Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fleeing Blogspot?

I received some advise about moving my blog to WordPress, and so far I am liking it. Will play around with it and post both there and here, but let me direct any readers to the new place:

I exported all the posts from here to there, so nothing should be missed. I'm also running a poll to see what people prefer. Make your vote count. And your vote this November counts too!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gender Bias in the Sciences & Skepticism

Every year various groups try to have promotional events to get more women involved, and the sciences do this a good amount. There are groups even for women, or a particular day is set to inspire women to get involved. CERN has done this, and I did a little bit to promote it.

But it looks like it will take a lot more than that to fix the big problems seen in STEM today: women still make up a smaller fraction of scientists, engineers and mathematicians than their percentage of the population. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has a new paper out: "Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students." The double-blinded study sent out applications for positions at universities which had equal qualifications, but the only difference was the gender of the names (a similar study had been done with using traditional vs. African names in the US and how that affected call-backs for job interviews). And the study found a significant bias against women. Moreover, the study asked the reviewers of the applications to rank the persons whose applications they examined, and it was clearly in favor of men.

There are some things that make this even more stark to me. For one, this bias existed not only for males that reviewed the applications, but women too! So, it seems the title of this article is correct, that the bias is subtle, though the effect is not. Apparently there is some level of unconscious bias against women, perhaps due to stereotypes in the culture, and it will affect decisions no matter the gender of the person. This also means that a woman saying there is no gender bias cannot be given greater credibility than a man as she is just a likely to be "infected" as anyone else. 

On the blog for Scientific American, several other good points are made, including how none of the people that gave women a lower score used sexist language. The bias was couched in reasonable (perhaps rationalized?) terms. Perhaps this should be obvious; almost no one wants to be called racist or sexist, so those people will not use racist or sexist language. Nonetheless, the deeds speak for themselves. This will also means it will be very hard to fix the problem as most won't realize there is one.

This is something I have been seeing in other groups, and it has been blowing up in the atheist community recently. There have been abject denials of a sexist problem at atheist conventions and the like, and even some claiming the need to defend the rights of men (boy, those words of privilege ring hollow for me). All the worse that when there is sexual harassment, it is the victim that gets much or all the blame. Almost a year ago I wrote in support of Rebecca Watson and the abuse she had received for her rather mild statement about how it is not in good form to make a pass on someone in a confined space at 4 in the morning after being silently in the background much of the night. But perhaps worse has been the back-lash about the lack of a sexual harassment policy at The Amazing Meeting (TAM), and the denial that there ever was a case of such harassment (the story of how this came to be known is detailed here.) The denial also came from D.J. Grothe, a great figure in the skeptic and atheist movement (current president of the James Randi Educational Foundation) and a gay man. So much how women can have circumspect reasons for seeing women as less qualified, even progressive men like D.J. can be in denial of the problems in his own movement.

The response in general has also been disheartening. The comments on blogs have been vicious, emails even more-so, and it has burned out many a good blogger. Natalie Reed, who talked mostly on transgender issues, basically discontinued to get involved in atheist topics because of the response she had gotten. Jen McCreight, a biologist with a PhD in genomics, also has been burned out from the comments and emails over months. Greta Christina also had been trying to get over the negativity, and Rebecca Watson must have some amazing stamina to continue what she does.

This is a problem that isn't going to go away by ignoring it, and it may get worse before it gets better, though Greta has been rather optimistic about this conversation even with its horrendous tone. The reddit universe is also going to be a hotbed of misogyny as seen in this example. And while the Atheism+ movement wants to fix this, there has been a major push-back in calling what they do "divisive." Such talk has caused many to fight against being a part of Atheism+, including Ronald Lindsay and John Loftus. But if saying we have a problem with sexism in the movement, shouldn't part of the solution be to make those that cause the problem aware and have them feel shame for being irrationally sexist? Do we really want to have such people in the movement just because they agree with us on atheism but otherwise they are misogynistic pigs? (Richard Carrier has interesting points here about the use of insult, and here about being for or against Atheism+.)

The SSA group I am in will actually talk about women and secularism tomorrow at our meeting. We may not figure everything out, but hopefully we can at least gets the facts out there and discuss them the best we can. In the mean time, what are your thoughts?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reexamining the Outer Limits and Alien Abductions

You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to — The Outer Limits.
Last week I had posted a video that looked at extraterrestrial visitations over several decades of the 20th century (see this graphic) and the famous Barney and Betty Hill abduction in the 1960s, comparing their creature to that from an episode of The Outer Limits, the competitor with The Twilight Zone during the mid-1960s (and can be watched on Hulu as of the time of composition).

The Bifrost alien from
"The Bellero Shield"
After I posted that video, I had shared it with one of the best ancient astronaut/Atlantis theory skeptics, Jason Colavito, who is the author of the book The Cult of the Alien Gods. Apparently the argument that the alien creature from the episode "The Bellero Shield" (Season 1, Episode 20, which shows significant influence from Macbeth) was not the best fit, and the person that originally argued for the connection was working from memory rather than going back to the primary sources, namely watching the episode again along with others. That I did not check this and relied on a line of argument as such was not in best form, though the argument still had some weight because of the picture of the alien.

Drawing of a being that allegedly
abducted Barney and Betty Hill in 1961.
As can be seen, this creature had a bulbous head, wraparound eyes, and a lack of a nose, hair, and ears, much like the creatures described by Barney Hill when under hypnosis as well as the aliens commonly now called "the greys." So the estimation originally proposed from memory by Martin Kottmeyer in 1990 wasn't a bad one.

However, there are some disconnects between the bifrost alien (the shows uses the term to parallel the rainbow bridge of Norse myth and the laser the alien travels down to get to Earth) and the grey recounted by the Hills, and that makes Colavito's reexamination of the evidence very informative. Not only did he watch the episode of The Outer Limits again, but also other episodes close to the time when Barney Hill was to give his hypnotized testimony.

So let's compare the original proposal as well as that of Colavito's and see if we can explain the imagery the Hills claimed to have had when they were "taken" without the need to invoke something out of this world.

So, we first need to start at Barney Hill's testimony, as that is the closest we can get to the event, aliens or no. The transcript of his hypnosis therapy sessions are provided in John G. Fuller’s The Interrupted Journey (1966). On page 87 and later, we get some details of the physical characteristics of the creatures that abducted the Hills. For one, the head is round. The eyes are also slanted, though not the same as people from the Far East. The eyes in particular left a significant impression on Mr. Hill and he continuously mentions them, coming close to him, sometimes unconnected to any body at all. Mr. Hill also compared the alien to a German Nazi, and after the doctors asked we are told it had a uniform with a black scarf over its left shoulder; at least the leader is described so. The alien was also said to wear a black and shiny jacket and scarf. We get no description of hair, nose, or ears, and the drawing makes clear why.

One other details about the aliens to consider is how they communicate. According to the Hills, the creatures would talk to them using some sort of telepathy. Well, Barney said they communicated with him by telepathy, while Betty said they spoke English. But it was Barney that gave us the physical descriptions of note, so let's consider his testimony alone; otherwise with their stories at odds we have too much reason to discount it, and we wouldn't want to do that. ;)

Now, the bifrost creature from the episode "The Bellero Shield" does have a good number of the descriptive features of Barney's alien, but not all. The suit of the bifrost alien is more the space-man type, shiny silver more than black, and it speaks English (it even specifies it cannot read minds). There is also nothing menacing about it, and instead it is defensive and at the end altruistic. That seems to clash with the more insidious beings that the Hills described. And there isn't any abduction in the Outer Limits story here. So these are some significant differences.

However, this episode was transmitted 12 days before Mr. Hill gave his testimony, perhaps enough time to get lost in the details, especially in a hypnotic state? We still have the features of the head of the creature, unlike that seen in stories beforehand, so perhaps a little bit of strangeness in memory can account for what we have?

Instead of supposing peculiarities of human memory in an odd state, let's now look at what Colavito noted when he compared Mr. Hill's alien to that of another episode of The Outer Limits, this one from the very next episode "The Children of Spider County" (Season 1, Episode 21, aired 5 days before Barney Hill's testimony). The first thing that struck me is the first encounter with the alien in this show was a car driving down a country road. That already seems reminiscent of the Hill's abduction experience. There are also UFOs as lights in the sky, something like a bright planet. Again, that adds to the familiarity since the Hills likely misidentified the planet Jupiter or some other optical illusion (see Report 100-1-61, Air Intelligence Information Record).

But the monster itself needs to be examined.

First we notice the eyes. They wrap around in a very peculiar way, even more closely to the way drawn by Mr. Hill that the bifrost alien from before. And they on occasion glow, making them even more imposing. Additionally, there are prominent pupils, not apparent in the bifrost alien's eyes but notable in Barney's drawing and description. The alien also wears a black suit and tie, and this is closer to the description of the suit-wearing Nazi Barney spoke of, and again superior in connection to the bifrost alien. Barney Hill described a scarf or sash over the shoulder rather than a neck tie, and he spoke of black headgear, so the uniform isn't a perfect match. The creature has a fairly bulbous head, no hair, and an almost non-existent nose, more closely matching what Barney had drawn.

Another facet of the creature from this episode was that it would transform back and forth from a human form and the alien form. This also fits with the story told by Mr. Hill, for example when he says the eyes would go back and forth between round and slanted/wraparound. 

The creature in the episode also wants to take away the main character, take him to another planet, and the alien has already captured four other men to take back to outer space. This is far more an abduction story than the previous episode. And while the alien usually talks by spoken word, he apparently can commune with others via thought transference (to use the language from the Hill transcripts). Also, when the alien talks as a creature the mouth doesn't open-and-close, so a blurry TV signal could make the speech seem telepathic even in these cases (I actually wasn't sure when I watched, and I could see things with high quality.) The creature also had the power to control other's minds, suggesting the strength of its telepathic abilities. 

One feature that stands out that undercuts the connection is the ears, which are pointy or Spockish (the episode came out 2 years before the first episode of Star Trek) rather than non-existent. The monster also has something like insect pinchers at its mouth, something that Barney does not mention. So it's not a perfect match. However, we should consider what sorts of things humans first notice when it comes to individuals. We have a lot of wiring in our brains to notice and remember faces, and we do it in pieces. First, we note the general form with eyes, nose, and mouth, then we go into details. (This is described to some degree by V.S. Ramachandran in The Tell-Tale Brain.) The mouth also doesn't operate like our own as it does not open and close for talking, and it would open horizontally rather than vertically as human mouths are; that sort of alien feature would be harder to burn into the memory compared to the large, glowing eyes. And in this episode, we don't have clear framing of the mouth features or the ears. The first and second images of the creature provided have the ears barely noticeable, and the details of the mouth are also hard to pick up; in the 1960s, a TV would have been fuzzier, and all the more-so if the terrestrial signal wasn't great. In addition, when the alien is in creature-form, a foggy filter or layer is added, further obscuring the entity, so that the only prominent feature left are the eyes, something that is zoomed into for many of the shots, especially at the climax. At the moment of highest tension, when the alien's eyes glow and about the kill the main character, the camera is zoomed in and the mouth of the alien is blurred by the filter. That makes these auxiliary features not a kill-joy against the connection between the alien in this episode and the creature from Mr. Hill's hypnotic account.

But there is one other detail that Colavito points to that makes the connection particular interesting. Part of the story in "The Children of Spider County" is that there are several young men who are the product of intercourse between humans and the aliens from the planet Eros. (Sexy time!) But why should interstellar and inter-specie courtship matter? Well, Barney and Betty were an interracial couple, and at a time when this was not widely accepted in society (there were laws on the books in several states banning the practice, much like the laws against gay marriage today). The conclusion of the story has a half-human/half-Eros male stay with his white, female love interest, which could have had an emotional draw for Barney Hill, a black man married to a white woman. Colavito admits that he ought not read too much into a psychoanalysis of a person dead since 1969, but this does add some interesting circumstantial evidence.

There does exist one kill-joy worth considering, and that is the testimony of Betty Hill at a later date. She was asked about the show, and she claimed they had never even hear of The Outer Limits (see Jerome Clark, The UFO Book, p. 291). Then again, this was being asked of her about 30 years after the fact and after Barney had died, so this isn't particularly strong. Colavito considers the possibility of the teaser trailers for the show to be enough to connect the image of the alien to the abduction experience, but that probably won't work; doing that means we lose a lot of connecting details, including the interracial connection, the telepathy, etc.

So, the hypothesis has one weak link: did Barney Hill watch the show? Considering this to be significantly more likely than alien abductions that happen to resemble an episode of fiction a mere 5 days before testifying to it, probability swings one way very prominently.

One other interesting thing Colavito considered was another episode of The Outer Limits, this one a bit earlier than the other two mentioned. There are some points of the scientific tests done on the Hills, along with other background details, that seem to correlate between the episode "The Invisibles" (Season 1, Episode 19), which was also close in time to Barney Hill's date of testimony. This makes it appear even more-so that his account conflates several episodes of a show at the time (broadcast on ABC at 7:30 on Monday nights during the first season), all airing within weeks of when he testified. If these correlations be not imaginary, then Barney must have watched a fair bit of this show. It can't be proven, but it seems probable at this point.

So, on analysis, it seems Jason Colavito's hypothesis is significantly superior to the previous Outer Limits connection first noted in 1990. And his methods are better, going back to the primary sources to compare and contrast. I have added some other details to consider, and I think it makes the case strong enough to conclude that he is closest to the right answer of what likely influenced the Hill's testimony, at least detailing what Barney Hill said. However, it seems some of the features of the bifrost alien are an influence as well. The head of that alien is more bulbous, and later sketches done with Mr. Hill (drawn by David Baker) fit that alien rather well, especially the mouth and nose as well as the elongated head.

So, I suspect that Barney had several alien heads in mind with their most similar features all together and the others becoming more or less prominent based on his memory and what features stood out most in the episodes. The bulbous head and basic facial features of the bifrost alien stand out the most in "The Bellero Shield", while the eyes, clothing, telepathic powers, and emotional baggage of the creature in "The Children of Spider County" would leave a significant mental residue. The details from "The Invisibles" should also be added. Thus, the best explanation that fits the most data, fits with how memory works (adding together the most memorable features onto a generalized form), and with just one assumption (Barney Hill watching the show, and if he watched one episode, he probably watched several), this seems to be the best. That along with other influences, including conversations with his wife beforehand.

When we consider the lack of physical evidence, the contradictions in the Hill's stories, and their similarities explainable by the couple talking to each other for months or years before hypnotherapy, and putting it into the context of how different encounter stories were at that time, and we have strong reason to conclude that the Hills did not have an encounter with and ET.

I want to thank Jason again for letting me know about his reexamination of the case, and I would bet with my contribution things are perhaps a smigin closer to the right answer.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Billy Nye, Ken Ham, and the Living Dinosaur

In a prior blog post, I considered if creationist proponents were sometimes or often liars for their cause. But an interesting example of what appears to be significant dishonesty has come through the response to Bill Nye.

About a month ago, Bill Nye The Science Guy posted this video on Big Think:

And with that (and at this time 4.5+ million views), the creationists were in an uproar. Having one of the best known science educators in the US calling your entire educational program bad for children obviously isn't going to sit well. But the more prominent response came from the people at Answers in Genesis, run by Ken Ham.

Making their own videos in a similar style to the Big Think, they tried to say Nye didn't understand science, didn't want children to think critically, that creationists didn't fear evolution and teach it correctly, that evolution has nothing to do with engineering, and so on. All of which is laughably wrong, including the last statement.

And there is some joy in this video response to Ken Ham (though probably NSFW due to language and some female images).

I'm copying here the description in the video, in case it goes down and the good links and references get lost (as well as providing a buffer space to the video if you are at work).

Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn't have addressed a video like this because it's a little light on science, but since it was by one of the world's top-tier fucktards who happened to be rubbishing one of the most beloved educators in the country I decided that it was a golden opportunity to give the Reverend Ham the verbal drubbing he's been asking for for decades.
As I said, a little light on science for a regular HH, but nevertheless also a good opportunity to address some of the filthy creationist political propaganda that Mr. Ham was projectile spewing in his surpisingly amateurish video. Not sure whether there will be a censoring reaction to this, so please do what you can to help forestall, or failing that ameliorate, that eventuality as it's not clear to me as yet that creationists are smart enough to have realized that censorship only results in the object of their ire being exposed to a vastly larger audience than it would have been had they acted like decent human beings.
For those who don't know how, the video can be downloaded by pasting the URL into the box at
If you feel the need to hear Ken Ham vomiting up his worthless opinions you can do so here:
If you want to see the Reverend Ham lying to children about biblical glasses you can do so here:
And if you want to have a laugh at Ken's monkeys, whom I mention in the video, you can find them in their enclosure here:
Bill Nye's Big Think video can be enjoyed here:
KnownNoMore's channel is here (please watch and sub -- he's *excellent*):
Wisdominnature7's channel (see note above regarding KnownNoMore -- the same applies):
Scripts to this and all my other videos can be found here:
Intro by the one-and-only ONESPECIES (check him out too!):
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphony No. 9 in C major (K 73)
Arias-Montaño , A. (2011). Evolutionary Algorithms Applied to Multi-Objective Aerodynamic Shape Optimization. Studies in Computational Intelligence 356: 211-240.
Asoutia , V.G. and Giannakogloua, K.C. (2009). Aerodynamic optimization using a parallel asynchronous evolutionary algorithm controlled by strongly interacting demes. Engineering Optimization 41: 241-257.
Berard, Y. (2003). Experiments with Hybridized Genetic Algorithms in Aerodynamics. EUROGEN 2003 International Congress on Evolutionary Methods for Design, Optimization and Control with Applications to Industrial Problems. pp 1-12.
Giannakoglou ,K.C. et al. (2006). Aerodynamic shape design using evolutionaryalgorithms and new gradient-assisted metamodels. Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering 195: 6312--6329.
Jones, B.R. et al. (2000). Aerodynamic and Aeroacoustic Optimization of Rotorcraft Airfoils via a Parallel Genetic Algorithm. Journal of Aircraft 37: 1088-1096.
Obayashi, S. and Guruswamy, G.P., (1995). Convergence Acceleration of an Aeroelastic Navier-Stokes Solver. AIAA Journal 33: 1134-1141.
Obayashi, S. et al. (2000). Transonic Wing Shape Optimization Based on Evolutionary Algorithms. ISHPC '00 Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on High Performance Computing. PP Pages 172--181.
Ong, Y.S. (2003). Global convergence of unconstrained and bound constrained surrogate-assisted evolutionary search in aerodynamic shape design. CEC '03 The 2003 Congress on Evolutionary Computation. pp 1856-1863.
Oyama, A. et al. (1999). Fractional Factorial Design of Genetic Coding for Aerodynamic Optimization. AIAA Paper 99-3298.
Oyama, A et al. (2000). Aerodynamic Wing Optimization via Evolutionary Algorithms Based on Structured coding. CFD Journal 8: 570-577.
Sasaki, D. (2001). Aerodynamic Shape Optimization of Supersonic Wings by Adaptive Range Multiobjective Genetic Algorithms. EMO '01 Proceedings of the First International Conference on Evolutionary Multi-Criterion Optimization. pp 639-652.
Tubbs, A.D. and Wolfe, A.M. (1980). Evidence for Large Scale Uniformity of Physical Laws. Astrophy. J. 236: L105-L108.
Webb, J. (2003). Are the laws of nature changing with time? Physics World 16(4): 33-38.

Wedding Readings -- Bible or Odyssey?

Today I was back in my home town for the wedding of one of my friends (and it was a great ceremony with a happy couple. Beautiful catholic church, and the usual formalities for such a case. There was the traditional reading of certain passages from the Bible for how marriages are supposed to be, or the nature of love, but there was a reading I hadn't heard before, from the Book of Tobit.

Tobit isn't in most Bibles and considered part of the apocrypha, though it is in Catholic and Orthodox canons. The reading was Tobit 8:4-9.

But this had me thinking about how Tobit is a book with much taken from the works of Homer, namely the Odyssey, as scholars such a Dennis MacDonald has have argued. And this had me think: there is a significant love story in the Odyssey between Odysseus and Persephone. Even after 20 years apart, they want to be together; Odysseus had gone to fight in the 10-year Trojan War and took another 10 years to return do to make a happenstance along the way. Yet Penelope remained loyal even with suitors living in the palace of Ithaca for all that time. (Odysseus also loved Penelope, but apparently he was not grieved with the guilt of other other ladies he bedded along the way home; he's not perfect by our standards, but apparently this was OK on ancient Greek morality.)

So perhaps there are some lines that would be good for a wedding occasion? I'm looking online for some examples, but I haven't seen so much there that I like. Hardly a rush to find something, but my own long-distance relationship can find some correlation with the Homeric epic. Any suggestions? Maybe the Aeneid will have something better?

Friday, September 21, 2012

More Aliens at Skeptic Blogs

I'm happy that I was featured in another blog post by Jonathan Pearce at Skeptic Blogs (his blog there is The Tippling Philosopher). I made some intro and summary to the videos I recently made about ancient aliens and more recent abductions.

In case you are curious, the content not only examines the claims of Ufologists and ancient astronaut folks but there is some religious criticism in there as well (namely the contents of the Bible). Plenty of things to chew on.

Make sure to check it out!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Homer Simpson Votes Again!

I heard The Simpsons weren't so funny recently. Well, this doesn't seem too bad to me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Romney Gaffes

By now everyone who will care has heard about the statements Mitt Romney made in a millionaire fundraiser back in May that was released by Mother Jones. And arguing it was "out of context" won't help here, especially since the full video of the event is now available with transcripts.

Calling nearly half the country moochers in effect, people that can't take responsibility for themselves and need government help, isn't going to be popular. And the facts are amazingly wrong; about 47% don't pay income taxes because they are in interesting categories such as the 2/3 that have payroll taxes (something Romney doesn't pay), the the elderly who don't have an income, or the soldiers fighting overseas whose combat pay isn't taxes. Sure there are some left that indeed don't work hard and are not responsible, but it's no where near 150 million people in the US.

That coupled with statements of how Palestinians don't want peace or that Latinos becoming a voting block for Democrats like African Americans are would be bad for the country, and this hasn't been a good week. But fortunately, we can still get some comedy joy out of this.

Take it away, Jon!

But that just wasn't miserly enough.  Hmm, maybe this?

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - An Elegant Message to the 47%
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Oh, what joy. But really, if Romney wins now I don't know what to think.

Alien Abductions? Culture or Outside Influence

Last week's presentation I did about ancient aliens went well, but one subject that did not come up was aliens in more recent times, namely with alien encounters and abductions (close encounters of the 3rd and 4th kinds).

So, I did a quick video addition, mentioning the interesting diversity of such encounters and how they seem more the result of culture and popularity rather than the real deal.

Obviously not a refutation of all close encounters, but perhaps this will give some food for thought.

What are you thoughts?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is Warp Driving Getting Closer?

You may have noticed that Outer Space is big. I mean really, really big. To give an idea of how big, the nearest star to our solar system is in the Alpha Centauri system (the closest is Proxima Centauri), about 4.2 light-years away. That is about 25 trillion miles, and even if Voyager 1, one of the fastest probes even launched, was going in the right direction it would take about 75,000 years.

So if you wanted to go into deep space, see another civilization, and make it back before everything you ever knew was destroyed through death and decay, you will need a fast ride. But even if you had a machine that could go nearly the speed of light, observers on earth would have to wait a lifetime for you to just drop off a pizza and return from Vega, a nearby star. And if you wanted to cross the galaxy and come back, a friend on earth would have to wait over 200,000 years, even if you went light-speed. (Notice how I keep giving the time for the observer on Earth; I'm avoiding all the time dilation issues of special relativity.)

So if we really, really want to go places, we need a way to go faster than light. But Einstein's special relativity says no; anything with mass must go less than light. Wah!

But physicists are clever, and we have used Einstein's own theories to find a way. How?

Well, there is another major theory Einstein worked on, the general theory of relativity. It's taking his special relativity but making it more general. While special relativity (SR) dealt with things moving with constant velocities, general relativity (GR) also dealt with acceleration (changing velocities). Moreover, GR explains gravity. See, that Einstein guy was smart. But how can GR help us get past the problem from SR of going faster than light?

Well, there was an interesting solution to GR done by Miguel Alcubierre from Mexico (he completed his PhD in physics at Cardiff) back in 1994. In GR it is possible to mess with the fabric of space and time (space-time) in a way that stretches out space in front and crunches it up from behind. What this means is that in your own local "bubble" of space-time you travel below light-speed, but the bubble itself is flying forward and can go much faster; this is because it is the space that is in effect moving, not a body. This is shown with the Alcubierre metric.

Now, there are issues with this, one of them being the need for a significant amount of negative mass-energies. While it is possible to have negative mass-energy (such as see in the Casimir effect), it is in very small quantities. But the real problem is the quantity. The energy requirements have been explosively huge if you want a ship of any decent size. One early estimate put the mass-energy needed at 10^64 kilograms (a 1 with 64 zeroes after it), which is more than all the mass-energy in the observable universe (the mass of the Milky Way is around 10^42 kg including the dark matter)! It's not happening. Another estimate was made using different assumptions of the space-time geometry and volume inside to get mass-energies on the order of solar or planetary masses. That is still huge, but not impossible. (When I mean planetary masses, I mean turning the entire mass of the planet into pure energy, a process releasing far more than would nuclear fusion or fission.)

But now it seems a team at NASA has further tried to adjust the geometry of the space-time around such a ship to get much more useful energy scales. How small now? They are talking masses of around 1000 kg (they say around the mass of Voyager 1). For an idea of how much energy that is, I converted it to megatons of TNT and found something around 20,000. A Tsar hydrogen fusion bomb has a warhead with 50 megatons, so we are talking about 400 H-bombs. Another way to put it, this is an energy level close to how much the US consumes in a given year. That is a lot of energy, but manageable given the infrastructure.

Apparently the adjustment came in how the warping effect from the engines was distributed. They talk about using instead of a disc a more donut-like instead of flat. I haven't been able to find a published paper on this (apparently this is from a recent talk at the 100 Year Starship Symposium), but I am guessing this was figured using a computer program that will adjust how space-time is bent by changing the conditions of the ring a bit at a time and finding an optimal energy requirement. When it comes to using GR, in classes you will have to solve things by hand, but in reality computers are usually called on for figuring out solutions, especially when there isn't a simple geometry of matter being used (it's easier to figure out the solution when there is symmetry than otherwise).

This is very exciting! This is putting interstellar travel even closer into the hands of future humans. Heck, if things could be this cheery, I may get to see the first interstellar ships before I die! Come on, this would be the definition of awesome. It's also important because if humans remain on Earth we risk becoming extinct. One major disaster, such as a large asteroid impact, and we're done.

Of course, much testing is needed. Harold "Sonny" White, who made the announcement, is talking of using lasers in the lab to perturb space-time on very small scales to see if he can get the idea to work. But again, on very small scales. Moreover, there are other physical problems with any Alcubierre-based warp drive, including the need for sending out signals. And we still need the significant amounts of negative mass-energy (and of considerable density). This isn't something we are going to do in our garages. And there may still be physical problems in any proposal (this paper for 1999 summarizes that, though in technical language.)

Nonetheless, there has been some amazing advances in this area in less than 20 years of research (much of it probably not at the forefront of theoretical physics works). In another 20, perhaps the concept can be demonstrated at a small but macroscopic level (if other physical problems can be resolved). We live in exciting times!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Understanding the Monty Hall Problem

Previously I talked about how our intuitions are not so great in the context of classical physics, but this is hardly the limit to what we haven't the best intuitive understanding of. In the world of statistics and probability, our intuitions really are not great, and one classic example of this is the Monty Hall problem.

What is it? Suppose you are on a game show (hosted in this case by Monty Hall of Let's Make a Deal), and there are three doors labeled 1, 2, and 3. Behind two of those doors is a goat, but behind one of them is a new car. You want to win the car, but you only have a 1 in 3 chance of guessing the right door.

Here is where things get interesting. You pick one door which remained closed, and Monty will show you one of the remaining doors has a goat. Monty then asks you if you want to choose the remaining door. The question is: do you stay, which the other door, or does it not matter at all?

When this was posed, most people have the intuition, included well educated people, that there is no benefit to switching. After all, if there are two doors left and one of them has the car, there is a 50/50 chance it is behind either the door you chose or the remaining one, right?

There are apparently a number of nuances about how the question is asked, but these pieces of nuance ultimately matter because of what other information it gives the game show contestant, and the way it is set up here has the surprising results: you ought to switch to the other door; your chances of winning double.

Why is this? Suppose you take Door 1 as your first pic (it doesn't matter which so long as the car is equally-probable behind any of the 3 given doors), you can have two sets, doors picked and doors not. The set of doors picked has one member (Door 1), and the set of doors not picked has two members (Doors 2 & 3). That means the probability that the car is in the second set (doors not picked by you) is 2/3, while the probability of the first set (doors you did pick) is 1/3. Now, when Monty shows a door with a goat (say Door 2), it is from the second set of doors (the ones you did not pick), meaning he shows one member of that set is not the one with the car; this does not affect the set of doors you picked. The probability of either set having the car is still the same, but now you know one member of the second set is not the correct one, while only one member remains. Thus, that remaining member of the second set (Door 3) has a 2/3 probability of having the car, while your first choice of the door (Door 1) still has a 1/3 chance. Thus, you are twice as likely to get the car if you switch rather than stay put.

Crazy, it seems. It also means that if we did this with 100 doors, you picked one, and Monty revealed goats behind 98 of the 99 remaining doors, the chances of getting the car by switching is 99/100, way more likely than if you stayed. And all because Monty gave you more information about the set of doors you didn't pick.

The Wikipedia page also gives other proofs, such as the use of the decision tree as well as more formal proofs, but the set format I used seems the most helpful, at least to me. If you still feel like there is some trickery, this has been also verified empirically:
You can see from this computer sim now the probabilities asymptotically reach 2/3 (66.7%) and 1/3 (33.3%) respectively. You can try out a simulation as well.

But as one last bit of fun, let's see what we get using a Bayesian approach. Bayes' theorem is as follows:

P(A|B) is the probability A is true given B evidence, P(A) is the initial probability A is true, P(-A) is the probability not-A is true (or probability A is false), P(B|A) is the probability of seeing evidence B given A is true (same applies for P(B|-A)). We have the rules that P(A) + P(-A) = 1, and all probabilities must be between 0 and 1. So, what are the numbers? (Another treatment is given here, but I think my method may be a bit easier to understand for this example).

Well, P(A), the prior probability before we have Monty open any goat doors, is 1/3, and the probability of P(-A) is necessarily 2/3. Now, evidence B is the opening of a door with a goat. So, P(B|A) should be 1/2 because the goat would have been behind either one of the remaining doors given we picked the right door from the start (that is, A is true). P(B|-A), on the other hand, is 1. Why? Because if the car is behind one of the doors you did not choose, then the unopened door must have the car (remember, P(B|-A) is the probability of having a goat behind a door if in fact the car is behind one of the doors not chosen). 

Put that all in, and you find the probability of staying with the initial door is 1/3 (P(A|B) = 1/3), and the probability of winning by switching is 2/3 (P(-A|B) = 2/3). So now we have two proofs, and one using Bayesian methods.

And I push Bayes' theorem because it is so powerful and will need to be used more and more in the sciences to make sure we draw proper conclusions. But the debate between Bayesians and Frequentists must wait for another post.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

YouTube Copyright Issues -- Fair Use

So I'm having some trouble with the video I uploaded the other day of my talk about aliens. As many have learned, YouTube is in an odd legal position because people can and do upload copyrighted materials by people who do not own the copyright. Obviously, if I was to upload a video I did not make but I try to profit from it, that is all sorts of wrong, both legally and morally. But there are also points when you should be allowed to use another's material without their express permission. The most obvious way is with parody and commentary/criticism (some useful comments can be found here, including statements in my favor when using clips). I'm doing more of the latter in my talk, so I will focus on that.

If I had to have express permission to use the materials of another person to criticize it, you can see an obvious issue: that person probably doesn't want to have that criticism of their work out there, so giving them the power to stop critics from using their material becomes a method of censorship (something creationists have done, for example). And there is legal provision for this under the Digital Millennium Copyright Acts (DMCA). In the legal code 17 UCS Section 107, this considers the nature of the work, and there is the understanding of Fair Use. There is a lot of legalism to it, but one thing generally recognized is the use of materials for commentary/criticism. For example, there are websites pretty much devoted to critiquing movies, such as at That Guy With the Glasses. Such Internet shows could not exist without the Fair Use clause.

Now, in my presentation, I use a bit from the opening of the original Battlestar Galactica (1978), namely the part about how some believing ancient humans may have descended from people from other planets, peoples that may still fight for survival beyond what we know. Since my presentation was about ancient aliens, including in popular culture, I believed this to fall under Fair Use. However, YouTube has an automated system for finding copyrighted materials.

Obviously the algorithm YouTube uses is great for copyright holders; the work is done for them in finding materials they own so they can make sure their property is not used without proper provision. However, the automatic nature of the system means two things: it can make mistakes, and it does not consider the context it is in. That's a significant problem. On the first part, I had uploaded a video about the Star of Bethlehem as used in Zeitgeist, and YouTube said it used copyrighted materials. However, it did not say what material was copyrighted, and the company I had never heard of (La Red, I just double-checked). Best I could tell, YouTube claimed I used materials from a Chilean TV network, though I didn't use anything in Spanish, and the music was public domain.

So I appealed that copyright claim. And how does this work? They send the claim to the company/owner that YouTube says owns the material, and that company decides if in fact I violated their copyright. Oh, WOW is that a lot of power given over to copyright owners, and that makes both censorship and taking another video maker's money away. La Red could have held to the copyright claim, and any ads on my video would have given money to them rather than to me who made the video. This had happened to one person recently; he recorded some things in his backyard along with bird song, and YouTube identified the sounds as a song from the company Rumblefish. This was difficult since there was no song used by the video maker, other than the ambient bird song. So that video maker make a counterclaim, but Rumblefish still claimed one of their songs was being used without permission! One could call that a lie in order to make profit. However, the Internet spoke, and Rumblefish said they made a mistake and lifted the copyright claim.

Mistakes can be made, but it is strange nonetheless to give the prosecuting party the power to also declare guilt. That is so contrary to how a courtroom is: in the above example, Rumblefish should have been the prosecutor, the video maker the defendant, and there would need to be some other entity as judge and/or jury. But Rumblefish was judge and prosecutor, and obvious conflict of interest, especially when no party was wronged except for the defendant.

Now, in my case, the company La Red responded faster than the YouTube team, and more helpfully. In about a day's time, La Red let go of any copyright claim. I only wish I could thank them for being so honest and efficient.

But now I have a new copyright issue, and this time with a company I do know: NBC. As I mentioned, I used part of the opening to BSG 1978, and here things are not so cut and dry and the examples I gave. Indeed, NBC owns the copyright on BSG 1978, I used the opening to that show, and the content match by YouTube was correct. So that part of the process is not at fault at all. So now I have written a copyright counterclaim, stating how my video about ancient aliens falls under Fair Use. This has now been sent to NBC, and someone there has to decide if in fact I fall under Fair Use. Again, YouTube is giving all the power to the copyright holder in judging Fair Use. I doubt NBC will hire a thousand lawyers to check every complaint sent their way for Fair Use, so more likely some clerk or secretary will have to watch some bit of my video and make a quick decision (poor bloke, by the way). In the mean time, I cannot monetize that video (which is looking to become one of my most trafficked), and I have a strike against my account; too many strikes, and I am gone from YouTube (and perhaps other legal trouble?).

So I am in the hands now of NBC. I can't say how they will judge things, though I think I am in the right. My clip is about 30 seconds out of a over one hour video, and the clip is part of the presentation for commentary and criticism. If I may say, I doubt I reduced the number of views of BSG 1978, and from the audience I showed the clip to it was generally unknown, so if anything I should have increased the number of views of the show (in case you haven't seen the original Battlestar Galactica, it's on Netflix and very entertaining; the new series is also awesome; go watch it now!).

By your command.

Let's see what happens in the next few days, though NBC has until mid-October to decide. That means fewer monetizable views, but I suspect most of the views will come later; it's not like my talk has gone viral. And I still don't know if other copyright claims will come up with my video, especially from ancient astronaut evangelists (again, I claim Fair Use). Again, we'll see.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ancient Aliens? My Presentation

Previously I had blogged about various evidences provided for ancient aliens, such as the Nazca Lines, the Baghdad battery, the Piri Re'is map, and the pyramids. I also gave a summary about the methodology of ancient astronaut proponents. But all this was to give some flavor of my presentation.

Quite fortunately, the video of my talk that I gave for the SSA at OSU is already up. You can watch it now.

UPDATE: Had trouble using the BSG opening bit, so here is the video re-edited to avoid that.

And yes, that picture with Jill Tarter did include me. I had a great time working at the SETI Institute back in the day. Also, since she has retired, Gerry Harp is now the head of the institute's research, and he was my adviser when I worked with him as an REU student.

Remember, the SETI Institute is funded solely by private donations. Consider supporting their work. They are doing the archaeology of the future!

So, what are your thoughts?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ancient Aliens? The Pyramids

As I mentioned in my previous post, I gave a talk about trying to find aliens while also examining the claims of those that promote the hypotheses of ancient astronauts. In the prior posts I went into the details of several things that I didn't have time to adequately mention in my talk, but a comment I received made me realize that it would be a lapse if I did not talk about the construction of pyramids, especially those in Egypt, since these are the go-to objects that ancient astronaut, Atlantis builder, reptilian believers first point to in making their case.

I wasn't going to blog about this subject since I discussed it a fair bit in my talk, but that it not online yet (hopefully it will in the next day or so), and nonetheless this deserve attention. After all, the Great Pyramid at Giza is the only standing Wonder of the World! I should talk about it just for that reason. But instead I have to talk about how it has been abused. And as everyone knows, every time someone says another civilization built the pyramids, a baby Egyptian cries. (Come of von Daniken; think of the children!)

Now, the big claim (in more ways that one) is that the pyramids of Egypt seem to pop out of nowhere without some prior advancements; we went from living in caves to building super-structures, or so it seems. Moreover, we find pyramid structures all over the world, so the Egyptians obviously didn't build them all. This apparent explosion in technical ability thus indicates a greater civilization as the force that made them pop up on the Giza plateau.

And here is where we see that ancient alien enthusiasts are rather similar to Young Earth Creationists: they ignore the transitional forms! (HT to Thomas Verenna for this and more)

The development of Egyptian burial sites and buildings spreads over centuries, starting with simple burial mounds, and then working up to a more formal structure, the mastaba, which were used by the early pharaohs. From there, the idea of the stepped pyramid isn't a great leap; it's basically stacking up mastabas. One of the earliest stepped pyramids (27th century BCE) was for Pharaoh Imhotep (whose name should be familiar from the movie The Mummy (1932 & 1999). From here, the proper pyramid form is desired, in part because it looks better (gotta look good for the afterlife!), and finally we get the pyramid into the form we know and love (some construction details here).

It becomes even more apparent the humanity in making these structures when we look at several, chronologically progressing examples. First, there is the pyramid at Meidum, started in the 3rd dynasty, but was attempted to be finished by Pharaoh Sneferu who founded the 4th dynasty. And it wasn't a success, but instead the pyramid collapsed during construction. You can see in the image layers of limestone and of mud brick, and the step form is also apparent. However, the design had serious flaws, including having the outer layers built on top of sand rather than rock (as at Giza), so we have the collapse except for the core.

This obviously didn't make Sneferu happy, so he built another one, the Bent Pyramid. Again, the picture shows some interesting features. The rocks that make up the bricks, for example, are not well-shaped and makes the work seem slipshod. Perhaps because of this, the engineers had to change the angle of the pyramid midway through construction to avoid another collapse. This is starting to look like trial-and-error rather than a master plan from aliens, doesn't it?

But again, Sneferu wasn't going to rest his immortal soul with such a structure, so he commissioned yet another pyramid. Here, he finally builds the Red Pyramid, which still stands and looks a lot like that at Giza. And one should expect similarity to the major Giza pyramid since it was built by Sneferu's son and successor, Khufu.

So, already the pyramids of Egypt should seem a lot less mysterious. There is at least a century between the stepped pyramid and the Great Pyramid at Giza, and plenty of intermediary forms. To quote what people who evolution know say: We have the fossils, we win!

As for moving the pyramids, that's isn't so mysterious either. Sure, it seems hard to fathom that people moved 2.5 million blocks of stone, each weighing tons. But when we actually look at what the Egyptians show us, we see that the great rocks and statues were moved with a lot of back-breaking labor.

What they used was a sledge with dozens of people on ropes. No tractor beams, no anti-gravity projectors, just hard work. They also did pour a lubricant in front of the sledge as well, as is seen in the picture above, using either water, milk, or some oil. This would reduce the friction and the chances of the sledge catching fire because of the heat of pulling. And this isn't the only way they did it. Rollers are also likely used, and the wood would be either locally harvested or imported from places such as Lebanon. Again, all within the technical limits of a Bronze Age civilization, and nothing is given to indicate aliens or Atlantians.

But what about all the other pyramids in the world, such as those in Mesoamerica? Why so many similar structures around the world? First, it should be noted that these pyramids were built thousands of years apart. The Pyramid of the Sun, for example, is built sometime around 100 CE. That is about 2500 years after the Khufu pyramid, a non-trivial difference in time. Aztec and Maya pyramids are younger still. These pyramids also serve different purposes. While the Egyptian pyramids were primarily for burial of dead royalty, the Aztec used the pyramids for human sacrifice rituals, making it a sort of stage performance for all to see. That can be see in the very design of the Aztec pyramids: they have a flatter top for people stand and be seen as if on the top of a grand stage or pediment. So, there is not one culture responsible for these buildings as they have significantly different designs and purposes.

But why pyramids nonetheless? This is actually a sign not of a civilization being super-advanced and needing aliens to explain, but it shows the limitations of the technology of the time. This is because without reinforcing materials, such as iron, the only large structure you can build is a sloping pile. All else can't handle the weight unless the pressure continuously spreads out, just like what a pyramid does. And after all, if a civilization came from another planet, would you really expect them to build things out of rocks rather than advanced materials? Why are aliens making structures less advanced than our own? Or even the Romans who had concrete and iron?

Once we place pyramids in their proper historical context, we can see that they are an amazing accomplishment, but also a human accomplishment. And we really should appreciate it as that, an amazing bit of human ingenuity. All else seems insulting to our ancestors and to us. We should celebrate, not speculate.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ancient Aliens? Summary

Later today I will be giving a talk for my local freethought group (SSA OSU) about extraterrestrials. But I want to before then give out info related to it, especially that concerning the ideas of aliens having come to earth in the distant past. So as part of that, I'll blog about a few interesting things that won't be adequately discussed but deserve attention. (Previous entries here and here and here.)

With the previous entries, I tried to show that the evidence for the particular structures or artifacts either were not what they were claimed to be by alien astronaut promoters, or the context of those items was far better explained as what we expect from humans.

The Nazca Lines: Not great as an alien space port, but it seems to best fit into local water deity beliefs and rituals. Not high-tech, probably not astronomical, but what we expect from humans with certain religious/social traditions.

The Baghdad Battery: Probably not actual a battery, and even if so it's far too low a voltage to be alien tech. Most likely it was an accidental combination of materials, and there is no evidence that such a device was used, nor that there was the know-how to have this technology. Since there is no evidence of the use of electricity at the time, nor do we find needed things such as wires for electricity to get passed around, we likely don't have something technologically out of place.

The Piri Re'is map: Rather like other maps of the time creating continents based not on ancient knowledge by philosophical musings. Doesn't actually show the continent of Antarctica, and the only way it does is if you change it to fit your conclusions. This is a case of the eye of the beholder getting in the way of what is really there.

There are many, many more things that could be pointed to and talked about, such as the moai of Easter Island, the structures at Nan Madol, Tiwanaku, and of course the Giza pyramids. However, there is a pattern that emerges all too quickly from how all this is argued by ancient astronaut folks: with a minimum of context and information about the given items, could aliens be a possible solution? Logically, there is not a contradiction in aliens built X, but possibility is a far and long shot away from probability. As Bible scholar F.C. Baur put it, "Anything is possible, but what is probable?"

The case is really made by innuendo: suggest the possibility but do nothing to substantiate it. No real research is done to see if the facts actually fit the alien hypothesis against another. And even when counter-evidence is provided, it is either ignored or some dance is done to try and circumvent it. That can be seen in how von Daniken dealt with criticism as seen in this documentary decades ago:

And it's the same today, and I will show that to some degree in my talk as well. So, if you were expecting me to find ETs this way, that won't be happening. There are much more likely avenues to discovering life outside the earth, both with robots like Curiosity and with SETI. But I will have to explain how later.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ancient Aliens? The Piri Re'is Map

Later this week I will be giving a talk for my local freethought group (SSA OSU) about extraterrestrials. But I want to before then give out info related to it, especially that concerning the ideas of aliens having come to earth in the distant past. So as part of that, I'll blog about a few interesting things that won't be adequately discussed but deserve attention. (Previous entries here and here.)

There are numerous artifacts that ancient astronaut researchers will look to in order to bolster their case. Some of it is unusual iconography, sometimes it is a seeming bit of advanced technology (such as the Baghdad battery discussed previously), and sometimes an object demonstrating knowledge ahead of the time it existed in.

One popular item is the Piri Re'is map, drawn up in 1513 by the Turkish admiral Hacı Ahmed Muhiddin Piri, or Piri Re'is (Re'is being a rank equal to that of captain.) It shows the coasts of Europe, North Africa, and parts of the New World. For 1513, that isn't so extraordinary as it's two decades after Christopher Columbus revealed to Europe the existence of the Americas. But at the southern part of the map, there is an oddity many have pointed to. There is some sort of landmass below South America. Perhaps it is the continent of Antarctica?

This would be remarkable since Antarctica was not officially discovered until 1820. But the more interesting claim comes from Charles Hutchins Hapgood who had a Master's degree in medieval history from Harvard. According to Hapgood, the map actually shows Antarctica as it appears without ice; that is, the map shows the landmass, not the visual cover of the water. That is remarkable since Antarctica has been ice-covered for thousands (actually millions) of years.

In the hands of ancient astronaut folks, this means that either the knowledge comes from ETs millions of years ago or a civilization with radar systems to map out the land rather than just the ice. Hapgood had different theories, including ancient human civilizations and fast-moving continents, but it still relies on the beliefs of what the Piri Re'is map shows.

But how good of a fit is the map to reality? Does it really show Antarctic landmass? We must first wonder if the mapmaker had access to great cartographic information since there are numerous mistakes for the continents known at the time. For example, the map mislabels Cuba as Hispaniola, which would be modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and apparently only half of the island is known. There are duplication of the Amazon River in South America, along with 900 missing miles of the continent's coastline. But closer to the area of interest, there is no gap between South America and "Antarctica", the Drake Passage between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula. That is already some serious issue with the map if it is from advanced civilizations, human or otherwise.

If we look at the region specified as a good match between the map and the continent, we are supposed to look at Queen Maud Land (highlighted in reddish pink). 

How strong of a resemblance do you see between this region and the map image above? Doesn't look all that great to me. But here is the glue that held Hapgood's theory together. Already Hapgood had the idea that the ancients had mapped out this part of the world, and at a time when there wasn't ice covering the continent (or at least at the coasts). But with time the accuracy of the maps would be lost. So, given sufficient corrections, we can find that the map does fit the coast of Queen Maud Land. In other words, it's circular reasoning! (See also David C. Jolly, "Was Antarctica Mapped by the Ancients?," The Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 11 (Fall, 1986), pp. 32-43, 55.)

So the fit isn't great and mostly artificial. If anything, we may think that the continent in the south is an extension of South America, an understandable error for the 16th century. But this is not the only map with a southerly continent. In fact, the idea goes all the way back to antiquity. The notion seems to first crop up with Aristotle, and that region came to be known as Terra Australis, meaning southern land (the name is now effectively borne by Australia). The idea Aristotle had was not because of his excellent geographic knowledge, but rather an argument from symmetry (see Meteorology, Book 2.5). His argument is not about observations or old lore, but what the world must be like, given symmetrical notions and the winds. Hardly what we expect if the ancients had such knowledge. The Greeks and Romans also speculated if anyone actually lived below the deserts of North Africa, and so the maps of the time, such as that of Ptolemy, would incorporate the idea. Renaissance maps and globes would also include the continent, but wildly off from what we know today as correct.

Renaissance reconstruction of Ptolemy's map of the world (from his Geographia). Notice the landmass at the south of the Indian Ocean.

A c. 1570 map by Abraham Ortelius. Antarctica had been putting on some weight it seems.
A 1604 Chinese Map. Obviously Terra Australis is a bit larger than what we know to be true. Perhaps there has been super-global warming?
Once we place the Piri Re'is map in its historical context and do not add to it with undue imagination, it's not a spectacular revolt against all modern scholarship. It is one more example of ideas that had been floated around since antiquity based on philosophical speculations. Moreover, it doesn't fit to the real continent of Antarctica with or without ice, so it cannot support either ancient astronaut of Atlantis-like civilization hypotheses. And if these maps came from aliens, then good riddance because they suck as map-making.

Oh, and if you think the problem is bad memory, well, here's a video of Al Franken drawing a map of the USA from memory.

Not bad, Al. Not bad.