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.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The flying saucers of Iran

I am fortunate, for a variety of reasons, to be a teacher.  I am in the middle of my 25th year in the profession, and still (most days) look forward to going to work.  In large part, this is due to the enthusiasm of my students.

Given that I teach two AP-level science classes and various science electives (including Critical Thinking), most of my students know about my passion for skepticism, and my general disdain for ridiculous, counterfactual (or counterlogical) claims.  I'm happy to report that the majority of them share my views with regards to irrationality, and like me, find such beliefs simultaneously maddening and hilarious.  They have been some of my best advance scouts, bringing in stories on a regular basis that I probably would not otherwise have found.

Just yesterday, one of the students in my AP Biology class came in, obviously excited.  "Wait till you hear this one," he said.  "This needs to be picked up by Worldwide Wacko Watch."  He then reminded me of the capture last month by Iranians of the RQ-170 drone aircraft, one of the high-tech "flying wings" that are used to perform unmanned surveillance missions.  "Do you know how they managed to do that?" he asked me.

To say I'm not knowledgeable about aircraft and military technology is an understatement, so I merely said, "No."

He responded, with barely-contained laughter, "Using a flying saucer."

Upon investigation, I found that Mehran Tavakoli Keshe, an Iranian engineer, has claimed to be the mastermind behind the downing of the drone.  Although the US has yet to confirm that it was the RQ-170 that was captured, Keshe has recently released a photograph showing either the captured drone or else a model (it's not clear which they're claiming it is).  He then went on to crow that the capture had not been done using any kind of conventional technology, but had been accomplished using "field forces generated by a flying saucer... (harnessing) a fusion reactor that manipulates dark matter, regular matter, and antimatter.'

Wow, dude.  You really should have stopped while you were ahead.  You almost had us believing you, there, when you showed us the photograph.  But you really expect us to buy that you Iranians have a flying saucer when you can't even seem to manage to build a conventional nuclear reactor that works?  And the whole thing about "field forces" (we presume he means "force fields") and fusion reactors and so on is clearly the product of someone who has spent too many hours watching Battlestar Galactica.  Given that physicists haven't even been able to demonstrate that dark matter exists -- if it does, it seems not to interact with regular matter much at all -- I am at a loss to explain how you could have a spaceship whose engine runs on it.

What's next?  A spaceship that runs on fairy dust and rainbows?

Even though Keshe obviously has a screw loose, his heart seems to be in the right place with respect to aggression.

"We invite the US government and other nations to enter into negotiation with the Foundation and The Iranian government,” he posted on the Keshe Foundation's online forum, “for disclosure of the full space technology to all nations simultaneously that there shall be no more war race, but a pace [sic] race to join and conquer the space and not each others little peace of lands so called nations, this offer stands and is extended to all nations irrespective of their colour, race and religion."

Which I have to admit is pretty friendly, coming from a spokesperson from a government that routinely calls for the United States to be annihilated.

In any case, I think the more likely explanation for the downing of the drone was proposed by Wired magazine writers Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman (here) -- that the Iranians simply jammed the drone's navigation systems.  That doesn't have the cachet, however, of "we locked onto your drone with our tractor beam, which is powered by dark matter and antimatter.  And dilithium crystals."

Still, nothing I can say can beat the response from George Little, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, who said, "We have no comment on this individual's claims -- but tell him the Secretary wants his light saber back."


  1. As an Engineer, it's a bit disconcerting to have an individual who shares my title completely abandon the logic, science, and deductive reasoning that must have been apparent in his tutelage... and instead spew woo-woo mind-vomit. He, in just a few words, managed to paint a very damaging picture of the quality of Iran's technical programs. (The difficulty of the technical program should elevate your base intelligence by proxy). As you stated, it's not that he believes it, it's that he thinks we would.

    Then again, Rick Perry just made the statement that if he had his druthers, we would re-occupy Iraq because he fears that Iran will invade Iraq at "literally the speed of light."

    My kingdom for an educated man that acts like one.

    *Hands Gordon the keys to the kingdom*

  2. and yes, my kingdom is Neverland Ranch. Watch out for tiger poo when you're getting on the ferris wheel.

  3. Wow... such responsibility... *looks around for someone else to take the keys*