Astronomical Pseudo-Science:

A Skeptic's Resource List

(Version 3.0; September 2003)

by Andrew Fraknoi
(Foothill College & Astronomical Society of the Pacific)

© copyright 2003 Andrew Fraknoi. The right to reproduce for any educational non-commercial purpose is hereby granted, as long as the author’s name and institution are not deleted. For any other use, contact the author at e-mail: fraknoiandrew@fhda.eeeddduuu (Note that the e-mail really ends with .edu, but we have written it wrong to foil spammers.)

This is a selected list of resources for those who want to examine with a skeptical eye some of the claims at the fringes of science that seem connected to astronomy. The last section includes some general books that deal with a broader range of pseudo-scientific topics. Instructors can often use the enormous media and student interest in some of these topics as a way of generating discussion about what constitutes science and about how the scientific method allows us to test controversial hypotheses and determine whether nature really works in the way they claim.

Table of Contents

1. Astrology
2. UFO’s as Alien Spaceships
3. Crop Circles
4. The “Face” on Mars
5. The Full Moon and Lunacy
6. The Dogon Tribe and Sirius B
7. Immanuel Velikovsky and Worlds in Collision
8. Ancient Astronauts and Erich Von Daniken
9. Creationism Versus Evolution
10. The “Great Moon Hoax”: Did Astronauts Land on the Moon?
11. Miscellaneous Topics in Astronomical Pseudo-science
12. General Books and Sites that Include Sections on These Topics

1. Astrology

Perhaps the best known field of astronomical pseudo-science is the ancient idea that the position of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the moment we are born somehow affects our subsequent personality, career, or love-life. Astrology got a big media boost in 1988 when it was revealed that for a large part of his term, President's Reagan's schedule had been controlled by the predictions of a San Francisco astrologer (who had been on Nancy Reagan's payroll.) However, astrology is also the field in which the largest number of scientific tests have been performed and the evidence clearly demonstrates that astrological connections are no more than wishful thinking.

 

Books

 

Culver, Roger & Ianna, Philip Astrology: True or False. 1988, Prometheus Books. The best skeptical book about astro­logy, full of useful information.

Benski, Claude, et al. The Mars Effect. 1996, Prometheus Books. A rather technical discussion of the statistical test of Michel Gaugelin's claim of a neo-astrology, showing it does not work.

Biswas, S., et al., eds. Cosmic Perspectives. 1989, Cambridge U. Press. This anthology has an excellent review of the evidence against astrology by I. Kelly, R. Culver, and P. Loptson.

Gauguelin, Michel Dreams and Illusions of Astrology. 1979, Prometheus Books. A critique of astrology by a French statistician.

Jerome, Lawrence Astrology Disproved. 1977, Prometheus. A historical review.

 

Articles

 

Abell, G. "Astrology -- Its Principles and Relation and Nonrelation to Science" in The Science Teacher, Dec. 1974, p. 9.  An early debunking article.

Bok, B., et al. "Objections to Astrology" in The Humanist, Sep/Oct. 1975. A special issue devoted in large part to this subject.

Carlson, S. "Astrology" in Experientia, vol. 44, p. 290 (1988).  A clear review.

Carlson, S. "A Double Blind Test of Astrology" in Nature, vol. 318, p. 419 (5 Dec. 1985). A technical paper describing a good experiment examining whether astrology works.

Dean, G. "Does Astrology Need to be True?"  in Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 86-87, p. 116; Spring 1987, p. 257.  An important examination of tests about astrology.

Dean, G. & Kelly, I. “Does Astrology Work: Astrology and Skepticism 1975-2000” in Kurtz, Paul, ed. Skeptical Odysseys. 2001, Prometheus Books.

Dean, G., et al. "The Guardian Astrology Study: A Critique and Reanalysis" in The Skeptical Inquirer, Summer 1985, p. 327.

Dean, G., et al. "Astrology" in Gordon Stein, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. 1996, Prometheus Books,  p. 47-96.  Long readable introduction.

Fraknoi, A. "Your Astrology Defense Kit" in Sky & Telescope, Aug. 1989, p. 146. An introductory article with some basic skeptical questions about astrology. (Available on the web at: http://www.astrosociety.org/education/astro/act3/astrology3.html#defense)

Fraknoi, A. “Astrology Versus Astronomy” in Astronomy, Jan. 1999, p. 102. Concise note.

Kelly, I. "Modern Astrology: A Critique" in Psychological Reports, vol. 81, p. 1035 (1997). An excellent review. (An expanded version can be found on the first web site recommended below.)

Kelly, I.” Why Astrology Doesn’t Work” in Psychological Reports, vol. 82, p. 527 (1998).

Kelly, I. "The Scientific Case Against Astrology" in Mercury, Nov/Dec. 1980, p. 135.

Kelly, I. "Astrology and Science: A Critical Examination" in Psy­chological Reports, vol. 44, p. 1231 (1979).

Kruglak, H. & O'Bryan, M. "Astrology in the Astronomy Classroom" in Mercury, Nov/Dec 1977, p. 18.

Kurtz, P. & Fraknoi, A. "Scientific Tests of Astrology Do Not Support Its Claims" in Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1985, p. 210.

Kurtz, P., et al.  "Astrology and the Presidency" in Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1988, p. 3. A good summary of the controversy concerning astrology in the Reagan White House.

Lovi, G. "Zodiacal Signs Versus Constellations" in Sky & Telescope, Nov. 1987, p.507.

Mc Gervey, J. "A Statistical Test of Sun-sign Astrology" in Skeptical Inquirer, Spring/­Summer 1977, p. 49.

Nienhuys, J. "The Mars Effect in Retrospective" in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 1997, p. 24. Good summary of the current research on what seemed to be one lone test confirming astrology. (see also, Dean, G. “Is the Mars Effect a Social Effect” in Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2002, p. 33.)

Rotton, J. "Astrological Forecasts and the Commodity Market" in Skeptical Inquirer, Sum­mer 1985, p. 339.

 

Web Sites

 

Ivan Kelly’s long paper examining astrology and whether it works, with expanded comments: http://www.astrology-and-science.com/abstr-c1.htm

A long analysis of the history of and problems with sun-sign columns: http://www.astrology-and-science.com/abstr-s1.htm

In general the most useful site for information on testing astrology is http://www.astrology-and-science.com

The Real Constellations of the Zodiac: http://www.griffithobs.org/IPSRealConst.html A 1977 article by Lee Shapiro discussing when the Sun actually passes through each constellation.

The Astrotest: http://home.wxs.nl/~skepsis/astrot.html Dutch skeptic Rob Nanninga describes an experimental test of astrology done with the help of astrologers.

The Real Romance in the Stars: http://www.world-of-dawkins.com/Dawkins/Work/Articles/1995-12romance_in_stars.htm Biologist Richard Dawkins wrote an angry column to a British newspaper flirting with astrology and you can it here with a few later notes.

Horoscopes Versus Telescopes: http://www.astrosociety.org/education/publications/tnl/11/11.html  An issue of the ASP’s newsletter for astronomy teachers devoted to debunking astrology.

2. UFO's as Alien Spaceships

     For decades the media have given enormous attention to sensational claims that vague lights in the sky are actually extra-terrestrial spacecraft.  In recent years, the claims have grown to include crashes of such alien spacecraft and even kidnappings of unsuspecting Earth inhabitants by aliens. A sober examination of these claims reveals that there is a lot LESS to them than first meets the eye: when there is enough evidence, UFO claims can be explained by perfectly natural terrestrial or celestial phenomena (and, all too frequently, as deliberate hoaxes), while alien abductions seem to take place in the mind of the victim or the therapist, rather than in the real world.  This section begins with readings on UFO claims in general, and then moves to information about specific famous UFO cases (including the almost legendary Roswell incident, which turns out to have been the crash of a top-secret balloon-flown package designed to search for atmospheric evidence of Russian nuclear tests.)

 

General Books

 

Alschuler, William UFO's and Aliens.  1991, Avon Books. Nice introduction to UFO's and the scientific search for life elsewhere, for children.

Dick, Steven The Biological Universe: The 20th Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate. 1996, Cambridge U. Press. Chapter 6 is a historical analysis of the UFO controversy. Although it is just a bit too even-handed for some tastes, it does chronicle the involvement of scientists well.

Dick, Steven Life on Other Worlds: The 20th Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate. 1998, Cambridge U. Press. (An abridged, updated edition of the above.) See Chapter 5.

Frazier, Kenneth, et al., eds. The UFO Invasion. 1997, Prometheus Books. A fine collection of skeptical articles, with especially good sections on the Roswell crash and crop circles.

Klass, Philip  UFO's Explained. 1974, Vintage paperback. UFO's: The Public Deceived. 1983, Prometheus Books. UFO Abduc­tions: A Danger­ous Game. 1988, Prometheus Books.  Klass is the leading investigator of UFO reports in the U.S. and his wonderful exposes of UFO hoaxes and misunderstandings are superb examples of how such investigations should be done.

Korff, Kal Spaceships of the Pleiades: the Billy Meier Story. 1995, Prometheus Books. A pain-staking investigation into one of the best-known UFO hoaxes.

Menzel, Donald & Taves, E. The UFO Enigma. 1977, Doubleday. An astronomer and psychoanalyst examine many facets of the UFO phenome­non.

Oberg, James UFO's and Outer Space Mysteries. 1982, Donning. A noted space science writer evaluates UFO claims and other forms of pseudoscience.

Peebles, Curtis Watch the Skies: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth. 1994, Smithsonian Institution Press. Excellent history and psychological analysis of the UFO craze; has a good skeptical perspective. (A nice timetable about the evolution of the UFO myth from this book is at: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Corridor/8148/myth.html)

Sagan, Carl The Demon-Haunted World. 1995, Random House. Chapters 4-11 are a marvelous debunking of many well-known UFO cases and an examination of the psychology behind them.

Sagan, Carl & Page, Thornton UFO's: A Scientific Debate. 1972, Norton paperback. From an early symposium held by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, presenting a wide range of views.

Shaeffer, Robert The UFO Sightings: The Evidence. 1998, Prome­theus Books. Thorough, responsible review by a respected inves­tigator; a good source book for skeptics.

 

General Articles

 

Blackmore, S. “Abduction by Aliens or Sleep Paralysis” in Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1998, p. 23. Discusses studies relating to UFO abductions and the role of the media. (On the web at http://www.csicop.org/si/9805/abduction.html)

Gleick, J. “The Doctor’s Plot” in The New Republic, 24 May 1994. A New York Times reporter examines the work of John Mack on UFO abductions and critiques the whole phenomenon (as well as the media’s shameless role in exploiting it.) (Available on the web at: http://www.around.com/abduct.html)

Goldsmith, D. & Owen, T. "Visitors to Earth: A Skeptics's Guide to UFO's" in Mercury, Jul/Aug. 1992, p. 135 and Sep/Oct. 1992, p. 155. A well-written overview.

Grierson, B. “A Bad Trip Down Memory Lane” in The New York Times Magazine, July 27, 2003, p. 36. A discussion of so-called repressed memories, which take a skeptical look at claims of UFO abductions and what they really might be.

Klass, P. "A Field Guide to UFO's" in Astronomy, Sept. 1997, p. 39. Natural explanations for UFO sightings.

Klass, P. “That’s Entertainment: TV’s UFO Coverup” in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 1996, p. 29. How the media publicize unfounded claims. (On the web at: http://www.csicop.org/si/9611/ufo.html )

Kurtz, P., et al.: "Special Report: Heaven's Gate" in Skeptical Inquirer, Jul/Aug. 1997, p. 12. A variety of articles on the 39 suicides occasioned in part by the belief that Comet Hale-Bopp was or hid a UFO.

Newman, L., et al. "Toward an Explanation of the UFO Abduction Phenomenon: Hypnotic Elaborations, Extraterrestrial Sadomasochism, and Spurious Memories" in Psychological Inquiry, vol. 7, no. 3, p. 101. Lengthy paper looking carefully at claims by psychologists that their patients show memories of being abducted by UFO's.

Ridpath, I.  "Astronomical UFO's" in Astronomy, Dec. 1988, p. 114.

 

Books and Articles on Specific UFO Cases

 

Garelik, G., et al. "The Great Hudson Valley UFO Mystery" in Discover, Nov. 1984, p. 22. Shows how a hoax can get started and rumors can spread.

Gildenberg, B. & Thomas, D. “Case Closed: Reflections on the 1997 Air Force Roswell Report” in Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1998, p. 31. A time-line and the real story.

Jaroff, L. "Did Aliens Really Land" in Time, June 23, 1997, p. 68. A skeptical analysis of the Roswell incident.

Klass, Philip The Real Roswell Crashed-saucer Coverup. 1997, Prometheus. An excellent unraveling of the full story behind the crash in New Mexico.

Korff, Kal The Roswell UFO Crash: What They Don't Want You to Know.  1997, Prometheus Books. A skeptical analysis of the whole incident and its explanations.

Korff, K. "What Really Happened at Roswell" in Skeptical Inquirer, Jul/Aug. 1997, p. 24. (On the web at: http://www.csicop.org/si/9707/roswell.html)

Nickell, J. “The Alien Autopsy Hoax” in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 1995, p. __ (On the web at http://www.csicop.org/si/9511/autopsy.html) About a purported film showing an autopsy of an “alien” body recovered at Roswell, New Mexico. (See also: Emery, E. “Alien Autopsy Show and Tell” in the same issue; on the web at: http://www.csicop.org/si/9511/mediawatch.html )

Nickell, J. “The Flatwoods UFO Monster” in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 2000, p. 15. Careful investigation reveals a 1952 ‘UFO’ incident to be a meteor plus some owls.

Thomas. D. “The Roswell Incident and Project Mogul” in Skeptical Inquirer, Jul/Aug. 1995, p. 15. (On the web at http://www.csicop.org/si/9507/roswell.html)

Web Sites

Jimmy Carter’s UFO: http://www.debunker.com/texts/carter_ufo.html  UFO investigator Robert Sheaffer was the first to uncover that Carter’s 1969 observation was actually a sighting of the planet Venus.

The UFO Skeptic’s Page: http://www.debunker.com/ufo.html Kept by Robert Sheaffer, this site has information about and links to a number of UFO claims and what skeptics have found about them.

Philip Klass Interview: http://members.aol.com/garypos2/Klass_inter.html A profile of and interview with the world’s leading skeptical UFO investigator.

Philip Klass’ 10 Principles for Investigating UFO’s: http://members.aol.com/Tprinty/Klass.html  An elaboration, with examples, on how Klass goes about examining evidence about UFO’s.

Ian Ridpath UFO Skeptic Page: http://www.debunker.com/texts/RidpathRendlesham1.html  A British science writer investigates and explains UFO reports, and discusses astronomical causes of UFO sightings. (If the above site does not work for you, try http://users.macunlimited.net/ianrid/ufos/ufoindex)

James Oberg’s Space Age Myths: http://www.jamesoberg.com/ufo.html Veteran space journalist Oberg explains a number of UFO cases, including those involving astronauts and cosmonauts.

The Failure of the ‘Science’ of UFOlogy: http://www.debunker.com/texts/ObergCuttySark.html  An award winning essay about what is wrong with many of the UFO claims.

Alien Autopsy: Faked or Fiction: http://www.trudang.com/autopsy/autocont.html. A skeptical examination of the film shown on TV claiming an alien body had been dissected.

The Air Force report on the Roswell Incident: http://www.af.mil/lib/roswell.html You can read the full text and see the images, explaining how the 1947 MOGUL project balloon crash and two later accidents have been joined together to make up the Roswell myth.

The NOVA UFO Interviews: For a critical show on UFO Abductions, the PBS staff interviewed Philip Klass and Carl Sagan. Here are brief but cogent excerpts at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/aliens/philipklass.html and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/aliens/carlsagan.html

Mistakes and Misidentifications in UFO Research: http://mypage.iu.edu/~lrobins/ufopage.htm Larry Robinson keeps a rich site with techniques for serious UFO identification and what such identification tell us.

Screen Memories: UFO Mythology and Science Fiction Films: http://www.hedweb.com/markp/ufofilm.htm.  Critic Mark Pilkington traces the relationship between popular science fiction films and the claims of UFO observers and abductees.

How to Make Your Own UFO: http://soho.nascom.nasa.gov/hotshots/2003_01_17/  When an image taken by SOHO, a satellite observing the Sun, became a hot topic in UFO circles, the SOHO staff posted a clear explanation of how their image had been doctored.

3. Crop Circles

    Despite sensational claims of alien visitors making patterns in British wheat fields (a claim reinforced by the horror movie Signs), the evidence indicates that they are the work of Earthly hoaxters. Both the number and complexity of the crop circles seems to increase with media coverage, and several teams of hoaxter in Europe and America have now confessed.

 

Nickell, J. “Circular Reasoning” in Skeptical Inquirer, Sep/Oct. 2002, p. 17. A concise review, by a skeptical investigator. (On line at http://www.csicop.org/si/2002-09/crop-circles.html)

Nickell, J. & Fischer, J. “The Crop-Circle Phenomenon: An Investigative Report” in Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1992, p. 136. A detailed investigation, with many cases and much evidence.

Nickell, J. “Crop Circle Mania Wanes” in Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1995, p. 41. Brief follow-up to the above.

Schnabel, Jim Round in Circles. 2003, Prometheus Books. A science writer gives the history and explores the fascination different kinds of people have for crop circles.

 

Web Sites

 

How to Make Crop Circles Yourself: http://www.csicop.org/hoaxwatch/cropcircles.html

Crop Circle Confessions: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?colID=5&articleID=00038B16-ED5F-1D29-97CA809EC588EEDF (one of the hoaxters confesses in Scientific American magazine)

Confessions of a Crop-circle Con Man: http://www.manchester.com/java/features/crop.html. (About one of the original hoaxters.)

4. The "Face" on Mars

     A popular "government conspiracy" theory held that NASA has actually discovered a human face (as well as pyramids and other structures) on Mars, but was withholding crucial information from the public about the profound implications of this discovery.  The real story is a lot less exciting and involves a perfectly natural geologic formation on the red planet. In spring 1998, the Mars Observer spacecraft took a much more detailed close-up image of the region in question, and found no evidence of anything that looked unnatural or like a face.

 

Achenbach, Joel Captured by Aliens.  1999, Simon & Schuster. Has the full story and history of the face as part of a fugue on SETI, UFO’s, and conflicting systems of belief.

Gardner, M. "The Great Stone Face" in Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1985, p. 14. (Reprinted in his book, Notes of a Fringe Watcher, 1988, Prometheus.)

Morrison, D. "A Review of Books on the Face on Mars" in Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1988, p. 76.

Morrison, D. “Mars Global Surveyor Photographs ‘Face on Mars’” in Skeptical Inquirer, Jul/Aug. 1998, p. 23.

Posner, G. “The Face Behind the Face on Mars: A Skeptical Look at Richard Hoagland” in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 2000, p. 20. The full story of the exploits of the writer whose efforts keep the ‘face on Mars’ myth alive.

Posner, G. “Putting a Better Face on the ‘Face” on Mars” in Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2001, p. 65. An update to the above, with better images.

Sagan, Carl "The Man in the Moon and the Face on Mars," Chapter 3 of his book, The Demon-Haunted World. 1995, Random House.

 

Web Sites

 

The full story of the earlier and recent NASA images can be found on the Science@NASA site at: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast24may_1.htm

     [This site has a link to a suggested trail map for climbing “the Face” mesa.]

The official Mars Global Surveyor images and discussion of “the Face” is at: http://www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/extended_may2001/face/index.html

Gary Posner’s devastating article about “Face-advocate” Richard Hoagland, with useful links and follow up is at: http://members.aol.com/garypos2/Hoagland.html

Teachers’ Newsletter on the ‘Face’ (from the ASP): http://www.astrosociety.org/education/publications/tnl/25/25.html

The Original Viking "Face on Mars" image can be found at:

     http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA01141

A comparison of the much-touted face image with a better Mars Orbiter Camera image is at:

     http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA01442

The best Global Surveyor image can be found at:

     http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA03225

Just for fun, here are a few more “faces” on Mars, as found in old images:

     http://members.aol.com/tbskep/Mars_morefaces.html

5. The Full Moon and Lunacy

     The idea that more crazy behavior takes place during a full moon is well ingrained in folk wisdom. Statistical tests, however, show that there is no such effect, except perhaps in the mind of witnesses and with legends that associate the Sun with good and the Moon with evil.  Since the full moon is bright and up all night long, it is more likely to reveal events that also happen during other phases, but are more likely to go undetected.

 

Abell, G. "Moon Madness" in Abell, George & Singer, B., eds. Science and the Paranormal. 1981, Scribners. Good review of this elusive thesis and its earliest tests.

Branham, R. "Did the Moon Sink the Titanic?" in Skeptical Inquirer, Jul/Aug. 1995, vol. 19, no. 4, p. 30.

Byrnes, G. & Kelly, I. “Crisis Calls and Lunar Cycles: A 20-Year Review” in Psychological Reports, vol. 71, p. 779 (1992).

Culver, R., et al. "Moon Mechanisms and Myths: A Critical Ap­praisal of Explanations of Purported Lunar Effects on Human Behavior" in Psychological Reports, vol. 62, p. 683 (1988).

Gutierrez-Garcia, J. & Tusell, F. "Suicides and the Lunar Cycle" in Psychological Reports, 1997, vol. 80, p. 243.  An analysis of 900 suicides where the time was known shows no correlation with moon phase.

Kelly, I., et al. "The Moon Was Full and Nothing Happened" in Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1985-86, vol. 10, p. 129.

Kelly, I., et al. "World-wide Disasters and Moon Phases" in Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1990, vol. 14, no. 3, p. 298.

Martens, R., et al. "Lunar Phase and Birthrate: A 5-year Critical Review" in Psychological Reports, vol. 52, p. 111 (1983).

Rotton, J. “Moonshine” in Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1997, p. 44. A detailed review of a book by the most famous author who has claimed connections. (On-line at: http://www.csicop.org/si/9705/moonshine.html)

Rotton, J. & Kelly, I. "The Lunacy of It All: Lunar Phases and Human Behavior" in Mercury, May/June 1986, p. 1988.

Sanduleak, N. “The Moon is Acquitted of Murder in Cleveland” in Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1985, p. 236.

 

Web Sites

 

Full Moon and Lunar Effects: http://skepdic.com/fullmoon.html (Part of the Skeptical Dictionary site).

Moonstruck: Does the Full Moon Influence Behavior: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/moon.html (An overview of the many studies).

6. The Dogon Tribe and Sirius B

     Several popular authors have touted the story of an African tribe that somehow acquired knowledge of the dim white dwarf star around Sirius (which is visible only with the aid of larger telescopes.)  Some see this as evidence of extraterrestrial visitors, but the real explanation probably involves the European visitors who were gathering information about the tribe and had read about the discovery of Sirius B before they left.

 

Brecher, K. "Sirius Enigmas" in Brecher, Kenneth & Feirtag, M., eds. Astronomy of the Ancients.  1979, MIT Press.

Krupp, E. “Observatories of the Gods and Other Astronomical Fantasies” in Krupp, E.C., ed. In Search of Ancient Astronomies. 1977, Doubleday. Debunks von Daniken and Velikovsky’s ideas, as well as the Sirius myth.

Ortiz de Montellano, B. "The Dogon People Revisited" in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 1996, p. 39. Excellent up-to-date review.

Ridpath, I. "Investigating the Sirius Mystery" in Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1978, p. 56. (On line at: http://www.csicop.org/si/7809/sirius.html)

Sagan, Carl "White Dwarfs and Little Green Men" in Broca's Brain. 1979, Random House.

 

Web Site:

 

Sirius Matters: http://chandra.harvard.edu/chronicle/0400/sirius_part2.html The Chandra Observatory site has a short, skeptical introduction to this issue.

Sirius Mystery: http://www.debunker.com/texts/dogon.html Space journalist James Oberg takes a skeptical look in an excerpt from a 1982 book.

The Dogon Revisited: http://www.ramtops.demon.co.uk/dogon.html  Text of article by Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano.

7. Immanuel Velikovsky and Worlds in Collision

     An Austrian psychiatrist and amateur scholar, Velikovsky touted the thesis that ancient religious writings record evidence of recent catastrophes in the solar system, including the bizarre idea that Venus was a comet disgorged by Jupiter in historic times. His writing were once very popular, but now only a small underground of true believers keeps his work alive.

 

Books and Articles

 

Asimov, Isaac "Worlds in Confusion" in The Stars in their Courses. 1971, Doubleday.

Goldsmith, Donald, ed. Scientists Confront Velikovsky. 1977, Norton. Proceedings of a symposium at the 1974 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Gould, S. "Velikovsky in Collision" in Natural History, Mar. 1975.

Krupp, E. “Observatories of the Gods and Other Astronomical Fantasies” in Krupp, E.C., ed. In Search of Ancient Astronomies. 1977, Doubleday. Debunks von Daniken and Velikovsky’s ideas, as well as the Sirius myth.

Morrison, David & Chapman, Clark "Catastrophism Gone Wild" in Cosmic Catastrophes. 1989, Plenum.  Two noted astronomers examine our modern view of how impacts and other catastrophes have shaped the Earth, and, in the process, debunk Velikovsky's ideas.

Oberg, J., et al. "The Velikovsky Affair" in Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1980. An update and review following Velikovsky's death.

Sagan, Carl "Venus and Dr. Velikovsky" in Broca's Brain. 1979, Random House. A superb refutation of Velikovsky's ideas.

Stiebing, William Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions. 1984, Prometheus. Examines Velikovsky's  claims.

 

Web Sites

 

Transcript of the 1974 AAAS Symposium: http://www.varchive.org/lec/aaas/transcripts.htm (A Velikovsky partisan offers a verbatim record of the session debating Velikovsky’s views that forms the basis of the Goldsmith book, above. Note that Sagan’s contribution was much expanded by the time it reached print.)

The Velikovsky Affair: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/science/velikovsky.htm  Science fiction writer Pournelle offers commentary, background, and a nice essay by astronomer David Morrison entitled “Velikovsky at 50”, which updates some of Sagan’s 1974 arguments.

Antidote to Velikovskian Delusions: http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/velidelu.html  Former Velikovsky disciple turned critic Leroy Ellenberger marshals the arguments against the worlds in collision proposals.

Ten 10 Reasons Velikovsky is Wrong: http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/vdtopten.html  (Good summary of Ellenberger’s arguments.)

Skeptical Dictionary: http://skepdic.com/velikov.html

8. Ancient Astronauts and Erich Von Daniken

     A convicted Swiss embezzler (who wrote part of his best-selling Chariots of the Gods while in jail), Von Daniken claimed that there is a large amount of archaeological evidence that alien visitors helped us build many of the impressive artifacts that ancient civilizations left behind.  (The insulting subtext here is that we needed the aliens' help because we humans were too stupid to build the Nazca lines or the pyramids by ourselves.)  In fact, Von Daniken's books involve massive misinterpretations of archaeological data and a great deal of fabrication; the past, as the title of one the best debunking books vividly asserts, is human.

 

Books

 

Stiebing, William Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions. 1984, Prometheus. A good skeptical introduction.

Story, Ronald The Space Gods Revealed. 1976, Harper & Row. Debunks Von Daniken's ideas.

Thiering, Barry & Castel, Edgar, eds. Some Trust in Chariots.  1975, Popular Library. Sixteen skeptical articles.

White, Peter The Past is Human. 1974, Taplinger. An archaeological perspective on Von Daniken’s inventions.

Wilson, Clifford Crash Go the Chariots. 1972, Lancer; The Chariots Still Go Crash. 1975, Signet.

Feder, Kenneth Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. 2002, McGraw-Hill.

 

Articles

 

Krupp, E. “Observatories of the Gods and Other Astronomical Fantasies” in Krupp, E.C., ed. In Search of Ancient Astronomies. 1977, Doubleday. Debunks von Daniken and Velikovsky’s ideas, as well as the Sirius myth.

Lingemann, R. "Erich Von Daniken's Genesis" in the New York Times Book Review, March 30, 1974.

Nickell, J. "The Nazca Drawings Revisited" in Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1983.

 

Web Sites

 

Science or Charlatanism: http://www.debunker.com/texts/vondanik.html  Robert Sheaffer’s short article challenges a number of Von Daniken’s claims.

Von Daniken’s ‘Maya Astronaut’: http://members.shaw.ca/mjfinley/vondaniken.html  Examines the silly claim that a Maya sarcophagus lid shows an astronaut.

The Real Erich Von Daniken: http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/R/real_lives/daniken.html  A brief biography.

Skeptic’s Dictionary: http://skepdic.com/vondanik.html

9. Creationism versus Evolution

     Fundamentalist religious thinkers (from a number of religions) have sought to deny the evidence from geology, astronomy, and evolutionary biology about the age and gradual development of the universe, the Earth, and its life-forms. (Recent creationist tactics have involved attacking the Big Bang theory and radioactive dating, for example.)  Some groups have worked hard to get their own brand of “creation science” into the public schools and to undermine the teaching of evolution, one of the most fundamental and best-established ideas in modern science.  The literature examining this controversy is enormous; the list below is merely a representative sampling.

 

Books

 

Berra, T. Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: A Basic Guide to the Facts in the Evolution Debate. 1990, Stanford U. Press.

Futuyma, Douglasd Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution. 1983, Pantheon. A leading evolutionary biologist explains the case for evolution that the creationists seek to deny.

Godfrey, L., ed. Scientists Confront Creationism. 1982, Norton. A useful collection of articles.

Kitcher, Philip Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism. 1982, MIT Press.  A philosopher takes a critical look at the claims against evolution and illuminates the issues involved.

McGowan, Chris In the Beginning: A Scientist Shows Why the Creationists are Wrong. 1984, Prometheus Books. A Canadian zoologist examines and refutes creationist arguments.

Pigliucci, Massimo Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science. 2002, Sinauer Associates. A biologist gives the history of, explains, and refutes the various “brands” of creationism.

Ruse, Michael, ed. But Is It Science? 1996, Prometheus. A collection of articles about the creationism/evolution controversy, by scientists, philosophers, etc.

Ruse, Michael The Evolution Wars. 2000, Rutgers U. Press. A history of the creationist-evolution controversy.

Strahler, Arthur Science and Earth History: The Evolution / Creation Controversy. 1987, Prometheus Books.  A discussion from the geologist’s point of view, with lots of information about dating the Earth’s rocks.

Tuomey, C. God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World. 1994, Rutgers U. Press. An anthropologist examines the culture of creationism as if he were looking at far-away tribe.

Wilson, David, ed. Did the Devil Make Darwin Do It? Modern Perspectives on the Creation-Evolution Controversy. 1983, Iowa State U. Press.  Interesting collection of essays, by historians, scientists, and educators, laying out the history of the controversy and the perspectives of the sciences.

 

Articles

 

Abell, G. “The Ages of the Earth and the Universe” in Godfrey, Laurie, ed. Scientists Confront Creationism. 1983, Norton.

Asimov, I. “The Threat of Creationism” in the New York Times Magazine, June 14, 1981, p. 90.

Bobrowski, M. “Teaching Evolutionary Processes to Skeptical Students” in Physics Teacher, Dec. 2000, p. 565. Includes a list of creationist arguments and science teacher responses. Nice summary of issues.

Brush, S. “Finding the Age of the Earth by Physics or by Faith?” in Journal of Geological Education, 1982, vol. 30, pp. 34-58.

Dutch, S. “A Critique of Creationist Cosmology” in Journal of Geological Education, 1982, vol. 30, p. 27.

Edis, T. “Darwin in Mind: Intelligent Design Meets Artificial Intelligence” in Skeptical Inquirer, Mar/ Apr. 2001, p. 35. An analysis of the latest “guise” of creationism, “Intelligent Design Theory.” (On the web at: http://www.csicop.org/si/2001-03/intelligent-design.html )

Rusk, J. “Answers to Creationism” in The Planetarian (Journal of the International Planetarium Society), Sep. 1988, vol. 17, No. 3.

Scott, E. "Antievolution and Creationism in the U.S." Annual Reviews of Anthropology, 1997, vol. 26, p. 263. A leading pro-evolution educator summarizes the issues.

Wilson, M. “Geology Confronts Creationism: An Undergraduate Science Curriculum” in Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb. 2002, p. 52. A course for geology majors.

 

Web Sites

 

An Ancient Universe: How Astronomers Know the Vast Scale of Cosmic Time: http://www.astrosociety.org/education/publications/tnl/56/index.html  This special issue of an on-line newsletter for teachers sets out to refute creationist claims of a young universe, and explains how we know that the cosmos is 10-14 billion years old. (Produced by the Astronomy Education Board of the American Astronomical Society.)

National Center for Science Education: http://www.ncseweb.org/ NCSE is the key organization working to oppose the efforts of creationists and to assist educators who want to present the evolutionary perspective. Their site is full of excellent information and links, with particular attention to current events and the political struggles to prevent creationism from taking root.

Science and Creationism is a short booklet from the National Academy of Sciences, with a fine summary of the scientific perspective on evolution: http://bob.nap.edu/html/creationism/

Talk.Origins Archive: http://www.talkorigins.org contains articles, essays, and discussion about all aspects of the creation/evolution controversy. For an interesting example of how creationists tried to use some recent astronomical results to argue for a young universe, see: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/supernova/snrfab.html

The Age of the Earth: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-age-of-earth.html  This useful page from the Talk.Origins site describes how we measure the age of our planet and then dissects some of the common creationist arguments for a younger Earth.

Questions and Answers about Creationism/Evolution: http://vuletic.com/hume/cefec/index.html A nicely organized summary of creationist arguments and scientific responses.

Supernovae, Supernova Remnants, and Young Earth Creationism by Dave Moore: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/supernova/ (Discusses how some creationists misuse arguments about exploding stars.)

No Answers in Genesis: http://home.austarnet.com.au/stear/default.htm is a site run by Australian skeptics that takes on creationist claims aggressively.

Changing Speed of Light Analysis: http://homepage.mac.com/cygnusx1/cdecay/  One creationist idea is that the age of the universe could be a lot less than astronomers think if the speed of light has been getting a lot slower with time, so that light from distant objects wouldn’t have had to leave them so long ago. This site includes a technical paper refuting this idea and links to other references around the Web.

10. The “Great Moon Hoax”: Did Astronauts Land on the Moon?

          A small group of “true believers” who claim that NASA never landed on the Moon got a big boost in 2001, when Fox network broadcast a long paranoid show about their ideas.  The web sites below provide a skeptical examination of this claim and the so-called evidence for it.  From the many moon rocks brought back by the astronauts to the instruments they left on the Moon, there is ample evidence that the moon landings actually happened.  So far, all the information to refute the “moon hoax” claims in on the Web:

 

The Bad Astronomy Site: http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/tv/foxapollo.html  Astronomer Phil Plait criticizes movies and TV shows in general, and has lots of detailed responses to the Fox program.

Science@NASA Site: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast23Feb_2.htm  Tony Phillips gives a brief response with further links.  (An excellent set of lesson plans on hoaxes in general, and why this hoax is not true, by Phillips is at http://www.thursdaysclassroom.com/index_01apr01.html )

Comments by Jim Scotti: http://pirlwww.lpl.arizona.edu/~jscotti/NOT_faked/  A University of Arizona planetary scientist debunks the hoax claims

Jim McDade’s Analysis: http://www.business.uab.edu/cache/debunking.htm

Apollo Moon Landing: Were They All a Hoax? http://www.redzero.demon.co.uk/moonhoax/ (A site with a sense of humor.)

11. Miscellaneous Topics in Astronomical Pseudo-science

Bartholemew, R. “The Martian Panic Sixty Years Later: What Have We Learned” in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 1998, p. 40. On lessons from the panic caused by Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of the “War of the Worlds” in 1938. Available on the web at: http://www.csicop.org/si/9811/martian.html

Branham, R. "Did the Moon Sink the Titanic: Astrology, Lunar Phases, and Maritime Disasters" in Skeptical Inquirer, Jul/Aug. 1995, p. 30. Examination of over 1400 ship disasters to see if there was any astronomical connection.

Burnham, Robert Great Comets. 2000, Cambridge U. Press.  Chapter 6 discusses the “Heaven’s Gate” affair (where cult members committed suicide) connected with Comet Hale-Bopp.

Davidson, K. “The Universe and Carl Sagan” in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 1999, p. 24. Excerpts from a long biography of Sagan, highlighting some of his efforts to encourage skeptical thinking and his involvements with pseudoscience.

Frazier, K. “Was the ‘Rare Earth’ Hypothesis Influenced by a Creationist?” in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 2001, p. 7. The controversial book that suggests that planets and life like ours may be extremely rare may have been influenced by a young University of Washington astronomer who is secretly a creationist.

Gardner, M. “Zero Point Energy and Harold Puthoff” in Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1998, p. 13. On the misuse of some physics ideas and cosmology.

Hale, A. "Hale-Bopp Comet Madness" in Skeptical Inquirer, Mar/Apr. 1997, p. 25. The discoverer of one of the brightest comets of our century discusses some of the crazy ideas its appearance generated. (On the web at http://www.csicop.org/si/9703/hale.html)

Krupp, E. “Lost Worlds” in Sky &Telescope, Apr. 2000, p. 93. Debunks notion that earlier civilizations knew about Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto, long before they were discovered.

Krupp, E. “The Sphinx Blinks” in Sky & Telescope, mar. 2001, p. 86. Examines some astronomical connections suggested for the Sphinx and the Pyramids and finds them wanting.  (See also, Sky & Telescope, Feb. 1997, p. 64.)

Kusche, Lawrence The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved, 2nd ed. 1995, Prometheus. A librarian researches the extravagant claims about disasters in a small area of the Earth and finds little to support them.

Meeus, J. "Planetary Groupings and the Millenium: Why Panic?" in Sky & Telescope, Aug. 1997, p. 60. Analyzes 40 so-called "alignments of the planets".

Meeus, J. “Doomsday: The May 2000 Prediction” in Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1988, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 290-2.   Examines predictions of disaster caused by one planetary conjunction. (On the web at http://www.csicop.org/si/8804/doomsday.html)

Morrison, D. “Killer Comets, Pseudocosmology and Little Green Men” in Kurtz, Paul, ed. Skeptical Odysseys. 2001, Prometheus Books. Noted astronomer discusses a variety of pseudo-science topics connected with planetary astronomy.

Olson, D. & Lytle, T. “Tidal Forces on May 5, 2000” in Sky &Telescope, May 2000, p. 109. Examines the effects of planetary alignments on the Sun in 2000 and through history.

Shadewald, R. “The Flat-out Truth” in Science Digest, July 1980. An article on the history and president of the Flat Earth Society. (An updated version is on the web at: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/fe-scidi.htm)

Stenger, Victor The Unconscious Quantum. 1995, Prometheus. A physicist examines “new age” claims that quantum mechanical ideas underlie psychic powers or paranormal experiences.

Stenger, V. “Quantum Quackery” in Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb. 1997, p. 37. Quick summary of the arguments against quantum mechanics having “new age” implications for human powers. (On the web at http://www.csicop.org/si/9701/quantum-quackery.html)

12. General Books and Sites that Include Sections on These Topics

Abell, George & Singer, B., ed. Science and the Paranormal. 1981, Scribners. An early collection of articles debunking various areas of pseudoscience, including astrology.

Fraknoi, Andrew, Morrison, David & Wolff, Sidney Voyages through the Universe, 3rd  ed. 2004, Brooks-Cole/Thomson. An introductory textbook that includes several sections debunking astronomical pseudo-science, including astrology and the “face” on Mars.

Frazier, Kenneth, ed. Paranormal Borderlands of Science. 1981, Prome­theus Books. Science Confronts the Paranormal. 1986, Prome­theus Books.  The One Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal. 1991, Prometheus Books. Anthologies of articles from The Skeptical In­quirer magazine, containing some of the best skeptical examinations of pseudo-science.

Harrold, F. & Eve, R., eds. Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Understanding Pseudo-scientific Beliefs About the Past. 1995, U. of Iowa Press. Essays about bizarre ideas in academia and in the media.

Hines, Terence Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, 2nd ed. 2003, Prometheus Books. An overview of many topics, including astrology, UFO’s, ancient astronauts, and mass hysteria.

Kurtz, Paul, ed. Skeptical Odysseys. 2001, Prometheus Books. Essays by leading skeptics on many topics in pseudo-science.

Sagan, Carl The Demon-Haunted World. 1995, Random House. Eloquent, impassioned, informed analysis of the appeal and danger of pseudoscience; a fitting memorial to the late Carl Sagan and probably the best book for beginners.

Shermer, M. Why People Believe Weird Things. 1997, W. H. Freeman.  Heartfelt ode to skeptical thinking, with sections on UFO abductions and creationism.

Stein, Gordon, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. 1996, Prometheus Books. A mammoth (and expensive) reference work with scholarly articles on many aspects of pseudo-science.

Web Sites

Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP): http://www.csicop.org  This is the first and best site to check for examining pseudo-science critically.  Has many articles, links to skeptical sites, information about skeptic organizations and meetings, activities for young people, and much more.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary: http://skepdic.com  An excellent source of brief reviews, references, and links on dozens of areas of pseudo-science.  Especially good for beginners or students.