Tag Archives: skeptics

The Cult of SETI is Broke

Hello folks. I know, I know. I ought to get a smack down for neglecting to post for over two months, personal issues dictated the moment, big time. But today I couldn’t ignore this little tidbit of info about the Cult of SETI, and its’ dilemma:

SETI is dead. Or at least, its major organ has failed, and is now in a state of suspended animation, desperately awaiting a cash transfusion. Seth Shostak explains:

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a major instrument designed to speed up our hunt for intelligent beings elsewhere in the galaxy, has been turned off.

On April 15, this phalanx of small antennas, built to eavesdrop on signals that might reach us from civilizations hundreds of trillions of miles distant, was put into park, and its multimillion channel receivers powered down. It’s as if Columbus’s armada of ships, having barely cleared Cadiz, were suddenly ordered back to Spain.

The reason for the shutdown is both prosaic and lamentable. Money. The Array was built as a joint project between the SETI Institute (my employer) and the University of California at Berkeley’s Radio Astronomy Laboratory. The former raised the funds to construct the instrument, and UC Berkeley was responsible for operations. But the grievous financial situation of the State of California and reduced funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) have sharply curtailed the university’s research budget, and private donations haven’t yet been adequate to keep the Array in operation.

Astronomer Franck Marchis also discusses the shutdown on his blog, noting that SETI is holding out hope that the U.S. Air Force Space Command may come on-board as a partner at the ATA for its “Space Situational Awareness” program – a project which will detect, track, identify and catalogue all man-made objects in orbit around Earth.

In the meantime though, SETI wants you! Or more precisely, a donation, aiming $5million. Jill Tarter told MSNBC she hopes “the public will get inspired to help us explore those Kepler worlds”, while Seth Shostak ends his HuffPo article with a call to arms:

You’re a member of the first generation possessing technology good enough to turn up some cosmic company, and your financial support could restart this instrument. We can never prove that we’re alone in the universe. But the Allen Telescope Array could prove that we’re not.

Here’s a tip to Jill and Seth. If you want financial support from the portion of the public interested in the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, maybe it wasn’t such a wise move to hop in bed with CSICOP and start talking down your nose at that public, when many skeptics think you’re just as fringe as those same topics. Just sayin’.

Personally though I hope they get back up and running soon – in government spending terms, that’s not even a drop in a bucket, and I’m all for trying to answer the big questions…even if I may doubt that SETI is taking the right approach to do so.

Actually I find this kind of sad. It shows that an institution of mainstream science is going belly up.

But as Greg Taylor noted, Uncle Seth is getting what he deserves for getting in bed with the skeptic organization CSICOP instead of doing some scientific research into a phenomena that had at least anecdotal/trace evidence of alien life.

That’s the real shame of it all.

SETI is Dead

ISS Expedition 22 Launch and Burnt Skepticism

ISS Expedition 22 crew launched yesterday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at around 5:15 p.m.:

The Soyuz TMA-17 rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Dec. 20, 2009 carrying Expedition 22 crewmembers Timothy J. Creamer of NASA, Oleg Kotov of Russia and Soichi Noguchi of Japan to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Pretty soon (2010/2011), Soyuz will be the only transportation for US astronauts.

Some folks don’t care, others are up in arms.

Soyuz TMA-17 ISS Expedition 22 Launch
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When is an “apology” a “non-pology?”

When uber-skeptic James Randi does it:

Oh, it must be Christmas. As I mentioned in Wednesday’s news briefs, James Randi has come under fire from all quarters this week, after posting his thoughts about global warming to his blog:

An unfortunate fact is that scientists are just as human as the rest of us, in that they are strongly influenced by the need to be accepted, to kowtow to peer opinion, and to “belong” in the scientific community. Why do I find this “unfortunate”? Because the media and the hoi polloi increasingly depend upon and accept ideas or principles that are proclaimed loudly enough by academics who are often more driven by “politically correct” survival principles than by those given them by Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Bohr. (Granted, it’s reassuring that they’re listening to academics at all — but how to tell the competent from the incompetent?) Religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.

…It’s easy enough to believe that drought, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are signs of a coming catastrophe from global warming, but these are normal variations of any climate that we — and other forms of life — have survived. Earth has undergone many serious changes in climate, from the Ice Ages to periods of heavily increased plant growth from their high levels of CO2, yet the biosphere has survived. We’re adaptable, stubborn, and persistent — and we have what other life forms don’t have: we can manipulate our environment. Show me an Inuit who can survive in his habitat without warm clothing… Humans will continue to infest Earth because we’re smart.

In my amateur opinion, more attention to disease control, better hygienic conditions for food production and clean water supplies, as well as controlling the filth that we breathe from fossil fuel use, are problems that should distract us from fretting about baking in Global Warming.

Given that Randi’s skeptical peers and scientific admirers have spent the last couple of months attacking ‘Global Warming Deniers’, Randi found himself in the unlikely spot of being attacked for his ‘pseudo-scientific’ opinion piece. Blog posts decrying Randi’s statement appeared quickly on Pharyngula, The Quackometer, Cosmic Variance, Greg Laden’s Blog and Respectful Insolence. Even more vicious were the comments threads (lead, as it would be expected, by more than 500 Pharyngula comments) in which it was suggested that Randi was suffering from dementia and so on (although you’d have to say there may have been some karmic retribution for Randi in the meanness of it all…with friends like those, who needs ‘woo-woo’ enemies!) And, in a wonderful bit of timing, Randi managed to post his piece on the same day that a fund-raising drive for the James Randi Educational Foundation kicked into gear. Oops.

The back-pedaling was swift – the next day, Randi posted a new statement, “I’m Not ‘Denying’ Anything” (which P.Z. Myers labeled a ‘not-pology‘, leading to some fun exchanges between Myers’ minions and Randi’s followers in comments threads.) And then the back-patting, with plenty of ‘skeptics’ saying that the criticism of Randi showed how healthy the modern skeptical movement is.

But this is nonsense. Randi took a position which was diametrically opposed to the current scientific consensus, and furthermore one that was absolutely contrary to the argument being put forth on a regular basis by other skeptics such as Phil Plait and P.Z. Myers. There was no other option for them but to criticise Randi – it was either that or be hypocrites. What would be a better test of the health of modern skepticism is if other skeptics pulled Randi up for speaking nonsense about more fringe topics. Which he does on a regular basis. And the silence is deafening. The real truth of modern skepticism as a dogmatic faith is revealed in those particular moments.

In the comments threads, many people seemed shocked that their great beacon of truth was spreading misinformation. But the only reason was because Randi took on a topic which didn’t allow his sheeple to nod their head in agreement. Randi often posts rubbish and misinformation on his blog – I’ve criticised him before in the comments section to his blog (asking for references for dubious claims etc) only to be attacked by other ‘skeptics’. For instance, as I mentioned recently, Randi once attacked parapsychologist Dr Dean Radin by saying that he had recently moved into researching presentiment after his other research had failed – in truth, Radin has been publishing successful results on presentiment for more than a decade, in addition to his other research. On another occasion with which I was personally involved, Randi deliberately misled his readers to suit his own personal ends. Randi also often states his dislike (or at least distrust) of the ‘ivory tower’ of academia, perhaps a result of his own lack of education.

What caught my attention in this post was the statement, “Religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.”

Which brings to mind that paragon of hard scientific study, Isaac Newton.

The mainstream science community forget to mention that Newton was a hard-core Zionist Christian scholar and alchemist who believed he reconciled religion, science and prophecy.

Hmm..double standards run rampant in the science community at times.

After all, they’re human too.

Global Warming Burns Randi

Pauling UFO Studies and Amazing Randi Making Final Exit?

Anthony Bragalia via The UFO Iconoclast(s) surmises that uber-scientist Linus Pauling researched, or back-researched rather, UFO metals from the Roswell crash when he worked for Battelle:

Leads that were acted on by this author and that were provided by UFO enthusiast Frank Stalter are very revealing. It has been discovered that Pauling was a close friend of Clyde Williams, the Executive Director of Battelle Memorial Institute in the 1940s and 1950s. Williams and Pauling shared a unique research interest in “intermetallics” which are especially complex metal alloys that are associated with “shape memory” or the ability to “morph.”

battelle-logo.jpg

A personal calendar that Pauling maintained throughout his working life is also archived at the Oregon State University library. The January 11, 1951 entry of Pauling’s calendar refers to a letter that was received by Pauling on that date from Battelle’s Executive Director, Clyde Williams. During this precise time period, Williams’ organization was contracted by Wright Patterson Air Force Base to conduct scientific analysis on the UFO phenomenon in support of the Air Force’s Project Grudge (later Project Blue Book.)

Incredibly, Williams (who was Battelle’s Director at the time of the UFO crash at Roswell) indicates in the letter that he wanted to meet with Pauling (whose interest in UFOs was know at that time) because he “would like an opportunity to visit with an old friend.” Williams wanted to tap Pauling’s needed expertise about the “principles of determining the structure of intermetallic compounds.” Dr. Pauling’s genius apparently extended to exotic metals. Three years after the Battelle letter requesting Pauling’s analysis of intermetallic structures was received, Dr. Pauling would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The prize was awarded for his “research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application in the elucidation of complex substances.” In fact by the 1950s, Pauling was thought to be the premier materials chemist in the entire world.

Pauling’s expertise in “intermetallics” may have profound implications. Intermetallics constitute a then-novel (and highly unusual) class of materials. They are mostly compounds of metals whose crystal structures are different from those of constituent metals. The best known representatives of intermetallics are the shape memory alloys (SMA’s.) Shape memory metal was reported as a “morphing material” found at the reported UFO crash at Roswell in 1947. The best known of these shape-recovery materials is Nitinol. Nitinol has been historically traced by this author as having its origins in Battelle studies that were contracted by Wright Patterson AFB, where the crash material was reportedly flown to. These studies commenced immediately following the Roswell crash. See archived articles on the UFO Iconoclasts website that detail these findings.

Pauling was at that time one of our nation’s only experts on X-Ray crystallography. He had also developed groundbreaking research in “quantum chemistry” – a branch of theoretical chemistry which straddles the border between chemistry and physics. It is especially useful in determining unknown material and in characterizing the phases of matter. It is clear from the Oregon State University archives of Pauling’s work that Pauling had a prior association with Battelle.

As an “old friend” of its Executive Director, Pauling likely had ties to Battelle extending back to the 1940s. His work in the examination of crystalline structures and chemical technical analysis would have been very valuable in studing intermetallics such as shape recovery metals. Pauling’s strong professional interest in flying saucers makes this an intriguing -and perhaps telling- connection to the UFO debris found at Roswell.

Buried within the pages of Pauling’s personal copy of the 1966 bestseller Flying Saucers:Serious Business (also archived at the Oregon State University library) is a copy of a letter from Pauling to the President of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology that concerns UFO study. This letter was found folded into the section of Frank Edwards’ book that mentions the UFO crash at Roswell and includes the statement, “There are such difficult cases as the rancher near Roswell, New Mexico…”

This is news to me. Pauling was to myself and others, a Nobel Prize winning scientists who happened to like vitamin C. The metalurgy studies were a complete unknown.

I guess the secret government people knew their shit in those days eh?

UFOs and VITAMIN C – Linus Pauling’s Flying Saucer Secret by Anthony Bragalia

Hat tip

I read with great sadness this morning than uber-skeptic and debunker of the paranormal James Randi has intestinal cancer.

While he was given a 50-50 chance of survival, I wouldn’t wish the Big C on anyone. I saw two people die from it up-close and personal and it isn’t pretty.

But I do know someone who survived it and in fact, went back to work.

For those who like Randi’s work, link here .

As for myself, I spent a good part of my life studying science and its many wonders.

But I’ve learned that people shouldn’t discount the paranormal offhandedly.

And I never saw anyone die a hard-core atheist.

James Randi Fighting Cancer