Thursday, September 22, 2005





On from the face on Mars

The "face" on Mars seems to have disappeared, which must come as a great relief to NASA. In 1993 we reported that Mike Malin, principal investigator on NASA's Mars Observer camera, complained that he was spending a quarter of his valuable time responding to conspiracy theorists. Publication of high-resolution photos of what turned out to be a very ordinary hill obviously helped free up his time. But where have those conspiracy theorists gone?

(Via The Anomalist.)


The Face isn't just a hill anymore, folks. It's an ordinary hill. And not only is it ordinary, it's very ordinary. (Is it just me, or is this protesting just a bit too much?)

This mini-article goes on to get down and dirty with the usual "debunking" tricks, wiping out claims of ruins on Mars and the possibility of intelligent handiwork on Iapetus by skewering Richard Hoagland. Which leads to the rather surprising insight that Hoagland, far from being an enemy of orthodox science, is actually extraordinarily useful to mainstream skeptics.

Critics of exo-archaeology and planetary SETI need a bad guy to attack when the evidence itself is ambiguous, and Hoagland's all-too-frequent wackiness lends him to lifetime "straw man" status; any mystery he's addressed -- no matter how genuinely compelling -- can be discarded because he's dared to sell copies of "The Monuments of Mars."

It's a wonderfully efficient system. It works. Of course, it's based on a tissue of misconceptions and falsehoods, but who has time for details?

22 comments:

JEFM said...

While doing my research, trying to finally get that Ph.D. diploma, I've sadly come to realize how easily the scientific method is turned down by "scientists" with their: "Don't go there it's all balooney and BS" approach.

There are things that legitimate deserve an inquiry and scientific treatment ...

Boogey_Man said...

The Face issue is dead untill someone can walk right up to it and see if its made of cut stone or if its really just a funky hill. Until then its all just BS.

W.M. Bear said...

It bothers me in the extreme that writers like this simply dismiss planetary SETI out of hand, using all the classical "debunking" tactics that Mac has cataloged so well. Their attitude seems to me to come from the scientific equivalent of a "holier than thou attitude on the part of a religious believer. Somehow, somewhere, it's decided by someone with supposed intellectual authority that planetary SETI is a priori impossible. End of discussion. If you even raise the issue, you're branded a nut (or the same thing, a "conspiracy theorist") and never ever taken seriously (or even allowed into the "scientific conversation") again. In this way, science is becoming just as bad as religious fundamentalism in shutting out everything that seems to threaten mainline orthodoxy. In fact, we may indeed have discovered the right label for this attitude -- "scientific fundamentalism." (I'm going to work on characterising it more precisely.)

Boogey_Man said...

The only difference between the priest and the atheist is the object of their faith. The priest believes in God and the supernatural without sufficient proof. The atheist believes there is no God or supernatural despite large numbers of eye witness reports of extraordinary events and strange discoveries at the leading edge of science.

Both will quickly discount information contrary to their world view, or at the least they will cram and twist new information to 'make it fit'.

Magical thinking is inherent to human consciousness. We fill in the gaps when we find something in the universe that can not be easily explained. To live in a universe where something in your environment can not be explained is like waking up to find a stranger living in your home. Madness can grow from this.

And so people build, contribute and cling to world views. Without a firm world view people are lost. Invalidate someones world view and you invalidate nearly everything they have ever done. You invalidate them.

If someone ever does walk up to the Face and prove that it is artificial the first words from the hard core mono-thiests will be "Mars must be the sight of the Garden of Eden".

Mac said...

The only difference between the priest and the atheist is the object of their faith.

Precisely. That's why I'm agnostic.

http://www.mactonnies.com/agnostic.html

W.M. Bear said...

I consider myself a believer in the essentially "divine" nature of reality (though I shy away from using the overweight word "God"). What I don't do (or try not to) is absolutize my belief or turn it into a coercive system to lay on other people. I think that's where both religion and the metaphysical arm of science known as "scientism" (essentially belief that the material world is the ultimate reality) go astray. I also think that "buying into" scientism in some form or other accounts for most of the dismissive orthodoxy we see applied to planetary SETI.

Carol said...

If we want learned commentary on planetary SETI and how to tell possible eroded monumental sculpture from a big pile of rocks, we'll probably not have Dez Barbara, (originator of the New Scientist mention, whose own scientific specialty is carrot pathogens) at the top of the list of people to ask.

"In 1993 we reported that Mike Malin, principal investigator on NASA's Mars Observer camera, complained that he was spending a quarter of his valuable time responding to conspiracy theorists."

I don't believe for a moment that there was ever a period when Mike Malin spent 2-4 hours each day writing to "conspiracy theorists." I think that's utter bullshit.

Carol Maltby

Gerald T said...

Those scum sucking vile bastards!

Those low life vermin infested scabies ridden sons of dung eating dogs!

Those black toothed puss dripping self groping deranged mother copulating pig faced scumbags!

Those bottom dwelling muck breathing glue snorting A-holes are not fit to lick the bottom of Richards’s boots!

W.M. Bear said...

Carol -- Yeah, my B.S. meter pegged when I read that paragraph too. Of all the totally lame excuses for dismissing the Face from consideration.... (Well, excu-u-u-se us, Mr. Malin!)

gerald t -- I believe that is a technically correct description.

Boogey_Man said...

I must admit to a terrible secret. I enjoyed watching the Batman cartoon series. There is an episode where it seems some street level, bumbling gangster wanna be has killed Batman. He catches greif from everyone, most of all from the Joker. The Joker snatched up the hood and plans to drop him in a vat of acid after a eulogy to his fallen foe. At the end he goes into a rant cursing the hood who has cheated him out of his greatest victory.

"This loathsome no body, this diseased piece of hyena filth! A man not worthy to like the mud from my spats!"

Despite all the other things that Ive forgotten that little insult has stuck in my mind.

Boogey_Man said...

Lick...

Dear god, all those years in school wasted. Please forgive me, Im taking a bucket full of meds for this flu.

Mac said...

Carol--

If we want learned commentary on planetary SETI and how to tell possible eroded monumental sculpture from a big pile of rocks, we'll probably not have Dez Barbara, (originator of the New Scientist mention, whose own scientific specialty is carrot pathogens) at the top of the list of people to ask.

Maybe they've considered that the hypothetical monument-builders are highly evolved carrot pathogens.

I don't believe for a moment that there was ever a period when Mike Malin spent 2-4 hours each day writing to "conspiracy theorists." I think that's utter bullshit.

Really. I smelled that one, too.

Mac said...

Of all the totally lame excuses for dismissing the Face from consideration.... (Well, excu-u-u-se us, Mr. Malin!)

Why not "outsource" the job to Seth Shostak or James Randi?

Carol said...

If this were a musical, we'd have Michael Malin break into a softshoe and sing.

"You made me write you,
I didn't wanna do it,
I didn't wanna do it..."


I'd feel such a sense of power at hearing that, if only he'd ever answered the questions I emailed to him. [pout]

JEFM said...

Malin would never spend that amount of hours answering e-mails.

That's a lie, a ridiculous one.

Jon

Carol said...

You'd think that someone glommed on so tightly to the taxpayers' teat would be able to prioritize better than spending two hours a day writing to people who, as Carl Sagan said, were "not even in the conversation."

Mac said...

Then again, Malin's pretty damned vocal when it comes to Face debunking. I read that he showed up to a conference where Mark Carlotto was presenting pro-artificiality evidence with no less than a megaphone with which to drown out the "competition."

If true, I think this qualifies him as a bit of a nut, at least on this particular subject. I can *almost* see him pounding out responses to "conspiracy theorists."

W.M. Bear said...

If so, I'd like to see that email correspondence, both directions. Might make for interesting reading!

W.M. Bear said...

Mac -- I'm sure you must know about this site but I just discovered it thanx (and a tip o' the Bear fedora) to gerald t:

Keith Laney

I'd be interested to know your opinion. I thought his take on Apollo 17 was extremely interesting and definitely in line with my own thinking about NASA concealing evidence of Planetary SETI.

Carol said...

Yes, it would be fascinating to see the correspondence. Mike Malin's claim of two hours a day of penpal duty is an extraordinary claim that clearly requires extraordinary evidence.

Here's the megaphone story Mac mentioned:

According to Vincent Dipietro, during the "Case for Mars" conference at Boulder, Colorado in 1981, Dipietro and his research partner Gregory Molenaar were audibly assaulted by Dr. Malin. Malin had set up a display table near to the one hosted by Dipietro and Molenaar, who were trying to generate interest in the Face and their image enhancement process. Every time anyone approached the table and started to look at the images of the Face, Malin picked up a megaphone and began yelling into it, creating so much noise that he was able to drive away many a curious conference-goer.

http://www.enterprisemission.com/skull.htm

stankan said...

Keith, what is his take on Apollo 17?

I believe in G-d, but I find that I agree with athiests more than religous people. As I have said in the past, I like the Jewish religion. The idea that you do not say G-d's name, because then you would be defining and limiting G-d.

In any event, this debunking technique is time tested and works. Marginalize people who disagree with you, rather than address the facts.

Stan

W.M. Bear said...

Stan -- In my understanding of Kabbalah (which I've studied a little including Gershom Scholem's wonderful book on the Tree of Life) you evoke divinity by pronouncing the four Hebrew letters of the Divine Name or, better, simply referring to these letters using the term "Tetragrammaton" (meaning "the Four Letters"). To my (admittedly somewhat) warped mind, this beats the hell (so to speak) out of bandying the term "God" around with just about every sentence one speaks like some fundamentalists do, as though one actually knew what one was talking about (NOT -- to say nothing of the fact that some of them draw it out to two syllables: GAW-ud).

Re Keith Laney, his suspicion is that Apollo 17 made a dangerous landing between two lunar massifs because one of them looked possibly to be artificial. (It's nearly a perfect hexagon, so there's not a bad argument there.) Again, Keith's suspicion is that the Apollo 17 astronauts DID verify its artificiality and that this part of the mission was kept hidden from the public in accordance with, yes, the famous Brookings Institute report that recommends that any evidence of ETI be kept secret. I would say that Keith makes a good (though far from perfect) case for this suspicion. Definitely worth a look.