May 10 2016

15-year-old Canadian Schoolkid Discovers Maya City. Really?

15 year old William Gadoury allegedly has discovered the ruins of an old Maya city in the jungle of Yucatan following his theory that the Maya picked the locations of their cities according to star constellations. This remarkable story is all over the web, but the only real source is the website of the Canadian newspaper Le Journal de Montréal. Let’s see how Gadoury has found this forgotten city, which he has named K’àak’ Chi’, meaning Fire Mouth.

maya-stad-sattelietfoto

It started with Gadoury being puzzled by the (for him) not so logical locations of many of the known Maya cities. Many of those are far away from rivers or fertile grounds. Could there be another reason for their specific locations? His idea was to look whether it had something to do with the star constellations the Maya knew. Gadoury found 22 star constellations with 142 stars in total in an old Mayan text, the Madrid Codex. He managed to line up 117 cities exactly with stars in the these constellations.
Next we read that Gadoury found another constellation from a different Mayan source, one consisting of just three stars. This enabled him to fit this to two extra cities, but this left an open spot voor de third star of this constellation. Exactly where this star is mapped on Earth he found the ruins on satellite images. He had the luck that the spot he needed to look at had been affected by large fires some years ago. The dense forest has not yet fully recovered from these, making it more easy to spot some details of the grounds beneath the canopy.

Now we can start asking some questions: how many cities did he start with that might be part of this star mapping exercise? Wikipedia mentions several hundred archeological Maya sites. Of course the mapping is more likely to be somewhat succesful if you start with a larger number to pick from. And how good a fit is this mapping? Reading the article in Le Journal de Montréal I also get the impression that the correspondence is not with the total map of the sky, but that he managed to find clusters of cities that map quite good to the positions of the stars in individual constellations, without those constellations necessarily being in the same positions related to the other constellations as in the sky. And are the constellations all fitted on the same scale? If not, that would leave even more room for a seemingly good fit to find just by chance.

If we look at the first part of his puzzle, with the 22 constellations from the Madrid Codex, we notice that from the 142 stars in those he didn’t find a matching city for at least 25 stars. Did he also look at the corresponding positions on the map for ruins? Of course if there are no cities in those spots, it could be that the Maya didn’t manage to finish this project, it is not a direct refutation of the theory.
Next: did he have a problem dealing with the two extra cities first, or did he first find the extra constellation? And were there even more constellations known to the Maya apart from these 23? I’m asking this, because depending on the answer it might very well point to confirmation bias we are looking at in this case.

Related to this: how did these two cities actually came up? If he did start with more candidate cities, he could probably chose from many pairs. Mapping a three star constellation to two cities also gives some extra choices for the third spot. So how many potential spots are there on the map for this third city in the three star constellation? And how many of those did Gadoury examine on the satellite images? If there were many of these spots, how likely is it to find one where you can spot some features which might look like artificial structures?

And how sure are we that these features actually are Maya buildings? The only experts mentioned in the article are people from the space agencies which provided Gadoury with the imagery. No archeologists. The left image from Google Maps above is not that convincing (have a look at the spot yourself), but there are some pictures of Gadoury in front of a poster presentation with some other photo’s on it. It looks like more buildings have been identified on those. All in all it might be convincing evidence, but I would like to read some more details or hear something about this from archeologists.

Wiiliam Gadoury in front of a poster presentation of his research.

Wiiliam Gadoury in front of a poster presentation of his research.

So now there is some speculation about a real expedition being organized (with Gadoury potentially going as well) to the spot in the jungle where these structures are. If this happens and a real Maya ruin is found, this would be great of course. But even then I doubt that it will prove the theory of Gadoury right. To me it sounds still too much like the story of the Giza pyramids being lined up with Orion from alternative Egyptology. But I’ll have a look at the work of Gadoury again when it will be published in detail somewhere, maybe that will answer my questions.

Update May 10th 23:22: just after publishing this blog I found this Facebook post by professor David Stuart (who is director at The Mesoamerica Center-University of Texas at Austin amongst other functions, so a real expert), who thinks that the square in the satellite images is indeed man-made. According to Stuart it’s not a city however, just an old fallow cornfield.

Update May 11th sceptical sounds start to seep into the news coverage on this story, e.g. on Wired and Gizmodo. On Reddit there was also a very nice post explaining why it is very unlikely that there really is an undiscovered large city at this spot. As far as I can see now no expert on Maya takes Gadoury’s theory on the star constellations serious. Also a good read is ‘That kid did didn’t find a lost Maya city. Don’t believe what you read.’, which had me change some Mayan(s) to Maya 😉

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Discovery of gravitational waves inspires new homeopathic remedy

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Feb 06 2016

The Continuing Stupidity of Ruggero Santilli

Recently the following YouTube video of Thunder Energies Corporation, a company of fringe scientist Ruggero Santilli, has gotten quite some attention on the web, mainly on sites on the paranormal.

So what does Santilli claim this time? That antimatter produces antimatter-light and that it can be focussed using concave lenses. This in contrast to ‘ordinary’ light which you can focus with convex lenses. You can also read it in detail at the website of the company:

Matter-Antimatter annihilation also requires that antimatter-light must have energy opposite that of matter-light, as predicted by P. A. M. Dirac in 1932 and verified by R. M. Santilli in his decades of research on antimatter (see the the theoretical confirmation and the experimental confirmation).

This claim by Santilli might be the easiest to debunk of all the extraordinary claims he has made (like the existence of magnecules and his alternative explanation for why the sun colors red when it sets). The whole concept of antimatter-light is bullshit, because the anti-particle of a photon is simply a photon. So if you want to speak of antimatter-light it’s no different than ‘normal’ light. ‘Antimatter-light’ will therefore not focus with a concave lens. I will not even bother trying to give explanations for the grainy images he took with his Santilli-‘out-of-focus’-telescope which he claims show Invisible Terrestrial Entities

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Jan 15 2016

Dutch medium Robbert van den Broeke arrested for threatening several people

Local broadcaster, Omroep Brabant, reports that Dutch medium Robbert van den Broeke was arrested on January 6th and was held at the police station for three days. Five people have made statements against Van den Broeke for making threats, including at least one death threat. Van den Broeke has quite a history in harassing people, but he has always been claiming that it was not him who did this, but a hacker. This alleged hacker must  posess super hacking skills and the tenacity to monitor Van den Broeke’s activities 24/7, because the threats in the form of hate mail, nasty Facebook and Twitter comments coming from his accounts occur in very close alignment with those.

In 2005 Van den Broeke was exposed as a fraud by Rob Nanninga, editor in chief of Skepter, in the ‘genverbrander’ incident, you can read about this on Wikipedia. After that he wasn’t seen on national television for quite some time, but he kept on doing his usual business with crop circles and ghost photography. His photography tricks have also been exposed by Nanninga, and myself as well ( see The Photography Tricks of Robbert van den Broeke on this website).

In the past more people have made statements against Van den Broeke, but these were not followed upon by the police. It looks like he desperately seeks the attention of the media, going as far as doing business with convicted killer Joran van der Sloot, with whom he seems to have some sort of love-hate relationship.
Recently Van den Broeke went even further than before, including leaving pornographic photos of himself on the Facebook pages of other ‘celebrities’ and making really nasty death threats which were similar in nature to the enormous amount of hate mail he has send to his critics (see below).

Article on the website of Omroep Brabant, showing a screenshot of website of Van den Broeke just showing a text that all his sessions and lectures have been cancelled due to personal circumstances.

Article on the website of Omroep Brabant, showing a screenshot of the website of Van den Broeke just showing a text that all his lectures have been cancelled due to personal circumstances.

According to Omroep Brabant the Amsterdam police has held Van den Broeke for three days, but have let him go for the time being. He remains a suspect in this case, but it is has yet to be decided whether he will be prosecuted for these threats. In the mean time, Van de Broeke’s website has been closed down, as well as his Facebook pages (personal and the ‘public figure’ one) and his Twitter account. Omroep Brabant was unaible to reach Van den Broeke for a reaction.

On her website Constantia Oomen wrote an in-depth story on the Van den Broeke case, which really starts at the beginning of his career and runs up till now (and is frequently updated). She probably received most of the nasty attention of Van den Broeke, so she knows what she’s talking about on this matter.

 

 

Jan 04 2016

Cammaerts and Johansson Manage to ‘Replicate’ Danish Garden Cress Wi-Fi Experiment with even more Mistakes

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Almost two years ago the shocking results of the ‘Danisch School Garden Cress WiFi Experiment’ went viral: six Danisch schoolgirls had shown that garden cress seeds placed next to WiFi routers germinated far more difficult than a control group without radiation. Especially the picures of a fresh green, unradiated, tray with cress next to a tray with sad looking brown results from a tray which had sat next to a router, looked very convincing. Foreign scientists were impressed by the schoolgirls’ experiment and said it should be replicted under better controlled circumstances. Two of those scientists recently published their replication of this experiment, but it is even more flawed than the original highschool experiment.

What the problems were with that school experiment I have laid out in Danish School Experiment with WiFi Routers and Garden Cress, Good Example of Bad Science. Maybe the most important flaws were the absence of blinding and  lack of control of environmental factors. For a schoolproject this would not have been that much of an issue, but the way this questionable result was misused, first by their science teacher and later by these ‘foreign scientists’, was quite bad. They used it to promote their unsubstantiated idea that electromagnetic fields from Wi-Fi and mobile phone antennas are far more dangerous than mainstream science and governments want us to believe.

Two of those foreign ‘experts’, the Belgian Marie-Claire Cammaerts and the Swede Olle Johansson, have joined forces in replicating this experiment. Apparently they succeeded in getting an article about their experiment published in the Argentinian journal Phyton, International Journal of Experimental Botany titled: Effect of man-made electromagnetic fields on common Brassicaceae Lepidium sativum (cress d’Alinois) seed germination: a preliminary replication study (December 2015).  The article itself can’t yet(?) be found on the journal’s website, but you can easily find in on several fear mongering websites (e.g. on Mast-Victims.org). What you can see on the website of Phyton however, is that its impact factor is just 0.117, not impressive at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 01 2016

Wim Hof’s Cold Trickery

Dutchman Wim Hof earned his nickname ‘The Iceman’ for his world records involving the cold – standing for almost two hours in a crate full of ice cubes, that sort of things. But in recent years he is promoting the methods that he claims enabled him to achieve these records as a method for achieving better health as the ‘Wim Hof Method’. Already he has gained a lot of enthusiastic followers and he has been training many people to propagate his method.

On this website I have written about Hof before, not directly about his method, but about a promotional stunt a year ago which didn’t go as well as he wanted the world to believe: his group climbing of Kilimanjaro in the ‘record time’ of 31 hours didn’t reach upto the actual summit (read  Iceman’ Wim Hof over the top‘).

koudkunstje-wim-hofFor Skepter, the magazine of Dutch skeptics foundation Skepsis, I was asked to write an article about Hof and his method. In this article I focused more on the scientific evidence for the many claims surrounding the Wim Hof method. Luckily I could base my article on the book Hof published in spring last year which precisely claims to give the state of scientific evidence for his method from his point of view: ‘Koud Kunstje – Wat kun je leren van de Iceman?’ by Wim Hof & Koen de Jong (april 2015) [translates as: Cold trickery – What can we learn from the Iceman?].
The article I wrote for the August editon of Skepter can be read online on the Skepsis website (Dutch):  Bergop, bergaf met The Iceman – De Wim Hof methode. I will give a summary here, but if you have questions about the original article and you have trouble understanding the Dutch text, feel free to leave your questions in the comments.

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Jun 12 2015

Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) pays for courses in clairvoyance

UWV trains unemployed to become clairvoyants

UWV trains unemployed to become clairvoyants (AD, June 12th 2015)

Remarkable news this morning in one of the main newspapers in The Netherlands (Algemeen Dagblad): UWV, the agency commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment to implement employee insurances, has payed for a course in clairvoyance. Since 2008 at least seven unemployed were ‘helped’ in this way towards a payed job as ‘spiritual phone consultant’. In other words they were now able to scam people in paying lots of money on silly phone calls. The cost of one course is about 1.000 euro.

UWV doesn’t see anything wrong in this. If some course will come with an almost guaranteed job afterwards, they think it is a good thing as those people will stop receiving money via the Unemployment Insurance Act. And the agency also points to the fact that the Paradidakt institute, which provides these courses, is registered as an institute for education by CRKBO, the central registry for short term vocational education. Well, this does only mean that this Paradidakt insitute meets some administrative standards, not that the contents of what they teach have been checked for validity. The CRKBO sign of ‘approval’ is in use by many institutes which give courses in alternative medicine.

Members of parliament have already started to ask questions.

Apr 18 2015

Michael Shermer and the Witch Theory of Causality in The Moral Arc

Recently well known skeptic Michael Shermer did a book tour in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands to promote his new book, The Moral Arc, How science and reason lead humanity toward truth, justice, and freedom. I had the opportunity to interview him about his book for Skepter, the magazine of the Dutch skeptics foundation Skepsis.  Shermer is founder and executive director of the Skeptics Society, a California based skeptic organization. He is also Editor in Chief of Skeptic and has written numerous books on a broad spectrum of subjects. In his last book he brings a positive message: humanity is morally doing better and better especially since the Age of Enlightenment. And, he claims, science is a important factor which drives this moral progress.

The interview has now appeared in Skepter in Dutch and I don’t think there will be a translation any time soon. Also because already quite some blogs,reviews and interviews with Shermer in English have appeared in the recent weeks on the web and there are not a lot of points in my Dutch article which haven’t been touched by others as well. Though there are still some issues I raised with Shermer which didn’t make the article and which I think are worth mentioning. Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 14 2015

The Proof in Bardens vs. Lanka – Measles in Court

The news is all over the web now: a German court has ordered virologist Stefan Lanka to pay the 100,000 euros he promised to anyone who could prove that the measles virus exists. German doctor David Bardens decided to take Lanka to court as he didn’t want to send Bardens the money. Bardens had sent Lanka a number of scientific articles which according to Bardens meet the challenge. I was curious to find out which articles Bardens thinks provide the evidence, eventually I’ve found the list in an article written by his adversary.

Masernvirus in Vero-Zellen

Measles virus.(Paramyxoviren). Source:Hans R. Gelderblom, Freya Kaulbars. Coloring: Andrea Schnartendorff/RKI

In April last year the court in Ravensburg appointed an expert to judge the evidence provided by  Bardens. The expert of choice was professor  Andreas Podbielski, director of the Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie, Virologie und Hygiene, university of Rostock. In his opinion the six articles in question prove the existence of the measles virus beyond any reasonable doubt.

The position of Lanka seems even more extreme than that of ‘regular’ anti-vaxxers. He denies that viruses can cause diseases and in his view the massive amount of scientific evidence published doesn’t meet the level of evidence he demands. As Steven Novella writes it isn’t that easy to give a direct, simple prove for the existence of viruses and to show that they cause the symptoms by which we have always identified the disease:

The existence of viruses is also largely determined through inference. Most viruses are too small to see even through a microscope, and they can’t be easily grown in a dish like bacteria. Viruses are identified through isolating antibodies to them, isolating viral proteins, demonstrating biochemical activity, demonstrating disease activity, and eventually taking electron micrographs of viral particles. Taken together this evidence can be absolutely definitive, but the denier can continue to argue that the evidence is all indirect or mistaken.

and

When you are dealing with something too small to see directly, or a process that is very slow or occurred in the past, we rarely have a single smoking gun that by itself establishes the reality of the phenomenon. Instead, the science is built upon a large body of evidence, direct, indirect, and inferential. In the case of measles, perhaps the ultimate test was the measles vaccine, which clearly works. If measles were a myth, then a vaccine would have been frustratingly impossible to develop.

It is no wonder that Bardens couldn’t suffice with sending Lanka a single scientific paper. According to the reports about the court case, he had sent six, but none of the reports mention which those are. Eventually I found the list in an article by Lanka in his own magazine Wissenschaftplus (pdf), of course accompanied by Lanka’s comments.

These are the articles:

  1. Enders JF, Peebles TC. Propagation in tissue cultures of cytopathogenic agents from patients with measles. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1954 Jun;86(2):277–286.
  2. Bech V, Magnus Pv. Studies on measles virus in monkey kidney tissue cultures. Acta Pathol Microbiol Scand. 1959; 42(1): 75–85
  3. Horikami SM, Moyer SA. Structure, Transcription, and Replication of Measles Virus. Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 1995; 191: 35–50.
  4. Nakai M, Imagawa DT. Electron microscopy of measels virus replication. J Virol. 1969 Feb; 3(2): 187–97.
  5. Lund GA, Tyrell, DL, Bradley RD, Scraba DG. The molecular length of measles virus RNA and the structural organization of measles nucleocapsids. J Gen Virol. 1984 Sep;65 (Pt 9):1535–42.
  6. Daikoku E, Morita C, Kohno T, Sano K. Analysis of Morphology and Infectivity of Measles Virus Particles. Bulletin of the Osaka Medical College. 2007; 53(2): 107–14.

In the court room Podbielski told the judge that in his opinion these six articles are good enough as proof, but that even more convincing articles could have been provided. Lanka has appealed, so the discussion about what (scientific) evidence actually is in this case will probably return in more detail in the higher court(s) as Lanka doesn’t seem to give up that easily.

NB the commentary of Lanka on those articles is in German , so not all visitors might be able to read that. Maybe I’ll give a summary in English later on.

Jan 25 2015

‘Iceman’ Wim Hof over the top

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Dutchman Wim Hof aka ‘The Iceman’ did it again. He adds another world record to his list of already 20-something achieved records by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in what is supposed to be the “fastest group ascending world’s highest volcano”. In 31 hours and 25 minutes the group of inexperienced climbers led by Hof reached the top of the highest mountain of Africa, almost 6.000 meters above sea level. Will this achievement silence Hof’s critics who said that it would be irresponsible to climb this fast because of the high risk of getting altitude sickness?

Mt. Kilimanjaro, view from Moshi ,Tanzania (via Wikimedia Commons)

Mt. Kilimanjaro, view from Moshi ,Tanzania (via Wikimedia Commons)

The performance of the group has gotten some media attention outside The Netherlands as well. The Mirror reports: “Iceman wins 26th world record as he runs up Mount Kilimanjaro in just 31 hours and 26 minutes“. But let’s have a closer look on what Hof actually achieved this time. The press release on his blog gives the following information:

‘Iceman’ Wim Hof started his climb to the summit (5895 meters) of Kilimanjaro on the 14th of January 2015 with a group of 18 trained people, without any actual climbing experience. He reached the summit of Gilmans point, on the highest mountain in Africa, within 31 hours and 25 minutes. The group walked up to Kibo hut in just shorts and bare torso.

A press release in Dutch which was spread via ANP Pers Support gives a bit more detail (translation by me):

Wim Hof and the group of pioneers started on January 14th at an altitude of 1,800m. From here the marched on to a camp at 3,700m. The stayed there during the night and went on early in the morning to break through to the top at 5,685m (Gilman’s Point). This tempo would normally not have been possible because of the acclimatisation time used to prevent altitude sickness.

But wait a second … Gilman’s Point? That’s not the actual summit of the Kilimanjaro, is it, Wim Hof?

twitter Wim Hof Uhuru Peak Gilman Point

[Me: “Hey, @Iceman_Hof, did you reach ‘only’ to Gilman’s Point, or even to the real summit, Uhuru Peak?”  – He: “@pjvanerp Uhuru Peak is ‘just’ at 1.5 hrs distance. Safety chosen above Ego. Without altitude sickness, 31 hrs. Top achievement by the group]

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