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Nu-skeptic Phil ‘Bad Astronomy’ Plait has been provoking plenty of comment this week on his insanely popular blog with a couple of ‘challenges’ on two separate topics: astrology and UFOs. The fun started with the post “Shakin’ Up Astrological Nonsense“:

You know that astrology is equal to the solid waste matter that is extruded from a male bovine mammal, right? Want proof? Watch this video… Yes, you got it. An astrologer is startled — nay, shocked — by an earthquake while filming a YouTube video with her daily horoscope predictions.

Yet somehow, while doing that voodoo hooey she do so badly — she missed the fact that she was about to experience an earthquake! I love irony.

Now, I’m no expert on astrology (so have no valid opinion either way), but I’m pretty sure that most astrologists don’t claim to predict earthquakes. I did find a quite delicious irony though in the fact that (a) the immediately preceding post was about the third attempt at launching a rocket, after a previous launch had exploded (I mean, come on – how can we trust these scientist guys and their voodoo hooey!) and (b) even ‘orthodox’ science can’t predict earthquakes.

Mr Bad Astronomy twisted the knife later in the week with a follow-up post on his entry about the Edgar Mitchell ‘revelations’, in which he requested evidence for the existence of UFOs:

OK then, show it to me. This is up to you to show me this, to verify it, and to show me why you have eliminated every single possible terrestrial mundane explanation, including hardware glitches, mistaken conclusions by the people involved, and advanced military craft — things we know exist and are common. Then and only then can you begin to postulate something more exotic.

I don’t think I can be more clear than this. I want good, solid, examinable evidence. What I get are insults, bad logic, and vaporware. That’s not helping your case, folks.

I certainly don’t have the time to sift through every single case, of course, and I’m pretty busy in general. But I’m always interested in what some might consider to be more solidly based cases.

Plait is pretty much dead-on in asking for evidence of alien visitation before believing it – the reason some people find it provocative is because it challenges their belief system, and because the challenge is one they have difficulty in meeting (in providing evidence). On this count, skeptics are right – Edgar Mitchell’s revelations, the Drones etc, all amount to nothing. They are not proof of anything. I would say that perhaps Phil Plait (and other ‘skeptics’) maybe need to just realise that there are a lot of ‘nutters’ and uninformed people out there, who tend to make the most noise – and just get over it.

On the other hand I do take issue with Phil Plait’s approach to arguing against ufology in general (in previous posts). Genuine ufology is investigation of strange cases which point at some anomaly. Furthermore, it is easy to dismiss ufology when concentrating on the ‘sightings from a distance’ – it becomes more difficult once you start involving the higher degrees of ‘Close Encounter’ experiences. These (and some of the better ‘standard’ UFO cases) point at some anomaly worth investigating – which may involve anything from geomagnetism to actual extraterrestrial visitation. True ufology is science of the best kind, as it’s trying to expand the boundaries of knowledge. So it would be good to see Bad Astronomy approaching the subject with a bit more intelligence, rather than provoking the uninformed.