Thread: Pseudo-Science
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Old 01-04-2002, 12:21 AM   #1
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Default Pseudo-Science


"Cosmos", by Carl Sagan
A Critique by SpiderMBA

Note: Professor Sagan was exactly quoted, or paraphrased to conserve time, space, and words. The intent and context were preserved as best this reviewer knows how. He often contradicted himself in addition to enunciating bad science, as is here documented. (My comments follow parenthetically.)

Page 4: "In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. (In a human perspective, most cosmic concerns seem insignificant, even foolish, and certainly expensive to pursue.)
P5: "Every star may be a sun to someone." And "There are a hundred billion galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars." (On P 270, he says, "There may be a million worlds . . ." On P 301, he calculates the number of planets in the Milky Galaxy with technical civilization to be "~10" and it "might be as small as 1".)
P 8: "The laws of nature are the same throughout the Cosmos. We are now two million light years from home." (The first is an untestable assumption. The second, well, it just contradicts all that "indigenous peoples" stuff of anthropology. And I feel very much at home right here.)
P 11: "On some [worlds], intelligent life may have evolved, reworking the planetary surface in some massive engineering enterprise." (But here we can't even patch the hole in our ozone layer, or divert a hurricane.)
P 12: "Human beings, born ultimately of the stars and now for a while inhabiting a world called Earth, have begun their long voyage home." (A scant 2,000,000 light years away. See also P 289: Voyager would take "tens of thousands of years" to go to the nearest star.)
P 18: "Cosmos" is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things." (From P 57 of "Pale Blue Dot", by Carl Sagan: There is "much poor planning" in the universe. From P 295 of PBD: "Our world does not seem to have been sculpted by a master craftsman." Which is it? Deeply interconnected, or poorly planned? Surely those connotations are at odds.)
P 20: "Intellectual capacity is no guarantee against being dead wrong." (We agree. There is, however, widespread hubris exhibited by "intellectuals", such as Carl Sagan. Academia is an extremely liberal crowd.)
P 27: "The environment selects those varieties (of plants and animals) which are, by accident, better suited for survival." (No evolutionist I ever spoke to said that selection operates "by accident". They do headstands to avoid the dread word "random", a synonym for "accident".)
P 29: "Each plant and animal is exquisitely made; should not a supremely competent Designer have been able to make the intended variety from the start? The fossil record implies trial and error...." (Where to begin? "Exquisitely made" is the opposite of "accident", on P 27, and "much poor planning" in PBD, P 57. Moreover, adaptability seems to be a brilliant aspect of our creation. It allows life to survive some pretty drastic changes in their surroundings. Finally, if man is so much more "evolved" than everything below him, why do all the 'inferior' life forms live on, and in far greater abundance than our own numbers?)
P 31: "Since mutations are random nucleotide changes, most of them are harmful or lethal, coding into existence nonfunctional enzymes." (Enzymes are complex biological compounds which promote a chemical reaction. If they are "nonfunctional", they are not enzymes. Which begs the question, since many if not most enzymes are too complex for our best organic chemists to synthesize, how did they "happen" by "accident" ? It is statistically impossible.)
P 32: "Oxygen tends to make organic molecules fall to pieces. It is fundamentally a poison for unprotected organic matter." (Water too causes degradation [via hydrolysis] of organic molecules. Never fear, however. Evolution conquers all, as it did in the primordial soup. And now the Easter Bunny has something for you.)
P 33: "What a marvelous cooperative arrangement - plants and animals each inhaling each other's exhalations...." (Just another "accident"? Evidence of "much poor planning"? How would Professor Sagan explain the "evolution" of this "marvelous cooperative arrangement"? Plants knew animals needed their exhalations? Or the converse?)
P 35: "We do not yet know how to assemble alternative sequences of nucleotides to make alternative kinds of human beings. . . . Mutations are rare." (Chemists cannot begin to synthesize the very nucleotides that "happened" by "accident" from a "rare" mutational progression. Nucleotides are 5,000,000,000 base pairs in length in human DNA. The probability of arriving at human DNA in a random process is far less than one chance in 4 (base pairs) to the 5,000,000,000. In comparison, an event with odds of one in 10 exp 50, statistically defined as "impossible", would be a foregone conclusion.)
P 93: "Astronomical spectroscopy is an almost magical technique. It amazes me still." (Refer to P 57 of PBD: Sagan said there is "much poor planning" in the universe, although he did not say where, and how HE would have done it differently. He did, however, "worry about people who aspire to be god-like".)
P 103: "The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished." (In a "cosmic perspective", his "human concern seems insignificant, even petty". These are his own words, not mine. I believe that elitists such as Professor Sagan, with their eyes on the stars, too often lose sight of humans, and unborn babies, and the need to have standing armies to guard against the many tyrants worldwide. )
P 120: "I found myself making very conservative recommendations on the fate of a billion dollar mission {Viking 1}. (The only "conservative" recommendation possible for billion dollar space pictures is this - "DON'T !". From PBD, P 269: "What fraction of the GNP for space is too much. I'd like the same thing done for 'defense' ". When SHOULD we spend money for defense? When the missles start to fly? Perhaps we shouldn't invest in fire trucks until there's a fire. If $40 million for Ken Starr is "too much", then surely $1 billion for Viking 1 is also "too much".)
P 121: (Voyager 2 showed that) "Mars was a place." (For $265 million, you get such wisdom. And pictures of rocks too. Don't forget those.)
Ibid : "Where did the rocks come from? What are the rocks made of? Why is the sky pink?"
(If the first $265 million didn't answer those questions, shall we ante up another $265 million?)
P 123: "The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is subject to frequent and unpredictable budget cuts. Only rarely are there unanticipated budget increases." (Perhaps not everyone shares his enthusiasm for why the Martian sky is pink. Then too Galileo knew that "Mars was a place." And for much less money. A man's take home pay too is subject to frequent and unpredictable cuts.)
P 124: "There are limits to what we can do." (PBD, Page 29: "We will spread through the Milky Way.")
P 125: "We can be fooled." (NOOOOOOO ! Scientists? Fooled?)
P 126: "If there is life on Mars, where are the dead bodies? No organic molecules could be found . . .nothing of the stuff of life on Earth." . . . "[Carbon] makes marvelously complex molecules, good for life. Water makes an ideal solvent for organic chemistry to work in and stays liquid over a wide range of temperatures." (P 57 of PBD: There is "evidence of much poor planning in the universe", said Professor Sagan. "Darwin's Black Box" , by Michael J. Behe, Biochemist: "The presence of water strongly inhibits amino acids from forming proteins." P 169)
P 127: "...our universe permits the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we." ("Permits", he said. "Permits" such intricacy. How positively random and accidental. Evidence of "much poor planning", P 57, PBD.)
P 128: "Hal Morowitz has calculated what it would cost to put together the correct molecular constituents that make up a human being. The answer turns out to be about ten million dollars." (So you and I are "ten million dollar" "accidents", of "random mutations". The Holy Bible sounds much more accurate to me: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made.")
P 130: "What shall we do with Mars? If there is life on Mars, it belongs to the Martians." (P 130: "No organic molecules could be found. No simple hydrocarbons." How on earth could a scientist be discussing "Martians" in this day and age?)
P 134: (To terraform Mars) "we would build canals." (With bulldozers? Powered by internal combustion engines? And bring the water from earth? P 124: "There are limits to what we can do." P 125: "We can be fooled." NOOOOO ! Who'd believe it?)
P 135: "Human beings have a demonstrated talent for self-deception when their emotions are stirred, and there are few notions more stirring than the idea of a neighboring planet inhabited by intelligent beings." (Little stirs the emotions more than MONEY. TAX MONEY in particular.)
P 138: (RE: Voyager 2) "If some component fails, others will take over its responsibilities." (PBD, Page 96: A hundred million dollar satellite failed because someone forgot to "oil the gears". What will "take over the responsibilities" of missing oil? In August, 1999, the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter probe crashed into Mars because the brilliant scientists confused Newton meters with foot pounds in their instructions. What took over "its responsibilities"? The Hubble Space Telescope was deployed with a lens ground to the incorrect focal length. What took over its "responsibilities"? Spacemen did, with a new gizmo they later installed. In November, 1999, the third of its four gyroscopes failed, sending it into hibernation. No "responsibility take over " here either. The same week, Deep Space 1 also went into hibernation. In March 1999, an $80 million astronomy satellite leaked so much fuel it became useless. No "responsibility take over" in any of these cases.)
P 162: "The sunshine on Titan [a moon of Saturn] is only 1 percent of what we are accustomed to. Life is merely possible. There is no strong evidence either for or against life on Titan." (They must be really hairy buggers, though, with little need for breathing or eating.)
P 185: "Even today there are scientists opposed to the popularization of science." (But there are many many scientists opposed to the popularization of faith, and the hope and morality it brings.)
P 193: "Understanding where we live [in the Cosmos] is an essential precondition for improving the neighborhood. (P 124: "There are limits to what we can do.") "Knowing what other neighborhoods are like also helps." (How? And how did Professor Sagan propose to "improve the neighborhood". I mean other than colonizing Mars and moons, as if that constituted an "improvement"?)
Ibid: We are ready at last to set sail for the stars." (P 289: "The fastest object ever launched by the human species [Voyager] will take tens of thousands of years to go to the nearest star.")
P 197: "the lifetime of the human species - a few million years . . ." ("We can be fooled.")
P 200: "Nothing in physics prevents you from traveling as close to the speed of light as you like." (Nothing like taking off from the earth with a trillion tons of fuel and oxygen. Nothing like hitting a rock at one-half light speed. Nothing like bringing along LOTS of food. Unbridgeable chasms stand between the theoretical and the realizable.)
P 203: Today we have preliminary designs for ships to take people to the stars. (Project) Orion was designed to utilize explosions of hydrogen bombs against an internal plate . . ." (Made of what? YOU get inside and set off the H bomb.)
Ibid: "Orion and Daedalius might travel at 10 percent the speed of light. A trip to Alpha Centauri would then take 43 years." (Starlight Express ! Who wants to go?)
P 206: "If we wished we could build Orion now." (Sorry, Carl. Disneyland already has one.)
P 207: "When we get home (after 30,000 Earth years), few of our friends would be left to greet us." (A little astronomer "humor", folks.)
P 210: "Perhaps in another century or two . . . we will have the will and the resources and the technical knowledge to go to the stars." (But you said "we could build Orion now".P 206. Is such inconsistency "scientific"?)
P 212: "From the point of view of a star, a human being is a tiny flash..." (Do stars really see THAT well?)
P 241: "A star twenty times the mass of the Sun will shrink . . . slip through a self-generated crack in the space-time continuum and vanish from our universe." (You can't fool a scientist.)
P 243: "Our ancestors worshiped the Sun, and they were far from foolish." (Except for theologians, militarists, nationalists, and other "chauvinists".)
Ibid: "If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and stars?" (PBD, Page 32: "We can recognize here a shortcoming [that 70% of people surveyed think the sun is alive]".)
P 250: "That we live in a universe which permits life is remarkable." (P 5: "Every star may be a sun to someone." The "remarkable" is profoundly mundane, in Sagan's inconsistent point of view.)
P 257: "In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. We must, of course ask next where God comes from. And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and decide that the origin of the universe is an unanswerable question." (Because THEN scientists subsidized scientists would be out of a job. And we couldn't have that, could we? More precisely, not all questions are within the realm of science to answer. Who would be so foolish to suggest otherwise? Where is it written that all things are scientifically explicable?)
P 270: "There may be a million worlds in the Milky Way Galaxy alone that at this moment are inhabited by beings very different, and far more advanced." (Page 301: Sagan develops that number with the Drake Equation to be N~10, and "as small as 1".)
Ibid: "Of those million worlds inhabited by advanced intelligences . . ." (One, ten, a million. What are 5 or 6 orders of magnitude among friends and fellow scientists?)
P 273: "The systematic murder of such intelligent creatures (as whales) is monstrous." (Not a whisper of the monstrosity of, say, partial birth abortion.)
P 276: "The information in the nucleus of our cells would fill a thousand volumes." ("Evidence of much poor planning", P 57, PBD?)

P 278: "The information content of the human brain would fill some twenty million volumes."
(This is more "evidence of much poor planning"? An "accident" perhaps? "Random"? Did cavemen "need" such mental capacity for it to "evolve"? Clearly they did not. So why do we have it?)
P 284 "But we are all of us - us whales, us apes, us people - too closely related. As long as our inquiries are limited to one or two evolutionary lines on a single planet, we will remain forever ignorant of the possible range and brilliance of other intelligences and other civilizations."
(Sagan engages in the personification of whales and apes as "us". He laments our "close relationship" to animals who live alongside us but with which we cannot communicate very effectively. Ask a whale to share its intelligence with you some time. Why then should we expect even more distant intelligences to communicate with and help us? It is a very dangerous and completely speculative supposition. )
P 286: "The mindless contents of commercial television . . ." (I saw Sagan many times on commercial television. Were his own "commercial television" programs "mindless"? What inconsistency - what "chauvinism".)
P 287: "...we can only hope that...the nearest civilization...finds the 'Checkers' speech of then Vice-President Richard M. Nixon . . . incomprehensible." (Nixon and Reagan. Sagan was a typical liberal, lamenting the lack of "tolerance" and "open-mindedness" in "right wing religious extremists", but never in leftists like himself. The left sees its own intolerance as pure objectivity.)
P 289: "The fastest object (Voyager) ever launched by the human species will take tens of thousands of years to go to the nearest stars." (P 12: "Human beings have begun their long voyage home" to the stars. And I DO mean LONG !)

P 300: "...1 percent of planets on which life arises eventually produce a technical civilization..."
(The "mindless contents of commercial television" is better than such a groundless, mindless comment masquerading as science.)
P 301: (The Drake equation produces )N~10 technical civilizations in the Milky Way today. "The number might even be as small as 1."
(Evenly distributed across the Milky Way, the nearest technical civilization [of 10] to our own is a scant 10,000 light years. Send a message! Say "Hi". They'll get it. In 10,000 years. maybe.)
P 302: "These estimates are stirring." (And to think, NASA gets its funding cut.)
"If there are millions of civilizations distributed more or less randomly throughout the Galaxy, the distance to the nearest is about two hundred light-years." (From "N ~10" and "as small as 1", on Page 270, Sagan leaps to "millions of civilizations".)
Ibid: "We have made about one-tenth of one percent of the required effort (of our radio search)."
(In other words: MORE TAX DOLLARS, PLEASE! "N ~ 10". Radiocommunications is virtually impossible at such distances as are found 98% of the stars in the Milky Way alone. Moreover you could always leave it to scientists to find some "new" method on which to pin their preposterously speculative hopes, in order to "courageously" wring out some more tax monies.)
P 307: "We must be the most backward technical society in the Galaxy." ("Us apes. Us whales. Us sun and star worshipers". I don't think so. I think N, the number of planets with life is precisely 1 - earth.)
P 308: "The re-engineering of a planet will take time." (Whatever became of "There are limits to what we can do", P 124? The liberal dumbing down of public education in America has not hastened the process of "re-engineering" anything, much less "a planet".)
P 311: "If the message [from another civilization in space] contains valuable information, the consequences will be stunning." (Logically: If we get something valuable, we have something valuable. Getting past the "IF" is the hard part.)

Ibid: "Understanding the message will be the easiest part of the problem. Convincing Congress... to fund SETI is the hard part." (My sympathies to the poor brave scientists.)
P 314: (SETI) "...even a failure is success.... If we were to succeed, the history of our species and our planet would be changed forever." (Here is a message, from 1,000 light years away: 1-3-5-7-11-13-17-19-23.......What changes forever as a result of it? What, precisely?)
P 323 (Book by LF Richardson) "The more people killed in a war, the less likely it was to occur, and the longer before you would witness it." (Q.E.D. Let's have the most deadly military arsenal on earth, thus postponing war indefinitely. Nations don't start a war with a people who will obliterate them.)
P 331: "Neuropsychologist James W Prescott found that . . . where infants are physically punished, there tends to be slavery, frequent killing, torturing and mutilation of enemies, a devotion to inferiority of women, and a belief in one or more supernatural beings who intervene in daily life." (Although definitions of "infants" and "punishment" are elusive, I have punished my young children for misbehaving, as I think do most other Americans. I have never known or seen slavery, killing, torturing, mutilation, or devotion to female inferiority associated here with religious beliefs. What scientific condescension and false accusation.)
P 332: "If Prescott is right, child abuse and severe sexual repression [the maintenance of celibacy among unmarried teens is cited] are crimes against humanity." (Don't worry about pregnancy, diseases like AIDS, or emotional trauma, particularly for young women, and traditional morality, born of centuries of wisdom. All discipline must be "abuse". This is contemporary liberalism at its silliest.)
Ibid: "The old exhortations to nationalist fervor and jingoist pride have begun to lose their appeal." (Except perhaps in "science".)
Ibid: "A new consciousness is developing which recognizes that we are one species."
(On P 284, Sagan said: "We are too closely related." Which is it, "one species", or "too closely related"?)
Ibid: "Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition." (Translation: Christians are fools.)
P 333 "The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true." (When the Scripture, "The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God" was written, mankind saw stars as mere dots. Even then ancient men recognized the obvious Glory of the heavens. How much greater is that unexpected Glory which has only been revealed in this century with complex and modern equipment - a previously unexpected, unknowable Glory which Professor Sagan himself acknowledges repeatedly.)

P 338: "Sex was invented." (By whom? A clever "accident" of "random" gene mutation, was it not? Male and female forms, simultaneous and complimentary, along with binocular color vision, a hundred million gigabyte brain, Fourier analyzing ears, impossibly complex enzymes . . .)

P 339: "Think of the negative connotations of words like alien or outlandish." (Or Nixon. Or Reagan. Or Military. )
Ibid:"Rich nation states will have to share their wealth with poor ones." (Shall we give them our NASA budget? What part of Sagan's wealth did he share with "poor ones"? Is there the first notation in any of his books that any proceeds will be shared with the "poor ones"?)
P 342: "Interests vested in preparations for war can relatively easily be reinvested in the exploration of the Cosmos." (Tell that to North Korea, and Iraq, and Iran, and Libya, and Russia and . . .)
P 345: "The cost of major ventures into space . . . is so large that [we must make] dramatic progress in nuclear and 'conventional' disarmament." (Sagan seems always to have conveniently ignored the far greater social spending part of our budget. His one stringed fiddle could play only the blues of "Excess Military Spending", and no other tune.)
Ibid: "Even then, there are probably more pressing needs on earth [than space exploration]".
(But enough about the "more pressing needs". Back to what he was saying about space research and more government funding . . .. And by the way, have you bought my latest book? What more "pressing need" could there be than more pretty pictures from space, which GREATLY enrich ME?)
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