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.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The return of the Baltic Sea Anomaly

So, the Ocean X Explorer Team and the Baltic Sea Anomaly are back in the news, and not because anyone has much in the way of new information about it.

Natalie Wolchover, writer at Life's Little Mysteries, has written an article (here) that claims that the "Anomaly" is a glacial deposit.  Or, to put it more bluntly, a bunch of rocks, which is what I suspected it was right from the get-go.  The most interesting thing about her article is the part that describes how Peter Lindberg, leader of the Ocean X team, contacted Volker Brüchert, an associate professor of geology at Stockholm University, and supposedly got Brüchert to agree that the "Anomaly" was unexplainable as a natural formation.

Lindberg only released one quote from his interview with Brüchert, following Lindberg's providing Brüchert with a black rock from the "Anomaly" site to study.  "I was surprised when I researched the material, I found a great black stone that could be a volcanic rock," Brüchert told Lindberg.  "My hypothesis is that this object, this structure was formed during the Ice Age many thousands of years ago."

Implying, of course, that the "Anomaly" can't be explained by science, and therefore must be (1) a crashed UFO site, (2) a sunken Nazi superweapon, (3) a remnant of the lost civilization of Atlantis, or (4) any of the other bizarre suggestions that people associated with researching the "Anomaly" have made.

Of course, it turns out that Brüchert never meant to imply any such thing.  Reporters at Life's Little Mysteries took the expedient of contacting Brüchert, and asking him in more detail what he thought.

"It's good to hear critical voices about this 'Baltic Sea mystery,'" Brüchert responded in an email.  "What has been generously ignored by the Ocean-X team is that most of the samples they have brought up from the sea bottom are granites and gneisses and sandstones."  He then goes on to state that this is exactly what you'd expect to see if the "Anomaly" is a glacial deposit, which would be no surprise given that the Baltic Sea was largely carved out by glaciers.

"Because the whole northern Baltic region is so heavily influenced by glacial thawing processes, both the feature and the rock samples are likely to have formed in connection with glacial and postglacial processes," he wrote.  "Possibly these rocks were transported there by glaciers."

So, an expert has weighed in on the subject, and has a perfectly conventional explanation, as I suspected.

The problem is, I did what I should never do, and scrolled to the bottom of the article and looked at the "Comments" section.  A sampling:
  • Who's to say stories like Atlantis and the Biblical Flood aren't merely memories of such a widespread calamity?
  • Being a skeptic requires no knowledge and no investigation of evidence or facts. Anyone can be a skeptic. Congrats Natalie, you are ordinary.
  • What in the hell are you people trying to hide? This needs to be explored much more deeply and we need to be told what this thing really is, how it got there, and why it is still there. Frankly, we just need the truth and "glacial deposit" is certainly not it. It is plain this thing has been manufactured by someone, at someplace, at some time. It's not just a fluke of nature.
  • Probably some sort of space ship the "authorities" don't wan't [sic] anyone to know about!
  • This report is very misleading. The object was never ID.  People only gave an explaination [sic] how it end up there.  We still don't know what it is and where it come from !!!!
  • Well if this is an accurate depiction than it has to be a design from an intelligent source man made or what ever.  There are to [sic] many perfect geometric shapes and lines, a glacier or volcanic deposit I think not.
Well, Natalie, I think we can all agree that they told you, can't we?

It's not that I don't sympathize with the sentiment that it would be cool if the "Anomaly" was something beyond what science currently can explain.  No one would be more thrilled than me if it was a downed spacecraft, or a remnant of a hitherto-unknown human civilization.  And if there really was evidence of something like that, real scientists -- the people whose day-to-day lives are spent pushing the boundaries of what we know, who live for opportunities to study things that haven't yet been explained -- would be tripping over themselves to analyze it.  The fact that a real, working geologist has taken a look at the hard evidence (a sample of the "Anomaly") and said, basically, "Meh," is pretty indicative of the likelihood that there isn't anything much there to study.

And now, I really have said all I have to say on the subject, unless Lindberg and his team unearth something a lot more earthshattering than they have done so far.  As I've said before: I am perfectly ready to eat crow and print a retraction if it turns out that there really is something weird down there.  Until that time, I'm siding with Brüchert.  Oh, and one other thing: I really need to stop reading the "Comments" sections on articles, because I don't need any further reasons to faceplant directly onto my keyboard.


  1. "anomaly" ... bah! The only "anomaly" is how much cash they can squeeze out of this geological deposit before the big reveal (that it's nothing exciting).

    It's a god damned rock! ARGH!

    Oh and reading the comments sections to online articles is analogous to watching an episode of COPS.

  2. Good to have you back! I can get back into my morning routine of getting my daily dose of skepticism over my post work coffee.

  3. I think one thing is vastly overlooked by the sceptics -

    The simple fact that an unusual structure (whatever it is made of and however it came to be) has been discovered and to date, there has been no other discovery, past or present, that it can easily be compared to.

    Now, that is not to say that it is something out of a science fiction novel or from myths and legends, but it is certainly an interesting and unique discovery (given the scale and unusual 'construction'.

    Simply shoving it in a 'meh' drawer because some samples aren't out of this world (for want of a better term) is one sure fire way to discourage discovery and understanding.

  4. While I whole-heartedly agree with you Paul, the Ocean-X team has already collected plenty of evidence at the site. Enough to provide you and me with a pretty accurate description of what the thing is (or is not). The reason they have not released this evidence to the world is that they need to get paid (for finding nothing). So you and I need to wait until they can deliver this evidence in a sellable package, so we can all pay to find out what we already know. It's a geological deposit. Problem being that we will wait until the cash value of the hype from this is run dry before they stop using words like "mysterious" and start using words like "boulder."

    1. It may well be a simple geological deposit as you say. However from reading the reports that have come out from scientists about the samples, and piecing that together with where the team say they were taken/found, its a little too early to shut the whole research down simply because they have surfaced some random rocks.

      What would have happened if archaeologists and geologists in the past had looked at Stonehenge and classed it as 'nothing more than glacial deposits and random rocks'?

      Not to say that this is something from ancient civilisations or whatever, but just because something is 'natural' doesnt mean it has no scientific interest around it or no longer warrants further investigation.

      Being sceptical about something does not mean you have to jump on the 'debunk bandwagon' - its about having a rational open mind. I have an interest in the 'anomaly' for geological reasons, and yes, it would be fascinating it turned out to have some archaeological significance. Just because it doesn't have flashing lights and little green men shouldn't mean we should just leave it alone, surely?

      As for the team making some money from it, well, why not? It costs a fortune to run an expedition/study like this. Not only in the running of the ship and its crew, but for hiring equipment and scientists to further the investigation. Money that ultimately would be coming out of their own pockets. Yes, it would be nice if all the findings were given to us in one sitting, but as is the way of things, research and investigations from various scientists will take time (and money).

    2. Again, I agree with your sentiments.

      Truthfulness is paramount. If you collected enough evidence to have an understanding of what something is, when a person asked you about it, would you respond honestly, or would you play coy? This isn't Texas Hold-Em, it's science... it's discovery.

      Cashing in on manufactured hype is, to me, a lack of integrity.

      If someone asked Jacques Cousteau "Do you think Manatees come from another planet?"

      Do you think he would say "Well, you just never know. They do look other-worldly, don't they?"

      Or would he say "NO."