SGU Episode 829
|SGU Episode 829|
|May 29th 2021|
|SGU 828||SGU 830|
|S: Steven Novella|
|B: Bob Novella|
|C: Cara Santa Maria|
|J: Jay Novella|
|E: Evan Bernstein|
|MW: Mick West|
|Quote of the Week|
|A very good theory will be one that makes very wide-ranging claims about the world, and which is consequently highly falsifiable, and is one that resists falsification whenever it is put to the test.|
|Alan Chalmers, British-Australian philosopher of science|
Voiceover: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
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Atomic Level Microscope ()
Brain Game Pseudoscience ()
Who's That Noisy? (52:38)
S: Jay, it’s "Who’s That Noisy" time.
J: All right guys. Last week I played this noisy. [voices in background then a long resonating clang]
And here it is slowed down. [much slower sound of the long clang, much deeper in slo-mo]
So what do you guys think that is?
E: It sounds like something being impacted—in other words, one thing hitting another thing, but I don't know exactly what it is.
J: Anybody else?
C: (imitating noisy) Boy-ya-yah-yoing.
J, E, C: (laughing)
E: That’s very technical, Cara.
C: Thank you. (Evan laughs)
J: I have one correction this week. This was sent in by a listener named Daryl Goosen. And Daryl sent in a guess for this week’s Noisy, but then he said, "P.S. My 12-year-old son wants to point out that the Nintendo sound played on Episode #821 and answered on 822 was not the Wii home theme, but the Mii maker theme song.
C: Mmm. It’s when you make your little person to look like you.
J: So if anybody disagrees or wants to confirm that, email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org, but either way, I think it’s cool that a 12-year-old is listening and that they made a correction on a science and critical thinking podcast. So thanks for that! Don’t be hesitating to send in more corrections, anybody out there, because we like it.
A listener named Jason Brown wrote in and send, "Hey, my first Who's That Noisy guess, because I got this. It’s a medieval blacksmith forging a broadsword." That is really cool. That is not correct, but Steve appreciates that entry—
S: —I do.
J: —because Steve loves swordmaking. I know. I know my brother.
J: Next guess—
J: —You got 210, 220.
B: (laughs) Jay!
J: This next one was sent in by Visto Tutti. (pausing) Who is this guy? Is he even one person, or is he multiple people? Nobody knows. He guessed, "I hear a man give a command twice. Sounds like "Urup-sae", which I cannot translate, then a percussive strike on a metallic object of some mass. Wild guess: testing bridge strength from the sound they make," which I thought was provocative. I don’t know how they would be making the bridge make sound, but I don’t know—
C: —Are you provoked?
J: I am provoked.
J: That is not correct. I will move on. We have a listener named Shane Hillyer, and he says, "Hey Jay. I love the show and I’ve listened since '09ish, I think. This felt like some kind of ceremony where some dude shoots at a bell." (Laughs)
C: (laughs) I love that!
J: I love that one too! Yep!
E: There you go.
J: No, nobody is shooting at a bell but, man, now I need to hear that. I’m sure it’s on the internet. I’ll have to go look for that.
We have a winner. It’s not that, that common that the very first email sent about a particular round of Who's That Noisy is the correct one, but this happened this week. We have a listener this week. The listener’s name is John Erickson, and John wrote in, "Salutations Jay and crew. Love the channel. Been listening for years." Yadda yadda yadda. "Who’s That Noisy from Episode 828 is an anvil being sent into the air by an explosion in a steel box with a small opening at the top that the anvil was placed over. The video is from the YouTube channel Beyond the press by Lauri and Anni"—Whoa! I can’t pronounce that last name.—"Vuohensilta from Finland." Wow. That’s a cool name.
Anyway, very cool noise. I love listening to it slow as well because you get to really hear some of the details that are in there. So do listen to it again on your own if you have a chance. That was an awesome guess! Thank you, John. I thought it was a really cool sound and, visually, it’s very cool. You can take a look at that. It’s on the web.
New Noisy (56:29)
J: I have a new Noisy this week, and this Noisy was sent in by a listener named Vanessa Landsteit [sp?], and here it is.
[airy synthesizer music over hissing background with simple bass string notes and light cymbal tapping, then country music style lyrics starting with "Riders on the storm," and followed by guitar notes]
Sounds familiar, huh?
E: Yes, I’ve heard that song before.
B: Little bit.
J: Or have you though? Have you heard that song before?
B: Las Puertas.
J: So tell me what you just heard. That’s what I want to know. You can email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org.
S: All right. Thanks, Jay.
Interview with Mick West (57:32)
- Mick West is a British-American science writer, skeptical investigator, and retired video game programmer.
S: All right, guys. Let’s go on with our interview.
We are joined now by Mick West. Mick, welcome to the Skeptics’ Guide.
MW: I’m very glad to be here.
S: So Mick, you are the founder of metabunk.org, which is a website, a forum all about debunking conspiracies theories, and the author of the book, Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect. But we’re talking to you tonight because you’re also the author of a number of videos analyzing this recent spate of Pentagon videos showing what they are calling "UAPs," or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. And as we were just chatting about before, before we started recording, you’re the man of the hour, now, right? Everyone wants to talk to you and explain—which is good because a lot of the programs I’m watching are not interviewing any skeptics. They’re just gullibly saying, "Ooh! Look at this! Aliens."
So tell us about your involvement with the UAP videos.
MW: Sure. Well it kind of started about four years ago now, I’d say. I used to be kind of a general purpose debunker, and I would do chemtrails a lot, and then I’d do stuff like 9/11 conspiracies. And I’ve done election fraud conspiracies. And I was never really that into the UFO thing. But about 4 years ago, this video came out from Chile, from the Chilean Navy, and they basically presented this video as being a UFO. And I was one of the guys who kind of looked into it, and it actually was a crossover thing because it had these trails coming out of the back, which I recognized as being contrails, and being a contrail expert from my chemtrail work, I kind of leapt onto that and really got into it. And I found I really enjoyed analyzing UFO videos. And then, shortly after that, we had these three videos coming out from the US Navy, and I started getting my teeth into those and figuring out what was going on there.
S: So what kind of analysis did you do of these videos?
MW: Well, essentially, it’s—I used to be a video game programmer. And when you do video games, you’re taking a model of the 3D world—you’ve got the 3D coordinates—and then you’re transforming them into screen coordinates, into 2D coordinates. And when you’re analyzing a video of a UFO or a plane or something like that, you’re kind of doing the same thing, but in reverse. You are taking the 2D coordinates on screen—the 2D image, and the way that image changes over time—and you’re trying to kind of figure out the reverse transform to figure out what the actual, real-world model is that’s actually happening. So you’re looking at something like a dot that’s way in the distance. You don’t know if it’s small or far away so you’ve got to be able to—trying to figure out which one of those fits the available facts best.
So it ties in a lot with my video game programming. I think it also ties in with something I was really good at in video games, which was debugging. Of course, my code had lots of bugs, and all code has lots of bugs. And when you are debugging a video game, especially back when I was making them—back in the PlayStation days when they came on CDs, you couldn’t actually change them after they had shipped. So once you eventually started selling the game there was no way of changing it. It’s like when you get a book: you can’t change your typos once it’s in the hardback. And so you have to get really, really good at getting to the root cause of things. And so I was doing this essential root cause analysis on exactly what’s going on. You’re just going to get your teeth into it, and you can’t let go until you figure it out.
S: And there’s a lot of information on these videos, because they’re often cockpit cameras, etc., so there’s a lot of technical meta-data that you can get from the video—it’s not just a picture of the blob in the distance. There’s some details there.
MW: Yeah. And the more data you have, the better, obviously. The ideal thing to have is the location of the camera, the direction it’s pointing in, and the field of view, but sometimes you don’t have those things. But in these videos, we have the heading of the camera relative to the plane. We have the angle that the camera is pointing at, like up or down. In one of the videos we have a range, which is the distance to the object itself, the straight-line distance.
B: How is that determined? 'Cause to me, that’s one of the most critical bits of information. How far away is it? Is it small and close, and therefore moving slowly, or is it big and far away, and therefore moving amazingly fast, beyond physics fast? Is it very common to have distance data? I don’t think it’s very common.
MW: Yeah. Only one of the videos actually has a range number, and that’s actually determined by radar. There’s two basic ways: there’s radar, or there’s laser range finding. And either one is just going to give you a number on the screen. But they’re using radar to track down one—and in the other videos, we don’t actually have the range data, so it makes it a lot more challenging. You have to kind of try to use that as a variable and see which version of that distance works best. And you end up with, say, different sized planes, if you’re thinking it’s a plane. It could be a small jet, or it could be like a 747. And then you have to take other things into account as well as that.
So, yeah, you look at all these data on the screen. You look at the image itself, and you try to recreate what actually fits best. It’s quite complicated. It’s surprisingly complicated sometimes. When I explain it, I break it down into a very, very simple way. I often have to leave out a huge amount of the analysis that I've done just because I don’t have time to discuss it.
S: So, pick one of the videos and just give us a quickie, like the quick version of what did you find. What was your analysis? And how did that lead you to your conclusion?
MW: Well, let’s take the "go-fast" video. It’s kind of like the simplest one to talk about. At the start of the "go-fast" video, you see what looks like a very, very fast-moving object. It’s a little white dot, and it looks like it’s moving really, really fast over the surface of the ocean. And then the camera locks onto this object, and it starts tracking it, and it looks like it’s tracking it really, really fast. And it actually looks like it’s going something around like 300 or 400 knots, two-thirds the speed of sound. So it’s really, really fast.
But then you start to look at the other things besides the simple image itself. You look at the numbers on the screen, and you’ve got the two important ones. I mentioned the range. Once it acquires the target, it actually gets a radar range. And then you’ve also got the heading angle relative to the plane, and you’ve got the slant angle, which is the angle downward. And if you know what your altitude is, which is also on screen—25,000 feet—and you know what angle you’re pointing down, you know how far away something is, that distance becomes the hypotenuse of a right-angle triangle. And the angle is just the angle down. So the opposite leg of that triangle, which is the vertical height below where you are, is the sine of the angle multiplied by that range. So it’s just multiplying two numbers together, and it tells you what the altitude of that other object is, relative to you. Then you subtract them, and it turns out it’s not actually down by the ocean. It turns out it’s actually quite high up. It’s actually halfway between you and the ocean, almost exactly halfway.
B: Oh great.
S: And you can estimate its actual relative speed with the same method. And it’s, like, not going that fast.
MW: A similar method, yeah. What I had done was I did a graphical way of solving that because it’s kind of a tricky thing to do, analytically, because it’s difficult to convey what you’re actually doing. So I did, essentially, a vector diagram using the angle and range at the start and the angle and range at the end, which is the angle from the front of the plane. And then the bank angle of the plane—I used that and calculated from the bank angle of the plane how fast the plane should be turning left or right and then created a vector diagram, which told you where the target was at the start and then where the target was at the end. And then the distance between those two points is the velocity when you divide by time.
Mathematically, that would have been very complicated to describe with an equation, but it actually turns out to be fairly simple to do graphically. And it’s much more accessible to people.
S: Right. And so the end result of all of that was what?
MW: The end result of that was that the object was moving at about 40 knots plus or minus 20 knots, which, essentially, is about the same as wind speed at that altitude. And so now you know you’ve got something that’s moving at wind speed, and you know from the infrared camera that it’s cold, because it appears as a white dot and the camera’s in black hot mode, so anything that’s hot would appear black. So you think, what’s—
B: —drifting in the wind.
MW: —what is cold? What’s drifting in wind? What could it possible be? It’s—
S: —A balloon.
MW: The most likely thing? It’s a balloon, and not just that, a weather balloon, because you get a very good, solid radar lock. And weather balloons carry this little radar reflector so planes don’t bump into them. So everything fits, and everything kind of lined up. And so I just kind of published this result, and UFO people started shouting at me.
S: As far as I can see, no one’s been able to do any kind of real response to that. No one has any valid criticism of your methods.
MW: Yeah, that’s true. And I think part of the problem here is that the people who are releasing these videos really aren’t doing any analysis on them. And they’re just kind of saying, "Hey! Look. It looks like it’s moving really fast." And then they stick it out there, and they do some kind of naive calculations kind of assuming that it is moving really fast and it is down by the surface of the ocean. But they don’t actually get in and do the nitty-gritty details, and so they kind of come up with almost like the answer that they’re looking for, rather than the actual answer.
B: Oh sure!
S: Oh, imagine!
B: And is the military—do they have any analysts doing what you’re doing here? I mean—
MW: —Yeah. I’m sure they do. The problem is that the military don’t want to talk about this, partly because this is a classified system that these are recorded on. It’s called the Raytheon ATFLIR system. And it’s a fairly advanced targeting pod that straps on underneath the planes. And if you look for example videos shot with this on YouTube, you will find, basically, nothing—like a few really grainy ones, because even though I’m sure there’s tens of thousands of hours that have been shot with it, it’s all classified. So they don’t want to talk about it. And if they do analysis of it, that becomes classified by default. So they’re not going to release it. And they’ve actually explicitly said that they do not plan to release the results of the investigation into these videos.
B: Yeah, but couldn’t they release information, analysis similar to what you have released? I mean, you’re not breaking any national security laws by what you’re saying. Can’t they do something similar that’s not comprising national security?
MW: They could. They could. But technically the results of an investigation that include classified materials get the same classification level as that classified material unless separately declassified. So they would have to jump through a bunch of hoops—
B: —Ugh! Why bother.
MW: —to even just release—
B: —Right? Why bother?
MW: —Yeah. But I—
C: —Yeah, instead let’s just make sure the entire population is up in arms and stressed out. I mean, that’s the frustrating part. It’s like, can we just calm people down?
B: Right. And they’re not thinking that, "Oh, look. These are aliens." 'Cause kind of like, whatever, yeah, they’re aliens. But a lot of people are thinking, "Well it’s either aliens, or it’s some other country that had this hyper-advanced technology, and we need to be on alert and do—" That’s where it gets, actually—it could have some serious ramifications.
E: And the Department of Defense is going to be issuing a report to the United States Senate next month in regards to this video and others about this phenomenon. What are we to make of that in the sense that—how is that report going to be made to the Senate without the general public knowing exactly what is going on here and what has been analyzed?
MW: Yeah. The report really isn’t about these videos. It’s kind of a general report about the UAP investigations within the military. So it’s basically a ground overview of everything the military is doing to study UAPs. So, in theory, it could include all the other videos that are supposedly out there in every single report that’s ever been giving by a Navy airman. So it’s not trying to clear these particular videos up. It’s trying to get some kind of overview of what’s actually going on with UAP investigations, which is a very strange and twisted tale, what’s actually going on with these UAPs. There’s a great article by Jason Colavito that came out a few days ago that kind of examines the history of the people involved in this and why we’ve got a UFO-studying program within the military in the first place. And it kind of boils down, essentially, that there are people who are UFO fans and, to a certain degree, paranormal fans and who have got a little bit of a toehold in the government.
E: Mmhmm. Yes.
S: Does that explain why, when, even though they can’t release a detailed analysis of classified information, when they go on—like this week on the news shows, somebody from the Pentagon or in the military who’s familiar with the program—they make all these coy statements like, "We don’t know what it is," and "It’s very interesting," and whatever. Why couldn’t they just say, "Yeah, we can’t go into the details because it’s classified, but we’ve analyzed this and there’s no reason to think these are anything other than mundane objects." But they don’t make statements like that; they’re perpetuating the mystery.
MW: The people you’re seeing on these shows are not actually from the Pentagon. They’re people who have retired or left the Pentagon, like former people. The main guy is Luis Elizondo, who ran this program—
B: —Oh, god! Yeah, we know him.
MW: —some time ago. And he—
C: Mmhmm. So they have their own agenda. If these people were actually actively working here, they wouldn’t be able to go on these shows.
MW: Yeah. The Pentagon has said nothing. They haven’t said anything at all about this, other than that these videos were taking and that a UAP task force exists. So if you’re looking for an official statement, there’s basically nothing out there. You’ve got a few politicians saying things, like Marco Rubio—
B: —Yeah, right!
MW: —We don’t know what his motivation is. It could just be like he sees it as a popular thing to talk about, and he’s talking about. Or maybe he’s been convinced by something he’s seen behind the scenes. He’s the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Intelligence. But yeah, there’s not a lot—there’s nothing coming out of the Pentagon. But yet you hear these stories like "Pentagon Admits UFOs Are Real." And they haven’t.
C: Do you guys remember when we visited the CIA, one of the things that we talked about when we were in that room discussing sci-comm and different approaches was the frustration that these CIA officers feel, being like "It’s really hard to calm the general public when we’re not allowed to disclose anything."
C: "Like when something is classified, so we can’t tell them anything because it’s classified, when all we really want to do is say 'Don’t worry,' how do we get them to trust us if we can’t give them any evidence for why they shouldn’t worry?" And it sounds like that’s sort of the unfortunate position that the Pentagon’s in right now.
MW: Yeah, I would agree with that. And you can kind of almost feel that when you talk to these spokespeople. They just give these boilerplate answers, but you can kind of tell there’s—they know more about what’s actually going on. And they’d probably would like to clear things up. But because you’ve got this huge bureaucracy and this huge system of classification by default, they just can’t get past it.
Science or Fiction (1:23:40)
|Science||star formation changes|
|Science||ride sharing & assault<!— leave blank if absent -->|
Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction.
Item #1: Astronomers find that 36 nearby dwarf galaxies, separated by as much as 13 million light years, experienced a simultaneous significant decrease 6 billion years ago, followed by an increase 3 billion years ago in star formation. 
Item #2: A new review finds that the greatest risk from current self-driving cars is failure or errors of their sensing systems. 
Item #3: A new study finds that the introduction of ride sharing services into a U.S. city reduces sexual assault by 6.3%. 
S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have three regular news items this week. You guys ready?
S: All right. Here we go. Item #1: Astronomers find that 36 nearby dwarf galaxies, separated by as much as 13 million light years, experienced a simultaneous significant decrease 6 billion years ago, followed by an increase 3 billion years ago in star formation. Item #2: A new review finds that the greatest risk from current self-driving cars is failure or errors of their sensing systems. And item #3: A new study finds that the introduction of ride sharing services into a U.S. city reduces sexual assault by 6.3%.
Cara, you weren’t here last week so you go first.
Steve Explains Item #_n_
Steve Explains Item #_n_
Steve Explains Item #_n_
Skeptical Quote of the Week ()
A very good theory will be one that makes very wide-ranging claims about the world, and which is consequently highly falsifiable, and is one that resists falsification whenever it is put to the test.
– Alan Chalmers, British-Australian philosopher of science
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to email@example.com. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
== References ==
- ScienceAlert: The 'Replication Crisis' Could Be Worse Than We Thought, New Analysis Reveals
- Scientific American: Humans Could Live up to 150 Years, New Research Suggests
- Jioforme.com: Innovation pioneer earns world’s first score for sustainable construction using graphene concrete
- SciTechDaily: Incredible Microscope Sees Atoms at Record Resolution
- ScienceNews: Playing brain training games regularly doesn’t boost brainpower
- The New Republic: How Washington Got Hooked on Flying Saucers
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