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, June 18, 2012

Baltic Sea UFO redux

One of the most mysterious things to me about the aficionados of woo-woo is their ability to suspend disbelief indefinitely.  Psychic Sally is proven to be a fake every which way from Sunday?  No, she's still "Britain's Favorite Medium."  Homeopathy fails every last controlled medical test for efficacy?  No, it's still "a scientifically supported modality for treating and curing human disease."  Young-Earth creationism is demonstrably false?  A recent poll suggests that 51% of Americans believe that "evolution is incorrect/unsupported by fact."

Contrast this to science, where information contrary to the hypothesis being tested is usually sufficient to demonstrate the falsity of your idea -- and forces you to question your original assumptions.

The latest indication of this inclination was our old friend the Baltic Sea UFO, which has reappeared in the news recently because the expedition to find it was relaunched from Sweden earlier this month.  You might remember when it was first spotted, back in July of 2011 (read my post about it here).  My own prediction was that any resemblance to the Millennium Falcon was pure coincidence, and that it would turn out in the end to be a weird-looking rock formation.

Well, at the beginning of this month, the group that found the "UFO" in the first place (Ocean Explorer) began to generate press releases that they were returning to the site now that summer was approaching and the weather up north was improving.  Reports came in that they had relocated the thing, confirmed that it was still there and that the original images were correct.  Mysterious, one line notes began to appear on the Ocean Explorer website:  "THE TREASURE HUNTERS, OCEAN X TEAM, DISCOVERED SOMETHING UNIQUE WHEN THEY DOVE DOWN TO THE MYSTERIOUS CIRCLE-SHAPED OBJECT IN THE BALTIC SEA."  "Treasure hunters confirm they have found something abnormal in the seabed."  Woo-woos worldwide held their breath, waiting for the final release of the bizarre object's identity, which (the Ocean Explorer team said) would come in a week or two.  Tension mounted.

And just yesterday, the Ocean Explorer team released the final, earthshattering results of their expedition:  the Baltic Sea UFO is...

... wait for it...

... a weird-looking rock formation.

But, of course, they couldn't just say that.  No, we must at all costs cling to the woo-woo explanation, that what they found is mysterious and inexplicable and mind-blowing.  Here's a direct quote from their press release:
The Ocean X Team dove down to the circle-shaped object in the Baltic Sea and met something they never experienced before. First they thought it was just stone or a rock cliff, but after further observations the object appeared more as a huge mushroom, rising 3-4 meters/10-13 feet from the seabed, with rounded sides and rugged edges. The object had an egg shaped hole leading into it from the top, as an opening. On top of the object they also found strange stone circle formations, almost looking like small fireplaces. The stones were covered in something resembling soot.
“During my 20-year diving career, including 6000 dives, I have never seen anything like this. Normally stones don’t burn. I can’t explain what we saw, and I went down there to answer questions, but I came up with even more questions," says Stefan Hogeborn, one of the divers at Ocean X Team.
The path to the object itself can be described as a runway or a downhill path that is flattened at the seabed with the object at the end of it.
“First we thought this was only stone, but this is something else. And since no volcanic activity has ever been reported in the Baltic Sea the find becomes even stranger. As laymen we can only speculate how this is made by nature, but this is the strangest thing I have ever experienced as a professional diver“, continues Peter Lindberg, one of the founder Ocean X Team.
Other news stories about this non-event call it "the oldest structure on Earth" (whatever that means), and "a find that will revolutionize geology and archeology."  Me, I kind of doubt it, given that thus far, the scientific community has looked at it, and their general response has been:  *silence*

So okay, Mr. Smarty-Pants, you may be saying; what do you think it is, then?  Well, some have suggested that it is the remains of a human settlement of some sort -- thus the "soot marks" and "fireplaces."  This is certainly a possibility, given that the sea level was a lot lower 18,000 years ago, during the last ice age (the object itself is currently under 275 feet of water, and current estimates are that the sea level has risen since then by about 400 feet -- so the site of the object would have been on dry land at the time).  There is still a possibility that it is a natural rock formation -- there are a lot of reasons that rocks could be black other than "soot."  As my previous post described, there are a great many natural structures that appear man-made at first glance, because of their regularity; but upon examination, they turn out to be from entirely natural, non-human origins.

Of course, this hasn't stopped the woo-woos from leaping up and down and making little squeaking noises about how bizarre the "Baltic Sea Anomaly" is, in an apparent desperate desire to hang on to their original claim that it was the result of extraterrestrial visitation.  Unfortunately, though, even the Ocean Explorer people are now saying that the object is made of rock.  And whatever else you might conjecture about aliens, I doubt seriously whether they have stone spaceships.  So myself, I would consider that idea shot down.

My guess, though, is that most of the people who have been following this story won't see it that way.  The Ocean Explorer expedition will continue to garner attention, and will one day be the subject of a documentary on the We're More Interested In Woo-Woo Nonsense Than History Channel.  And almost no one will say, "Rats.  It was just a bunch of rocks.  Let's just move on, folks... nothing to see here."

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