John Horgan is a science journalist who recently spoke at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) from May 12-15 in New York City. His speech has been republished in Scientific American:
I hate preaching to the converted. If you were Buddhists, I’d bash Buddhism. But you’re skeptics, so I have to bash skepticism.
I’m a science journalist. I don’t celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong.
So I’m a skeptic, but with a small S, not capital S. I don’t belong to skeptical societies. I don’t hang out with people who self-identify as capital-S Skeptics. Or Atheists. Or Rationalists.
When people like this get together, they become tribal. They pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they are compared to those outside the tribe. But belonging to a tribe often makes you dumber.
Here’s an example involving two idols of Capital-S Skepticism: biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss. Krauss recently wrote a book, A Universe from Nothing. He claims that physics is answering the old question, Why is there something rather than nothing?
Krauss’s book doesn’t come close to fulfilling the promise of its title, but Dawkins loved it. He writes in the book’s afterword: “If On the Origin of Species was biology’s deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology.”
Just to be clear: Dawkins is comparing Lawrence Krauss to Charles Darwin. Why would Dawkins say something so foolish? Because he hates religion so much that it impairs his scientific judgment. He succumbs to what you might call “The Science Delusion.”
“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attackdisbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food.
These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.
Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions. In the rest of this talk, I’ll give you examples of hard targets from physics, medicine and biology. I’ll wrap up with a rant about war, the hardest target of all.
The world’s most worrisome military flashpoint is arguably not in the Strait of Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, Iran, Israel, Kashmir or Ukraine. In fact, it cannot be located on any map of Earth, even though it is very easy to find. To see it, just look up into a clear sky, to the no-man’s-land of Earth orbit, where a conflict is unfolding that is an arms race in all but name.
The emptiness of outer space might be the last place you’d expect militaries to vie over contested territory, except that outer space isn’t so empty anymore. About 1,300 active satellites wreathe the globe in a crowded nest of orbits, providing worldwide communications, GPS navigation, weather forecasting and planetary surveillance. For militaries that rely on some of those satellites for modern warfare, space has become the ultimate high ground, with the U.S. as the undisputed king of the hill. Now, as China and Russia aggressively seek to challenge U.S. superiority in space with ambitious military space programs of their own, the power struggle risks sparking a conflict that could cripple the entire planet’s space-based infrastructure. And though it might begin in space, such a conflict could easily ignite full-blown war on Earth.
The long-simmering tensions are now approaching a boiling point due to several events, including recent and ongoing tests of possible anti-satellite weapons by China and Russia, as well as last month’s failure of tension-easing talks at the United Nations.
- World war brews in space between China, US and Russia
- Pentagon Rushing to Open Space-War Center To Counter China, Russia
- US military space plane begins latest secret mission
- New Report Finds China’s Space Plans Threaten U.S. Military Ability
- Obama Denied the Death Star, But He Still Spends Billions on Star Wars
- Space Junk Explained: How Orbital Debris Threatens Future of Spaceflight
- The Looming Space Junk Crisis: It’s Time to Take Out the Tras
- The militarisation of space
- Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars)
- 1967 Outer Space Treaty
- The Kessler syndrome
‘A new flag has been proposed to represent planet Earth’s astronauts and spaceships on their journey into the cosmos.
The flag, which has yet to be officially adopted, was drawn up by a designer with contributions from NASA and other organisations.
The design consists of seven inter-linked white rings on a blue background.
The linked rings would represent the interdependence of life on earth, while the blue would allude to the planet’s vast oceans.
The design was conceived by Oskar Pernefeldt, a Swedish design researcher.’
‘The U.S. Air Force is set to launch the fourth flight of its X-37B space plane on May 20, and new details are unfolding about the upcoming mystery mission.
For this latest flight of the X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office has teamed up with several partners, including NASA, to test experimental space technologies.
“With the demonstrated success of the first three missions, we’re able to shift our focus from initial checkouts of the vehicle to testing of experimental payloads,” Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office overseeing the flight, said in a statement.
The forthcoming mission will test an experimental propulsion system jointly developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Space and Missile Systems Center. In addition, the X-37B craft will carry a NASA advanced materials investigation.’
- And Now, The Race To Begin Moon Colonization Begins…
- The US government is getting ready for the commercialization of the moon
- Should We Colonize the Moon? And How Much Would It Cost?
- 15 Ambitious Plans to Colonize the Moon
- Colonization of the Moon – Wikipedia
- 1967 Outer Space Treaty – Wikipedia
- ‘A World in the Moon’: Wilkins and his Lunar Voyage of 1640
‘The nuclear age gave way to a fascination in the 1950’s with space aliens, leading to the creation of Project BLUE BOOK by the Air Force to track the soaring number of UFO sightings being reported nationwide.
The CIA is now admitting that they were actually to blame for the vast majority of such sightings, confirming in a report on the U-2 spy planes that test flights over the US coincided with the mania.’
‘Israel and the United States were the only two countries to vote against a UN resolution calling for the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
The resolution was among several dealing with international disarmament passed by the General Assembly on 2 December, including one calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and bring its rogue nuclear program under international supervision.
China and India, which both have space programs, along with the member states of the European Space Agency, voted for the initiative aimed at keeping space free of weapons.
The US and Israel were also the only two countries to vote against a separate UN resolution calling for a prohibition on the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction.
That resolution passed with 174 countries voting in favor and a single abstention, Ukraine.’
- Outer Space Treaty
- UN Resolution: Prevention of an arms race in outer space
- UN Report: Prohibition of the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons
- UN Report: The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East
- UN resolution: Israel must renounce nuclear arms
- The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal
- Israel flunks nuclear safety test, but ranks above Iran and North Korea
‘A NASA official recently confirmed that one of the agency’s aircraft had been spotted on an American military airstrip in eastern Africa a few weeks ago, but like a series of U.S. military officials, declined to say what the space agency’s high-tech bird was doing there.
“I really can’t give you any of the details,” Jim Alexander, a NASA official with the WB-57 High Altitude Research Program, told ABC News. “You know, the airplane was there, you see it in the picture. But I really can’t tell you what it was for.”
The broad-winged white plane belonging to the agency best known for putting a man on the moon was photographed by the satellite company Digital Globe back in September sitting next to some tilt-rotor aircraft at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, a development reported by the military blog War Is Boring last month.’
- Commercial Space Industry Faces Hurdles After Recent Accidents
- After two crashes, private space industry faces inevitable questions
- Experts Encourage Space Industry To ‘Stay The Course’
- Branson says space dream lives on, vows safety paramount
- Will space accidents deter pioneer tourists?
- Commercial Space Industry Growing Fast
- Commercialization of space
‘Wrestling with the huge steering wheel, a CIA agent carefully backed the large flatbed truck through an entrance in the 10-foot wooden fence surrounding a salvage yard. As the truck rumbled to a stop, he and other covert intelligence operatives moved quickly under cover of night, pushing the gate closed, barely clearing the front bumper. They then all rushed to the back of the truck, hopped inside and delicately pried open the giant wooden crate it carried, being careful to leave no marks.
And with that, the first stage of their until now secret mission was complete: American intelligence had stolen—or, more accurately, borrowed—one of the Soviet Union’s most important technologies, a Lunik space vehicle, which was a key component in its race with the United States to be the first to reach the moon.
The “kidnapping” of that missile, done without the Soviets ever knowing about it, is one of many wild and sometimes weird secret operations and schemes exposed for the first time in a series of recently declassified government documents concerning the so-called Space Race, which was feared to be important for military reasons but known to be propaganda that could swell national pride.’
‘The U.S. Air Force has kept an unmanned space shuttle in orbit for the past two years, and it seems no one without security clearance knows what it’s been doing up there.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, which can enter orbit and land without human intervention, is scheduled to touch down this week—the best guess is sometime on Tuesday—at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, Calif. The landing will mark completion of the program’s third and longest mission, which was launched on Dec. 11, 2012. The Air Force has two such spacecraft for these low-earth orbit missions, all of which are classified, as are the precise launch and landing times.
“The mission is basically top secret,” says Captain Chris Hoyler, an Air Force spokesman. The X-37B program came from technologies developed by Boeing (BA), NASA, the Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).’
- What Does the US Military’s New Space Plane Really Do?
- Why the U.S. Military Needs to Control the Moon and Space
- WikiLeaks: US and China in military standoff over space missiles
- The Changing Role of the U.S. Military in Space
- X-37B: Secrets of the US military spaceplane
- Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW)
- SF Chronicle piece on Rods from God
- Pop Sci piece on Rods from God
- United States Space Command
- Militarisation of space
‘[…] While this year’s symposium attracted a reported 400 people, this was a far cry from the thousands who attended the MUFON conference in the late 1970s, after Close Encounters of the Third Kind introduced extraterrestrials to the mainstream moviegoer. That was at a time when a lot of people actually believed that these mysterious things from the sky represented the biggest single thing in history. Since then, despite the recent astronomical findings of the so-called “Goldilocks zone” that postulates sentient life is possible throughout the galaxy, ufology has apparently lost its grip on the public imagination, and has been demoted to a neo-cult status. For the populace at large space is no longer the place. Not that this mattered to those gathered at Cherry Hill. Used to marginalization, they were resolved to keep watching the skies.
[…] It is true that very little beyond a shadow of a doubt forensic proof of alien presence has come to light over the years, but there are a number of subsidiary reasons for the seeming twilight of the UFO moment. With voracious proliferation of vampires, New World Order conspiracies, and the unprecedented rise of evangelical Christianity, the simple flying disc from far, far away has become a quaint, almost nostalgic specter. The saucer may have been the post-war generation’s signifier of the strange, but even versions of the unknown outlive their usefulness. The end of the era may have commenced with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which located the drama of the unknown inside the claustrophobic cyberspace accessible to the common keyboardist. Instead of the far-flung wonder to the universe, much of what falls under the rubric of contemporary ufology has become deeply interiorized, resigned to the viscous psych-sexual abduction phenomena described and popularized by people like Budd Hopkins, Whitley Strieber, and John Mack.’
‘A new report claims that Russian scientists have discovered traces of marine life living on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS).
Vladimir Solovyev, the official in charge of Russia’s ISS segment, told the news agency Itar-Tass that tiny plankton and microscopic organisms had been discovered on the spacecraft’s exterior, describing the finds as “absolutely unique”.
However, the truthfulness of Solovyev s claim is unclear, with Nasa refusing to confirm the story. “As far as we’re concerned, we haven’t heard any official reports from our Roscosmos colleagues that they’ve found sea plankton,” Nasa spokesperson Dan Huot told Space.com.’
‘Launch of two satellites for the U.S. Air Force’s recently declassified Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, had been slated for July 23, but was delayed one day to resolve a technical issue with ground support equipment and then three more times by poor weather.
…General William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command, likened GSSAP to a “neighborhood watch program” that will keep tabs on other countries’ satellites. The program “will bolster our ability to discern when adversaries attempt to avoid detection and to discover capabilities they may have which might be harmful to our critical assets at these higher altitudes,” Shelton said during a speech in February that unveiled the once-classified program.’
‘Back in 2012, the Sun erupted with a powerful solar storm that just missed the Earth but was big enough to “knock modern civilization back to the 18th century,” NASA said.
The extreme space weather that tore through Earth’s orbit on July 23, 2012, was the most powerful in 150 years, according to a statement posted on the US space agency website Wednesday.
However, few Earthlings had any idea what was going on.’
‘The United States military once planned to build a surveillance station on the moon.
Code named “Project Horizon,” a declassified report released today on the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk outlines the military’s detailed plans to install a moon-to-Earth surveillance system that would have been used for “facilitating communications with and observation of the earth.”‘
‘At a nondescript industrial park in south England, scientists have created a new super-black material — fashioned out of carbon nanotubes — that is so dark it’s like “looking at a black hole.” The material, called Vantablack, absorbs all but 0.035% of the incident light that bounces off it, meaning your eyes essentially can’t see it — you can only see the space around it, and then infer that there must be something occupying that eerie abyss. Vantablack’s first customers are in the defense and space sectors, where the material can be used to make a whole variety of stealth craft and weaponry, and more sensitive telescopes that can detect the faintest of faraway stars.’
‘If there’s one thing we know about the universe, is that there are huge swathes of it that we don’t understand — in fact, most of it we can’t even see. We already knew about Dark Matter and Dark Energy, two despairingly complex and confusingly named pillars of the invisible cosmological infrastructure that has so far evaded detection.
Now to their ranks we can add “dark light”, after a team at CU Boulder found using data from Hubble that up to 80% of light in the universe is “missing”. Using the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, a $70 million instrument on Hubble to study the “tendrils” of hydrogen that connect galaxies across the vast wastes of space, the team found an inconsistency that — currently — makes no sense.’
‘An international team of astronomers has announced the discovery of a potentially-habitable Super-Earth around the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 832. Located 16 light-years from Earth, it’s considered one of the closest and best habitable-world candidates so far.
Gliese 832-c features a brief orbital period of 36 days and a mass at least five times that of Earth’s. This planet may be close to its red dwarf parent star, but it receives about the same average energy as Earth does from the Sun. According to lead astronomer Robert Wittenmyer from UNSW Australia, the planet might have Earth-like temperatures, though with large seasonal shifts (assuming it has an atmosphere similar to ours). More likely, however, is that it’s a Super-Venus — an oversized terrestrial planet with a hot, dense atmosphere that’s hostile to life.’
‘[…] Why, if saucers are relatively rare in science, have they been such a long-standing element of science fiction?
If you wanted to put a precise date on the origins of our obsession with saucers, the most-cited contender is June 24, 1947. That was the day that Kenneth Arnold, an amateur pilot from Idaho, was flying his little plane, a CallAir A-2, over Mineral, Washington. The skies were clear; there was a light breeze. Arnold, who was en route to an air show in Oregon, was doing a little exploring on the side, near Mount Rainer: A Marine Corps C-46 transport airplane had gone down in the area recently, and there was a $5,000 reward for the person who found the wreckage.
Suddenly, as Arnold would later recall, he saw a bright light—just a flash, like a glint of sun as it hits a mirror when the glass is angled just so. It had a blue-ish tinge. At first, he thought the light must have been coming from another plane; when he looked around, though, all he could see was a DC-4. It seemed to be flying about 15 miles away from him. It was not flashing. And then the lights came again—this time, in a series. Nine flashes, in rapid succession. What did Arnold see that day? Or, more to the point, what would he say that he’d seen?’
‘The United Launch Alliance is caught in a “Beltway knife fight” with SpaceX for some of the most lucrative contracts at the Pentagon. The alliance, which is made up of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, now has sole dominion over contracts with the Defense Department to launch military and spy satellites into space, as they are the only companies certified to provide the services. But that could soon change. SpaceX, a relatively new aerospace company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, argues that Boeing and Lockheed have engineered the system in their favor, and is demanding certification.’
‘The concept is still in the very early experimental stage, but if these 3D renderings are anything to go by, we’re already SO FREAKING EXCITED. Dr Harold “Sonny” White is working on the warp drive program at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, and came up with this concept with 3D artist Mark Rademaker, Jesus Diaz reports for Sploid. You can see more of their amazing images here.’
‘The US’s National Reconnaissance Office just shot a rocket into space with a secret satellite payload on it that they refuse to tell anyone about. They used a very fancy rocket to launch it, had some very cryptic logos made for it, and pointed it due East from Florida. No one knows for sure what the payload is, but many experts and amateurs alike have some good guesses.’ (The Resident)
Barely six weeks after rolling troops into the Crimean Peninsula, an official from Vladimir Putin’s Russia has announced the country’s next expansion target: the Moon. As reported by the Voice of Russia, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta that establishing a permanent Moon base has become one of the country’s top space priorities.
“The moon is not an intermediate point in the [space] race, it is a separate, even a self-contained goal,” Rogozin reportedly said. “It would hardly be rational to make some ten or twenty flights to the moon, and then wind it all up and fly to the Mars or some asteroids.” Rogozin’s comments were an obvious dig against the US space program. NASA flew its last manned mission to the Moon in 1972 and currently has no plans to return humans to the Earth’s satellite.
The Automated Planet Finder, designed by U.C. San Diego astronomer Steve Vogt, began its work early this year at Lick Observatory in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The telescope has already helped Vogt identify two new planetary systems (HD 141399 and GJ 687). Although they are what Vogt calls “garden variety systems,” they serve as proof of concept that the next-gen telescope performs well at its task of identifying potentially habitable planets.
The telescope uses software to determine, based on weather and visibility, which stars — from a list pre-programmed by Vogt and his colleague Geoffrey Marcy — to monitor on a given night. “The planetary systems we’re finding are our nearest neighbors. Those are the ones that will matter to future generations,” Vogt said in a news release.