Bad Astronomy

Joe Rogan, me (and Penn), and the Moon Hoax: Take III

Update (Feb. 27): a couple of more blogs have mentioned the debate, so I added ‘em at the end.

So you know I debunk people who think that NASA faked the Apollo Moon landings. That’s right there on my left sidebar.

And if you read this blog, you know I was on Penn Jillette’s radio show a few weeks ago debating Joe Rogan (yeah, the “Fear Factor” guy) about the Moon hoax. If you don’t know this, then please read Part I of this saga, and then of course Part II.


So here’s Part III.

You can download the podcast of this from Penn’s Radio Free FM website (or you can get a direct download of the mp3, or go to a web page where it is embedded).


Give it a listen. But here’s my take.

After spanking Joe in the first session :-), we decided to do another one to move on to other ideas about the conspiracy theory. Basically, in the first show Joe started off with his big claims that the landings may have been faked. So this time we started with me saying why I thought it was real. I talked about the rocks brought back, and Joe stopped me with a story about Werner von Braun going to Antarctica, supposedly to collect lunar meteorites to pass off as Moon rocks.


Things basically ran off the rails right then. I wasn’t familiar with the story (I had heard von Braun went, but not any details). I was able to debunk this story quickly enough– it doesn’t make any sense to send von Braun to Antarctica to collect rocks. Why send your chief rocket scientist to collect rocks?

But Joe started going off about von Braun being a Nazi (which is not necessarily true– he worked for the Nazis, but we don’t know he was a Nazi himself). I was trying to remain rational, and I called Joe on his logical fallacy – poisoning the well – but he’s very aggressive, and was rattling stuff off quickly enough that he was able to throw me off a bit.


The rest of the show is like that; Joe made some claims, I generally had answers but my timing was thrown off by his manner, which was very different than in the first show. I shouldn’t have let that get to me, but I did.

I’ve received a lot of email from folks who have listened to the podcast and most people were supportive of my performance, though there have been a couple of people who have taken me to task for not being better prepared. I was thinking the same thing after the interview itself, but now, listening to it again, I don’t feel so badly anymore. I think I did pretty well. I do have an advantage over Joe – I’m right, after all! – but he has a lot more rhetorical practice, of course. He’s a standup comic, and an actor, and a TV show host and is a lot more aggressive than I am. On radio, that makes up pretty well for being wrong!


A lot of the email I’ve received have had bad things to say about the way Joe acted on the radio. I can see where they’re coming from. He was a lot more aggressive than in the first show, interrupted me a lot more, and he was bringing up stuff too quickly for me to be able to answer, and when I did try to answer he stepped on what I was saying. That’s aggravating, but that’s radio. Which brings up a point.


As a debate, I think I was able to handle most of what he was dishing out – not all, but most. But this wasn’t a debate, it was a radio show, and so his aggressive manner and rapid-fire attack makes it sound like he has more going for him than he really does. When you really look at the evidence he brought up, it’s all circumstantial at best. It sounds good on radio, but it’s really mostly empty air. As I’ve said for years, it’s easy to bring up a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense, but it takes time to show why it’s wrong. On a radio, there simply isn’t that kind of time. That’s the reason I prefer not to debate stuff like this on the radio or on TV. You can be right, but still look like the other guy owned you. It’s not an argument that will be won or lost on the evidence. If it were, the Hoax folks would lose before they step foot in the studio.


I could go on and on about the details of the show. But you can listen for yourself. Listening to it again, I can see where I could have made a better point, or taken the discussion in a different direction, or nailed Joe due to his fallacious reasoning and moving of the goalposts. Maybe next time I will – one thing that irritates me about these conspiracy theories is the tendency to get bogged down in details. But it generally pays to take a step back and look at the overview, see what the logical conclusion is to any given claim. If we do a Part III– and honestly, I hope we do (Penn, you reading this?) – maybe I’ll be able to do that.

If you’re curious about what others have to say about this, there are several discussions of the “debate” on the web:

  • James Randi’s bulletin board
  • There’s a thoughtful discussion going on at the Bad Astronomy/Universe Today bulletin board
  • New!

  • George Hrab, a very totally cool d00d, gives me my props.
  • New!

  • The bulletin board has a short thread.
  • Joe Rogan’s bulletin board WARNING: really really REALLY NSFW
  • The Straight Dope Message Board
  • Church of the Everlasting Groove
  • Forward Thoughts
  • Walsfeo
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