Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Dog Ate Richard Hoagland's Phobos Homework - UPDATED

Only such a tired old explanation would be a sufficiently corny excuse for RCH's spectacular failure to come up with what he promised on Phobos. This was a display of vintage Hoagland. Breathless excitement on the overnight radio. Promises that we're about to have our socks knocked off. Then... extremely unconvincing evidence.

The European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft encountered Phobos, the larger of Mars's two moons, on March 5th, coming within 67 kM of the "big potato" and pinging it with radar to examine its mysterious interior. In a second encounter, March 7th, the HRSC (High-res Stereo Camera) was turned on and beamed back a series of shots varying from 9 metres/pixel to as little as 4.4 m/px.

Richard Hoagland got MIGHTY excited about this, sensing an opportunity for self-promotion. In the last hour of a 4-hour marathon on the Coast to Coast AM radio show on 4th/5th March he stated that Phobos was an artificial satellite, constructed by Martians. He was confident that the Mars Express encounter would show this -- and he expressed the hope that ESA would give him the goods without delay, unlike NASA which, of course, always holds back new planetary data while they airbrush out evidence of extraterrestrials. Within days of the flyby he was back on the radio demanding to know where the hell the images were and darkly hinting that it looked like ESA was up to NASA's airbrushing tricks. On March 15th (by no means an unreasonable delay for processing) the first images were released[1], and RCH was on C2C-AM that very night doing a "toldya!" routine and howling that a cover-up was going on. He was so excited you could practically see him hopping from one foot to the other. Early the following morning he posted this on his Facebook page:

Mar 16 12:36a
For those who listened to "Coast to Coast AM" last evening (March 15), you heard me announce that "the latest Mars Express images of the inner Martian moon, Phobos, have now CONFIRMED -- after application of extensive 'noise-reduction algorithms' -- the existence of Phobos as 'an ancient, ARTIFICIAL Martian Moon!'" Because of the inexplicable "week-long ESA delay" in this imaging release process, and the obvious attempt we have now discovered to deliberately CONCEAL what's actually on these images with so-called "white noise" we have decided to cancel our appearance at the "AlienEvent" Conference, March 20th -- and, instead, post our detailed Phobos imaging analysis on Enterprise for free. Stay tuned :)

RCH was accusing ESA of receiving good clear imagery and then deliberately degrading it with noise. Only he, Richard Hoagland, had the skills necessary to remove the "noise" and reveal the truth. Yes, we were about to get our socks knocked off yet again!

There followed 20 days of nothing during which the fans of his FB page were apparently driven half crazy waiting for their socks to be knocked off. RCH pleaded for more time, explaining that "the actual writing is fairly simple. It's the citations that take time." During this period, pumping his followers to the max, he wrote that his revelations were worth waiting for because they would "change everything you thought you knew." He appeared briefly on C2C-AM 4th/5th April proclaiming that the cat was out of the bag, and "disclosure" was imminent (as we've heard countless times from many C2C guests.) In the morning what he called his "paper" (in reality not much more than a blog) finally appeared on his web site[2].

It does have a terrific image at the head of the page, and if Hoagland created it he deserves all credit.** But as evidence of what he says it's evidence of, it's a decisive FAIL.

Richard Hoagland loves to pretend that he's a scientist, and that his "investigations" are scientific. But neither is true, as we know. If this were science, he would have first presented the ESA images as released, with the superimposed artificial noise. Then he would have shown the result of his noise-reduction algorithms, proving that important detail had been masked by the noise. Then he would have detailed very precisely what the noise reduction algorithms were and the exact steps he took to apply them, so that other workers could attempt to repeat the process. In fact, the web page does none of those things. It's just hot air. The "evidence" in the images reduces to the remarkable pattern of grooves that cover this small moon. They're very interesting, certainly, indeed enigmatic, but they've been known since the first orbital images by Mariner 9 in 1971. Hoagland wrote that they intersect at such precise right-angles that they could not be natural. This is what scientists call poppycock.[3]

In typical fashion, Hoagland seized upon some data and pretended that it supports his position when in fact it does not. He made much of "the astonishingly 'artificial' ... nature of the interior Phobos' radar scans [sic]". (the original version of the page had an incredible assortment of typos, considering he composed it over a 20-day period.) However, as the preliminary report of the MARSIS radar team[4] makes clear, the strong peak is from the surface of Phobos, not the interior.

As for those citations Hoagland wrote about, that took so much of his time composing this sadly inadequate piece, how many were there, in the end? Zero. Perhaps the dog ate that part.

[1] ESA Phobos images
[2] Hoagland web page
[3] Mars Express data has led to better maps of the groove "families" (the top map is the best actual data, the lower one is based on a theoretical model.) But the idea that this is evidence of artificiality is laughable.
[4] ESA radar blog

** It turns out that Hoagland did not create the image. He took it from a space art gallery unattributed. He also grievously annoyed artist Walter Myers by embedding Myers' copyrighted artwork further down the page without permission. Myers wrote that he did not want his work associated with Hoagland's pseudo-science.

UPDATE: Hoagland stone-walled all attempts by Walter Myers to get in touch with him about the copyright problem. However, his ISP, Bluehost, itself removed the image on 10th April when Myers filed a complaint with them. It is now replaced by public domain art. Richard Hoagland should be ashamed.

UPDATE 2: Part II was self-published on 14th April, and it did in fact include Before/After images showing the effect of so-called noise reduction. The results, in Hoagland's usual breathless and unreadable style, were so unconvincing as to be laughable. His claim to have revealed detail that ESA intended to keep hidden simply cannot stand.

Even some of his loyal supporters on FB choked on his assertion that "You can almost count the rivits [sic]."

In an astounding demonstration of his contempt for copyright law, Hoagland once again posted a prominent piece of copyright-protected artwork, this time the work of Don Davis. He also placed watermarks on some ESA images that appeared to claim copyright by Enterprise Mission. Whether by accident or intention, the (C) symbol actually appeared as (@). FAIL.