Monthly Archives: September 2008

MythBusters does the moon hoax

I caught MythBusters last night (note that the episode description for that episode is not up as of this posting — original airdate 27 August 2008) to see their take on some of the common claims of moon hoax conspiracy theorists. [Trailer here.] As always they did a lot of things right and some things wrong. My thoughts after the fold.

I’ll start with what they did right.

1) They covered some of the most basic arguments for the moon landing being hoaxed: the astronauts in shadow shouldn’t be so bright in the pictures, the flag shouldn’t be “waving”, footprints shouldn’t leave clear imprints in dry sand, and the videos of the astronauts are just slow-mo. Those are pretty common and easily tested, so kudos.

2) They proved that there’s man-made technology on the moon by demonstrating that a laser pointed at a retroreflector returns a signal that is distinct from a signal returned from a generic point on the moon’s surface. Pretty hard to refute that unless you’re completely deluded (yes, I know, some people are that deluded).

3) They explained why their results made sense (i.e., the scientific principles behind why the astronaut is illuminated, etc). I won’t go into these here, as Phil Plait already did a great job of this. Explaining why something is is as important as explaining why it isn’t. So…awesome.

What they did wrong.

They ridiculed. It was mostly subtle, but it was there. I get that they aren’t trying to convince the true believers, because you pretty much can’t. However, I hear lots of otherwise intelligent people express doubts about the moon simply because of a poor understanding of science, not because they’re crazy. I’m sure they would benefit from a show like this, but I doubt they’ll like it much if it makes them feel stupid. I get that the myth is perpetuated by conspiracy theorists, but it’s believed by relatively innocent (albeit somewhat ignorant) people. If this show was aimed at the fence-sitters and not-quite-convinced, they probably should have toned it down a little so as not to be too off-putting. When battling the conspiracy theorists, ridicule away — it’s not like they’re going to change their mind anyway. But we want more people interested in this stuff, so in the context of a show on Discovery aimed at the mainstream, nicer is better.

Interesting foibles.

My partner coyly pointed out to me that what the MythBusters essentially did was demonstrate convincingly how the moon landing could have been faked — retroreflector notwithstanding. For example, they set up a perfect replica of the moon’s surface and found that yes we can see the astronaut in the shadow. Say I’m a conspiracy theorist. You know what I’m thinking? “Ok fine, we were wrong about why the picture was a fake, but you just showed how they did fake it.” I don’t know how to solve that problem, except that the subsequent demonstration with the laser blew everything else out of the water anyway. But all I could do was sigh because I know he’s right.

Conclusion.
Ultimately it was a good job. It could have been improved with them providing other resources for more information (such as Phil Plait’s site) — I didn’t see that, but I may have missed it. I also would have preferred a more reasoned and inquisitive tone. They myths are ridiculous, but their show is supposed to be “we don’t just tell the myths, we put them to the test”. It’s not a true “test” when you’re cocky about the results. From a conspiracy theorist perspective, that attitude just proves they’re not giving the hoax “theory” a fair chance. We want to eliminate that argument from their repertoire — the moon hoax has been given too much consideration already, let’s not let them so easily dismiss what’s been done by spoon-feeding them criticisms.

My nit picks are really nitpicky, so I hope I didn’t give a bad impression. I just have high standards. See it, love/hate it, read about the topic further. I’ve provided several links above. I won’t link to the conspiracy sites themselves in this case, but if anyone wants a laugh/cry just Google “moon hoax” and click away.

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God loves us, but some Christians hate us

Well, the atheist and skeptic sites are all abuzz with this bit of news about a university atheist group’s sign being vandalized (btw, I don’t care if the message was “friendly”, it’s still vandalism however passive aggressive the tone).I have two cents about it.

Some people are crying “hate crime” and other people are crying “calm down, it’s not a hate crime”. Whatever. I think atheists are justified in being pissed regardless of the definition of the crime and the response to it. And if something similar was done to a sign belonging to a Christian group or a gay rights group etc, the action would certainly have caused outrage among the masses and the crime would still be vandalism.

This is what bothers me though: the contact information for the atheist group was cut off the bottom of the sign. And a sign with contact information does not force secularism, atheism, or anything else on anyone.

We probably can’t know who defaced the sign. There’s every possibility that some shit-disturber defaced the sign to get the atheists and the Christians pissed off at each other. Or maybe some Christian did do it. Maybe someone thought it would be funny. Or something else. Whoever defaced the sign apparentlty wanted to make sure that people couldn’t contact the group for more information — i.e., censorship. I think that’s a pretty telling detail…

My ire isn’t really about the sign (although word on the street is that it was sort of expensive — canvas), it’s about what the defacement represents: “I don’t acknowledge your rights to believe something different from me and I will prevent you from trying”. A violation of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

I don’t give a crap if Christians write a blog, make fun of us, go to church and complain about our existence (heck, we do it — except the church thing). But I wish they wouldn’t try to circumvent the freedom of our own assembly. Judging by the vast number of churches and religious groups and signs advertising same, I’d say we’re not interfering terribly with their right to do so. I’ll certainly take anyone to task for promoting misinformation about science, atheism, skepticism, or other, but I would not deny anyone their constitutional right to choose religion. I’d appreciate it if they didn’t try to take away a person’s constitutional right to not choose religion.

What is wrong with these people?

Saudi Judge Issues Fatwa Against Satellite Broadcasters
19 September 2008 10:36 AM, PDT

“The head of Saudi Arabia’s highest court, the Supreme Judiciary Council, has ruled that it is permissible for Moslems to kill the owners of satellite TV stations that broadcast “immoral” programs. Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan issued a warning during a radio interview that owners of satellite TV channels who broadcast “indecency and impudent” would face “consequences.” He then added, “Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly it’s permissible to kill them.” The Associated Press observed that such a fatwa was particularly surprising given the fact that many of the satellite stations are owned by prominent Saudi princes and businessmen. As Saudi critics warned that al-Lihedan’s remarks could fuel vigilante action, he altered his statement somewhat saying that those broadcasting indecent programs should be brought to trial and, if found guilty, executed. The controversy erupted as organizers of Abu Dhabi’s second annual Middle East Film Festival announced its October lineup, including Body of Lies, starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo di Caprio as a CIA boss and an agent tracking down a terrorist in Jordan and Woody Allen’s Vicki Cristina Barcelona, which has scenes of three-way and lesbian sex..” [Emphasis mine.]

On what fucking planet is it ok for people to use religion to make it “legal” to kill people? Oh right. This fucking planet. Is it too early to move to the moon? Can we get on that, please?

Busy Day

It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye landlubbers.

And Adam West be 80 years old on this scurvy morn.

I’ve got more of today’s tidbits that’ll really shiver your timbers below the fold.

Scientists be imagin’ extrasolar planets! Go have a look see at the portrait.

And Bill Gates ends his wormy campaign with Seilfeld with this salty piece of sea garbage. (Ahoy! Deepak Chopra alert — he be particularly up his own backside in this one, mateys).

UPDATE: Bahahahahahahaha!!! Yarrrrr!

For this post I’m wearing my nerd hat…

…and not my skeptic hat.

I’m going to talk about the movie 300 (don’t read if you don’t want spoilers – you’ve been warned). I hear a lot of criticisms of this movie along the lines of:

  • it’s unrealistic
  • it’s “socially irresponsible”
  • it’s like a commercial for steroids

Many people take issue with details like the hugeness of Xerxes, the amount of Persian troops, the toughness and ab-ness of the Spartans, and the bloody barbarianism that’s depicted throughout the story.

I have the following response that solves all of these problems. Ok get ready everyone. I want all the critics who say these things to pay attention to this one little, but very important detail:

The movie is from the perspective of a Spartan telling a war story. Gasp!

Leonitis, and this is sort of the crux of the whole movie, sends one of his men (Dilios) back to Sparta to tell the tale of their battle. We don’t find out until the end, but he has been narrating the whole movie and that is why. Because he’s telling the epic tale of their battle.

So yes, of course the movie is totally unrealistic, but if you were telling tales of a great battle for posterity (and to convince your government to go to war) wouldn’t you want the enemy to look as ridiculously grandiose as possible? It’s a much better story for 300 people to have beaten thousands of the best fighters Persia has to offer than to be like: “Yeah, they sent in like 500 guys because they didn’t take us seriously and then we beat them, but then they brought out the archers and everyone died”. It makes the Persians ultimately look weak if only 300 guys can beat the best Persia has and the Persians have to ultimately “cheat” (with help from the “monster”) and waste a lot of resources (arrows) to defeat them.

Think of an old guy telling a fishing story and describing the size of the fish – similar principle. Make the story sound as awesome as possible so the protagonists come off as the biggest heroes possible. And in the case of convincing the government to do something, make the enemy sound as formidable but as ultimately defeatable as possible. Ooh ooh! Better example – Iraq. The terrorists are horrible, blew up WTC, but we’ll get them if we just become scary evangelicals? Familiar? There you go.

Also, hello, there are frigging mythical creatures in the movie. Obviously there is some artistic license going on from the storyteller (Dilios) to make the story more interesting.

So fault the movie’s dialogue, fault the effects, fault it for being sepia-toned, I dunno, but don’t fault it for plot points that are explained by the context of the story.

Ok. Nerdgasm over…for now.

What did I not blog about yesterday?

You have 1 guess.

Dr. Quinn is the best show ever…did I just say that?

In the episode “The Great American Medicine Show”, Dr. Quinn and the townsfolk are regaled with epic tales of awesomeness by a huckster, Doc Eli, peddling snake oil. Awesomeness ensues.

The relevant details of the show description taken from the Wiki episode list are as follows:

Dr. Mike tries to heal the soul of Doc Eli, a Civil War surgeon turned patent medicine show huckster, who’s come to like the taste of his own medicine, an all-curing elixir used by the fabled Kickapoo Indians. She doesn’t trust the sales pitch of this exploitave medicine show man, especially when she’s facing a real medical crisis involving Myra. She must help Doc Eli face his past demons, before he can help her remove an ovarian cyst from Myra, in a technique he pioneered.

Doc Eli shows up with all the hallmarks of quackery: “ancient” Indian wisdom, cures everything known to man, anyone can take it because if you’re not sick it’ll make you feel like Superman, your doctor just wants to say big words and cut you open, and “ooh look! shiney!”.

His reasoning is that medicine is largely a matter of “making people feel better” so he feels that he’s not doing anything wrong in promoting some kooky elixir. There’s no cure for cancer, TB, etc. so why not do something that doesn’t work but makes people “feel better” rather than crushing their dreams?

Dr. Quinn awesomely points out that his elixir masks symptoms, delays treatment, and can be dangerous. She says that she tells her patients the truth no matter how much it sucks.

Myra has an ovarian cyst requiring an operation. Her new fiance insists that she get the required surgery. Her pimp insists that he gave her the cure-all elixir and it says it cures all women’s problems so of course she doesn’t need the surgery and he doesn’t want the butcher doctor cutting on his employee. Thus presenting another danger to this snake-oil garbage — family/friend/employer pressure and misunderstanding. You may realize this stuff is bull, but when you’re unconscious guess who’s making your medical decisions.

Aside: There’s a difference between providing false hope for terminal patients (still inexcusable) and advertising something to the general population as a cure-all while simultaneously undermining the intentions of real medical doctors. Trying to make a buck off the innocent doesn’t match the reasoning of “I’m just trying to provide some relief”.

Wow. I mean, seriously. When Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman is the voice of reason… I have to wonder if, as a 12 year-old, this was one of my first exposures to skepticism and I forgot about it until just now as I’m watching it on Vision, of all places. My heart was all aflutter as I watched just now, so I thought I’d share.