Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 22, 2016

For Fun, Some Numerology About NASA, Courtesy of Richard Hoagland


I’ve mentioned before that Richard Hoagland’s claims can really be broken down in to four main categories: Numerology, Conspiracy, Pareidolia, and Shoddy Image Analysis.

In this post, I’m going to give you a small taste of the first one so that you can see just how silly it really is. This comes from his radio program from the morning of July 20, where he was discussing the anniversary of NASA’s Viking 1 lander on Mars, approximately 17 minutes into the broadcast (commercials removed):

… the 40th anniversary of the Viking mission, and the 47th anniversary of Apollo 11. And if you think NASA doesn’t do things ritualistically, 47, of course, is part of 19.47, and 40 is 1 more than 39; it’s canonically 40, you know, Old and New Testament, so the numbers, the numerology of NASA is well in operation because, obviously, it was not accidental that Viking was landed on the exact same anniversary date, July 20, as Apollo 11.

Let’s get the only factual statement about NASA out of the way in the above: Yes, NASA does like anniversaries, and it does like major US holidays. So does everyone. It’s a dream from public outreach’s point of view. That’s not unique to NASA. Moving on …

For the above to make any sense, you must realize that Richard loves the number 19.5 because it fits into his magical worldview. It’s really 19.47… (extra numbers after it), but he often rounds to 19.5.

So, what he’s done is removed the whole “19” part to claim that “47” is part of his system of numerology, therefore this particular anniversary of Apollo 11 is important. Of course, this makes absolutely no sense; it’s like me saying that I’m 25 years old, but I’m going to remove the “2” because the “5” lines up with how many knocks I do on a door, therefore 5 is important and syncs up with my age. It’s just stupid.

For “39,” you multiply 19.5 (remember, we rounded) by 2 to get 39. But to get the number to make any sense in Richard’s convoluted system, he had to add 1 because this is the 40th anniversary of Viking.

Now, granted, if you make up an entire numerological system and claim it’s significant, I suppose it may not be entirely fair for me to argue that he’s added yet another ad hoc rule to get to the numbers he wants. Why he didn’t say that the Apollo mission, 11, shows that “1” is important, evidenced by the repetition of the number “1” in it, therefore you can take the “1” from Apollo 11 and subtract it from the anniversary of Viking 1 (another 1!!!), which is 40-1, and you get 39. That makes much more sense than Richard’s ad hoc reason to subtract 1.

This isn’t the first time Richard has done this, though. Some of you may remember his infamous numerology of Comet Elenin in 2011 that proved by 1 in 46.5 BILLION chances that it wasn’t a spaceship.

If it weren’t so sad that people actually believe him, it’d be funny.

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March 16, 2013

Podcast #68: Expat in Hoaglandia – A Fantasia of NASA Conspiracies


This episode is just 6 seconds short of a full hour. I interview Expat – who was my first guest ever back in Episode 10 – about numerous political and technological conspiracies of Richard Hoagland as generally applied to NASA. I learned quite a bit during this interview, and I hope that you do, too, and find it interesting as well.

There’s a quick New News item at the end, but all the other segments are skipped so as not to detract from Expat.

Upcoming episodes that I mentioned at the end include: the True Color of Mars, the Ringmakers of Saturn, 2012 Doomsday Revisited, a Young-Earth Creationist suing NASA, and a Nancy Leider clip show.

December 29, 2012

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


Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

Introduction

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

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

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

Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

People

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

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

Scoring

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

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

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

How They Did

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several Conclusions from the Data

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

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

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

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

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

Scoring, Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

September 9, 2011

Podcast Episode 4 Is Up: Comet Elenin Special


With Episode 4 of my podcast, I have introduced the “bonus” episodes. Doing two podcasts a month doesn’t quite allow me the flexibility I wanted in order to address some “late-breaking” things, and so I’ve now put out the first bonus episode. These will be (hopefully) timely episodes about topics de jure. In this case, I put the episode out just before Comet Elenin makes its closest approach to the sun (perihelion).

I’ve avoided discussing Comet Elenin much on this blog because, well, to put it bluntly, it’s stupid. It’s as if the mentality of people has regressed by a few thousand years where they’re starting to fear comets as harbingers of doom again.

It’s difficult to actually put together a cohesive story about what these people believe (as is the case with most things I’ve addressed such as 2012, Planet X, and even the Apollo Moon hoax), so I picked and chose what I thought were some of the main claims out there. The first half is dedicated to those, while the second half is dedicated to my break-down of Richard Hoagland’s numerology about Elenin.

There should still be a regularly scheduled Sept. 16 episode out next week.

Edited to Add: As of 5PM GMT on September, 10, 2011, I have slightly updated the episode and a new version is up. It includes slightly more background information at the beginning and a “bottom-line,” “this is the SCIENCE,” note at the end before the one announcement.

August 30, 2011

Richard Hoagland’s Selective Numerology of Comet Elenin


Introduction

Comet Elenin has been in the “alternative” media a lot for the past few months for reasons that I cannot fathom other than to think that the state of mind of most people has regressed several thousand years. I haven’t done any posts on it because there’s simply nothing to “debunk” as there’s nothing marvelous to report about it.

Putting that aside, Coast to Coast AM‘s science advisor, Richard C. Hoagland, was on last night (August 29/30) for two hours espousing more about his hyperbolic geometry and its relation to Comet Elenin. Far from being doomy and gloomy, Hoagland seems to believe that Elenin is actually an advanced spaceship sent from a previous advanced society from Earth to us to help get us out of trouble.

His evidence? Numerology.

The Magical Statistical Thinking of Richard Hoagland

Before I start, I have to say, I am not making this up.

Now that that’s out of the way, Hoagland claims that the chances of Elenin approaching the inner solar system as-is is less than 1 in 230 million. Therefore it has to be artificial. How does he get to that number? This way:

  1. The Russian mathematician, Leonid Elenin, who discovered his now namesake comet, did so when the comet had a magnitude (brightness) of +19.5 (this is actually really faint). Hoagland says the brightest comet observed was in the 1960s and was -17 magnitude, while the faintest is Halley with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and it was at +28.2 magnitude. So with a range of 45.2 magnitudes, the chances of finding it at 19.5 is 1 in 45.2.
     
  2. The odds of Elenin visiting Earth on a particular day, in this case Sept. 10/11, is 1 in 365.
     
  3. The odds of it visiting on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, are 1 in 10.
     
  4. Elenin’s closest approach to Earth will be on a (unimportant to Richard) day but at 19:50 GMT (remember, 19.5 is a magical number to Richard). So that’s a 1 in 1440 chance (60 minutes times 24 hours in a day).

At this point, if we multiply these numbers together, we get a 1:237,571,200 chance. Wow!

Hoagland then makes a big deal about the comet being on a hyperbolic orbit (meaning that the eccentricity is >1.0 (e=0 is a circle, 0<e<1 is an ellipse, e>1 is a hyperbola)). He claims that this is the first comet ever found to be on a hyperbolic orbit.

But there's more that he then goes into:

  1. The comet has an orbital inclination of 1.84° to Earth. He takes the 360 degrees in a circle and divides by 1.84° to get 195 (remember, 19.5 is important to Richard).

Multiply that in and you get odds of 1:46,481,321,739. Wow!

Does Any of That Make Sense?

To put it succinctly, “no.” If you want the long version …

Point 1. Richard has to know with this point that he’s full of it. First, he’s wrong about comet C/1965 S1, AKA Ikeya-Seki. It reached magnitude -10, not -17. Because the magnitude scale is logarithmic, Richard is wrong by a factor of about 1000x in brightness. But besides this, comets are not discovered when they are at their brightest. They are usually discovered when they are around the position of Jupiter in the solar system and are somewhere in the upper teens on the magnitude scale. In the case of Ikeya-Seki, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, the comet was “first observed as a faint telescopic object on September 18, 1965.”

In terms of how faint a comet can be and still be visible, Hale-Bopp will pass from visibility in about a decade when it nears +30 magnitude, so Richard is probably right about his +28ish as the faintest. But then, why did he use integers in his math? Why didn’t he say that the chances of it being discovered at 19.5 was one in 452 instead of 45.2? You could really make anything up here.

But regardless, as I said, the majority of comets are detected in the teens of magnitude, so I’ll give this perhaps a generous realistic probability of 1 in 5.

But even then, so what?

Point 2. This whole thing with the odds of something happening on a particular day really bugs me. It’s the same issue I have with the Global Consciousness Project in terms of what constitutes a “significant event.” In this case, Hoagland is claiming that the odds of its closest approach to the sun on a particular important anniversary in the US are 1 in 365. True. But what about it happening on Christmas? Thanksgiving? V-Day? D-Day? Pearl Harbor Day? A presidential election? Mother’s Day? What about Bastille Day? Guy Fawkes Day? Boxing Day? Cinco de Mayo?

And why just its closest approach to the sun? What about when it crosses Earth’s distance inboud? Outbound? Closest approach to Earth inbound? Outbound? Crosses Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter?

This is the problem with a retrodiction — you can find almost anything significant somewhere in the world when you have a day and/or time as your constraint. I’m giving him even odds on this one, 1 in 1.

Point 3. I should probably combine the whole 10th anniversary thing with the previous point, but suffice to say, this is again nothing significant. If it were the fifth anniversary, he’d claim significance. Second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. And he’d continue to give the 1 in 1, 1 in 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. odds, despite these odds really not meaning anything because you could say, “What are the odds that out of a hundred anniversaries, it would be on the 10th? That’s 1 in 100, not 1 in 10!” So again, I’m giving him even odds on this one that he’d find something significant.

For those of you keeping score, we’re at 1:5, not 1:164,980.

Point 4. Yet again, the 19.5 number. Except, not. 19.5 hours GMT would be at 19:30, not 19:50. And, you could really choose any time zone around the world. So if Richard is allowing a ±20-minute window around 19.5 hours and we can choose any time zone, then this is a 2:3 chance, not 1:1440.

Point 5. There are a few things wrong with this. Well, two. First, 1.84 divided into (not by) 360 is 195.65217… . Rounding, this is 196, not 195. It’s also, well, 196, not 19.6. But besides this, his math is wrong because it “should” be 90/1.84. This is because if the comet were approaching from the “other” direction, it would still have that same angle relative to the plane of the solar system, so we’ve now cut our 360° circle in half to 180°. Second, if it were coming below the plane of the solar system, it would still be listed as having an inclination of 1.84°, so we’ve cut the circle in half again to 90°.

So it’s really a 1 in 48.9 chance that the inclination would be between 0 and 1.84°, a fairly insignificant inclination angle since most objects in the solar system orbit in roughly the same plane. You would have to multiply this into the probability distribution of inclination angles of known long-period comets to actually get the odds, and I’m not going to bother going through that math as I think we can agree at this point that it’s, again, an insignificant number.

So in the end, we have a roughly 1 in 5 chance that Elenin would have the level of significance that Hoagland places on it. Not 1 in 46 billion.

In addition to all this, though, Hoagland is wrong about this being the only comet on a hyperbolic trajectory. In fact, there are 259 known comets with hyperbolic orbits. And, while Elenin had an eccentricity of 1.0000621 early on, it was perturbed into that and is continuing to be perturbed such that when it exits the inner solar system should have an eccentricity of around 0.9991 (source).

Final Thoughts

I’m actually prepping a “bonus” episode of my podcast to come out on Sept. 10/11 to talk a bit about the Comet Elenin foolishness that’s going around the interwebz. But this was just too wrong to ignore as I was listening to Hoagland while doing work this morning. I hope that I’ve shown you that this particular brand of numerology is absolutely wrong and completely made up. Besides being magical thinking — he really just made up some of those numbers, completely ignored basic observational methods in others, and retrofitted to significance the rest.

It’s just wrong!

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