Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Comet Elenin redux

I'll bet you thought that earthquakes were caused by plate tectonics.  I'll bet you buy your 9th grade earth science teacher's explanation that as the Earth's crustal plates move around, they sometimes slip and release large quantities of energy, causing destructive events such as the one that occurred Sunday in eastern Turkey.

A lot you know.

Earthquakes, according to Mensur Omerbashich, are caused by the alignment of the Earth with the Comet Elenin and some other astronomical body.  He presents his theory, along with his data on the incidence of earthquakes above magnitude 6, in table form here.  My general opinion is that his argument should be completely convincing to anyone, as long as they have waffle batter where most of us have brains.

Here I thought that Comet Elenin had broken up and disintegrated, and I'd hoped that along with it the wingnuts who for some reason connected it with the Planet Nibiru, Mayan prophecy, the Rapture, and UFOs.  But I should know better by now.  It takes more than just some silly facts to dissuade these people.  I suspect that long after the shattered remnants of Elenin are once again winging their way into the cold darkness of outer space, they will still be blathering on about how it is about to "go into alignment" with the Sun and Orion's Belt, resulting in gravitational anomalies that will increase our likelihood of tripping over curbs.

It is, sadly, a waste of breath to explain to this bunch of clowns that if you have a system of nine planets (I'm still clinging desperately to the hope that the astronomers will give us back Pluto), a star, over a hundred moons, and probably thousands of asteroids, various combinations of them will always be "in alignment."  Couple that with the fact that the Earth has experienced 181 earthquakes above magnitude 6 thus far in 2011, and I could have found a nonexistent pattern without even breaking a sweat.  This might well explain Omerbashich's whine that his "scientific paper" has not received any attention from "mainstream scientists," who continue to "ignore this valuable warning tool."

None of this, however, is likely to make any difference to people who've already decided that a tiny, broken-up chunk of ice hurtling away from us in far-off space has something to do with what happens here on Earth.  It's all well and good for me to babble on, day after day, about causation/correlation issues, confirmation bias, and so on, but if you aren't willing to examine your favorite theory's assumptions -- whether it's astrology, homeopathy, astral projection, flower essences, or Comet Elenin -- none of it will make the slightest difference.

To quote Thomas Paine, "Arguing with someone who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead."

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