Monday, January 21, 2013

You Can't Make These Websites Up

Some alternative solar science websites seem more prelapsarian than post-normal. What on Earth will Watt's Galileo Movement friends make of this one? --

Some fear we may eventually  find out :


Friday, January 18, 2013

Annals of Expeditionary Climatology

A quarter century before Watt's chums first howled " Hoax!"  at climate scientists, the same charge was leveled at one of the most famous  fossils in the history of evolution-  the proto-bird, Archaeopteryx lithographica.

Hoyle, F.; Wickramasinghe, N.C. & Watkins, R.S. (1985) Archaeopteryx. British Journal of Photography, 132: 693-694.)  

As with Watt's creative interpretation of  temperature statistics, no relevant journal  would touch their accusations that the superbly preserved century-old fossil was a literal cut and paste job, its exquisite feather impressions impressed into Victorian glue by miscreants unknown. 

Everybody who had handled the specimen laughed- the lithographic limestone monolith was the finest kind of fossil- the A. lithographica holotype was excavated in 1861 from a bed famed for preserving fine details in thousands of unsung fossils, down to and including the gossamer veins in  dragonfly wings. 

The incident made the lead wannabe fossil detective N.C. Wickramasinghe into a scientific laughingstock, but today the mathematician is  back, on the opposite tack, this time claiming that a made-up or mistaken fossil is for real. To any paleontology post doc, what's being touted as the discovery of alien life looks to be a dusting of diatoms of the sort provided for inspection by children's microscopes.  This surface sprinkling of silica plant skeletons in a clay smudge atop a somewhat dodgy meteorite fragment is supposed to prove life once abounded out whence the meteorite came. Watts, who last week  suggested Associated Press writer Seth Borenstein take a crack at inspecting  dinosaurs from the inside, adjudged this news :
'to be a huge story, the first evidence of extraterrestrial life,'
A more prudent response would have been , "Wait a minute-- isn't that Wickramasinghe the archaeopteryx crank? "

The trouble with this conjunction of supposedly celestial bodies is that the diatoms are fresh as a daisy, not old as alien planetary crust, and indistinguishable from those found still swimming in most of the lakes on earth. Diatoms are so abundant that they form whole strata, fresh and fossil  including the ubiquitous 'fullers earth ' used in processing cloth, filtering water, and repelling insects in every nation on earth. So they do get around, and any object falling to earth is, sure as mud,  at risk of ending up contaminated with them.

A little mass spectrometry work would have answered the paramount question- are these fossils or just fresh dirt ? But just as the 1985 attack, soon refuted in seriously peer reviewed journals like Naturethe paper reports no instrumental evidence.  And just as the anti-archaeopteryx expose couldn't find a reputable editorial home, neither could the flying fossil from outer space paper.  It appeares instead in a venue beloved of airheads the world over, that grandly styles itself The Journal of Cosmology.  It is, frankly, something of a crank magnet, having enjoyed considerable notoriety on  account of one of its better tabloid science offerings, a magisterial essay on dog astrology,  but one can search its pages in vain for offerings by bona fide cosmologists, who instead frequent the tonier astrophysics and mathematics journals- as did Wickramasinghe's pal and 1985 co-author, the late, great, and occasionally all-too-willing to countersign his friends' labors,  Fred Hoyle.

Wickramasinge  maintains everything from the lichen-forming alga spores present in raindrops to the SARS virus  originate in outer space  arriving on  Earth from comets and meteoric debris . The Wiki's take on the Ceylon born Wickramasinge  is that
:"He has attempted to generate controversies in both academic and public circles, as Wickramasinghe himself brings them as arguments into the basic discussion about creationism and evolutionism. Though Chandra Wickramasinghe's latest speculations have no support from the scientific community, he has fascinated some public media."
The absence of evidence this time round did not deter Watts from announcing this great discovery to his flock, and it is entirely in character that he has responded to those celebrating this remake of the 1985 comedy of manners by threatening to sue them.  Were he any sort of scientist this would be sad and terrible news, but as he's just another hack, it's merely funny. 

For the record, WUWT  launched this tabloid science offensive by nominating Seth Borenstein as the next course on this reptile's menu:

and here the original original- as with climate deniers and cliches, tabloids recycle stories a lot: