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Exposing PseudoAstronomy is a podcast hosted by Stuart Robbins. (Stuart is a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy whose focus is on planetary geophysics). I highly recommend it. He just posted the latest episode:

Podcast Episode 83: David Sereda’s Claims Clip Show, Part 1


It’s not hard to believe there will be other parts. Here’s the blurb on the podcast episode page:

The purpose of this episode is to provide a background into how Sereda went from a UFOlogist to a more generic new-ager with a few specific claims of his own. I then go into two of his main claims (of MANY that I’ll go more into next time) and wrap up with when giving your professional background becomes an argument from authority logical fallacy. Actually, almost everything that Sereda says is a “Name that Logical Fallacy” exercise.

This episode “required” me listening to approximately 40 hours of Coast to Coast AM. I took nearly 10,000 words of notes. I think I may take up drinking …

Wow – that’s a lot of effort to put into a podcast series. I’ve long felt the same way about Sereda’s ideas, having read enough new age cosmology and metaphysics to see that David’s physics are hard to distinguish from that stuff (which is inherently religious). But since I lack a background in the hard sciences, I’m dependent on folks like Stuart who care enough to spend serious time hearing Sereda out (among others) and subjecting their thinking to relevant scientific data. I’m guessing lots of readers out there are like me in that regard.

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Because of the sorts of things Nick Redfern says here, in the first of a two-part series entitled, “Saucers of Manipulation.” Now, Nick doesn’t say the ET view is utterly impossible. He merely points to several things that those committed to an ET view seem to habitually overlook, probably since they favor some other kind of intelligence that doesn’t come from another planet.

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I recently received a link to this critique of Richard Hoagland’s occult theories related to Mars: “Hoagland’s and Bara’s Dark Nonsense.” Though I don’t doubt Richard’s sincerity as to his beliefs (spent enough time with him to know he’s truly committed to his ideas — as if his history on that isn’t enough evidence), and can’t really process all his physics ideas, I know non sequiturs when I see them, and the Hiram Key by Knight and Lomas is riddled with them. The whole “Jesus is connected to ancient Egypt” trajectory is cluttered with logical flaws and imaginary evidence, as scholars of all religious persuasions of the New Testament and Egyptology have known for centuries. Any idea using Knight and Lomas is DOA.

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I just finished Thomas Bullard’s book, The Myth and Mystery of UFOs, by scholar-folklorist Thomas Bullard (University of Kansas Press, 2010). Rather than write my own review, I found the work summarized nicely in this review over at Magonia review of books blog. I’ll just add a few thoughts below on this important work.

Bullard’s book is not light reading. It is an academic work. In my view, as an academic, it’s a wonderful volume. Bullard has detailed chapters, with the expected documentation in mainly academic sources, on all the major motifs of UFO studies: descriptions of alien craft, the aliens themselves, abduction narratives, and alien mission and homeworlds. In each case, Bullard painstakingly details how virtually all the UFO anecdotal evidence can be found in ancient, medieval, and early modern tales across the globe. Importantly, the vast majority of these correlations have nothing to do with other planets, inter-planetary travel, or extraterrestrials. That is, though the correlations are overwhelmingly present, it is only in the contemporary era that narratives about abduction and “otherworldly visitation” conforms to anything we would recognize as high technology. His point in this effort is to raise question of how any of the UFO phenomena could in reality be about visitors from space given the vast arrays of correlations. Good question.

Bullard’s (for the most part) explanation is the psycho-social approach. This is not a view that says a culture produces these episodes or encounters and their descriptions. Rather, it is the encounter with the anomalous that produces the descriptions — and the descriptions are far more likely to not be about genuine aliens from space than other deep-seated thoughts, fear, beliefs, yearnings, etc. The reason the overlaps are so high, reasons Bullard, is that experiences are parsed in such a way that new mythologies are constructed that serve the same fucntion or outlet as older ones. The garb changes because we are living in a different era, our lives defined by technology and the “final frontier” of space.

Bullard doesn’t take a dogmatic stance on this, though. He simply feels it has high explanatory value, but not complete explanatory power. He leaves room for truly anomalous events that might include genuine extraterrestrial contact, and outlines in some details how such experiences might be winnowed from the those experiences for which the psycho-social explanation can best account.

I would encourage anyone interested in UFOs to read this book, and to keep it as a handy reference for its coverage and source material. In particular, those for whom the UFO subject goes beyond the nuts and bolts (questions of physics and reverse engineering which a priori assume that most UFOs are physical craft of non-human origin) will be well served by Bullard’s focus on how the UFO subject molds and produces religious experience and worldview.

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I like to post on things like this every so often to remind readers that science can be marred by, and married to, hype. I was reading through some recent posts by mathematician Peter Woit on his Not Even Wrong blog this morning and came across several items worth offering my own readers here. After all, the multiverse and associated ideas are inextricably part of the ET life and deep space travel issues. I like Woit because he insists that mainstream ideas be probed for internal coherence and not simply embraced for their (pardon the pun) symmetry on the surface of things. Reminds me a lot of my dissertation work on the “obvious” evolution of Israelite monotheism. Anything but.

For those new to Woit, he is a mathematician at Columbia University whose PhD (Princeton) is in theoretical physics. He is most known for his book, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law.

The first of Woit’s posts that caught my attention was entitled, “The Ultimate Guide to the Multiverse.” Some excerpts:

Yet another cover story about the Multiverse can be found this week at New Scientist, which calls it The Ultimate Guide to the Multiverse. As just one more in a long line of such stories over the last decade, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down, one can be pretty sure that this is not the yet the ultimate one, nor even the penultimate one.

The content is the usual: absolutely zero skepticism about the idea, and lots of outrageous hype from the usual suspects (Bousso, Tegmark, Susskind, etc.) Were told that scientists are now performing tests of the idea, even at the LHC. The LHC test has been a great success: Laura Mersini-Houghton used the multiverse to predict that the LHC would not see supersymmetry, and that prediction has worked out very well so far.

This past week also saw the premiere of the Multiverse episode of Brian Greenes Fabric of the Cosmos series on PBS. Its more or less an hour-long infomercial for the Multiverse, with the argument against it pretty much restricted to some short grumpy comments by David Gross about how he didnt like it. Brians pro-multiverse argument was that many new advances in physics are all pointing to a multiverse, and he showed support for the idea as resting on a three-legged structure. One of the legs was string theory, and Ive described elsewhere recently how circular reasoning makes this one very shaky.

The multiverse propaganda machine has now been going full-blast for more than eight years, since at least 2003 or so, and Im beginning to wonder whats next?. Once your ideas about theoretical physics reach the point of having a theory that says nothing at all, theres no way to take this any farther. You can debate the measure problem endlessly in academic journals, but the cover stories about how you have revolutionized physics can only go on so long before they reach their natural end of shelf-life.

Another post of a couple days ago saw Woit defending himself against ad hominem attacks from mainstream string theorists: “String and M-Theory: Answering the Critics.” Again, some excerpts.

Mike Duff has a new preprint out, a contribution to the forthcoming Foundations of Physics special issue on Forty Years of String Theory entitled String and M-theory: answering the critics. Much of it is the usual case string theorists are trying to make these days, but it also includes vigorous ad hominem attacks on Lee Smolin and me (Im described as having an unerring gift for inaccuracy, and were compared to people who campaign against vaccination in the face of mainstream scientific opinion).

Duff explains that his motivation for answering the critics is that we have been successful on the public relations front, supposedly responsible for the British EPSRC office rejecting without peer review grant proposals on string theory. I know nothing of this, but I think its clear to everyone that the perception of string theory among physicists has changed, and not for the better, over the past decade. One dramatic way to see this is to notice that at this point, US physics departments have essentially stopped hiring string theorists for permanent appointments (i.e. at the tenure-track level).

Duffs article contains an appendix about this, in the form of a FAQ, where he explains that he approved the text of the press release headlined Researchers discover how to conduct first test of untestable string theory which is misleading hype by any standard. Initially someone who was successfully misled in the Imperial media team added the subtitle New study suggests researchers can now test the theory of everything, which was later removed. Duff claims that Shelly Glashow, Edward Witten and Jim Gates told journalists that they didnt agree with this because of the theory of everything subtitle, implying that otherwise they were fine with the first test of untestable string theory business (except for Gates noting that in any case this is just supergravity, not string theory). It would be interesting to hear from the three of them if theyre really on-board with this first test of untestable string theory.

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