Bad astronomy

Philip Plait debunks weird, pseudoscientific claims at his excellent webiste Here’s his take on what it’s like to stand up for science:
Have you ever gone to a carnival, or a fair of some kind, and played the game “Whack-a-Mole”? It’s a table with holes in it, and little mechanical rodents pop their heads out for about a half a second. You have to hit them with a mallet. If you wait too long, they duck back under. But every time you hit one, one or two pop up again. No matter how many you whack, there are always more.

Pseudoscientists are like those moles. You can whack one down, but then another springs up…

He does an excellent job of it. For a taste, read his debunking of the claims that the Apollo moon landings were faked.

7 thoughts on “Bad astronomy”

  1. What Dr. Phil Plait won’t tell you is that a scientist who discovers any fact which contradicts the scientific community’s sacred cow not only of his own discipline but that of any other colleague – would be committing career suicide to publish their discovery. So given the data we’ve found from men like James Van Allen — we believe many scientists know that Apollo did not take men to the moon, and profess this belief in closed circles.

    You must understand that like so many other professions, scientists have their hands tied. If you work for a TV station in news, you will not be allowed to air a story that makes your top sponsor look bad. You’ll be put out on your ear by the station owner. In the scientists’ case, hands are ‘tied’ by grant funding and by tenure and so many other pressures most laymen know little about. I know this to be true firsthand from a friend who has a PhD in Biochemisty. He has told me that his leading professors have confessed to him behind closed doors that evolutionary biology has no rational basis – and they do not believe it. But they must continue to teach it, so that they won’t lose their careers.

    The reason we ‘pseudoscientists’ must continue to defend the truth alone is — we live in an age where advancing in your field is political in nature.

    Dr. Plait has refused on more than one occassion to discuss Operation Dirty Trick – where, among other sordid plans by the U.S. government, any ‘accident’ that killed John Glenn would be blamed on Cuba in order to justify an attack by the U.S. on their island.

    Some of you out there are going to start asking questions about the Apollo missions, you are going to start doing your own research – and you are going to be shocked by what you find.

    And by the way, Dr. Phil Plait works for NASA.

  2. The entirety of scientific advancement and its story has been one of irreverent and unflagging destruction of any sacred cow, whether science’s own or another’s. Copernicus feared the release of his discovery due to the very existence of the “sacred cow” of religious political power. Galileo went one step further and was persecuted. Bruno burned at the stake. These are some of science’s greatest heroes specifically for the fact that they upset the status quo with their dedication to scientific discovery.

    From Ptolemy and Aristotle to Copernicus and Galileo, from Newton to Mach, Maxwell, Einstein and many others, science has been one of the few disciplines where completely upsetting one’s most vaunted heroes is the ultimate goal and highest achievement.

    Any career scientist who shares nothing new with the community is sure to fade into obscurity.

    Pseudoscience thrives on the same desire to upset the status quo, but with a rebellious attitude that precludes all but anecdotal (hearing from an anonymous friend) and rather unconvincing corroboration (hand-tying via grant writing) and shoddy experimentation.

    It cannot be denied that any human endeavor will involve political machinations in some fashion. Which is why the scientific community must remain open to valid and thoroughly examined ideas. We must not confuse due diligence and the refusal to endorse antithetical ideals with censorship.

    As to Phil Plait, I do not believe he is actively employed by NASA. I’m not even entirely positive he ever was, though he did work with the STIS module on the Hubble telescope while studying a late-eighties supernova. It’s a simple matter to confirm whether he was ever on NASA’s payroll. You could probably just ask him, as well.

    I would also stipulate that one reason for refusing to discuss alleged operation “Dirty Trick” would be that there’s nothing to discuss. There are no definitive documents. There are stories. Anecdotes. Friends with PhDs. While surely amusing, it simply cannot be definitively addressed.

    As far as research of the lunar landing, it is certainly something everyone should do on their own if they find themselves in doubt. However, sorting information from disinformation is an exercise in self-control. What we want to believe is not necessarily what we should believe. The mundanity of fact is far from disheartening – it is the foundation for which true dreams may be realized.

  3. Sean, your comments – though well written, have little, if no significance in regard to refuting my arguments — because of the lack of evidence to support your claims.

    If you choose to deny that the need for money dictates the the conclusions published day after day by scientists in certain fields – and that this ‘machine’ as you called it – creates a log jam that stagnates the thought-pool of scientific advancement, you are in complete denial of reality.

    In every single area – the advancement of science has been tied down by political and banking interests – from the killing of the electric car to the engine which could run on various oils – developed by Diesel. And what about the pharmaceutical industry? Now there’s a real gem – killing people every year through prescription drugs. And the list goes on.

    In regard to Operation Dirty Trick — “There are no definitive documents.” – sean hogge

    In the late 90s, documents were publicly released proving this to be the case.

    The Washington Post, November 19th, 1997

    When John Glenn lifted off into space in a Mercury capsule on Feb. 20, 1962, military planners at the Pentagon were thinking of blaming Fidel Castro if the astronaut failed to come down again. The proposal was called Operation Dirty Trick and, according to long-secret documents made public yesterday, the idea was “to provide irrevocable proof that, should the MERCURY manned orbit flight fail, the fault lies with the Communists et al Cuba.” This could be accomplished, the planners suggested in a Feb. 2, 1962, memo, “by manufacturing various pieces of evidence which would prove electronic interf…

    “In my last position, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center I worked on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS).” – Dr. Phil Plait

    It is academic whether or not Plait’s paycheck said ‘NASA’ on it. The point being made here is that Plait is an insider, working directly with NASA personnel at a NASA facility. During a debate on MSNBC, when Bart Sibrel stated that Plait gets his paycheck from NASA – Plait did not deny it. But again, NASA uses contracted organizations to do their work. I have heard Plait say in other contexts that yes – he indeed worked for NASA.

    “We must not confuse due diligence and the refusal to endorse antithetical ideals with censorship.” – sean hogge

    I think you meant to write “due diligence to refuse…”, for that seems to be the mission of some – to keep their paychecks and retain tenure.

    “Amusing” you say? I do not find it amusing that known lies are being taught – and we all act as though it does not matter.

    “Friends with PhDs.” – sean hogge Again, poetic license here is not in the best interest of the truth. I guess it’s safe, however, to assume that many men and women with PhDs in biology or other disciplines –secretly do not believe…

    Phil Plait also has a PhD. But, as you might have guessed, he is not my friend. I don’t dislike him.

    “What follows is a history of the universe, from the moment after the big bang to present day.” – sean hogge

    Like Plait, perhaps this is where you got off on the wrong foot, worshiping (though denying it as such) the created — rather than the Creator.”

  4. Let he who is without sin, right? I agree that politics and money (though I needn’t list it twice) does affect the end result of some scientific advancement. However, what you are describing is governmental policy, not scientific advancement. We still have the electric car, the oil-run motors, and such. We simply don’t have the government’s support of the scientific offerings. I’m afraid the lack of availability is not equivalent to wanton suppression of research and discovery.

    Certainly, those who get funding receive the greatest chance for discovery. That’s why not every single dollar comes from an organization with clearly outlined prejudices and doctrines. Like a religious institution, for example. Or a monarchical government.

    Operation Dirty Trick is reported (contrary to my thoughts that no documents existed) as being a government plan of action to help with the Cuban crisis. This has no bearing on the veracity of the Apollo missions.

    As far as Dr. Plait’s employment, I’ll accede the point. Mostly because it also has no bearing on the veracity of his claims. If someone is dismissed simply because they work for or with the entity they are defending, then we can no longer accept as credible anything that any of your sources says. Or anyone’s for that matter.

    I appreciate the fact that there is some hard evidence (as reported) of the Operation you spoke of. However, there is no similar evidence of purported claims of those who refuse that the Apollo missions succeeded. Were such provided, I would – as I did with the Pentagon operation – be willing to adjust my accepted knowledge. I daresay that nearly anyone would do the same, and my pity to those on either side who cannot accept evidence.

    I don’t doubt that many persons with doctoral degrees believe various things that are foolish, amazing, irrational, amusing, or unsavory. However, these wonderful idiosyncrasies of human existence also have no bearing on the veracity of the facts. If you’re going to appeal to authority, adherence to its minority view only adds to the speciousness of the appeal.

    As for my personal views, I would kindly thank you not to tell me what I worship. It would be all to easy for me to inform you that you worship the security blanket of a cloistered mentality to avoid the wonder and apprehension of the nature of reality. Though you would deny it as such. Since we have now both had our absurd ad hominem, perhaps we can move right along.

  5. Awesome!

    So. Where’s all that evidence? For both your religion and your conspiracy, if you please. I’ll accept bare logic as a substitute, but with standards just as rigorous.

  6. Sean and Wil,

    I want to thank you for having such an interesting conversation here and – most of all – for having it in such a civil tone!

    All too often you see this kind of debate devolving into acrimony and mutual accusations – you guys have both stayed open to each other’s view points. It’s not an easy thing to do and I admire you both for it.


    Jarrah White is a MOONMOVIE.COM Contributing Editor & the Author of the MoonFaker Video Series

    As to the word “religion”, the historical, living person Jesus Christ of Nazareth doesn’t fall under that category. And the evidence? …Perhaps begin here:

    I have been honored to blog with you Sean. You are obviously an intelligent person. I sincerely wish you well, and hope we part as friends.


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