Seeing things

By Phil Plait | May 6, 2009 2:31 pm

I don’t know what’s worse: people who really think they are seeing skulls on Mars, or people in the media who think this is honestly worth reporting.

C’mon, The Telegraph: srsly? This is news?

I wonder if it’s any better than MSNBC posting a picture of two Mexican wrestlers staring at a griddle they think has the Virgin Mary on it.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Skeptics. Our work will never be done.

And, of course:

The stupid, it burns

Tip o’ the Rorschach blotter to BABloggees Spencer Cunningham and Vernon Balbert.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pareidolia, Piece of mind

Comments (47)

Links to this Post

  1. Lousy Canuck » “Holy Pancakes”, MSNBC? Really? | May 7, 2009
  1. Actually I think the wrestlers viewing the holy griddle is totally worthwhile just for entertainment value.

  2. Davidlpf

    It’s a skull of an Andorian who travelled back in the past, to save Earth unfortunely his caculations were a little off.

  3. Ender

    Long gone are the days of the Torygraph, these days the Maily Telegraph is more interested in running click-winning online stories about breasts and UFOs than trying to report any news.

  4. Actually, I’d like to know about people seeing skulls on Mars or saints in greasy griddles for the sheer entertainment value. It’s pretty hard to make this stuff up.

  5. Greg

    We are living in the post-news world. From now on, “News” will be:

    1) Coverage of events as they are happening: disasters, politics and scandals.
    2) Nonsense, including Top X Lists, beauty pageant contestants, and crap that people see in toast.

  6. Narenek

    Come on… the tone of the article and it’s clear that this isn’t a serious article. Citing internet forums and even mentioning that the posters are joking is a big clue here!

    I’ll grant you the article shouldn’t be in the Science section – the “how about that’ section would be more appropriate, but please – chillax, people.

  7. Jeff Fite

    I hesitate to leap to The Telegraph’s defense, given that pimping for hits is still pimping for hits, but it seems they’re giving this story all the credence it deserves.

    For example, the longest quote is identified as a joke–I especially liked the speculation that the entire alien remains are present, but that the corpus delecti extraterrestrialis is buried to its neck!

    Also, while the ‘face on Mars’ is mentioned at the end, it is also properly identified as a trick of the light. Credulous reporting would have at least presented the ‘face’ as being “controversial,” but The Telegraph didn’t go there.

    I think just maybe I detect a tongue planted subtly in The Telegraph’s cheek.

    (Okay, there’s a mental image I regret.)

  8. fruit fly

    Funny. Nobody spotted the L shaped object in front of that skull slightly to the right.

    Remember: if in doubt, always assume aliens and ufos did it. Don’t listen to those damn skeptics. They are all Freemasons and therefore in league with Satan and the Antichrist.

  9. I thought the same thing when the article hit the intertoobs (

    It was written like a blog post, with no sources linked to, contained no information and it was posted under “science” – I think the Sun’s write-up was better

    As Donald Trump would say: “Telegraph science reporter. You’re FIRED!”

  10. Damon

    There are plenty of anomalous formations on Mars worthy of closer attention without crap like this muddying the waters.

  11. The once-great now utterly worthless L.A. Times gave that stupid toast picture nearly a quarter of a page.

    Honestly, every day it seems a greater and greater percentage of the population is in serious need of a slapping.

  12. dhtroy

    This morning, while I was eating my breakfast, I think I saw cheerios in my bowl instead of a religious icon.

    What’s wrong with me?

  13. Michelle

    It’s a good one, you gotta admit…

    I wonder why they think aliens look like that though.

  14. Alan French

    @Jeff Fite,

    But why would they even bother with such an asinine story?

    Clear skies, Alan

  15. zar

    Huh. I saw a certain, um, adult novelty amusement.

  16. Davidlpf

    I guess pareidola reflects what you think about a lot.

  17. I would like to know why the people with the jesus toast haven’t gotten together with the people who have the mary grill…it is obvious that they belong together.

  18. QUASAR

    Some skull, was that one!

  19. timmy

    Phil, why didn’t you comment on what state (Ca.) they were in?

  20. Keith

    Well, at least the Virgin Mary on the griddle is in the Weird News section where it belongs. It’s still total hogwash, but at least it’s correctly classified.

  21. SleepNeed

    A kid saw the face of Jesus in a piece of wood in shop class when I was in middle school. Then I sanded it off with the belt sander, painted it and attached it to another piece to make a trebuchet.

    Still have that project even after making it almost 6 years ago.

  22. EJ

    They just report on this stuff for the entertainment value. And Mexican wrestlers doing almost anything is usually entertaining.

  23. spencer

    yay for my 3rd mention on the blog! boo for reading this crap way too early in the day

  24. Markle

    Stupid? Clearly Ms. Brenda Martinez has found a way to double up free press with partially financing the new griddle top. 5 bucks will get you and a friend into the stora^H^H^H^H^H shrine.

  25. Hi, I am one of the two people “quoted” in the Telegraph article. The telegraph chose to obscure their source on what was obviously a slow news day for them. The original source is from the Mars Rover Blog – a really cool, but mostly scholarly blog reviewing the geological and cosmological discoveries made by the Mars Rovers. But they took a break one day for some humor.

    Please, no one ever seriously believed it was really a head! Do I actually have to say that? Yes, I do, because now, the internet pipeline has picked up the Telegraph’s unreferenced story and insanity has busted loose. Now, apparently we are either 1)Roswell ufo “experts” seriously discussing this “discovery” 2) disturbed scare-mongers out to terrify everyone or 3) government agents set on distracting the populace with stories of aliens on mars while robot drones are being launched into the cities of the world. I kid you not. I’m just amazed at how a bit of satire has spawned such nuttiness.

  26. AND THEN… there’s this one about lunch meat spelling “GOD”.

    It looks like “GOO” to me.

  27. Cairnos

    equinox Says: “or 3) government agents set on distracting the populace with stories of aliens on mars while robot drones are being launched into the cities of the world”

    Isn’t this exactly what we’d expect government agents to say if they were trying to distract us? Nice try MiB’s, we’re onto you.

  28. Cairnos


    Looks like your a victim of Poe’s law :-)

  29. Alan French

    It’s always dangerous to talk to news folks, plain and simple. I don’t know if it is time pressure, or disinterest, but it is amazing how often they get things wrong or mixed. Some completely innocuous remark can get turned into something else. Things get changed in strange and unexpected ways.

    Even printed copy is not immune. I once had a news release printed almost verbatim, except that “Scientific American” got changed to “Popular Mechanics” – who most certainly didn’t publish the classic ATM books. A release on the Perseids had the added advice “sit under a tree.”

    Clear skies, Alan

  30. Jeff Fite

    @Alan French

    I’m assuming the motive was benign, at least to superficial thought. Clicks = revenue, and the story wasn’t considered serious, just popular.

    Of course, that kinda leads to your recent point. We may take seriously the role of the debunker, but a reporter may simply be trying to satisfy an editor who wants a fluff piece. One doesn’t even have their full attention, much less their interest.

    Cattle prods might help, I’m thinking. Focuses the mind.


  31. Lee Hadley

    Just looks like a ‘rock’ to me…

  32. Taunide

    You want a skull on Mars?? I’ll get you Skull on Mars:

    Just check a little left of the “Face”

  33. Grenangle

    Chill Phil. I thought the tele article pwned the crank well and as for the wrestlers pure gold. I would hate a world without nutters. Just keep them away from important knobs and buttons.

  34. fruit fly

    Is that the best the Telegraph can come up with? Heeeeeeere’s Hoagland with even nuttier nuttiness. Crashed shuttles, gas masks and hi-tech objects (which look remarkably like rocks) everywhere.


    Think how much sleep I lose over a dead alien skull on Mars??? (hint: none)

  35. ColonelFazackerley

    Shame that telegraph page has no facility for comments. I would like the opportunity to let them know how dumb they are.

  36. ColonelFazackerley

    There is so much real science they could be talking about. They are a waste of readers brain bandwidth.

  37. Ismael

    Everyone’s being sarcastic, and nobody understands each other… maybe we should TAKE A HINT…

  38. Chris

    The rock looks like Baby Dinosaur from the Dinosaurs TV show. Them Martians sure loved our sitcoms.

  39. Finally, proof that X-Com: UFO Defense was a training simulator!

  40. Tom

    “two Mexican wrestlers staring at a griddle they think has the Virgin Mary on it. ”

    Now I know, religion is fake….

  41. I once had an albino puff in a bowl of Cocoa Krispies. Is this an omen?

  42. James E.

    What ever the reason they ran the story you would think they would get their facts strait.

    “UFO spotters are claiming they have spotted an alien skull on Mars after NASA beamed back satellite images from the planet.”

    It was not a “satellite image”, it was transmitted by satellite communication.

    “Internet forums are full of chatter about the picture, taken by a panoramic NASA camera known as Spirit.”

    The rover is named Spirit, not the camera.

    I know this is a small detail here, but if they can’t get this right how can we trust the information in the more important stories?

    Allowing this type of misinformation to persist, saying “you know what they meant”, that allows leaps of logic like the one taken by anti-vaccine people when they went from Thimerosal in vaccines causes autism to vaccines causes autism when the Thimerosal was removed. Science is biased on facts but we communicate those facts by language. If you dilute your language and allow that to be imprecise and accept its rules as suggestions, then you dilute the facts that are being relayed, making them useless.

  43. Marvin Rabbit

    The Ms-mbc story could be taken word-for-word, with the picture, and published by The Onion. If I read it there, I wouldn’t even think twice.

    “… the griddle has been taken out of service and placed in a shrine in a storage room.” That’s some beautiful satire writing!

  44. Matt M


    No, she got it wrong…it actually spelled DOG.

  45. Hi, I’m hoping to reach whoever was in charge of this blog – I wasn’t able to find a working contact page. As of this moment, my boss is hiring writers for a number of niches including this one and we’re able to pay up to $25 an article. Fluency in English is necessary, but if you know any other languages and are willing to translate, we can bump up your pay significantly. On average, our staff begin earning about $1,200 a week. We urgently have to fill our vacancies within the next few days. Please go to and sign up to get a better idea of what we offer. I will be glad to talk with any serious inquiries in the member’s section.


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