Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 26, 2012

2012 Year in Review for “Exposing PseudoAstronomy”


Introduction

I haven’t done one of these before, but I thought that since everybody’s doing it, of course I should, too. I’m not going to talk about overall stats or stuff like that except in specific cases. More, I’m going to talk about content on here and my podcast.

Podcast

I’ll start with this first to get it out of the way. This year saw me start by changing my podcast from two to four promised episodes per month, which I then had to drop down in September to two again. January should see me go back up to four.

Topic-wise, I covered a vast variety, with Planet X and image processing, age modeling / dating and pyramid-star correlations (claimed). I also produced my first video, and while promising a second, I still have yet to deliver it.

On with the blog topics …

Psychics (and related)

The year started out with my first actual blog post on scoring psychic predictions for 2011. I posted it January 5 and it failed to reach the page views I had hoped, despite Phil Plait tweeting about it mid-February. I’m working on getting 2012’s out much sooner (next few days … by Jan. 1).

Anyone who has suggestions about places I can post/link/send my 2012 psychic predictions run-down to (I’ll be grading over 300 predictions by about 15 “pros”), let me know.

2012 / Planet X

I really didn’t have too many posts on this until “the end” – the last few days leading up to December 21, 2012. Obviously this was the major topic for “pseudoastronomy”-related topics this year, at least in terms of public consciousness. As such, it was by far the most common search term that got people to the blog, and my page views rose steadily in the weeks up to 12/21/2012. They then doubled in the two days before and on that date, and now dropped down to about 10-15% that level.

I’ve been approached by the admin of the 2012hoax.org website to get involved with his next project — I’ve agreed as my time allows, so you may hear more on that later.

Lawsuits

I wrote a post about this but never actually posted it. I’m still not going to mention specifics because I don’t see a huge need to at the moment, but I can talk about it without using names nor subject matter. I may also screen comments that make specific allegations about it — just FYI on that — and I will not respond to requests for more specifics.

I was (peripherally) threatened with a lawsuit in September over a series of posts I had written relating to what is considered by the vast majority of scientifically literate people to be a pseudoscience. The person in question said I had lied about them, that I had made false allegations about them, and that I seemed fixated on them and it made them uncomfortable (despite having written one blog post referencing their material in the 2012 calendar year). And there were many others in this person’s field-of-choice whom I could pick on.

I say that I was “peripherally” threatened with a lawsuit because I was never contacted directly by this person nor an agent acting on their behalf with regards to this matter. Rather, I found out about this when my boss e-mailed me telling me that this person had written to him about me and talking about suing me. And then I found out that this person had written to my university saying that they may try to sue the university, as well, because of what I had written.

And then within about two days, it all disappeared. The posts on this person’s website about me were taken down, the person’s Twitter feed went private, and even the Cyber Security ad that this person or this person’s agent had posted went unfulfilled.

My guess – and this is not a statement of fact, it is my own musing based on the evidence that I have – is that this person actually did contact a lawyer as they had threatened. And the lawyer told this person that not only did this person have zero case against me (not only because the case was without merit but also because of the statute of limitations on libel in the US), but now I would have a fairly good case against this person for libel, harassment, and employer (attempted) intimidation.

I’ve maintained all my documentation about this, including what this person had posted, and perhaps at a later date I will post it (after the statute of limitations, perhaps?).

Lunar Ziggurat

Probably one of my more interesting topics – not for its actual subject matter, but more for what ensued as a result – was the whole shindig with Richard Hoagland’s claim of Mike Bara’s claim that there is a ziggurat on the far side of the Moon.

A lot of stuff went into this, and that link provides an itemized and in-order contents of all the blog posts I wrote about it as well as three podcasts (including one video).

It also resulted in Mike slamming me in his new book and going on at least a half-dozen radio programs and speaking out against my analysis. In the process, Mike continued to make numerous mistakes and conspiracy claims (such as he trusts no new images from NASA, or that he hasn’t trusted the Japanese (and so their lunar images) since Pearl Harbor).

I’ve written and submitted an article for Skeptical Inquirer summarizing “what went down” and if it’s accepted, I’ll let y’all know. I’d consider this perhaps one of the more interesting things I did related to skepticism in 2012.

Not So Much Creationism, More Richard Hoagland (and related)

In the past few years, some of my bread-and-butter was young-Earth creationist claims and going through them and showing why they’re wrong. This year, though I still have a dozen articles open that I plan to (eventually) write about, I definitely migrated to write more about other things. A larger theme this year was related to Richard C. Hoagland’s claims.

Some have been just so crazy that I’m not sure I could even write about them. The fall into a category that I recently learned: Not even wrong. As in, it’s just so “out there” that there’s no place to even start to debunk it. It’s so wrong that saying it’s wrong is under-stating the wrongness of it. It’s off the charts on the Wrongitude® meter. Such as his phone-in to Coast to Coast AM on December 21, 2012, stating that HAARP was finally fulfilling its purpose and had been active all day, preventing the world from tipping over. I mean, how do you even start to address that?

Some Philosophy

It was related to the lunar ziggurat stuff, but I don’t normally dip into many deep, personal feelings nor thoughts nor philosophy on this blog. I’m opinionated, definitely, but I don’t normally get into much detail.

Probably the post that best exemplified philosophy this year was my post, “Do Skeptics Hate the People They Debunk?” I wish it had gotten more reads ’cause I considered it a pretty good post. Oh, and then I did a, “What’s a Skeptic?” post a month later.

How Science Is Done

I also had a few posts this year on the basic scientific process. From grant reviews to how scientists are funded, to the fact that a presentation at a science conference doesn’t mean it’s not pseudoscience.

TAM Conference

This was also my first year at TAM. I wrote two blog posts about it, the first one on that page being quite lengthy and describing my experience, and the second one on that page being about errors in some of the talks. Looking back, 6 months later, I’d like to say that my views have mellowed somewhat, and that chances are >50% that I’ll go back in 2013. I’m also still attempting to convince D.J. Grothe to book me in some sort of speaking role (panel, workshop, maybe even talk?), but as you can likely imagine, doing so can be difficult.

Unfinished Posts

I also started to write a few blog posts this year that I never finished … but will, as soon as I get unbusy. I swear ;).

Well, some perhaps not. But the ones that I do plan on finishing are, “How To (and Not To) Give an Oral and/or Poster Presentation,” “How Is Science Vetted and Reviewed?” and ““John Carter” Movie Was Historical/Science Faction, According to Richard Hoagland.” That last one should be fun. 🙂

Year Ahead

Obviously, as I’ve shown with my 2010 and 2011 psychic predictions, no one can predict the future. But, we can make some educated guesses.

On the podcast front, I do plan on getting back to 4 per month. I may have to cut back again, but that’s the plan at least for the near future. I also want to get more into making some videos related to these topics.

I have so many topics to write about in the queue that I’m not hurting for them, but finding time to do it will be interesting, at least for the first half of the year. I just heard back this morning from a large grant I had submitted that I thought had a very good chance of getting funded, but it did not. So, come July, I may have a heck of a lot more free time forced upon me. Anyone know the cheapest place to buy ramen?

Conference-wise, I discussed TAM above. I will also be giving a reprise of my moon hoax talk at the Colorado School of Mines’ Yuri’s Night celebration in April, and I’ll be at the Denver Skeptics’ SkeptiCamp this May(?) giving some TBD talk — maybe about image processing gone wrong, maybe about UFOs.

I’m also still trying to get on Coast to Coast AM. George Noory (the host) did state twice in the episode that Mike ranted about me that he would have me on. My last e-mail to George, about two months ago, did get a response, but it was very non-commital. Recently, I was fortunate and a recurring guest on the show who has followed some of my work suggested to Lisa (the executive producer) that I be on. So, we’ll see. I’m hesitant to nag, but if I go a year without mentioning it, chances are it’ll never happen.

I will still post announcements for podcast episode releases to the blog. I realize for some people that may be annoying, but just stick the RSS feed in your reader and ignore those if you don’t want to read them. I’m not the best at marketing, but this is one outlet I can use.

Edited to Add (12/27/2012): I’m also thinking I may finally try to do an eBook of some sort. Perhaps on Planet X and various peoples’ ideas for it and why NONE of them work.

Final Thoughts

And with that all said, I think that about sums up 2012 for my Exposing PseudoAstronomy® franchise. To those who’ve made it this far, perhaps you’d like to Comment on what your favorite and/or least favorite topic(s) have been over the last year, and what you’d like to see different in the future.

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February 3, 2011

Follow-Up: David Coppedge Who Sued NASA Is Fired


Introduction

Last April, I wrote about a man named David Coppedge who was suing NASA over religious discrimination. I have tried to keep apprised of what was going on with the suit, but unfortunately, news was lacking.

I was just informed today that he has been fired.

Background

For background, read my previous article. Seriously. It goes through Coppedge’s lawsuit that claimed religious discrimination, went through some of Coppedge’s previous young-Earth creationism work, and my thoughts on the subject. I pointed out there that the only news that was really reporting on the suit was the creationists and intelligent designers.

I also found it quite humorous that Coppedge was claiming religious discrimination – and the Discovery Institute was advocating that, as well – when he was accused of handing out Intelligent Design materials even though the Intelligent Design folks fervently deny that it is religion.

Anyway …

Laid Off

The only new development in this suit, as far as I can tell, is that Coppedge was laid off last week “in a round of routine layoffs related to” the budget cuts on the project for which he was a computer administrator, NASA’s Cassini mission at Saturn (read more here). Coppedge – and by extension, the Discovery Institute – is of course claiming that this is retaliation for the lawsuit.

By the way, I love that article’s characterization of the Discovery Institute: “… The Discovery Institute, a conservative lobbying organization with right-wing Christian ties best known for their promotion of intelligent design.”

Continuing Thoughts

I normally end this with “Final Thoughts.” But, since this is still ongoing and has yet to reach a resolution, they are continuing thoughts. Not the least of which is how long does it take to get something heard in court? This thing is going on 9 months now. Anyway, I still have yet to hear any official NASA view on this matter. It is still completely either directly from the ID or YEC side or through the news but based on quotes and press releases from the plaintiff, his lawyer, or the ID or YEC side. So, as before, I have yet to make up my own mind on this issue.

April 25, 2010

In the News: David Coppedge Sues JPL for Religious Discrimination


Introduction

This has been in the news quite a bit lately, even making some normal mainstream news sources. It’s definitely made the rounds of ALL the young-Earth creationist and Intelligent Design sources that I peruse on a near-daily basis.

Since it does somewhat cover the topics that I address on this website, I thought I would weigh in with my own thoughts on the issue.

The Lawsuit – What’s Known

The lawsuit in question is being brought against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of David Coppedge by attorney William Becker, Jr., of The Becker Law Firm, in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, and besides against JPL in general, Coppedge’s direct supervisor, group supervisor, and Manager of IT Resources are all named.

The suit alleges that Coppedge was faced with religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation, general violations of his free speech, and wrongful demotion.

So far, everything about the case has come out of pro-ID or -YEC sources, Coppedge, or the attorney (and related court filings). JPL has yet to comment publicly, and I sincerely doubt they will since they state their policy is not to comment on pending litigation (and they have also stated that, at least as of the end of last week, they have not yet been served with the lawsuit).

The events in question allegedly came as a result of Coppedge handing out pro-ID materials to co-workers who expressed an interest in them. And everything else came as a result of that.

Regress: Some Background on David Coppedge

My run-ins with Coppedge are purely from his writings … on the Institute for Creation Research’s website. Yep, that’s right: Coppedge is a young-Earth creationist, at least based upon his writings. He has written several articles for the ICR, though I have only addressed two in this blog: “Venus and the Battle of Uniformitarianism (A Creationist Argument)” and “Dating Planetary Surfaces with Craters – Why There Is No “Crisis in Crater Count Dating”.” From his writings, he has a very poor grasp of astronomy, despite the attempt of argument from authority by posting at the bottom of them, “David F. Coppedge works in the Cassini program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (The views expressed are his own.)” I address this more below.

Coppedge runs computers at JPL for the Cassini mission to Saturn. His expertise is in computers, not astronomy. And not evolution.

My Thoughts

First, I would like to point out that the Discovery Institute, the “think tank” behind Intelligent Design, has steadfastly maintained over the years that ID is not religion. I find it somewhat ironic that, for allegedly promoting pro-ID materials, he is suing for religious discrimination.

The DI’s claim that one of NASA’s mission statements is to examine the origins of life and so Coppedge was doing something within that is not valid in the objective sciences, in my opinion, because he was taking the religious route. Coppedge, as far as I can tell, is a young-Earth creationist. He was handing out ID materials. ID is religion (despite the protestations of the DI).

I also find it very interesting – and very telling – that no where in ANY of the Intelligent Design stories about this lawsuit do they mention Coppedge’s YEC leanings. Do a word search on their story’s page about the suit for “creation” and you won’t find it. And the DI has continued to exploit this lawsuit, writing near daily articles about it on their blog, Evolution News & Views.

Now that I have that off my chest, I want to look at what has been alleged by Coppedge. Remember that he was a supervisor, in charge as Lead Team System Administrator of ~200 computers involved in NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn. As a supervisor, though even I doubt he tried to use his role as supervisor, it is stated he distributed pro-ID materials.

This is something that I think, at the very least, should not have been done unless (a) he was specifically asked for them, and (b) he did so while he was not “on the clock.”

I bring up the first condition because there can be a very strong implied coercion – even if unintentional – for people to follow what “The Boss” says. I doubt my father remembers this, but when I was very young and spent one school year in the Cub Scouts, I asked him to bring in a sign-up sheet for whatever fundraiser I was doing at the time. At that time, he ran a research lab with several faculty, post-docs, techs, and graduate students. He refused to do so because he didn’t want people to feel obligated to sign up for something from “the boss’s son” even though he in no way would have tried to use his position.

The second condition is that, like it or not, the First Amendment guarantees as much a freedom of religion as a freedom from religion, and the government cannot in any way advocate for or against religion or use its capital in such an endeavor. If Coppedge used time when he was being paid with government money to spread this material, then I would consider that a reprimandable offense. Granted, if it was a “first time” thing, then if I were his boss I would just bring him into the office and mention there are issues here and he needs to do this on his own time and away from NASA buildings so that it doesn’t give the appearance in any way of a government-sponsored event.

Several of the reports on blogs and pro-ID and -YEC sites have emphasized that Coppedge has not been informed of who complained about him handing out material. They make this seem sinister and under-handed, but to me it makes perfect sense. Say you’re working in an office, and your supervisor does something you think is very bad, but you’re afraid that if you tell him about it he’ll fire you. Instead, you go to his boss and complain about it and ask that your identity be kept confidential in order to avoid reprisals. Even if your supervisor wouldn’t have fired you, it could still unconsciously have affected your job evaluations or future promotions if they knew it was you. Keeping your identity secret is the only way to prevent this, though in a lawsuit you would likely necessarily be called as a witness. In this sense, making a big deal about Coppedge not being “informed of the identities of his alleged accusers or even of the specifics of any of their complaints so that he might have the opportunity to rebut them” seems perfectly reasonable, in my opinion. (source for that particular quote)

My next point is, admittedly, perhaps a little more vindictive and has nothing to do with the merits or lack-there-of of this case. I think that Coppedge has used his position as an employee of NASA and position on the Cassini mission as an argument from authority for way too long and this lends an air of undeserved credibility to what he writes. It’s also a complete non sequitur authority because managing computers says nothing about someone’s knowledge of astronomy which also says nothing about that person’s knowledge of evolution.

Finally, I’d like to end with this repetition: All information so far has been from the plaintiff’s side (Coppedge’s). Almost all news articles available on the subject are from pro-ID or -YEC sources. As with any lawsuit, there are almost always two sides to every story, and I suspect that NASA’s is different. I suspect NASA will likely claim Coppedge used his position to push the materials on others. And/Or I suspect NASA will claim Coppedge has done this in the past, was warned, and after continuing to do so he was finally reprimanded pursuant to the Establishment Clause.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that Coppedge simply did obtain pro-ID materials that another employee requested and JPL over-reacted and did something that legitimately was unwarranted (though I honestly doubt it but that is my own bias). I think that as this case unfolds we will see that Coppedge is not quite the victim he has been made to seem.

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