Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Fake Moon Landings (and other hysterical ramblings)

Did we really land on the moon?.... Yes! Of course we did!

(First and foremost, I'd like to apologise to any Dr. Who fans that have wandered here by accident, as after my last blog I was added to without my knowledge, and they stated that "Science Digestive has great Doctor Who news, photos, videos and more". It doesn't, the best I can offer is that I will soon be a DOCTOR, WHO writes bilge about science news stories. Sorry to waste your time, although if you're a stereotypical hardcore Dr. Who fan, that probably isn't much of an issue)

I recently got a request to do something about the fake moon landings. Or more accurately, the claim that the moon landings were fake when they clearly weren't. There are countless websites refuting this wild claim, of which the above link is just one of the more concise. But as discussed previously, such conspiracy theories are rife on the web, where there is no system in place to check people's arguments.
Some theories, such as the numerous 9/11 conspiracies seem more politically motivated. I don't like the Bush administration, I confess, but I doubt they set the whole thing up as many do claim. This would require an incredible level of organisation, cunning and guile in order to set-up and then get away with, and subsequent actions have arguably demonstrated that the current US government is nowhere near that competent (although if anyone in the US is reading this, I get my information second hand from UK based journalists and pundits, who probably aren't impartial, so I may be wrong in my opinions, although if I am, would that make the conspiracy theories more valid?)
Other conspiracies appear to be more paranoia based. Many believe in UFOs, and that it's a 'government conspiracy' to cover up the existence of aliens. Which begs the question, if an alien race that has achieved a level of technology required for space travel wanted to make itself known to the human race, what exactly could our governments do to stop them?
But in my experience, a lot of conspiracy theories are built upon scientific ignorance, of which the 'faked moon landings' are one of the most well known. Many still believe that Global Warming isn't happening, despite the mounds of data that says it is, because it would be better if Global warming isn't happening. But there are many other conspiracy theories that crumble under the most basic scientific analysis, and thrive only on pure ignorance.
Some people still believe the Earth is flat. We all know it isn't, there's so much proof to counter that claim that it would be embarrassing to go into it here, yet people still persist. I think the problem is with Science itself; some people just don't like it. Nobody likes to be told what to do or what's what, and nobody likes to be made to feel inferior, and when Science comes along and says 'this is how it is', it gets come peoples backs up, perhaps understandably. The majority of conspiracy theories seem to me to be elaborate versions of one kid shouting 'I know something you don't know' to another. People are intimidated by someone who knows too much, and will do anything to redress the balance. When I was in school, I was frequently persecuted because 'you think you know everything'. Which is ridiculous, because as I pointed out, if I knew everything one of the things I'd know was that I knew everything, so I wouldn't have to think about it at all. Thinking itself would be redundant, so it's a nonsensical statement. So yeah, I got beaten up a lot.
The best conspiracy theories endure because they have a precise combination of ingredients. A certain amount of feasibility, a dash of 'it's the man' style cover up, a plausible motive and a certain amount of logic. But not too much logic, because logic and evidence (or science) are not one and the same, logic only equals science when you have all the facts. Consider the following classic joke (observation, to be precise), rightly criticised by the late great Douglas Adams in The Salmon of Doubt.

"Scientists, what do they know? They say the Black Box on an Aeroplane is indestructible, then why not make the whole plane out of that stuff"

Lets overlook the fact that engineers, not scientists, are the ones who build planes, if you ignore that then the above joke makes logical sense. Duh, what are they doing? Idiot Scientists, they think they're so clever! Let's also overlook the fact that a black box is Titanium, a hardy but incredibly heavy metal. A plane made of titanium would require a hell of a lot more thrust to take off and stay in the air, so much so that no normal person could afford to pay the ticket prices required to cover fuel costs (no change there, then). And of course, the way physics works, such a rigid structure would mean the energy incurred on impact during a crash wouldn't be absorbed by a compressible craft but transmitted directly to the passengers, so you wouldn't get broken bones as much as a pureeing effect on the human occupants. But apart from that, stupid scientists!

(Interesting trivia, a typical black box is actually bright orange, making it easier to find after a crash, as it doesn't blend in with burnt, charred remains, which are ALWAYS black)
EDIT: Ben, the physicist I know, has pointed out that titanium is in fact quite light. I did have my suspicions about this, what with titanium being used in darts and bone-fixing bolts and stuff, but I decided to trust Douglas Adams, who wasn't a trained Scientist. More fool me, I assume he got mixed up with Steel, which is heavier. See his comment below for other explanations of the plane/black box durability difference)

But, in the spirit of the argument, here's my favourite reasons why the Moon Landings were faked, and the rebuttals

  • IT WAS A POLITICAL STUNT TO WIN THE SPACE RACE: A logical argument at least, but this would require the cooperation of Russia, the USA's cold war rival. Seeing as Russia had space technology of their own, it wouldn't have been too hard to disprove the Moon landings if they were fake. But instead, they played along, even though it meant doing a favour to their arch rivals and global competitors. Is that how wars work, even Cold ones? During WWII, Germany broadcast constant propaganda to the UK, about fictional battles that the allies had badly lost, in order to crush the morale of the populace. Of course, the British authorities confirmed these claims, because the Nazi's asked nicely and they'd gone to so much effort already.
  • THERE ARE NO STARS IN THE SKY IN ANY PHOTOS OF THE LUNAR SURFACE: This is normally the conspiracy 'trump card'. But you try taking a photo of the moon with a regular camera, you won't see any stars. The moon is too bright, to do it right you need to have specific cameras etc. Anyone with the most basic grasp of photography could tell you this.
  • ITS TOO DIFFICULT TO GO TO THE MOON: Logically it would be easier to fake it, right? No. You'd have to get the 1000s of people involved in the 'cover-up' to play along for the rest of their lives, plus stage an elaborate forgery which was detailed enough to convince all the relevant media and your arch enemies despite such forgeries being far beyond the technologies available at the time, plus stage a realistic looking 'fake' launch that people could witness. In comparison, a lunar mission is just a question of physics.
  • SPACE IS TOO DANGEROUS: Yes, there's a lot of radiation up there, yes there are micrometeorites travelling at such speeds that they could smash open a craft, yes the sun could bake an exposed human to a crisp in seconds without atmospheric protection. But people thought of that. Radiation protection was designed in, there are micrometeorites but the vast emptiness of space means a collision is incredibly unlikely, and the moon landings happened during a quiet solar period.
  • THIS WOULDN'T HAPPEN ON EARTH...: I've seen this phrase pop up many times when some nutter analyses as flimsy piece of evidence, and the conclusion relies on the fact that 'on Earth, this doesn't happen...', which always leads me to internally scream THEY'RE NOT ON EARTH! Logically, they're contradicting their own argument. Instant credibility drop of -46 points.
There are plenty of other arguments, all of which can be found with a quick Google search, and all of which are based on a profound or even wilful lack of scientific understanding. As genius critic/columnist and super-cynic Charlie Brooker so aptly points out, Science is our best friend, and best friends are people who tell us things we don't necessarily want to hear.

Long blog this one, sorry bout that, just trying to compensate for the two previous silly ones.

1 comment:

Benjamin said...

Oh dear, Douglas got it wrong! Titanium is incredibly light! See the wikipedia article

I expect that one of the reasons black boxes are so durable is that they are small. Making a small object that will survive a plane crash can't be that hard, where as making a long thin hollow tube indestructible is really hard.

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