 2012

Richard Hoagland’s Ziggurat on the Moon: Hoax or Fraud, but Not Real


Introduction

During TAM, I met with a listener of my podcast and one of his first requests was “more Hoagland!” So, this post is dedicated to Darrin.

Edit (Aug. 7, 2012): I have posted a 4.5-minute video of the debunking of this on YouTube.

Another Edit (Sept. 25, 2012): This is my wrap-up post on this subject that spanned over a month and 20,000+ words. This post you’re reading now is the first and is what generally shows up first in Google searches. I recommend reading this post, then visiting the last post which contains a list of all others in this series that relate to the lunar ziggurat.

Lunar Anomalies

One of Richard C. Hoagland’s main shticks is to find apparent photographic anomalies and then claim they are artificial things. Face on Mars, glass tubes on Mars/Moon, “Data’s Head” on the Moon, etc. are just a few examples.

Last night, he was on Coast to Coast AM and, courtesy of Expat, here’s a transcript of what Hoagland stated (GN = George Noory, RCH = Richard C. Hoagland):

GN: …will we ever go back to the Moon, Mr Hoagland?

RCH: “Yes, we will. What’s really astonishing, and the reason I wanted to do a little update tonight is… I’ve sent over to Lex, to be posted on the Coast website, an astonishing image taken from orbit … on the lunar far side, on the opposite side of the Moon from the Earth — almost as far away from the Earth as you can get, almost 180° — almost on the equator, just south of the equator, a mile-size — each side is a mile — ziggurat. It looks like an Egyp….a Sumerian pyramid. It’s extraordinary. It’s enormous.

It … you gotta go look because this is just absolutely astonishing — and I’ve spent now several days trying to make sure this is real, and to the best of our analytical abilities it’s real, there’s a whole bunch of little “tells” around it that tell us. For one thing, hoaxes are never subtle. This is subtle. This is the kind of thing that an expert would instantly recognize — and unless you have trained eyes it’s going to take you a minute or two maybe to see it, but once you see it, you’re never going to not see it.

And the most amazing thing, George, is where it’s located. It’s almost exactly opposite the Earth, on the far side of the Moon, where you would put a massive pyramid — because we now know from the Enterprise studies, including what I did with the eclipse here in May — that pyramids amplify torsion field energy enormously.

That’s why there are pyramids all over the world, you were asking your guest last night “Why are there pyramids all over the world? Do they talk to each other?” Yes, they do. They’re linked by hyperdimensional physics — and whatever the reason for this thing being built on the far side of the Moon was — part of it had to be, to look with this energy through the core of the Moon — which we now know from our eclipse studies amplifies torsion energy ENORMOUSLY — and to look through the core at the Earth and to monitor the torsion field changes in the Earth.

If some hoaxer had put this thing on the [..?..] they figured out all the right things to do to put it in the one place in the whole solar system where it would make sense from a hyperdimensional perspective, which is one of the reasons I think it’s real.

And you all ought to go and look at what Lex has posted … and I’ve got Steve Troy working on the footprints, on which orbit.. which astronaut took the picture. It may have been Collins, all by himself in the CM orbiting around the Moon while Neil & Buzz were down on the surface. But this is only a tip of the iceberg, George, as to what they’ve been hiding for 43 years, that we have got to take control of now.”

GN: “You’ve got that right…”

Quick Key Points

Let’s ignore how little this statement by Hoagland makes sense. Let’s ignore all the supposed implications. Let’s focus on just a few key statements (in bold):

I’ve spent now several days trying to make sure this is real, and to the best of our analytical abilities it’s real, there’s a whole bunch of little “tells” around it that tell us. For one thing, hoaxes are never subtle. This is subtle. This is the kind of thing that an expert would instantly recognize — and unless you have trained eyes it’s going to take you a minute or two maybe to see it, but once you see it, you’re never going to not see it.

An Hour of Investigation by Yours Truly

I was processing lunar images this morning for a new project that I hope to finish up soon, and once I set a new batch of images to go, I read my RSS feeds. Expat (a pseudonym), whom I interviewed in Episode 10 of my podcast about Mike Bara (one of Hoagland’s little buddies), had a new post up on his blog Dork Mission entitled, “The Eagle has landed, and Richard Hoagland offers absolute nonsense.” I clicked through and encountered the above transcript plus Expat’s comments.

Expat linked to the original image that Hoagland’s ziggurat came from, Apollo 11 photo AS11-38-5564. You can download a high-resolution scan from the Lunar and Planetary Institute. Which I did. And here’s the data page on the LPI website for that image. And, you can grab Hoagland’s ziggurat from the Coast page.

I spent around a half hour searching for Hoagland’s location, but it did not go well. Without knowing the exact rotation nor scaling, it was difficult to figure out. But, in the comments section of Expat’s post, we eventually got it:

Context of AS11-38-5564 with Hoagland's Ziggurat

Context – AS11-38-5564 with Hoagland’s Ziggurat, black box shows where it is
(click to empyramidate)

For the record, I took the original LPI image and rotated it clockwise 90°. I knew this was the starting point because of the shadows of craters in the image Hoagland presented. After finding the location, I rotated Hoagland’s image by 10.96°, and then I scaled Hoagland’s by 85.28%. I determined these by lining up craters.

Then I created this comparison so you can see the LPI scan and what Hoagland presented:

Comparison of Original and Hoagland Enhancement of Lunar Ziggurat

Comparison of Original and Hoagland Enhancement of Lunar Ziggurat
(click to enhancenate)

Hoax/Fraud

First, I will say that I do not know who made the “enhancement.” What I do know is that the original file was entitled “AS11-38-5564-Mike-oirginal-enhanced3.jpg” on Coast to Coast AM‘s website. Since Richard Hoagland used to work, and I believe still sometimes does, with Mike Bara, I’m guessing the image came from Bara. However, Richard is passing it off as his own, or at least hoping you think it’s his because he does not provide any attribution.

So again, I am not saying that it was Richard nor Bara who “enhanced” the image originally, but I would not put it past either of them.

That said, from my work over the past twenty years doing image processing and analysis (yay Photoshop 2.5!), Whomever did the “enhancement” would likely have gone through these steps:

First, they used a poorer quality image (see all the noise and loss of details in small craters?) or later deliberately added noise and reduced the quality.

Second, they darkened the image overall (look at the shadows near the lower left corner).

Then, they increased the contrast (the white spot near the upper middle (a crater highlight) is more saturated in the “enhancement” and covers a bit more area). This could have been combined with the previous step with a basic Curves adjustment.

Finally, they likely did some selective curves/levels adjustment to create the “ziggurat,” or they skipped this step entirely and went right on to just drawing it in.

There is no way you can get a ziggurat as presented without drawing it into this photo.

I figured this out in an hour. Half of that time was spent just locating the thing ’cause Hoagland never provides context, and 2/3 of the remainder was spent making the images I put up here.

Another Obvious Sign of Fraud/Hoax

There are few gradations of light and dark on the Moon because of a lack of atmosphere. If you’re in shadow, you’re in shadow and it’s going to be pitch-black (or almost pitch-black). You could potentially get a little scattered light from a hill that’s farther away, and you could get a teensy bit or Earthshine (though if this was from the far side of the moon, you can’t have earthshine as a source of light).

Now look at the “walls” of the “ziggurat” on the left side. They are in shadow, but they are clearly a lighter shade than the other shadows in the image. There is also no crater wall nor mountain to scatter light onto it. I would argue that the shading as presented is not possible on the Moon and is a fairly clear sign of a hoax/fraud right off the bat.

Finding the actual location in the original image and not having a ziggurat there is a secondary (though important) step.

Final Thoughts

At this point, I will bluntly state that (in my opinion) Richard C. Hoagland is either an incompetent person or a liar based solely upon this instance. That is an objective statement that I am making based upon the available evidence I presented above and explain below.

I justify the former position by again referring to his statement that he spent several days trying to make sure it’s real and to the best of his ability, he determined it’s real. I have shown in the above analysis it is not, unless you want to claim that Hoagland has access to a secret version and the one on the LPI website is the fraud. However, the lower quality and higher noise level of Hoagland’s would indicate to me that he is using a later generation copy the photo (as opposed to more original).

The other alternative is that Hoagland is simply lying. Either he did no analysis and just presented this as it was sent to him (ergo lying about spending several days in analysis), or he created it himself. Based on his previous track record for creating graphics, I personally doubt the latter, but I could easily believe that someone made this, sent it to him, and Hoagland just presented it without doing any of the analysis he claims he did.

Perhaps it was the same person who posted this on the Disclose TV forum back in February 2011, to which, again, Hoagland gives no attribution.

So, there you have it, the latest by Richard C. Hoagland.

Edited to Add …

After much searching, I have located the coordinates at approximately 174.34°E, -8.97°N. There does not appear to be any LRO Narrow Angle Camera images of the region, and you can explore it for yourself at this link. It’s smack dab in the center. This is a WAC image that has the location towards the bottom-center, though it’s actually slightly lower resolution than the original Apollo image (this is 76 m/px). I calculate that the length of the side of the “ziggurat” would be roughly 2 km, in line with Hoagland’s claim.

Also, there appears to be some evidence that this goes back before even 2003 with some posts on some other forums. Regardless, I maintain my opinion, that I think is fairly objective: Hoagland is either a liar (he did not spend days analyzing this, he just went with it), or he is completely incompetent (that he spent days analyzing this and thinks it’s real).

May 15, 2012

Planet X: Birthdays Are a Time to Think About Planet X


Introduction

I just completed another round ’bout the Sun on Monday and spent the day sleeping in, eating doughnuts, and playing computer games. But, to those in the know, birthdays are a time to pause and reflect upon one of the more crazy Planet X ideas out there.

Lifetimes

The lifespan of a fruit fly is about 1/12th of a year. The lifespan of a dog or cat is around 15-20ish years. The lifespan of a human is around 75ish years, though that has varied considerably over the past few hundred years and varies today based on gender, socioeconomic status, country, etc. … but we’ll go with 75 as a nice, round number. The lifespan of a bristlecone pine is in the thousands of years.

Implicit in that paragraph is that “year” means “Earth year,” or roughly 365.24219 days. That must mean if we lived on another planet, we’d live for more or less time ’cause the year’s different right?

Anunaki and Planet X

As I said at the beginning, this is one of the more crazy claims. I can’t recall a guest specifically stating this as fact on Coast to Coast AM except to say specifically that the aliens (Anunaki) who supposedly came to Earth under Zecharia Sitchen’s ideas of Planet X (Nibiru) to make a slave race to mine gold (us!) lived for tens of thousands of years. They state that with fact.

But while a guest may not have gone the next step, I have often heard the host, George Noory, state unequivocally that the reason these aliens lived longer is because Nibiru has a 3600-(Earth)-year-long orbit … so they live 75 of their years, which is 270,000 of our years! So a fruit fly from Nibiru should live, instead of one Earth month, 300 Earth years!

Um … WHAT?!

Noory’s said some head-bangers in the past, some real doozies. But this one definitely ranks up there. If there’s a biologist out there, feel free to correct me, but I’m pretty sure that how long it takes Earth to go around the sun has absolutely nothing to do with how long something lives. You can look at the diversity of lifespans of different things on Earth to see that.

From my few biology classes over a decade ago (without saying what birthday I had on Monday …), we die because our cells can no longer maintain themselves and reproduce effectively/successfully. I think this has something to do with telomeres, but I’m sure people like Ray Kurzwell have a few other reasons why things die.

But suffice to say, it’s not because it take a certain length of time for us to go around the sun.

Final Thoughts

Um … to summarize: No, I would not be celebrating 3600 times as many Earth birthdays if I lived on the mythical planet Nibiru.

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