This resulted in tons of well-meaning people calling those people idiots.
That resulted in other well-meaning people calling the idiot-callers idiots.
That resulted in me spending two hours figuring out for myself whether the photo is "fake" or not. [SPOILER: Turns out it's fake. (Seriously, it's "fake." Bear with me here...)]
Long story short: it's a panorama made up from multiple images. And the multiple images have all had their cross-hairs edited out to make it more attractive. And the color balances of many of the photos have been altered to make the panorama flow together more smoothly, and thus be more attractive.
1) that the image in question is a panorama stitched from multiple photos
2) that the astronaut taking it was simply standing in one spot and rotating around taking photos.
It explains the inconsistent shadows, as well as having the neat distinction of being assembled by a non-NASA amateur, from photos that are publicly available on the web. If you click through to Apollo 17 on The Apollo Archive you'll find a metric crap-ton of images like the following:
You'll notice that this is the portion of the picture showing the lunar module and astronaut, with cross-hairs intact. If you were so inclined, you could download all those images and run them through whatever panorama software you have lying around and could end up with exactly the same compositions.
So, there you have it. I have absolutely no doubt that the scenario described in the photo happened as NASA claims it did, but I have proven that the photo was very significantly edited in the process.
Turns out that everyone was right. And it's everyone that is the idiot.
The DVD recordings of this year's JREF Amazing Meeting were hindered by a technical problem; it seems an entire DAY'S worth of audio was lost. A plea apparently went out to attendees to see if anyone had recordings of that day's talks. From the JREF store:
However, due to our audience's complete disregard for instructions to refrain from recording the proceedings, and a heroic effort by JREF video manager Rich Montalvo, we recovered most of the audio, and we were able to put those presentations on the DVD.
Snopes.com frequently irritates me with their liberal use of the blanket terms "True" and "False" to denote things they have no way of knowing about. What generally happens is they come up with a plausible explanation for something and decide that this had to be what happened. I feel that it is irresponsible of them to go around claiming things as true or false on a flimsy basis when the entire internet treats them as the be-all-end-all source for the truth about sketchy things. They need to be more honest and broaden up their determinations a bit.
The most recent example of this is Phallus in Bugs Bunny Cartoon. In it they do no more than suggest a POSSIBLE explanation for the mystery flesh, yet they outright claim that it is "False." Here's the picture in question for those that don't feel like clicking over:
Their claim is that a white area on Bugs Bunny's crotch (that's much more impressive in the video) is, in actuality, just the tub behind behind him, and that what looks like a penis is just the natural curvature of Bugs's legs. Never minding the fact that Bug's's's legs never, ever, extend up into his abdomen, this answer just doesn't hold water for me. I downloaded the video off YouTube, extracted the three frames in question and examined everything thoroughly, and -- guess what -- I have reached an entirely different conclusion than the one they did.
The first thing I did was look for other pictures of Bugs with legs extending into his abdomen. Go ahead and watch the video for yourself, where you can see Bugs in that same position several times without ever having his legs extend up that high:
It just doesn't happen... they stop below his abdomen. That said, his legs do seem a bit short in the 'penis' shot; if you WERE to extend Bugs' legs into his abdomen, the length would be about right.
The next thing I did was find a frame with that area of the tub unoccupied:
I then cut out Bugs and overlaid him atop the empty tub:
As you can see, the area that people are claiming to be a penis is now the same color as the tub -- much darker than the white area in the original shot. Clearly this means that Snopes is mistaken with their assessment of the situation. Rather than the tub, it's more likely that the white in question is supposed to be Bugs' towel draping around his backside.
Except for one little detail:
Bugs' towel can be clearly seen at several points in the episode tied ABOVE his tail, meaning that it could never be seen behind his legs in the first place:
So what's all this lead to? The 'penis' can only be one of two things: a) a penis snuck in by a feisty animator, or b) a result of a poorly-sketched-out Bugs with too short of legs that was quickly 'fixed' by extending his legs up into his abdomen. After all, there are only 3 frames affected by this problem, and who would ever know? It's not like nerds are obsessively going over these things with a fine-toothed comb, right?
In any case, without any way of ever knowing whether this was an animator goof or some animator shenanigans, we can't call the claim "True" or "False." I think the reasonable answer is the goof one, but it would be dishonest to say for certain one way or the other. Which is exactly what Snopes did, and does on a regular basis.
"I was the biggest skeptic in the world," Dr. Rubin said."“And I sit here and say, 'This can’t possibly be happening.' I feel like the credibility of my scientific career is sitting on a razor's edge between 'Wow, this is really cool,' and 'These people are nuts.'"
Other scientists are understandably hesitant to buy into this, citing that "correlation does not equal causation." Just because the fat levels are decreasing while the bones get denser doesn't necessarily mean that the fat is turning INTO bone. I think further study will probably bear out that there is some other cause for the fat decrease -- like maybe the fact that the mice are forced to stand rather than lie down, thus expending more energy, or maybe that the vibrations excite them sexually and thus increase the metabolism -- but the bone density findings are pretty cool. Imagine osteoporosis sufferers simply standing on a vibrating plate to strengthen their bones a few times a week, no longer worrying about going ballroom dancing or tying eachother up in the backroom of the bingo parlor.
If the findings are proven conclusive, however, it will be finally possible to say with utmost truthfulness that you're not fat -- just big-boned.
While I think the JREF has done some really great work for the scientific community in the past, I've been growing increasingly tired of Randi's antagonistic attitude, and feel that he may actually be hurting the "skeptic community" as well the public's opinion of science in general. I'd really like to get him to tone his act down a little, maybe stop trying to make people seem foolish in addition to pointing out where they're wrong. Unfortunately, though, he's loved (almost worshiped) by the majority of skeptics out there, so I can't see that happening on its own any time soon. Anytime someone makes a negative claim about Randi, no matter how valid it is, Skeptics just shout them down.
When I saw these Randi Voodoo Dolls, they seemed like just the thing!
I've been stabbing that thing with the included pins at regular intervals, hoping and believing -- 'cause that's the trick with Voodoo... you apparently have to believe in order for it to work -- but Randi keeps going strong, ranting about evil works of fiction and television programs (all the while decrying those that rant about how evil the types of television programs he would like to see are), seemingly unaffected by the magic I've been trying to work.
Strangely though, I've been noticing a correlation between my stabbing and the rise in popularity/credibility of anti-Darwinian proponents. Creationists and other Intelligent Design proponents attempt to cast the theories of Darwin in doubt, claiming "scientific" evidence, when really all they have to support their claims is religious Mumbo Jumbo1. It seems like more and more of the uninformed public are getting behind these people, thinking that what they're promoting is science despite the fact that their claims are downright loony. As a skeptic, I know that correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation, but as a Voodoo practitioner I suspect that this is causatory. My stabbing is having an unforeseen side-effect, and I don't know why.
I did a little investigating and uncovered something completely shocking! Take a look here at the tag affixed to mini-Randi's bottom:
What is the JREF trying to pull here? This is clearly a Charles Darwin Voodoo Doll, and they're trying to pass if off as a James Randi Voodoo Doll. Not only is this fund raising attempt dishonest, it's downright malicious! I mean, it's fine and dandy to sell a Voodoo doll of yourself, but selling one of someone else is terrible.
I did a little checking, and guess what I found out? Charles Darwin is dead.
Coincidence? I think not. Shame on you JREF.
1: I use the term "Mumbo Jumbo" because it seems to fit well with my little Voodoo motif, not because I want to be disrespectful. I have my own crazy religious beliefs, and I deeply respect yours. They just aren't scientific in nature, so please stop trying to convince people they are. "Because it says so in the Bible" has been good enough for 2,000 years, there's no reason you need to go trying to have science back you up now as well. In the words of famed theologian George Michael, "You gotta have faith. Faith-fa-faith!"
I've been too tired lately to come up with content for here, let alone be able to make it sensible or entertaining.
That said, here's something I scratched out this morning:
One of my guilty pleasures is the show Ghost Hunters on the Scifi Channel, which I suppose might technically violate my "no reality show" policy. I think it squeaks by, though, on the basis that it's so steeped in a fantasy-world rendition of how science works.
See, the Ghost Hunters seem to legitimately believe that what they do is "take a scientific approach" to the study of the paranormal -- but unfortunately most of what they do just plain isn't scientific at all.
One of the staples of the show is Using Faulty Logic™, which I'm pleased to say they're quite good at.
Because so many people seem to not understand how logic works, I'm going to give a couple of examples of Ghost Hunter Logic™ and explain why they're no good. Hopefully this will serve as a kind of public service announcement, possibly helping some people that don't realize that they're not thinking logically about things.
First up: thermometers and EMF detectors as scientific ghost detection tools.
The theory here is that many places that people typically think might be haunted have been found to have measurable temperature differentials and measurable Electro Magnetic Field fluctuations.
As a logic excercise, we're going to assume that ghosts do exist, and that they do cause EMF/temperature fluctuations. (This is quite a stretch; neither of these things has been even close to proven, but bear with me.)
So, if I were going with Ghost Hunter Logic™, I could make the following claim:
"I just measured a cold spot and an abnormally high level of electromagnetic radiation with my scientific instruments. Because I know that ghosts cause cold spots and magnetic field fluctuations, I now know that there's a ghost here right now. Give me a tv show."
In case you're one of the large part of the population suffering from faulty logic-detection, that statement doesn't work because you can't correlate cause and effect in this way. Just because Pine-sol smells like pine doesn't mean that smelling pine proves that there must be Pine-sol around.
That's the fundamental flaw with how the Ghost Hunters guys investigate things. They come into every investigation thinking that there are ghosts; now any cold spot or magnetic field fluctuation that can't easily be explained becomes evidence that there's a ghost. Sure, they often discount them if they can easily explain them, which I have to give them credit for, but far too often they just don't think of the logical explanation.
Case in point:
Recently they were investigating a haunted library. As they walked around through the aisles, they kept hearing "footsteps" coming from aisles that would stop as soon as they would stop to listen. This suggested to them that something sentient was trying to evade detection. What this suggested to me was that their own footfalls were pehaps being echoed, or that there were loose floorboards or something that would transfer the noise over to another aisle.
I'm going to try to make a habit of posting examples of faulty logic I come across in an attempt to solve this serious problem.
A few days ago, there was an announcement that someone from my neck of the woods (Vancouver, WA) has photographed what appears to be a sasquatch on Silver Star Mountain. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization has posted the photos and some information on their news page, and the photos are now making their way around the blogosphere. Upon first seeing them on my 320×240 T-Moible Sidekick screen, I was intrigued, but it wasnt until today that I remember to check out the photos on my computer after seeing it again on I Can’t Eat Cheese. Here’s the best of the photos:
<p><center><img width='321' height='299' border='0' hspace='5' src='/uploads/Silver_Star_Mt._030.jpg' alt='' /></center></p>
<p>Like with the video of George Bush <a href="http://nyquil.org/archives/259-Bush-Flips-off-Reporters.html" title="my debunkery of the bird flipping">“flipping the bird”</a>, I decided that since I am apparently the only rational person around, it is up to me to play mythbuster. Now mind you, I believe that there is a possibility of such a creature as a sasquatch living in various parts of the world, and I’ll be among the most excited when/if credible evidence (ie, a dead one, or better yet a live one) is found. Sadly, today is not that day.</p>
<p>Using “high tech image processing techniques”—OK, who am I kidding? I upped the contrast and the brightness—I managed to get a little bit more detail to emerge, and things actually make quite a bit of sense to me. Before I show you my results, I want to show you a snippet of the text description on this scientific organization’s website:<blockquote> There’s no lines indicating clothing or a pack. The lump on the neck could easily be a clump of hair, similar to what you can see in the <span class="caps">PGF</span><sup>*</sup>.</p>
<p>Most snowshoers or backpackers in these conditions would look different than this silhouette.</blockquote></p>
<p>Ok, that said, I now present you with what I’ve determined this figure to be. I’ve only adjusted the brightness and the contrast, so no accusing me of making things up. Feel free to load up the original picture in the image editor of your choice, kick the brightness/contrast up a notch and take a peek if you don’t believe me.</p>
<p><center><img width='391' height='581' border='0' hspace='5' src='/uploads/bigfoot.gif' alt='' /></center></p>
<p><span class="caps">EDIT</span>: Er, I mean that the first frame of the animation has the contrast boosted. I obviously painted the colored areas by hand, but overtop of the corresponding shapes in the original image. I wasn’t trying to be cute.<br />
*: I have absolutely no idea what PGF means, I’m suspecting the F stands for footage, so they are perhaps referring to that really famous footage of bigfoot walking. If you are a bigfoot researcher, please let me know.
UPDATE: B-Will informs me that PGF stands for Patterson-Gimlin Footage, which is in-fact the footage I mentioned.