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Episode 63: Clip Show #1

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Recap: It was bound to happen at some point: The clip show, characterized by several miscellaneous claims that are too small to be their own show. This clip show deals with pendulums, Earth's moon, magnetic fields, habitability, and exoplanets.

Answers to Puzzler from Episodes 59 an 60: There were three contributions for planetary pareidolia.

Graham D. sent in this Viking orbiter image of the Cydonia region of Mars. He's circled not the infamous Face, but what he considers the "bust" of Mars - the upper part of a human female's torso.

Derek B. sent in a "Philadolia" image that someone else had made of Phil Plait (the "Bad Astronomer") with colored rocks. Phil doesn't look too happy.

Lastly, Arnold R. sent in an image from Apollo 17 astronauts of Earth. He said, "My favorite planetary pareidolia; for a time I thought I was looking at North and South America. Clouds!"

Puzzler: What logical fallacy or fallacies best sum up this quote? "We took our books when they first came out, and we sent them to a whole series of leading scientists, and begged and plead with these people to get back to us and tell us where we had gone wrong. In other words, where were our numbers wrong. And, um, the reaction has been absolutely nothing. And we feel sure that if somebody could take our book to pieces and say, 'Look, you invented this, or look you massaged this, or look you've made this,' that somebody would have done so by now. And the fact is that our numbers are sound. And if our numbers are sound, then the strangeness of the Moon is sound. We need some explanation!"

Q&A: There was no Q&A for this episode.

Additional Materials:


Intro: In all great works of entertainment, there comes a point where the producers are low on energy, time, and budget, and they do something called a "bottle show." This term comes about because they need no new sets, no guest stars, nothing extra to do it, all the material requirements are "bottled" within what they already have. Many times, this is manifest as an episode full of flashbacks with no real plot connecting them other than, say, someone's being brainwashed and you're reliving their memories of apparently seeing themselves as an external camera guy would.

With that intro, this episode follows in that noble spirit and is a Clip Show. But, not being quite as lazy as those other folks and this already being a zero-budget production anyway, this clip show is a conglomeration of small topics that are too small for their own show, but nonetheless represent misconceptions, mistakes, half (or non-) truths, and conspiracies related to astronomy. And if you don't like Coast to Coast AM clips, I suggest you skip this episode.

With that disclaimer, let's begin ...

The Moon: Pendulums

We're going to start with talking about Earth's Moon. No, not lunacy, that's a separate show. But, to start with, on December 7, 2005, authors Christopher Knight and Alan Butler went on Coast to Coast claiming that the Moon was entirely artificial. Their conclusion is that human time travelers from the future went back in time and created the moon using black holes because they realized the moon was needed for life to exist here. The concept itself falls into the "Not Even Wrong" camp where there's simply not even a seed of something correct within it to start to debunk the scenario. But, there are some parts of it to dissect and that show up in other peoples' claims.

First, pendulums during eclipses: [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, December 7, 2005, Hour 2, starting 23:40]

It's known for instance, when there is a, uh, uh [4 second pause], uh, when the sun's light is blocked out by the Moon passing in front of it, because the Moon is 1/400th the size of the Sun, but it's exactly 1/400th the distance between the two, so, um, when we get the-- them aligned, pendulums go crazy. Uh, and no one understands that.

This is a claim I first heard made by Mike Bara, then Richard Hoagland, and then this guy. This dates back to the mid-1900s with a Frenchman who won the Nobel Prize in Economics -- note, not someone who was trained in setting up scientific apparatuses -- named Maurice Allais. He reported in 1954, and again in 1959, that during a total solar eclipse, he observed that a pendulum very slightly changed its motion.

The good Professor deduced and ascribed this to an œther that everything moves through, but had been disproven a half century earlier. Bara and Hoagland use this to say that their hyperdimensional physics is true, while others claim it proves gravity is wrong.

This has actually been tested by other people over the last 59 years. There have been mixed results, but a review of the literature shows that as the experimental controls were tightened, and things like small temperature and pressure changes caused by being in shade were taken into account, the effect that Allais observed goes away. It's much like psi in that respect: The better the experiments are designed to control for known variables, the effect diminishes to pretty much nothing. And the effect was never that "pendulums go crazy."

The Moon: Eclipses

Another claim by these gentlemen is that eclipses like ours are unique in the universe. This is a claim often propagated by creationists, though I suppose also by artificial moon folks, too, they're just less common than creationists. The idea goes that no where else in the solar system, and these guys claim no where else in the universe, is there a planet with a moon where the moon just covers the host star during a solar eclipse.

The question at this point is, how do you define your terms? Yes, it is true that in the solar system, our moon at this particular epoch in our history can do this, though it doesn't always because it's on an elliptical orbit so sometimes it doesn't completely cover the face of the sun. But, there are plenty of planet-moon systems where the moon would completely cover the sun as seen from the host planet. It just covers the sun more than is necessary, so it's not an exact fit.

The reason that I say you need to define your terms is that without saying exactly what your definition of "exactly covers the sun" actually is, you could really claim uniqueness for anything. For example, you could say that Mars was especially created just the way it was because it's the only planet with two moons and neither moon can completely cover the sun during an eclipse. So why isn't Mars more special than Earth? Let's say we find a planet where the moon is on a more circular orbit and more often covers its host star exactly as seen from its planet's surface. Does that mean that it's artificial, too? Or does that mean that our's is even more special because sometimes we get the total solar eclipse and sometimes we get an annular eclipse?

Yes, it's true that this is an interesting coincidence at this point in time. But, without a priori definitions of something interesting and unique, you can point to any feature you want and say that makes us special therefore goddidit or it's artificial and donebyaliens™.

Magnetic Fields Block Information from the Sun, Staving Off Global Warming

Moving from the Moon to the Sun, we're going to revisit Gregg Braden, subject of Episode 17. One item I left out was the following clip, talking about the sun's magnetic field: [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, March 17, 2009, Hour 2, starting 31:29]

"This happens every time we go through one of these cycles. Where the magnetic fields have declined significantly. Uh, they're weaker now than they have been for the last 2000 years. Because those fields are weaker, we have more radiant information from the Sun - more, more heat. The atmosphere heats up, the oceans heat up. And when that happens, the ice on the poles begins to melt, and that's a lot of water.

About the only thing correct that Gregg Braden stated in there is that Earth's magnetic field is declining, at least for the last century and probably for the last 2000 years, as well. Well, also that if we get more heat, ice will melt. Everything else is wrong.

Somehow, Braden thinks that Earth's weaker magnetic field means that "information" from the sun gets to Earth's surface. Let's ignore that idea of "information" equating with "heat" and pretend he just said that it means more "heat" gets to Earth's surface. He's wrong. Magnetic fields have nothing to do with the permittivity of Earth's atmosphere to solar heat. Very close to 100% of the energy from the sun is carried by photons, also known as light. Photons are not blocked by planetary magnetic fields nor any magnetic fields because light is not a charged particle. Light from the Sun would hit Earth the exact same way whether we had a magnetic field or not.

Because of that, the rest of his statement is wrong. The atmospheric absorption of solar energy doesn't change, nor does the ocean absorption of light, so our declining magnetic field has nothing to do with global climate change.

Earth Is JUST Right

However, our distance from the Sun does, just not quite in the way that this person, Ken Parsons, thinks: [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, May 10, 2004, Hour 2, starting 34:46]

"If we were 1% closer to the Sun, we would burn to a crisp. If we were 1% further back, we'd be a frozen block of ice."

The exact nature of the habitability zone of the solar system -- or where in the solar system an Earth-like planet could be and still support life -- is difficult to define because of the numerous complexities of the exact composition of the atmosphere, amount of water in the ocean, and other things.

When I was studying this for a class about five years ago, the general agreed upon range is that if Earth were magically moved between roughly 5-10% closer to the sun or up to about 30-40% farther from the sun, it would still be habitable. In other words, still between Venus and Mars, but a fairly large amount of leeway. On the Wiipedia page that I'm linking to in the show notes, the most recent estimate listed is from a 1993 paper which looks to be what I was using five years ago -- Kasting et al. (1993) says that Earth could be between 95% and 137% its current distance and still be habitable.

And, literally just this week as I'm recording this, a newer estimate came out that still had the habitability zone starting at about 95% our current distance, but then extending to a bit past Mars' orbit, around 1.6 times the Earth-Sun distance.

There are earlier estimates by people in the late 1960s and early 1970s who put the range as much narrower, but this is really a field where you MUST look at the most recent material and give it more weight than the older estimates. Why? Because computers dramatically change what we know about this. You can do basic math and estimate what the carbon cycle will do if Earth were at Venus' location. But, only with computers can you start to really model how the carbon cycle will feedback into the water cycle, the role of volcanism and atmospheric gases being both added to or taken away from solar wind stripping. Faster computers and better models change these and, as a result, the older estimates of just a few percent difference and we'd be dead are less likely to be correct.

That said, Ken Parsons has no excuse: he made that statement in 2004, over 10 years after that earlier study. I'd say it's typical for a creationist such as him, but it's also typical for most pseudoscientists to take the few studies that support their claim and ignore all the others that don't.

And with this particular claim, I hear it fairly often, not just by creationists, but also by other people who feel they need to argue that Earth is special for their own pet idea. Brooks Agnew, a person I've mentioned before in context with the Hollow Earth and Comet Elenin, is one of those people. Agnew claims that the tolerance is only 50,000 miles, which isn't 1%, it's only a tolerance of 0.05%.

This in itself is interesting. Why? Because Earth's farthest distance from the Sun is called its aphelion, which is 152,098,232 kilometers, or 94,509,460 miles. Earth's closest distance to the Sun is called the perihelion, which is 147,098,290 km, or 91,402,640 miles. Interestingly for both Agnew's claim of 0.05% closer or farther and we'd burn or freeze, or Parson's claim that it's a 1% tolerance, aphelion and perihelion represent a ±1.7% range in distance. Yeah, nearly twice as much as Ken Parsons says is possible before we'd die, and over 33 times as much as Agnew says is possible before we'd die. Just from Earth's current orbit.

So much for that idea ...

Lunar Reflectivity

Another claim - of many - by Brooks Agnew has to do with the Moon's reflectivity: [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, March 2, 2005, Hour 3, starting 06:02]

"The Moon, being made of aluminum and-and titanium, has a reflectivity, uh-- The side that faces us is the side that faces us all the time. And it's got a-a dusting, as it were, of iron dust which makes it sort of dark, a little darker than it would normally be if it was just aluminum. On a full moon, in the middle of New Mexico, you can just about see your hand in front of your face in the middle of the night. It lights up the highway quite well. But if the other side of the moon faced us, the smoother side, the side without the huge craters on it, the side without the iron dusting on it, it would be 60 times brighter. You would need sunglasses at a full moon on the Earth. ... The sun would reflect so much off the surface of the Moon that there wouldn't be any night.

This is another case where there's honestly not much here that's correct. The very first sentence is that the Moon is made of aluminum and titanium. That's like saying Earth is made of potassium and aluminum.

By weight, Earth is primarily composed of iron at 32.1%, oxygen at 30.1%, and silicon at 15.1%. By number of atoms, Earth is mostly oxygen, then silicon, then potassium, calcium, and iron. The Moon is similar, with the most abundant element being oxygen, then silicon and magnesium with potassium and calcium thrown in.

So how does Agnew get this idea that it's made of aluminum and titanium? I'm guessing that it's because the crust of the moon - the brighter material as opposed to the volcanic flood plains which look darker - is primarily made of anorthosite. Anorthosite is a very large group of rocks defined as being mostly plagioclase feldspar which has a high content of the element anorthite. Of the various compositions of plagioclase, the predominant element that would be considered a metal by a layperson is aluminum, though it also has silicon, oxygen in it. My guess is that's how he feels justified in saying the moon is made of aluminum.

As for the titanium part, the lunar volcanic rocks are divided into a few groups, and one of those groups has a relatively large amount of titanium. It's not the primary element in the molecules and minerals that make up the rock, but it's a metal that may stand out to someone if they see it listed in the bulk composition.

So the Moon is NOT primarily made of aluminum and titanium, in fact it's depleted in aluminum relative to Earth, but those elements are present in many of the rocks that make up the surface today.

The third sentence, that the Moon has an iron dust that makes it sort of dark, but only on the side that faces us, is a claim that I can't figure out the origin of. It's wrong, but I'm not even sure how he got to that claim as opposed to me being able to work back the aluminum/titanium one.

The next sentence, that full moons are bright, is true, though again it's a relative scale. It's no where near as bright as the sun, but it's bright enough to read by, but so is the faint light from my old-school cellular telephonic device. The moon's surface reflects about 12% of the light that reaches it, making it only about 1/3 as reflective as Earth, on average.

This means that Agnew's next statement, that the moon would be 60x brighter if the other side faced us, is not only wrong, it's impossible. It's wrong because it's just about as bright as the side that faces us. Because it doesn't have as many darker lava floodplains as the current near side, it would be slightly brighter on average, but you would not notice the difference. It's not even a factor of 2, let alone a factor of 60. The reason it can't be a factor of 60 brighter is that 60 times 12% is 720%. You can't reflect over 7 times as much light as you receive. I feel weird having to say that, but apparently some people don't realize it.

Denying Extrasolar Planets Exist

Jumping the solar system and moving out, this next clip is from Jeffrey Grupp, who thinks that deep feelings inside of you can alter reality in ways that you want. He took a bit of time to discuss why plate tectonics is wrong and extrasolar planets don't exist because they're hard to measure: [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, September 7, 2011, Hour 3, starting 03:09]

The first demonstrably wrong statement is that exoplanets are not ever directly imaged. This is wrong. It was true a decade ago, but not anymore, as there are a handful of cases where exoplanets have been directly imaged, directly observed around their host star.

The next implication, not quite outright statement, is that because these measurements are hard to make, they're questionable and may be wrong. A statement like that shows he has no concept of how the scientific observation process actually works. A good analogy is that it's like saying hard to precisely measure the passage of time on the nanosecond level, therefore laser ranging - using the time it takes for light from a laser to bounce off an object and return - can't be done. That completely ignores the fact that as the technology and methods improve, we get better at it, errors decrease, and very precise results can be had and laser ranging is now used by most surveyors with accuracies of up to a few millimeters, which corresponds to measurements at the picosecond level. Most are accurate to the meter level, which corresponds to accuracies in timing to the roughly nanosecond level.

You can probably see where this is going. My point is that all because the measurement is hard and that it may take a lot of time to sift through the data, it does not mean it can't be done.

The next claim, that announcements are made and then retracted, makes it sound like this happens all the time. It doesn't. He's just wrong. Of the literally over 1000 exoplanets that have been discovered as of the end of 2012, much less than 10% have ever been retracted, and most retractions came very early on in exoplanet research, around the turn of the millennium.

Response from the Scientific Community

To wrap up this episode, I'm going to go back to the guys who started it out. In this clip, Christopher Knight discusses why he thinks his idea of time-traveling humans building the moon with black holes is valid: [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, December 7, 2005, Hour 3, starting 17:30]

"We took our books when they first came out, and we sent them to a whole series of leading scientists, and begged and plead with these people to get back to us and tell us where we had gone wrong. In other words, where were our numbers wrong. And, um, the reaction has been absolutely nothing. And we feel sure that if somebody could take our book to pieces and say, 'Look, you invented this, or look you massaged this, or look you've made this,' that somebody would have done so by now. And the fact is that our numbers are sound. And if our numbers are sound, then the strangeness of the Moon is sound. We need some explanation!"

As the puzzler for this episode, what logical fallacy or fallacies best sum up that statement?

Here's what actually probably happened, and I'm speaking from personal experience here. I've gotten innumerable e-mails from people peddling their own crazy ideas. Once, I even got a full-color, several hundred-page-long soft-backed book that claimed to prove that Saturn's rings are a result of œther particle dynamics and galaxy rotation or something like that. Actually, several of us who were working on Saturn's rings dynamics at the time got that book. They all ask us to review it or to tell them where they went wrong or some such thing. We never respond.

In my case, I don't respond for two reasons. The first is that I don't have the time to take out of my day to deal with their stuff. The second follows on that: I don't want to acknowledge that they sent me something because if I respond, I'm afraid it would start a back-and-forth that would waste even more of my time.

That's what very, very likely happened in this case. I can guarantee you that if I got an unsolicited book in the mail where the premise was that time-traveling people from the future created the Moon in the past by making black holes to draw material off Earth to make the Moon and then turned the black holes "off," I would roll my eyes and use the book as a doorstop.

AstronomyCast addressed this once, but unfortunately I can't find the episode. It might have been during an interview on SGU. Anyway, the reason for what may seem like such a callous response is that these people don't play by the same rules as everyone else. They usually expect to be able to take a bunch of disparate ideas - some maybe perfectly valid, some completely wrong - and use them to support a completely "out there" idea. And they expect it to be accepted.

What they have to do if they want attention is to play by the same rules as the rest of us -- they have to show not only that their idea is valid by using REAL and VALIDATED information, but they also have to show how it fits all the other data that is explained by the mainstream idea. They have to look at the lines of evidence that support, in this case, the Moon being formed by the giant impact idea and show how all the evidence used to support that model also supports theirs. They have to show that their model works with the other accepted physics that they aren't trying to overturn ... like how you can "shut off" a black hole, or how material drawn off of Earth goes into orbit and forms a Moon as opposed to getting eaten by the black hole. And go through the peer review process. Not publish a book, send it unsolicited to some people, and when they don't respond, claim that silence means they're right.

Provide Your Comments:

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

Paul   Los Angeles

4:10am on Thursday, February 7th, 2013 

Puzzler: The first implication he is making is that 1) The scientists mentioned are unable to prove his theory wrong(why he asserts this ill get to next), thus 2) His theory must be correct.

On the whole, this is a blatant appeal to authority, let's call this fallacy AUTH.

Inside of this fallacy he commits a Non-Sequitur. It is an unsound logical assertion that if A) I send my book to someone, and B) I receive no response from that someone, therefore C) This someone believes fully the entire content of my book. Let's call this fallacy NONSEQ.

Those first two fallacies are tied together, each would cause the other to fail even if the other was not fallacious in itself already.

Just for good order though, he throws in a third unrelated fallacy at the end that fails to consider the scientific method itself. "If our numbers are sound, then the strangeness of the moon is sound." .... This one is tougher to give the right name, but I believe It is a version of Affirmng the Con... read more »

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