#001 Sciencim: Critical Eye – 25/10/2011

This week in Sciencism: Critical Eye; I Don’t Believe It! recaps (Hurricane Irene conspiracies, lunar conspiracies, flat earth theory, spiritually transmitted diseases, scientific ghost hunting).


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This week we take a look at some hurricane Irene conspiracies including weather manipulation using HAARP(1)and a UFO sighting over the city of New York(2).

In the light of the recent high resolution images of Apollo landing sites we take a look at lunar conspiracies.

Ross Balch

Ever since the moon landing there have been conspiracies surrounding whether we really landed there or not. This week NASA has released more images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of several Apollo landing sites(3), demonstrating how ridiculous some of these conspiracies are.

Let’s examine just a couple of the more insane claims thanks to Phil Plait’s analysis on his Bad Astronomy blog(4). The first is that there were no stars in the pictures. However anyone who has taken a picture at night would notice a similar lack of stars in their picture, that’s because the incredibly fast shutter speed does not allow enough time the the relatively dim light from stars to be detected by the sensor.

The fluttering flag is another common example people give. This is quickly debunked. If you have a flag at home, go into the garden and wave it around, it flutters, the same happens on the moon due to the fact that GRAVITY and centrifugal force still exist!

Perhaps one of the most ridiculous is that NASA murdered some of its astronauts in order to keep the conspiracy under wraps. But really… is murdering three out of the hundreds of people who would have been involved in these missions really going to make your conspiracy more secure? Of course not.

Like all grand conspiracies they collapse under their own weight. In order to perpetrate the conspiracy a large number of people have to be consigned unimaginable power and intelligence yet still be dumb enough not to adequately cover up their tracks, and in 40 odd years not a single person has blown the whistle? The lunar conspiracy is no exception!

This week we take a look at flat earthers, people who believe that the world is flat(5).

Ross Balch

Although it’s a common myth that many people used to think the world was flat, it turns out in modern times some people really do. The Sciencism team investigated whether this website was satire but according to their FAQ(6) the site is serious. We take a look at some of their claims.

Genesis in the popular belief in the flat earth is largely credited to Samuel Rowbotham and his book; Zetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe(7). In 1956 the Flat Earth Society was created by Samuel Shenton and upon his retirement in 1972 was continued by Charles K. Johnson until his death in 2001. The society was resurrected in 2004 as a website and forum for whence we draw our material for today.

So the most simple question is why do these people believe the world is flat? Their answer is just as simple. It looks that way from the human perspective as well as referencing some pretty flawed science from the S.Rowbotham book. Fair enough the world does seem flat from our limited perspective on the ground, however they conveniently fail to address the problem where by a ship disappears over the horizon and many other common sense indicators.

The problem with the Flat Earth Theory is that it’s not even a single theory, it is comprised of several “models” and none of them can explain everything so the flat earthers simply choose whichever model can explain a specific question. Needing several models that can only explain some aspects of your theory to make a complete idea is one of the most blatant flags of pseudoscience.

So finally why has no one discovered the “true” nature of the Earth? According to the flat earthers there is a grand conspiracy to cover up the truth. Unfortunately this falls into the category of some of the most ridiculous conspiracies. Not only in terms of scale(8) but they fail to identify any convincing reasons why anyone would need to keep the flat earth a secret.

They throw out a fairly haphazard attempt at greed and profiteering which revolves around organisations like NASA using the money provided by the government for personal gain, and okay this is on the sketchy end of conceivable for the past 60 years, as we had a space program. What about the 2000 years before that?

While grand conspiracies such as this provide a fairly fertile ground for entertainment for the likes of you or me, you must remember some people truly believe these ideas for reasons we will probably never understand.

If you ever find yourself falling off the edge of the world remember to send me a post card!

This week in I don’t believe it; we take a look at the idea that you may be able to catch an “STD” from a demon.

Ross Balch

            Ever found yourself on the end of an unwanted liaison with a demon? Should you be worried about catching a Spiritually Transmitted Disease, such as soul AIDS? According to this thread from Paranormal News(9), you bet!

Wait a minute, that’s right! Here at Sciencism we are critical thinkers! So let’s apply some scientific scepticism here!

The main claim from the thread starter here is that potentially, encounters with demons and other nasty spirits may open you up to STDs, spiritual ailments that may increase the chances of your encountering “negative energies” in your life and decrease resistance to said energies, maybe even having fatal results as suggested by some respondents to the thread.

Now we could address the most glaring logical fallacy here first, in that the major unstated false premise is that demons and evil spirits exist at all, after all if they don’t this whole argument is moot. Where’s the fun in that though?

Let’s look at “negative energy”, what is it? Energy is a term that describes work done in a particular system(10), for instance the amount of energy it takes me to press my fingers down on the keyboard as I type out a blog. The SI unit for energy is joules, and can be described as applying the force of one Newton for one meter. As the “negative energy” talked about in this post cannot affect anything physical, i.e heat or move it in any way, there is no work being done and therefore no energy being transferred between one thing and another. So what we are describing here isn’t even energy.

If “negative energy” is ruled out, how else might you get an STD from a demon? According to one respondent, “demonic oppression” is the key. Demonic oppression is described as urine faeces or horrible odours being encountered by the victim. Thus he reasons that pathogens, sexually transmitted diseases or parasites may be present (although all of these are pathogens technically) and in this way you may catch a physical disease. This theory actually isn’t too fallacious until we come back to the unstated major false premise that demons exist at all.

Have we got any proof that demons and evil spirits exist? Nothing scientific, there’s not a single demon body or reproducible method to invoke the boogie man, or any other evil spirit for that matter. All we have are centuries of anecdotal accounts from historically superstitious and scientifically ignorant people who came up with the best explanation they could for something they didn’t understand or just wanted to fool themselves into believing.

So can you receive an STD from a demon or evil spirit? The answer may in fact be yes. If you believe strongly enough in the occult and have the expectation that something bad is going to happen to you, chances are you will increase your levels of stress, anxiety and paranoia and you may even be likely to make rash or poor decision leading to genuine physical harm or real physiological symptoms.

Will I be receiving a grant from Bill Gates to provide a treatment for demon STDs anytime soon? I doubt it!

This week in I don’t believe it, we consider if it is possible to scientifically investigate paranormal events such as haunting.

Ross Balch

            Recently the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a government funded public media organisation released a news article titles “Taking Science to the Search for the Paranormal”(11) in which the author rather credulously describes the process of Darren Davies, a paranormal investigator from Queensland. Oddly considering that the article is supposed to be about taking science to that paranormal the article does not feature the analysis of a single scientist.

This looks like a job for Sciencism! For those of you with active logical fallacy radars the alarm bells should already be ringing. Not unlike last week the article starts off with a false major unstated premise that ghosts or any kind of paranormal phenomena even exist at all. We’ll get to that later though.

What I am most interested in here is the “scientific” methods such ghost hunters use to detect paranormal beings. Brian Dunning covers this particularly well and I advise you to check out his Skeptoid(12) episode on the issue if you want more comprehensive analysis.

The first step in the investigation according to the article is a historical search of a building or town to see if any deaths were associated with the place they’re investigating. Unless there is some new technology I am unaware of, people die all the time. We’ve had a long time to accumulate deaths in the history of Australia so it follows that you would be able to find a link, no matter how tenuous, to everywhere you investigate.

Next up is audio equipment, supposedly used to record “electronic voice phenomena”. EVP are recording of ghostly audio that the human ears cannot detect but somehow the electronic equipment can. For this to be possible audio equipment would have to be able to convert inaudible frequencies to a range in which a human could hear them. No audio recording equipment does this, if they did, all audio recordings would sound horrible to human perception.

So what are EVP? EVP are noises that either weren’t noticed at the time of recording, or simply white noise that humans, who naturally assign patterns to the things the things they encounter, turn into something meaningful when in fact there is nothing there. Audio equipment is out.

Darren then goes on to describe his use of infrared cameras. Infrared cameras measure a range of the wave spectrum that humans cannot detect. The cameras are used to detect heat reflecting off surfaces or emanating from objects, it’s why they are useful tools for the police and other emergency operators, as they allow you to see “through” objects like walls or a forest due to the difference in temperature between a person and the surrounding area.

On the About Us(13) page on the Paranormal Paratek website there is an image of a supposed ghost. To me at least you could superimpose the silhouette of a human holding a camera and perfectly match what is happening here. What Darren has captured is the reflected heat of his own body filming the wall. Alternatively someone may have previously leaned against the wall.

Finally let’s look at his use of electromagnetic detectors. These devices are used by professional electricians to detect electrical appliances and wiring hidden behind walls. The problem is the handheld type used by ghost hunters must be kept perfectly still to be accurate, therefore while they’re waving them around all over the place the results are completely useless. That’s not all; ghost hunters always bring tonnes of electronic equipment such as lighting and cameras which will also produce a spike.

Suffice to say ghost hunters patently misuse all the equipment that is supposedly producing “scientific” results. But let’s get back to the crucial point. Investigating something scientifically involves making a hypothesis that can make predictions about what you would observe if a phenomenon is real. There is no single idea about what a ghost is, or how it might exist, therefore any reading on such equipment is moot as you don’t even know what you are looking for. Ghost hunting is bunk and no amount of fancy gadgetry is going to change that.


1 – Omen502, Is this evidence of weather manipulation with Irene, Paranormal News, 02/09/2011, http://www.paranormalnews.com/messagelist.asp?nForumTopic_pk=1448

2 – captquest1, Is this a UFO over Hurricane Irene in NYC? (Video), Paranormal Daily News, 01/09/2011, http://paranormaldailynews.com/2011/08/29/is-this-a-ufo-over-hurricane-irene-in-nyc-video/

3 – Apollo Landing Sites Revisited, NASA, 11/09/2011, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/revisited/index.html

4 – P. Plait, Fox TV and the Apollo Moon Hoax, Bad Astronomy Blog, 13/02/2001, http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/tv/foxapollo.html

5 – The Flat Earth Society, The Flat Earth Society, 18/09/2011, http://theflatearthsociety.org/

6 – Daniel, Jack and R. t. Truthinessist, Flat Earth FAQ – Please Read!, The Flat Earth Society, 18/09/2011, http://www.theflatearthsociety.org/forum/index.php?topic=11211.0

7 – Some Pigs Are Afraid Of Mud, Google, 18/09/2011, http://www.google.com.au/search?q=some%20pigs%20are%20afraid%20of%20mud

8 – D. Drime, The Conclusive Categorical Conspiracy Compendium, The Flat Earth Society, 17/09/2011, http://theflatearthsociety.org/forum/index.php?topic=6308.0

9 – Michael448, Can you get STDs from Demons?, Paranormal News, 02/10/2011, http://www.paranormalnews.com/messagelist.asp?nForumTopic_pk=1468

10 – Energy, Wikipedia, 01/10/2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy

11 – J. v. d. Wetering, Taking science to the search for the paranormal, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 27/09/2011, http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2011/09/27/3326929.htm

12 – B. Dunning, Ghost Hunting Tools of the Trade, Skeptoid, 01/01/2008, http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4081

13 – About Us, Paranormal Paratek, 09/10/2011, http://www.paratek.net.au/#!about-us




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