Exposing PseudoAstronomy

May 21, 2020

Did NASA Discover Proof of a Mirror Universe?


NO

a427bb01b0797741cf388dc0461517da

Mirror Universe Spock. ©CBS/Paramount

The Question

But, you wouldn’t know it if you’ve been reading tabloids over the last few days.  Even a site with a name like “New Scientist” is peddling this story, and they actually seem to be the originators of it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was contacted – as one is wont to do – by Cristina Fernandez, one of the hosts of the award-winning podcast, “The Reality Check” (Cheque?), and she wanted to know if I would come on the show to talk about it (spoilers: Yes).  So I looked into the claim.  She provided me a link to a NY Post article claiming, “NASA Scientists Detect Evidence of Parallel Universe Where Time Runs Backward.”

The Search

I was intrigued, but my Skeptisense was tingling.  If for no other reason than I hadn’t heard of it.  The article was from May 19 and she contacted me May 20.  I consume a lot of media, and I have my fingers in astronomy news sources and I hadn’t heard anything about this, which would be odd for such a claim if it were real.

I went to the article and I only searched for one thing: A more original source.  They linked to the Daily Star as their source, which sounds like a tabloid and further raised the hairs on the back of my neck (which are long right now because of isolation and I can’t go get a haircut).  So, I went to that article, which is titled, “NASA Scientists Detect Parallel Universe ‘Next to Ours’ Where Time Runs Backwards.”  As of the time of this writing, it has over 1.2 million shares.  It’s from May 17, 2020.

I have a pretty sophisticated firewall program on my computer where I can block things on a per-application, per-domain, per-subdomain, per-port level.  It alerts me whenever an application is trying to contact something that I have not previously allowed.  When going to the Daily Star, it tried to draw content from The Daily Mail, a well known British tabloid that’s at the level of Weekly World News, “Mom Gives Birth to Alien Baby But Dad is Light-Years Away” kinda stuff.  That raised the Skeptisense further.

Looking through that article is difficult because every-other-paragraph is interrupted by links to get you to click on other websites.  I was again only looking for an original source.  It linked me to the New Scientist, an article entitled, “We May Have Spotted a Parallel Universe Going Backwards in Time.”  That article is from April 8, 2020.  Odd that there would be 6 weeks between the two.

And that’s actually where the trail ended, so far as news articles go for me.  The problem is that everyone reporting on this story in the last few days is linking to New Scientist.  The problem with that is New Scientist is behind a paywall, and no details are described in the public version.  No peer-reviewed paper, not even the original scientist’s name.

So, I went back to Daily Star.  There, and in the NY Post article, they quote Peter Gorham, an experimental particle physicist at U. Hawai’i, as saying, “‘Not everyone was comfortable with the hypothesis,’ he told New Scientist.”

Knowing how much the news likes to quote-mine, I didn’t take that as gospel for him responding to this latest idea, but it sounded like it’s his data that people are using for this.  A search on Google for his name, “tau neutrino,” and other key words yielded mostly things from the last few days and from 2018.

My next step was to look at one of the main resources astronomers use for finding papers: ADS.  ADS is the Astrophysics Data System, and it is an advanced search engine for searching relevant journal articles and it even searches through non-peer-reviewed stuff (more on that in a moment), including things like conference abstracts.  Searching for the guy yields nothing relevant in the last two years, which raised my Skeptisense further.

It appears as though the relevant peer-reviewed paper is from Physical Review Letters (a good journal in the field), “Observation of an Unusual Upward-Going Cosmic-Ray-like Event in the Third Flight of ANITA.”  That seems to be the paper that had the observation that everyone is talking about.

Basically, what they found is a tau neutrino (one of three types of neutrinos, where a neutrino is a fundamental particle with very tiny mass that rarely interacts with anything — there are gagillions streaming through your body now with no effect).  They could determine the direction of the tau neutrino, and it was coming up through the Earth, as opposed to down from space.

That’s weird.  It’s weird because tau neutrinos are the heaviest.  Those that we observe on Earth are usually formed by decay of heavier subatomic particles as they travel through Earth’s atmosphere, but they are blocked by Earth’s surface.  So how the tau neutrino could be detected coming up from Earth seemed a mystery.  (I’m not describing this very thoroughly for two reasons – first, I am not good at particle physics and so I’m just trying to give the briefest of overview, and second, it’s not hugely important for this story.)  The important part is that this is a case where the experts in the field say this is odd and very hard to explain, and that’s good enough for me.  The other important part is that, apparently, someone, somewhere, has explained this as the tau neutrino leaking from a parallel universe where time runs backwards.

Moving forward, the mystery is, why is this coming up now?  Did the author to whom this is attributed recently have a new paper out that explained the result in this weird way?

No.  Looking again through numerous articles in the popular press, all cited “a Cornell University paper describing the odd phenomenon.”  That’s a giant red flag to me that whomever wrote the original copy does not know what they are doing.  It’s a common statement by non-science writers who are trying to write science: Cornell University runs the very popular site for astronomers and physicists called arXiv.org, where the “X” is the Greek letter “chi,” so it’s pronounced “archive dot org.”  Clever, no?  They just proctor the site, they don’t “publish” anything and it’s not their paper.

So what I did was two things next, for I interpreted this to mean that there is some new non-peer-reviewed paper out (because people typically post to arXiv before peer-review) that made this claim based on the two-year-old result.

First, I went back to ADS and its link to the original Gorham et al. paper.  ADS provides a link to see every paper that cites it, including those from arXiv.  But, that also showed nothing obvious.  So maybe it hadn’t been indexed.  I headed over to arXiv and searched for anything by Gorham in the last year (though especially last month) and again found nothing.  Unfortunately, without any of these other articles citing any author other than Gorham, I can’t find whatever might have triggered the latest set of news stories.

The Conclusion

So, where are we?  We have a spate of recent articles in the last few days saying this is A Thing.  We have the original source news story behind a paywall, linking to further stories behind its paywall including the one where they say that all other explanations have been ruled out.

We have an original paper that showed an interesting result, but nothing new that references that result in the peer-review literature or even in the non-peer-reviewed science literature.

We also have numerous papers that provide possible explanations for the observation, including slight modifications to the Standard Model of physics, an interpretation that this could indicate dark matter, a search to try to duplicate the observations using another experiment, or even mundane explanations like layers of ice in Antarctica (where the experiment is done) can be weird reflectors and have thrown off the directionality conclusion.

What we don’t have is proof that NASA discovered a parallel universe where time runs backwards.

Post Script

After I did all the above research, CNET came out with their own take: “No, NASA Didn’t Find Evidence of a Parallel Universe Where Time Runs Backward.”  The author, Jackson Ryan, has the same take I do, though he doesn’t go through the same deep dive I did of trying to track it down.  It’s still worth reading as another follow-up, and he interviews some of the people who can put it in better perspective.  He also, twice, chides New Scientist about putting this behind a paywall and credits that for part of the issue surrounding this.

December 15, 2016

Podcast Episode 153: What Is Radiation?


“Radiation” is
As common in life as ’tis
In pseudoscience.

This is one of those basic science episodes where I tried to provide solid background to a typically misunderstood concept that is beloved by pseudoscientists: Radiation. I go through what radiation is and is not, different kinds of radiation, what it means to say that something is ionizing vs nonionizing, and the effects of thermal radiation. It’s a longer episode, clocking in at 51 minutes.

There are two additional short segments in this episode, the first being logical fallacies where I discussed the nautralistic fallacy, and the second being feedback where I finally addressed Graham’s feedback about the Catholic Church and a round vs flat planet.

"Caution: Radioactive" Sign

“Caution: Radioactive” Sign

June 2, 2015

Podcast Episode 133: Element 115 and the Credibility of Bob Lazar’s Claims


Ununpentium’s
Existence: Does it save Bob
Lazar’s U’FO claims?

A return to the roots of the podcast: A simple exploration of a claim, and what was found. Sort of. The first third of the episode is a look into the story of Bob Lazar, a man who is often credited (in part) with re-invigorating the UFO community in the late 1980s / early 1990s. It’s important for context, because embedded within that story is a general lack of credibility for his claims.

Enter element 115, which when it was discovered in 2003, became a rallying point for Bob Lazar’s supporters: The very existence of something that had not yet been discovered when Bob Lazar made the claim, means that his claims must be true. We see this a lot of times in the UFO field, but I really focused in this episode on this specific claim and the specific set of claims about element 115 made by Bob Lazar, before its “mainstream” discovery.

This episode does get a little technical because I talk about some basic particle physics, but I think it’s on par with most of my other episodes in terms of technical jargon and concepts.

And, that’s about it. There’s a short logical fallacy segment, where I ask your help in identifying the main logical fallacy for the episode, which I’ll then discuss next time.

It’s also important to note that the podcast is on Stitcher, and I should’ve checked my stats before I mentioned them at the end of the episode: I’m now on 33 peoples’ playlists and I’m ranked in the 3000s, not on 22 peoples’ playlists and ranked in the 5000s. Not bad for only being entered in late March and not doing much to promote it.

April 1, 2013

Podcast #69: The Solar Neutrino “Problem”


I was all set to do a few other episodes, and I was re-kajiggering the schedule of episodes for the next several months. I realized that – gasp! – I had almost nothing planned picking on young-Earth creationists! And it had been about 20 episodes since I had last done it.

Clearly, I had been neglectful, so this episode deals with one of the more technical but one of my more favorite topics in young-Earth creationism: The Solar Neutrino “Problem.” Listen to the episode, especially towards the end of the main segment, and I think you’ll see why I like it so much.

Otherwise, in this episode we have the solutions to the past two puzzlers, a new puzzler for this one, and three announcements of upcoming talks: Colorado School of Mines on April 12 (Apollo moon hoax), Denver Skepticamp on April 27 (image anomalies), and TAM in mid-July.

July 7, 2012

Creationists and the God Particle


Introduction

If you were living in a box this past week, you may not have heard the announcement by CERN that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) over in Europe has found evidence with 99.9999042% certainty of the long-theorized (since the 1960s) Higgs Boson. Big news in particle physics, probably the biggest news in science all week, if not month, possibly year.

Unfortunately for those of us who deal with pseudoscience, the Higgs Boson is popularly known as the “God Particle” — especially in the media. Which of course means that the young-Earth creationists have to comment on it.

Background

Okay, I’m going to assume here that if you’re reading this blog, you already know the jist of what’s going on. So I’m not going to go into a lengthy background, rather I’m just going to summarize:

  • The Standard Model of Particle Physics explains a lot but we don’t really know what “gives” particles any sort of mass. We know stuff has mass — I’m reminded of that every morning when I attempt to get out of bed.
  • The Higgs field was theorized in the 1960s to be a field that particles interact with that give them their mass.
  • The Higgs field is carried by / transmitted by / etc. the Higgs boson (the boson being a type of fundamental particle. This was predicted by and is a requirement of the Standard Model.
  • The Higgs boson was the last fundamental particle that was only in theory and hadn’t been yet observed.

And the results this past week are of the decay products that would be required from the Higgs boson, so by back-tracking those decay particles, they have the discovery of the Higgs.

Standard Model predictions found to be accurate, Higgs boson found, therefore Higgs field confirmed and we know why things have mass.

Since mass is a fundamental property of matter, and the Higgs field is commonly said to “give” particles mass (when it’s really a quantum interaction between the pervasive field and the particles), it has been deemed to be known as “The God Particle.”

That’s really about it.

Comic Sans

I suppose a very brief interlude needs to be made to discuss the Comic Sans font. Let’s be frank: It’s a stupid font that most people hate. It is childish. It was designed to be for dialog bubbles in comics (“Comic” in the name). It should never ever ever be used in anything professional.

Do people use it in professional settings? Yes. I’ve seen presentations at conferences that are written in Comic Sans. My friggin’ advisor made our entire poster for a conference in Comic Sans font. I gave him hell for it.

The media presentation at CERN for this discovery this week was done in Comic Sans. They should not have done it in Comic Sans. I don’t think there’s any excuse for this because any press officer worth anything would have told them to change the font. Period.

Does it change the results? No. I’m reminded of when a gay kid came out in his blog and it was all basic early 2000s formatting with plain background, plain text, nothing else. All his friends on Facebook gave him hell not for coming out, but for the 1990s HTML coding he used to do it. So let’s get beyond the stupid font the CERN folks used.

Creationists Respond

As most would probably expect for a particle physics news item, many people in the so-called “mainstream media” invented all sorts of things that the “God Particle” could do, though most didn’t. Many things could be taken out of context to lead people to false conclusions about what the Higgs boson “does,” and they’re ripe for quote mining.

And as we would expect, with something called the “God Particle,” every single creationist outlet I read had some reaction to the announcement this week.

In general, though, I was okay with what they wrote (apart from the whole, “True knowledge can only come from a literal reading of God’s Word!” part). The Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and Creation Ministries International all had articles that were basically saying the same thing: (1) Don’t believe the hype that with this discovery we now know all the deepest darkest mysteries of the universe, (2) “God Particle” is a misleading name, (3) it doesn’t have anything to do with the origins of the universe, (4) Praise Allah Jesus.

Final Thoughts

In my own opinion, the reporting by the young-Earth creationists on this matter is not bad, nor is it very distorted at all. They’re really just trying to reassure their followers that this discovery (which they can’t dismiss) in no way affects their faith in their god. And I’m okay with that.

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