Last time, we saw how we can miss the truth when we think we know what’s in other people’s heads — when we play Amateur Psychologist. Not to pick on David Sereda, but in the same video he also serves as a foil for this post’s Truth-Loving Test for Amateur Scientists:
A truth-loving amateur scientist has a keen nose for baloney from other amateur scientists.
If you’re just joining the discussion, it’s about the video below that “proves” UFOs were out in space with the shuttle Columbia.
David Sereda makes it clear that he is not a physicist, although he has “worked for physicists” and describes himself as a “physicist interpretor” (39:08). We can call him an amateur scientist. So are most of us, and this post is about how we should react to statements from our fellow amateur, Mr. Sereda.
The video shows a few bright objects streaking through space with a trail of apparently burning material behind them. Are these meteors? Sereda says they can’t be. At time 54:38: “Meteorites [sic], unless they’re massive, they basically disintegrate in a matter of seconds, over a very small distance…. They burn up. The only way comets or meteorites streak for very long periods of time is if they’re huge. Now, all throughout these NASA tapes…, you’ll see balls of light that just keep going and going and going… Now, if they were meteorites (and that’s what you’ll hear on the commentary on the NASA tape) they should have been massive, because they didn’t burn up. And that means they would have eventually impacted with the Earth and created massive craters on the Earth. We would have level-extinction [sic] events going on on the Earth almost every day… They could not possibly be meteorites.”
Therefore, they must be UFOs.
I smell baloney. Meteors burn up as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere. The denser the atmosphere, the more friction and therefore heat their movement will generate and the quicker they’ll burn. The meteors in the tape were way up in the ionosphere. Not much friction there.
There are many more opportunities on this video for amateur scientists to hone their sense of smell for baloney. (53:11 presents a real howler.) I wish it weren’t so. Every time definitive evidence of UFOs is put forward, I want it to be a clincher.
And that’s exactly when I must be especially wary.
Two other branches of science come to mind that are filled with convincing amateurs who present unorthodox interpretations to partisans who are not wary enough: creation science and climate science.
The science behind the Earth’s origin and the development of life is complicated and even requires some mathematical skill to understand. A just-so story can be a lot more convincing, and certainly easier to grasp. Although the people who spread these stories are not amateurs in the sense of making no money from their endeavors, they are amateurs when it comes to scientific practice. I plan to write more about their deceptions over the next 6 weeks.
Climate-change deniers take a favorite practice of creationists to a whole new level: the emphasizing of one piece of data to the exclusion of the big picture. The piece of data might be a few years when temperatures were not rising, or a glacier that is not retreating. These deficient arguments are more than enough to convince people who want to be convinced.
We amateurs should respect the life’s work of the pros. Their views did not become the mainstream consensus for no reason at all. When listening to fellow amateurs with wild ideas, we should be very careful.
But yes, I still think there is ample evidence for UFOs, even if David Sereda is full of baloney.