Bad Astronomy

Mooning St. Louis, denouement

OK, so the “debate” with Moon Hoax conspiracist Bart Sibrel has come and gone. Did it go as I expected? Yes and no.

The unexpected was that Michael Shermer was on as well. That was a pleasant surprise, certainly! Michael is a noted skeptic and speaker, and I’ve known him for years. Had I know he was going to be on, I would have called him beforehand and talked it over a bit. It’s a moot point, since the radio producer didn’t tell me.

The expected was Sibrel himself. In many ways, Sibrel hasn’t changed much in the years since I’ve sparred with him. He still uses the same tired arguments, easily shown to be wrong. He claims over and over again that they are valid, even though in many cases it’s trivially easy to show he’s wrong. He harped on non-parallel shadows, saying they couldn’t be produced by sunlight. Really?

Here’s a picture I took in Florida a few years back. The Sun is the only source of light. Note that the tree on the left has its shadow pointing down and to the left, while the tree on the right (just a few feet away) has its shadow pointing to the right. Tadaaa! Of course, the shadows really are parallel, they just appear to diverge. This is simply perspective, the same thing (as I said on the radio) that makes railroad tracks appear to converge in the distance. Note that Sibrel mentioned that objects on the Moon just a few feet apart had shadows going in different directions.

As I’ve pointed out before, a professional photographer should understand perspective. Why doesn’t Sibrel?

The rest of his argument are just as silly. Radiation, the rocket, gravity, history, politics– he gets them all wrong. Go amuse yourself for a while on the Clavius website, which dismantles all of Sibrel’s claims.

The question I ask myself is, was it worth it? Going on the radio and “debating” such ridiculous crap?

Well, the theme for tonight is ambivalence, so the answer is yes and no. Maybe some people in St. Louis might have been swayed without a counterpoint (the DJs said as much). Since Sibrel was invited on first (and I didn’t know Michael was going to be on), it made sense for me to debate him.

However, his arguments are so very, very tiresome. He was more aggressive than usual; though to be honest I went on the attack early on. I usually am more laid back, but knowing Michael I left that to him. Michael is very smart, well-read, and experienced in skeptical thinking (more so in all three categories than I am), but I also knew that I knew Sibrel’s detailed points better. Given time, I could have dismantled every single one, piece by piece. I decided in this case to really pounce on his arguments, and not let him get away with anything. I could tell that really irritated him. Fine by me: he’s caused enough grief that a little coming back is, if I may, karmic retribution. I tried not to attack him, though I had to bite my tongue several times. Debunking bilge like his can be very bad for the blood pressure.

So really, I suppose it was good practice. Being on the radio like this means thinking on your feet (well, I was sitting, so thinking on my butt) and being able to keep track of three different things at once… as well as holding your tongue while the other guy says incredibly wrong things.

So I’ll have to rate this one as a wash: it had both its good and bad points. As I did before, I’ll simply have to weigh each invitation like this one individually, judging it on its own merits. But I think it’ll be a while before I do it again.