Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 5, 2012

Thoughts on Creationist Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross on Coast to Coast


Introduction

I expected to listen to April 1’s Coast to Coast AM broadcast and experience many head-banging moments. After all, Dr. Hugh Ross, the guest, is a creationist. And he’s an astronomer.

I think the problem is that I mixed up Hugh Ross with Russell Humphreys; the latter is a young-Earth creationist, while the former is an old-Earth creationist (both are astronomers by training).

The interview was something I found interesting and more believable than many Coast to Coast broadcasts (though that’s not saying much). I think the root reason is that I could see where Hugh was coming from, I could understand and relate to him and he wasn’t just ignoring science. He had a lot of good points that were based in the tenants of observational knowledge and I really only disagreed with him on some of his conclusions. Below, I point out two instances that stuck in my mind.

Creationism vs. Evolution

At about 14 minutes into the second hour, Dr. Ross stated, “I think one reason why there’s so much controversy over creation/evolution, is you get people taking a few verses out of the bible, and one book, and then trying to integrate that with a few facts from one scientific discipline. what you really need to do is integrate all the scientific disciplines with all the books of the bible.”

This statement is so true and it’s something that you can see almost every day in young-Earth creationist or Intelligent Design writings: They constantly refer to Darwin’s writings as if the state of the science has not changed in over 150 years. I also think this may have been a thinly veiled swipe at Answers in Genesis which, oddly enough, takes all their answers from Genesis (the first book of the Jewish and Christian bibles); with AiG, if anything conflicts with “In the beginning, God created …” then it’s wrong.

The state of scientific understanding changes. If it didn’t then every scientist would be out of a job. I don’t think that Dr. Ross would go so far as to say that Christian theology is also constantly changing, but it’s refreshing to listen to someone who is willing to work towards reconciling one small phrase in context with everything else and not just what else is in that book.

UFOs

In the first half of the third hour of the program, and throughout hour four, Noory asked Ross about UFOs. Pretty much every caller who was on during the fourth hour who disagreed with something Ross had said was disagreeing with his position on UFOs; this is likely because Coast to Coast was practically build upon the UFO=aliens phenomenon, and it is still a core part of the show.

Ross’s take on the issue is similar to many other creationist people or super-religious Christians that I’ve heard before: He thinks they’re demons trying to deceive us.

He pointed out, yet again, several things that I agree with but then we reached different conclusions. One of the main points he made is that the alleged technology that UFO spotters “see” keeps pace with Earth technology at the time. In the early 1900s it was blimps, in the mid-1900s it was biplanes, in the 1970s it was people with crazy hairdos, and now it’s typical of the science fiction of the day with disks and flashing lights that defy gravity, much like the classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind movie, or more recently, Independence Day.

He also pointed out that the alleged UFO contactees’ claims of where these beings come from has kept pace with the popular science fiction of the day — first from the Moon, then Mars, then Venus, and now other star systems.

(And yes, I realize that there will be an exception to these that someone can point to — I’m talking about the vast majority of claims at the time.)

My broad conclusion from this is hoaxters, dreams, frauds, random guessing, and other things that then borrow from the popular science fiction of the day.

Ross’s broad conclusion from this is that, because all these beings are lying (since they’re always just ahead of our technology), they’re demons (fallen angels) trying to lead us astray from the path of his god.

It’s intriguing to see this kind of disparate conclusion, and I think for once the Answers in Genesis’s cartoon of, “We look at the same evidence but have different world views” really does apply (as opposed to it applying to AiG’s claim to support young-Earth creationism … that’s a case where they may look at the same evidence but then throw it out if it doesn’t support their worldview).

Here we have a case where I look at the world in the sense that, “You need to supply convincing, unambiguous, irrefutable, testable, and repeatable evidence that shows UFOs are not unidentified, but they really are identifiable as alien craft. Until then, my default is that they are explainable through well known and understood human cognitive biases and issues.”

Ross is approaching it in the sense that, “You need to supply convincing, unambiguous, irrefutable, testable, and repeatable evidence that shows UFOs are not unidentified, but they really are identifiable as alien craft. Until then, my default is I believe what the Bible tells me and I can easily fit these into Satin’s plan for deceiving mankind.”

And I’m okay with that. As long as people are willing to look at the evidence, I will admit that the conclusions you draw are likely going to be heavily influenced by your worldview. If you are a Christian biblical creationist, then you are likely going to see these as demonic deceptions because that will add less new information to your worldview than UFOs=aliens.

Final Thoughts

As I said at the beginning, I expected to have a lot to write about here. Instead, I found Dr. Ross to be a seemingly reasonable person. He seemed like the kind of guy that I could sit with at a conference and we could argue about points but it would be a reasonable discussion. As opposed to the impression I get with many young-Earth creationists or other people on Coast to Coast where I get the distinct impression that trying to talk with them would be like having a conversation with a petunia.

January 5, 2012

2011 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail … Again


Introduction

Last year, in what rapidly became a very well-read post, I wrote about the “psychic” predictions for 2010 by the audience and pros from the Coast to Coast AM late-night radio program. After reviewing nearly 200 predictions, my conclusion was that the audience did no better than the pros, and that both did miserably.

With a record number of Tweets and Facebook postings, how could I not do another analysis for 2011?

I’m a bit behind, but I’ve finally compiled the audience and professional predictions for 2011 that were made on C2C and I have scored them, as well.

So without further delay: The Predictions (PDF)! Please let me know if you find any mistakes in scoring, and I will correct them. If you enjoy this, please be sure to rate it (those stars at the top), leave feedback, and/or link to it from your portal, forum, social media, and/or wikis of choice! It’s the only way I know that it’s worth going through the many days’ of work to compile these.

Before We Get to Details … Scoring

I was a bit stricter this year in terms of what I counted as a “hit.” For example, Major Ed Dames stated, “Buy gold and silver if you can … because those commodities will be worth something.” I counted that as a miss as opposed to too vague. True, gold closed roughly $150 higher at the end of 2011 than it opened. If he has simply said “Gold will be up by the end of the year,” I would give him a hit (if an obvious one). But he said both gold and silver, and silver went down by $2.50 over 2011. On the other hand, he simply said they “will be worth something.” I interpreted that to mean as they will go up. Otherwise, taken at strict face value, this is like saying “Bread is something you can eat.” It’s just a statement of fact.

As with last year, I wrote down what predictions I could pull out of the professionals (more on that later). Many of them, however, were too vague or obvious – I considered – to be scorable. For example, Linda Shurman stated, “People are going to come out of their collective coma” because of the transit of Uranus in Pisces. I considered that too vague to be a hit or a miss. Similarly, Joseph Jacobs stated there would be rough times in Somalia. It does not take a claimed psychic to say there will be rough times in Somalia, so I did not score that.

Coast to Coast AM Audience

Every year, Art Bell would do the predictions show on December 30 and 31 for a “full” eight hours of predictions from the audience. He would have strict rules – one prediction per call, one call per year, nothing political rant-like, no soliciting, and Art numbered them. With Art having unofficially/officially retired (again) after the “Ghost to Ghost” 2010 show, Ian Punnett took over and, well, he wasn’t Art. He didn’t follow any of Art’s rules. This made the predictions a bit more annoying to figure out and write down, but I tried. Sometimes there were two per caller.

In the end, I counted 114 distinct predictions. 6 of them were hits, 99 misses, and 9 were non-scorable as too vague, obvious, or not for 2011. That’s a hit rate of 5.7% (6/(114-9)≈0.057). Very impressively, that’s the same rate as I gave the audience in 2010, so, huzzah for consistency!

Here are some of my favorites:

11. Subterranean tunnels will be found, huge caverns, a “huge city-like thing,” under America or the Russia-Asia continent. “This could lead to the big foot theories being solved.”

23. Within the Bilderburger / Illuminati, there will “be a wild sex slavery factory where blond-haired teenage girls are enslaved to make Illuminati babies they’re trying to create the perfect race. There will be sex slavery.” This will be revealed this year when someone is “caught red-handed with these girls.”

27. Synchronized walking will become very popular, such as in malls, with people walking in formation.

73. There will be a Christian worldwide movement that starts in the US around the time of the Super Bowl. They will force ABC/NBC/CBS/FOX to show Biblical stories.

Coast to Coast AM Professionals

Yes, as a skeptic we always say “alleged” psychic or whatever. I’ve done that enough in the intro and we’ll just go with their titles. Pages 14-25 of the predictions document list the different people that C2C had on for 2011 predictions.

I’ll state that, like the audience ones, these predictions were not as easy to record this year as they were for 2010. Instead of having the first few days of 2011 be devoted to several of these people, George had them scattered throughout the month of January and then did another set in July with three people. So, I recorded what I could.

The people involved were:

  • Jerome Corsi (Claim: General Conspiracist)
  • Joseph Jacobs (Claim: Psychic)
  • Major Ed Dames (Claim: Remote Viewer)
  • Linda Schurman (Claim: Astrology)
  • Starfire Tor (Claim: Psychic -> “Psi Data Downloads”)
  • Glynis McCants (Claim: Numerology)
  • John Hogue (Claim: Nostradamus Interpretor, Psychic)
  • Maureen Hancock (Claim: Psychic and Medium)
  • Angela Moore (Claim: Psychic)

All in all, they made a total of 64 predictions. I counted one hit, 38 misses, and fully 25 that were too vague or obvious to grant a hit or miss to. That’s a hit rate of 2.6% (Joseph Jacobs got the one hit by saying perhaps the obvious “I see maybe a temporary measure as far as lifting the debt ceiling”). That’s somewhat worse than 2010, when I gave them a combined (if generous) hit rate of 11.5%, for getting 6 correct out of 53.

Here are some of my favorites (there were many more from Starfire Tor, but you’ll have to read the document for more):

Joseph Jacobs: We’ll be “getting closer and closer to [UFO] disclosure.”

Major Ed Dames: We’re right at the cusp of a global flu pandemic that WILL happen in 2011.

Starfire Tor: Earthquakes continuing to accelerate due to the time shifts and time wars.

Starfire Tor: “You are going to see an advancement of the whale and people project … . It’s gonna be an agreeable movement around the world where cetaceans – whales and dolphins – who are self-aware are actually non-human people. So the status of them is going to change from ‘animal’ to ‘person,’ therefore people are going to have to stop killing them, and this is going to – every country every people in the world are going to have the opportunity to understand that there is more to intelligent life on the planet than humans.”

Maureen Hancock: “Decent relief” from high gas prices. “I see it coming down to at least a buck a gallon by November” in New England.

Differences Between Lay People and Pros

I brought this up last year, but it definitely bears repeating this year. The audience made 114 predictions and 9 (8%) of them were too vague or obvious to score. The pros made 64, and 25 (39%) of them were too vague or obvious to score.

That is a classic difference between a lay person and a “pro” in the business of telling people what they think the future will bring. Normal people will generally give you unqualified – if seemingly outlandish – statements. Such as, “The Saints will win the Super Bowl.” The pros will give you qualified vagaries, such as, “If the Saints do well and live up to their potential, I see them as possible winners of the Super Bowl since Mars in Virgo is favorable to them.” Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but let’s look back on some real examples:

Audience: We’ll see “a Clinton” for VP this year.

Professional: There will be new manufacturing ideas here in the US, opening doors for the unemployed.

Audience: A private research company without federal funding will start to clone people for organ harvesting.

Professional: In response to a question about the Carolinas being hit by a hurricane in the fall: “That is a possibility.”

See? This is also why they can stay in business. I’m fairly strict in my scoring. Someone who paid an alleged psychic $25 for a reading, remembering what the psychic said two weeks later, will be very likely to easily retrodict what the psychic said into a “hit” rather than a miss.

Take John Hogue’s, “Get ready for mother nature to be on the warpath.” I said that’s too vague to score. Let’s say he said that a month before Hurricane Irene hit New York in 2011. Most would count that as a “hit,” and they would not put it in context of Irene being only a Category 3, only doing $10 billion in damage, and Hogue not stating that the year of Hurricane Katrina when it’s much more apt.

No, this is not a rant, and I apologize if it comes off as one. I’m trying to point out why these people are still in business when they are no better than, sometimes worse than, and frequently more vague than the average person making a prediction. And with that in mind, let’s see … Joseph Jacobs charges $90 for 30 minutes, $150 per hour for readings. Maureen Hancock has her own TV show. Ed Dames sells kits on remote viewing, and most of these people sell books and other things. Maybe I should start selling my scoring of their predictions.

Final Thoughts

To continue from the above before transitioning back to the “fun,” yes, there is a substantial “where’s the harm” issue whenever we give these alleged soothsayers the power to make decisions for us based on vague statements. I point that out because it’s important.

But I also want to get back to this because I think they’re funny. I posted on Facebook a few nights ago, “Is it wrong for me to take distinct delight when alleged ‘psychics’ who are well known get things incredibly wrong?” I enjoy shaking my head at all these people being shown to be the shams they are.

And I enjoy the, well, I’ll just say “out there” predictions that make it through. Obama being a reptilian? Whales and dolphins being considered “people”? (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like whaling and dolphining, etc., but let’s not go crazy.) When you hear some of these, you just have to roll your eyes.

And hopefully when you hear some of these that don’t sound quite as crazy, you’ll pay attention to and notice some of the tricks of the trade, and not spend your hard-earned money on something you could come up with on your own.

 

P.S. I realize that WordPress has a habit of adding Google Ads to posts for those who are not ‘pressers and due to the content of this post, most of the ads are probably for psychic or astrologic readings. I’m looking into the potentiality of migrating my blog to my own server so I won’t have to deal with all of that, but I’m afraid of losing Google rankings and all the link backs that I’ve established over the past ~3.5 years. If someone is knowledgable in how to preserve all those with redirects, etc., please get in contact with me.

P.P.S. Looking forward to 2012, if anyone has found a psychic/numerologist/astrologer/medium/whatever who has put out specific predictions, I’d like to extend beyond C2C for my tallies. Let me know in the comments or by e-mail of these and I’ll look into them.

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.

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.

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.

February 10, 2010

Another Winter Storm, More “Global Warming Hoax” In the News


Introduction

Well, the intro to this is basically the title of this post: Another winter storm blankets the eastern U.S., and of course we have, as a result, people trying to use it as evidence against global climate change.

Good Time Article

Last time I made a post like this – last month – I gave kudos to ABC News and their article explaining that climate is NOT the same as weather. This time, I would like to draw attention to Time article, “Another Snowstorm: What Happened to Global Warming?” by Bryan Walsh. Another good article that understands “it’s a mistake to use any one storm — or even a season’s worth of storms — to disprove climate change.”

The most relevant part are the following two paragraphs (emphasis mine):

“Climate models also suggest that while global warming may not make hurricanes more common, it could well intensify the storms that do occur and make them more destructive.

“But as far as winter storms go, shouldn’t climate change make it too warm for snow to fall? Eventually that is likely to happen — but probably not for a while. In the meantime, warmer air could be supercharged with moisture and, as long as the temperature remains below 32°F [0 °C], it will result in blizzards rather than drenching winter rainstorms. And while the mid-Atlantic has borne the brunt of the snowfall so far this winter, areas near lakes may get hit even worse. As global temperatures have risen, the winter ice cover over the Great Lakes has shrunk, which has led to even more moisture in the atmosphere and more snow in the already hard-hit Great Lakes region, according to a 2003 study in the Journal of Climate.”

The article also points out that the fallacy of equating weather and climate is used by people on both sides of the debate – both by people claiming winter storms disprove climate change and by people claiming that droughts or record highs during a month period mean that global warming is definitely happening.

Final Thoughts

Wow! A short blog post! Okay, but anyway, as is generally the case with a politically charged issue, and with one where there are people who are dogmatically set on a premise that fundamentally misunderstands the basic concepts, any ray of hope that can be grasped by a current event is used and exploited to its fullest. As I’ve mentioned before, unsurprisingly George Noory had on guest Robert Felix at the beginning of tonight’s Coast to Coast AM show to talk about how this storm and other record lows and snows prove his own pet ideas – that we’re going into an ice age, not a warming period. Sigh.

But, this Time article is an example of more good science reporting, and trying to explain to a misunderstanding public that weather and climate are two different things.

January 8, 2010

ABC News Gets It – “Weather” Is NOT “Climate”


Introduction

It’s cold here in Colorado. Last night after I walked from my car to my apartment after a meeting, just spending about 2 minutes outside, my fingers were so cold that I couldn’t type for about 15 minutes. The temperature was 3 °F, and as the evening progressed it got down to -6 °F (that’s way below zero for you Celsius users).

And then, I was supposed to receive a UPS package today. But, when I checked the status, it was: “ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS – LATE TRAIN” and UPS doesn’t know when they’ll actually deliver it (I’m guessing Saturday if they do a Saturday delivery, or just on Monday).

And then there are other “cold snaps” throughout the rest of the continent of North America. Could this mean that global warming is just another leftist environmentalists ivory-tower-loving scientists conspiracy?

No

Well that about sums it up.

Okay, Really …

I’ve already addressed this before, over a year ago in my post “Record and Unusual Snows and Cold – Proof Against Global Warming?” I suggest you read that if you need a primer. The very basic idea is that weather ≠ climate. For those of you who may not be mathematically inclined, “≠” means “not equal to.” The ability to predict weather patterns on a day-to-day basis is very different from predicting general climate trends years out.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to get into that again, but to point out an article and give kudos to the author, Bill Blakemore. The article is entitled, “No, the Cold Doesn’t Mean No Global Warming” and can be found by clicking that link, hosted on ABC News.

I’ll quote the most relevant part:

Bottom line — fast and simple? Three points:

  1. Weather is not climate.
  2. 2. Manmade global warming means less frequent cold snaps (not none at all) and more frequent heat waves — just as we’ve been having.
  3. 3. You know (don’t you?) about the record high temperatures this week in Washington State, Alaska and Bulgaria in the Northern Hemisphere — plus, down south, the record-breaking high temperatures in New Zealand, and the second hottest year on record (after 2005) in Australia?

Why am I pointing this out? Because I think that it’s very important that the news media actually get the science right. On a topic that is a scientific one – global warming – that just so happens to be one where people make it a very political one, it is even MORE important for reporters to get their facts right, and Bill Blakemore has done a nice job.

Final Thoughts

I listen to a lot of Coast to Coast AM radio episodes in order to get ideas for blog posts, and often during these times (I’m a week behind so don’t know if he’s done it for this), the host, George Noory, will bring on Robert Felix, a man who has the book Not by Fire But by Ice that insists we’re plunging into an ice age rather than a warming period. George himself – I think – doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate, but he seems to not have made up his mind about whether we’re warming or cooling, but he does believe that it’s a purely natural cycle rather than human-made. But, he gives people like Felix a platform to spread their conjecture and misunderstandings.

And Coast is the largest late-night radio show in the world, with at least 528 syndicates (last I heard) and over 10 million listeners. And judging by the comments on the ABC story, people like him make a difference. I’ll leave you with a sampling of a few of the comments:

“Global Warming is just a big hype pushed onto the people of the world to invoke fear in order to further an agenda. There are as many scientists that discount it as there are that push it. The climate of the earth has had warming and cooling trends as long anyone knows. 25 years of “warming” is not that much time in relation to the age of the earth itself.”

“Global Warming is a farce used to keep 3rd world countries from developing,and taxing everyone else.It’s not gonna stop pollution as big corporations will just trade carbon credits with smaller non polluting companies.It’s just gonna be another stock market.The msm plays it off as a left/right issue but that’s just the ptb’s using the divide and conquer trick on us.Wake up they’re all liars on both sides.Gore was given this agenda to push in order to not contest the 2000 election that the neo-cons stole.He and the Rothchild’s stand to make billions. It’s just another fear tactic put forth to keep us scared and under control.GW is just another UN conspiracy to take away more of our soverignity. The world’s climate has always fluctuated even to the point that in the 70’s they wanted to prevent Global cooling.Just like everything else we’ve been lied to.The climate scientists at East Anglia were caught changing stats and dropping other inconvienient truths. This is the next big scam just like the war on drugs and the war on terror.As long as we’re scared and rely on the so called “news” we’ll continue to be sheep to the elite’s.From Foxnews,CNN, BBC or MSNBC they are just corporate propaganda pushers.The ptb’s continue to suppress new energy to stick with oil and keep us in the Middle East.The Bilderberg group and Club Rome decide everything and there elitist opinions trickle down to the UN,CFR and Trilateral’s.These groups represent Big Oil, Big Pharma and the Military Industrial Complex.All the while we get milked by the Federal Reserve,the IMFand the IRS.Even the enviromental groups are crooked.We’re living in a backwards world.I lost all faith when Time gave Ben Bernanke the person of the year award and Obama who expanded Bush’s bs wars gets a Nobel.Just to let you know I have no party affiliation whatsoever but consider myself a constitution minded libertarian.I’m sick of these corrupt globalist/eugenists who really run the US and most of the world.No to NWO!”

“I can blow #2 right out of the water where I live. Thus far this Global Warming nonsense has NOT been proven to me whatsoever. The earth, well it’s been a changin’ since it’s creation and we the youngsters of this planet, the newest animal to it are just around now for one of it’s changes. We haven’t been kind to the planet; you can not be Capitalistic and Materialistic with continual reproduction without there being ramifications, however the Global Warming they say exists can be simply another of earth’s changes like the times of volcanos, earthquakes, glaciers, etc., Stop with the nonsense!”

January 23, 2009

Methane Discovery on Mars – The Conspiracy Theory (NASA Already Knows of Intelligent Life on Mars) Reaction


Introduction

I have now made two posts of the recent confirmation/discovery of release of methane on Mars. In my first post, I discussed the basic discovery and its implications. In my second, I discussed the Creationist (specifically, young-Earth creationist) reaction to it. The purpose of this post is to discuss the reaction of the NASA conspiracy crowd – the one that thinks NASA has been hiding evidence of intelligent life already there.

This post is based on comments made during the second hour of the Coast-to-Coast AM radio show from January 15, 2009. They were made by Richard Hoagland and Robert Zubrin as well as a little by the host, George Noory.

Basic Claims

Note – I’m not going to be laying out all of the claims as quotes because the conversation lasted about a half hour during the program. Feel free to listen to the actual show if you doubt the veracity of my summary points.

Before I get to the claims, though, I think it’s important to give a brief background on each person: Hoagland’s position is that a technologically advanced civilization has been on Mars and NASA knows it, they’ve just been covering it up for decades, but Hoagland has discovered the proof. Zubrin is more someone who thinks we should go to Mars and we need to terraform it for human colonization, that it had at least microbial life at some point in the past, there is present-day subsurface liquid water, and he also holds some other fringe ideas about the planet, its origins, and astronomy in general. Noory is the host and while I cannot speak for what he truly believes, he has made Hoagland the general science advisor to the radio program and seems to affirm nearly everything Hoagland posits.

Now, for their claims, in no particular order, but ordered for easy reference to my responses:

  1. Hoagland believes that NASA wanted to announce that yes, this was definitive evidence for life, but that “politically, they couldn’t” – at least under the Bush administration.
  2. Hoagland claims that the announcement was “forced to be conservative because of the requirements of this stupid peer-review system.” According to his own secret sources, the original draft of the paper was much more “forthright” in its implications for biology. But, the journal Science – one of the most prestigious of professional science journals – apparently forced them to remove that in order to get the paper published. But, more data will be published later and we’ll get the real information later.
  3. The methane vents seasonally, which is just like life on Earth (hibernating in the winter).
  4. The methane is destroying the methane almost immediately, as opposed to lingering for a few hundred years and being destroyed by photodissociation. Hoagland thinks that this is all due to not only organisms making the methane, but then other organisms “eating” it – citing a comment by a chemist independent of the NASA announcement.
  5. We have to completely change our strategy for Mars – robots can’t look for this kind of life in part because it would be below the permafrost and we’d need actual human scientists to do the kind of work necessary to verify if life is there. Oh, and the next mission, Mars Science Laboratory, won’t get there until 2012 (“Isn’t that interesting?” – in reference to the “end” of the Mayan calendar).
  6. If future experiments show that the methane is made with Carbon-12 instead of Carbon-13 (where Carbon-13 has an extra neutron and life prefers Carbon-12 much more over 13), then “to any reasonable biologist anywhere on Earth, that will say, ‘it’s bugs down there.’ … But there will be hold-outs!”
  7. We may find Earth-like life on Mars that is far more simple, since the bacteria found here are much too complex to be the first cells (take that, Creationists – your straw man that single-celled life is too complex to have originated from a bunch of slime is just a straw man). Regardless, it may be a separate genesis from Earth or it could be the same as Earth – either one would be very interesting.
  8. The story broke through a London news source because they refused to “play the politics of America and Science,” because the journals “have an enormous strangle-hold on the information” and have embargoes on it such that authors cannot necessarily talk about results until the journal comes out with the article. This is despite the data being gained through tax-payer-funded missions, but because of the “blackmail” of the journals, which is “absurd,” they could not talk about them.

My Responses

1. This is part of Hoagland’s standard conspiracy claims, that NASA knows more than it’s letting on but whatever political or black-ops powers that be won’t let them do it. From an objective standpoint, you cannot read body language, you cannot read into the word “no,” etc., and Hoagland has no legitimate basis for claiming to be able to read peoples’ minds, and hence he cannot say whether or not NASA folks “wanted” to announce that this is life.

2. I covered a little of this in my post about the peer-review system that I made just prior to this post. The next sentence – about his own secret sources – is another part of standard conspiracy claims. “The official word says this, but my own super-duper-secret-sources says something completely different.” This is a double-standard, or the simple “inconsistency” logical fallacy. He refuses to accept a peer-review system of standard science, but he won’t let other people peer-review his own sources. He’s also using an argument from authority, saying that you should believe him because he has a secret authoritative source. I will address the specific part about journals and editing in #8.

3. Seasonal venting of methane could also be explained by needing the additional heat that summer provides for the chemical reactions to take place. It could also be due to heating of the immediate subsurface making any near-surface ice cap melt, allowing the methane to escape only seasonally. And this also assumes that the seasonal venting correlates with Mars’ summer. I don’t knkow if that’s the case, but I noted that they conveniently left that statement out of their discussion.

4. I don’t know about this part – whether or not it’s actually the case that’s been made. However, destruction of the methane could be explained just as easily by an abiotic chemical reaction than as yet a second form of life that uses it in its metabolic process(es).

5. I mostly agree with this statement. Robots are great, they’re much cheaper and less life-threatening than peopled missions. However, people can do much more than robots in terms of manual dexterity and just interpreting results.

6. I don’t know about this one, either. I’m not a biologist nor biochemist, nor do I play one on TV. I would assume that Hoagland’s assertion that life prefers Carbon-12 is correct. However, just as the chemistry in cells may prefer carbon-12 to 13, I’m certain that there are many other chemical reactions that prefer it, as well, and hence this possible future discovery could yet again have nothing to do with furthering the case that this methane was produced by a biological source.

7. Other than my pointing out that I agree with this statement by Zubrin, and my own commentary that it points out the straw man that creationists and IDers use all the time, I have no further comments on this point.

8. As far as I know, this account is factual in terms of it being a British news source that first broke the news and there was an embargo on the information release until Science put out the story. I disagree with the language Hoagland uses, but I personally agree with at least part of the sentiment, but I understand it. When a scientist writes a paper and submits it to a journal, if it is accepted then they are required to sign over all copyrights to the journal. In the past, this was a benefit to everyone because the professional journals were THE source for science news and individual authors would have a much more difficult time protecting their own copyright. But this is the 21st century. We have the internet. Information can literally be sent and received at speeds of less than a second around the globe. The traditional embargoes on information that journals once and currently hold is – in my opinion – out-dated. These are the same copyrights that don’t legally permit researchers to put copies of their articles on their own websites, or e-mail them to colleagues.

But, I understand why journals still think they can and need to do this. After all, who would buy their magazine if the information were released before the issue came out? And why would anyone buy the article later if they could just get it for free off of the original author’s website? It’s the economics of the publishing industry. I think they need to get a clue like the music and movie industries about living in an internet era, and so in that sense I do agree with Hoagland. But, as I said, I understand where they are coming from.

Final Thoughts

I remembered the discussion being much more conspiracy-like than it actually was when I sat down and took notes. Perhaps I was remembering a different episode and conversation. Regardless, I’ve now covered three different angles to this story, and I think that’ll be about it. I think it’s interesting and informative to see how people with different motivations spin the same information.

« Previous Page

Blog at WordPress.com.