Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Skepticism' Category

Explaining the giant holes in Guatemala

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They are an amazing sight: even though the initial size figures were eventually corrected to a more comprehensible 66 feet diameter crater, 100 feet deep, those are still impressive and quite regular holes. The one in the image above engulfed a factory in the end of June at Zona 2, Guatemala, while a similar event happened in 2007 a few miles away, Zona 6. Below, an image of the 2007 hole:

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While people were puzzled and many joked about these giant holes in the ground, the event in 2007 resulted in two casualties and the one a month ago in one death. Taking this seriously, we have to explain that these features are not mysterious nor have anything to do with “UFO tunnels”. Both features were ultimately the result of intense storms – and it’s an interesting coincidence that the new hole opened after tropical storm Agatha, since Agartha is the legendary city inside the hollow Earth.

These features do not lead to the center of Earth, however, at their bottom a hundred feet down what one finds is quite simply a sewage water collecting system. The infographic below, from Nuestro Diario (June 30th, p.5), illustrates how exactly below the opened hole a water collector tunnel around 10 feet in diameter goes through.

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A few days ago a team of geologists also explored the bottom of the Zona 2 hole, you can find the whole Picasa set of photos here. All the soil in the giant hole didn’t disappear magically, it was simply washed away with the water and on to the sewage system. So much so that the sole victim’s body in the Zona 2 hole, Edwin Roberto Velásquez Salazar, was found days later in Las Vacas river, where the water from the collector system ends up.

Not only at the bottom of these giant holes one finds tunnels of the water collecting system: more importantly, perhaps, is that both of these holes were originally vertical shafts, that is, there were already originally vertical holes there, even though they were obviously not that large. Unfortunately many water draining shafts and tunnels were built in the 1950s and some were not properly recorded, and as the city grew some buildings were built over some shafts. That seems to be the case here.

Local geologists suggest then that the heavy water stream from the storm must have damaged the underground collecting tunnels, a problem aggravated by the fact that there was a difference in the level of tunnels. The graphic below (click to enlarge, from Diario de Centroamérica) illustrates, above, the proposed evolution of the holes in the first (above) and second holes.

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Add to that that the soil in the city is particularly fragile, basically pumice fill – ash flows made up of loose, gravel-like particles deposited during ancient volcanic eruptions, and there’s no mystery here.

Days after the recent hole, called by many a giant sinkhole, geologist Sam Bonis, who was part of the team that investigated the 2007 case, correctly pointed out that it wasn’t in fact a sinkhole. As he told Discovery News (and National Geographic), "Sure, it looks a lot like a sinkhole. And a whale looks a lot like a fish, but calling it one would be very misleading."

According to Bonis, the hole was rather a “piping feature”, and the further info, photos and graphics here may help understand the giant holes in Guatemala.

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Graphic: Nuestro Diario

[Almost all the info for this post comes from the blog “Ciudad Nueva zona 2 Guatemala”, with updated and detailed information on the events. It was suggested to me by friend José Ildefonso, who also provided me with most of the other information on the case]

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Vaccine and Autism: The Facts in the Case

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Darryl Cunningham Investigates, and illustrates, “The Facts in the Case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield”. [hat tip to friend Cyntia Beltrão]

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Delicious Miss Flying Saucer

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There’s so much amazing about this “Miss Flying Saucer” artwork by Bill Randall, but let’s stick with what makes us psychosocial pelicanists cheer. You see, the sexy space cadet is on top of an actual saucer. Not an alien spaceship, but a plain simple, pink saucer dinnerware. It’s either a giant saucer, or Miss Flying Saucer is a tiny fairy-like being. Either way, that makes psychosocial pelicanists happy.

Why, would one ask. Is it a fetish of sorts? Not exactly. This has in fact a lot to say about the origin of ufology and in particular, the term “flying saucer”.

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In “Saucer ExpansionMartin Kottmeyer remarks how, surprisingly, most reports from the 1947 wave of flying saucers in Canada and the USA had them of a very small size, of 3 feet or less. In the graphic above, Kottmeyer illustrates how the reported size for flying saucers, which would soon be called UFOs, increased gradually, and nowadays it’s actually rare to read description of very tiny objects.

Why, would one ask. Is it an alien fashion of sorts? Probably not. Kottmeyer quotes Ed Stewart suggestion that “Saucer descriptions in the news stories made reference to table top cups and saucers which could have implanted a small size in the readers mind when they read the initial stories.”

That is, people were seeing actual flying dinnerware in the sky. Only with later sci-fi movies which depicted large (Day Earth Stood Still) and then gigantic (Close Encounters) alien spaceships would people come to report larger UFOs.

There’s corroborating evidence for this psychosocial pelicanist interpretation. In Brazil, the term “flying saucer” was translated as “disco voador”, or “flying disk”, no one here speaks in terms of dinnerware when referring to aliens. On the other hand, “flying disk” would immediately remind people of the late 1940s and early 1950s of vinyl records.

And that’s exactly what they reported. Historian Rodolpho Gauthier also collected some news clippings of the first UFO waves in Brazil, and though no detailed statistical analysis was conducted, from Gauthier’s work one can find several references to small flying disks and even funny cartoons comparing flying disks with small vinyl records thrown in the air.

Well, back to Miss Flying Saucer. Unfortunately I couldn’t find when exactly did Bill Randall created that amazing illustration, the closest was this commentary from The Pinup Blog (NSFW) that “I could only guess that these pinups were painted between 1946 and the 1960’s”.

Here’s one prediction from the Psychosocial Hypothesis: given that Randall referenced an actual saucer, I would guess it was made shortly after Arnold’s sighting in 1947 and before 1952, when the term UFO would enter the mainstream.

Whatever flies in the sky, whether there are aliens visiting us or not, everything that we see, we see through our cultural lenses. Those can be quite funny just a few decades later. A few decades from now, people may laugh about our reports of giant spaceships.

Do not miss: “Saucer Expansion” by Martin Kottmeyer. [via x-ray delta one on flickr]

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The Biggest Crop Circle Ever: the reality show

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Almost 60 acres. 530 x 450 meters in size. Created in an evening of August, 2009, at the province of Zeeland, Netherlands, it’s the biggest “crop circle” ever created. And with a twist.

Everything was recorded in video, as this was definitely a very human creation. To be more exact, a creation of 60 humans captured in its process from concept to realization by the cameras of the reality TV show “Try Before You Die”. Click on the image below to see the short clip where cute presenter Geraldine Kemper becomes one of the team leaders stomping crop around in the middle of the night:

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The culprits are the members of XL D-Sign team, which has been creating fantastic formations for more than ten years – many of which are promoted as “mysterious” to this day. This latest one, the biggest one to date, was properly named project Atlas, and aimed not only to break the size record but also depict “a message of both the beauty and vulnerability of man”.

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The gigantic formation can be interpreted in several ways, from the metamorphosis of a butterfly, to the Vitruvian Man, to Mothman and perhaps even chakras. All part of a human symbology, with a human message, created by humans to humans, surpassing in size every crop circle ever created.

Of course, even this will probably not convince those willing to believe in this mystery of crop circles. Nothing ever will, as it’s impossible to prove that all and every crop circle is man-made, and believers will often not accept the reasoning by which one crop circle must be proved not man-made, and not the other way around.

Even those that do understand that the burden of proof lies in proving that there is something other than human circlemakers (and fungus, and lodging, and other prosaic explanations) here will cling to one or another crop circle. Until it’s proven man-made… and they jump to the next crop circle that just “cannot” be man-made. Until it’s also proven man-made. That is, in effect it’s the same fallacy of assuming a crop circle to be supernatural unless proven otherwise.

One particular example that’s worth mentioning is the Julia Set formation, allegedly created in less than 45 minutes according to the report of a doctor who flew over the area, and only noticed it in his return trip, 45 minutes later.

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Creating 149 circles, several hundred feet in size, is a feat that even seasoned circlemakers would probably have a very hard time doing. I would not say it would be impossible, but as far as I know, no one did it. Yet.

But can we really be sure the huge Julia set formation was made in less 45 minutes? As it turns out, probably not.

“When that doctor flew over, he just didn’t see it the first time. That happens a lot. His report was wrong. He just didn’t see it”, says circlemaker Rod Dickinson. He asserts that he knows the (human) creators of the formation, that “was made the previous night, by three people, in about two and three-quarters hours, starting around 2:45 am (on Sunday morning, July 7). It was there all that day”.

American ufologist Michael Lindemann replies with disbelief: “You mean, it sat there next to that highway all day, and no one saw it? Are you kidding?”

"If you went there, you’d see how the field slopes down and away from the road. The formation was in a kind of bowl, below the level of the road. Going by in a car, you couldn’t see it. You would have to get out and walk toward it and look down into that bowl-shaped area to see it", answers Dickinson.

"But there is a lot of air traffic in that area. Planes must have flown over it many times that day."

"Sure, but lots of them just didn’t see it, and the rest didn’t think to report it, until that doctor reported it in the evening. I know this can happen, because I’ve made quite a few big formations and then waited for a day, even several days, before they’re discovered."

That must be a familiar phenomenon. Those are the Invisible Gorillas.

According to Dickinson, by the way, the same team that created the Julia set formation would also be responsible for the more famous Triple Julia formation.

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Those skeptical about Dickinson claims – after all, he doesn’t prove his assertions of knowing who did it, nor is he willing to disclose their names – may simply look carefully at both Julia Set formations. Though the bigger circles followed a more carefully traced work line – which is still visible joining their centers – the smaller, secondary ones were probably stomped “free-hand” and show some gross inconsistencies in their positioning.

But nothing of this will convince those willing to believe in this mystery of crop circles. Nothing ever will. Asked if what he does isn’t just plain fraud, Dickinson offered a thoughtful answer:

"No, it’s not fraud at all. We aren’t the ones who say, ‘Look, these formations must be made by UFOs,’ or whatever. We just make them, as pure art. Then other people, researchers and ‘experts,’ make up all kinds of stories and explanations. It’s interesting to watch this happen, but we aren’t doing it. None of the circle makers ever try to convince anyone that these formations are made by some unusual force. And when we actually tell people that we are making these formations, most people don’t believe us anyway."

The biggest crop circle ever created was recorded by a reality TV show, and will soon be featured by a documentary produced by its creators. Most people will not believe that that has anything to do with the “mystery” of crop circles. [via Francesco Grassi’s Blog]

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UFOs: Before they were Alien, they were Nazi

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Just look at the image above: from a strictly fictional point of view, could there be something cooler than Nazi flying saucers fighting at the Second World War? Nazis, they are evil, and now they have flying saucers!

Besides a nice upcoming CGI comedy movie, this is something that could be seen as a background story for a (good) Indiana Jones movie, and in fact, LucasFilm Games sold “Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe” at the beginning of the 1990s – it didn’t include Nazi flying saucers, but it had a Horten flying wing (which was recently recreated, by the way).

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My own interest for ufology started when I was young(er) and first read these wild tales of incredible Nazi flying disks. There are even scale models for sale. I actually believed the stories.

Because, you see, stories and rumours about flying saucers from the evil Nazis are promoted as real fact by not so few. You can read all about how Hitler ran away to the South Pole and the Nazis visited Mars on Kevin McClure’s comprehensive research on the subject published on Magonia, or his short summary and update published on 2003 at ForteanTimes.

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Now fellow Maurizio Verga has published an amazing article which adds a lot of information to the subject, especially at its origins. The article is in Italian – here’s an automated English translation – but it’s well worth the effort to understand it even if you don’t quite get the language (like me).

One of the most interesting finds by Verga in my opinion is the image at the top of this post. The comment that it would be something very cool from a fictional point of view had a reason: pay attention to the signature.

The illustration comes from Amazing Stories, published in July 1943. That’s four years before the start of the modern obsession with flying saucers, and therefore way before anyone associated them with Nazis, much less Aliens.

As Verga remarks, in the 1950s that exact scene – a flying saucer fighting a squadron of Superfortress Flying Fortresses (thanks Craig!)– would be depicted as a supposedly real event over Schweinfurt in 1944.

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[Above, art by Daniele Sabatini, 1998. Compare it with the 1943 Amazing Stories illustration]

It’s not news to the psychosocial theorist that all and every allegedly real element from ufology can be found years before in science fiction. Some examples, however, can be quite impressive, and the Amazing Stories illustration foretelling later Nazi UFOs tales is clearly one of them.

Nazi UFOs are not just a curious sub-area of ufology. At the early years of the field, the idea that flying saucers were very terrestrial secret weapons was one of the most popular explanation for them. Before they were Alien, they were Nazi.

Aliens didn’t even made it to the opinion poll, as the extraterrestrial hypothesis would only be widely popularized in 1950 by Donald Keyhoe.

Now, another interesting bit, Verga also remarks how even Keyhoe mentioned the story he heard that flying saucers were real… British aircraft, captured from the Nazis after the war. They were later transferred to Australia and also Canada, the story went.

Nazi UFOs: an idea so cool that it quickly jumped from Amazing Stories to… amazing stories as told by not quite amazing, and not at all original, mystery sellers.

Be sure to check Verga’s work: WikiUFO, UFO nazisti: leggende dischi volanti tedeschi Nazi UFOs saucers.

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