The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

Investigation: NOAA Scientists Did NOT Manipulate Climate Data

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 5, 2011

In the latest update from the Climate Science Wars, it has been shown – once again and for the fourth time – through an independent investigation that climate scientists did NOT manipulate data on global warming, as some global warming denialists & conspiracy theorists have claimed.

In the now infamous Climategate fiasco, it was claimed that scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit had manipulated and even fabricated data to make human-caused global warming seem real or worse than it really was.  Of course, we now know that such claims on the part of the deniers & conspiracy mongers are nothing more than so much hot air. However, what many people don’t know is that these anti-science ideologues did not just level their charges at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit; they also attempted to smear climate scientists working for the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But now, just as with Climategate, a detailed, independent investigation has shown that there is no evidence of scientific fraud, manipulation, or fabrication regarding the climate data

Scientists Are Cleared of Misuse of Data

An inquiry by a federal watchdog agency found no evidence that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manipulated climate data to buttress the evidence in support of global warming, officials said on Thursday.

The inquiry, by the Commerce Department’s inspector general, focused on e-mail messages between climate scientists that were stolen and circulated on the Internet in late 2009 (NOAA is part of the Commerce Department). Some of the e-mails involved scientists from NOAA.

Climate change skeptics contended that the correspondence showed that scientists were manipulating or withholding information to advance the theory that the earth is warming as a result of human activity.

In a report dated Feb. 18 and circulated by the Obama administration on Thursday, the inspector general said, “We did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data.”

Nor did the report fault Jane Lubchenco, NOAA’s top official, for testifying to Congress that the correspondence did not undermine climate science. …

Of course, that won’t stop the ideologues from pursuing their politically or ideologically-driven agenda to misrepresent the science…

… The inquiry into NOAA’s conduct was requested last May by Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who has challenged the science underlying human-induced climate change. Mr. Inhofe was acting in response to the controversy over the e-mail messages, which were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England, a major hub of climate research.

Mr. Inhofe asked the inspector general of the Commerce Department to investigate how NOAA scientists responded internally to the leaked e-mails. Of 1,073 messages, 289 were exchanges with NOAA scientists. …

… NOAA welcomed the report, saying that it emphasized the soundness of its scientific procedures and the peer review process. “None of the investigations have found any evidence to question the ethics of our scientists or raise doubts about NOAA’s understanding of climate change science,” Mary Glackin, the agency’s deputy undersecretary for operations, said in a statement.

But Mr. Inhofe said the report was far from a clean bill of health for the agency and that contrary to its executive summary, showed that the scientists “engaged in data manipulation.” [emphasis added]

So, because the independent investigation showed that there was NO EVIDENCE of inappropriate data manipulation, Senator Inhofe says that it showed there WAS evidence of such manipulation.  Excuse me?!!  What’s next, Senator: Are you going to claim day is night or that up is down?  What kind of Bizzarro World is this guy living in?

The reaction of Senator Inhofe and other climate change deniers clearly shows the frustration in dealing with people who do not allow evidence & the scientific process to guide their thinking.  They come up with a conclusion first, and then disregard any evidence to the contrary – even going so far as to publicly state the exact opposite of what the evidence actually shows, as the Senator so stupidly did above.  They, sadly, have deluded themselves into thinking that the universe will somehow – magically – change itself to adhere to what they think it should be like, instead of see the world as it really is on its own terms.  These people revel in their ignorance, it seems.

The irony here is that the people claiming that the climate science data are manipulated are themselves the ones guilty of manipulation.  It would be a pretty good joke if it weren’t so true & if the potential consequences weren’t so serious.

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Asteroid Apophis to Hit Earth in 2036? Calm Down, the Sky is NOT Falling

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 9, 2011

In recent days, one of the more popular news stories flying around the Internet has to do with a supposed “doomsday” asteroid called Apophis. And, according to some idiotic journalists who seem to want to push a sensationalistic “news” story, this asteroid is going to hit the Earth in 2036 with devastating consequences – in short, they say this is going to happen…

Well, I’m here to tell you that this is, to use the scientifically-accurate phrase, a complete load of crap. That’s because the original story, which came via a Russian “news” outlet, has been completely and thoroughly refuted by NASA and scientists worldwide…

Will Apophis Hit Earth in 2036? NASA Rejects Russian Report

In 2004, NASA scientists announced that there was a chance that Apophis, an asteroid larger than two football fields, could smash into Earth in 2029. A few additional observations and some number-crunching later, astronomers noted that the chance of the planet-killer hitting Earth in 2029 was nearly zilch.

Now, reports out of Russia say that scientists there estimate Apophis will collide with Earth on April 13, 2036. These reports conflict on the probability of such a doomsday event, but the question remains: How scared should we be?

In answer to that question, I think we shouldn’t really be scared at all.  When you crunch the latest numbers, the probability that Apophis will actually impact the Earth in 2036 is about 1-in-250,000.  If you work that out to a percentage, it comes out to a 0.0004% chance the asteroid will hit Earth.  That’s a pretty slim chance, and certainly nothing to get all upset about, in my opinion.

Let’s think of it this way: compare the probability that Apophis will hit Earth in 2036 with the chances of other unfortunate events (as reported by Popular Science magazine)…

Lifetime odds of dying from:

Any accident: 1 in 36

A motor vehicle accident: 1 in 81

A firearm: 1 in 202

Poisoning: 1 in 344

A falling object (terrestrial): 1 in 4,873

Drowning in a bathtub: 1 in 10,455

Being caught in or between objects: 1 in 29,860

Suffocation by a plastic bag: 1 in 130,498

So that means that you are about twice as likely to die by being suffocated in a plastic bag as compared to the chances that this “killer” asteroid Apophis will wipe out planet Earth.  Stop and think about that for a moment… now, are you suddenly going to start demanding the recall of all plastic bags from society in order to protect humanity?  No?  Good.

Now, please don’t get me wrong – I think the issue of tracking & cataloging near-Earth objects (NEOs) is a very important one, precisely because we have solid evidence that NEOs such as asteroids & comet fragments can and do hit the Earth.  In fact, this happens all the time, but the regular impacts are from smaller objects; the big, “planet-killer” type objects are fewer in number so the chances of one coming our way is comparatively small.  But it could happen, and with the implications being what they are (i.e., the destruction of human civilization on Earth being among the worst-case scenarios) it would be prudent for us to invest at least some resources into these questions.  And we have invested such resources into NASA’s NEO Program.

So, in conclusion, is the sky falling with regards to Apophis?  No.

Should you go buying your own “asteroid apocalypse” bunker?  No.

Should we then turn a blind eye to the potential threat of NEOs?  No.

Should we invest a reasonable amount of money into researching this issue?  Yes.

Interestingly enough, one thing we really can do when Apophis makes its closest approach to Earth in 2036 is use the opportunity to learn more about asteroids and the early solar system.  In fact, some scientists already have plans to use Apophis as an amazing research opportunity!

If you’d like to know more about Apophis, and the related physics & astronomy behind it, I suggest taking a look at this entry over at Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog.

Posted in doomsday, media woo, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

The Blurring of Science With Media Spin: NASA’s Announcement About “Arsenic-Based Life”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 11, 2010

I have to say that last week I was pretty upset with NASA, because – if you recall – there was a lot of hay being made by NASA about a big scientific discovery they were going to announce.  In the process, there was a great deal of media spin & speculation on whether or not it was going to be an announcement of the discovery of “alien life” or something similar.

But when it came time for the announcement, it ended up being something quite less spectacular: it was about how a group of NASA scientists had uncovered a form of bacterial life which seems to have adapted itself to living in the harsh conditions of a lake laced with heavy concentrations of arsenic – the original NASA press release can be accessed here.

NASA has made a pretty big deal out of this discovery, but there are some problems with how they’ve rolled it out, in my opinion.  I am of the view that they’ve oversold this thing, with overly dramatic phrases (from the above press release) such as…

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.


This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth.

Upon hearing about this discovery, and not being a biochemist or evolutionary biologist myself, I decided to look past the spin being put on this by both NASA and the news media in general and go to people who know the field far better than me.  In a short amount of time, I found a great post by PZ Myers over at Pharyngula on the matter, wherein he states, among other things…

It’s not an arsenic-based life form

… I finally got the paper from Science, and I’m sorry to let you all down, but it’s none of the above. It’s an extremophile bacterium that can be coaxed into substiting arsenic for phosphorus in some of its basic biochemistry. It’s perfectly reasonable and interesting work in its own right, but it’s not radical, it’s not particularly surprising, and it’s especially not extraterrestrial. It’s the kind of thing that will get a sentence or three in biochemistry textbooks in the future. …

… So what does it all mean? It means that researchers have found that some earthly bacteria that live in literally poisonous environments are adapted to find the presence of arsenic dramatically less lethal, and that they can even incorporate arsenic into their routine, familiar chemistry. …

… This lake also happens to be on Earth, not Saturn, although maybe being in California gives them extra weirdness points, so I don’t know that it can even say much about extraterrestrial life. It does say that life can survive in a surprisingly broad range of conditions, but we already knew that. [emphasis added]

And, unfortunately, it seems that the story could get worse for NASA, because if you know anything about how the scientific community operates, you know that when someone makes a really bold claim (such as how the NASA researchers did) then other scientists are going to want to review the work & offer criticism.  Well, upon doing so, there has been some quite withering criticism coming from many DNA & biochemistry experts about the manner in which the NASA researchers conducted their work…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in aliens & UFOs, media woo, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Pale Blue Dot — An Alien View of Earth

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 24, 2010

Recently we celebrated the 20th anniversary of a remarkable photograph that was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it began its long, slow exit from our solar system.  That photo was of the Earth, and the image was immortalized by astronomer Carl Sagan in his book called Pale Blue Dot. For a fuller story on this image, I suggest reading up on it all at this excellent NPR story.

Here’s the photo, and Sagan’s eloquent words about it…

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Posted in space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Happy Skeptical Valentine’s Day!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 14, 2010

In true Skeptical Teacher form, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day, but in a way that will teach a good skeptical lesson.  I was inspired by today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), which is of the gorgeous Rosette Nebula…

The APOD text displays why this is a nice, timely lesson in skepticism:

Explanation: What surrounds the florid Rosette nebula? To better picture this area of the sky, the famous flowery emission nebula on the far right has been captured recently in a deep and dramatic wide field image that features several other sky highlights. Designated NGC 2237, the center of the Rosette nebula is populated by the bright blue stars of open cluster NGC 2244, whose winds and energetic light are evacuating the nebula’s center. Below the famous flower, a symbol of Valentine’s Day, is a column of dust and gas that appears like a rose’s stem but extends hundreds of light years. Across the above image, the bright blue star just left and below the center is called S Monocerotis. The star is part of the open cluster of stars labelled NGC 2264 and known as the Snowflake cluster. To the right of S Mon is a dark pointy featured called the Cone nebula, a nebula likely shaped by winds flowing out a massive star obscured by dust. To the left of S Mon is the Fox Fur nebula, a tumultuous region created by the rapidly evolving Snowflake cluster. The Rosette region, at about 5,000 light years distant, is about twice as far away as the region surrounding S Mon. The entire field can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros).

Of course, there isn’t really a great big rose 5,000 light-years away in the sky – this is just another classic example of pareidolia, the phenomenon by which the pattern recognition programming in our brains makes familiar pictures out of otherwise random visual data (or audio data, as in the case with “electronic voice phenomenon”).  The whole point is that while our brains might dumbly fill in the gaps and give us the illusion of seeing a rose, we can think at a higher level and see past the illusion to the beautiful reality that lies beneath.

Posted in psychology, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Yes, We Really DID Send Humans to the Moon – LRO Images Apollo 11 Landing Site

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2009

Over the years you’ve no doubt heard claims that the Apollo Moon landings were an elaborate government hoax. Of course, this is one of the silliest conspiracy theory claims I’ve ever heard, but then once people start to venture down the rabbit-hole of conspiracy mongering I’m of the opinion that logic & reason go right out the window.  In any case, ever since these CT-lunatics (pardon the pun 😉 ) have started making their hoax claims a decade ago, one of their most oft-repeated mantras is: “If we really did send humans to the Moon, then why doesn’t NASA show us pictures of the landing sites?”

Well, here you go, an image of the Apollo 11 landing site as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)


A detailed description of this photo is given over at the Bad Astronomy blog:

We’ve seen it before, but this time LRO is in its 50 km mapping orbit, so the resolution on this image is far higher — about 50 or so centimeters (20 inches). In this image, the tracks made by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they scampered on the Moon for 2 hours and 31 minutes are obvious. You can even see the lander footpads, each just less than a meter (a bit over a yard) across.

The bright spots south of (below) the lander are various scientific packages they installed, including the Lunar Ranging Retro Reflector and the Passive Seismic Experiment. If I’ve got the scale right, the faint dark trail going to the upper left is where they put the TV camera. Somewhere between that and the lander is the flag. The Sun was shining straight down in this image, so the flag isn’t visible.

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Posted in conspiracy theories, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Whoopi Goldberg’s Comments on the Moon Landing: Amazing *Facepalm* Moment

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 24, 2009

Whoopi Goldberg on “The View” earlier this week seriously entertains some of the Moon Hoax conspiracy woo…

Who took the photos, Whoopi? It’s called a tripod…

This one’s just for you, Whoopi…


Posted in conspiracy theories, media woo, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Buzz Aldrin Punches Moon Hoax Conspiracy Theorist

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2009

This Youtube video is making the rounds on the Internet, so I figured that I would pass it along, mostly for the entertainment factor 🙂

In 2002, as part of a shameless and rather obvious publicity stunt, conspiracy nutjob & fledgling stalker Bart Sibrel ambushed the Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the Moon)  and publicly defamed him in front of a film crew, thrust a bible in his face and demanded that he swear on it that he really did walk on the moon.  Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Sibrel called Aldrin a liar.  The 72-year old’s response to this harassment? See for yourself…

I’m not one to advocate violence, but upon seeing this footage – and Sibrel’s harassment of Aldrin – I have to admit that I gave ol’ Buzz an “atta boy!” when he socked it to Sibrel.

Just in case you know someone who may doubt we ever sent amazing men like Buzz Aldrin to the Moon, check out these websites which systematically demolish the claims of the Moon Hoax conspiracy theorists

Bad Astronomy: Fox TV and the Apollo Moon Hoax

Moon Base Clavius

Wikipedia: Apollo Moon landing hoax conspiracy theories

Face it, folks, we went to the Moon, and if we’re smart we’ll go back someday in the near future.

Posted in conspiracy theories, humor, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Apollo Landing Sites Photographed on the Moon!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 17, 2009

I just saw this post over at the Bad Astronomy blog by Phil Plait, and seeing as how the media is crawling all over the touched up NASA footage of the Apollo 11 landing, I wanted to share it with you.  That’s because, as I suspected, while the media is giving NASA some attention, they are – sadly – also giving the conspiracy nuts some attention as well.

Well folks, for those of us whose brains are not addled by conspiracy-mongering, here you go: photographic evidence of the landing sites on the Moon, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)…

That first one is of the Apollo 11 landing site, with the Eagle lunar module clearly visible.  The LRO website has images of the Apollo 14,15,16, and 17 landing sites as well, including this incredible shot of the Apollo 14 site which shows the tracks left in the lunar dust by the astronauts!

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Posted in conspiracy theories, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

“New” NASA Video of Moon Landing Not So New

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 16, 2009

As I outlined in my earlier post – Old Moon Landing Tapes Found – Conspiracy Nuts Still Lost – there were rumors going around about “lost” footage of the first Apollo Moon landing being found by NASA.  Well, yes and no.  As this news article points out, the footage is old but it was never lost…


NASA refurbishes video copies of moon landing

With the help of Hollywood, those historic, grainy images of the first men on the moon never looked better. NASA unveiled refurbished video Thursday of the July 20, 1969, moonwalk restored by the same company that sharpened up the movie “Casablanca.”

NASA lost its original moon landing videotapes and after a three-year search, officials have concluded they were probably erased. That original live video was ghostlike and grainy.

NASA and a Hollywood film restoration company took television video copies of what Apollo 11 beamed to Earth 40 years ago and made the pictures look sharper.

NASA emphasized the video isn’t “new” — just better quality.

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Posted in conspiracy theories, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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