Astronaut Claims UFOs Are Real, Government Conspiracy

July 24, 2008

Former Astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell claims that aliens are already among us. And that they’re, like, real tiny-like.

Dr Mitchell, 77, said during a radio interview that sources at the space agency who had had contact with aliens described the beings as ‘little people who look strange to us.’

He said supposedly real-life ET’s were similar to the traditional image of a small frame, large eyes and head.

Chillingly, he claimed our technology is “not nearly as sophisticated” as theirs and “had they been hostile”, he warned “we would be been gone by now”.

Well, that’s good, I suppose. As a person of short stature and large head myself, I’ve always prided myself on having superior technology.

Anyhoo, the biggest claim he makes is that he’s actually been briefed by the government on the existence of aliens. Well… maybe:

“It’s been well covered up by all our governments for the last 60 years or so, but slowly it’s leaked out and some of us have been privileged to have been briefed on some of it.

“I’ve been in military and intelligence circles, who know that beneath the surface of what has been public knowledge, yes – we have been visited. Reading the papers recently, it’s been happening quite a bit.”

The phrasing makes this confusing: in one case he says that he was briefed on aliens, presumably by the government. That’s a pretty incredible claim. But very quickly it sounds like he’s talking about basically just reading some “papers” out in the public (newspapers? tabloids? peer-reviewed journals?) that he interprets as alien encounters. The former is pretty darn important: potential evidence of a real government conspiracy. The latter is just the same old, same old UFO-ologist conspiracy theory stuff. It’s a rather odd transition.

Of course, maybe he’s just confused: maybe he was just briefed on hypotheticals and speculative xenobiology, back when the government still thought it possible that there could be Predators hiding out on the dark side of the moon, and figured they’d better prepare astronauts for anything.

If this guy wants to maintain some credibility, he’s going to have to cough up a lot more details than what he’s claimed so far.

Real Space Alien To Be Shown On Video Friday! Wooooo!

May 29, 2008

Jeff Peckman is a fan of big government. Last time we heard from him, he was trying to enlist the state in yoga and meditation to reduce stress. But now state meddling in mere human endeavors isn’t enough: he’s petitioning for the creation of an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to help the city of Denver prepare for alien encounters.

He’s serious. And now he claims that he’ll have video to prove it. The public will have only to wait until next month to see this groundbreaking scientific discovery, supposedly authenticated by a Colorado Film School “instructor.” I’m not sure how even a real expert on film could do anything more than make sure that a video didn’t have any post-processed trickery. But given what Peckman claims the video shows…

“It shows an extraterrestrial’s head popping up outside of a window at night, looking in the window, that’s visible through an infrared camera,” he said. The alien is about 4 feet tall and can be seen blinking, Peckman said earlier this month.

… I’m betting “dude in a costume” and “random animal” are likely possibilities.

I hope the “news media” who will get to see the footage at a special showing tomorrow come to the event with their skepti-senses tingling, or else we’re in for a whole heck of a lot of breathlessly silly “off-beat” news pieces that take the video half-seriously.

Update: Phil Plait dissects the video by pointing out that a known fake video looks far more compelling than the real one.

Aliens Travel Many Lightyears to Earth Just To Annoy Local Couple

April 29, 2008

The phenomenon was thought truly bizarre: Pikesville, Maryland has been experiencing “deafening” booms and flashes of light every so often. They even caught it on videotape. And no, it didn’t seem to be lightning, at least not in any conventional sense. Police were baffled. Meteorologists ere baffled. So baffled that residents were even willing to appeal to aliens (though only tongue in cheek) and the supernatural.

But it turns out that the actual solution was a little more conventional and closer to home:

When they searched Mackler’s home, they found pyrotechnics, guns and drugs.

Police said that Mackler had problems with some of his neighbors, so he would wake up at 2 a.m. to set off the pyrotechnics.

As this case illustrates, “pyrotechnics, guns and drugs” is a actually pretty good default hypothesis for any weird, inexplicable event.

More Detailed Expelled! Review/Overview & Lying About the Origins of Life

March 26, 2008

Probably the most in-depth account of the film yet: Josh Timonen has written up his basic summary of how the Intelligent Design film Expelled! tries to make its case.

There’s a lot to digest in his account, but in a way, not very much new to talk about. As I’ve noted, there just isn’t a heck of a lot that’s new to the science/creationism debate in this film: it’s like a recently released greatest hits album from a long-defunct 70s band… and they couldn’t even bother to slap together any unreleased tracks or a new cut or anything.

Just to hit on a single aspect while we’re at it: you can’t get much more pathetic than dragging out the Miller-Urey experiment and then claiming that:

  1. it was meant to create life
  2. nothing happened

Both claims are simply ludicrous. The whole point of the Miller-Urey experiment, the whole reason that it’s in textbooks, is that the result was, in fact, very surprising, especially considering the very modest expectations going into it. To not explain what that result was, or to paint the thing as if it were some sort of Frankenstein-switch-throwing-dud… it’s almost criminal.

As should be obvious, Miller and Urey never purported to be creating life, and no textbook claims that this is what they did. What they discovered were that the distinctive amino acid building blocks of carbon-based life as we know it were, in fact, not the universal rarity that scientists had previously assumed.

As it happens, Miller and Urey were working with what was a very preliminary model of what the early earth was like: a simulation that we now know was likely not representative of the general environment. But, also as it happens, this actually boosts the importance of their find, rather than diminishing it: it’s significant that they didn’t have to endlessly tinker and fine tune their experiment to produce these molecules. They got them even just with a very sloppy early attempt. And, as we now know, these molecules form under a very broad range of possible early earth conditions (including those that we now think are more accurate), as well as other key molecules found to form in the conditions of asteroids and other space debris that the early earth was constantly being pelted with (a simple scientific reality that Expelled! apparently tries to ridicule or avoid by lumping it under the decidedly more speculative and whimsical idea of panspermia).

It’s one thing to note that life on earth is made up of the basic raw materials found in the universe and on planets like Earth (carbon, nitrogen, etc.) That’s interesting, but there’s little in the way of specific structure or organization implied there. What Miller and Urey demonstrated was that much of the distinctive core alphabet of molecules that all life on Earth is now composed of… are found forming naturally in the very times and places were we know life likely began. Not only that, but recently studies into the have found that, guess what, the sequences of modern DNA that seem most ancient contain substantially higher amounts of the very sections of the amino acid alphabet that experiments like Miller/Urey’s have shown most readily form in early Earth conditions.

Again: this isn’t the be all and end all of demonstrating that life began via chemical processes, or even answering the question of exactly how. We most certainly do not yet know how life began: no one does. But for those who are actually interested in someday having an explanation, rather than just an opaque theology, it’s incredibly significant: an extremely suggestive finding that, were it not to imply something about the origins of life, would otherwise have to be a pretty amazing coincidence.

There’s really no way for creationists to spin away the implications. So, as we will apparently see yet again in Expelled!, they simply lie about it.

Addendum: I probably should have linked to it in the original brouhaha over Myers’ expulsion, but his daughter Skatje also has her own write-up of the film available.

Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon Today: Celebrating a Scientist and Inspiration

December 20, 2007

Surf through the scienceblog world, and you might find a number of reflections on a man who is a hero to many: Carl Sagan. Today is the 10th anniversary of his passing, and among other things, a blog-a-thon is being held in his memory.

I touched on Sagan a little bit in my post “Scientists May Have Already Saved the World, Just by Observing It!“… and if you somehow managed to get through life this far without hearing his short “Pale Blue Dot” speech, you owe it to yourself to check that video out (it’s the last video on that page, and you can find many versions of it on youtube.

I’m too young to really remember Sagan as a cultural force, and in some sense it seems like the decade I’ve been most active and aware of science and culture in is a lot poorer after his passing. My take on the man, looking back rather than remembering, is sadness that there has not really been anyone in the popular culture to take his place. There are tons of fantastic science journalists and bloggers and writers and even popularizers like Bill Nye out there today, many of whom owe their careers to the wonder that Sagan sparked in them. But there’s been so far no one to replace him as a singular public figure and advocate.

Some things can’t be replaced.

Affirmative Action for Intelligent Design: “Martyr” Gonzalez continues to make a fool of himself

December 19, 2007

Guillermo Gonzalez, the Intelligent Design proponent who was failed to get tenure at Iowa State University’s astronomy department, is apparently still hell-bent on destroying his own career by making an issue out of it. When ISU originally denied him tenure, they quietly issued him a letter explaining their reasons. They did not publicize their list of criticisms and shortcomings. This is a good thing, of course: doing so would hurt the career prospects of a young Ph.D at other universities. And yet Gonzalez, for all the complaints about discrimination, has still failed to publicize this letter himself. And in the attempt to spin his case as ideological, anti-religious warfare, Gonzalez and the Discovery Institute keep forcing the issue, causing his actual record as a scholar to come under scrutiny. It’s not turning out well for him.

The Discovery Institute has naturally been a model of misdirection on this issue, citing Gonzalez’s publication records prior to his stint as ISU as evidence that he was a superior scholar. This is, as I mentioned, comparing rotten apples to fresh oranges: publishing under someone else’s wing is very different from seeing if you can carry your weight. But the DI is pressing on, now issuing a document purporting to show that Gonzalez published more than in the same time period than the professors who decided on his case: another irrelevant comparison. Even worse for Gonzalez, however, is that this data does contain a relevant comparison, and it is damning. As Ed Brayton over at Dispatches has pointed out that, when you place Gonzalez’s record side by side with the other candidate from his same department that did get tenure, Gonzalez doesn’t even come close to measuring up in either number of new publications or literature citations… the very two things the DI claims are most impressive about Gonzalez. And this isn’t even taking into account his failure to shepard graduate students or bring any significant amount of money into the school (his colleges averaged over a million: he brought in almost nothing at all). Or the actual quality of his work.

What seems clear is that Intelligent Design is quickly turning into little more than a scam for special treatment. They don’t want to play by the rules of science, where a claim must be confirmed or disconfirmed by evidence. They don’t want to be judged like other scientists on the quality of their work or their arguments. If anyone criticizes their work, it’s just a materialist paradigm defending its own. The possibility that their arguments are lousy, as lousy as those of countless normal scientists who have seen their ideas tossed down the crapper by their peers, isn’t even open for discussion. They bristle at the idea that their arguments are essentially based on religious presumption rather than scientific evidence, but then scream religious discrimination at the first sign of resistance to their ideas: even when their critics are themselves religious. If scientists criticize Intelligent Design, then they are engaging in a conspiracy to silence Intelligent Design. If they don’t, they are engaging in a conspiracy of silence to ignore it.

I’m sure other universities, after watching this spectacle, can’t wait to take Gonzalez on now and put up with this sort of behavior.

Scientists May Have Already Saved the Universe, Just By Observing It!

December 8, 2007

The above title says it all really. It’s a headline that won’t ever lead the news. But day in and day out, it’s utterly incredible what we can and have accomplished just by setting out to sincerely learn about the world around us. Just by observing and thinking. Humbly. Instead of presuming that we have all the answers.

Anyhow, after listening to the fantastic interview with astrophysicist/cosmologist Laurence Krauss on the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, I figured it was time for some follow-up on my “Scientists May Have Already Destroyed the Universe!” post. If you’ve forgotten already, the controversy there was a story in the New Scientist and reprinted elsewhere claiming a new paper published by Krauss and a co-author James Dent suggested that mankind’s observations of the universe could have potentially shortened its life. Quantum woomeisters went mad with delight, mainstream scientists scratched their heads, and even the Drudgereport, always eager to portray scientists as nutty or dangerous, picked up on it.

Unfortunately, the whole thing was a giant mixup.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Moon Compels You!

December 6, 2007

An Arizona couple has built a device that allows people to “bathe” in moonshine. By which I mean, mirror-concentrated light from the moon. While this is the sort of thing that skeptics often have a good laugh at, I think we should probably cut these folks a little slack.

What they did really is just plain cool, conceptually and from a pure geek standpoint.

Of course, things are definitely inching into woo territory with the visitors claiming that the moonbeams have curative powers. It seems that the concentrated light is warming, which of course feels nice. But unless someone can provide evidence that this warm light is any better for you than standing in front of a heat vent, lets just hope this doesn’t develop into another unproven “natural” treatment for every self-limiting condition under the sun. Er, or under the moon.

I also noted with dismay that the story’s one named skeptical voice on these purported healing powers strayed a bit from the proper tut-tut attitude we generally hope for:

“But whether or not it’s the placebo effect or the light, I don’t think that matters as long as people feel like they are having a positive effect, then it’s worth it to them to do it,” she added. (emphasis added)

No. Bad scientist! Naughty! Don’t endorse the placebo effect!

I guess I should just be happy that the article didn’t mention the mythical Full Moon effect. I mean, the “instant and profound sense of euphoria” that one visitor experienced might actually be a sign of something sinister. After all, if full moons are supposed to increase homicide rates, shouldn’t we be afraid that concentrated moonlight might turn aging hippie hypnotherapists like Eric Carr into serial killers?

Paul Davies Has Faith that Science Has Faith: A Finely Tuned Trouncing of Fine Tuning

November 25, 2007

Physicist Paul Davies had an Op-Ed in the New York Times yesterday insisting that even science is taken on faith. His arguments fail to convince, but it sure makes me question whether Paul Davies understands science. If I read him correctly, Davies makes three core claims in his article:

1) That science ultimately and necessarily rests on faith, just like, er, faith
2) That multiverses are ultimately a scientific exercise… in faith
3) That the seeming fine tuning of natural laws is necessarily significant and… something or other about faith, science uses faith

You probably see something of a pattern to those points. I see bad ideas ripe for a riposte.

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Scientists May Have Already Destroyed the Universe!

November 24, 2007

Uh Oh. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss has spent a lifetime defending science, but what will he do now that his own discipline apparently poses the greatest threat to the universe anyone has ever imagined since Ming the Merciless? According to Krauss (correction: according to journalists who spoke with Krauss, uh oh), merely by observing Dark Energy, we may have shortened the life of the universe. Or something…

Not Impressed By This Turn of Events:

If you want to console yourself by looking back on more pleasant times, here’s Krauss and Dawkins having a cordial and always interesting debate over whether science can speak to religion.

Update: Krauss himself corrects and clarifies in the comments. Universe outlook upgraded to “unstable,” which is, of course, its natural, healthy state! It’s a fair cop, aye, but shoddy science journalism is to blame.

Bottom line: if a popular media piece on anything even tangentially related to quantum physics is less than the size of an entire People Magazine, it’s probably not too reliable.