Exposing PseudoAstronomy

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.

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January 5, 2012

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


Introduction

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

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

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

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

Before We Get to Details … Scoring

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

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

Coast to Coast AM Audience

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

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

Here are some of my favorites:

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

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

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

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

Coast to Coast AM Professionals

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

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

The people involved were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differences Between Lay People and Pros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

January 12, 2011

Picking Apart Astrology Methods: 2011 Astrology Predictions from Terry Nazon


Introduction

Ever since I started to write a series of posts (part 1 here) on 2012 claims of “Terry Nazon World Famous Celebrity Astrologer,” and then getting threatened by her (is that some rite of passage for a modern skeptic?), I’ve followed Ms. Nazon on and off.

With my recent post on looking over the 2010 “psychic” predictions made on a popular late-night radio program, I thought that for 2011 I would take a look at some sources other than just who happens to phone in to Coast to Coast.

Astrologic “Predictions”

It’s actually very difficult to look at astrologic predictions and to score them later on for accuracy. It’s really quite difficult to do that with the professional alleged psychics because they know to couch their claims in vague language (a great example being claimed “clairvoyant medium” Christian von Lahr who for 2010 predicted something really big with one of Obama’s daughters involving the letters “P,” “I,” “N,” and “K;” he noted that the letters may have spiritual meaning instead or be turned, like the “P” into a “b,” “d,” “6,” or “9,” or it could also look like a bed or a wheelbarrow … is that vague enough for you?). But I have found that astrologers are particularly bad – or good, depending on your point of view – at doing this.

So I’m not going to really use Ms. Nazon’s “forecast” for 2011 as something I’m going to score at the end of the year. Rather, I’m going to use it to point out (a) why Ms. Nazon still hasn’t a clue about astronomy nor grammar, and (b) how she uses such vague language and escape clauses so that almost anything would be considered a “hit” rather than a “miss.”

Everything discussed here is based on her “Year Ahead 2011 Forecast” as it appeared on January 11, 2011 (and Terry, if you change it, I have a saved copy).

First, the Astronomy

There is really very little astronomy in this forecast other than the common astrological nonsense about houses and having all the planets in the wrong place in the sky.

But in her next-to-last paragraph, Ms. Nazon claims, “Neptune takes about 172 years to complete its transit around the zodiac.”

In common terms, the “zodiac” is basically a line through the middle of the entire sky. In other words, she is stating that Neptune takes 172 years to orbit the sun. My question for her: Terry, how lazy are you? Seriously? The simplest of Google or Wikipedia search tells you that Neptune’s orbital period – its year – is 164.79 Earth years, or rounded to 165. Any astronomy textbook that wasn’t written before 1846 will tell you that, as well, unless it was written by someone who was illiterate. Where the heck do you get “172?!”

Vague Forecasts

Now that I got that out of my system, let’s look at the anatomy of her forecasts.

Part 1: Say something about planets that physically means nothing. “As 2011 begins Jupiter the expansive planet and Uranus the anything goes planet finish their transit through the last sign of the experiential zodiac wheel of life, Pisces.”

Part 2: Say that you (the astrologer) are an interpreter and are reading these signs. “This tells us that how we end things is as important as how we begin things.” Or, “It’s an astrologer’s job to translate what the cosmic consciousness is telling us through the planets.”

Part 3, version 1: Say something vague that will apply to 99% of your audience and that usually will require a precondition to be met that will lead 99% of that 1% that it didn’t apply to to that conclusion anyway. “When minds are focused on everything bad that is happening around us and to those we care about, we naturally fear the worst.” Or, “we are all ending some phase of our lives. No matter where you are in life, starting high school, starting college, beginning your careers, families, winding down your role as a parent or embarking on your retirement, it now is more significant than ever.”

Part 4, version 1: Don’t say what to do, give your client an “if” statement that almost always results in the desired conclusion. “How you end things is very important at this particular time. … So take some time and don’t leave things unfinished, clean your life and your house; don’t carry burdens, fights and garbage into 2011.”

Part 3, version 2: State what happened in the past when Part 1 happened. This makes it seem like you are actually giving a forecast. “Many of these transits, Uranus in Aries, Neptune in Pisces and Pluto in Capricorn have historically triggered major collapses of regimes, governments and economies when things have become too corrupt.” Or, “Could it be a massive volcanic eruption or a meteor hitting the earth ….”

Part 4, version 2: State that that may happen again, but it may not (the escape clause). “Not always though…as I have said before”this isn’t Granny’s depression and we aren’t like our granny’s at all”.” Or, continuing the second example from #3 v2, “… it could but historically it was just the uprising of people taking back their power.”

What it all boils down to is that there is nothing actually predicted here. If any single thing in your life vaguely relates to anything she said – and unless you live in a plastic bubble and don’t move for a year, it will – then it will end up validating something that she wrote because it’s just so vague. No where did she say, “On June 14, 2011, a bridge in San Diego will collapse.” Or, “2011 will have a record-breaking number of tornadoes across the US.”

Nor even did she give a vague “typical psychic” prediction that can be retrodicted to normal events, such as, “There will be a nuclear problem in 2011” (this could be retrodicted to fit a nuclear bomb, nuclear testing, nuclear-powered vehicles having some sort of problem, an alarm in a nuclear testing facility … you get the idea).

Instead, she says, “The 12th house rules karma. It’s the culmination of experiences and the final test. We’ve been here before, we all know what to do.”

I’ve gotten better predictions in a fortune cookie. And at least with fortune cookies you get to add “in bed” to the end.

And Then There’s the Grammar

I don’t know why it bugs me so much, but Ms. Nazon’s atrocious grammar makes her horrible forecasts and understanding of astronomy and archaeology even worse. Take this gem: “Not always though…as I have said before”this isn’t Granny’s depression and we aren’t like our granny’s at all”.”

First, she misses the space between “before” and the quote. Then she has an apostrophe (possessive) after the second “granny” even though it should not be possessive. Third, she puts the period punctuation outside of the quotation mark (declarative punctuation goes inside). Fourth, she misses the comma joining two sentences with a conjunction (there should be a comma after “depression” since “this isn’t Granny’s depression” and “we aren’t like our granny’s at all” are both complete sentences, and they are joined by the “and”).

Another example is she starts her second paragraph with, “As 2011 begins Jupiter the expansive planet and Uranus the anything goes planet finish their transit through the last sign of the experiential zodiac wheel of life, Pisces.” You may need to read that again. It took me three reads before I could figure out what she was trying to say.

Let me count the mistakes: 1. “As 2011 begins” is an appositive and a comma belongs after it. 2. “The expansive planet” is a description of the noun just used (Jupiter) and should be bound by commas. 3. Similarly, “the anything goes planet” should be bound by commas. Three in one sentence.

Final Thoughts

All this from “Terry Nazon World Famous Celebrity Astrologer” who charges now $99.00 for 15 minutes on the phone, $100.00 for an “E-Reading” via e-mail, and up to $365.20 for a full hour on the phone. Her prices have gone up since I last looked.

Oh, and I do apologize if this came off as a bit more ranty than usual. It’s late night here and my tongue is still partly numb after needing eight injections to go numb enough for a simple cavity filling yesterday.

December 28, 2010

2010 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail


Introduction

Every year, the late-night number-one-rated four-hour radio show Coast to Coast AM spends December 30 and 31 taking “psychic predictions” from the audience, and January 1 with invited “psychics” for predictions for 2010. I had a lot of free time while taking pictures at the telescopes in early January so I listened diligently to all 12 hours and recorded every prediction.

Let’s see how they did, shall we?

Edited to Add: It’s come to my attention (Oct. 2011) that Cal Orey (see the “Professionals” section below) has this post listed on her homepage as me indicating that she was the highest hit-rate “psychic” on Coast to Coast for 2010 predictions. I’ll repeat here what I do below: She was highest because she got 1 right out of 3 that I considered specific enough to actually judge; the other 6 were too vague or obvious to refute or deny. One correct prediction about an earthquake in California is not something that I, personally, would be bragging about. But I’m happy to have her link to my blog.

Audience

Art Bell ran the audience nights and he was very specific: One prediction per customer per year, and no predictions about assassinations, politically-motivated, nor abstract religious ideas would be taken. This year, there were a total of 110 predictions that were recorded. I actually recorded all the ones that made it to air, so in the document I link to below, you will see some items crossed out. Those are ones that Art did not record. My own comments are included in [square brackets] and are things that were not said on the show.

Click here for the PDF with all the audience predictions.

I have now gone through and – with a little help on some items I didn’t know about, scored them. First off, there were 5 predictions that I considered too vague or not actually for 2010, so that gets us down to 105 predictions. Based on my information, 6 came true. That’s a hit rate of 5.7±2.3%. (Uncertainty is calculated by taking the square-root of the number of counts and dividing by the total — this is standard Poisson statistics.)

Here are some of my favorites:

14. Obama goes live on NBC saying that aliens do exist and there will be an alien with him who speaks to the whole world.

16. A lot of people who are handicapped will get out of their wheelchairs and will walk again. (Qualifier: “If they truly believe.”)

26. Re-discovery, by September, of the entrance to the hollow Earth at the North Pole.

52. God is actually a being of light and he is moving back towards us at the speed of light. The result is that he’ll send a laser pulse in that direction and tell us what a bad job everyone’s doing.

81. A celebrity will be exposed as a cannibal.

And my all-time favorite … one of the only hits: 102. There will be no really big changes, it’ll be “pretty much the same-old-same-old.” There’ll be some crises, medical advances, etc., but that’s what happens every year.

Professionals

As a skeptic, I will admit that I derive great joy in seeing professional purveyors of woo resoundingly fail. And the “professionals” that C2C invited on did just that, none with a hit rate above 33%, and that high one was by virtue of only making 3 specific enough predictions to score.

Click here for the PDF with all the “professional” predictions.

In scoring these, I think I was fairly generous, as you may note if you look at the document linked above.

Edited to Add: The percentage correct that I list below are based on (# correct) / ((# predictions) – (# too vague)). I add this because I noticed some confusion on how I gave Orey 33% instead of 11% (1/(9-6) vs. 1/9).

To summarize, here are the scores for each person:

  • Christian von Lahr: 3 out of 15 with 1 too vague for 21%.
  • Paul Guercio: 0 out of 6 with 2 too vague for 0%.
  • Glynis McCants: 0 out of 9 with 8 too vague for 0%.
  • Tana Hoy: 1 out of 16 with 5 too vague for 9%.
  • Cal Orey: 1 out of 9 with 6 too vague for 33%.
  • Terry and Linda Jamison: 1 out of 17 with 5 too vague for 8%.
  • Mark Lerner: 0 out of 5 with 4 too vague for 0%.
  • Jeffrey Wands: 1 out of 16 with 1 too vague for 7%.

The combined generous hit rate was 11.5±4.3%. This is statistically identical to the audience’s hit rate. The one who got the most right was Christian von Lahr with 3, though due to small numbers because of incredible vagueness or obviousness, Cal Orey came out on top percentage-wise.

A trend you will note if you look at the document linked above is that the pros were all, in general, fairly vague in their predictions (fully 1/3 of them were unusable). Or, they were incredibly obvious to the point that they couldn’t be used to score any “psychic-ness.” For example, Cal Orey “predicted” that Italy will have “another quake.” Well, considering that there are tens of thousands of earthquakes of magnitudes >4.0 every year across the planet, this is like saying, “During 2010, the sun will appear in the sky,” or “a politician will tell a lie or half-truth.” Duh.

Some of my favorites were:

von Lahr: Something really big with one of Obama’s daughters involving the letters “P,” “I,” “N,” and “K.” Note that the letters may have spiritual meaning instead or be turned, like the “P” into a “b,” “d,” “6,” or “9.” It could also look like a bed or a wheelbarrow [so, basically you can retrodict anything to this]. The letters are also in the word, “kidnap.”

Orey: If San Francisco gets another quake in 2010, Arnold won’t be very happy.

Lerner: There won’t be a catastrophe.

The one that ticked me off the most was, by far, Tana Hoy, who, if you were/are able to listen, almost seemed scared that we all knew he was just making things up. He started off the interview by calling the host, Ian Punnett, “Ryan,” and then stated obvious things that had already been announced.

The pair that I thought were most full of themselves were the “psychic twins,” Terry and Linda Jamison. They started the interview by claiming that everything they predicted for 2009 had come true, and when they were on later in 2010, they claimed that everything they had predicted in January would still come true. I couldn’t find a C2C interview they did for 2009, but I found one for 2000.

On November 2, 1999, they claimed AIDS would be cured by 2002, “breast cancer drug break-through by 2003,” “a cancer cure, especially for breast cancer by 2007,” 60% of cancer cured by 2008, a cloning of body parts “in the not too distant future … in diagnostic chambers,” and people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, MS, and spinal cord injuries will be walking “within the decade.” Yeah …. didn’t quite happen. And by my tally, they only had one hit for 2010, and it was incredibly vague but I gave it to them. They had some monstrous fails, such as shiitake mushrooms as a prevention for breast cancer and hurricanes devastating Florida. They even failed on some actual statistically likely hits, like a major storm hitting the gulf.

Final Thoughts

As we go into 2011, many, many people will look to alleged psychics, astrologers, mediums, etc. for forecasts about the year ahead. When I first started my blog in late 2008, I averaged about 10-25 hits/day. Then I did a parody of my own psychic and astrologic predictions for 2009, and my hit rate spiked by a factor of 5.

And yet, when we actually write down what these people say and we look at the misses along with the hits, we find that these people are basically full of you-know-what. They aren’t any more “psychic” than the average person making wishful forecasts.

The main difference between these professionals and the lay person is their vagueness. The C2C audience members were willing to make generally very specific predictions such as “Lake Tahoe is actually a volcano,” versus the professionals who know that being specific is to their detriment so will usually try to be more vague, such as “no major tsunami for quite awhile.”

Please let me know if you enjoyed this post – either by commenting and/or taking a moment to rank it with a star count just under the tags for the post. It took a lot of time to write these down and score them and I want to know if it’s worth doing for 2011.

Also, if I have made any mistakes in my scoring, please let me know and I will correct it ASAP.

March 20, 2010

The “Youthful” Dynamics of Saturn’s Rings – A Preemptive Anti-Young-Earth Creationism Post


Introduction

Several months ago, I posted on a young-Earth Creationism (YEC) article about uranium-238 radiometric dating of the solar system. In that article, I stated that I had one of my numerous psychic premonitions when I read the original science article that the creationists would use it somehow. But, I had no documentation backing that premonition up so I can’t apply for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s $1 Million prize. Darn.

In a much earlier post, nearly a year ago, I wrote a post on more YEC claims that the Saturnian system is young. I mentioned that they were indirectly using my own research in their claims.

Now, a year later, the science journal Icarus has its April special “Cassini at Saturn” edition out, and I happen to have a first-author paper in it. In addition, on Friday, the March 19, 2010 issue of the very prestigious journal Science has a 5-page article that kinda summarizes several of the papers in Icarus – including citing mine – that show that Saturn’s rings aren’t just boring slabs of particles orbiting away.

Call me “psychic,” but I have a feeling that some YECs will be using this in another of their attempts to propagate their version of a literal biblical worldview. This post is an attempt to summarize my own research on the rings and to show why the dynamics that we see are fully consistent with an old ring system.

Warning: This blog post rambles a bit more than usual. In it, I outline how models are created in astronomy, how that applies to the mass of Saturn’s rings, how the mass is linked to the age of the rings, and then my own research into the mass and hence age. It’s really a background post so that if/when the YECs pick up on this story I can just refer to it for background and just address the claims on that post.

How a Scientist Starts a Model

The entire purpose of physics is to mathematically produce a model that replicates the observable world. When a scientist starts out to create a model of a complicated system – say, Saturn’s rings – they will start with the simplest model possible and then add layers onto it in complexity.

Very early on, the rings were thought to be solid – thin disks that orbited Saturn. Later, that view changed to one where individual particles were thought to make up the rings. That’s the view we hold today.

In terms of the dynamics involved, in modeling the rings, one starts with a bunch of particles in orbit around a large central mass (the planet), and uses basic physics to describe how they would interact with each other. By adjusting parameters such as how big the particles are, how many there are, etc., you will get different results, and you can use the observable data to then constrain your model.

Some basic parameters that are still somewhat unknown about Saturn’s rings are the makeup of individual particles, their density, how “sticky” they are, how large they are, and how much material is actually there.

Old Voyager Results

Around the time I was born, the starship Voyager spacecraft (1 and 2) passed by Saturn. One of the many observations they made is called a “stellar occultation” through the rings. An “occultation” is when you block out a background object with a foreground one. In this case, a “stellar occultation” is when a star is blocked out, and this was by Saturn’s rings. The purpose was to measure how much light got through the rings in order to measure their “optical depth.” “Optical depth” is, well, how much light can get through something. An optical depth of 0 means that everything gets through.

Anyway, based on the Voyager measurements, which showed significant optical structure in the light that got through the rings, we had to complicate our models. And by “we” and “our” I mean the ring-studying community … I hadn’t quite entered kindergarden. The rings were still modeled as particles, but they were modeled like “granola bars” (in what is referred to as a “granola bar model”): Slabs of optically thick (no light gets through) clumps/aggregates of ring particles separated by optically thin (light gets through) gaps. In developing their models, the question now focussed on the width of those slabs and the width of the gaps between them.

It was from these models that values are still quoted today in terms of the height of the rings (“several yards” – though some places say “less than a mile”), the mass of the ring system (around the mass of the moon Mimas), and perhaps most importantly for this discussion, the age of the ring system.

The Copernican Principle

There’s a principle in astronomy that states, “We do not live in a unique time nor place until shown otherwise.” I’m not going to argue here whether that’s a good principle to live by and do research by, what its roots are, nor its “validity.” Regardless, it’s there and I personally think it’s fairly good to stick with for the time being because it forces us to do more work.

What came out of the Voyager results is that the ring system seemed “young.” “Young” here is in quotes because it means something on the order of 100 million years. That’s only 2.5% the age of the solar system, hence “young.” Part of the reason for this is that the “dynamical lifetime” of the rings of that mass is much less than the age of the solar system — the ring particles are slowly raining down on Saturn and in the future the ring system will be gone. But, that unsettles astronomers because of this principle that we don’t live in a unique time nor place.

It also makes different formation mechanisms much more difficult to justify statistically. In other words, it is much easier to justify, for example, two moons crashing together – or a moon and a large asteroid or comet crashing together – during the solar system’s formation or very soon afterwards when we know those kinds of collisions were common than it is to justify that happening recently, when the solar system is fairly well behaved.

My Work

I’m not going to discuss in detail my modeling of the ring system. If people are interested, they can e-mail me or post in the Comments asking for a copy of the 15-page paper. But I will give you the basic idea:

Cassini is a craft that’s been in orbit around Saturn since 2004. Besides many truly awe-inspiring pictures it’s taken, an instrument on it also performs stellar occultation measurements through Saturn’s rings. Over the course of nearly 6 years and well over 100 such observations, we have a much more detailed understanding of the optical thickness of the rings — how difficult it is for light to get through any given location in the rings as a distance from Saturn.

For my research, I performed what are called N-body simulations, where in the computer I created a mini saturnian ring section. I varied many different properties – including the ones I mentioned a few paragraphs ago – and I let the system evolve from an initially random state. I then simulated a Cassini observation through my little ring section.

I then compared the results of my simulated occultation to the real ones. From these results, I was able to further narrow-down some of the basic, fundamental properties of the rings. The most important one was that I was able to place a new, minimum mass constraint on the total mass of the ring system. This new constraint is about twice as large as the original one – about 2 times the mass of Saturn’s moon Mimas.

How Does Mass Relate to Age?

Directly, it doesn’t. But indirectly, it does, and I’ll explain here two examples of why.

One is the example that I explained above — if you have more material, then the dynamical lifetime is longer, and you can make the rings correspondingly older by the simple fact that they are still there today to be observed.

A second reason why is that of pollution. As the ring particles orbit Saturn, micrometeorite impactors rain down on the rings and will pollute them. Through various observations and modeling constraints (including mine), we know that the rings are more than 90% water-ice. This is really pure ice and raises the question of how something so old could be so fresh, especially with the pollution from other material.

The answer lies at least partially with the mass: If you have more material there to begin with, then you can more easily “hide” the pollution. For example, if a factory spits out sewage into a small lake, then after a day that lake will look pretty gross. But if that factory spits out the sewage into the ocean, it can do it for many, many years before the ocean is going to show any signs of being polluted. The same is true with the rings.

Hence, as a result of my paper and placing a new minimum mass constraint that’s larger than before, you can push the age of the rings further back in time. And my work is just a minimum estimate — if I had faster computers and more time and weren’t actually doing research on something completely different, then I could push the simulations to many more particles over a larger area and simulate even more massive rings to really try to nail down that mass. But, in 2017 or whenever they choose to kill off Cassini, it will fly between the planet and the rings and we will be able to directly measure the gravitational tug on the craft by the rings and should be able to answer that question. But I digress …

Anticipated YEC Responses

I don’t actually expect YECs to directly respond to my paper in particular. I think it approaches the problem too indirectly for them to take notice and think it’s worth writing about.

What I do expect is for them to respond to the Science article. It’s title is quote low-hanging fruit for the YECs: “An Evolving View of Saturn’s Dynamic Rings.” Wow. They have both “evolving” and “dynamic” in there. I expect that:

(1) Creationists will somehow try to link this to “darwinism” and that an old ring system “belief” is driven by some desire to provide “millions of years” for evolution to occur.

(2) Creationists will have issues with the Copernican Principle and argue that we do live in a specially created time and place where “the heavens declare the glory of God.”

(3) I expect the creationists will key in on the dynamical nature of the rings that we see today. This is not something that I talked about in this post much at all. Very briefly, it has to do with moving from the “granola bar model” to self-gravity wakes of material clumps that we have observed in simulations, theory, and observations that move around, exchange material, and produce bumps, ridges, spokes, and cusps in the rings that Cassini observes. If they do happen to address this, then I’ll discuss it more in my response post.

Final Thoughts

There you have it. I have a prediction out there. I’ve preemptively discussed my own research in this area and hopefully explained it in a reasonably clear way. Now let’s see if the YECs bite.

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