To A Ufologist, The Answer Is So Obvious

For a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a conspiracy theorist’s brain, check out this hilarious explanation of the super-duper-hyper-speed-top-secret-military-drone that was captured in this video of an Iranian missile test on October 8th. There’s some spooky music added to the edited FOX News coverage to get you in the mood:

So do you see what the conspiracy is? Something really fast shot through the clouds just after Iran launched their Shahab-3 rocket. Obviously there is something weird about that, right?

It’s OK, Nick Pope is on the case.

One theory is that it’s a secret American drone. At any time there are prototype aircraft and drones being operated that won’t be shown in public for years.

Stealth aircraft flew for many years before their existence was acknowledged.

But the speed and acceleration seems phenomenal. I’m not convinced we’ve got anything capable of such manoeuvres.”

Oh come on Nick, you can’t fool us! You know it’s not a classified military aircraft don’t you. In your expert opinion, you’re “not convinced we’ve got anything capable of such manoeuvres.” Don’t leave us hanging, just say it. We won’t judge you. Much.

Obviously leaning toward the extraterrestrial argument, Pope — who was once a UFO advisor to the British Ministry of Defence — appears to have numbed all the reasoning functions of his brain. He’s taken one look at the video footage — probably with an amazed look on his face, mouth open wide — and when asked by reporters what he saw, he responds with a smug look of knowing. There be aliens in them clouds.

As you might have guessed from the video, it’s certainly not a UFO. Hell, it’s not even a flying object. It’s a shadow. For observers in the space community who see rocket launches all the time, shadows of rocket smoke trails often fall on clouds. In the case of the Iranian missile launch (which, in actuality, is the real concern in this footage), the sunlight is coming from the right of the picture. As the missile passes through the altitude at which the Sun lines up with the cloud, a shadow dissects the cloud. It really is that simple. Any confusion about the altitude of the cloud is down to the angle of the camera view and the opacity of the cloud.

For his continuing UFO studies, I think Pope should be doing more research on how to recognize shadows rather than letting his imagination run rampant. However, it is interesting to see how the brain of a prominent ufologist works; zero skeptical thought, oodles of imagination and conspiracy theories behind every cloud.

The Guardian Tackles the Moon Landing Hoax… Badly

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I despise the so called Moon landing hoax with every fibre of my being, this is probably the reason why I don’t write about it much. Besides, other bloggers do a great job of slamming the conspiracy theorist claims, so there’s little point in me weighing in to pick at the left-overs. Every hoax claim has been debunked to the point that there really can be no doubt that 40 years ago, we landed on the Moon. In fact, we did it six times.

Hoax rehash

As we fast approach the 40 year anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on July 20th, there’s bound to be articles posted about the hoax, but I find that rather frustrating. Here we are, preparing to celebrate mankind’s biggest accomplishment, and there’s that annoying background static of conspiracy theorists trying to divert attention to their small minded idiocy. Oh well, that’s life.

Unfortunately it’s another day, and another occasion where the UK media lets us down. Sure, I get the fact that we’re nearing the lunar landing anniversary, I also get the fact that everyone loves a good conspiracy, I even get the fact that the media wants to exploit this opportunity to get more traffic, but this Guardian.co.uk slideshow seems very… uncomfortable.

The worst thing about it is that they’ve switched the goal posts. They call the conspiracy theorists “skeptics” and the logically-minded, “believers.” I might be nit-picking, but that is a terrible way to look at it.

We went to the Moon

In 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins went to the Moon. Neil and Buzz had a wander around on the lunar surface, checked it out, gave the Apollo Program their seal of approval and we then saw another five Apollo launches until 1972. These are all facts. This is history. Granted, we haven’t been back in 40 years, but the point is, we’ve done it.

There has never been one NASA employee that has shouted “conspiracy,” which seems surprising considering the sheer number of NASA staff that would have had to fake the landings to make them happen. No, judging by the scale of such a scam, it would be easier to send man to the Moon instead! So, did we go to the Moon in 1969? YES!

Skeptical believers? Believable skeptics? What?

Going back to the Guardian slideshow, it might be a good summary of the conspiracy theorist claims, but it’s a tired, re-hashing of all the old bunkum even the Mythbusters ground into the lunar dust a long time ago. Plus, it puts way too much weight behind the conspiracy theory itself; the text causes confusion as to what a “skeptic” is and what a “believer” is.

A skeptic is a person who uses skeptical thought to look at the evidence rationally to arrive at a logical conclusion. All the evidence points to the fact we’ve been to the Moon. Therefore, no Moon landing hoax. We went to the Moon, simple.

A believer is a person who depends on faith, not evidence, to arrive at a conclusion. The “believers” in this case should be the ones who believe there was a hoax, and not vice versa.

Sorry, but the Guardian got it ass-backwards this time.

Source: Guardian.co.uk

There’s a 2012 Doomsday Turkey in my Crop Circle

Wow, look at that title for some keyword stuffing! Stuffing… get it?

Phoenix? Turkey? They're both birds, so it's close enough (M & Y PORTSMOUTH)
Phoenix? Turkey? They're both birds, so it's close enough (M & Y PORTSMOUTH)

The Telegraph: bedrock of traditional journalism, pinnacle of UK news reporting– I’m sorry, I can’t finish that sentence, I’m too busy crying with laughter.

Seriously. I mean, seriously. Sure, everyone needs to remain competitive in this ultra-fast world of social media and transient online traffic, but there’s a lot to be said for keeping your integrity too. In this master stroke of continued patchy reporting from the UK’s Telegraph we have a serious ‘news’ report about a crop circle, that depicts the Phoenix flying from the ashes. Or is it a turkey?

What could this possibly mean? Oh yes, I might have guessed. Obviously it means the world is going to end on December 21st 2012. What a coincidence, those Mayan fellas have been saying the same thing all along. Now we have crop circles? And crop circle enthusiasts telling us it’s the end of the world? Holy crapcakes, doomsday really is coming. I’ve been such a fool.

The saving grace about this article is that it hasn’t been filed under ‘science’, unlike the “Mars Skull” hilarity a few weeks ago. But that’s the article’s only saving grace.

I’d understand if there was a little scepticism in the tone of the report, or perhaps a little light-hearted banter about aliens and their fetish for bending corn, but unfortunately this is an article that jumps to one huge conclusion:

Crop circles = Doomsday

It really is that simple. Reading signs in bent corn has been the fodder for doomsday theorists for as long as there have been doomsday theories and this report does nothing to challenge that. Is it really that hard to find a skeptic/scientist/logical thinker in Wiltshire these days?

I might be missing something here, but where’s the link between these crop circles and doomsday in 2012? That’s right, there isn’t one.

And I’m now certain that crop circle depicts a turkey

Source: Telegraph.co.uk (YES, I know! The sodding TELEGRAPH!)

Sunday Opinion: Astroengine Gets Vaccinated

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NOTE: This post is a little light on the space science, but keep reading, you’ll see why I’m making such a big thing out of my trip to the doctors…

Yesterday was supposed to be a very productive blog-writing day, however, like all good plans, the day didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

For a start, I heard news about a wildfire on my doorstep (it started literally a few hundred metres from my house, and I was only alerted to this fact via Twitter – I wondered what all those helicopters were doing), which prompted me to run outside looking for an ominous smokestack, only to find I was an hour too late and the blaze had been put out by the superb LAFD.

Then I had to play babysitter to Astroengine.com’s server in the hope I was going to get hit by a flood of Digg traffic some… time… soon…

Then I had to let the rabbits out for a run. Barney felt the need to stick his head in the pool, so I decamped my office into the garden so I could make sure he didn’t decide to take a swim. Oh, there’s a lizard! She’s massive! Where’s my camera?

Then I had to run to the bank.

Oh yes, then I had to get to my appointment at the docs to have my tetanus vaccine booster.

Of all the things I hate in the world, syringes come a frightening third after slugs and tall buildings (don’t ask, just look up batophobia). However, these are phobias. If I start using logic and seriously consider all the scary stuff that could happen to me, I’d be most reluctant to become horribly sick and be responsible for infecting others with a nasty, preventable illness.

Hence the vaccine. And the achy arm.

I actually have a strange love for doctors surgeries, as soon as I walk through those doors, I hand all responsibility for my body to the specialists in white white and blue coats. If anything health-wise should happen, at least I have a team that can diagnose me and hopefully repair me. Yes, bad things happen in medical centres, but I’d much rather take my chances with highly professional individuals with years of training and a huge stack of qualifications, than leave things “to chance”.

So there I was sitting in the waiting room, trying to stay calm as I saw the nurse fill up the syringe with fluid from a tiny vial.

Naturally, I started chatting to try to distract myself from thinking too much about the jab. “Do you get many people not wanting to take vaccines?” I asked the nurse.

What do you mean?

Well, there’s this growing anti-vaccination movement I’ve read so much about,” I said, a little surprised she appeared to be genuinely surprised by the notion. “Some celebrities have taken it upon themselves to spread misinformation about the link between vaccines and the onset of autism in children.”

I heard about that,” she said, realizing what I was nervously talking about while staring at the needle in her hands. “But they are crazy, right? I mean, since when did they know anything about medicine?

As it turns out, the only complaint she’d heard from parents about the need to vaccinate their children is the cost, but even then there are options for financial help.

When I left the medical centre with a sore arm, I felt a little different than I had done in the past.

When getting my vaccinations in the UK, it was always a routine affair that required no thought, it was just one of those things you needed to function in society. It’s one of those things I had to do. Looking at my medical records, I received my first vaccine when I was a baby and throughout my life I’ve had regular shots (or as I call them “jabs” which my Mrs Astroengine finds highly amusing). I can quite safely say that I will never catch mumps, measles, rubella, hepatitis and a whole host of other nasties, because my immune system has been bolstered by a history of vaccinations.

Vaccines are highly successful, almost too successful.

Many life-threatening diseases have been wiped out by the widespread use of vaccines, leading to some misinformed individuals to believe vaccines are no longer needed (on the contrary). Then there’s the misplaced (and completely wrong) notion that vaccines are somehow linked with childhood autism. This is a topic that is as insane as it is bewildering, and what’s worse, Los Angeles has become a hothouse of stupid celebrities who think they have every right to be peddling their belief that parents should not vaccinate their kids.

Having seen Jenny McCarthy on the TV a LOT (no red carpet is safe from her Christian Diors), I’m quickly realising the media has a lot of sympathy for her views about the connection between autism and the MMR vaccine. Unfortunately, this makes her extremely vocal in my neck of the woods, and many of her anti-science remarks blend in with her celebritydom, so her message is very well polished, and very… reasonable. People listen to her, and when hubby Jim Carrey wades in with his crazy take of reality on the biggest blogging platforms, even more parents start to think twice about their choice to protect their children against deadly viruses.

If all of this is news to you I urge you to read up on it via Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy. Phil has been bringing this topic up a lot, and at first I wondered what all the fuss was about. Then I had conversations with neighbours and family and many of them are concerned about Jenny et al.’s views on the topic. Fortunately, they all have the common sense to talk to a medical professional before making any rash decisions about boycotting vaccines. Their concerns were laid to rest by the GPs, nurses and healthcare professionals who don’t have the celebrity soap box so many of the famous are using for their personal crusades. So we need more professionals and scientists like Phil who actually know what they are talking about.

Science is a collection of facts, not a collection of personal opinions and beliefs, a notion many people don’t seem to understand. And judging by the density of palm-readers and psychics in my neighbourhood, there’s a lot of people who choose belief of the paranormal over logic.

So, when I walked away from the medical centre, marvelling at the protective injection I had just received (a little bit proud about how I didn’t pass out at the sight of the needle), I felt sad for the kids out there whose parents deemed it necessary to listen to the idiocy spewing from the plumped lips of an ex-Playboy model. Those children could become ill due to negligence (it is parental negligence), and there are an increasing number of deaths associated with diseases that were once unheard of in modern society.

I don’t have children, but when I do, I’ll make sure I’d read up on all the scientific facts first, but they will certainly be vaccinated. For me, vaccines are imperative for “herd immunity” and essential for a healthy society. Individuals who are un-vaccinated could easily become carriers of deadly diseases. In my eyes, an un-vaccinated child could be viewed as a potential weapon. If they are immunized at an early age, their bodies have the ability to fight off contagious disease, preventing unnecessary suffering and, ultimately, improve the health of society as a whole.

Conclusion

So why did I bother to go off-piste and discuss my concern about antivaxxers?

We live in a revolutionary age for mankind. We are exploring space, we have unbelievable technology, we are processing data at a faster rate than ever before. We communicate globally. Medical technology is helping us live for longer than ever before. We are stronger and more intelligent. On paper, mankind is doing pretty well. Yes, there are massive issues challenging us (climate change, economic crises, disasters, overpopulation etc.), but never before have we been able to confront these problems so well. If we had infinite resources and a strong political direction, the Universe could be our oyster.

But as with the antivax movement, anti-science and religious interference with science could undermine our very existence on this planet. Imagine a future where we have constructed a low-Earth orbit infrastructure, sending probes into deep space; we have quantum computing and fusion power. And yet a large portion of the “developed” world distrusts science at its core. Every year there’s a doomsday prophecy. Despite all the scientific evidence against, classrooms are teaching evolution along-side “intelligent design”. Some kids think the Universe is 6,000 years old, others know it is in fact 13.73 billion years old.

And then there’s the Jenny McCarthy’s of this world, spreading nonsense about why we should fear immunization. The media eats that stuff for breakfast, can you imagine what the media could be eating for dinner in a decade? The physical health of entire nations could be put in jeopardy. Who can advance mankind when borders are closed and our brightest minds are dying because of a pandemic caused by a mutated strain of a virus that should have been controlled decades ago?

Having fought a pitched battle with 2012 doomsday advocates for the last year, I’m seeing a pattern emerge. Anti-science is rocking the foundations of mankind, and if you don’t believe me, you need to spend some more time on the internet (a medium by which everyone has a voice, no matter how insane). For every science website, there’s ten websites with pseudo-science ramblings. Unfortunately, now that bigger entities are finding new and inventive ways to make money from people’s fear, I get the feeling we’ve seen nothing yet…

So, that was my big day of getting vaccinated. Interestingly, the most profound moment came at the medical centre as I was leaving with a Band Aid on my arm. The nurse who injected me, obviously thinking about what we were talking about in the waiting room said something very interesting. She asked me why people thought there was some elevated risk associated with vaccinations, after all, all medication carries some kind of “risk” (but the probability of anything bad happening is very, very small). As researched by my friend Greg Fish, these “toxins” don’t sound half as bad if you understand exactly what those scary-sounding ingredients actually are, and in what quantities they are administered.

Do these people have any idea how many toxins they breathe in every day?” the nurse asked as I walked out the door, referring to McCarthy and Carrey. Pointing at the traffic outside she added, “LA isn’t exactly known for it’s clean air!

Good point, I thought.

Astroengine Featured on the Geologic Podcast #106!

geologicpodcast-art-shado-med

From now on, I will listen to Prince’s “Sexy Mother F*cker” with great affection…

I mentioned I had listened to the Geologic Podcast the other day to hear George Hrab’s rendition of the awesome Occasional Songs For The Periodic Table.

It was strange, as I remembered chatting to George about that when I was ordering my nth beer at the AAS party in January, but I thought nothing more of it until I was idly chatting about something on Twitter. Like so many micro-blogging conversational experiences, I have no idea what we were talking about or how we got onto the topic of the Periodic Table and I remembered my drunken chat with George. At that moment, like a flash of enlightenment, @MsInformation pointed me in the right direction so I could listen to that particular song. It was in fact a series of songs compiled into one epic feature. This is one of the many reasons why I love Twitter, I can think without needing to think.

To my complete surprise, earlier today @MsInformation (I really should ask for Ms Information’s name…) dropped me a message to say I was featured on today’s yesterday’s (Thursday’s) Geologic Podcast. Happily surprised about this turn of events, I navigated to the podcast site, intrigued by the warning, “I hope you won’t be offended.”

I certainly was not offended, more extremely flattered and very, very entertained! You could say I’m a huge fan of the Geologic Podcast, and not just because I was featured, but because it is bloody fantastic! In episode 106, there’s everything from cows urine, “Religious Moron of the Week” to some great views from the maestro himself George Hrab, featuring Ms Information. I love George’s strong opinions and unwavering wit, so be sure to check it out.

Warning: Some of the content of the Geologic Podcast is not suitable for minors, might not be suitable for work (depending on whether you work in a hospital or a brothel – the latter will probably be fine), but it will certainly give you tough love in the sceptical thought department!

Listen into Episode 106 (March 5th, 2009) of the Geologic Podcast »

Thank you George and Ms Information!