Thursday, August 28, 2008

Considering the Source: A Primer

Our friend Steve has left us another vitriolic post in which he has "cast the pearls of valuable evidence before the swine" of skeptics like Jak and myself, all the while sneering that we'd never look at the valuable links that he so magnanimously Googled up for us. Well, I've checked them out and now I think it's time for a lesson. Keeping with yesterday's theme of considering sources, let's have a look at some of the websites that our friend Steve has offered up as evidence that the HAARP facility in Alaska is actually a gigantic killing machine: - The website run under the auspices of the deceased Columbia University physicist Bernard Eastlund, who worked on concepts similar to those utilized by HAARP. (He also helped to invent the fast-drying labels of Coors beer cans.) This site expresses concerns that HAARP-like technology could be used to defeat satellites, but since this can already be accomplished using, oh, I dunno, a Ticonderoga Class Aegis Cruiser armed with Raytheon SM-3 missiles, it's hard for me to get too worked up about it. On the subject of weather modification, however, the site has this to say:
One of the reasons weather modification is not a science is that scientists have made what they considered to be reasonable assessments of the relative size of forcing technologies (such as wind generators, microwave heaters, or explosions) and determined that the large size of weather systems make it useless to attempt to change weather patterns with human intervention.
Nonetheless, Eastlund apparently really did think that weather manipulation was ultimately possible, but the site also notes that the HAARP antenna array is far too small for such endeavors. Furthermore, nowhere even in the most far-fetched possibilities listed on this site is man-made earthquake technology even mentioned. That being said, regardless of what Eastlund may or may not have thought, the official HAARP website states the following:

The HAARP facility will not affect the weather. Transmitted energy in the frequency ranges that will be used by HAARP is not absorbed in either the troposphere or the stratosphere - the two levels of the atmosphere that produce the earth's weather. Electromagnetic interactions only occur in the near-vacuum of the rarefied region above about 70 km known as the ionosphere.

The ionosphere is created and continuously replenished as the sun's radiation interacts with the highest levels of the Earth's atmosphere. The downward coupling from the ionosphere to the stratosphere/troposphere is extremely weak, and no association between natural ionospheric variability and surface weather and climate has been found, even at the extraordinarily high levels of ionospheric turbulence that the sun can produce during a geomagnetic storm. If the ionospheric storms caused by the sun itself don't affect the surface weather, there is no chance that HAARP can do so either.

Keep in mind that even if the ionosphere did have an effect on surface weather, HAARP causes fluctuations in the ionosphere that are vastly weaker than the naturally occurring fluctuations it experiences every day because of the sun.

Of further note, I'd like to point out that simply having patented something doesn't actually mean that it works - the U.S. Patent Office is not in the business of determining if inventions are functional, but rather it is in the business of determining if they are ripped off. See for example this list of perpetual motion machine patents. - This site is a clearinghouse of news links mixed in with in-house conspiracy essays that warn of "Media Mind Control", claim that climate change is untrue, and attempt to prove that catastrophism is the primary method of speciation on the planet. Among the other services this site offers is an "earthquake calculator"(Based on Stonehenge, they claim. According to our BroJon friends natural disasters almost always occur during full moons. Perhaps it's also a werewolf detector.) and a "remote viewing aptitude test". - Run by Michael Ruppert, this site has the ostensibly noble goal of serving as a watchdog against governmental encroachments on civil liberties in the post 9/11 world. The HAARP article was written by Michel Chossudovsky an economics professor from the University of Ottawa, citing sources such as and Dr. Rosalie Bertell, a biometrics specialist who also opposes mammograms, the irradiation of food to kill bacteria, and all nuclear power. Chossudovsky is concerned that technology such as what he thinks HAARP is could be used to enforce U.S. hegemony and economic globalization, to which he is opposed.

It's worth noting that much of the to-do about HAARP seems to be generated by Bertell, Chossudovsky and a fellow named Nick Begich. (Begich calls himself a doctor because of his degree from the the Open International University for Complementary Medicines.*) These three extensively cite each other (Chossudovsky's paper cites both of them, for example.) and it is a handful of their essays that most commonly pop up when you look for scary HAARP stuff online. (In fact, one of the links we looked at yesterday took us to a paper by Bertell.) Much of what they claim is either based on their own naked assertions or citations that reference one another's naked assertions. - Run by Ellie Crystal, "psychic and reiki master" and her mystical companion "a spirit named Zoroaster", this site is, frankly, a big concentrated pile of woo-woo. She claims to hold a "Ph.D. in metaphysical studies" but lists no university in her biography. Actually, there are two biographies on her site and only one mentions the Ph.D. - the other only says that she has a Masters of Psychology from NYU. This is extra confusing because both of these biographies are on the same page. She has an enormous number of articles, most of which are apparently culled from Wikipedia - Her HAARP article is essentially just a cut and paste job from the Wikipedia entry, right down to the section headings. Also of note is her "Predictions for 2001" page, which claims to have an extremely detailed prediction of the September 11th attacks...too bad the Web Archive shows that this page didn't exist before 2005.

What does all of this mean? Well, for one thing it means that our friend Steven suggests that we should trust the word of conspiracy theorists and pseudo-psychic hucksters rather than, say, the independent scientists that actually run HAARP. However, I imagine that the information given on the HAARP website won't be considered valid by our friend because, as he has noted repeatedly, the government might be lying. Now, I have no doubt that the government has lied, does lie, and will lie again, but that doesn't mean that we should embrace as canon any conspiracy theory that we can conceive of as possible. It also doesn't mean that we should trust a psychic to tell us how a sophisticated ionospheric research program works, nor does it mean we should place all of our faith in half a dozen papers with inbred citations from a handful of scholars who are working far outside of their fields.

Sorry Steve, I remain skeptical.

*The University's website it is here, though it apparently hasn't been updated since 2005. This "university" may no longer be in operation and is decried even by freakin' chiropractors for being shady.


Steve said...

It appears to me that your vision of yourself as a skeptic is fundamentally contrarian. That is to say that you see yourself in terms of what you do not or will not believe, rather than in terms of what you do believe. While this viewpoint does provide one a very strong sense of self-identity and even a sense of superiority, it comes at a high price. Keep up what you believe you need to do. Every once in a while, just don't be afraid to be skeptical of your own "skepticism."

JAK said...

To be contrarian means to always take the opposing view. Skippy is contrarian with regards to your viewpoint here, Steve, but he's not "fundamentally contrarian". (Although the notion of some sort of absolute contrarian-ness is interesting...)

What he is, though, is someone who has looked at both sides of the issue and decided that one side (e.g. those that say that HAARP is a project that's basically doing what it claims to do) has a more well-supported argument than the other side (e.g. those that say that HAARP has some heinous and sinister underlying purpose that lots of people are trying to cover up). Is it possible that HAARP may have other applications? Certainly. So what? Most technologies have multiple applications. However, if you recall this started with a discussion of the lady on YouTube who thinks that sunlight reflecting off of windshields is really some sort of laser. That's wingnuttery, plain and simple. Being skeptical of claims like that should be automatic.

You seem to be trying to say that Skippy (and other skeptics) are so smug in their skepticism that they ignore anything that doesn't fit into their worldview. Generally speaking, that's not true. We're usually willing to change our minds in the face of compelling evidence. I've found the the folks that adhere to dogmatic and rigidly defined worldviews (beliefs, if you will) are much less likely to do so, though.

Skippy the Skeptic said...

The fact remains Steve that your HAARP evidence is laughable. Calling me a contrarian doesn't make it any stronger.