Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Bullspotting book by Loren Collins
Last October Loren Collins released a skeptical book on Bullspotting, which he subtitled Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation. I recently found it on the new books shelf at my local public library, and enjoyed reading it. The book has ten chapters on: Baloney Detection, Denialism, Conspiracy Theories, Rumors, Quotations, Hoaxes, Pseudoscience, Pseudohistory, Pseudolaw, and What’s the Harm? Loren is an attorney in the Atlanta area who writes a blog called Barackryphal (a skeptic’s guide to birtherism).
Spotting bull isn’t hard if you use the Web and your public library critically, and keep asking simple questions like:
1. What is the claim?
2. Who said so?
3. How would he know that?
4. Where did that information come from?
5. When did it appear?
Four examples follow.
A RACIST WEB HOAX BASED ON NONEXISTENT SURVEYS
“Two magazines, Country Living (95.99% white readership) and Ebony/Jet(99.99% black readership) did surveys on "WHAT DO PEOPLE FEAR MOST?"
Country Living magazine's top three answers were:
1. Nuclear war/terrorist attack in U.S
2. Child/spouse dying
3. Terminal illness
Ebony / Jet magazine's top three answers were:
3. Registered mail”
I’ve quoted it from a posting on January 1st. The first suspicious sign is that no dates are given for when the surveys appeared in magazine articles. If you just Google the phrase “Country Living Ebony fear”, the first item you will find is an article at Snopes.com titled Fear Factor that says it is false. They say that neither Country Living, Ebony, or Jet ever ran such a survey.
The full text from all three magazines also can be found in the EBSCO MasterFILE Premier database that may be accessible via your public library web site (or at a state university). Two other EBSCO databases - Business Source Premier and Academic Search Premier cover other publications.
WE NEVER WENT TO THE MOON. LRO PHOTOS ARE PHOTOSHOPPED FAKES.
There are Apollo denialists who claim that we never really sent astronauts to the moon. (That's why we never went back either!) When the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite recently took very clear images of objects and even the tracks on the moon left from, for example, Apollo 11 and Apollo 15, they claimed those just were Photoshopped fakes, and that the original files wouldn’t show those features. There is a 12-minute YouTube video refuting that silly claim, and showing how to find and view the original 252Mb image files from the LRO Narrow Angle Camera.
NASA, NIBIRU, AND DOOMSDAY 2012
There is a subculture which made claims about a planet called Nibiru that was supposed to create a cataclysm back in 2003, and then in 2012. Nancy Lieder and Marshall Masters are two people who have appeared on the late-night Coast to Coast AM radio show spreading wild tales. Supposedly NASA even built a telescope down at the South Pole just to watch for it (and then hid the pictures, which nevertheless keep turning up on YouTube). NASA’s Ask An Astrobiologist web site has a page with answers to twenty questions, one of which was:
“5. Do you deny that [you] built a South Pole Telescope to track Nibiru? Why else would they build a telescope at the South Pole? And wasn’t [it] built as part of a defense against Nibiru?
There is a telescope at the South Pole, but it was not built by NASA and is not used to study Nibiru. The South Pole Telescope was supported by the National Science Foundation, and it is a radio telescope, not an optical instrument. It cannot take images or photos. You can look it up on Wikipedia. The Antarctic is a great place for astronomical infrared and short-wave-radio observations, and it also has the advantage that objects can be observed continuously without the interference of the day-night cycle. I should add that it is impossible to imagine a geometry in which an object can be seen only from the South Pole. Even if it were due south of the Earth, it could be seen from the entire southern hemisphere.”
If you look up the South Pole Telescope at Wikipedia, you can see a description of what it really is and why it was built. The people who work on the team there have a new tee shirt design each year. Their 2012 gag edition says Greetings from Nibiru.
ACTION NEWS! NEWS YOU CAN TRUST. NEWS YOU CAN COUNT ON. NEWS YOU CARE ABOUT. AND WE'VE GOT UNICORNS!
See yesterday's Savage Chickens cartoon.
The image of a bull was adapted from this one on Wikimedia Commons.