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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Moon tracks

My friend and fellow blogger Andrew Butters (of the wonderful blog Potato Chip Math, which you should all check out) recently sent me a couple of links that are interesting by virtue of what they almost certainly won't accomplish.

Jesus Diaz, writing for Gizmodo, tells about a question he asked to Grey Hautaluoma, of the NASA Department of Public Affairs.  Diaz asked if the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was going to be taking photographs of the lunar landing sites.  Hautaluoma responded, "Yes, it will. We don't have a timeline yet for viewing the Apollo sites, but it will be in the near future."

And Diaz, in his Gizmodo piece, said, "Suck it up, conspiracy theorists, because soon your cuckoo stories about the US simulating the Moon landings will be over forever."

And sure enough, eventually the LRO did get photographs sharp enough to do that.  Here is one:

 The lines are the paths of the LRV (the "Moon Buggy") and the paths of footprints of the astronauts!

The problem is, there is no way this is going to silence the conspiracy theorists.  Nothing will.

There is a saying that is widely used amongst skeptics, that "you can't logic your way out of a position that you didn't logic your way into."  Now, let me be up front that I don't think that's always true.  Logic, and inductive reasoning, are marvelous ways to bootstrap yourself up out of error, and none of us came into this world pre-fitted with a logical view of the world.  Erroneous ideas, after all, are easy to come by -- our perceptual apparatus is notorious for getting it wrong, and between that and wishful thinking out of fear or desire, it's no wonder we sometimes don't see the world as it is.

But the aforementioned cliché does get it right in one sense; if on some level you don't buy logic and evidence as the sine qua non of understanding, then you and I aren't even speaking the same language.  It's why it is generally futile to argue with the devoutly religious.  Faith is, at its heart, not a logical process.  We're not accepting the same basis for how you "know" something, and pretty quickly the argument devolves into either pointless bickering or "well, you can believe what you like, of course."

And the same is true of conspiracy theorists.  Theirs is a different non-logical basis for understanding, but as with the devoutly religious, it has little to nothing to do with evidence.  The foundational idea for the conspiracy theorists is that there is a giant disinformation campaign on the part of Someone (the government, the Illuminati, the Reptilians, the Russians, the Muslims, the Vatican, the Jews -- or some combination thereof).  Because of that, you can't trust anything that comes from them or from anyone in cahoots with them (which, after all, could be anyone).

After that, there is nothing you can do.  Nothing will ever convince them, because any evidence you bring out -- such as the above photograph of the Moon's surface -- will be judged as altered, Photoshopped, faked.  If you claim that you've analyzed the photograph and it shows no signs of having been doctored, the response is, "They're a pretty clever bunch, those Conspirators."  If you insist, you're considered a dupe or a pawn.  If you really insist, you must be... one of them.

So with conspiracy theorists as with the Borg, Resistance Is Futile.  That's why conspiracy theorists are the only group of people I enjoy arguing with less than I enjoy arguing with Young-Earth Creationists.  The creationists are at least demonstrably wrong.

With the conspiracy theorists, you can't demonstrate anything.

So the LRO photographs, unfortunately, haven't accomplished much, and the Moon-Landings-Were-Faked crowd is still going strong.  I continue to hope that one day they'll give it up and admit their mistakes, but the only way that will happen is if they change their criterion for belief to "whatever the evidence supports."

It could happen, but I'm not holding my breath.


  1. I would surmise that there is an equivalent amount of evidence that Columbus landed in America...

    Is there a "Columbus never landed in America" group?

    Wooden ships can sail for thousands of miles through open sea, but somehow we can't send a metal can to the moon, even though it is inarguable that we have the capability to escape Earth's gravity.

    Columbus landing on America is antiquated. BOOORING.
    Sailing a ship across the ocean is a tacet, well understood concept. The inticacies and possibility of spaceflight mystify the layman. Que the "It isn't true because I can't perceive it!" response.

    The only reason we don't have a colony on Mars right now is that the U.S. and Russia stopped their pissing match. It is by the mere conscience of a few ICBM silo operators who "failed to perform their duty" (given order to launch on bad intel) that we aren't in the midst of a protracted nuclear winter at the moment... So I guess I can stay my desire for shaky-cam, first person video of the red planet's surface for a few more years.

    (I wish that technological advancement didn't so often have to come with a competitive caveat.)

  2. I've often wondered why the conspiracy theorists think that NASA bothered to fake it six times, rather than just doing it once and saying game over. Or perhaps they think that there was a lot of leftover film that needed to be used up. I love this really laid-back explanation of why that could not have been the case, and particularly the observation that it would have been more difficult to fake it than actually go there at the time:

  3. First off, thanks for continually plugging my blog :)

    Secondly, I find it amazing the extent people will go just to point out that they think you're wrong, as if any of it actually matters. After reading those articles I went and watched the video of Buzz Aldrin punching that conspiracy theorist wackadoo in the face. I watched it at least 5 times in a row.

    Don't get me wrong, 99.99% of the time I do not condone violence of any kind (I even turn my head when a fight breaks out in a hockey game - and I'm Canadian, so that's saying something). That being said, some people just have it coming.

    Maybe we can get the conspiracy theorists - the moon landing ones at least - to line up for a one-on-one "interview" with Buzz and they can ask their questions and he can set them all straight.

  4. I think the basic conflict here is that a skeptic wants to avoid being wrong, whereas a conspiracy theorist wants to avoid being fooled.