Is it worth it?

24


Discussion by: bob_e_s

On the recommendation of another RDN user, I signed up for
the Introduction to Astrobiology course on Coursera, run by Edinburgh
University.

While it attracted a lot of like-minded people either with
science backgrounds, or without but wanting to increase their knowledge and
understanding of another subject, it also (unsurprisingly) attracted a lot of superstitious
people.

An extreme example of this was Neil Gould, ‘director of the
Exopolitics Institute, Hong Kong’.  With
his input, a thread about crop circles (which I’m sure you can imagine)
descended into an exchange of various conspiracy theories, the end result of
which was Mr Gould publishing a series of links to various ‘proofs’ of UFOs and
alien incursions.

I managed to get as far as the first page of his website (http://exopoliticshongkong.com/Earth_History.html),
but I couldn’t get any further.

My question is (and hopefully this can apply to reasoned
thought generally, not just dealing with internet cranks), is it worth wading
through the reams of ‘evidence’ that these people claim to have to back up
their claims? I haven’t bothered, in this instance, and I’ve stopped discussing
the topic because I sensed it just wasn’t going anywhere. But had I wanted to
continue, I would have felt obliged to look through the proposed evidence in
order to be able to evaluate it. However, would this have really got me
anywhere?

24 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t give up and avoid the woo sites. It’s important to try to understand their arguments even if only to be able to argue against them. You might be surprised that there are, occasionally, ideas that will make you think about your own beliefs and “certainties.” It’s important from a scientific point of view not to be closed to other ideas. After all, that’s how we make progress.

  2. firstly, conspiracy theorists will always accept lack of evidence as evidence of conspiracy so i think it’s best to treat them as a lost cause

    secondly, there is a system of getting scientific claims vetted before you have to wade through them. it’s called peer review.

    i know plenty of people would jump on me for saying that, from those pointing out the potential weaknesses of peer review (note, none of these will be able to provide an improved system) to those who consider the concept further proof that all scientists live in a big happy lab deciding among themselves what they will tell the “sheeple” to believe.

    for the most part. “proof” of UFOs (i accept, like you i just can’t be arsed to follow up so i’m happy to be proved wrong) comes in the form of photographic evidence (worthless) along with an assertion that “experts” have been unable to spot what the wobbly blob on the video really is.

    anyhting photographic can be faked. i find it amusing that the apollo deniers base all their claims on apparently faked movie footage, made by nasa scientists who apparently know less about space travel than some hick who subscribes to gun magazines, yet insist on using footage themselves as proof of ET

    now the moon landings could have been faked, based on the footage. not because of the lack of rocket flames or vanashing cross hairs but simply because it could be done. what can’t be done however, is fake all the worlds telescopes pointing at the rocket leaving the atmosphere. all the radio signals coming from the direction of the moon, that were being monitored by the whole world, including americas enemies.

    however, with modern technology far surpassing that of the late 60s, there has been no evidence to my knowledge put forward, of ET life, that originates from outside the atmosphere. these are very stealthy aliens, capable of building a craft big enough to sustain them for hundreds of thousands of years, yet small enough to be undetectable to anyone monitoring NEOs until they pop up over someone’s house.

    as for crop circles. classic case of argument from personal incredulity. anyone noticed how thye’ve got more intricate since we all found out how they were made?

    the only thing in common with all so called evidence for ET visitors, is it’s all found right here on earth

    believe me, if the science is good, it’ll make it to a peer reviewed journal and instantly be on the news all over the world.

    say it with me:

    PEER REVIEW

    • “as for crop circles. classic case of argument from personal incredulity. anyone noticed how thye’ve got more intricate since we all found out how they were made?”

      I was admittedly baffled by the apparent complexity, accuracy and ingenuity of the patterns and still find it hard to believe a few people make them in darkness with rudimentary tools but there it is- the qualities required are all human despite my incredulity!

    • In reply to #2 by SaganTheCat:

      if the science is good, it’ll make it to a peer reviewed journal..

      And quoting from a mystical source that came to me in a dream…
      >
      See, that proves it. It is a conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy by all those Highly Educated peoples that went tu Universitys and sucked up to their professers and they all sit around and decide that the only stuff they allow to be published is stuff that follows there weird rules of experiments and math and they dont let decent godfearing folks get a look in, no matter how loud they shout. Taint fair.

      That seems more-or-less the position of the pseudo-science oddballs. If they’d been a bit smarter, if they’d paid attention a bit more, if they’d been a bit less lazy, if they’d had a decent teacher, etc, they too would have been Real Sientists, and got respect for what they’re trying to say.

      It’s a bit sad, really. The solution, of course, is education, lots of it, as freely available and easily accessed as it can possibly be. Fortunately, to that end, there is the internet, and it’s educational side is growing stronger and richer by the day.

      • In reply to #12 by OHooligan:

        if the science is good, it’ll make it to a peer reviewed journal..

        Quite a while back now, in an earlier discussion, a UFO enthusiast tried to impress by vaguely referring to a (BIS) British Interplanetary Society Journal article LOOKING AT UFO claims (subscription publication), pretending that this added authority in supporting a belief in UFOs!

        I told him it didn’t and signed the comment “Alan FBIS”. After a few more confused posts, he finally worked out what the ” F” stood for!

        That seems more-or-less the position of the pseudo-science oddballs. If they’d been a bit smarter, if they’d paid attention a bit more, if they’d been a bit less lazy, if they’d had a decent teacher, etc, they too would have been Real Scientists, and got respect for what they’re trying to say.

        Participating in courses or fringe conference events, opens up opportunities for presenting themselves as “participants” in real science – which may appear to rub off on them in the eyes of the gullible. (Some YECs have been doing this at fossil digs.)

  3. My question is (and hopefully this can apply to reasoned thought generally, not just dealing with internet cranks), is it worth wading through the reams of ‘evidence’ that these people claim to have to back up their claims?

    The short answer is no. What UFO nuts consider as evidence, is fanciful thinking, cobbled together coincidences, fakery, and ignorance of the scale and nature of space-flight.. The odds against even the tiniest percentage of the claims being valid, are enormous. There certainly have been conspiracies, but those were conspiracies by the military to cover-up new flight technologies by presenting them as UFOs – with the aid of gullible UFO believers spreading false messages.

    The distances even within the Solar-System are enormous – as a quick look at this discussion will illustrate!
    http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/3/21/voyager-1-space-probe-reaches-outer-fringe-of-solar-system?category=Science#

  4. If their shit was true, it would be matter of fact. It would be part of everyday life like soap or carrots or electrons. So so so many things that are “shrouded in mystery” are pure unadulterated bullshit.

    • In reply to #5 by crookedshoes:

      If their shit was true, it would be matter of fact. It would be part of everyday life like soap or carrots or electrons. So so so many things that are “shrouded in mystery” are pure unadulterated bullshit.

      Like the mass of a neutrino? Or “before the big bang”?

      Oh dear….

  5. Run far. Run hard.

    It never hurts to be open to the possibility that your certainties are not certain, that someone else is right, etc. But only when the other is actually open to this as well. Otherwise it’s not an honest discussion, but simply you banging your head against a wall built from dogma, confirmation bias and intellectual dishonesty.

    Most conspiracy theorists, woo peddlers and ‘truthers’ are not open to objective analysis of their theories or evidence. ‘Lost cases’.

    Make an exception for the occasional Jehovah’s Witness, it can be hilarious when they haven’t done their homework and don’t expect questions.

    • In reply to #6 by Sjoerd Westenborg:

      Run far. Run hard.

      It never hurts to be open to the possibility that your certainties are not certain, that someone else is right, etc. But only when the other is actually open to this as well. Otherwise it’s not an honest discussion, but simply you banging your head against a wall built from dogma, confirmation bias and intellectual dishonesty.

      Most conspiracy theorists, woo peddlers and ‘truthers’ are not open to objective analysis of their theories or evidence. ‘Lost cases’.

      Make an exception for the occasional Jehovah’s Witness, it can be hilarious when they haven’t done their homework and don’t expect questions.

      I think they have a sort of FAQ they memorise. If you take them off-script they’re flumoxed. For instance I asked a couple on my door step “why is the universe so large?”. I was intending to point out with so many stars it was vanishingly unlikely there was no other intelligent life- and what did they think god’s plan was for these others? Alternativly if god made the entire universe just for isn’t that rather wasteful? But they said they didn’t know the answer but would come back the next day. I stayed home. They never showed.

      I also flummox mormons but simply saying I don’t believe in god, “why not?” “no evidence”. There’s usually a pause then- I don’t think they expect such blunt answers.

      The christians I can’t be bothered with are those who say “oh no I’m not religious, I’m a Christian”. Must ask them next time what is a religion and why Christians aren’t (I suspect the answer is “because it’s true”)

  6. hi bob e s,

    I’m not sure I’m understanding your situation so allow me to perhaps dig a really deep hole here!

    There are at least two parts to coursera offerings: the actual class given by a properly credentialed instructor and then there are the forums which are occupied and utilized by the “coursearians” ostensibly for classwork questions.

    I’m not hearing you critique the lessons, presumably they are acceptable? Why are you going to the forums? I’m not understanding that. Networking? If so, that’s just an expectation (justified or not) that isn’t working out, but it should have no bearing on the class instruction, right? The forums for my class had their occasional bizarre threads, but perhaps my class was just easier than yours as I seldom looked for help there (and I didn’t use it for networking).

    Are you perhaps simply experiencing a case of wrongful expectations? Am I missing something? How’s the course content?

    Mike

    • <div>

      In reply to #7 by Sample:

      Absolutely no problem with the course at all. It was an openly beginner’s level guide to the science of Astrobiology, with video lectures by Professer Charles Cockell, who as I understand it is a well respected scientist, and, interestingly, is also openly doubtful about the possibility of us ever encountering ET. Astrobiology, as he explained it, is not about ET, really. The science of it is about life in extremes and how it can originate and spread. All fascinating.

      The forums were an aside; you didn’t need to go on them at all to progress with the course. But there were some interesting topics posted, with some very well educated people contributing (discussing things like panspermia as opposed to abiogenesis, the possibility of methane based life, etc). But obviously, before too long the woo people turn up…and…don’t we all secretly love a good bun fight?

      Anyway, my conclusion was as has been put forward here. Wading through these people’s ‘evidence’ would only succeed in annoying me. Even if I had and offered measured rebuttals to their arguments, the chances of it hitting home are nil. Neil Gould, in particular, I believe is actually mentally unstable. He really believes what he’s saying.

      There were a few others on his ‘side’, if you will, and in nearly all cases the more you pressed them on evidence, peer reviewing hypotheses, the scientific method, the more they would shout about things being hushed up. In fact, one poster went so far as to suggest everyone who had posted arguments against the various woo theories was in fact paid by the FBI to do so. I just don’t think there’s any reasoning with these people.

      But I also don’t like admitting defeat!
      </div>

      • _In reply to #8 bybob_e_s

        Absolutely no problem with the course at all. It was an openly beginner’s level guide to the science of Astrobiology, with video lectures by Professer Charles Cockell, who as I understand it is a well respected scientist, and, interestingly, is also openly doubtful about the possibility of us ever encountering ET. Astrobiology, as he explained it, is not about ET, really. The science of it is about life in extremes and how it can originate and spread. All fascinating.

        I have mentioned this before, but one of the valued published works of Professer Charles Cockell was editing the report of The British Interplanetary Society on “Project Boreas” for a science base at the Martian north pole. -

        Professor Charles Cockell describes the British Interplanetary Society’s project to establish a base at the Martian North Pole on this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-n343rNQdo

        Project Boreas – http://www.bis-space.com/what-we-do/projects/project-boreas

        The study conclusions allowed for flexibility in exploration objectives, relating to the subjects of geology, geophysics, astronomy, climatology and astrobiology. The crew would embark on daily expeditions across the planets surface and make many discoveries to report back to Earth. The station was designed with present-day technology and considered all aspects to the station such as the power requirements, thermal control, science laboratories, human habitation and life support systems. Other aspects to the mission were also considered such as surface drilling and surface transportation.

        The proposed mission date for such a station was 2038 with a crew staying for the duration of the mission, lasting three summers and two winters, and then returning to Earth in 2042, several years later.
        Alt Text – (Right click and select “view image”)

        This type of real space science is in a different class to UFO nuttery!

  7. Thanks Bob e s, for the reply.

    I sympathize with your experience. The course, “How to Reason and Argue,” had forum topics that were rife with religious apologetics. Rife! I suppose if someone was looking for a good disparaging that was the place, but a good (properly constructed) argument? Ha!

    If I had to, I’m not sure which respective crowd I would rather engage: the conspiracy theorists or the religiously devout. I’m so glad that isn’t one of my problems this week. :-j

    Mike

    • In reply to #11 by Sample:

      I sympathize with your experience.

      I don’t need sympathy! I really enjoyed the course amd learned a lot. My only frustration was feeling hypocritical about dismissing the conspiracy theories without truly evaluating the evidence. But also not wanting to waste my time with it.

      If I had to, I’m not sure which respective crowd I would rather engage: the conspiracy theorists or the religiously devout.

      The funny thing is, those two groups pretty much ‘formed ranks’ against those of us who expressed our scepticism. You’d have thought they’d be pretty incompatible.

      There was one chap who eventually admitted to being a theist (of what genre, I never got to the bottom of) who had some very interesting arguments about his scepticism of the theory of abiogenesis, and that the theory of evolution was completely compatible with his understanding of god. He in fact said that everything he’d learned about evolution made him more convinced about god. he was obviously an intelligent guy, so I was interested to hear his reasoning. Sadly, when I called him out and asked him to enlighten me, I got no reply. Shocking, eh?

      One thing that came up, in a discussion with the same guy (about the religiosity of scientists, actually) was the Cornwell & Stirrat Royal Society study (mentioned in the God Delusion); I quoted it as evidence of the lack of belief within the scientific community, and he asked me for a link to the full study.

      I couldn’t find anything about it online, beyond what is printed in the God Delusion. Does anyone here know what happened to the research?

      • In reply to #13 by bob_e_s:

        One thing that came up, in a discussion with the same guy (about the religiosity of scientists, actually) was the Cornwell & Stirrat Royal Society study (mentioned in the God Delusion); I quoted it as evidence of the lack of belief within the scientific community, and he asked me for a link to the full study.

        I couldn’t find anything about it online, beyond what is printed in the God Delusion. Does anyone here know what happened to the research?

        Anyone?

      • _In reply to #13 by bobe_s:

        In reply to #11 by Sample:

        I sympathize with your experience.

        I don’t need sympathy! I really enjoyed the course amd learned a lot. My only frustration was feeling hypocritical about dismissing the conspiracy theories without truly evaluating the evidence. But also not wanting to waste my time with it.

        If I had to, I’m not sure which respective crowd I would rather engage: the conspiracy theorists or the religiously devout.

        The funny thing is, those two groups pretty much ‘formed ranks’ against those of us who expressed our scepticism. You’d have thought they’d be pretty incompatible.

        There was one chap who eventually admitted to being a theist (of what genre, I never got to the bottom of) who had some very interesting arguments about his scepticism of the theory of abiogenesis, and that the theory of evolution was completely compatible with his understanding of god. He in fact said that everything he’d learned about evolution made him more convinced about god. he was obviously an intelligent guy, so I was interested to hear his reasoning. Sadly, when I called him out and asked him to enlighten me, I got no reply. Shocking, eh?

        One thing that came up, in a discussion with the same guy (about the religiosity of scientists, actually) was the Cornwell & Stirrat Royal Society study (mentioned in the God Delusion); I quoted it as evidence of the lack of belief within the scientific community, and he asked me for a link to the full study.

        I couldn’t find anything about it online, beyond what is printed in the God Delusion. Does anyone here know what happened to the research?

        Just googling came up with the fact that at time of publication it was a work in progress, although the questionnaire was done. The questionnaire was sent to members of the royal society so this doesn’t mean it was going to be published by them (they may have chosen members of the royal society to select from a group of ‘Top’ scientists). So possible it was not published yet, or failed to get published. Here’s Micheal Stirrat’s his link http://www.psychology.stir.ac.uk/staff/staff-profiles/research-staff/michael-stirrat

        ask him.

        Cheers

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