Tuesday, 26 August 2008


There are many terms that I use during blogs and discussions of these issues. This is my attempt to account for them.

"Logic farts" - a term referring to false-logic, or logical fallacies.

"Frappercrackers" - when something is so hilariously absurd, normal words cannot express.

"Frappercakes" - those people that make us laugh with their"frappercracker" claims

"Pseudoscience" - the use of scientific sounding words without any underlying scientific reasoning or basis in order to sound convincing even when the argument is hollow. For example; Activia yogurt's "Bifidus Digestivum"

"Word-Salad" - a term psynomynous with pseudoscience. It is when someone rambles on while using technical sounding words either when there's no need to, or when the words don't apply, or the use of the words is a comission of the "begging the question" fallacy.

"Gobbledygook" - an argument with so little coherence it's not even an argument. The person didn't think about anything in particular and vaguely rambled about some topic that apparently (though only apparent to them) applied.

"Hoaxers" - my adoring reference to those who believe the official story to be a hoax, especially when it's obviously not (for example, the moon landing)

"Landers" - a similar term used specifically for those who believe Apollo 11 landed on the moon (to be specific, i'm glad to say that includes most people)

"Fundies" - people who are fundamentally religious, who try to verify or falsify scientific claims/statements/arguments/opinions with spiritual texts/arguments.

"Sheeple" - a derogatory term used by conspiracy theorists to describe everyone that does not share their opinion, as being part of the "deluded masses of sheep"

"Modern Day Prophets" - anyone in the modern world who is making claims about conspiracies or aliens or whatever, as if from an authoritative position. Their claims need no basis, their claims are justified by themselves. Their words are unshakable, immutable truth. You will never find where these people get their information from, because they are the source of their information.

These are terms that I will be using from time to time, mostly out of jest.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Logical fallacies

There are a great many logical fallacies that are committed in the argument of conspiracy theories or generally against established knowledge or reality. This is not to say the established version is always necessarily true, but discrepancies and lies fail to uncover established discrepancies and lies of the government, and more often than not, false-logic arguments for conspiracy theories are usually present when the theory is so weak it has nothing else to support itself than persuasive language and convenient excuses.

People often fall into these logic holes not by purpose or fault but more often by hazardous occupation, grabbing the nearest most dangerous looking rock and going "over the top" onto the no man's land of debate having not properly prepared for it, and instead just launching into the debate in self-assured confidence that they are right, no matter how small the rock they are holding, or what form of wall they are attempting to use it against.

Most people wake out of this self-assured haze of committing these hasty logic-farts after about a year of being incontrovertibly destroyed on the debate forums/chat shows/radio/facebook groups. Some choose to ignore polite suggestions and then volunteer to not care about these problems, then they are falling into these holes quite by repetition, almost intentionally.

Here is my attempt to detail some of the most significant and frequent logical fallacies I have encountered.

The basics;
-Bare Assertion fallacy:

The premise that something must be true purely because it says it is true. Most frequently seen with fundamentalist religious groups.

-The Negative Proof fallacy
This would go in the favourites list because it is a frequent goody, and is easy to spot. Negative proof fallacy is when someone making a theory or claim fails to produce just reasoning or evidence for their claim. In response to any criticism or request for evidence they fail to mount a defensive account of their reasoning or evidence, preferring instead to attack the critic as having no evidence for the criticism. This is a disgusting abuse of logical argument, and a savage lack of tact on the person making the claim's behalf.

X: I propose theory
Y: How can you possibly say that??
X: Prove it is false then
Response; X hasn't provided evidence that it is true.

This is absurd because evidence cannot be provided against something which does not exist. Arguments cannot be made out of negative evidence (lack of evidence to the contrary), therefore evidence is the burden of the original claims.

-False Dichotomy
This is where someone reduces the situation beyond Occam's razor should allow - down to two positions; their own, and the oppositions (or a false version of it) - and argue that either one of these is correct, or the other is. This is often used when someone commits a negative evidence fallacy, instead of providing evidence they wish to try de construct the opposition's evidence, and in doing so conclude their position is correct because it is the "only" alternative.

De constructing something does not prove its alternative correct, it only proves that which is proven false, to be false. It's not that hard to understand when you say it that simply, but people manage to find it so.

-Equivocation/False Attribution Fallacy
This is the misleading use of a term or concept with more than one meaning. A common example I've heard;

A feather is light.
What is light cannot be dark.
Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

Often accompanied by sarcasm and a sense of finality, as though the person committing the fallacy has just achieved a feat of reasoning and won the argument.

-Perfect Solution/Nirvana Fallacy
This is the idea that a perfect solution exists, therefore any potential solution which is not perfect is therefore false. This has often been applied to the theory of evolution whereby parts of it have been discredited, edited or adjusted over the years, and it does not explain many things, such as love, morality or the origin of life - ergo the fallacy is made; "it is not perfect, therefore it is false".

-Begging the question
Begging the question is related to the fallacy known as circular argument, vicious circle or circular reasoning. This was first pointed out by the famous Greek Philosopher Aristotle who focused heavily on forms of logical thinking.

This is where a conclusion is drawn from a weak premise.

Well described in wikipedia: "In popular usage, "begging the question" is often used to mean that a statement invites another obvious question. This usage is disparaged."

-Post hoc ergo propter hoc
Latin for "after this, therefore because of this". This is where two events, one observed after another are concluded to be related simply from the chronology of their appearance, and not by any actual connection or mechanism that is accounted for. This is a problem very frequently made in pseudo-science, and even amateur science student projects.

Two events are not necessarily related by their chronological appearance, however repetitive observation of such a correlation after repetition of the supposed causality, will hint to a relationship being empirically present, but the relation should be accounted for deeper than the statistic.

-Ad Hominem
Is an argument where the author attempts to better their position by inappropriately trying to discredit their opponents, for example suggesting that they are stupid, childish, ignorant or foolish and carrying that no-one would listen to a stupid childish ignorant fool.

-Straw man/appeal to ridicule
A straw man argument is one I see less of these days. This is where the attempt is made to discredit something by misrepresenting its claims, reasons or conclusions and mocking the fake or "straw man" image instead. One cannot defend a straw man attack other than to point out what it is, because one cannot defend a deliberately ridiculous image of themself. An example;

If relativity was right, my car would get shorter and heavier when I drive it. This is absurd, therefore relativity must be false.

Straw man can also take the form of an Ad Hominem.

-Ad Nauseam/argumentum ad infinitum
This is an argument made repeatedly (possibly by different people) irrelevant of responses until nobody cares to discuss it anymore. Most logical fallacies are often Ad Nauseam on top of their initial faults, on account of the theorist having stuck soft cheese in their ears.

My personal favourites;

-Quote mining
This is where someone cherry-picks a quote from someone, most often from the opposition of the debate that in the sentence quote alone claims the opposition opinion or status to be false. The problem is the entire paragraph or piece of text from which the quote is taken can often be found to be an example of objections to their work/claims - and move on to discuss the objections the author understands to arise.

The most often quote-mine I see used is that of Charles Darwin's discussion of the eye. You can see a perfect and awkward example of it being patiently picked here.

-Reductio Ad Hitlerum;
Form of an Ad Hominem. Equivocating your opponent with, or blaming your opponent's position on having been the prime responsibility for Hiter, Stalin and other historical nasties. As if comparing your opponent to someone else who is evil is going to make the logical problems float away. Most frequent sightings of this logic-fart are in evolution vs creationism debates.

Response: There are many flaws in this argument, most notably that said parties used and savagely distorted views from BOTH sides of this debate, aswell as other reasons not related to the conversation. Just about everyone can agree these men were evil and crazy, and do not represent anyone here.

It already has its own definition, but the better one for creationists and conspiracy theorists alike is one that Eugene Smit has worked out.

If a lot of people are in a group and share the same opinions, usually group-think means that anyone in the group with opinions that would not be shared by the group, will decide not to share them in order to support the group's stability. This works in reverse with these discussions, where anyone in a group expressing obscene or badly made arguments in a group that is not shared by the group - the group will say nothing, and allow it, because he's an ally.

If someone attacks the speaker on his claimed opinions, other members of the group who would not have made such a claim in the first place, and do not necessarily agree with them, will rush in to the claimant's defence, and go on a group attack on the outsider who's pointing out the problem with the one member's comments. A suitable slogan for this one is "Strength in numbers."

Response: If someone who holds similar opinions to you says something irrational, immoral or absurd; don't be afraid to tell them so, and definately don't pick up their comments that you don't agree with - against someone else, that's just stupid.

Another one pointed out by Eugene. Double-think is a gift from George Orwell, which becomes ironic when conspiracy theorists commit this fallacy, having held Orwell as a hero, in the process, they can quite often commit Orwell's "double-think".

Double-think is where a person is able to take two completely contradictory viewpoints, and simultaneously accept both of them.

Example; using a form of logic to dismiss your opponent, but objecting when the same logic is applied to something you would hold to, even if it's in correct context. The logic is not false, because it's mine, and it's logic. Therefor the opponent must be wrong.

Another example; Claiming to hold a solid scientific position with scientific evidence, then when questioned for said evidence, invoke spirituality, or imply the nature of your claims to be ethereal and spiritual, and the opponent has "a closed mind".

I have seen these committed quite a lot, even a few from my "personal favourites" list, but mostly from the "basics" list. For a complete list see the wikipedia article on fallacious reasoning.

The final one to add here is not to overuse the discovery of a logical fallacies as the final nail in this coffin is the ...

-Argument from fallacy
This is where an argument has been suggested that creates a logical fallacy itself, and the argument against its conclusion is that because its argument is a fallacious one, its conclusion is false. This is important for everyone to understand. Just because an argument is a false one, the conclusion it is reaching to may not be false. You can take anything true and make a false argument for it, the falsehood of the argument does not carry to the conclusion. Only if a conclusion has nothing but false arguments for it can you confidently doubt the conclusion.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

HAARP doomsday machine.

Here we have a contender for a new list I will be starting of "The World's "deadliest" doomsday machines" (according to the paranoid frappercrackers you'll meet anywhere on the interwebs)

So what is HAARP? For those of you who have just jumped in on the conspiracy theories, HAARP is an array of radio antennas in Alaska that

-bounces signals off the ionospheric layers (radio communication)
-produces topographic maps of radio backscatter (radar topography)
-measures scintillation of satellite signals (tomographic atmospheric mapping)
-heat the ionosphere to produce artificial aurora (influencing and studying the northern

It has parallels HIPAS also in Alaska, EISCAT in Europe, the Aricebo observatory in Puerto Rico and Sura in Russia - its objectives are to study and model the outer ionospheric layer of the atmosphere (made up with a large portion of ions and electrons), it studies the sun's effect on our outer atmosphere - and the fundamental Physics behind how it works is not above a University Physics student's capacity.

That's the official story, and of course if you're reading this then you will have been told different. What you have probably been told will be one of the following;

-It's a top secret US military energy weapon to zap cities with energy beams
-It's a mind control experiment to broadcast on what is according to the conspiracy
theorists (I have yet to see a source for this) the "same frequency the brain functions in"
-It's a remote earthquake and tsunami machine
-It's Tesla's doomsday machine
-It's a weather control device aiming at creating hurricanes and droughts.
-It's a doomsday machine that is going to destroy the entire world. (or did, if you listen to the past tense of the video in that link)

Those are the claims made so far, and in true spirit of conspiracy theories, this one most frequently carries the world-view via its proponents that it is part of the New World Order, to blackmail other countries into giving over to the NWO/Illuminati as part of the larger master plan for world domination. Frappercrackers. By now you're probably thinking, "is this for real?", and some of you might have already been convinced via youtube videos and websites you've read elsewhere. Well if my understanding of the fundamentals of Plasma Physics is anything to go by; no, it is not.

It is true that they reflect radio waves off the ionospheric layers, this allows long range radio communications, and is why you will be able to receive plenty of foreign radio stations that operate in the AM signal band as opposed to the fewer local, groudsignal FM stations.

You will see plenty of diagrams like the one shown here from textbooks and lectures of radio signals being bounced off the ionosphere, but the author of the website or video you will be viewing will be talking about "electromagnetic energy rays" or "high energy EM waves" destroying cities. Well great, the author clearly would not understand the difference between high frequency and high power (Planck's law) - and would use the terms "Very High Frequency" and "Ultra High Frequency" as being interchangeable for energy death ray, despite the radio bands being used are the VHF and UHF bands your tv receives signals in, (i.e. low energy radio band, lower than visible light.) The authors of the claims appear to have been clever enough to find the textbook diagrams, and yet have not gleaned any knowledge from them to pass on to you, the viewer. A copy and paste job is all the more obvious.

Then there are the other claims, such as it is responsible for the formation of earthquakes. This is by far one of the most popular, and yet neglects the simple fact that there is no known mechanism for motions in the ionosphere to cause earthquakes. If there were, the daily bombardment the ionosphere (our outermost atmosphere layer) receives from the sun at much higher intensity, would be responsible for a whole host of earthquakes the world over, every day. The theorists sometimes claim to have been informed of earthquakes before they occurred, and yet in the spirit of self-proclaimed prophets, only published this specific claim after the event has occurred. You could do that, make yourself as a prophet or whistle blower with "secret anonymous inside sources" quite easily. Set up your own website, sell books, and get a fanbase. If you're convincing and charismatic enough, you won't ever have to get a real job again. When someone predicts an earthquake with specific details in advance, then we have good cause to be interested.

Other claims that seem to be popular with the ones you will find believing in an alien governed New World Order - is that of mind control. This one is quite simple, there is no evidence for it, the brain does not operate on any specific single frequency (the brain is a complex physical organ made of numerous parts, it not an electromagnetic wave) , and no medical publications can be found to exist that state any such "frequency". Nowhere outside the conspiracy websites will you find such a claim of the brain's apparent "frequency". Oh, and to add, the aluminium foil helmets some people make in the US, actually amplify the federal frequency band held to be responsible. Go figure; their proposed solutions actually exasperate their stated problems.

Some claim that this is Nikola Tesla's doomsday machine which created some media hype in the later stage of his career. It is worth noting that the only doomsday machines attributed to Tesla are not of his own working, but of comic books and science fiction authors - his earthquake machine (which is not to be confused with the depictions in science fiction of him) involves a mechanical Simple Harmonic Oscillator, and utilises the same principle that brought down the Tacoma Narrows bridge in 1940. It is the device which he claimed that he could "split the earth entire". While his machine has grounding in simple Physics, it makes the assumption that the entire world could not dampen vibrations thousands of times weaker than the smallest earthquake. This machine failed when it was tested on mythbusters on an undamped bridge.- However, it is worth building one to resonate with your colleague's monitor sat on his desk (you can create this effect by fidgeting your leg up and down on the floorboards a short distance away). So it is not Tesla's earthquake machine.

The other claims are that this machine can be used to control the weather, creating hurricanes and causing droughts, and using it as blackmail. Much like the device featured in the EA game; C&C Red Alert 2. While it was in fact research Physicists which first proposed these suggestions, and registered these concerns - there are three categorical problems. Firstly, the propositions were made at a time when Chaos theory had either not been suggested, or was still in its infancy. Chaos is the reason why the weather isn't always very accurately predicted, let alone controlled. Secondly HAARP puts a total of
"less than 3 microwatts per cm2, tens of thousands of times less than the Sun's natural electromagnetic radiation reaching the earth and hundreds of times less than even the normal random variations in intensity of the Sun's natural ultraviolet (UV) energy which creates the ionosphere."
- so according to HAARP's official website on their technical data section. For a crude verification, if you take HAARP's maximum output (3.6 GW) and divide it into the targeted area of the ionosphere; hundreds of meters thick and tens of km wide you will reach a similar figure. Bear in mind that the full signal is not absorbed in this region, so that is how the estimate you will reach will be larger. Of course, this is a crude and indirect method of calculation and the real method will involve some 3 dimensional calculus using absorptivity and atmospheric and plasma density data for the atmosphere - which not too surprisingly, is a level of physics so high above the capacity of conspiracy theorists I've encountered that they'd be reaching for it like a kid reaching for the cookie jar above the fridge - and the ladder that they would try to use would take some effort for them to carry. Most just hook around it with a rope and cheat (i.e. talk like a politician to make excuses for lack of evidence.) I'll make a post when I get around to finding the data to make a function of absorptivity against altitude and will demonstrate that value a lot more accurately, or find a paper publication that does. That sounds like actual work.

Thirdly and most damning to the weather control claim; the ionosphere is not the stratosphere. Like the earthquake claim; the sun heats the ionosphere far more than HAARP, so if plasma motions in the ionosphere caused large-scale changes in the stratosphere, then there would be a massive noticeable change in the weather around the activity of the aurora bourealis, i.e. we would see more/less droughts/hurricanes around times of increased geomagnetic storms. The sun fluctuates its sunspot cycle (tied to geomagnetic storms) just over every 11 years. If someone could demonstrate a relation between geomagnetic storms and cataclysmic weather patters centred around those storms, then a relation between the ionosphere and stratosphere will be shown, and there will be a mechanism on which to build a technical scientific mechanism on which the claims can be achieved. Of course, no mechanism has yet been found, so the scientists at HAARP have no theoretical framework to use to achieve these amazing powers that they have been frequently credited with. Again; scientific data and mathematical relations ... like a cookie jar on top of the fridge.

The final nail in the coffin is this; it's not secret. The Manhattan project at Los Alamos was secret, cracking the Enigma was secret, Area 51 is still in operation and therefore; is still secret, Porton down is also still operational and; still secret, the stealth bomber was secret, the Iranian coup of 1953 was secret ... HAARP is definitely not secret. People are allowed on tours (with digital cameras and notebooks if they're that obsessed), of the HAARP facility, even if they're foreign nationals. Even if they're civilians. Even if they're Iranians. Even if they're scientists. Even if they're foreign national Iranian civilian scientists.

Does area 51 have a website with contact details and operate tours? No, of course it doesn't, and you'll be shot on site if you tried to go up to the barbed wire fence with a camera, for obvious reasons. That's what protection of secret military hardware is.

Sure, come and see our science fiction style doomsday machine that's so obvious the entire internet community 'knows' what it is, but the touring civilian scientists who actually understand radiation, the van Allen belt and plasma waves, and are walking among these things instead of viewing youtube videos on teh internets, do not.

To sum up, there are a whole host of conspiracy theories about the HAARP program, but so far none of them have yet to carry any weight scientifically - and all result in claims that can't be, or never have been tested. Many involve neglecting evidence, and when the question for evidence is asked - the typical response is that you have to provide evidence against the accusations, instead of the natural position that the accusers provide evidence for their claims. This is common psychology of any regular Joe discussing "Joe Theory", that the strength of their argument is in the inability to test most of their claims, but this is mostly because the vast majority of their claims involve no technical details, no scientific formulae, the mysterious application of no known mechanism and no rational or empirical evidence, only claims attributed to events in the news.

It is therefore not a scientific theory, but a conspiracy theory.

If you have any comments you wish to add to try to change my comments or conclusions, and wish to provide a scientific account of the claims against HAARP, you are most welcome to do so.