“Assume the simple position” (Occam’s Razor)

BQ

I have been doing this long enough and with enough frequency that if one read a post a day it would take a year to finish the blog. I heartily encourage this activity, but for readers lacking the time or ambition, I can sum up the blog’s contents as being an endorsement of Occam’s Razor. This is the notion that, all other things being equal, the solution that makes the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one. Closely related to the Razor is the notion of the burden of proof, which states that the person making an assertion is required to provide evidence for it and not merely challenge listeners to disprove it.

Carl Sagan famously noted that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Suppose I amble into work late and my co-workers wonder why. One postulates that I may have encountered the road construction they had. They were there, it happened to them, they know I take the same route, so that seems a likely reason. But another wonders if I was delayed by persons on horseback engaged in a medieval war reenactment, which had taken place over the weekend on a family farm. A third co-worker speculates that I may have slipped into a wormhole where aliens detained me to obtain skin and blood samples before releasing me back onto my usual route.

The first choice requires just one assumption, that I had encountered the same construction as my co-worker had. From there, the number of assumptions increase. The equestrian excuse would require that the reenactment went beyond the scheduled date and took place in a locale other than its designated point. The final explanation would require assuming the existence in Moline of both wormholes and aliens and assume I had encountered both on my commute.

Anyone espousing the third option would have the highest difficulty level since it employs the most assumptions to reach its conclusions. Still, such attempts to shift the burden of proof and bypass Occam’s Razor happen all the time.

O.J. Simpson’s defense team attempted to shift the burden to the prosecution by trying to make it prove that Nicole wasn’t killed by Colombian drug dealers who mistook her for Faye Resnick. Judge Lance Ito disallowed this line of reasoning, owing to a total lack of evidence. “Prove it wasn’t drug dealers” is not a valid defense argument and such reasoning is not critical thinking.

While the number of assumptions is important, so too are the quality of those assumptions. The Simpson trial, like most criminal cases, had prosecutors assuming  the defendant’s guilt and defense lawyers presuming his innocence. But there was no reason to think drug lords were targeting Faye Resnick, much less confusing her for Nicole Brown Simpson, as this required more assumptions than concluding that the relevant evidence included a trail of O.J.’s DNA leading from the crime scene to his vehicle and residence, his history of abusing the victim, and bloody shoe imprints. 

Now let’s apply this to science. A blogger at logicofscience.com wrote about authoring a paper on the diet of a turtle species. In his research, he collected the shelled creatures, had them defecate in a bucket, then examined the feces. There, he found a variety of plants, insects, and crawfish. The conclusion was that these turtles ate a variety of plants, insects, and crawfish, since this explanation required the fewest assumptions.

The biology blogger noted he could have instead deduced that “someone went out before me, captured the turtles, force fed them crawfish, then put the turtles back into the pond.” Or he could have assumed this force feeding was done by aliens. But theses options would require unfounded assumptions, the latter necessitating a step beyond even the middle choice. Such conclusions are usually instances of begging the question, where speakers reach the conclusion first, then attempt to buoy that conclusion with unproven premises.

No one takes issue with the science when it involves reptile diets or other noncontroversial topics that leave world views and favored industries untouched. But if the scientific conclusions do impact those areas, there are those who seek to dull Occam’s razor, beg the question, and contort themselves in order to finagle around the evidence.

Young Earth Creationists, for example, insist all animals and plants were destroyed in a worldwide flood 5,000 years ago. This means that in the YEC scenario, all corals today would had to have started growing around the time the Pyramids were constructed. But corals grow about a foot a year under ideal conditions. The Great Barrier Reef would have taken more than 500,000 years to reach its current size.

For corals to have gotten as large as they are today, if they only started growing 5,000 years ago, they would had to have grown at a rate many times more than  has ever been observed. The standard YEC response is that perhaps growth rates were much faster in the past than they are now and that the rate has slowed down exponentially since, for reasons unknown.

They employ the same thought process with being able to see stars millions of light years away. This proves Earth has been around at least as long as it has taken the most distant starlight to reach us. But the YEC answer is that maybe the speed of light has not been constant. The coral and starlight responses are both instances of ad hoc reasoning backed by no evidence. It requires assuming that an aspect of botany or astronomy is much different from what has ever been observed or recorded. It is also begging the question. They begin with the assumption that a worldwide flood wiped everything out 5,000 years ago, then try to make all evidence (or in these cases, speculation) fit that assumption. They go from conclusion to evidence, whereas science works the other way.

A third area of creative deduction by YECs centers of alternating layers of light and dark sediment that accumulate in lakes. The different colors are the result of seasonal changes, with light layers made in winter and dark ones made in the summer. Some lake centers feature millions of these layers, so we can draw one of these conclusions:

  1. A set of two layers forms every year in these lakes. Some lakes contain millions of layers. Therefore these lakes are millions of years old.
  1. Layers were formed during the flood, through an unknown mechanism. By a second unknown means, floodwaters sorted the particles into alternating layers of sediment, then the layers managed to form only over lake beds, and did so at a rate of 10 layers per minute, rather than two per annum, which is the only rate that has been observed.

The YEC takes on these occurrences requires rejecting all data and scientists’ understanding of the natural processes involved. Their response to the scientifically-deduced facts are to offer unsupported ad hoc speculation that proposes unknown and unworkable mechanisms. They fail to manage even the first step in the Scientific Method, observation, because no one has observed the phenomena they claim are occurring. As our turtle excrement-collecting blogger noted, “If we grant creationists the ability to create unknown mechanisms in order to derive interpretations that match their pre-existing biases, then an infinite number of interpretations become possible. It is always possible to generate an ad hoc argument, which is why Occam’s Razor is so important. It tells us that the solution that makes the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one.”

That is why almost all conspiracy theories collapse under the weight of Occam’s Razor. Some anti-vaxxers claim that pharmaceutical executives pay immunologists to say vaccines don’t cause autism. Here, we have two options:

  1. Ethical scientists reach their conclusions through sound research.
  2. These hundreds of researchers from multitudinous institutions and companies are being paid to falsify data. Moreover, none of these hundreds who are in it solely for ill-gotten gain have been lured away by wealthy anti-vaxxers offering to pay them more.

This shill accusation is similar to the charge leveled at climate scientists. On this issue, the two primary competing options are:

  1. 99.8 percent of the 12,000 peer-reviewed papers published in the last five years have attested to anthropogenic global warming, so this is likely happening.
  2. Anonymous elites are paying these thousands of climate scientists to reach this conclusion and fabricate data, yet this plan is being foiled by oil company executives and Facebook posters exposing the plot.

Again, from the logicofscience: “Ask whether there is any reason to think the scientists are corrupt other than the fact that you don’t like their conclusions.”

Going back to the Sagan quote, if one is going to assert the scientific consensus is wrong about climate change, the Big Bang, evolution, vaccines, or GMOs, it is insufficient to offer, “Were you there when the universe began?” or “Follow the money trail.” The burden of proof is on the speaker to provide clear, well-researched, and reasoned evidence for their position.

In some instances, there is no damage other than to the listener’s intelligence. Ancient Aliens attempted to branch into evolutionary biology by suggesting extraterrestrial visitors may have altered dinosaur DNA in order to have them develop into smaller creatures like birds and coelacanth.

In other instances, the misinformation is fatal. Anti-vaxxers mistakenly cite improved sanitation and nutrition as the reason for the decline in infectious diseases over the last century and a half. While those were welcomed health advances, when it comes to disease eradication, here are the two choices offered:

  1. Vaccines work by mimicking disease agents for the real deal, which is why instances of the diseases plummet after vaccines are introduced, and spike when vaccination rates fall.
  2. The introduction of vaccines has coincidentally occurred at a time when the impacts of improved sanitation and nutrition were beginning to be seen. This benefit has extended to countries with deplorable sanitation like India. This has even effected airborne diseases like rubella, which are impacted by sanitation and nutrition improvements by an unknown means. A decline in vaccine rates does not impact disease; rather there has been a coincidental reduction in sanitary and nutrition benefits for unknown reasons when vaccine rates go down. The reason all this is not universal knowledge is because nearly every immunologist is pumping out fabricated propaganda to discredit sanitation and nutrition improvements and cover for vaccines, which actually cause disease.

Those who embrace the latter idea also cotton to the idea of a repressed cancer cure. But which requires the fewest assumptions: That oncologists have been unable to find a panacea for a disease that has more than 100 variations, or that they have, but are eschewing everlasting fame, untold fortune, worldwide adulation, and the chance to spare them and their loved ones, in order to continue enriching the pharmaceutical industry, which has yet to figure out there is more money to be saved in selling that cure?

Meanwhile, 9/11 Truthers talk about the hijackers having little flight training and Tower 7 collapsing despite not bearing a direct hit. They hypothesize that Flight 93 was shot down, insist that a missile hit the Pentagon, and make repeated references to jet fuel and steel beams. However, even if all their claims were valid, it would no more indicate guilt by the Bush Administration that it would cause blame to fall on Islamic terrorists, communists, the Irish Republican Army, or the few remaining Branch Davidians. Which requires the fewest assumptions: That a wealthy and committed terrorist leader with the means and stated desire to pull of such an attack did so, as indicated by passenger phone calls, conversations between hijackers and air traffic control, and flight manifests; or that it was all an elaborate hoax that included WTC security workers, victim’s family members, the airlines, Pentagon witnesses, BBC reporters, and even Philippines police officers, who in 1995 uncovered and turned over to the FBI evidence of what became the 9/11 plot?

One final example, focusing on Bigfoot, which has two primary options. Which of these contains the fewest assumptions?

  1. A complete lack of verifiable evidence strongly suggests its non-existence.
  2. A sustainable population of eight-foot bipedal apes has lived, bred, hunted, and roamed from the Northwest Territories to the Bayou for two centuries without once being shot by a hunter, hit by a vehicle, or leaving behind a corpse, skeleton, fur patch, or excrement.

It is not on me to disprove an ad hoc rationale about a troop of lumbering beasts mastering stealth and adroitly avoiding human contact at all cost. The burden falls on those who make these assertions the centerpiece of their Sasquatch Science.

“Considering the source” (Ancient aliens)

DRAGPYR

One of the points emphasized by ancient astronaut proponents is that cultures which had no knowledge of each other produced similar structures. This supposedly suggests a common source provided the technology and ingenuity to make wonders such as the step pyramids in Mexico, Egypt, Indonesia, and Iran.  

Ken Ham employs similar logic with dragons, pointing out there are similar tales, descriptions, and artwork of such creatures in different civilizations and times. He uses this to bolster support for his belief in flying, fire-breathing beasts. Blogger Nicole Canfield does the same with fairies, positing that stories of diminutive playful humanoids in disparate cultures attests to the creatures’ existence.

There’s actually quite a bit of difference in how fairies have been depicted in various cultures and periods. Some of the earliest fairies appeared in Roman myths, where they were female personifications of destiny. They exemplified wisdom and power, so were portrayed as being matronly or even ancient and were bedecked in standard fashion for senior women of the time. By the Middle Ages, fairies had gotten hold of Dr. Oz’s anti-aging cream and were usually thought of as resembling little girls in virginal white. Accoutrements like pointy hats, wings, and flower petal necklaces were creations of the Victorian Era. These instances of sprite evolution likely rile Ken Ham, so we’ll let him and Canfield bicker over the legitimacy of that occurrence; meanwhile we’ll focus on whether step pyramids that resemble each other indicate a common, extraterrestrial origin.

The key question is whether the similar features of the pyramids were necessary for function. If peripheral elements of the pyramids are identical, that likely would suggest that those constructing them were drawing from the same source. If those peripheral elements are different, the pyramids were likely independent inventions of each culture.  

Unfortunately for ancient alien aficionados, the step pyramids’ lone similarity is design. They are built in a logical way, with the larger, heavier steps supporting the weight of the smaller, lighter ones, which also allow the structure to be ascended.

Other than that, the structures differ. The number of steps, the height, the design at the top, and what they were used for all varied by civilization. That which was necessary for function is the same everywhere, but the aesthetics, cultural, and artistic underpinnings differ.

Steven Novella noted that many cultures have come up with similar living residences (“quadrangular structures with walls at 90 degree angles,” is how he put it). Yet there are no History Channel episodes suggesting aliens were constructing these homes in between finishing off the Moai and commencing with Macau Picchu.

Additionally, archeologists have studied and understand the evolution of pyramid design and construction. They started out as bench-like burial mounds for pharaohs and ended up as the massive structures that today are synonymous with ancient Egypt.

Since there’s no reason to believe ancient Egyptians, Persians, Mesoamericans, and Indonesians were drawing from the same source, the alien angle is even less relevant. And even if we had a reason to suspect homogony, we could stay Earthbound.

There is an Incan city wall that alien proponents consider to be beyond the abilities of primitive craftsmen. They maintain the Incans lacked the technology to shape huge stones to such precise degrees that a piece of paper cannot fit between them. However, retired architect John McCauley demonstrated how all one would need would be boards, ropes, sticks, stakes, bronze pounders, and flint scrapers: http://tiny.cc/c7wily. The tools were rudimentary, but the ingenuity was irreproachable, and the dedication unrivaled – this was a multi-year project.

There’s enough awesomeness in our universe that there’s no reason to fabricate any. It is, for instance, fascinating that there were a people without electricity, power tools, or motorized transport, and who were limited to indigenous resources, who still constructed grand structures that stand millennium later. But these civilizations also dreamt up terrible ideas that are long forgotten, and that is why the ancient alien notion is an instance of survivorship bias. This is when one focuses on the greatest successes of a group, idea, or object and consequently ascribes inflated abilities to it. Ancient alien believers consider the architecture far beyond the means of a primitive people, yet they never see the trial and error that led to the great successes.

Steve Jobs is an inspiring tale of a college dropout who started in his parents’ garage and built one of the world’s largest private employers. Yet we see only him, not the untold masses who attempted a similar journey and never made it out of the garage. While confidence, vision, and ambition are important, they are no guarantee of success or even adequacy.

During World War II, the Navy was trying to make its planes less susceptible to being shot down. Plans were developed to add armor to the plane parts that showed the most damage upon return from battle. But ruminating statistician Abraham Wald noted this approach only considered craft that had survived their mission. They had been hit in places they could be struck and still return safely. Therefore, the armor should be added to places not showing damage – places which aircraft that had not returned had likely been hit.

Alien enthusiasts see the pyramids, Moai, or Tholos of Delphi, and consider them evidence of extreme outsourcing done by advanced visitors. They never see the structures that were razed because of their impracticality, poor craftsmanship, or inability to weather attacks from a Ken Ham dragon.

“Helicopter apparent” (Abydos temple image)

phwings

Pharaohs received luxurious accommodations during their lifetimes and even nicer surroundings once they died. In the case of 13th Century BCE ruler Seti I, a  mortuary temple was built for him in Abydos.

This site would be little-known outside of Egyptology and anthropology circles were it not for a creative interpretation of part of the inscription on its walls. Some consider it evidence that ancient Egyptians had conquered flight in the form of helicopters. Here is the image, seen in the top row, second apophenia manifestation on the left:

copter

The image could also be said to resemble a locust but no one is going to recruit fervent supporters with that kind of hypothesis. Few of the believers credit the Egyptians with inventing the helicopter, but feel this was the work of extraterrestrial beings, time travelers, Atlanteans, or Nephilim. The seeming flying machine is an example of an Out Of Place Artifact. These are apparent anachronisms that believers in time travel, creationism, ancient astronauts, Atlantis, or Alternate Chronologies use to bolster their claims. These artifacts usually have a reasonable, scientific explanation, but if they don’t, it still requires implementing the Appeal to Ignorance fallacy to credit the artifact as evidence for one’s belief.

The temple was both a manifestation of and monument to Seti’s ego. He began constructing it to honor himself and to have a place for his followers to worship him and Osiris after he died. Seti never finished, with that job falling to his son, Ramesses II. This slacker young’un did lazy work that including hasty chiseling, plastering over old inscriptions, and making modifications using plaster infill. This altering of the original inscription, along with erosion, made the image what it is today.

Where some see a helicopter, Egyptologists see a filled and re-carved titulary, which is a common site in pharaoh temples. However, there may be a bit of fraud at work as well. The photos that appear on believer sites look to have been digitally altered to make the inscription (or helicopter) look more uniform than it is. Unretouched photos appear to show more clearly  that one name has been carved over another.

A substantial strike against the notion of flying pharaohs is that the machine that would carry them is seen in this temple no place else in ancient Egyptian literature, artwork, or hieroglyphics. Egyptians built the Sphinx and pyramids and made great advances in agriculture, justice systems, and written language. They were proud of all this and to think they would have managed flight without celebrating it their art and historical records is unlikely. Additionally, aircrafts require fuel, specialized parts, and factories and there is no evidence any of those existed in Egypt 4,000 years ago.

Also, Seti I led his country in several wars and this technology would have allowed Egypt to conquer anyone while suffering no casualties. There would have been no reason to not use this capability then, nor any reason to abandon the technology.

The case that the hieroglyphic helicopter is instead a carved-over name is substantial and there are innumerable examples of the same practice at other sites throughout Egypt. In this case, the naming convention of Ramesses II was carved over his father’s and, combined with four millennia of wind, sand, and neglect, created an image somewhat resembling a helicopter.

My position as a skeptic is a strong reason for me to embrace this explanation. But I will concede another incentive. Unless ancestry.com has led me astray, Seti I and Ramesses II were my ancestors, 119 and 118 generations back, respectively. That means I have a case for getting my name carved into the walls.

“Planet 9 from Outer Space” (Nibiru apocalypse)

nibiru

This year’s end of the world will take place in October. There have been predictions about the end since humans became capable of contemplating their mortality. So far, the doomsayers’ all-time winning percentage is .000.

Recent panicky prognostications have included Harold Camping in 2011, the Mayan brouhaha a year later, and John Hagee’s Blood Moons in 2016, all three of which we are still here to ridicule. The latest doomsday centers on the planet Nibiru and the brown dwarf it orbits, Nemesis.

The primary promoter of this notion is David Meade, author of Planet X, the 2017 Arrival. This terrifying tome informs us that this fall will see Nibiru and Nemesis barrel toward Earth. Neither of them will necessarily collide with our planet, but their gravitational pull will lead to massive sinkholes, firestorms, typhoons, and other cataclysmic unpleasantries. Life on Earth will come to an end. The fatal flaw in this idea is the complete lack of evidence for the existence for Nibiru or Nemesis.

Space features so many fascinating phenomenon like dark matter, antimatter, bizarre exoplanets, gravity waves, quasars, and black holes that it’s unfortunate some feel the need to fabricate awesomeness. But such an incentive prompted Zecharia Sitchin to concoct the Nibiru tale in 1976. A self-declared expert in the Sumerian language, Sitchin deduced that some Sumerian writings referenced Nibiru. Through his idiosyncratic translation, Sitchin figured out that Nibiruians resemble three-foot tall humanoids. About 500,000 years ago, they bopped over to Africa to mine gold. While they liked being able to access this precious metal, they disliked the associated work. So they genetically altered our ancient ancestors and used the resultant species as slave labor. So while they (or at least their planet) is coming to destroy us, we can’t be too angry since we wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for them.

The documents also revealed that Nibiru exists in the remotest outskirts of the solar system, but swings by Earth every 3600 years. That means only about one in 50 generations will experience this celestial visit, but of course, our generation is that one. That’s the way doomsdays and prophecies work. Be they aficionados of Nibiru, Nostradamus, Edward Cayce, or Revelation, believers almost never predict that something will happen 100 or 1,000 years from now. It has to be in their lifetimes or it loses all excitement and meaning. Also, by exposing these coming apocalypses, doomsayers feel some control over it. They can build bunkers, warn others, and get right with a god or alien species in hopes this obsequiousness will save them.

Sitchin was a rare exception to the rule about not picking a doomsday date beyond their lifespan. When a few folks tried to fuse the Mayan and Nibiru doomsdays, he rejected this and said Earth would last until 3012. That saved him from them the public humiliation of failure that his fellow seers suffer.

Setting a date for the apocalypse has its good and bad points. Few persons would have paid attention to the Camping and Mayan predictions if they had been treated like a movie and announced that they were “coming soon.” Pinning down a specific time is more likely to generate publicity, sell books and DVDs, and attract YouTube viewers. The drawback comes the day after when there is indeed a day after. However, this is not the fatal flaw that a rational person would expect it to be. When the end doesn’t come, few believers see this as a failing. Rather, it was just a minor mathematical miscalculation or even evidence that the believers’ conduct leading up to the day placated the god, alien invader, or heavenly body that was going to annihilate us.

Camping recalculated and gave us another date, which his followers accepted. After her followers emerged from their bunkers on Dec. 22, 1954, Marian Keech reassured them that their piety had saved the world, as the extraterrestrial army backed off when it saw there were still some good Earthlings left. Blood Moons came and went, yet Hagee devotees are still snagging his latest book about the approaching end, which now includes the TRUE date. While it is incredible that failed seers get away with this, those they are bamboozling have a strong incentive to let them. Otherwise, their time spent prepping, praying, meditating, telepathically communicating, and giving away possessions would have been wasted.

Sitchin’s creation was floundering in 1995 when alien communicator and psychic Nancy Lieder announced the planet was about to collide with Earth. This fueled a renewed interest and other annihilation-by-Nibiru claims surfaced in 2003, 2012, and 2015. Today, Meade tells us that Nibiru and Nemesis are hidden at the far end of the solar system and following large oval paths, meaning we will be unable to detect them until it is too late.

“This system is not aligned with our solar system’s ecliptic, but is coming to us from an oblique angle and toward our South Pole,” he tried to explain. “This observation is difficult, unless you’re flying at a high altitude over South America with an excellent camera.”

Or maybe if you had a powerful telescope, like the kinds at NASA at Mount Palomar, neither of which have astronomers reporting these celestial bodies. But telescopes would only be needed if Nibiru was staying put. Were it on its way, a clear view of the night sky would suffice. The Washington Post quoted NASA astrophysicist David Morrison as saying, “There are no pictures or astronomical observations of Nibiru, but a planet nine months away from crashing into Earth, cruising within the inner solar system, would be visible to the naked eye.”

Meanwhile, Meade asserts that, “The elite are frantically building bunkers and the public is being kept in the dark to avoid panic.” This is contradictory because, without the ability to see or detect Nibiru, how would the elite know there was something to avoid?

Still, Meade claims “overwhelming” evidence in the form of increased numbers of volcanoes and earthquakes, never bothering to substantiate that this is occurring or explaining how that would prove a planet has left its orbit and will destroy us.

If wanting to know more, Meade’s book is available on Amazon for $13. But I suggest waiting a  year, when it should be considerably cheaper. 

“Space Oddity” (Lucifer Project)

saturn

NASA space probes and the works of Arthur C. Clarke can both be appreciated on their substantial merits. But some feel the need to fuse these elements, with the result being the creation of new habitable worlds. Only a select few will be allowed to access these worlds, which will be on the moons of a former gas planet that transformed into a star. Meanwhile the rest of us will be pulled or pushed into a fiery or icy death by the creation of this second sun.

The idea seems lifted from Clarke’s Space Odyssey works in which an alien monolith orbits Jupiter and replicates itself billions of times by using Jovian matter to condense the planet until nuclear fusion is attained. This leads to a freshly-minted star, which is capable of sustaining life on the moons it pilfered from Jupiter. The central feature of the associated conspiracy theory is that NASA is attempting the real thing in a project uncreatively named the Lucifer Project.

Theorists say this was first tried in 2003 when NASA plunged the Galileo probe into Jupiter. Scientists were worried that allowing it to crash into a Jovian moon would run the risk of contaminating any potential microbial life that resided there. Theorists, however, dismissed this as a cover story and said the real intent was to turn Jupiter into a star.

In what would seem a fatal blow to the theory, Jupiter maintained its planetary status. But apocalyptic soothsayers seldom settle back into the fabric of their extant planet when their panicky predictions fizzle. So the destruction of Galileo was written off as a practice run and, fortunately for the theorists, our solar system houses more than one gas giant, so they can afford a doomsday do-over.

The isthmus of common ground shared by NASA and the theorists is that the administration will end its current Cassini mission in nine months by plunging it into Saturn. NASA says this is to avoid contaminating the planet’s moons, while theorists say Freemasons, Illuminati, or Bilderbergers have ordered its plunge in order to create nuclear fusion that will produce a sun capable of sustaining the elites’ life on Saturnian moons.

Some astronomers believe that if Jupiter or Saturn had much more mass, they could have become stars, and the theorists weld this plausible scenario with the notion that space probes could serve as a the fuel that ignites this nuclear fusion.

In order for Gemini and Cassini to travel, they require a non-solar fuel source once they get about three blocks past Mars. Hence, these probes are propelled by the radioactive decay of plutonium 238 pellets inside of Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs). But this fuel source also plays the key role in Saturn’s manmade fusion, according to the theory. Astronomy blogger Ian O’Neill explained how the theorists think this will work:

“Dropping Cassini into a place with large atmospheric pressure will compress the probe and detonate it like a nuclear bomb. This will trigger a chain reaction, kick-starting nuclear fusion, and turning Saturn into a fireball. This second sun will have dire consequences for us on Earth, killing millions from the huge influx of radiation by this newborn star.” By then, the elite will be aboard their salvation spaceship and headed to this new home.

There are several reasons why using NASA probes to create new suns and habitable zones will remain in the realm of science fiction. The first sizable obstacle is that plutonium 238 is not weapons grade. Also, the tiny pellets of plutonium 238 that are used to heat and power the probes are in separate, damage-proof cylinders. Finally, the probes burn and break up, eliminating any chance of the plutonium reaching critical mass.

Brian Dunning at Skeptoid further explained, “This critical mass has to be imploded with a simultaneous explosion from all sides, applying sudden pressure precisely from all angles at the exact instant. This couldn’t happen with an RTG design. Although each RTG does theoretically have enough plutonium to make up a critical mass, there isn’t any way that it could all be brought together into the right shape. Any type of pressure or crash event has already sent all the separate impact shells scattering about space, and each is far too small to ever achieve critical mass and implode.”

And even if this all magically happened, Saturn wouldn’t morph into a star anyway. Unless nuclear fusion can be maintained within a stellar body, the reaction would quickly fizzle out. Astronomers estimate this would require a body at least 80 times the size of Jupiter in order to have adequate gravitational confinement.

In response to his column, Dunning received an e-mail from someone identifying himself as Conrado Salas Cano. Cano explained that these obstacles will be overcome because of the advanced knowledge of aliens with whom NASA is secretly working. This enables Cano to confidently assert that in nine months we will see “the sudden appearance of a second bright star in place of Saturn when Cassini is disposed of in the atmosphere of this giant ringed planet.”

So you can look at the night sky next September to see if this has happened. But if feeling the need for unrealistic space entertainment, I suggest reading Clarke instead.

“Satellite deceiver” (Black Knight)

tesla

Many myths originated by combining unrelated tales and this method continues today. One example is the Black Knight Satellite, said to be a 13,000 year-old alien spacecraft that perpetually orbits Earth and teases us with glimpses of its existence every decade or so.  

This tale has been cobbled from various reports of satellites, signals, and UFOs. Most of these reported activities are attributable to human actions or astronomical phenomenon so there’s no reason to assert the existence of nearby ancient alien technology.

In fact, science is fascinating enough without trying to to weave science fiction into it. For instance, we can gaze in awe at Nikola Tesla’s contributions to Mankind without riding his ample coattails and making him the retroactive starting point for Black Knight Satellite contact.

But that’s what some people have done with Tesla’s 1899 report that he had detected signals from space. He thought these might be of alien origin, but scientists later realized he had picked up electromagnetic radiation from a pulsar. These are magnetized, rotating neuron stars that, again, are amazing enough on their own that there’s no need to try and finagle an alien technology angle. But Black Knight Satellite believers identify Tesla’s discovery as the starting point. From there, a series of  unrelated events have been assembled piecemeal to form a hodgepodge timeline.

The next event in this fabricated history was in the 1920s when Norwegian scientists detected Long Delay Echoes from a still-unknown source. Possible explanations include reflections from astronomical bodies, ionized gas clouds, and reflections from Earth’s ionosphere. It could also be an alien satellite, but its existence is not supported by the evidence that distinguish the other possibilities.

Next, newspapers in 1954 reported that two satellites were found to be orbiting Earth in those pre-Sputnik days. This was later shown to be a spoof peddled by a UFO hunter who was promoting his new book, but this revelation hasn’t dissuaded Black Knight Satellite enthusiasts from counting it among their pieces of evidence.

In 1960, the U.S. Navy detected an object that was initially thought by Washington to belong to neither superpower, which were the only nations who had the ability to project spacecraft into orbit. But it turned out to be a capsule casing from the previous year’s Discoverer VII launch. This switch in the “official” story is supposed to be proof of a cover-up, but why the Black Knight Satellite would need to be hidden or why the second story wouldn’t have been prepped and ready to announce if this were a conspiracy is left unexplained.

In 1963, astronaut Gordon Cooper was said to have reported a UFO while aboard Mercury 9. Cooper denied this and provided transcripts from the mission to show he had been misquoted. Ten years later, researcher Duncan Lunan analyzed the Norwegian scientists’ data and deduced that it revealed a chart pointing toward a double star in the Boötes constellation. He decided the signals constituted an invitation from the inhabitants of a planet near the constellation, an invitation that took 12,600 years to reach its recipients. Lunan later acknowledged that his conclusions were unscientific and error-laden, but his work gave the satellite the age that is associated with it.

The final piece of the disparate puzzle came in 1998, when the space shuttle Endeavor made its maiden voyage to the International Space Station. Astronauts photographed a strange object that was likely a thermal blanket lost on a spacewalk, but which was interpreted by believers to be the first photographic proof of the Black Knight Satellite. Astronaut Jerry Ross told reporters that he and others were trying to wrap thermal blankets around four trunnion pins on the ISS node when one got detached from its tether and floated away.

If it was instead the Black Knight Satellite, it was remarkable serendipity that it happened to come along at the same orbit, altitude, and time that the ISS was whirring by. The fact that the object sauntered away after six minutes is consistent with what an object the size and weight of a thermal blanket would do.

That wasn’t enough for YouTube commentator Mercenaries512, who insisted that image-conscious NASA would never release a video of its mistake. So while conspiracy theorists accuse NASA of cover-ups, but they also consider the lack of cover-up to be proof.

Then there is the online commentator who called all this a fulfillment of Nostradamus’ vision that “Mankind will discover objects in space sent to us by the watchers.”

The ISS is an excellent example of international cooperation and serves as a long-term laboratory to conduct studies on biology, physics, astronomy, medicine, and meteorology, with capabilities that exceed that of traditional manned spacecraft. But to some it is merely another square on a quilt woven together with overactive imagination, self-importance, and paranoia.

“Summers school” (Worldwide Community of People of the New Message from God)

angelaliens

While there are reasons to question the accuracy of Marshall Summers’ writings, there’s no doubting his drive and determination in cranking them out. For nearly three dozen years, Summers has been busy relaying messages from angelic beings, and filled almost 10,000 pages with visions of doom and a possible escape hatch. Not since Joseph Smith’s heyday has someone been so voluminous in transcribing voices in their heads.

Summers writes of an impending vast darkness, which is contradicted by his having warned about this since 1982. His vague visions of unprecedented calamity are similar to missives from Nostradamus and in Revelation. It also resembles the conspiracy theories which tell of an ultimate disaster which takes place in an Eternal Tomorrow that is always on the cusp of happening yet never quite arrives. The central theme of Summers’ writings is that extreme negative change is imminent, owing to an outside threat, and humans need to prepare for it. After all, it won’t do much good for Summers to print books, press CDs, and make website advertising space available if no one is left to buy them.

For tax purposes, Summers operates under the banner of the Worldwide Community of People of the New Message from God. Summers seems to be alluding to the Biblical deity,  using language like angels and creator, but he keeps it generic enough that adherents of other religions or an unspecified spirituality can buy into it as well. Extraterrestrial beings figure prominently in the writings and these beings work with governments, so he’s got the alien and conspiracy crowds covered as well.

In a typical message, Summers relates that we are “at a time of great change, conflict and upheaval,” which describes every period in history. Despite mirroring terrifying prophecies from other religions, Summers claims his is a new and improved doomsday since it includes aliens. He clarifies that only he receives these messages, so ignore any voices in your head you might be hearing.

An interviewer asked Summers how he knew the messages were genuine. He said his certainty of their legitimacy was the proof, a ridiculous non-answer. He offers an equally weak explanation for how others will know he’s revealing the truth, saying they need only to open themselves to the message and it will be revealed. When asked what it’s like receiving these messages, he could only feebly offer, “It can’t be described.” Likewise, when pressed for evidence of his claims, he said, “The evidence is all around us.”

He insinuates that no explanation will suffice for those who are doubtful, which is rubbish. If a satisfactory explication were made using sound science and it met the demands we ask of any other unsubstantiated claim; if he got his angelic presence on speed dial to help him with the James Randi Challenge; if he made a public series of specific predictions that consistently came true, he would win millions of new converts, including members of the skeptic community.

Instead, Summers expects his readers to unquestionably accept notions such as a species of advanced, enlightened aliens who wish to do us harm. Not ray-gun zapping or kidnapping for slave labor, but by being superficially cordial in hopes of gaining our allegiance for unspecified future plans that will increase their power.

Summers commits perhaps the most comically literal circular reasoning I’ve ever seen. Consider this example from an interview :

“What is Wisdom?”

“Being able to live with knowledge.”

“What is knowledge?”

“Living with Wisdom.”

He has a more direct answer about what people can do to prepare for the alien invasion: Buy his stuff.