Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fake out

Woo-woos will fool you, sometimes.

Last night I was doing my typical evening's scouring of news stories for this morning's post, and I bumped into an article about the alleged recent spate of "weird noises" that seemed like about the most reasonable thing I've read on the topic.  (See the article here.)  Now, I don't know if you've heard about the whole issue with the noises, but to make a long story short there have been about a dozen reports from places as widely separated as England, Costa Rica, and Arnaudville, Louisiana (a stone's throw from my home town), mostly of booming or thunder-like noises, and one of "loud, trumpet-like noises."  (The article linked above includes links to YouTube videos purporting to be recordings of the noises.  Others can be easily found with a quick YouTube search.)

Well, the author, Tony Elliott, does a pretty good job of taking apart the whole phenomenon, and unhesitatingly calls it a hoax.  He lays the blame at the feet of the Mayan calendar enthusiasts and other apocalyptic wingnuts, who (he says) are trying to build up the tension as the Big Year arrives, and also bolster their contentions that Things Are Happening.  Apart from the author's conjecture that the origin of the "noises" phenomenon can be traced back to one man, a Baptist minister from Indiana named Paul Begley -- it is seldom, I think, that hoaxes like this are attributable to one person's efforts -- Elliott makes a pretty good case for the side of skepticism.  In fact, the article ends:
In today's world, we must all become aware of how to determine fact from fiction.  This can only be done through the research of topics, in finding the evidence needed to either legitimize a claim or toss it, because it is baseless.
Not bad, eh?  Particularly given that his article appeared on the online site UFO Digest!

So, anyway, I'm feeling pretty good at this point, and made it all the way to the end of the article wondering how something so logical made its way onto a website usually devoted to wild woo-woo speculation.  Even Elliott's "About This Author" was impressive; he has (he says) worked for several newspapers in Oregon, and most recently was a political columnist for the Cimarron News Press in Cimarron, New Mexico.  All sounds pretty reasonable...

... and then I read the list of "Other Articles By This Author."  To wit:

I looked at the first one, at the cost of thousands of valuable brain cells I will never ever have again, and found claims such as the following:
  • The human race was created when beings from Mars came to Earth and integrated dinosaur DNA into their own to make them more suited to Earth's environment.
  • Mars lost most of its atmosphere when its planetary neighbor exploded (the cause of this explosion wasn't mentioned); this catastrophe generated the asteroid belt.
  • Insects have reptilian DNA because they both have "scales."
  • Octopuses and birds are related because both of them have beaks.
 So, I'm reading this, my jaw hanging lower and lower, and I'm thinking, "Wait... wait!  What about 'separating fact from fiction?'  What about 'finding the evidence needed to legitimize a claim?'  Why would you fake me out like this, Tony?  Why?"  So I closed the link, a sadder, wiser skeptic.

I didn't even look at the one about the "Sinister Global Warming Plot," or the one about "ghost rockets."

It is a mystery to me that someone can (on the one hand) be so reasonable, so logical, so completely sane sounding, and (on the other) write articles that are filled with claims that are ridiculous even by comparison to your typical woo-woo.  Don't people have one consistent standard for evaluating claims?  If one set of conjectures falls because of the poor quality of evidence, how can another succeed based on an even poorer quality of evidence?

No, I don't know, either.


  1. Can we shoot Mr. Elliott out of a cannon towards Mars to begin the process of repatriation?

    Don't worry, he'll be safe. He's got dinosaur DNA.

  2. I'm glad I had just swallowed my mouthful of coffee, or you'd be buying me a new monitor, bub. :-)