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Episode 17: Gregg Braden and Data Mining

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Recap: In discussing the new-agey claims by Gregg Braden of evidence for consciousness altering the world around us, I also use this as the start of what will be an ongoing series in fallacious ways to argue: In this case, data mining.

Puzzler: One of Gregg Braden's claims is that the magnetic field put out by the heart is 5000x stronger than that of the brain. First, is this true? I'll warn you that you'll need to be very careful in defining your terms in this one. The second part of the puzzler is that Braden claims that because the heart is where we have our feelings and beliefs and that we communicate these through the magnetic field of the heart which connects to the broader fields around us. (I'm not making this up.) The second part of the puzzler here is let's say the field strength of the human heart is 10 pT at the surface of the human body. At what distance from the surface of the chest is the magnetic field of the heart equal to the field of Earth if we take the average value of Earth's magnetic field at the surface, 100 µT? And with your answer in mind, does ANY of what Braden claims here make sense?

Solution to Episode 15&16's Puzzler: There really is not anything that could help balance an egg on one end during an equinox UNLESS you ALSO made the qualifier that you're on the equator. If that's the case, then the fact that the Sun would be directly overhead ONLY at noon would help you very very slightly balance an egg on its end. But the difference is so slight as to be pretty much overruled by any imperfections in the egg or the surface you're trying to balance on ... but, there is that teensy bit extra that would help.

Q&A: "Parrot" asks in a somewhat paraphrased way: "In episode 13 on the True Story of Planet X, the Puzzler question you asked was about how we think a planet should be defined; the implication was how you make a lower-end cut-off. But I got to wondering about the other end of the spectrum. Should gas giants be considered planets? They're certainly not the same kind of thing as the Earth or Venus. Should they perhaps be in a category all their own? Has there been other discussion about that in astronomical communities? I somehow doubt that I'm the first to have these thoughts."

You are correct, you are not the first to have these thoughts. But it really is the low end cut-off that we have more disagreement among the astronomical community. On the upper end, the generally agreed-upon cut-off is any kind of fusion. Full-on hydrogen fusion requires a mass of 80 times Jupiter. But, there are other, lower-pressure and -temperature fusion processes that can happen.

Namely, lithium fusion will happen in objects that are >60 times the mass of Jupiter, while deuterium fusion will happen in objects >13 times the mass of Jupiter. Normally we set the line between gas giant and brown dwarf at this 13 Jupiter-mass point, where objects lighter than it are gas giants, and heavier ones are brown dwarfs. Objects that can fuse hydrogen, ones that are >80 Jupiter masses, are full-fledged stars.

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Transcript

Disclaimer: In this podcast, I have never addressed a specific person as the overall subject, at least not directly. In this case, I am. I feel it important to note as a sort of disclaimer that in doing this, my intent is in no way to engage in an ad hominem assault on Mr. Braden nor say he's an idiot or he's crazy or stuff like that. Instead, I'm going to give you a brief bio of the man so you have some context and then get into his ideas. It's the ideas and claims of a person as well as their evidence that is the point of this podcast, not really the personage behind them. That said, I may end up describing his ideas as crazy.

Evolution of a New Ager who Doesn't Believe in Evolution

I did a search through the ~165 gigabytes of episodes I have of C2C for the past two decades (that's roughly 8000 hours, or 325 straight 24-hour days). Braden's name popped up not infrequently, so I started to listen to him starting with his 1999 interview conducted by Art Bell. (Note that he had been on earlier shows, at least dating back to 1992, but I don't have those.)

I listened to about 16 hours of interview, and then I re-listened to about half of them to pull out the quotes and points I wanted to use. I go into more depth on some of these in the blog post I wrote, linked up in the shownotes, but in this podcast I wanted to focus down on just a few points.

However, I think it's instructive and informational to see how he's changed through the years.

Based on later material, things changed for Braden in the few years after Sept. 11, 2001. I'll talk about that later.

Before that time, Braden comes off as your standard new-agey anti-establishment person: Darwinism is evil, consciousness rules. There really wasn't much unique about his message.

He was an avid advocate of "free energy" devices (which will be the subject of a future podcast), claimed there was copious evidence that our DNA was currently evolving rapidly even though he doesn't "believe" in evolution, that through consciousness we can "activate junk DNA" and do kewl stuff, and generally ranted for four whole hours on how scientists won't let the "real" knowledge out to the general public. Fairly run-of-the mill, really.

In the next interview I have of him, recorded in 2006 (May 6), I noticed something of a shift in Braden's attitude. While he was still hawking his books and advocating his ideas, he seemed to have shifted more towards alleged evidence for his claims and "research" he was doing. This was more evident in the later interviews.

Specific Claim about Ether

By 2008, in listening to these interviews, I came to the conclusion that Braden had evolved more into a guy who thinks, "let's throw out some sciencey stuff that sounds more real than what I peddled a decade ago" (no, he didn't actually say that, that was my impression).

He makes a few interesting claims. The one I want to address is during the second hour: [Coast to Coast AM clip, January 6, 2008, Hour 2, starting 16:53]

First, some background, which I'm also linking to in the shownotes: Back in the 1800s, physicists knew that waves needed something to travel through, like sound waves need air or water or something else. But they couldn't figure out what light travels through, so they invented something called "ether." Michelson and Morley who were faculty at the Case Institute of Technology set out to measure it. They designed an experiment that they thought would show the properties of ether. Instead, it showed that ether did not exist because light traveled at the exact same speed in whatever direction they measured it. The only way that could happen is if ether didn't exist or there was a very special reference frame at Earth where ether stood still instead of Earth passing through the ether that was throughout the universe. The simplest conclusion is that ether did not exist, though to this day people claim otherwise.

Hence Silvertooth's apparent peer-reviewed paper in Nature.

As to that, first, the Nature article is actually from August 14, but I'll forgive that. I will note that in many of Braden's interviews, he references papers and authors in the scientific journals, but in all of the ones that I've heard, he has always made mistakes. In one, in fact, I could not find the paper by the authors or the subject matter within a year of when he said it was published.

Moving that aside like the ether, though, the problem Braden doesn't talk about is that this was not an article Nature "published," it's a letter that they included that spans less than 1/3 of a page. In it, Ernest W. Silvertooth claims to have conducted an experiment that proved there is an "ether" through which light propagates, disproving General Relativity, and the famous Michelson-Morley Experiment (conducted where I got my undergraduate degree … a century earlier).

Interesting. It's a letter to the editor. Not peer-reviewed. Silvertooth's name shows up on Anti-Relativity.com. And the only way he got a paper out is by publishing it himself. And yet Braden claims this is undeniable proof that scientists won't let the secrets of the universe out and that this guy irrefutably showed that the standard ideas are not real. It's kinda like if I got a letter to the editor claiming that the sky is green and grass is purple that Braden would then use that as irrefutable evidence that the sky is green and grass is purple.

However, he takes this a step further to say that the "ether" is not just a medium through which light travels, rather it's the general consciousness field in which we all exist.

This is an example of taking a term that had a very specific meaning in science and changing it around to mean something else. Much the same way "energy" is used by New Agers, but that's a topic for a future episode.

Specific Claim About Earth's Magnetic Field on Sept. 11, 2001

[Clip from Coast to Coast AM, March 17, 2009, Hour 3, starting 29:42]

That clip introduces the second claim I'm going to talk about, and the case study of data mining that is the second subject of this podcast episode. The bottom-line claim here is that Earth's magnetic field was altered by human emotion during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. This is similar to claims by the Global Consciousness Project, but different. The nice thing is that this is highly objective data that's easy to find and check. Which I did. I even contacted the institution that runs the GOES to get a bit of help and information (thanks to Dan Wilkinson and Ted Haberman).

For brief background, GOES are and have been many different satellites, and they are periodically launched and decommissioned as one wears out and technology advances. We're now on GOES 11 and 13 as the main two, though GOES 12, 14, and 15 are in orbit. In September 2001, GOES 8 and 10 were in operation (it looks like there were some issues with GOES 11 at that time).

These satellites orbit at about 6.6 Earth radii from the planet, and our magnetic field extends to about 10 Earth radii, so it is correct that they can measure the magnetic field, and they do contain instruments to measure magnetic fields at their location. Though they send back data that's binned in 5-minute intervals, not 30-minute intervals.

The data that Braden and others present at their Global Coherence Institute is the exact image that I'll have in the shownotes. It looks kinda interesting. The field is varying between about 50 and 125 nT (nanoTeslas) in the four days leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, and then it spikes to 173 nT as seen from one satellite and 153 nT as seen from another. Then it seems to vary slightly more than it had in the few days after. Do we have something here? Are they making these data up?

Data Mining

Actually, they're not. The data do show that spike. You can view it for yourself here for GOES 8 or here for GOES 10.

So now the logical question in evaluating this claim is, "They're showing a week-long window. What does the field look like at other times? What's the normal variability?" And let's avoid any idea they might claim of contamination from the craziness of that month.

To answer that, I chose a random month and I skipped back to June 2001. The data I show below (all data is on that site, specifically downloaded from here) show that the normal variations for the magnetic field are about 60-125 nT (so that agrees with the Sept. 2001 baseline), but in this random month of June, there were spikes all the way up to 186 nT (higher than Sept. 11, 2001 by about 15 nT). Hmm.

In fact, since I have the data in my grubby little hands, I can actually do some basic statistics. The average from GOES 8 during June 2001 was 113 nT, and from GOES 10 it was 97 nT. The standard deviations were ±10.6 and ±14.6 nT, respectively. In September 2001, the averages and standard deviations were 109±14.2 nT and 95±20 nT. So they agree with each other. September 2001 was not an odd month at all.

I then chose a different random month and year, January 1998 (the Global Consciousness Project people would probably say they'd expect at least two significant events during this month, one for the new US Congress taking office and one for New Year's Day). Or November 2007. Both of those months' data are displayed below. The maxima were 173 for GOES 9 in January 1998 (but a minimum of only 22 nT!) and 188 nT in November 2007 with GOES 11 (there was some data drop-out in the last week of the month from GOES 10).

The inescapable conclusion at this point is – as I said before – at best it's "window-shopping" or data-mining. At worst it's willful deceit of their audience. As is clearly shown by these data, the September 11, 2001, "spike" in Earth's magnetic field is not an abnormal "spike," but rather we see fluctuations even larger than that several times a month.

And that's really what data mining is, with Braden presenting a very good example of selecting only the data range and type that shows what you want it to and then completely ignoring the rest.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 2. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

Lee Kalba   Location unknown

7:32pm on Thursday, February 14th, 2013 

This one cracks me up, the way you read the comments.

R Lambert   Location unknown

1:12pm on Saturday, February 18th, 2012

I agree that Braden is a very imaginative fellow who is, at best, sloppy with his references, but the michelson-moreley thing is not as clear cut as the history books would have it. Even Einstein believed that the Morley-Miller and Sagnac experiments (repeated by Maurice Allais) cost him the Nobel Prize for Relativity. This is wel documented, as are other scientific challenges to Mich-Mor etc. There are some decent historical articles about this subject. http://www.cellularuniverse.org/AA2MM_Aether.htm
Also, in light of this, perha**ilvertooth should not be discounted so easily. It was Braden who was incorrect about the reference, not silvertooth. There is nothing in his work that I've found that is 'unscientific' as such. He may be wrong (or not) but he is just interpreting his experimental results, as any scientist would.
On the ohter hand, I don't see why this would nessecarily invalidate the space-time relationships of relativity. All in all, I really like relativity. Its one of ... read more »

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