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Episode 59: The Face on Mars, Part 1

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Recap: In the first of two parts, the history and some of the claims surrounding the famous "Face on Mars" are discussed in detail, including several follow-up images. Pareidolia and image analysis are discussed at length, as well.

There was no puzzler in Episode 57 nor 58.

Puzzler: Search through any image from any spacecraft to Mars and find an example of pareidolia that you think is BETTER than the original Viking image of the face. And it can't be the Smiley Face crater.

Q&A: There was no Q&A this episode due to the length.

Additional Materials:


Claim: Claim: That's right, THE Face on Mars. Not pyramids. Not glass tubes, nor worms, nor cities, nor bigfoot, nor trees, nor fossils. Not Mayan petroglyphs. THE Face, with maybe a teensy bit of other faces thrown in. The other things I just mentioned ... those'll be for future shows.

When I initially decided to do this topic, I thought it would be relatively straight-forward. The very, very basic claim - that there is a roughly mile-long face staring up at us on Mars - IS fairly basic. But, after reading dozens of websites and listening to literally over 28 hours of interviews of people talking about this, the mythos that's been built around it makes this a truly monumental task -- pun intended.

To address it, I'm going to take you through something of a historical timeline of various claims, from the very first image, to some of the later images, and that's going to take us through this Part 1 episode. Part 2, which, much like Lord of the Rings 2 and 3, or Superman 2, were filmed at the same time as Part 1 but then released later, Part 2 was worked on in tandem with this, and it's going to discuss other claims related to THE Face, other faces, and some of the more fringe conspiracy theories.

Terminology and Setting

First, I have to talk a little bit about terminology, just so that everyone is on the same page. The famous Face on Mars is located in a region called Cydonia. Cydonia is a large area that was named in 1958 after an albedo feature - a feature distinguished for its small color difference versus the surrounding region. This is pretty much how all features prior to spacecraft observations were named.

The actual "Face" (and I'm just going to use that term as opposed to the more wordy "alleged" face or whatever) is called Cydonia Mensa, where Mensa is a flat-topped prominence with cliff-like edges ... a mesa, but in Latin so we sound smart.

I'll have links in the shownotes to where this is on Mars, but to give those of you listening and not at your computer a rough idea of the geography, Mars is an interesting planet. The first-order feature of it geologically is that there is a crustal dichotomy. The southern half is about 7 km (4 miles) higher in elevation than the northern half, and the southern half is much more heavily cratered, indicating it's older. The northern half is more low-lying, much smoother, and the material on the surface itself is younger. When I say "younger," we're still talking about is being around 3 BILLION years old, but that's younger than the southern half which has a surface age closer to around 3.5 to 4 BILLION. Unless you're a creationist and think Noah's flood did it - and there are some that do believe this - but that's a different episode.

The transition between the two hemispheres is called the "dichotomy boundary," which in itself is a very complicated region. The transition spans over 100-500 km or so from north to south, but that's still a fairly sharp transition. We think that one of the basic effects is that there was a lot of water activity on the boundary, basically draining from the southern highlands to the northern planes. And, if you've ever looked at areas of Earth where massive amounts of water have poured, you know that you get some interesting landforms.

The dichotomy boundary is highly chaotic - in fact many regions of it are called "chaos terrains", it's incredibly fractured, and it's intense area of study still today. You get a lot of weird looking features, lots of mesas, and its literally ON this dichotomy boundary that Cydonia and Cydonia Mensa sit. If you look at the geology surrounding Cydonia Mensa, you see cliffs, river beds, giant cracks, hundreds of other mesas, lots of craters, and various other very complicated geology.

In fact, the particular region of the boundary on which Cydonia Mensa sits is the eastern part of a giant impact basin into which some of the largest valley networks on the planet flow, including Valles Marineris.

The point of this background is to give you an idea of the context of this location and the kinds of features there. It's water-carved, wind-swept, very chaotic, and very weird-looking. It's complicated and we still don't understand it all that well, and there are a myriad of odd-looking things there.

With that in mind as the scenery, let's get on with the story.

Viking Image from 1976

On July 25, 1976, the United States' Viking 1 orbiter took photo 35A72 which covered part of the Cydonia region. Several days later, the image was released to the public. Trying to drum up popular interest in the space program, the caption of the original press release, release P-17384, dated July 31, 1976, stated:

"This picture is one of many taken in the northern latitudes of Mars by the Viking 1 Orbiter in search of a landing site for Viking 2.

"The picture shows eroded mesa-like landforms. The huge rock formation in the center, which resembles a human head, is formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth. The feature is 1.5 kilometers (one mile) across, with the sun angle at approximately 20 degrees. The speckled appearance of the image is due to bit errors, emphasized by enlargement of the photo. The picture was taken on July 25 from a range of 1873 kilometers (1162 miles). Viking 2 will arrive in Mars orbit next Saturday (August 7) with a landing scheduled for early September."

That's right, it was NASA who originally said it looked like a face. That can't be emphasized enough in this discussion so I'll say it again: The NASA press release was the original public mention of the mesa looking like a face. That's despite this ... [Coast to Coast AM, September 17, 2009, Hour 2, starting 18:12]

"They try to avoid Cydonia at all costs."

The Viking chief scientist, Gerry Soffen, dismissed it as, "A trick of light and shadow." In other words, pareidolia, which I'll talk about momentarily.

Viking 1 went on to take 18 images of the region -- it was a mapping mission and this is not unusual. 7 of them have resolutions better than 250 m/px (820 ft/px). The original Face image, 035A72, resolved the mesa as only about 50-55 pixels tall. Other Viking 1 images show it at varying resolutions from different sun angles. Photo 070A13 is probably the second-most shown Viking 1 image of the mesa.

Roughly a year after the press release, electrical engineer Vincent DiPietro came across photo 070A13, and he thought it looked like a face. He teamed up with computer scientist Gregory Molenaar who used image enhancement to look at details of the face, and the two published a 77-page book in 1982 entitled "Unusual Martian Surface Features." Through their enhancement, they claimed that the images show an eyeball in the face's right eye socket, a pupil near the center, and a teardrop below the eye. They wrote, "If this object was a natural formation, the amount of detail makes Nature herself a very intelligent being."

It's in honor of DiPietro and Molenaar that Richard C. Hoagland, who we'll get to in a bit, named a feature a few miles south of the Face: The "D&M Pyramid." But that's a future episode.

Digression: Pareidolia

At this point, we're going to pause in the discussion of the Face and talk about two things -- one is human psychology, and the other is image processing.

Mike Bara wrote in late summer 2012: “The actual truth is that there is no such thing as “Pareidolia.” It’s just a phony academic sounding word the debunkers made up to fool people into thinking there is scholarly weight behind the concept. It’s actually a complete sham. … The word was actually first coined by a douchebag debunker ... named Steven Goldstein in a 1994 issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Since then, every major debunker from Oberg to “Dr. Phil” has fallen back on it, but it is still a load of B.S. There is no such thing.”

But, that's not the case. The term goes back at least to the mid-1800s. An 1867 journal described it as, "the false perception, whose objective stimulus blends with the deficient subjective stimulus, and forms a single complete impression. ... [This is called a] changing hallucination, partial hallucination, perception of secondary images, or pareidolia."

And that's a pretty good description of the term, nearly 150 years later. It doesn't matter what you call it, it doesn't matter if it has an official name or not, the phenomenon is still there: Humans see patterns in randomness. In 2004, I photographed a cloud that looks like a dog. Does that mean I think there was actually a giant, white, fluffy dog up in the sky? No. It was my brian trying to recognize something familiar in randomness.

Human faces in particular are common visual hallucinations from randomness. All you need is two dots and a line below it and you have a face to the human optical-cerebral system. Emoticons are built around that.

The original Viking 1 image 035A72 shows a high-contrast, low-sun image of an oblong mesa. Half the mesa is in shadow along the long axis. Towards one end of the long axis, another part is in shadow, forming a circular area. Towards the other long end, a small line is in shadow. An area near the center is a little higher, so it is in more sunlight, protruding partly into the shadowed region of the other half. A black dot of data drop-out just below that completes the illusion of a nostril. Put it all together, and to the human eye, this low-resolution image looks like a face.

However, advocates dismiss this: [Coast to Coast AM, August 22, 2005, Hour 2, starting 23:38 min]

Discussing how it looks like different things to different people (Jesus, MesoAmerican stuff, etc.) and that "we each bring our own biases and past experience" into the interpretation, but then when asked by Noory specifically if this is pareidolia (though not using the term), the response is that no, it's not, because they see consistent symbolism. So, (25:03) "That right there says statistically, it's impossible for one to just be seeing abstract things and making something out of them 'cause we found these images on Mars fairly quickly over the first year of our research. The MesoAmerican connections to them, we found over time after that, we didn't go looking for - you know, 'let's match this, let's match that.' It was there."

That's right, and I can find 50 different clouds on a good day that all look like the Stay Puff'd Marshmallow Man ... it doesn't mean that's statistically impossible and so the Marshmallow Man is going to rain down on us with his ooey goodness.

Digression: Image Processing

The second digression is image processing. I'm going to refer you back to episodes 47 and 48 for much more detail on this, but from that pair of episodes, there are two important points to go back to, at least so far.

First is that you can NOT get more detail out of an image than was recorded initially. You can NOT increase the size of an image and claim that each new pixel gives you more information. This is like having a satellite image of a city, and one pixel covers a parking lot. You canNOT increase the size of the image and magically now see individual cars. Being able to do so would be, well, magic. That's not to say that graphics programs won't let you do this. They will, but they guess at the missing information. They cannot give you real features, only guesses based on the surrounding information. But, people don't seem to realize this: [Coast to Coast AM, November 12, 1996, starting 26:24]

"When we do get the pictures back, they will see, in the eye sockets - they will see that there's an eyeball in the eye sockets. They'll see that there are teeth in the mouth. What they've been able to bring out with their special imaging process. We expect we'll see that kind of detail [in the Mars Global Surveyor images]."

The shadow that looks like an eye socket in the original 035A72 Viking 1 image is 6 pixels tall. Claiming that you can then do "enhancement" work and bring out not only an eyeball within it, but a pupil within that, and say that information is in the original, is wrong. Same case for people who say there are "teeth" in the mouth -- the mouth in the original is about 3 pixels tall. What people see as teeth are one-pixel features that are slightly lighter or darker than the surroundings. That's not to say that these features may not be found to be there in later, higher-resolution images. But, they canNOT be seen in the lower-resolution ones.

The second rehash is that ANY processing you do to the image CHANGES what was there initially. If you put it through some sort of filter, or if you increase the contrast, or do various other things, you will LOSE original information and you will ALTER the information that is still there.

Why do I repeat those two points now? It's because of what DiPietro and Molenaar did back in the 1970s and '80s: It was through various manipulations of the data that they claimed to make out features that were at the pixel or sub-pixel level. Having a feature that's one pixel across is not resolving it, just like when we photograph a star and see it as one pixel across, it's not resolving it into a disk -- it's too small to actually show any detail. Claiming to go through various processes and see things like a pupil inside an eyeball inside the eye socket of the original Viking images is a very big stretch.

Even if that slightly darker or lighter pixel is in another image, like 070A13. If it is, you can say at that point that it's interesting, but follow-up is needed with a higher-resolution image of the site to determine if it's real or not.

You Can Never Go Home -- Later Visits Are Never as Good as the First

It might be DiPietro and Molenaar who took up the cause from the original NASA mention, but it's really Richard C. Hoagland who seems to have made this his raison d'être - his reason for existence. Or at least it's what launched him into his career in anomaly hunting and is still one of his centerpieces, and it's probably what he's best known for. Which makes it even more impressive that I've gotten this far into the episode with only mentioning him once.

It was Hoagland and people like him who have clamored for every single spacecraft with a camera in orbit to photograph the Face again. And again. And again. And again. Each time, they keep claiming that the new photos are going to prove that they were right and clearly show the face. And each time, when it shows the mesa to look less and less like a face, they cry foul.

I'll get into some more detail on some of the other face images from other spacecraft in a moment, but we see this all the time among people who anomaly hunt in space images. For those who followed the lunar ziggurat story between Mike Bara and myself last summer, this was one of the major issues. Mike claimed to see a ziggurat in an old Apollo photograph of the moon, but he refused to believe any of the numerous later photographs from other spacecraft - even from other countries - that did not show his ziggurat. And, he also claimed that the next country to send a craft there would photograph it and reveal his ziggurat, unless they were in on the conspiracy.

The same thing has happened with the Face on Mars with practically every new image. I'm going to take you through some of them now.

Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) Image from 1998

The first modern image to be taken of the Face was in 1998 by the Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC). MGS arrived in late 1997 and was aerobreaking for the next year and a half to reach its final mapping orbit. All images taken in that first 17 month period were not optimal, and also occurred during a large Martian dust storm that almost completely shrouded the surface in many places.

One of them was Cydonia. Rather than compliment the team on trying to take a photo of the site under very difficult conditions, Hoagland and others rained derision and conspiracy down on Michael Malin, the camera principle investigator, and NASA. In order to try to bring out features through the dust storm, the image was subjected to a lot of processing and several software filters. It was also taken while the spacecraft wasn't looking straight down, so it appeared distorted somewhat. The initial processing was released, and later it was revised -- which is done pretty much all the time in planetary imaging, especially early in the mission when they're still trying to figure out how exactly the camera is working and model distortions.

In 2001, MOC took another photo of the site. Going on year 3 of its mapping orbit, the images were now being released in typical 6- or 12-month intervals to the scientific community. That's to let people who spent over a decade planning and building the craft and instrumentation first-dibs on the data which is typical for all NASA missions. In fact, it's somewhat unique to NASA, because the European, Japanese, Indian, and Chinese space agencies don't have those kinds of requirements. The 2001 MOC image showed what I would consider very convincingly something unconvincing that doesn't show any face-like features, and doesn't show an eyeball, pupil, nor teeth, unlike what's claimed as "confirmed" with the MOC images. And again, these'll be linked up in the show notes.

However, you wouldn't know this listening to Richard Hoagland. I think it's informative to see what he said about this and to see how he makes it sound like a vast conspiracy, in contrast with what I just related. This is taken from his website:

In 1998, when the first new MGS image of the Face was released, the first official NASA/JPL version came to be known derisively as "The Catbox" -- because of it's extremely low oblique viewing angle, total lack of contrast, limited gray scale and extensive filtering used to remove essentially all data! Later JPL enhancements (released after the evening news cycles had completed) showed the Face in a much more favorable, and Face-like, condition. ...

On May 24th, 2001, NASA finally released a full overhead, high resolution, close-up image of the Face. In "hit piece" articles quite apparently prepared weeks in advance (during the withholding of the new data for almost two months), NASA claimed that it was highly similar to "other mesas and buttes on Mars," but have yet to produce a single compelling example for comparison. ... NASA also used a deliberately upside down and horizontally stretched version of this new picture to "underscore" their point.

Mars Odyssey THEMIS Image from 2003 -- "Pre-Dawn Cydonia"

Fast-forward two years, and another set of claims was presented by Richard Hoagland in October, 2003. Some new images were taken just before dawn, when the sun was about 0.5° below the horizon as seen from the Cydonia region. Because the sun was JUST below the flat horizon, it would shine on anything that was above it, such as the mesa that people think is a face. This was done with the THEMIS camera on Mars Odyssey, where THEMIS stands for "THermal EMission Imaging System."

Besides getting on Coast to Coast to talk about this, Richard published a very long-winded web page talking about this set of images which he completely misinterprets. As with several others, I'll provide a link in the shownotes. For those who are listening to my docile tones while driving, exercising, having intimate relations, or something else without immediate computer access, the 5-band 3-color image that I'll link to shows the Cydonia region and the "Face" mesa. Most of the mesa is relatively dark, as one would expect with the sun below the horizon. But the side that's facing the sun is bright white.

The fact that it's much brighter than the rest of the mesa and the surrounding surface, Hoagland claims to mean: [Coast to Coat AM, October 5, 2003, Hour 2, starting 13:46]

"We're looking at something that is 99+% reflectivity."

He doesn't really show any of his math for this claim on his website, though he makes it repeatedly. He basically assumes a linear stretch and compares the brightness on the sunlit side with the surrounding surface. As you might expect at this point, there are several problems with this -- at least three, in fact, that I identified right away.

First, the majority of the image is only lit by sunlight scattered through the thin Martian atmosphere. ONLY a few small regions are directly lit by the sun because the sun is just below the horizon, so the only objects that can be lit will be perched above the horizon. This means that OF COURSE they're going to look much brighter than what ISN'T lit by the sun. It's like sun coming through a window -- it's really bright in direct sunlight, but the area of the floor right next to it is darker. Only, on Mars, the effect is exaggerated due to the thinner atmosphere.

The second problem is that Richard only looked at one stretch of the image. A lot more data was recorded in the high dynamic range camera than is visible in a basic 8-bit image which is the default when you go to the image online - something discussed more in Episode 48. If you look at other stretches, does NOT show that side saturated, but shows it just brighter. Not 99+% reflective. For those of you who are at a computer, click the link to the THEMIS image from the shownotes, or do a web search for V03814003. On the Mars Image Explorer page that opens, you'll see the image strip and the face towards the middle, in Black and White. Click the False Color button and then the S1 button. Then click the image itself and it should expand in size. You'll clearly see that it's not completely reflective and saturated as Richard claimed.

The third problem has to do with an analysis that a man named Mark Carlotto did from the old Viking images. I'm going to discuss this in much more detail in Part 2, but briefly, Richard and other Face on Mars people pay a lot of homage to Carlotto's work, referencing it often. A lot of what he did was to make 3D models of the "Face" mesa based on the Viking images. He did this by looking at the different shades, and assuming a certain reflectivity, then the different shades correspond to different slopes and angles. Just like you learn in grade school art class for shading based on the way things are pointed relative to a light source, he used the technique in reverse to make a 3D model from a 50-pixel-tall feature.

In other words, Carlotto's work ASSUMES a reflectivity to reconstruct the 3D nature of the mesa. But, if Hoagland is right in this case, that an entire side of the mesa, maybe a full 1/3 of it, is 99+% reflective, then that completely screws up everything Carlotto did, and the 3D reconstructions are wrong! You can't have it both ways -- Carlotto's "shape from shading" work cannot be right if part of the mesa is 99+% reflective, OR, Carlotto's work could be accurate but then this hugely reflective stuff by Hoagland is wrong. I'm not saying Carlotto's work is accurate at this point, but Richard does, so he can't be right on both counts.

As an added bonus, Richard reads into image compression artifacts and says that there's regular geometry in the bright, 99+% reflective part of the face, indicating panels of some sort. Refer back to episodes 47 and 48 on image processing for more on those kinds of artifacts, specifically later in episode 48.

Mars Express Image from 2006

The next step in our journey takes us to about 6-7 years ago, with the Mars Express spacecraft and the HRSC, or High-Resolution Stereo Camera on board. After consistently mispronouncing the principle investigator's name as "Ger-ARD NOO-kum" instead of "GER-hard NOI-kum" and telling people to write to him, posting full contact information, to tell him to image the Face, Richard was angry at the results when Neukum finally did.

Richard claimed conspiracy and -- the worst of all things -- actual collaboration between Neukum and Michael Malin, the guy who built the THEMIS and other cameras on NASA missions around Mars. Richard was dismayed that they might actually collaborate on results to bring out the best features that the different cameras offer. In the end, he claimed that they purposely distorted the data because it didn't show what Richard thought it should. Though, as I just explained with the THEMIS data, Richard lacks an understanding of how these cameras work and what the data do actually show.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE Image from 2007, Re-Release with Color in 2010

He showed his profound ignorance again in 2010. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has the highest-resolution camera ever to orbit Mars, and it's capable of taking images at roughly 0.25 m/px scale, or about 15"/px, the size of a large dinner plate. The camera is called HiRISE, which stands for High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment. It imaged the Face area in black and white in 2007, and in 2010, it added a color swath through the middle.

The image page on the HiRISE website shows an extreme close-up. And, if you click for a Wallpaper image, it shows that close-up again. [Coast to Coast AM, July 30, 2010, Hour 1, starting 10:15]

"The face doesn't disappear, what NASA's very cleverly done is to zoom in to the center of that previously released picture - three-year-old picture - so that you're getting an ultra-close-up, kinda like if you were to zoom in really tight on the upper lip of the Mona Lisa ... what they're doing ... (10:49) this is a very well-orchestrated disinformation campaign so blatant, so obvious, so easily provable that you have to say, 'What are these people smoking?'"

The question is actually, Richard, how ignorant are you of how imaging works and why did you not click on any of the other links? I realize that your own website hasn't been updated in format since the 1990s, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't do SOME amount of clicking on other links on someone else's.

Apparently, Richard doesn't realize that a computer monitor has an aspect ratio of around 16:10 or :9 width:height. As opposed to the HiRISE camera, which takes images that are up to around 1:10 width:height. As in, it would take something like 20 computer monitors stacked one above the other to properly display a HiRISE image. I say "up to" because the HiRISE camera, as I talked about in Episode 48, is a push-broom type, meaning that it has effectively a string of pixels and then these scan across the surface, much like a scanner or photocopier. The operators can choose to take an image as long as their memory can store, or they can stop it sooner. In this particular case, they stopped it sooner, as you'll see in the greyscale version.

And, quite conveniently, if you look a little bit further down the page, there's a big section called "Image Products." Where you can click to download a JPEG version or JP2 version. You can choose greycale or color. You can choose map-projected or non-map-projected. And if you do that, you'll get the full HiRISE image, though cropped to just the areas of overlap. What I mean by the overlap part is that the camera has these string of pixels, but only ones in the middle record other colors besides infrared to red. So, while the greyscale version shows the full face and area around it, the colors only cover part of it.

BUT, all of them show much more than the closeup that Richard clearly thinks is the full image.

Theythinks the Government Doth Image it Too Much?

With HiRISE, that takes us through the majority of cameras that have imaged the infamous Face. So, we have a lot of images of this mesa. We have it from many different spacecraft under many different lighting conditions at many different resolutions and in many different colors.

After all, it is THE MOST PUBLICLY REQUESTED TO-BE-IMAGED spot on the entire planet. Hoagland and his ilk have written, called, faxed, and e-mailed all the mission scientists for over 15 years, demanding that they re-image the Face. And each time a new craft gets there, Hoagland claims that it's THIS TIME that we'll get disclosure because the politics are right for it and that it's THIS TIME that the images will show what they've been claiming all along.

And of course, they don't. And as I've now gone through in some detail, each time, Hoagland claims that they've deliberately distorted the images so that you can't see a face, because they're desperate: [Coast to Coast AM, Hour 1, July 30, 2010, starting 8:44]

"It's a total, flat, absolute lie. And it's an obvious indication that someone at NASA is getting increasingly desperate, that we're probably on the verge, on the eve of the 'D-word' -- 'Disclosure' ..."

Meanwhile, because it's been imaged so much, Hoagland has also had the nerve to say that NASA must know something's weird about it because they seem to image it so much!

That's right folks, you just can't win ... He demands new images saying this time they'll show what he wants, and when delivered he says that they've distorted them while at the same time saying that the fact they've imaged it again means they know there's something going on there.

But Scientists Don't Protesteth at All

While the government has imaged it too much for nothing to be there, according to Richard Hoagland, real scientists haven't done enough to argue against him. [Coast to Coat AM, September 21, 2006, starting 19:25]

"No one has done, except us in the outside scientific community, any science on this! You can't-- I cannot point you, and you can't find one refereed, technical, peer-reviewed scientific paper on Cydonia blowing this away."

What Richard has done here formally is to invoke the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence fallacy. In other words, an absence of a scientific article refuting the face doesn't mean that we think the face is real. And I'm sure I'll get an e-mail if I got that fallacy wrong, but moving on ...

... As Richard surely knows - or if he doesn't then he's being willfully ignorant on yet another thing in this episode after having been around this stuff for over 40 years - astronomers and geologists don't write papers about things that look like other things not being those things. And, if we do - since I wrote a paper on the lunar ziggurat stuff - we don't submit them to geology, geophysics, or astronomy journals. We submit them to other things like the Skeptical Inquirer or perhaps a psychology journal as part of a broader discussion on pareidolia or a similar phenomenon. Richard has to know that.

But We're Objective

With that in mind, I'm going to close out Part 1's main segment with a discussion of this clip: [Coast to Coat AM, September 21, 2006, starting 17:59 and 27:57]

"To ask someone looking at these pictures, 'What does it look like?' I mean, science is supposed to be objective, isn't it? ... (27:57) Science is not what you see or what you feel, it's what you can measure!"

Richard is clearly not a geologist. Geologists primarily record two classes of data: Morphometry and morphology. Morphometry means the process of measuring the shape and dimensions of things. It is usually pretty objective, though I could get into cases where it's not, but that's not important for this discussion. Morphology, on the other hand, is the study of the forms of things. In other words: How they look.

My doctoral dissertation was assembling a massive database of craters from Mars. I recorded a lot of morphometry with crater positions, diameters, depths, and other things. But, a large part of the database was also recording morphology, like how the ejecta blanket looked, whether it looked like a pancake, a flower, or a butterfly. Yes, those are actual morphologic classes that are used and published in the scientific literature. That's because as soon as I say that a feature looks like a butterfly, almost everyone gets a picture in their heads of what it looks like, and that picture is going to be pretty accurate.

And so, Richard Hoagland is yet again using a faulty argument. Science, especially geologic science, records both objective measurements and subjective classifications of features. That's how it works.

And so if we, as scientists, talk about the Smiley Face crater on Mars, if you're a Mars researcher you probably know what crater I'm talking about -- and I'll link to it in the shownotes for those of you who don't. It looks like a smiley face. Does that mean it is a smiley face that was carved by an intelligence wanting to make themselves known to us? No, it doesn't. But that's pareidolia mixed with some fringe ideas at work -- the hallmark of a discussion about the Face on Mars

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