Thursday, February 22, 2007

Martian Explorers Should Be Looking for Fossils

Instead of just looking for current life on Mars, Arizona State University professor Jack Farmer thinks that future missions should also be looking for ancient fossils on the Red Planet. In fact, he thinks they might be easier to find.

Could Richard Hoagland be right? Could we have already found one?


W.M. Bear said...

I think the scientist in the article was talking about microfossils. But I always thought "Crinoid Coverup" was one of RH's better efforts.

Ed said...

Mac, check out Xenotech Research, in particular the trilobites.

Carol Maltby said...

For a detailed commentary that I did at the time in response to Hoagland's article on the alleged "crinoid," see this posting on the Yahoo Cydonia list:

A search for "crinoid" on that list will bring up other follow-ups.

Crinoid my ass.

W.M. Bear said...

Carol -- It strikes me that your method of "answering" Hoagland quotation by quotation is somewhat beside the point. I never EXPECT any kind of real logical argument from Hoagland to start with. Face it, the man is primarily a showman (granted one suffering under a number of personal illusions that he's more than that) and I simply view everything he says from that perspective. I am certainly no expert on fossils and my basic take on both fossils and possible Martian artifacts is that, in cases like this, we simply cannot draw hard and fast conclusions one way or the other about virtually ANY images of this sort from the image itself alone. (Yes, I know, Hoagland waxes dogmatic with the least excuse but, again, that seems to be part of his showman persona.)

I'd also be the first to agree that treating the whole subject of possible Martian fossils and artifacts as an occasion for (dogmatizing) showmanship probably in some senses does a disservice to genuine anomalistics research in these areas. So maybe, after all, puncturing his rhetorical balloons is the way to go. Pesonally, I simply enjoy the showmanship (such as it is, granted) and taken it for what it's worth (which is to say, with an extremelhy large helping of sodium chloride).

Carol Maltby said...

WMB, there are a whole lot of reasons for occasionally analysing material coming out of The Enterprise Mission on a sentence by sentence basis. None of them are particularly fun or rewarding, and it's not something anyone would want to spend the time on regularly. But there are some real bad habits that I can see setting into stone, and that don't serve our needs to understand Mars.

Richard Hoagland gets written off as an entertainer by those who don't swallow his whole "Captain" schtick. It's usually a matter of thumbs up from his fanboys, or thumbs down by the Hoagland haters. None of that leads to nuance or complexity, or helps anyone ask the questions we should be asking.

A lot of us who have been talking about Mars anomalies since 1998 have burned out on Hoagland. Yet if you don't continually have people who can model open-minded questioning, those coming along later will have a harder time breaking out of ossified ways of perceiving and responding.

One of the biggest problems I find with TEM's work in the past few years is their inability to describe what they are seeing accurately. It's not limited to Hoagland and Bara, of course. But if they are the ones that are defining a feature and it is based on poor observation, it still tends to be the analysis that sticks, for right or for wrong. "Looks like" doesn't mean "is," and hyperbole about something being an exact version of something on Earth makes us look like fools if those claims can't be supported.

You never hear Richard Hoagland talking about things he's looking at being at the limits of resolution, or whether some quality he sees as being part of the landscape just might actually be a jpeg artifact.

If we don't call him on it, we're letting him get away with it. If we regularly accept shoddy, superficial and unprofessional presentations, we can't get sulky about not being taken seriously.

I think we've got the responsibility to make sure the dialogue gets moved forward when debunkers no longer have a Richard Hoagland to kick around. If we don't do it, who will?

Anonymous said...

Ed directed you to a good link. Hoagland looks on the moon for parts of robots that were actors in a science fiction television show. He has 0 credibility.


Carol Maltby said...

Okay, let’s look at “Another Perfect Trilobite” at

Note the language Shults uses: “perfect.” “Easy to see.” “Any argument about the wild improbability of Martian animals being similar to terrestrial ones is moot- a single hard fact beats any amount of opinion or speculation every time. This picture is that hard fact.” “No matter who you are, what your background is, or what you may believe, this is very clearly a trilobite.” No hesitation or ambiguity, even though this is something millions of miles away and shown at its limits of resolution.

Look at the Martian image. It is so fuzzy that you can’t tell what is its true perimeter. One of the strongest features of a trilobite is its symmetry. Yet the center feature on the Mars rock is distinctly diagonal, rather than running straight down the axis, as a trilobite’s would. The horizontal lines of the real trilobite show them to be arcs, while the horizontals on the Mars rock are perfect lines, and thus most likely to be artifacts of imaging.

Or try this “Martian “trilobite” at . There is no sign whatsoever of any individual parts that could identify it as an animal, no sign that there is something that is rolled.

In his “Important Questions and Answers,” Shults says, “And to provide the proper exposure of this information, it has been published in a public forum and submitted for review by credible experts who are capable of performing an unbiased evaluation. Furthermore, this information has been provided to NASA and JPL as well, and all my materials protected by legal means to verify my claims and credibility.”

He does not list his “credible experts,” and his assertion that “all my materials [are]protected by legal means to verify my claims and credibility” is gobbledygook that means nothing. Some of his “technical papers” are merely several paragraphs bulked out by big photos, and bear no resemblance to the form or substance of actual academic papers.

Shults is quoted in 2004 as having had this on his front page: “I have received confirmations from professors and teachers of biology, paleontologists and amateur fossil hunters and collectors.” He seems to have dropped it at this point — any listings of who these learned people are, or are they Anonymous Cowards?

I’m pretty pragmatic about credentials vs information presented. I’ve seen some presentations by people with no degrees that were well-done, and some from people with a lot of alphabet soup after their names that were nonsense. But when I see pretension like this, or other examples of credential inflation (check the Yahoo Cydonia list for what I found out about “Dr.” Norman Bergrun’s credentials), it really sends up a red flag for me.

The “Sir” that Shults claims was given him comes from Orlando philanthropist Dr. Nelson Ying, who knighted him, supposedly under some Scottish law. Ying funds all of Shults’s research. The knighthood is nothing that is recognized by British authorities. In 1993 the Barony of Balquhain was “disponed” to Dr. Ying, who was a friend of the family that owned it, as the last heir was in New Zealand and didn’t want it. The verb “dispone” was mostly used in the 16th century; whether Ying was given the title or bought it is not specified.

Pete Albrecht has done some looking into Shults and the scope of the Xenotech operation.

After taking a better look at both the claims that Shults makes, and the way he makes them, I find his credibility on these alleged fossils to be pretty non-existent. Not that I have a problem with evidence of life on Mars as such. Just that this guy is not someone I’ll trust to present it.

W.M. Bear said...

Carol -- Also, I did say that I thought "Crinoid Coverup" was "One of RH's better efforts," I definitely didn't say that I agree with him or even take him seriously. The reasons I think this is one of his better efforts are as follows.

1) I grant that he really simply doesn't know what he's talking about, as far as the science side of the issue goes. In this regard, a basic point to make would seem to be that, let's assume that the rock in question DID contain SOME sort of macro-scale fossil. (Just, say, to entertain this possibility as a working hypothesis to make a point.) It is highly unlikely that it would BE a fossil "crinoid" for the simple a priori reason that Martian flora and fuana (assuming they existed) would necessarily have followed a completely separate course of evolution from earth species. This is true even if the so-called "panspermia" theory holds and both Earth and Mars may have been originally "seeded" by similar microorganisms (or one planet may have been seeded by the other). By the time life evolved to the complexity of the crinoid (or comparable) level, the divergence in evolutionary courses on the two planets would likely be so great that it simply does not make any sense to identify a Martian organism as belonging to a genus of Earth organisms. Ergo, on the face of it, fossil or no fossil, definitely NOT a "crinoid," agreed.


HOWEVER (note my usual "big however"), Hoagland does make what seems to me one excellent point. Given that the object in the rock shows enough regularly to at least arguably qualify as a POSSIBLE fossil and, at any rate, something worthy of further investigation. (As a total non-expert I did find the regular-looking segmentation at least highly suggestive.) Why then did NASA more of less immediately order the rover grind it to a fine powder? Not applying its RAT a few inches above, below, or to the side but directly onto the object in question, as though it were actually TARGETING it? Why not at least take a closeup with high magnification first? (Frankly, I don't buy NASA's repeated arguments that there simply wasn't enough time to investigate everything. Not enough time to investigate a potential sign of Martian life?)

So there you have it. My reason for calling this one of Hoagland's better efforts. I think HE was right to call NASA on this particular wanton destruction of evidence (or at least possible evidence).

Carol Maltby said...

Take a really long look at the segmentation of the "crinoid." It's sorta kinda regularly segmented at first glance, but way too much variation when you take the time to observe it carefully.

Its deceptive regularity is one of those things that anomalists push too often, that just doesn't stand up to observation.

"It is highly unlikely that it would BE a fossil "crinoid" for the simple a priori reason that Martian flora and fuana (assuming they existed) would necessarily have followed a completely separate course of evolution from earth species.

Try telling that to anomalists who see perfect Earth animals on the micro or macro scale on Mars. They'll insist on the exact depiction of their parrot or dolphin or puma, swear it's anatomically correct for that animal.
No matter if the parrot has non-parrot feet, the dolphin is delineated by imaginary lines, and the puma has a leg that hinges in the wrong direction!

W.M. Bear said...

Try telling that to anomalists who see perfect Earth animals on the micro or macro scale on Mars.

Actually, I find most of these the least convincing possibilities for Martian artificiality and the most likely candidates for the orthodox dismissive "simulacra" explanation. (Indeed, this is a case where I would definitely like to see Martian anomalists give it a rest.) Some of the grids and gridlike formations strike me as much better possibilities and MUCH harder to explain away as just geological formations. (I've also seen a TON of stuff suggestive of artificiality -- to me anyway -- in the rover pix but I won't go there. I've had zero luck trying to get Mac even to take a second look and he's the expert.)

What I most dislike about the orthodox approach: arguing that because some expert has convincing dismissed a SINGLE formation as, say, a simulacrum, THEREFORE they all are -- which is the typical approach you see in reporting on the subject. Frankly, I think when human beings do finally land on Mars, some people in NASA officialdom are going to have to eat an awful lot of crow (or Martian crow-analog).

Carol Maltby said...

Mars anomalists usually have a hard time swatting away accusations of pareidolia regarding the Face, let alone making good arguments for and convincingly countering reservations about other possibly figurative features. I don't think I've encountered anyone yet who has looked at Simulacra by John Michell, or Aberrations by Jurgis Baltrusaitis, in order to get some background on historic examples of simulacra that might inform Martian claims.

Take a look at the detail of these two photos, and see which looks more like the remains of an urban streetscape -- Mona Lisa's varnish, or this alleged Mars grid?