News From Around The Blogosphere 4.20.11

April 20, 2011

1. Siberian YouTube alien is a hoax – This week a YouTube video has been making the rounds that seems to show the discovery of a dead space alien in the ice. Of course, as it turns out, the tiny “dead alien” is just skin from chicken filled with bread that was painted in “alien colors,” whatever that is.

2. Dilbert’s evolution-denying creator caught using sock accounts – Many people don’t know this but Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoons, doesn’t believe in evolution. What you might also not know is that he often defends himself against critics online under the anonymous account, PlannedChaos in order to give the illusion of impartiality. And when his dishonesty was caught, his excuse was that since it hardly even registers when compared with the worst immoral behavior imaginable that that somehow makes his actions acceptable. PZ Myers offers this hilarious response:

Great. So if ever I’m caught kicking a puppy or lying on the internet, all I need to do is explain that I didn’t kill six million Jews, so you can all forgive me.

Myers perfectly demonstrates what a pathetic argument that is and how it can be used to justify literally anything.

Exhibit A:

3. Jesus loves Kit Kat viral video – Whenever I hear a pareidolia-themed news story about people seeing the face of Jesus in some random object, I love to post about it. Hell, I’m even making a short film mocking the phenomenon. And last year, when a video emerged showing people who allegedly found Jesus’ face in a Kit Kat bar, I probably reported it. But it turns out that it was a Poe, a deliberate hoax that was indistinguishable from a genuine news story. In actuality, it was an experiment to see if they could get the video to go viral.

On a related note…

4. Canadian-Israeli director Simcha Jacobovici claims to have found the nails that crucified Jesus – How does he know? Well, they’re really old. What more proof do you nned?

5. Mitchell and Webb bring us Holistic ER – The group that has given us Homeopathic A&E, also has another video mocking holistic medicine of all kinds.

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Reports of bacteria from space mildly exaggerated

March 8, 2011

By now you may have heard that we’ve found evidence that we’re not alone in the universe. It was reported several days ago that alien microbes born in outer space had been found in meteorites on Earth. However, according to NASA, that story is not entirely accurate…which is to say, it’s not at all accurate:

The US space agency formally distanced itself from the paper by NASA scientist Richard Hoover, whose findings were published Friday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology, which is available free online.

“That is a claim that Mr Hoover has been making for some years,” said Carl Pilcher, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute.

“I am not aware of any support from other meteorite researchers for this rather extraordinary claim that this evidence of microbes was present in the meteorite before the meteorite arrived on Earth and and was not the result of contamination after the meteorite arrived on Earth,” he told AFP.

“The simplest explanation is that there are microbes in the meteorites; they are Earth microbes. In other words, they are contamination.”

This response at least seems far less political than their sheepish initial response, which PZ Myers harshly criticized. But I am glad that Myers took a moment to acknowledge his desire to see the discovery of life from elsewhere other than Earth as one of the tough things I’ve experienced in the three plus years since I abandoned my belief that aliens have already visited Earth is always being viewed as someone who doesn’t want to find evidence for life elsewhere in the universe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Statistically, the odds of other life–even other intelligent life–are almost certain and as Carl Sagan said, if it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.

And now that we’ve detected water elsewhere in our own solar system, that increases the odds significantly that we’ll find evidence that at least single-celled life live or once lived not far from us. And given such discoveries, I’ll even speculate that I wouldn’t be surprised if such evidence emerged within the next five years. Of course that’s just my baseless speculation and time will tell if it proves accurate.

Also check out Phil Plait’s more detailed piece on this non-news story here.

And just for fun, here’s what you get when you mix Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot with an Old Spice commercial:

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Why do space aliens love New Jersey so much?

May 17, 2010

It has long been observed that my home state of New Jersey is the preferred space port of inter-stellar travelers across the universe. First the Martians invaded Grovers Mills, New Jersey on October 30, 1938 (though that turned out to be just Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds). Then in January of 2009, a UFO was famously spotted near Morristown, New Jersey (though that turned out to just be a hoax by my friends Chris Russo and Joe Rudy).

And now another UFO was spotted near Sumerset County, New Jersey. This was a long, tube-like structure that nobody could identify.

The Air Traffic Control Tower in Morristown did not have any pilot reports of the object, nor did officials at Solberg Airport in Hunterdon, Somerset Airport in Bedminster and Blairstown Airport in Warren County.

Chris and Joe, is this you guys again?

Russian president asked to investigate alien abduction

May 6, 2010

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the leader of the southern region of Kalmykia, claims to have met space aliens on board the mother ship (that’s just me who’s assuming the ship he was on was the mother ship–isn’t it always?). And now he’s asking President Medvedev to investigate his alleged alien abduction. But the scariest part?

MP Andre Lebedev is not just asking whether Mr Ilyumzhinov is fit to govern.

He is also concerned that, if he was abducted, he may have revealed details about his job and state secrets.

Really Lebedev? That’s your concern? Really? Cause the space aliens came all this way to conquer us all and make us all work in their underground sugar caves but the one thing standing in their way is your state secrets? Really? [face palm]

I’d like to say, only in Russia. But sadly  this sort of lack of incompetence can be found anywhere.

But I for one welcome our new alien overlords and would like to remind them that as an internet blogger, I can be useful in rounding up others to work in their underground sugar caves.

MUFON head quits, calls UFOlogy “humans deceiving humans”

April 8, 2010

This is just an outstanding news story. James Carrion, the International Director for the Mutual Unidentified Flying Object Network (MUFON) has resigned from his position. But he didn’t go without explaining himself. And here’s where it gets very interesting. Carrion essentially denounces the entire “scientific” field of UFOlogy, which plays a central role in the alien visitation believing movement:

That in a nutshell is the sad state of Ufology today, humans deceiving
humans. If there is a real phenomenon, I have yet to see any evidence of
it that would stand under scientific scrutiny.

If you’d asked me to guess who said this quote yesterday I might have said Michael Shermer or Phil Plait. But no, this came from one of the leaders of the UFO/alien visitation community! That is fuckin’ unbelievable!

What I discovered was that the phenomenon is based in deception – of the human kind –and that there is no way ANYONE will understand the real truth unless they are willing to first accept that. No, I am not talking about some grandiose cover-up of alien visitation, but instead the documented manipulation of people and information for purposes that I can only speculate on. How do I unequivocally know this to be true? Well let me lay it out for you in laymen’s terms.

People are easily manipulated because we are all subject to the psychological pressures of ego, biased beliefs and tunnel vision. For example, those that KNOW that earth is being visited by aliens have blinders on and no amount of alternative explanation will convince them otherwise. They are the die hard in the wool believers for whom Ufology serves as a religion to confirm their beliefs that they take on faith. On the other end of the spectrum are the debunkers who must counter every claim with a reason why it can’t be so, without bothering to examine the data or lift a finger in conducting original research of their own.

Whoa! Wait a minute, what about those who don’t take things on faith and actually collect data and conduct investigation? Good question. I decided to examine the data collection and investigative practices in Ufology, and after poring over thousands of historical case files from MUFON, NICAP and APRO investigators in the MUFON archives, what I found, was inconsistent investigation with a total lack of evidentiary standards. I also found a paper trail of disinformation and misinformation that has kept Ufology in check through infighting and red herrings, rabbit holes and elaborate deception operations.

I have to give Carrion a lot of credit for overcoming what I can only imagine was extraordinary cognitive dissonance. To have devoted all that time to this community, so much so that you were among its leaders, and then take a real critical look at it and essentially denounce. That takes a lot of courage. It also takes a lot of courage because he’ll no doubt be receiving lots of vitriolic hate mail from people within the movement he’s forsaken.

Congratulations James. You’re one of us now.

Area 51 former contractors confess nothing all that interesting happened there

April 2, 2010

Back in my pre-skeptic days I used to believe all sorts of fantastical claims about this military base near Groom Lake, even as the myths grew more and more elaborate, and in the process, more and more implausible.

For example, would the government really continue to test top secret aircraft based on alien technology out in the open where nerdy civilians could so easily see them (while always managing to forget to bring video equipment)? For such well kept secrets, it seemed rather easy for people with no spy training to sneak a gander, don’t ya think?

And once Area 51 became a video game, I pretty much had to accept the truth, that there was probably nothing all that amazing happening there and claims to the contrary were primarily products of overactive imaginations. I mean after the area turned into a tourist attraction for wannabe Fox Mulders you’d think the Men In Black would move the operation to a less public locale, no?

But now some of the secret projects at Area 51 have been declassified and former contractors who worked on the infamous base have broken their silence, revealing that if there were space alien spacecraft or human spacecraft modeled on alien spacecraft, they never saw it. No Aurora Project. No little green men or big-eyed grays.

Of course they could all be lying to throw us off the real government conspiracy but that doesn’t really make much sense for various reasons:

A. Why now?


B. The true believers aren’t likely to take their accounts seriously anyway.

There hasn’t been any more clamor over declassifying Area 51 than usual so if anything, this only draws more media attention to Area 51. If you’re covering up a conspiracy at Area 51, wouldn’t you want to draw as little attention to it as possible, especially since nobody of any consequence is banging on the government’s door for answers. Of course, conspiracy theorists can easily fill in any plot hole with the ever popular game of, “because they know that we know that they know that we know,” ad infinatum and argue that they these are intentional plot holes to throw us off.

Ultimately, this meme has a life of its own now and nothing is likely to change most people’s minds about Area 51. It’s still an interesting news story none the less.

The CIA report CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90 says it best:

Like the JFK assassination conspiracy theories, the UFO issue probably will not go away soon, no matter what the Agency does or says. The belief that we are not alone in the universe is too emotionally appealing and the distrust of our government is too pervasive to make the issue amenable to traditional scientific studies of rational explanation and evidence.

News From Around The Blogosphere 11.11.09

November 12, 2009

1. Lou Dobbs leaves CNN – Good riddance!

2. Children with autism show slower pupil responses

Recently, University of Missouri researchers have developed a pupil response test that is 92.5 percent accurate in separating children with autism from those with typical development. In the study, MU scientists found that children with autism have slower pupil responses to light change.

3. Can Earth absorb CO2 much greater than expected?

New data show that the balance between the airborne and the absorbed fraction of carbon dioxide has stayed approximately constant since 1850, despite emissions of carbon dioxide having risen from about 2 billion tons a year in 1850 to 35 billion tons a year now.

This suggests that terrestrial ecosystems and the oceans have a much greater capacity to absorb CO2 than had been previously expected.

4. Star Trek-like Replicator Makes Metal Parts

She admits that, on the surface, EBF3 reminds many people of a Star Trek replicator in which, for example, Captain Picard announces out loud, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” Then there is a brief hum, a flash of light and the stimulating drink appears from a nook in the wall.

In reality, EBF3 works in a vacuum chamber, where an electron beam is focused on a constantly feeding source of metal, which is melted and then applied as called for by a drawing — one layer at a time — on top of a rotating surface until the part is complete.

5. Did Glenn Beck rape and murdere a young girl in 1990? – I’m not saying he did, but like a lot of other people, “I’m just asking questions.” And these are apparently questions that Glenn Beck doesn’t want to see asked because he tried to shut down the satirical Beck-mocking site But Beck couldn’t silence the questions and the so mirror sites using this Fark-inspired meme applying Beck’s own “I’m just asking the question” tactic remain on the web. What are you trying to hide, Glenn? And why haven’t you denied that you raped and murdered a young girl in 1990? Huh?

Kiddos to South Park for nailing this particular Beck tactic on tonight’s show.

6. Mormons becoming pro-gay rights? – Last week I blogged about how filmmaker Paul Haggis left $cientology largely because of their unapologetic anti-gay position. Well now the Mormon church is coming out in support of gay rights. Seriously.

7. E.T. phone Rome – The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences is holding its first ever conference to discuss the possible ramifications for the church should extraterrestrial life be discovered. Maybe they’ll finally pardon Giordano Bruno, an Italian monk, who was put to death by the Inquisition in 1600 for suggesting life might exist somewhere else in the universe.

What America’s greatest hoax has to teach us about memory

October 30, 2009

It was just an ordinary Sunday evening in Grovers Mill, New Jersey. The date was October 30, 1938. But soon after 8pm, panic broke out. The reason was that radio newscasters were reporting that the Martians had landed in Grovers Mill. . .and they were out for blood.

The broadcast could be heard across the U.S. but it was those closest to ground zero of the Martian invasion who reacted the most as they could immediately identify the locales mentioned in the reports. Then they decided to fight back against the unwelcome visitors. This was their town and they weren’t going to let the Martians take it from them.

Of course it turned out that there were no Martians. There never were. And those heard on the radio were not even real newscasters. They were radio play actors reading a script written by Howard Koch, loosely based on H.G. Wells’ classic book, The War of the Worlds. The project was produced by a then twenty-three-year-old Orson Welles. And the whole thing was broadcast from the New York City studio of the Columbia Broadcasting System’s Mercury Theater.

Arguably the greatest hoax in U.S., Robert E. Bartholomew suggests this notorious historical event offers us a powerful lesson about memory, eye-witness testimony, self-deception, and mass delusions:

In his famous study of the Martian panic, Princeton University psychologist Hadley Cantril discusses the extreme variability of eyewitness descriptions of the “invasion.” These examples have been usually overlooked in subsequent popular and scholarly discussions of the panic. One person became convinced that they could smell the poison gas and feel the heat rays as described on the radio, while another became emotionally distraught and felt a choking sensation from the imaginary “gas” (Cantril 1947, 94-95). During the broadcast several residents reported observations to police “of Martians on their giant machines poised on the Jersey Palisades” (Markush 1973, 379). After checking various descriptions of the panic, Bulgatz (1992, 129) reported that a Boston woman said she could actually see the fire as described on the radio; other persons told of hearing machine gun fire or the “swish” sound of the Martians. A man even climbed atop a Manhattan building with binoculars and described seeing “the flames of battle.”

The event also reminds us that the human mind does not function like a video camera capturing each piece of data that comes into its field of vision. People interpret information as it is processed.

As a skeptic who remains unconvinced of the supernatural, the paranormal, or the invisible strings of grand conspirators, I’m no stranger to the appeal to anecdotal evidence. I’ve frequently heard fantastical tales from those who swear to have truly encountered the unbelievable. And my demands for physical evidence are often met with the rolling eyes of true believers who think I’ve set the bar for evidence too high so as to be out of reach. They’ll insist that no amount of evidence would convince me and that I’d still deny these phenomena even if an angel/ghost/extraterrestrial/Reptilian/agent of the New World Order showed up at my door. And to this, I respond that this is an unfair assessment considering I’ve been offered no evidence even remotely as compelling as that which they’ve invented in their hypothetical scenario.

The religious ask me to account for all the reported miracles and angel sightings, etc. from trustworthy witnesses. The paranormalists ask me to account for all the reported ghost and UFO sightings from trustworthy witnesses such as air force pilots or police officers as well as all the alleged “psychic” claims that the “psychic” “couldn’t possibly have known.” The UFO crowd The “alternative” “medicine” proponents ask me to account for all the reported cases of a person appearing to get well after seeing faith healers, psychic surgeons, acupuncturists, homeopaths, herbal supplement dealers, etc. And the grand conspiracy theorists ask me to account for all the little details from “the official story” that doesn’t seem to “add up” like why did that one newscaster report the wrong gun after the Kennedy assassination, or why can I see the letter C on the moon rock, or why did the guy yell “Pull it!” before WTC 7 collapsed, or why did one 9/11 eyewitness from the ground report that he distinctly saw X number of engines on the plane that struck the Towers when video footage clearly shows that there were Y number of engines on the plane.

While some of these types of claims have been thoroughly and definitively debunked, the truth is that often I don’t have all the answers and that sometimes it’s impossible to arrive at a more plausible and rational alternative explanation without having either been there or more famous cases, having at least done extensive research.

But one thing that I don’t find compelling–and the Grovers Mill case illustrates why–is the argument that there were just too many witnesses for X to have not really happened or have been a mere misinterpretation. Maybe there was a real historical Jesus and there really were five hundred witnesses who thought they saw miracles. Unfalsifiable. Maybe Joseph Smith really did have twelve witnesses who sincerely believed they’d seen divine revelation. Meaningless. Maybe that Pilot Kenneth Arnold did really see craft that he couldn’t identify in 1947 and believed were from out of this world. Scientifically worthless. Maybe the townspeople of Roswell, New Mexico and Major Jesse Marcel really did believe they saw a crash flying saucer or saucers. Tell that to the town of Grovers Mills. Maybe Betty and Barney Hill truly believed they were abducted by space aliens. So what?

Human perception and memory reconstruction are deeply flawed and easily susceptible to suggestion (Ex. here, here, and here). Here’s another account of a witness of the great Grovers Mills Martian invasion:

These memories are not statically locked away in the brain forever, but our memories of events are reconstructed over time (Loftus and Ketcham, 1991). Cantril (1947) cited the case of Miss Jane Dean, a devoutly religious woman, who, when recalling the broadcast, said the most realistic portion was “the sheet of flame that swept over the entire country. That is just the way I pictured the end” (181). In reality, there was no mention of a sheet of flame anywhere in the broadcast.

Now lets look at the history of UFO sightings:

In the beginning there were sightings, and those sightings began with private pilot Kenneth Arnold on June 24, 1947. As soon as news stories appeared reporting Arnold’s claim that he saw nine airborne objects that flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water,” others began reporting seeing the “saucers” too (a curious development, since Arnold did not say that the objects looked like saucers—they looked like boomerangs, he said—but skipped like saucers, a subtlety lost in the public’s imagination). Soon sightings of “saucers” were pouring in from all around the country and from around the world. Sightings occurred in waves, which appeared to be fueled by media reports. A wave would typically start in one location, but as soon as news reports began to carry the story of the localized excitement, sightings activity would pick up nationally. Great waves of UFO sightings occurred in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1957, 1965—67, and 1973.

Then in 1973, there was a significant drop-off in the number of reported UFO sightings. Then after the release of Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, all of a sudden, the UFOs returned in droves. What are the odds? And it turns out that a pattern emerges. It seems the UFOs seem to always resurface every time Hollywood has renewed interest in aliens. I guess the movies on their planet are all directed by Joel Schumacher, so they have to traverse the whole universe to see anything good. And there was a time when aliens were always described as being little green men. Then after the Hill case, all of a sudden, the little green men stopped visiting and sent their friends the big-eyed Grays instead. What we’re seeing here, as with religions, is meme evolution. It seems like we’re seeing exactly what we’d expect to see if all these weird paranormal events were nothing but a self-perpetuating mass delusion.

People create false memories. This is the horrible reality of eyewitness testimony. Sometimes honest, well-meaning people simply get it wrong. They see or experience something strange or unexplained and their brain fills in details based on their own prejudices or expectations. This is how the real power of suggestion works. If your primed to think weird lights in the sky is a flying saucer, that’s what you’ll perceive it to be. And if you’re primed to think aliens are gray with big eyes, that’s what you’ll see.

The problem with anecdotes:

Test your skills as an eyewitness:

Watch this video and see if you can count how many times the players in the white shirt pass the ball around.

Do not read on until you’ve done this. This is more tricky than it seems.

Now, did you see the gorilla?

Here’s another test of your eyewitness skills:

And for more lessons in critical thinking, click here.

Kazakhstan, all you needed to do was buy a few Reese’s Pieces

April 24, 2009

Okay, this has got to be the silliest story of the day. In order to make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan, the Kazakhstan government has allegedly decided their money would be best spent on building the world’s first alien embassy, as in space alien embassy:

If these reports are to be believed, the authorities have already allocated a large plot of land in the city of Almaty for this ambitious project. Facilities to be built within the complex will include a guesthouse, theatre and translation service. A purpose built UFO landing pad and checkpoint will be attached to the embassy.

Kazakhstan’s government believes open contact with aliens is imminent and by being the first nation to specifically create such facilities they are convinced they will reap enormous financial and economic rewards. The Kazakhstan Government also see this as a chance to demonstrate their nations forward thinking policies.

This has got to be an elaborate prank because I find it hard to believe that Kazakhstan could possibly thikn their nation is more forward thinking than the rest of Western world. And wouldn’t it occur to them at all that the space aliens might not be anything like us and might not have any use for such things as a theatre.

There’s just no way this is real story. If this would true, it’d make every comedian’s day. It’s just too absurd, far more absurd than Borat’s “Running of the Jew” festival.