Phil Plait: How to detect pseudo-science B.S.

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Climate denial … creationism … doomsday predictions … vaccination warnings: It's all in a day's debunking for Phil Plait, the astronomer and skeptic who weighs in on all sorts of pseudo-science.

Plait, 48, started out as a researcher delving into supernovae, gamma-ray bursts and other mysteries of the universe. But that began to change when he wrote a book titled "Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing 'Hoax.'"

Over the years, he has devoted more and more time to scientific reality checks — in a follow-up book titled "Death From the Skies!"as well as his "Bad Universe" TV documentary series and the Bad Astronomy blog, now in its ninth year.

Bad Astronomy is about much, much more than bad astronomy. Plait takes on those who claim that global warming doesn't exist, that "creation science" needs to be taught in biology class or that kids shouldn't be vaccinated. For a time, he even served as the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, which takes aim at all sorts of pseudo-scientific silliness.

Written By: Alan Boyle
continue to source article at nbcnews.com

18 COMMENTS

  1. Strange, because I thought I read something a few weeks ago that said James Randi had also said he didn’t believe in man-made climate change? But, whatever.

    Climate change ‘skepticism’ isn’t about saying the planet isn’t warming…it’s about saying most of the effect is due to big scale natural factors and not man.

    • This is from James Randi’s web site:

      “Randi just came out against the science that indicates that Global Warming is happening, that it is man made, and that it will harm our biosphere (and is currently doing so).”

      “I was also saddened by Randi siding with the GW denialists. He seems to have fallen for a number of logical fallacies, and apparently prefers self-deception and ignorance when it comes to this issue. Very, very sad.”

      Sad? Yes, if it were true. But it’s not. There were a good number of other, similar comments, all quite wrong. I do not, and did not, deny the established fact — arrived at by extensive scientific research — that average global temperatures have increased by a bit less than one Celsius degree. My commentary was concerned with my amateur confusion about the myriad of natural phenomena that obviously bring about worldwide climate changes and whether we can properly assign the cause to anthropogenic influences. Yes, I’m aware of the massive release of energy — mostly heat — that we’ve produced by exhuming and burning oil, natural gas, and coal. We’ve also attacked forests and turned them into fuel by converting them into paper at further energy expense, paper that is also burned, in turn. My remarks, again, are directed at the complexity of determining whether this GW is anthropogenic or not. I do not deny that possibility. In fact, I accept it as quite probable. I remain respectful of science and its participants. I stand outside the walls of academe, in awe.
      In reply to #1 by NordicAnna:

      Strange, because I thought I read something a few weeks ago that said James Randi had also said he didn’t believe in man-made climate change? But, whatever.

      Climate change ‘skepticism’ isn’t about saying the planet isn’t warming…it’s about saying most of the effect is due to big scale natural fac…

      • In reply to #3 by Docbrew:

        I am puzzled why there was ever any doubt. Fourier and Arrhenius way back in the 1800s discovered the link between CO2 concentration and global warming. Accountants give us pretty accurate figures of the various fossil fuels we have burned. We know how much CO2 is produced when each type of fossil fuel burns. So have known for a long time how much global warming to attribute to burning fossil fuels. This was not controversial for 100 years. It only became controversial when the tobacco (oops oil) companies decided to spread FUD so they could milk a little extra profit. Even the IPPC seem to think there is a sliver of doubt.

        • Just a little miss information and a few out right lies (usually funded by the Koch brothers) and like magic you have enough information for Fox News and the rest of the Tea Party conservatives to jump on board. Like Evolution the facts aren’t important just their conclusions. The good news is that when the rapture comes and these good christian’s are gone, and it’s no longer a problem for them, the rest of us and get on with it and fix things. In reply to #7 by Roedy:

          In reply to #3 by Docbrew:

          I am puzzled why there was ever any doubt. Fourier and Arrhenius way back in the 1800s discovered the link between CO2 concentration and global warming. Accountants give us pretty accurate figures of the various fossil fuels we have burned. We know how much CO2 is produc…

        • In reply to #7 by Roedy:

          . Even the IPPC seem to think there is a sliver of doubt.

          I think there are two things going on there. One is that they are just being good scientists. With something as complex as the Earth’s climate you can’t have complete certainty. And the other is that they realize that every word, every punctuation mark, will be scrutinized by the denier spin machine who will pounce on any statement that can be viewed as not 100% verifiable and will use that to arm their trolls with more FUD to disseminate.

      • In reply to #3 by Docbrew:

        This is from James Randi’s web site:

        My commentary was concerned with my amateur confusion about the myriad of natural phenomena that obviously bring about worldwide climate changes and whether we can properly assign the cause to anthropogenic influences. Yes, I’m aware of the massive release of energy — mostly heat — that we’ve produced by exhuming and burning oil, natural gas, and coal. We’ve also attacked forests and turned them into fuel by converting them into paper at further energy expense, paper that is also burned, in turn. My remarks, again, are directed at the complexity of determining whether this GW is anthropogenic or not. I do not deny that possibility. In fact, I accept it as quite probable. I remain respectful of science and its participants.

        He seems utterly oblivious to the fact that AGW is caused by the output of CO2 – NOT heat!

        I made some comments on an earlier discussion which link to indications of the causes.

        http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2013/9/23/axing-the-climate-commission-splits-australians-from-science#comment-box-23

        and some which show the climate records.

        http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2013/9/23/axing-the-climate-commission-splits-australians-from-science#comment-box-20

        Global Warming & Climate Change Myths are well known:-

        http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

        http://www.skepticalscience.com/

        • I’m wondering what happened to the two original comments that I was responding to. I can only assume they were removed by a MOD because I’m not seeing a delete comment button. Somewhat new to the site and commenting in general. In reply to #12 by Alan4discussion:

          In reply to #3 by Docbrew:

          This is from James Randi’s web site:

          My commentary was concerned with my amateur confusion about the myriad of natural phenomena that obviously bring about worldwide climate changes and whether we can properly assign the cause to anthropogenic influences. Yes, I’m aware…

          • In reply to #13 by Docbrew:

            I’m wondering what happened to the two original comments that I was responding to. I can only assume they were removed by a MOD because I’m not seeing a delete comment button. Somewhat new to the site and commenting in general.

            On your own comments, there is an “edit” or “delete” option via clicking on “more”. If the comments were merely preaching or asserting AGW denial the MODs will have deleted them, in accord with the “no preaching rule”.

            Misquoting or quote mining, celebrities or scientists as a badge of false authority, is a regular troll tactic.

    • In reply to #6 by Roedy:

      What I find very strange is people will put huge amounts of energy into phony dangers like electric smart meters, but completely ignore real ones like climate change and earthquakes.

      A woman in Australia has been researching this within the last few months. Focussing on the perceived negative impact of wind farms. Though the same phenomena also occurs with mobile telecoms antenna sites of comparable visual impact. I only heard some discussion on the radio, so I may not be summarising very accurately.

      She’s been looking at a lobby group attempting to prevent wind farm deployment and presumably attempting come kind of legal action to claim compensation for the medical devastation caused by the presence of wind farms via infrasound impact. Her research should be reasonably easy to track down.

      The gist of it being that people who are being paid for site leases and property access to high sites for turbine of antenna towers via their land seem to have nil negative health effects. While others, who aren’t being paid to host wind turbines on their land, i.e. the tenants (who are more likely to physically live in the vicinity of the turbines) suffer incalculable harm and suffering.

      The research analysis shows that pretty much all these claims are ridiculous (adjusting for actual proximity to turbines), nevertheless those affected seem to very deeply believe in their cause. An intriguing aspect being that those who believe that wind turbines are the cause of all their misery tend to also tend to be chronic substance abusers, mainly tobacco and alcohol.

      The issue being that their focus on the 1 thing that’s least likely to be a real problem is at the expense of actually doing something about the very much more obvious hazards that are known to pretty much always cause exactly all the problems they claim to be experiencing: E.g. Smoking and alcohol generate AGEs at an extraordinary rate, probably even more so than high carb low nutrient diets, plus alcohol destroys growth hormone secretion during sleep. The chronically accumulating unrepaired cellular and tissue damage leads to energy problems and injuries, aches, pains etc. all of while results in physical unfitness and lack of exercise. The resulting sleep disruption has the indirect impact of diminished growth hormone secretion (which also impacts on neuron regrowth) and may directly contribute to mental illness. Ultimately producing the kind of people who camp outside mobile phone towers under construction, or who protest against wind farms.

      Perhaps the real issue is not so much that any particular thing is pseudoscience but what are the psychological or neuro-economics factors that make some people very much more inclined to accept pseudoscientific claims.

  2. The reason the IPCC (not IPPC) says “95 % sure” is because it’s a confidence interval; the percentage of climate change due to us is x% to y% with 95 % probability, where I don’t know what x or y are because I’ve not actually read AR5. A formal calculation will have established this fact. It’s a more detailed statement than “(x+y)/2 %, give or take (y-x)/2 %”.

    • In reply to #11 by Jos Gibbons:

      The reason the IPCC (not IPPC) says “95 % sure” is because it’s a confidence interval; the percentage of climate change due to us is x% to y% with 95 % probability, where I don’t know what x or y are because I’ve not actually read AR5. A formal calculation will have established this fact.

      I wonder how many denialists would board a plane from London to New York, where calculations showed it was 95% probable it would run out of fuel over the Atlantic? ( After all! – A hurricane tail-wind might turn up during the latter part of the journey!)

  3. There had been serious problems to the physicality of God from the time of Aristotle and the problem has been finally resolved. Old abstract philosophy is irrelevant as now we have to have the philosophy in the language of modern scientific terminology.
    At physical level Newton & Einstein had rejected aether before introducing their laws & theories. Mass/inertia is actually because of electromagnetic interaction of matter with aether whereas physicists have been making all sorts of manipulations since more than a century. Newton & Einstein had rejected aether before introducing their laws & theories. Whereas aether has been shown to be existing and containing the secrets of light & time. Once aether is accepted space is again finite & absolute and filled up with aether, the electric dipoles, and it is aether through which forces of nature are transmitted as against the irrational action at a distance through fields without knowing the physicality of the fields, time is emergent & relative depending upon motion of the observer, and as humans perceive it, time is emergent and matter is not absolute but emergent. (This alternative paradigm reveals that there is very powerful God who has power on matter & time and everything existing in the finite space and existence of God is the prerequisite for the creation & existence of universe ).
    In brief the scenario is as under
    Aristotle:- Space- absolute & finite; time- absolute, matter-absolute, light/radiation- not properly known

    Newton:- Space, time & matter same as Aristotle; light a wave-motion with corpuscular theory

    Einstein:- Space- interconnected with time & emergent, Time-emergen & interconnected with space & relative, matter & Energy (light/radiation) is absolute & transmutable and light/radiation as wave-motion with no clue as to what is light/radiation physically.

    Final state of existence:- Space-absolute & finite, time- emergent & relative depending on the motion of the observer/body with respect to aether at rest frame of reference, matter-emergent & finite, light/radiation- a electromagnetic disturbance of electric dipoles of aether creating a wave motion and all forces of nature being
    electromagnetic forces which is being transmitted through aether, the electric dipoles.

    Following is the list of my published scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals & sites where these articles are available
    1. Experimental & Theoretical Evidences of Fallacy of Space-time Concept and Actual State of Existence of the Physical Universe
    2. Foundation of Theory of Everything: Non-living Things & Living Things (Revised version on World Science Database, General Science Journal, Vixra and Academia.edu in my profile)
    3.Michelson-Morley Experiment: A Misconceived & Misinterpreted Experiment
    4. Energy Theory of Matter & Cosmology (Revised version on World Science Database, General Science Journal, Vixra and Academia.edu in
    my profile)
    5. ‘On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’ by Albert Einstein is Based on Trickeries (www.elixirjournal.org Feb.2012)
    6.Ultimate Proof of Energy Theory of Matter & Cosmology
    7. Theory of Origin & Phenomenon of Life
    These publications are available at the journal site of Indian Journal
    of Science & Technology (a peer-reviewed journal) http://www.indjst.org
    (March 2012,oct 2010, oct 2011,Aug 2010) and also on
    http://www.gsjournal.net, http://www.worldsci.org, viXra, Intellectual Archives,
    ResearchGate & Academia.edu in my profile.
    On the basis of above-mentioned articles an open challenge has been put forward to the adopted paradigm of physics. The standing (till date) open challenge could seen at http://www.worldsci.org/php/index.php?tab0=Abstracts&tab1=Display&id=6476&tab=2 and at http://gsjournal.net/Science-Journals/Essays/View/4018.

    • In reply to #17 by mohammadshafiq.khan.1:

      There had been serious problems to the physicality of God from the time of Aristotle and the problem has been finally resolved. Old abstract philosophy is irrelevant as now we have to have the philosophy in the language of modern scientific terminology.
      At physical level Newton & Einstein had reject…

      I read your lengthy paragraph a couple of times.

      To be polite, your revolutionary paradigm fails to reach the threshold of being pseudo-science.

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