Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 21, 2014

My Interview on “Fade to Black” from April 16


Introduction

has been posted. I start after about 30 minutes, though the host, Jimmy Church, intros / prefaces the interview during the first half hour. You might as well just listen to the whole thing. 🙂

(And for some reason, my audio seems a bit quiet relative to the host’s (Jimmy Church) … sorry ’bout that).

Emphasis

My goal during the interview was to provide plausible, science-based explanations for, well, whatever we talked about, to show that the scientific explanation is at least as plausible as the conspiracy or pseudoscience one, and to be reasonable.

I think I sounded a bit like a broken record towards that effect, and I probably could’ve said it a bit less often. But, for those who aren’t going to listen, let me re-state it now in print: I would love for lots of the stuff common to paranormal radio programs to be true. I would love for there to be aliens visiting us and sharing or giving us advanced technology. For there to be bases on the moon, or other kinds of artifacts on Mars that provide evidence for ancient “high technology” beyond a reasonable doubt. But, the evidence that has been presented simply doesn’t meet that threshold, in my opinion.

If the best evidence for aliens is a mesa that at high-resolution looks like a natural eroded rock formation, or a few bright pixels that can be explained as a camera defect because it doesn’t show in other pictures of the site taken at the same time, then that simply does not meet my own personal threshold. It may meet yours. It obviously meets some peoples’. But, that is why the scientific community, as a whole, does not accept these things.

Would I Have a Conspiracist / “Alternative” Person on My Podcast?

No. I was asked this a little before the first hour (of the three-hour program). It was in the context of would I ask Bart Sibrel on the show. The answer, again, is no.

The reason that I gave is that the purpose of my podcast is not to be sensationalist, not to present a false balance or appearance of balance. It is a science-based podcast that addresses claims that are “out there” in general or promoted by specific persons. They are up against the entirety of science and evidence to-date. Ergo, a true balance would be to let them have, perhaps, a single second out of my normal ~half-hour show.

Ad hominems Versus Claims a Person Makes

I think it’s important that whenever one addresses this kind of stuff that they address the claims and not the person. Yes, sometimes it’s important to give context. But in the end, the claims should stand on their own. That’s also why, when I was asked around the 1hr 12min mark, about “what makes a hoaxer” and why they do what they do, I honestly replied that I didn’t know and tried not to speculate too much.

In the interview, I tried to do that. I realize it sounds, a few times, like we were bashing on Richard Hoagland. That was not my intent. The reason that Richard was the proponent of several of the claims we talked about is that he is simply one of the main proponents of space-based image-based claims out there, and he has a huge back-catalog of claims spanning at least 30 years. If you get into addressing fringe astronomy claims, you will with almost 100% certainty run into Richard C. Hoagland.

I hope that comes across that I was focused on his claims and not him, himself. If it doesn’t, I’ve restated it here for the record.

And, since the interview, at least one person has said that Richard should get a “right of reply.” Also for the record, I have no control and no say in that. That is up to the host, producer(s), and Richard himself. I know that Richard is friends with the producer (Keith Rowland), so that may play a factor. That is also why I tried to be particularly sensitive to addressing the claims and not the person.

What follows are some of my musings and observations after listening to my interview again, and perhaps some things I wish I would have stated differently. This is not comprehensive to the interview, so you will not be able to get a guide to it by reading this post, nor will you get a flavor for the tone/tenor or total content. For that, you need to listen to the 2.5 hrs I was on.

Planet X

We talked about this for about 20 minutes at the beginning. I referenced the WISE survey with respect to the latest all-sky survey of faint infrared surveys. Here is the press release / story / paper that I was referring to.

Also I mentioned the common claim that IRAS discovered it in 1983. Here’s the episode of my podcast (#54) where I addressed this claim. Oh, and IRAS = InfraRed Astronomical Survey.

Apollo Moon Hoax

Going into this, I should have been better prepared. Jimmy had interviewed Bart Sibrel, one of the major four proponents of the hoax conspiracy idea, and the only one who is still alive. It was one of the five interviews (that’s still 15 hrs) I had listened to in preparation for my interview on his show. And, it made me mad. I had posted this to the BellGab internet forum (Art Bell fans) after I listened:

Ug. I wish I knew about the show a month ago. Listening to Sibrel is painful, and every single one of these claims have been debunked.

The whole psychology stuff? Utterly unconvincing. Why do the astronauts punch or kick Sibrel? Because they’ve spent 40 years dealing with jerks like him accosting them in public about this stuff. Forty years later (well, maybe 35 at that time), you have Sibrel, a tall, relatively young guy, marching up to an older Aldrin and demanding he swear on a bible while calling him “a coward, and a liar, and a thief,” … what would you do, especially after having been lured there under false pretenses?

Or Armstrong looking depressed or upset at the news conference right after the landings … how would you feel if you just spent three days in a tin can, a day on the friggin’ moon (wow!), but then another three days in a tiny tin can. Your every move scrutinized, in the same clothing, having to urinate and defecate in small bags, eating crappy food, and then you finally get home and you’re dragged on stage to talk to a bunch of people when all you want is a shower and bed (and a real toilet)? I don’t know about you, but I don’t do well the first few days being in a HOTEL (I have issues sleeping in a new bed for the first 2-3 nights), let alone in a tiny capsule for a week. I’d be miserable.

Sorry Jimmy, your analogy of just coming off the Super Bowl win doesn’t hold in this case. It would if you then stuck all the players (before they’ve had a chance to shower or change clothes) in a tiny room for three days – give ’em a few bags of freeze-dried food and a few bags to “do their business” in – and THEN have them go talk with the press.

Sorry if I come across as P.O.’ed, but Sibrel and his ilk really tick me off by playing these one-sided games, giving you outright lies (yes, we could certainly read the original tapes if they were found), mis-statements (van Allen belts are NOT as dangerous as he portrays, or the stuff about lunar rocks from Antarctica), misdirection (see van Allen belts, or statements about why TV stations couldn’t read the raw feed, or even his statements about how many hours in space the Russians had (it’s quality, not quantity)), or these kinds of “well what would YOU do?” psychology things that leaves out the whole story.

Especially if you want to play that whole human psychology stuff, then actually put yourself in the WHOLE situation, with all the crap (literally) they had to deal with, how tired they would be after getting back, etc. As opposed to, “Hey, they are the first people to get back from the moon, they should be excited and want to tell everyone about it!” Remember, these are people, not robots.

I could go on, but I think I need to relax a bit, and that I’ve made my point. […]

Since I had posted that, very obviously I should have been prepared to discuss it. And I could discuss practically any aspect of the Moon Hoax stuff at any time, except for the van Allen Belts. Electricity and Magnetism (E&M) and I do not get along. I hated the three semesters I studied it in college, and I did not go into solar physics in grad school because of it. And, he asked me about the radiation.

In my tiny defense, there had been a bit of feedback in my headset up to the point when Jimmy asked the question. That disappeared. And it seemed as though he ended the question a word or two short (at 1:03:54, he says, “So, how do you say?” prefaced by talking about the radiation … to me, since the feedback cut out right about that time, and it really does seem as though there should be a few more words to that question). So, I was fumbling trying to pull up a link where I had discussed it before to get my talking points (not realizing I hadn’t actually done a blog post on it), all while also looking at my network transfer speeds and Skype to make sure I was still connected. But, I sounded like a flummoxed moron, and I think it was by far my worst moment during the interview.

For the record, here is my podcast episode (#5) when I discussed this. There’s also Clavius.org and Phil Plait who both debunk this.

Otherwise, I think I did reasonably okay in this discussion, and I think that my end point should be emphasized again: Conspiracy ideas are easy to make because you just need something that doesn’t make sense to you, and you can state a conspiracy in 5 seconds or less. Debunking them requires a huge amount of specialized knowledge in various fields and takes much longer than 5 seconds. Meanwhile, if I were to satisfactorily explain away every single claim but one, then you would still believe in the hoax because of that one claim. Instead, you should be thinking, “Wow, all of those were bologna, maybe that other one is, too, and Stuart just gave a crappy answer. I should investigate!” I said as much in what I thought was a shining come back for a few minutes around 1hr 17-20min.

What I find truly disingenuous of hoax proponents, though, is all this stuff has been pointed out to them so many times. And yet, they keep making the claims without acknowledging any of the refutations.

Finally, something I thought of after the show that I should have responded with when Jimmy kept coming back to the technology claim is this: It’s very easy to say, “But they didn’t have the technology!” But, that’s a very general and vague statement. What specific technology is needed? Can there be any substitutes? Now with that list, let’s see what they did have.

Scientists and the Status Quo

It is a frequent refrain by any non-mainstream person that scientists just want to uphold the consensus, they don’t want to find anything new, they don’t want to upset the apple cart, blah blah blah. I talked about this in the “Fear and Conspiracy” section of my last post on the lunar ziggurat, but I wrote an entire post on it in 2010, as well.

Do I Think Intelligent Life (Aliens) Have Visited Us, and/or Are “Out There?”

I think Jimmy was frustrated with my very qualified answer to this, starting around the 1hr 35min mark, so let me give a slightly more thought-out response.

For me, there is a difference between “think” and “believe,” the entire subject of another 2010 blog post. I don’t think there is any evidence for this. But, I want to believe that it is true. If I ignore my “thinking brain” part, I, like probably most people, have a desire to know if we’re alone or not. I believe the universe is too vast to not have other intelligent life out there. I’m not sure I believe there’s any reason for them to visit Earth at any point in our past versus any other of the countless billions of planets in the galaxy, but sure, it’s possible.

But then that concrete part of my brain kicks in when I’m asked this kind of question, and I try to look for evidence. And, I just don’t see any good evidence for it.

So yes, I want to believe, I would love for it to be true, but all of the evidence presented so far is not good enough, it does not meet the very high threshold that I hold for such a spectacular and important “thing.” And, some of that evidence has been discussed previously on this blog and/or my podcast.

Face on Mars and Other Stuff on Mars

We spent a lot of time on this, starting around 1hr 50min. I don’t really have too much to add, except that I did an in-depth two-part podcast series on the Face on Mars (part 1 || part 2). Jimmy also said that we would have to address “19.5°” at some point during the evening, which we didn’t get to — I did podcast and blog about it in the past.

We also talk about the layout of the “city” and other stuff in the Cydonia area; that is something that I have yet to blog or podcast about, but it is something I’m working on for some as-yet-undisclosed projects (undisclosed because I seem to disclose stuff and then it never gets done; this way perhaps I’ll finish something and then disclose it).

Bright Spot in Curiosity NAVCAM

Around 2hr 30min, for several minutes, we talked about this bit of news. That I blogged about here. As promised, about a half hour after we got off the air, I sent this e-mail to Jimmy with more examples of bright spots in the images:

Here are a couple images, most of them courtesy of the scientists who are actually discussing what this could be (as opposed to UFOlogists / anomaly hunters over on UFO Sightings Daily who first came up with this), via the Unmanned Spaceflight forum: http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showtopic=7825 . There’s a lot of discussion on there about what people think it may be — I suggest skimming through the thread (like posts 20 and 21 or 95).

First, here’s the original left/right where it only shows up in one: http://curiosityrover.com/imgpoint.php?name=NRB_449790582EDR_F0310000NCAM00262M_ versus http://curiosityrover.com/imgpoint.php?name=NLB_449790582EDR_F0310000NCAM00262M_ .

Second, here’s another left/right NAVCAM image that shows another one. Same camera was the only one to catch it, though if real (“real” = actual feature on Mars) it could be because of perspective/parallax: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/?rawid=NRB_449700848EDR_F0301254NCAM00252M_&s=588 versus http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/?rawid=NLB_449700848EDR_F0301254NCAM00252M_&s=588nor . When people talk about “the other one of the same site from a different day,” this is what they’re talking about — and no, it’s not the same site.

Here’s another pair of another bright spot in right but not in left: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/proj/msl/redops/ods/surface/sol/00568/opgs/edr/ncam/NRB_447920587EDR_F0291020NCAM00295M_.JPG vs http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/proj/msl/redops/ods/surface/sol/00568/opgs/edr/ncam/NLB_447920587EDR_F0291020NCAM00295M_.JPG

Next, here are two images that show a hot pixel with a HUGE amount of blooming, exact same spot on the two images, but they are completely different images of different places: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/msss/00582/mcam/0582MR0024340330400325E01_DXXX.jpg and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/msss/00580/mcam/0580MR0024070490400044E01_DXXX.jpg

And, here’s a lone cosmic ray hit (or whatever artifact is plaguing apparently the right NAVCAM more than the left): http://www.midnightplanets.com/web/MSL/image/00107/0107MR0682028000E1_DXXX.html (click the image to enlarge it, bright spot is vertically in the middle, horizontally on the right side).

Here’s one of the guys who built/engineered the cameras saying it might be a light leak: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/nasa-explains-martian-flash-its-not-what-you-think-n74931

Bottom-line: I’m not 100% sure it’s a cosmic ray. I think it’s likely. When most of us astronomers saw it, we immediately went to “cosmic ray” just as aliens people said “alien artifacts.” I do think it’s a bit coincidental to be right on that horizon line. But, I still think it’s more likely to be an imaging anomaly than spot lights or a city. I would love for it to be evidence of that. But, I don’t think it’s good enough when there are other explanations. And as I said, I think the process should be to figure out all the things it *could* be, what fits with all the evidence, and then decide what you think is most likely.

Longitude

Here’s an article describing how the Prime Meridian (longitude 0°) is defined on Mars. And here’s Dava Sobel’s excellent book Longitude.

Fin

As I said, this is not comprehensive of what we talked about. But, it’s about all I wanted to follow-up on. If you listened to the interview and have a question, let me know, I can respond to you in the comments and/or append this post.

Advertisements

February 17, 2014

Interview for a Japanese Program on the Apollo Moon Hoax


Introduction

Two weeks ago, I was contacted by a Japanese production company, asking me if I’d be willing to do a short interview for a program that they are producing – and probably broadcasting – around March or April. In Japan.

I agreed, and I was sent a few different questions to get an idea of what I should prepare. I had only heard of some of them, so I did some research and, as a way to prep, I wrote up “brief” responses. Obviously I wasn’t reading while being recorded, but it was a way to organize my thoughts.

And get a free blog post. So, here are ten interview questions and my responses, as prepared. On the show, they weren’t all asked, and a few additional ones were, so I don’t think I’m pre-empting anything by putting these online. Please note that the questions were originally in Japanese, translated into English, and I have edited them a bit for grammar.

Interview Questions and Answers

1. Why did the moon landing conspiracy surface? Did it start with the 1976 book written by Kaysing Conspiracy?

For anything before the internet era, it’s really hard to pin down the start of anything — all you can do is find the earliest example, but there could always be something before that that you simply could not find.

Bill Kaysing’s book in 1976 was the first book to claim that it was a conspiracy, yes, and the very fringe Flat Earth Society was one of the first organizations to do so in 1980.

However, there are various people who were NASA watchers back during the Apollo era who have variously claimed that even in the late 1960s, there were some people who were claiming that it was all a hoax. But, in terms of contemporary, printed material with a definite copyright date, Kaysing’s book was the first.

2. Do you know what the initial reaction to Kaysing’s book when it was just released was?

[No …]

3. Following the book’s publish, the movie, Capricorn One, was released. Do you think the movie was released because of the public’s initial reaction to the Kaysing’s book?

It’s likely it was written due to general hoax sentiment, not due to Kaysing’s book in particular, but it would be interesting to have gotten a contemporary interview with writer-director Peter Hyams to learn his motivation. He said, “There was one event of really enormous importance that had almost no witnesses. And the only verification we have . . . came from a TV camera.”

It’s important to mention that NASA actually helped with the production of the movie, loaning them equipment as props, including a prototype lunar module. If NASA were trying to cover up an Apollo conspiracy, one might think they would not have helped make a movie about them covering up a Mars landing conspiracy.

Do you know how much attention the book and movie received at that time? Was there any media coverage about it?

I don’t know about the book, but the movie became one of the most successful independent films of 1978.

4. The conspiracy theory surfaced in the 70s, and media brought it back again in the late 1990s and early 2000s, such as FOX’s TV special program, “Conspiracy Theory” and the book, “Dark Moon,” which are about the moon landing conspiracy. Why do you think the media covered this topic again after decades?

I’m not sure, but the 1990s saw a resurgence of missions of the Moon and Mars by the United States. People who believed in the hoax could then use that to gain traction. And, if you find a sympathetic producer, or even one who thinks that they can get ratings by making something so sensational like the FOX docudrama, then you can get your show made.

5. The points that conspiracy theorists bring up: Despite the fact that there was a large amount of thrust, there was no blast crater left on the moon.

There’s no real reason to have expected a “blast crater” in the sense of an explosion. There was some disturbance of the ground under the nozzle, but it was a blast as in a blast of air.

You can also use very basic math to show why you wouldn’t expect one: If you use the specifications, you can show that the pressure under the engine was only about half a pound per square inch. The average adult when walking exerts about three times that pressure. When you clap your hands together, you exert more pressure than the lunar module’s engines did on the surface of the Moon.

If astronauts did land, there should have been a large amount of dust floating around, yet we can see no sign of dust on the space suits or their surroundings.

There actually shouldn’t have been. This is a case where your every-day experience on Earth does not prepare you for what to expect on the Moon. If I take dust and blow on it in this room, it billows out and slowly falls down after swirling around for a long time.

But, there’s no air on the Moon. Any particle that’s kicked up will go up and then drop right back down. There’s no air to suspend the dust. In fact, you can go to movies of the lunar rover and see it kick up dust and fall right back down to the surface which requires the vacuum of the Moon rather than an air-filled sound stage on Earth.

6. About the “identical background” claims on Apollo 16 mission footage, how do you dispel this claim? Some people (such as Phil Plait) have said that it’s just a simple error with the video. They say that Erick Jones, who is the editor of the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, says that those two clips were taken about only a few mins apart. According to our research, the “identical background” video clips were taken from the NASA-sponsored documentary video, “Nothing so Hidden.” And the documentary is produced by other production company outside of NASA. Therefore, our understanding is that it’s an error on editing stage of production: the production company took wrong clips and audio and used in the documentary. What do you think of our theory?

Makes sense. This is an innate problem with conspiracies: You have to suppose this vast maniacal group of people trying to hide the truth, so you can’t trust them on anything. And yet, this claim requires you to trust an original claim that was shown to be in err and not trust the correction.

There was a lot of footage taken on the Moon, a lot of audio and video. Stuff gets mislabeled, put in the wrong box, or edited wrong in production of documentaries afterward. Despite all attempts, the people involved were only human, and mistakes are bound to happen. You shouldn’t contribute to a conspiracy what simple human error can very easily explain.

-How did NASA usually archive footage back then during the Apollo project

[Explanation courtesy of “Expat” of the Dork Mission blog, who worked with the BBC during the Apollo era on the Apollo missions.]

Everything was transferred to 16mm film, by the kinescope process. A contractor, The AV Corporation of Seabrook (just a few miles from JSC, or MSFC as it was then known) handled all media requests. They had a pretty good catalog. No doubt there were also copies for internal use. By the time I made a documentary about Skylab, AVCorp was out of the picture and NASA’s own film editors worked with me to search the archive.

If mastering on film seems illogical by today’s standards, it wasn’t back then. The point is that film is independent of TV line standards. In those days transcoding between the US and European standards was a highly imperfect process. All our documentaries were produced on film anyway, so a video release would just have been a nuisance for us and the end result would have been degraded.

As late as 1981, when I was location producer for the BBC coverage of STS-1, I had BBC engineers getting on my case and refusing to transmit images shot by a US-based ENG (video) crew. We had to go through a ridiculous pantomime pretending that it was a film crew instead. By the time we sent the material back to London via satellite, how could they tell?

-For what purpose did NASA produce these documentary videos of the Apollo project?

A better question would be, why wouldn’t they? Practically every government agency has a public relations department, tasked with disseminating their work to the public and gathering support and more funding. In addition, Apollo returned a lot of useful science that we’re still using today – including myself in my own research – but it was also a world-wide public relations endeavor to prove that the United States was better than the Soviets. Of course you’re going to make documentaries and put out material to make people aware of it and such a triumph of human engineering.

7. Why do these theories continue to surface even until today? Do you think it’s because we now have easier access to footage from space? Is it a sense of distrust of NASA?

I think there are a lot of reasons. One is of course a distrust of government. Another reason is that people like to think they know secrets, and a conspiracy is a big secret.

Another reason is that a lot of the lines of evidence that people point to for the hoax are not easily explained because they are contrary to our experience on Earth. For example, one claim is that there should have been stars in the sky because the sky is black, so it must have been night like on Earth and at night you can see stars. But, the sky is black because there’s no atmosphere, it was actually daytime, and the cameras were set to properly expose the lunar surface and astronauts for day. You can’t capture photos of stars with those settings. But, the time I just took to explain that was much, much longer than just throwing out the, “there should be stars!” claim and it’s much easier given our every-day experience to think that there should be stars, rather than take the time to understand why there aren’t.

8. Why hasn’t NASA given their opinion on the Apollo moon-landing hoax ever since 2001? (What is the reason NASA doesn’t answer the conspiracy theorists?)

I would guess because they don’t want to give it any more publicity. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation for NASA:

a. If there is no official statement, conspiracy people will point to that and say that NASA won’t even defend themselves.

b. But if there is an official statement, then conspiracy theorists will say that NASA took the time to respond to them so there must be a controversy and they must be hiding something and you can’t trust anything the government says anyway.

c. In addition to that, Congress will wonder why they should be paying NASA to respond to ridiculous claims, and so NASA risks having their budget cut.

This happened maybe a decade ago when NASA was going to pay James Oberg, an American space journalist and historian, to write a book dispelling the hoax claims. And NASA lost-lost-lost: First, conspiracy people said it was a disinformation campaign; second, Congress wondered why NASA was spending money to do this; and third, when NASA cancelled it because of the outcry on all fronts, the conspiracists claimed NASA cancelled it because it really was a hoax.

Not Related to the Moon Hoax

9. There are still images taken by the Voyager of Saturn that Dr. Norman Bergrun, as author of “Ringmakers of Saturn”, claimed to show a UFO. What do you he possibly mistook it for? This is an example article about Dr. Burgrun’s claim.

Bergrun’s process was to take photos that were published in things like newspapers and magazines, put them under a microscope, and take a photo of them through the microscope’s eyepiece, and then look for weird tings. When going through that process, you are going to find weird things. Every example of a spaceship or alien or whatever that he has can be VERY easily explained by dust or gunk getting in the photo, or uneven illumination, or film grain, and the anomalies he found do not appear in ANY other version of the images.

In fact, one such example that Bergrun points to as a UFO is a bright speck in the bottom of an image, except the bottom part of that image is clearly NOT part of the image that Voyager took because the rings cut-off about 20% of the way from the bottom. This shows that the photo he’s using is a reproduction, including blank area, and he’s pointing to image anomalies caught in that duplication.

– And there are the 1996 infrared photos by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1996 [SJR– actually, 1995], and some people insist that that is a UFO. What do you think of it? What do you think it possibly is? The refereed photos are shown here.

They look like moons to me. Each exposure was 5 minutes long, and stuff moves in 5 minutes. In fact, one of the outer-most moons that’s within the rings, Atlas, goes around Saturn every 14 hours. In the time that photo with Hubble was taken, it went about 0.6% of its orbit, which would mean it should be a bit elongated. Every moon interior to it would be even longer because they would have moved farther in its orbit in the same amount of time.

10. In addition, there is now footage that NASA releases to the public on their homepage, and this footage or stills sometime show space debris or mini-jets that NASA has captured. Then, some people look at those debris or mini-jets, and introduce them as UFOs on the Internet. Why do you think people often do that?

I think people “want to believe.” They are going to look for any sort of anomaly or object they can’t explain and then say that, because they don’t know what it is, it is aliens. In skepticism, we call this an “Argument from Ignorance” – they are ignorant of what it really is, so they make up what it is in a way that fits their preconceived ideas.

Final Thoughts

The interview was more focused on the origin of the conspiracy and a bit more on general conspiracies than on debunking particular claims made by hoax proponents. I have no idea how I came off on camera – this was my first “real” moving-picture-type interview other than for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science that I did at TAM last year that has yet to be put online (but apparently they ARE working on it!). We’ll see.

They might send me a DVD copy when it comes out. I know my mom wants a copy.

August 29, 2012

Final Words on the Lunar Ziggurat? Pareidolia, Language, and Conspiracy


Introduction

I’ve now written nearly a dozen posts and 19.5k words (notice I don’t claim 20,000, even though Mike did when he wrote 17,650) on this lunar ziggurat “issue:”

The purpose of this post is to wrap up a few loose ends and return to the beginning, where this started. So there are four sections to this post, then a summary of where we are and why I don’t think there’s much more to be said (though I may revise that thought) on this.

Pareidolia

To quote from Mike’s part 5 of 5 posts on this:

“The actual truth is that there is no such thing as “Pareidolia.” It’s just a phony academic sounding word the debunkers made up to fool people into thinking there is scholarly weight behind the concept. It’s actually a complete sham. … The word was actually first coined by a douchebag debunker (is that my first “douchebag” in this piece?! I must be getting soft) named Steven Goldstein in a 1994 issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Since then, every major debunker from Oberg to “Dr. Phil” has fallen back on it, but it is still a load of B.S. There is no such thing.”

First, let’s get this out of the way: I never claimed that the ziggurat image is pareidolia. It’s clearly not. The question for the ziggurat is whether someone superposed a terrestrial ziggurat on a lunar photograph.

As far as I can tell, Mike’s etymology of the word is correct — he may have used the same resource I did, and I can’t find any previous references. (Updated per comments: Actually, the term goes back at least to the mid-1800s. From an 1867 journal: “… or, there is necessary an external and individual object very nearly corresponding in character to the false perception, whose objective stimulus blends with the deficient subjective stimulus, and forms a single complete impression. This last is called by Dr. Kahlbaum, changing hallucination, partial hallucination, perception of secondary images, or pareidolia. Those manifestations which have been hitherto termed illusions, are only in very small proportion actual delusions of the senses (partial hallucinations). For the most part they are pure delusions of the judgement, while a few are false judgments, founded on imperfect perception, or deceptions produced in the peripheral organs of sense and in external conditions.”)

Regardless, claiming that there is no such thing is about at the level of Mike’s claiming that centrifugal force makes you heavier, an annular eclipse is when the moon is closer than normal to Earth, you measure the major and minor axes of an ellipse from two arbitrary points within it, and dark matter denial (stay tuned for a podcast on that last one at some point).

Whether it has a word or not, it is a real phenomenon. The Rorschach ink blot test was created to make use of pareidolia. People make pilgrimages to distant places because they think Jesus or Mary is visible within the knot of a tree or an oil spot on a building window. And that’s just visual pareidolia.

The whole “EVP” (electronic voice phenomenon) is an example of audio pareidolia where you think you hear something in random noise. Skeptoid had a good episode on this, #105.

I’m really not sure why Mike decided to introduce such a blatant falsehood about human perception when it’s not even relevant to the ziggurat stuff.

Language

Another loose end is language. I’ve commented on this before, but it bears some repeating. Mike’s language throughout this was originally pure insults, and when he realized I have a Ph.D., it turned into mocking conspiracy (see next section for more on that). Mine has been remarkably restrained (in my never humble opinion). I’ve refrained from direct insults except in my initial analysis, in which I said my opinion was that Richard was either lying that he had spent weeks studying the image, or that he was incompetent in that image analysis. As far as I can tell, those are the only direct insults, and they’re relatively minor at that.

Contrast that with, say, Mike’s entire Part 1 blog post on this stuff.

The only real progress we’ve made over the last month is that he’s stopped calling me a hater.

Mike also stated that I feel the need to brand him a “heretic,” which is a term I have never used nor implied. I found that particularly humorous because just this past week, Skeptoid addressed that very issue — the need of pseudoscientists to claim that they are being branded as heretics. To quote from Brian Dunning’s transcript:

“It’s noteworthy that the term “heretic” is only ever used by dogmatic authorities. For example, the Catholic church used it during the Inquisition. I’ve never heard a working scientist call anyone a heretic in reference to their scientific work; instead, they simply point out that they’re wrong and why. But promoters of pseudoscience want to be called heretics, because that would make the scientific mainstream into a dogmatic authority. Whenever you run into a lone researcher who’s outside the mainstream and claims to have been labeled a heretic, you have very good reason to be skeptical.” (emphasis his)

That’s really all I have to say on this aspect, but I thought it important, yet again, to point out.

Another thing about language, though. Mike has claimed to “destroy” my arguments and to provide absolute proof that the ziggurat is real. I, on the other hand, have never used such black-and-white terminology. My position has always been that it is my opinion, based on the available evidence, and based on my analysis that I’ve now gone through at great length, that the ziggurat is more likely to be fake than real.

You might think I’m pointing out semantics, but they’re important semantics. Scientists will rarely speak in terms of absolutes except in rare cases (for example, I’ve made declarative statements of facts about noise in images). When stating their position, it is almost always couched in “the evidence shows [this]” or “based on a preponderance of the evidence.” That’s because science is always open to revision, always open to being shown that previous conclusions were wrong based on new evidence brought to light.

And then there are the declarative statements of the pseudoscientists. There’s also, oftentimes, a failure to admit when they’ve made mistakes, even obvious, trivial ones that don’t really matter for their main arguments. I’ve pointed out many that Mike has made that don’t really impact his argument (and I’ve pointed out many he’s made that do impact his argument), but he’s never back-tracked on any of them.

Nor, as an aside, has he backtracked from any of the mistakes he made in his book, “The Choice.” For example, on August 12, someone wrote on his Facebook page: “Mike likes to say in his defence “I never said that, you are trying to get me to defend things I never said.” Well Mike, you DID say on page 32 of “The Choice” that centrifugal force makes us heavier. So you DID actually say that, and it’s simply completely wrong.”

Mike followed that up immediately with, “Show me the quote asshole. It doesn’t say that. And it was a misprint anyway.” Interesting how something isn’t there but that it was a misprint at the same time that it’s not there being wrong. And just last night, he’s now claiming that his book had two minor misprints, 10 words out of 50,000. Anyway, we’re getting somewhat off-topic, so if you’re at all interested in the many more than two basic, fundamental mistakes in “The Choice,” I’ll direct you to this post.

Fear and Conspiracy

Mike has claimed that it is fear (and money) that has driven me to write about this subject. Fear that my worldview will be turned upside-down, that I’m afraid of aliens or what alien artifacts would imply, that the Brookings Report is my Bible (you know, THE report, as opposed to all the other reports that think-tank has released over the decades), etc.

I know that regardless of what I say he won’t be convinced otherwise, but I’ll say it again anyway: It’s not true. As I have written innumerable times on this blog, the whole reason for doing science is to make new discoveries and overturn paradigms (and this is a real plug post for Skeptoid ’cause Dunning addressed this in the latest episode 324, too).

Let’s do a little test: Raise your hand if you recognize the name Albert Einstein. Now raise your other hand if you recognize the name Francis Everitt. For those who don’t have both hands raised, Everitt is the principle investigator of the Gravity Probe B mission that was a test of some of Einstein’s theories. He’s not a household name because he has upheld a paradigm; Einstein is a household name because he created it. ‘Nough said.

Which brings us to the conspiracy and likely why this will be my last post on this subject. After all this discussion, we’re really, in sum and substance, back at the beginning because almost all evidence that I have brought forth is simply dismissed as either apparently wrong (which I’ve explained is incorrect or likely incorrect) or it’s apparently not trustworthy because it’s all a conspiracy.

Mike claims that I lack honesty, and then he corrected himself on the radio and used the term “intellectual honesty.” Meanwhile, Mike has stated at least twice that he baited me with blog posts to do his work for him in finding other images of the location. And then he both dismissed them as part of the conspiracy while also saying that I had the location wrong, which I showed again was not the case. Lying about one’s reason for something and then dismissing it anyway when it shows what you don’t like … and then accusing me of intellectual dishonesty? Seriously?

I had taken more notes of stuff to say at this point, but after writing the above, I really don’t think any more needs to be said. It won’t convince anyone who believes what Mike says, and the people who don’t believe Mike are already convinced and know roughly what else I was going to say, anyway.

Real Quick – The Ziggy Location, Again

I think this bears repeating. Mike claims that I missed the location of the ziggurat.

Here’s my evidence that it’s where I claim it is, courtesy of “GoneToPlaid:”

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, D

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, D

Here’s Mike’s:

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

And here’s Mike’s with the actual, correct craters matched up:

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

As you can see, it’s fairly clear that Mike got his craters wrong, misjudging the scale and relative positions. He might be better off in the future paying attention to what the planetary geophysicist who actually studies craters says.

Where We Are Now

The question I asked a few posts ago was: What would it take to falsify your belief? Mike has not directly answered that. He’s also pointed out that he doesn’t give (a few swear words) what I think nor about my challenges. Which is then interesting that he spent so much time on responding.

I laid out three primary categories of reasons that I think it’s fake. Mike’s responses to each can be summarized by the indented, bulleted text below each.

1. Why there is less noise in the NASA original but more noise in Mike’s, and why is there more contrast (more pure black and more saturated highlights) in Mike’s? Both of these pretty much always indicate that the one with more noise and more contrast is a later generation … you can’t just Photoshop in more detail like that.

  • Mike spent a lot of time changing his definition of noise and going through a few misconceptions about it, but in the end, he claims that the noise in his version is texture from a poorly stored photo in an album that was later scanned, hence it’s an earlier generation because it’s from an old print. There is no evidence for this other than what he has interpreted as texture, and I argue that the more likely explanation is that it’s a late-generation copy.
  • Mike claims that there is more contrast in the NASA version because the black shadows are pure black (greyscale 0) while the shadows in his version are between ~18 and 31, so show a range. I argue that the range is due to noise, that the dynamic range of his version is roughly half the NASA version, and that the dynamic range within the bright areas is less in his version, thus supporting my statement that there’s more contrast in his version.
  • Mike misinterpreted my statement about Photoshopping in detail thinking I meant details like craters. The point still stands that once you have a saturated pixel, you cannot bring the information back without assumptions and then modeling what you think it should be.

2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.

  • One claim Mike made is that I missed the location of the ziggurat. I have shown that I did not.
  • He also claims that he does not believe any of the current NASA images nor those from the SELENE (Japanese) mission, nor much of anything else except the old Apollo images, and even then, only some of them such as the one that shows what – at first glance to most normal people – appears on its face to be fake. He clearly stated that if the Chinese images don’t show anything there, it’s because they’ve been pressured to not release them or they’re part of the conspiracy or some such thing.
  • He’s brought in other Apollo photographs of the region taken from orbit and when none showed a convincing feature, he stated that they were airbrushed out. Except for one of them, which to me, looks even less like a pareidolia-ized ziggurat than the first (though Mike doesn’t believe in pareidolia … see above).

3. Why the shadowed parts of his ziggurat are lit up when they’re in shadow, on top of a hill, and not facing anything that should reflect light at them?

  • Much of Mike’s response was that scattered light will brightly light any shadowed region, and he has seen hundreds of examples of this.
  • This is something I have stated – that scattered light can illuminate some things, faintly, but not to the effect it allegedly had on the ziggurat:
  • What he showed were mainly examples of scattered and refracted light within the optics of the camera itself rather than on the surface. One of his examples did have some stuff in shadow that was very, very faintly lit by scattered light.
  • To have the ziggurat shadowed part lit by scattered light would require an incredibly reflective surface that somehow withstood [insert time length] years of asteroid impacts to still reflect all the light that’s scattered onto it from a very small crater wall. I suppose this in itself is not impossible, but it strains credulity, especially when taken with all the other very unlikely things needed to be true for this to be real.

I could go through a timeline of stuff, too, but I don’t think that’s really worth getting into. The string of posts at the beginning shows it pretty well, I think.

So that’s where we are. Neither of us are going to convince the other, of course. I’ve stated for awhile now that this would end in one of probably three ways, in order of increasing likelihood:

  1. Mike would admit it’s likely a fake. (near-0% chance)
  2. Mike would just start to ignore it and move on with his other stuff.
  3. Mike would say that any evidence or explanation I bring forward is wrong or that he can dismiss it because it’s part of the conspiracy. After all, he already claims I’m bought and paid for so nothing I say can be trusted (Mike – how much do you make from promoting your ideas?). (near-100% chance)

Final Thoughts?

Clearly, Option #3 was always the most likely and it is primarily what he’s gone with. Which really gets me back to ¿why are we going through this whole thing, anyway?

I cannot read minds, though I often wish I could, but my guess is that Mike feels the need to defend this considering that he’s put so much effort into it and made it a centerpiece of his book due out in October. It also fits entirely within and reinforces the worldview that he sells (literally). He’s also said he really doesn’t care WHAT my analysis shows nor opinions are, so in that sense, I’m not sure why he’s decided to continue writing so much on it even after Richard Hoagland suggested he not.

I’ve continued on with this in part because I’m stubborn, but also because I’ve been learning and teaching as I’ve been going. In terms of the former, I’ve learned how to obtain and process the SELENE images, how to be more precise, how to create videos, and techniques to bolster my claims. That will help me not just in this kind of education and public outreach work, but also in my career. For example, I’m headed to a conference in Flagstaff, AZ (USA) next month on cratering and I’ll be giving two presentations. My work is going to be challenged. If I can’t defend it, then it falls and I’m back to square one.

In terms of the latter, I’ve tried to gear each blog post on this not just towards the boring “debunking” stuff, but to illustrate to everyone who’s reading how to do their own investigations into this stuff and NOT to take my word for things, and also about how certain things are done and stuff works. For example, I’ve gone into great depth now in a few posts AND two podcasts on image processing and about images in general, such as dynamic range, noise, geometric correction, and how some basic filters work. In an age where nearly everyone who has internet (and so is reading this) has a digital camera, this is useful information to have, and I’ll likely refer back to it in future posts on many disparate topics.

But, by this point, I think the impasse is more obvious than ever. I acknowledge that some of Mike’s ideas are possible (i.e., the poorly stored print idea), but in my opinion they are unlikely – and many unlikely things would ALL need to be true for this – when compared with the null hypothesis: The ziggurat is a hoax by someone. Mike has not admitted to being wrong even when he’s contradicted himself, and pretty much every argument I’ve made that he hasn’t attempted to show is wrong has been relegated to a conspiracy. Nothing I say is going to change his mind on that, though that was pretty much known from the beginning.

I think it is probably time for a graceful exit on this issue by both parties. Mike’s explained his position, I’ve explained mine, and you, the reader, are encouraged to do your own investigation and make up your own mind. If you decide the conspiracy is accurate, and you like the way Mike argues by primarily flinging insults, them more power to you because you’ve made The Choice, go buy Mike’s books, spend money to hear him talk, and have fun.

 

Oh, and P.S., this should not be construed as a concession post by any stretch of the imagination.

August 28, 2012

Dynamic Range and Shadows


Introduction

Part three of four posts in response to Michael Bara’s five-part post that allegedly destroys my arguments that the ziggurat on the moon is not real. Next post is already written (mostly) and will come out shortly, wrapping things up.

Dynamic Range

I really think I’ve covered this enough by this point, but I’ll do it briefly again.

Below is the “original” ziggurat image that Mike has linked to. Below that is a histogram of its pixel values. Note that this looks slightly different from what Photoshop will show the histogram to be. That’s because Photoshop fakes it a teensy bit. This histogram was created using very rigorous data analysis software (Igor Pro) and shows a few spikes and a few gaps in the greyscale coverage:

Original Lunar Ziggurat Image from Call of Duty Zombies Forum

Original Lunar Ziggurat Image from Call of Duty Zombies Forum


Histogram of Pixel Values in Original Ziggurat Image

Histogram of Pixel Values in Original Ziggurat Image

The dynamic range available for this image is 8-bit, or 0 through 2^8-1, or 256 shades of grey (or 254 plus black plus white — semantics). The actual dynamic range the image covers is less than this — its range is only 12 through 169, or 157 shades of grey — just a little over 7-bit.

Compare that with the NASA image (whether you think the NASA image has been tampered with or not, that’s unimportant for this explanation), shown below. Its histogram spans values from 0 through 255, showing that it takes up the entire 8-bit range.

"Ziggurat" Area in NASA Photo AS11-38-5564

“Ziggurat” Area in NASA Photo AS11-38-5564


Histogram of Pixel Values in Original NASA Image of Ziggurat Location

Histogram of Pixel Values in Original NASA Image of Ziggurat Location

The immediate implication is that the ziggurat version has LOST roughly half of its information, its dynamic range. Or, if you’re of the conspiracy mindset, then the NASA version has been stretched to give it 2x the range.

Another thing we can look at is those spikes in the dark end and the gaps in the bright ends. I was honestly surprised that these were present in the NASA one because what this shows is that the curves (or levels) have been adjusted (and I say that with full realization of its ability to be quote-mined). The way you get the spikes are when you compress a wide range of shades into a narrower range. Because pixels must have an integer (whole number) value, rounding effects mean that you’ll get some shades with more than others.

Similarly, the bright end has been expanded. This means the opposite – you had a narrow range of shades and those were re-mapped to a wider range. Again, due to rounding, you can get some values with no pixels in it.

This can be done manually in software, or it can also be done automatically. Given the spacing of them, it looks like a relatively basic adjustment has been made rather than any more complicated mapping, for both the Call of Duty Zombies image with the ziggurat and NASA’s.

The fact that BOTH the ziggurat one and the NASA one have these gaps and spikes is evidence that both have been adjusted brightness-wise in software. But, taken with the noise in the ziggurat one, the smaller dynamic range, and the reduced detail, these all combine to make the case for the ziggurat version being a later generation image that’s been modified more than the NASA one (see previous post on noise and detail — this section was originally written for that post but I decided to move it to this one).

Dark Pixels, Shadow, and Light

What is also readily apparent in the NASA version is that there are many more black pixels in the region of interest. This could mean several very non-conspiracy things (as opposed to the “only” answer being that NASA took a black paintbrush to it).

One is what I have stated before and I think is a likely contributor: The image was put through an automatic processing code either during or after scanning, before being placed online. As a default in most scanning software, a histogram of the pixel values is created and anything darker than 0.1% is made to be shade 0, and anything brighter than 0.1% of the pixels is made to be shade 255. Sometimes, for some reason, this default is set to 1% instead, though it is also manually variable (usually).

Another part of this that I think is most likely is that, as I’ve said before, shadows on the moon are very dark. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation is that earthshine, the only “direct” light into some sun-shadowed regions on the near side, is around 1000x fainter than sunlight would be. On the far side – and these photos are from the far side – there is no earthshine to contribute.

Which means the only other way to get light into the shadowed region would be scattering from the lunar surface itself. Mike misreads several things and calls me out where I admitted to making a mistake in my first video (Mike, how many mistakes have you made in this discussion? I’ve called you out on two very obvious ones in previous posts, and I call you out on another, below). Yes, you can get scattered light onto objects that are in shadow. If you have a small object casting a small shadow (such as a lunar module), then you have a very large surface surrounding it that will scatter relatively a lot of light into it. That’s why the Apollo astronauts are lit even when they are in the shadow of an object.

However, if you have a very large object – such as a 3-km-high crater rim – that casts a shadow – such as into the crater – then there is much less surrounding surface available to scatter light into the shadowed region. Also, remember that the moon reflects (on average) only about 10% of the light it receives*. So already any lunar surface that’s lit only by scattered light would be 10x fainter than the sun-lit part, and that’s assuming that ALL light scattered off the sun-lit lunar surface scatters into the shadowed parts to be reflected back into the camera lens, as opposed to the vast majority of it that just gets scattered into space.

*As opposed to Mike’s claim: “Since the lunar surface is made mostly of glass, titanium and aluminum, it tends to be very highly reflective.” Um, no (source 1, source 2).

Now, yes, there will still be some light scattered into the shadowed region, but it will be very little, relatively speaking, compared with the shadow of a small object, and it will be even less, relatively speaking, when compared with the sun-lit surrounding surface. For example, let’s look at AS11-38-5606:

Apollo Image AS11-38-5606

Apollo Image AS11-38-5606

This image was taken at a low sun angle, and there are a lot of shadows being cast. And look! They’re all very very black. The photographic exposure would need to be much longer in order to capture any of the minuscule amount of light scattered into the shadowed regions that were then scattered into the camera.

Now, before we go back to the ziggurat, let’s look at another part of this claim. Mike states: “I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of lunar images where the shadows are far from “pitch-black (or almost pitch-black).””

In support of this, Mike points to images such as AS11-44-6609:

NASA Apollo Photo AS11-44-6609

NASA Apollo Photo AS11-44-6609

If you go to the full resolution version, you do see that the shadowed regions are not pitch black! WTF is going on!?

First, if you check the levels in photoshop, the 0.1% clip has either already been applied or it was never relevant to this image. So this does not falsify my previous statement of that being a possibility for the black shadows in the “ziggurat” one.

Second, let’s look at a few photos later, AS11-44-6612:

NASA Apollo Photo AS11-44-6612

NASA Apollo Photo AS11-44-6612

See that big crater up to the top? That’s the same one that’s near the middle-right in #-6609. Notice that instead of having a greyscale equivalent of around 25%, this time that very same shadow, taken just a few seconds or minutes later but at a different angle and part of the lens has decreased in brightness by over half. Meanwhile, shadows that are in roughly the same position of the frame (as in middle-right versus upper-middle) have a similar brightness as that shadow did in #-6609.

Also, look at the black space above the lunar surface (the right of the frame unless you’ve rotated it). The part of the sky near the top and bottom is ~5% black. The part near the middle is around 13% black. Or, 2-3x as bright, when space should be completely dark in this kind of exposure under ideal optics.

If you’re a photographer, you probably know where I’m going with this: The simplest explanation is that this is either a lens flare from shooting in the general direction of the sun, and/or this is grime on the lens causing some scattering. Less probable but still possible would be a light leak.

And, a closer examination of the shadowed areas does show some very, very faint detail that you can bring out, but only towards the middle of the image where that overall glow is.

Meanwhile, if you look through, say, the Apollo 11 image catalog and look at the B&W images, the shadows in pretty much every orbital photo are completely black. The shadows in the color ones are not.

As a photographer, this is the most likely explanation to me to explain AS11-44-6609 and images like it where Mike points to shadows that are lit:

  1. Original Photography:
    • Image was taken in the general direction of the sun so that glare was present.
    • And/Or, there was dirt on the lens or on the window through which the astronauts were shooting.
    • This caused a more brightly lit part of the image to be in a given location, supported by other images on the roll that show the same brightness in the same location of the frame rather than the same geographic location on the moon.
    • Some scattered light from the lunar surface, into the shadowed regions, off the shadowed regions, into the camera, was recorded.
  2. Image Scanning:
    • Negative or print was scanned.
    • Auto software does a 0.1% bright/dark clip, making the darkest parts black and brightest parts white. This image shows that effect in its histogram.
    • This causes shadows at the periphery to be black and show no detail.
    • Since the center is brighter, there’s no real effect to the brightness, and the very faint details from the scattered light are visible.

Contrast that with AS11-38-5564 (the ziggurat one), which has even illumination throughout. A simple levels clip would eliminate all or almost all detail in the shadowed regions. And/or, the original exposure was somewhat too short to record any scattered light. And/or the film used was not sensitive enough, which is bolstered as a potential explanation by what I noted above – that orbital B&W photography from the mission shows black shadows while orbital color shows a teensy bit of detail in some of the shadows.

In my opinion, that is a much more likely explanation given the appearance of the other photos in the Apollo magazines than what Mike claims, that NASA painted over it.

Which after long last brings us back to the ziggurat. Even in Mike’s exemplar, the stuff in the brightest shadow are BARELY visible, much less-so than the wall of his ziggurat. I suppose if Mike wants to claim that the ziggurat walls are 100% reflective, plus someone has done a bleep-load of enhancement in the area, then sure, he can come up with a way for the walls to be lit even when they are in shadow.

Do I think that’s the most likely explanation, especially taken in light of everything else? No.

Final Thoughts on This Part

One more part left in this series, and by this point I’ve really addressed the main, relevant points in Mike’s five-part series.

Far from “destroying” my arguments, I think at the very, very most, he’s raised some potential doubt for one or two small parts of my argument that, taken individually if one is conspiracy-minded and already believes in ancient artifacts on the moon, then those individual doubts could be used to make it look like the ziggurat is real.

However, taken as a whole, and taken with less of a conspiratorial mindset and a mindset where you must provide extraordinary evidence for your extraordinary claim, and you must show that the null hypothesis is rejected by a preponderance of indisputable evidence, then the ziggurat is not real.

July 16, 2012

Episode 44: Independent Evidence the Apollo Moon Landings Were Real


Episode 44 has been posted, a tad early. I recorded this episode almost a week ago, and I’m posting it now roughly on time, though a bit early, when I happen to have internet at this conference where it costs $13/day/device (yes, seriously).

Anyway, this episode ended up being surprisingly short even though I go through four of the primary ways that I use to demonstrate that people really landed on the Moon with the Apollo program (I would say “prove” but I’m very cautious using that word these days — real “proof” only comes in mathematics). The four methods I use are ultraviolet photos of stars, the rocks, lunar laser ranging, and actual photos of the sites from lunar orbit.

There’s also a Q&A, puzzler (solution to last puzzler and this one will be in July 24th’s episode), and the main segment. Otherwise, that’s about it and perhaps why it came in at about 21 minutes.

December 22, 2011

On the Subject of Absolute Denial


Introduction

Lately, I’ve had a somewhat morbid fascination with the news feed over at Conservapedia where they post the most absolute conservative and Christian fundamentalist stories along with often laughable commentary. For example, we have, “Thousands of Christians, fed up with persecution at the hands of atheists, rally in Texas in a fight to save their Nativity scene.” Or:

Additional Climategate fraud exposed: U.S. Gov’t money helped fund a deliberate hiding of data: “Now a new batch posted in late November to a Russian server shows that scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit refused to share their U.S. government-funded data with anyone they thought would disagree with them.” Not even replication is allowed, a basic tenet of science. And our critics say we’re anti-science!

At least a third of the time (at least it seems), their articles are direct links to Creation Ministries International (CMI) articles. Following their CMI bent, Conservapedia is a big supporter of the CMI’s “Question evolution!” campaign, often filling their news feed with notes that a new Question evolution! campaign was launched somewhere.

What brought me to write this hopefully short post is Conservapedia’s commentary with their latest update on said campaign: “How did life originate? Evolutionists and atheists don’t have any answers. Creation Ministries International unveils their second Question evolution! campaign video which no evolutionist/atheist is going to be able to rebut.”

Question evolution!

RationalWiki’s page on “Question evolution!”

That’s what mostly needs to be said, but to summarize, CMI came up with 15 questions that “evolutionists” supposedly can’t answer and where each of them disprove “Darwinism” with absolute certainty.

One problem with this is that several of their 15 questions have nothing to do with evolution, such as, say … Question 1, “How did life originate.” Sorry CMI, but origin of life studies has nothing to do with the change in the frequency of alleles in cells. Other of the questions are philosophical and have nothing to do with science, like Question 6, “Why do living things bear the hallmarks of design, [sic] if no one designed them?” (you’ll also notice they improperly use commas).

A second problem is that this sets up a false dichotomy with a god of the gaps on one end where CMI obviously wants you to think that because scientists supposedly can’t answer these questions, Goddidit.

The final “problem” is that the questions pertaining to evolution are answerable and have been answered many, many times. RationalWiki does a good job on that page I linked to.

The Point of This Post: Denial

It admittedly is difficult for me to imagine, with full knowledge of my own argument from personal incredulity, that the editors over at Conservapedia are ignorant of the responses by scientists to this campaign. After all, CMI did their own three-part series on it. Perhaps this is why Conservapedia often inserts the word, “satisfactorily” into their statement that these are questions “evolutionists cannot satisfactorily answer.” But that’s my own musing.

It is thus that I wanted to muse further about the idea of denial. Often in skepticism, we naïvely expect propagators of woo to play by the rules of logic, evidence, and acknowledgement of statements and full responses to them. We quickly learn that most don’t play by that game. The response is often moving the goalpost (conspiracy theorists often do this) or a Gish Gallop (named for the creationist who did this and often encountered with conspiracies as well as creationists).

It is in this spirit that I point out that Conservapedia is simply denying that scientists have answered their questions, they just don’t like the answers. I submit that people such as Andrew Schlafly (the founder and primary editor of Conservapedia) will never consider any response to these kinds of things “sufficient” for their purposes. Almost by definition, this is where we enter the realm of the “True Believer.”

Final Thoughts

In science, in contrast (and I know I’ve addressed this many times), the ideal is to never hold our own personal beliefs above the evidence for them and especially against them.

If someone were to present demonstrable evidence that Planet X were nearby and there was actually some mechanism for it to cause a pole flip in a year yesterday, I’d look at it and take it seriously. But a Planet X that’s 365 days away (2012 is a leap year, after all … oooo! scary!) would almost be the brightest object in our sky. Last time I looked up, I didn’t see it.

Similarly, if someone were able to present demonstrable evidence that pans out for, say, the Moon Hoax conspiracy, then that would be something. But I would expect that if I looked into that person’s claim and presented my findings to them, that that person would then look at my evidence and analysis and respond to it. That has never been the case so far (at least for me), all they do is not respond or move onto another claim.

So really, this is a guide to those who believe something that’s not generally accepted: If you lay out a specific claim, present specific evidence for it. If someone takes the time to look into that evidence and addresses your claim, have the courtesy to “play by the rules” and actually examine what they show you, and then respond to it. If the person shows that your evidence is flawed, acknowledge that. Don’t change the subject. Don’t say, “Oh, well I can’t give you anymore evidence because the men in black took it.” If you do, a rational person is not going to believe you because the only evidence you had was shown to be flawed.

And at that point, don’t turn around to the next person and completely ignore what had just happened (e.g., Bart Sibrel, I’m lookin’ at you). Don’t claim that your flawed evidence that you acknowledged was flawed (assuming we got that far) is valid again to the next person you talk to.

April 1, 2011

April Fools: A Serious Post for the Day


Introduction

In the past, I’ve had a bit of obvious fun on April 1 with my posts, such as last year’s where I explained how I had seen the light and was giving up science. And apparently it wasn’t too obvious to all that I was joking, as Michael Horn apparently thought I was serious.

Anyway, this year I thought I would use the day to look over several ideas and concepts that I address on this blog or that, in general, the modern skeptical movement takes issue with. The purpose of this is that, often, people who believe in any of these topics will claim that skeptics can’t have their pet idea be true because it would upset their worldview, destroy everything they “believe” in, etc. On the contrary, I would absolutely love for many of these things to be true. Let’s take a look …

Near-Death Experiences, Spirit Contacts, Ghosts

Any and all of these things, if real (and by “real” for NDEs I mean they actually cannot be explained by biology), would mean that there is some form of existence after we die in this one. Seriously, I would be delighted if this were true. I don’t care what people say about how I can’t have this be true because it would mean there’s accountability, or that I can’t just do anything in this life ’cause I’d be reincarnated as a cockroach, or whatever.

Living for maybe 75 years and then ceasing to exist is a scary thought. Occasionally late at night, it crops up in my mind and I get freaked out. But that doesn’t mean that I believe that there is a form of existence after this one. I see no hard, reproducible evidence for it, and all the purported evidence that people have put forth is generally easily refuted (especially when we’re talking about ghosts and mediums).

But I would love it to be true. I asked a friend of mine once what he believed and he unabashedly said he was an atheist. As did his wife, who had grown up in some form of Christianity in a very conservative town. I asked her why, and if that meant she didn’t believe in life after death, either. She explained the usual reasons, but then it was this that got me: “No, I don’t think there’s life after death. But believe me, if someone were taking a vote and if I had any say in the matter, I would vote ‘yes.'”

I agree: If I have a vote in the matter of whether there will be a life after this one, I would vote “yes, I want there to be one.” But do I actually believe there is one? No.

Present-Day Visitation by UFOs and Aliens

In what you’ll quickly discover is a theme with this post, I think this would be cool, assuming of course some sort of benevolence as opposed to an Independence Day style of alien invasion. More Vulcans, less Borg. But do I think that tiny light in the sky that I happen to not be able to explain at the moment is an alien craft? No. Do I “believe” the Betty & Barney Hill story? No. Do I think Billy Meier’s laughable evidence is proof of visitation? No.

Ancient Aliens and Alien Artifacts in the Solar System

Following from the last section, this would again be pretty cool. Though I find it odd some people think Earth was the brothel of the galaxy eons ago and the idea that deviant aliens came here to make sweet sweet monkey love is wacked out. Again, actual real evidence of alien visitation in the past would be very neat. Evidence of an alien civilization on Mars or some other body in the solar system would likewise, I think, be cause of great interest and people would flock to it.

Does that mean I think the Nazca Lines are ancient alien landing strips? No. Or that aliens built the pyramids? No. Just because we may not have a mundane explanation for something now does not mean that “aliens did it.” Or, following perhaps a frequent refrain of creationists, it does not mean that “aliensdidit” (a la “goddidit”). Similarly, Richard C. Hoagland’s ideas of crystal tunnels and ancient sculptures on Mars, Andrew Baggiago’s ideas of fossils on Mars, and – closer to home – Hoagland’s “Data’s Head” find on the moon are obvious and clear examples of pareidolia and bad image processing, not the desired evidence of ancient advanced civilizations.

Young-Earth Creationism

To be perfectly fair, I really don’t “care” how old Earth is. As far as I’m concerned, I only “know” for sure that it’s just under 28 years old. Or really, it could have been created just a second ago but with the appearance of age and with all of our individual memories forged and everything made with the appearance of age. After all, that’s what you have to believe to be a young-Earth creationist, that every single piece of geologic, historical, astronomical, archaeologic, etc. evidence that points to a planet – much less solar system, galaxy, and universe – older than 6000 years was planted there by some sick, twisted omnipotent being to make us scratch our heads in the fashion of a chimp. Or you have to invent new science that doesn’t fit with anything else in order to make your models work out.

I think that in the coming decades, young-Earthers are going to be looked upon the same as flat-Earthers: People who ignore all evidence to the contrary, invent ways around what they can, and otherwise stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “La La La! I can’t hear you!”

Magic (Powers/Abilities like psychokinesis, Elves, Fairies, etc.)

I’ll be honest here (as elsewhere) and admit to a guilty pleasure: The TV show Charmed was one of my favorites. And I’m a Harry Potter fan, though that’s more socially acceptable for a guy. Anyway, I love the idea of magic existing, either out in the open or the concept of a hidden world “beyond the veil” that exists alongside our everyday lives but is hidden from us normal folks. In fact, for the past 4 years I’ve been working on and off on my own novel exploring that idea. But here you have the problem of not just a lack of even shaky evidence or suggestions that it’s true, but a solid lack of any suggestions that it’s true beyond the stray anecdote from the mentally questionable.

[Pick Your] Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories are interesting because many of them actually could be true when first broached. It’s when people ignore all evidence to the contrary of a conspiracy theory that it begins to get stupid. For example, the Apollo Moon landings. Every claim by conspiracy theorists have been appropriately answered by reasonable explanations that adequately fit the model that the astronauts landed on the moon. And now we have Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo landing sites. This particular conspiracy theory may have made some sense WAY back in the day, but no anyone who clings to it is willfully ignorant or simply delusional. There really is no other, kinder way to say it.

2012 Doomsday

Do I want this one to be true? Of course not. I want to see the solar eclipse in 2017. I have plans set for 2013. I’d prefer not to die in some cataclysm at the end of next year. Does my desire for this not to happen cloud my judgement on whether it will? No. Again, much like with the conspiracy theories above, every idea put forward by 2012 doomsdayers has been shown to be simply wrong, not physically possible, or just an outright lie. If there were actual evidence or even a physical mechanism that could occur, then I would reevaluate my conclusion and start eating more ice cream and Doritos.

Vaccines Cause Autism

Actually, I think it would be great if there were any kind of simple cause of autism, be it the thimerosal that was used as a preservative in childhood vaccines, parents playing Beethoven to the pregnant mom’s stomach, or solar flares. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in the US a decade ago, and autism rates didn’t go down at all. No one knows what actually causes autism, but it’s definitely not vaccines. Concerned parents should be concerned, but they shouldn’t blame something that protects a child’s health and has conclusively been shown by every study to not cause autism.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up. Now, yes, this was posted on April 1st. No, this is not a “fake” nor joke post. In the end, this really boils down to this message for a “true believer” who harps on the “skeptics:” Get over yourselves. We are not “scared” that your-supernatural-belief-of-choice may be true. We would welcome it. Instead of wasting everyone’s time with that straw man, how about actually addressing the legitimate criticisms of the methodology instead of the claims?

What I’ve written above are my honest thoughts on the issues. What are yours?

December 1, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Moving the Goalpost


Introduction

In my continuing series on logical fallacies, in this post I’m going to address the relatively more rare fallacy of “Moving the Goalpost” (AKA, “Shifting the Goalpost”).

What Is “Moving the Goalpost?”

The “Moving the Goalpost” logical fallacy is another one that has a fairly descriptive name. It is the case when Person A makes a claim, Person B refutes it, and Person A moves on to a new or revised claim, generally without acknowledging or responding to Person B’s refutation. Hence, the goalpost of the claim has been shifted or moved in order to keep the claim alive.

Example of Moving the Goalpost from Young-Earth Creationism

I’m not going to spend much time here because (a) I’ve been accused of using this logical fallacy series to dwell too much on Creationism, and (b) I kinda agree and want to incorporate other fields of pseudo astronomy into my examples.

The classic case of Moving the Goalpost in YEC (young-Earth creationism) is commonly known as the “Gish Gallop,” so-named for Duane Gish, the former vice president of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). In debates, Gish would very commonly spout out many, many claims, half-truths, misrepresentations, and lies that take just a few seconds or minutes to state, while his opponent would be left trying to boil down 15-minute answers to something quick that is digestible to the audience. When a claim was refuted, Gish would quickly move on to the next claim without answering the objections raised by his opponents (reference 1, reference 2).

Example of Moving the Goalpost from the Apollo Moon Landing Hoax Believers

A very similar debate tactic is used by many conspiracy theorists, and the people who promote the idea that the United States never landed men on the moon are no exception. In debates, they will often raise a claim, and then when that claim is explained away, they will not acknowledge it nor try to explain away the explanation, but will simply move on to the next claim, often with a transitional phrase of, “Okay, what about this? …”

Rather than stay with that original goalpost of their original claim, they will move on to the next one.

Another example of this fallacy but as represented by a different phenomenon is by the case study moon hoax claim of, “If Apollo really landed on the moon, then why haven’t we taken pictures of it?” This claim is easily explained away with a very simple understanding of optics that you learn in any introductory high school or college physics class, and I have already done so in my blog post, “The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Haven’t Any Pictures Been Taken of the Landing Sites?”

However, scientists, skeptics, and even many in the general public have maintained that it was simply a matter of time before we had a space craft in orbit of the moon that actually would have a high enough resolution camera to take photographs of the Apollo landing sites and show the relics. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which went into orbit this year (2009), was just such a craft and over the summer, NASA released photographs of several of the landing sites, showing the relics.

Now, logically, that case would be closed. The hoax claim was answered originally, and it was now even answered “better” with real photographs showing just what they said wouldn’t exist.

However, the Moving the Goalpost fallacy struck again and what many of us said would happen did: The hoax proponents who have actually spoken on these photographs have simply claimed that NASA has faked (“Photoshopped”) them. The goalpost hath been moved.

Non-Astronomy Example of Moving the Goalpost from Vaccines Give You Autism Crowds

Very very rarely have I strayed away from astronomy topics and claims on this blog, but this example of Moving the Goalpost was simply too good to pass up. For many years throughout the 1990s, a group of people claimed that the thimerosal mercury-based preservative in vaccines caused children to have autism. They lobbied hard for the preservative to be removed from all childhood vaccines, claiming that that would eliminate or greatly reduce apparently rising rates of childhood autism.

They made a VERY testable claim and prediction. And by about 2003, thimerosal was removed from all childhood vaccinations, at least in the US.

Again, logically, one would think that the claim had been disproven. Their cause, thimerosal, had been removed, so their claimed effect, autism, should be greatly reduced. Autism rates continued to be the same, not even a statistical blip due to the removal of thimerosal. Yet the anti-vaccination movement persists today, still claiming that vaccines give children autism, though now they will usually claim it’s due to diverse “toxins” in the vaccines. And still, some will claim that it’s the thimerosal in the vaccines … a case which now is simply a lie. Again, they have shifted the goalpost, not acknowledging they were wrong about thimerosal, but moving on to some other claim.

Final Thoughts

Moving the Goalpost is a little harder to spot than some of the other fallacies I have addressed, such as the ubiquitous ad hominem. But, it’s still a fairly easy one to observe and is mainly evidenced in two different ways. The first is moving from claim to claim without answering any refutations. The second is staying on the same claim and just repeating it without acknowledging the evidence presented against it.

July 18, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Two Interviews (of Me)


A quick intermediate post in my series: I have been interviewed by “The Conspiracy Skeptic” podcast as well as on the “Rational Alchemy” radio show / podcast regarding the Apollo moon hoax conspiracy theory.

You can visit The Conspiracy Skeptic or click here to listen to the audio directly. Please note that you can subscribe to this podcast through iTunes.

Rational Alchemy is found here or go here for the podcast list. Click here for the audio of my interview.

All posts in this series:

July 17, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: What’s Up with All Those Crosshairs? – Disappearing, Not Centered, and Tilted


Introduction

Within the class of Apollo moon hoax claims of evidence, there’s the giant category of photography and videography. Within that, there is a reasonable chunk of a few claims that deal with the crosshairs – also known as “fiducials.” There are numerous anomalies that deal with these crosshairs, and this post is meant to address most of them.

All posts in this series:

The Claims

There are two main crosshair claims. The first is a favorite of Bart Sibrel, who talks about it in his docudrama, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon: “A crosshair, which was burned directly into the image by the film plate, and thus should always appear on top of the objects in the photograph, appears behind the object in this scene, clearly revealing a composite of two pictures into one.” (Note that the specific scene in the movie is shown below.)

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

The second claim deals with the positioning and orientation of the crosshairs, with this quote taken from Bennet & Percy in Dark Moon, p. 68: “In some photographs the large crosshair is not centered, and in other the grid is not aligned with the image boundaries.”

What Are the Crosshairs?

Before I actually address these claims, I need to give some background information. The fiducials were etched onto a glass plate, each fiducial having a width of 0.1 mm (100 µm). They were etched in so as to be perpendicular/parallel with the edges of the glass plate. The center crosshair was larger than the others.

This plate was then inserted into the cameras between the lens and the film. Therefore, as the hoax folks claim, the crosshairs should all appear “on top of” anything in the photographs, and they should be aligned with the original image boundaries.

Part of the reason for having these was to determine the distances to objects when taking stereo pairs of images.

Why Do They Appear Behind Objects?

In every single example shown, the fiducials seem to “disappear behind” a bright, white object. There are three reasons why this happens: Bleeding of the emulsion, saturation of the dynamic range, and low-quality reproductions.

Taken in order, because the fiducials were so small, a bleeding of the chemicals to make the image of less than the width of a human hair could easily act to remove the fiducial.

This isn’t a very satisfying answer to today’s crowd of folks who have never developed film in a darkroom, so let’s move onto the second reason: Dynamic Range. This is actually the same reason why you don’t see stars in the photographs from the moon. The idea is that film can only record a certain level of darks to lights.

Let’s say that it’s represented by a number between 0 and 99. That is our dynamic range. Now let’s say that in a scene, we are going to take a photograph that lasts 1/100 second (0.01 sec). In this time, the darkest object in the scene reflects 0 or maybe 1 piece of light. In this amount of time, the brightest object in the scene reflects 150 pieces of light. And then there are objects of intermediate brightness.

When the image is recorded on the film, anything that emits or reflects more than 99 pieces of light in that 0.01 seconds will appear white. 99, 121, or 150 will all appear to be the same brightness.

Now, when we look at the photographs and these crosshairs seem to disappear behind a bright object, that’s in part due to the limited dynamic range. That bright object was reflecting more light than the camera could record in that exposure. And when the crosshair was over it, it did not lower the brightness enough to appear any differently.

This goes hand-in-hand with the third reason: Low-quality reproductions. Anyone who’s ever used a photocopier knows that you want to use the original. If you make a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy … then you will lose resolution and color-matching with each copy, eventually coming back with a splotchy, muddy image.

Apollo photographs have been copied so many times that the very slight brightness difference that a crosshair over a bright object vs. the bright object itself would have that it can easily disappear.

A side-reason from this is not just due to the copying, but also due to each person who got the copy (and then copied it and passed it on) manipulating the image. Anyone who looks at the image from Sibrel’s movie above (and re-posted below) who has photography background will notice that the image has been overly-sharpened (you can tell by the very bright white line on top of the hills in the background, among other things). When you sharpen an image, you have to select a pixel size overwhich to sharpen. Anything smaller than that pixel size will lose all detail, and hence the very fine lines from the fiducials can, again, easily disappear.

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

Why Are the Crosshairs Rotated, and Not Centered?

To revert to an ad hominem, this is a very silly claim, especially in this day and age where 5-year-olds can manipulate photographs on the computer. Remember, this was a massive public relations (PR) campaign, and NASA had to convince the American public (and the world) that this was worth doing.

So while NASA wouldn’t release all the bad photographs that the astronauts had taken, they also would take the good photographs and would crop and rotate them, which obviously would move the crosshairs around.

For example, I like to use Apollo 11 photograph AS11-40-5868, which shows Buzz Aldrin coming out of the lunar module (LM). The original photo is shown below, with the big crosshair centered, and the others all aligned with the image boundaries. (Note that I have sharpened the image in order to bring out the crosshairs.)

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

Now, let’s take another look at the photo. It’s kinda neat, but from a photographer’s point of view – and a PR person’s point of view – not all that great. The horizon is crooked, the astronaut looks like he’s going to fall off the ladder, and there’s this clunky machine that looks like it’s tilted and going to fall on him.

So let’s rotate it, and then crop it:

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

There now — we have a flat, horizontal horizon, the astronaut is majestically descending the ladder, and the clunky machinery of the LM is standing there, ready to take him back to the Command Module, orbiting above.

But – gasp! – the crosshairs are now rotated, and the large one is off-center!! Getting an idea for how silly this claim is, yet?

Final Thoughts

The crosshair/fiducial claims are just as much of an anomaly hunt as most of the other “evidence” for the conspiracy theorists. Each claim may, by itself, seem to make perfect sense, but then once you actually examine the claims, you will quickly find that they just fall apart.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.