In this corner, science…

By Phil Plait | March 28, 2005 9:57 am

On Wednesday, March 30, a scientist and friend of mine, David Morrison, will “debate” one James McCanney, who is neither a scientist nor a friend of mine. The topic will be the claims of Immanuel Velikovsky, and the “debate” will air on the Coast to Coast AM radio show.

Morrison is an expert in astrobiology and many other fields of astronomy, and is well-known and respected in the scientific community. McCanney, on the other hand, believes in so many impossible things he could give the Queen of Hearts a run for her money.

I talk all about this guy on my web page debunking his claims. Comets are hot, comets are as big as planets, the Sun has nuclear fusion on its surface and not in its core, and lots of other silliness.

McCanney is a believer in a modified version of Velikovsky’s claims, which are already so silly that modifying them won’t help (in much the same way as taking 500 mg of Vitamin C won’t cure a decapitation). I wrote a chapter in my book about V’s theories, and could easily have written a whole book on just his terrible astronomy claims. I can’t remember a single thing V said in his book “Worlds in Collision” that was astronomically correct. It’s an astonishing collection of rampant wrongness. For more info, see here, or here, or here.

McCanney is similar, in that his claims not only don’t make sense, but are trivially shown to be wrong by using math and physics you should learn in high school. Go ahead and read my link about him and you’ll get the picture.

I’m not sure I can hear the whole “debate” (in quotations because it’s nearly impossible to debate anti-scientists like McCanney) because it’s on late at night, but I’m hoping to listen later when I get a chance. This will be both amusing and irritating, I have no doubt.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience

Comments (13)

  1. Michelle Rochon

    Good luck to Mr. Morrison… People who straight believe you’re a liar before you open your mouth are hard to deal with. I’ll be sure to listen to it myself when I have time, there seems to be a way to listen to the last show on the website.

  2. Nigel Depledge

    Can anyone tell me what frequency Coast to Coast AM transmits on, and whether it is likely to carry across the Atlantic with typical ionospheric conditions at the time it is transmitted? Having read a lot of The Bad Astronomy website, I’ve kind of become hooked on the whole science-antiscience thing. We don’t get quite so much of this kind of nonsense in the UK, but it does seem to be on the increase (either that or it is starting to get more press coverage than it did 10 years or so ago).
    I am a biochemist (and sometime amateur astronomer), and my personal bugbear is people declaring they don’t believe in evolution, as if it were a matter of personal choice, and as if publishing “On the Origin of Species” didn’t cost Charles Darwin a lot of personal anguish. We’re lucky his conscience won. (An aside: biochemistry is a field riddled with evidence that has only been explained so far by the concept of evolution).

  3. James Nelson

    Nigel, Coast to Coast has a list of their affiliates that carry them at http://www.coasttocoastam.com/info/wheretolisten.html. Not sure if any of them will carry across the pond. You might also just check with any of the local AM stations in your area and see if they carry it. You can also stream it off their website, but I think that requires paying for their Streamlink membership (I think $35 US / year).

  4. Nigel Depledge

    Thanks for the info. I checked out their website, and they don’t have any overseas affiliates. Also, the waveband they use (medium wave, in the region of 100 kHz to 1 MHz) is unlikely to propagate large distances by ionospheric refraction. Add to this the fact that some stations transmit 50kW (they don’t specify whether this is input to the antenna or Effective Radiated Power [ERP]), if it were a frequency that propagates over large distances, they’d be causing interference all over the world. Also, they have a satellite radio channel, but this is only licensed for the US, and I guess its footprint will not extend much outside the continental US.
    Perhaps, overall, I should be grateful that this is the case, given the BA’s past experience with pseudoscientists on Coast to Coast AM.

  5. As a truth seeker, I was initially refreshed by the critical thinking I encountered on this web site. Unfortunately, it is critical of the truth. According to an article on your web site located at http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/mccanney/snowballs.html, Jim McCanney couldn’t possibly be correct about comets not being balls of ice, because you can measure the temperature with a spectroscope. This URL of yours claims that you can use this device to read the temperature of an object in space depending on it’s COLOR in the light spectrum. Anyone who has taken a chemistry class knows that the color of light is direct response from the burning of a specific chemical element on the periodic table of elements. Each element gives off a unique color in spectrum of light that can be seen when that element is burned, regardless of the temperature. This article of yours is blatant disinfo, and I am left wondering why you would slander McCanney with lies. Honestly, I already know why, and hopefully anyone who reads this will too. Here’s a clue: it has to do with Nikola Tesla.

  6. Nigel Depledge

    Truly is it said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The BA’s website also links to a series of astronomy lectures that, among other things, explain the difference between an emission line and a spectrum. In a nutshell, a material at low pressure (such as a low-pressure sodium streetlamp that emits a distinct orange light) emits light at specific wavelengths when excited (e.g. by electricity or heat). This is what you see in your flame tests in the chemistry lab; the best example I remember is copper, that produces a beautiful shade of green. As pressure is increased, the material emits a broader and broader swathe of wavelengths of light (hence the fact that medium-pressure sodium lamps emit a bright pink light and high-pressure lamps emit white light, even though it is the same material emitting the light). This is what is termed “black-body” radiation, and it is what is emitted by solids, liquids and high-pressure gases. The shape of the spectrum (i.e. the amount of light emitted at different wavelengths) depends on the temperature of the material, not on its composition. Thus, it provides a means by which to measure the temperature of a distant object and is considered to be an accurate technique (with some refinement that I shan’t go into here) by the entire scientific community.
    But you don’t have to take my word for it. You don’t have to take the BA’s word for it. Go and read an astronomy textbook, paying particular attention to “Spectrometry” or “Spectroscopy”. Or do a web search on those terms (beware, though, that many of the “hits” will be highly technical and there is a chemistry technique of the same name that uses a different principle i.e. that of absorption rather than emission of energy). Alternatively, follow the link in the BA’s “Links” section to Nick Strobel’s Astronomy lectures and read them all. I found them to be a marvellously illuminating read (please excuse the pun).

  7. Kevin W. Parker

    >>> Anyone who has taken a chemistry class knows that the color of light is direct response from the burning of a specific chemical element on the periodic table of elements. Each element gives off a unique color in spectrum of light that can be seen when that element is burned, regardless of the temperature.

    This is not the complete truth. As a link ( http://www.ipac.caltech.edu/Outreach/Edu/Spectra/spec.html ) in Phil’s McCanney article explains, there are three types of spectra an object can emit. The emission spectrum you describe is only one of them. The most significant one is the continuous or blackbody spectrum, which is determined by the temperature.

    Perhaps in future you should make sure you have your science right before you start calling someone a liar.

  8. scott powers

    Nigel, right on with the comment on evolution. it isnt a choice of belief. im a microbiologist/bioinformaticist studing molecular evolution in Burkholderia, and i live in a dorm with too many people who “dont believe in evolution” it drives me crazy

  9. Ken G

    But is it not also important for scientists to avoid stating that they “believe” in evolution? Neither disbelief, nor belief, has any place in science. Science is the act of taking a large number of observations and placing them into the smallest number of conceptual boxes, with no inconsistencies and as few unexplained problems as possible. But this takes too long to say, so we tend to fall back on “believe”, and so begins all the hullaballoo.

  10. StevoR

    McCanney is a believer in a modified version of Velikovsky’s claims, which are already so silly that modifying them won’t help in much the same way as taking 500 mg of Vitamin C won’t cure a decapitation.

    Classic line there BA – well said. :-)

    @ 9. Ken G :

    But this takes too long to say, so we tend to fall back on “believe”, and so begins all the hullaballoo.

    Better to use “know” or “understand” in place of “believe” to clear up that confusion methinks. ;-)

  11. WannaBlessedBe

    I have to comment on this, because I’m a pedantic LitNerd: It wasn’t the Queen of Hearts of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland who believed 6 impossible things before breakfast, it was the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass (And What Alice Found There). Otherwise, right on, pseudo-scientists need to be smacked.

  12. Greg in Austin

    You wrote a book?

    8)

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