Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Face on Mars vs. The UFOs

Poor Richard C. Hoagland. Not too long ago, he was on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory (he's their science advisor, which is kind of like taking Donald Rumsfeld's advice on military strategy), gleefully bashing Steven Greer in particular, and ufology in general. Now, while I actually agreed with the former (Greer had been ranting on about a SETI cover-up a few nights before), the latter was a bit much to take coming from Hoagland, especially when he said - and I paraphrase here - that the evidence he had for the Face on Mars (and all the other things he seems to think are on Mars) is better than the evidence that ufologists have for the reality of the UFO phenomenon. And then he went on to plug his upcoming conference, where "new secrets" about Mars would be revealed.

Uh huh.

Needless to say, many in ufology were not pleased, and said so publicly (Tim Binnall pops to mind). I listened to the episode, and laughed most of it off, because no-one really takes Hoagland seriously anymore. He's the Steven Greer of the "Face on Mars" crowd, which is a delicious irony that I have no doubt neither of them appreciate.

So, with the recently released European Space Agency photos of Mars that seem to show that there's nothing human, or alien, about the "Face", ufologists could be forgiven a few laughs, even snide remarks, at Hoagland's expense. Karma, as they say, is a bitch.

But...

Perhaps it's not quite time to throw the whole "Face on Mars" thing to the curb just yet. I've never really thought that there was anything to it - it never looked like much of a face to me - but other people, including guys like Mac Tonnies, who I respect, are still intrigued, if not necessarily by the "Face", then by Mars in general, and the possibility that there once could have been life there. While I may not buy the "Face", I also keep an open mind (moreso about past life on Mars).

Because Hoagland is such a controversial figure, and because he's made some pretty outlandish claims, ufology has kept its distance - just as most scientists keep their distance from ufology, because of its more controversial figures and outlandish, unsupported claims.

But just as Steven Greer or Michael Salla don't represent everyone in ufology, neither does Richard Hoagland represent everyone who is interested in the "Face on Mars" (or the prospect of a previous civilization on Mars). There are still good people out there who are worth listening to. As Alfred Lehmberg said in response to Jerry Clark Saturday on UFO Updates - mark this down, folks, because I'm about to agree with Mr. Lehmberg, which may represent one of the signs of the Apocalypse - we still don't know, either about Mars in general, or about the "Face" in particular.

After all, photos are not always conclusive, are they? To those ufologists who say, "well, that's it for the 'Face on Mars', because the photos solve everything" I can only offer two words - Trindade and McMinnville. When you're done debating those photos, and have come to a conclusion that everyone can accept, one way or another, then perhaps you can safely close the book on the "Face on Mars".

In the meantime, just be satisfied with closing the book on Hoagland.

Paul Kimball

23 comments:

Mac said...

Ironically, the Face on Mars becomes a lot more interesting once you've closed the book on Hoagland -- and written your own!

UFO Bits said...

It is one of the signs of the Apocalypse, because I agree with you here. Not only that, I agree with your comments on Stuart's blog re: Nick Pope.

I know, it's the end of the world.

Carol said...

You've left some room for respectful discussion of the various aspects of the Face on Mars issue, and I thank you, Paul.

The pictures. There's a standard formulation that tends to get used every time new images of the Face are released. "The pictures tell us that it is only a hill." It's a curiously passive construction, especially when contrasted with its use by pugnacious Face debunkers aiming to "scotch [that] thing for good."

Pictures don't "tell" anything. They aren't a received narrative which tells the whole truth about how a hundredth of a second illuminates the truest nature of the subject. We interpret pictures, and bring all our biases and knowledge (or ignorance) to the job. If I may borrow from Stephen Colbert, all of the images we've had of the feature known as the Face show at best some measure of "truthiness."

What information we do manage to glean from Face images over the years depends on our ability to obtain useful data to begin with, and our ability to process that data honestly and competently. Our ability to recognize when images have not been processed correctly is important, as is our need to be able to articulate why we feel processing choices were made correctly or not.

Being able to describe accurately what information the image holds is paramount. And in this case, if you cannot discuss what might be a massive eroded sculpture with the vocabulary and eye of a sculptor or archeologist, it's like standing in front of Michelangelo's David and only being able to talk about the quarry its marble came from.

I notice that mainstream astronomical pundits are not eager to include the "Catbox" in their roundup of images that show how our ability to make statements about the Face has changed over the years. Placing this against
the recent ESA image might leave you with a feeling that NASA was either incompetent or duplicitous in releasing the Catbox. (For those of you who don't know what the Catbox is, being ignorant of context and history might indicate that you are not ready to contribute to this conversation yet.)

What the ESA website does not adequately discuss is what kind of image we are seeing. It's not just made with a fancy digital camera. It is a simulated perspective, using data from a number of sources, places over a generated 3D framework. Does the unusual forehead bump showing here appear on any other images, or has it been Klingonized through error or design? What about the image at the bottom of the ESA Face page which shows a distinct elongation of the crater to the southwest of the Face? What is that telling us, that ESA and its commentors downstream aren't telling us?

Who made the decision to choose the clearly damaged, slumping side of the Face for the APOD image? It is shown from a perspective 180 degrees from the usual way of showing it, in essence showing it from the viewpoint of someone behind its left shoulder. Maybe it was the same visually illiterate APOD staffer several years ago, who wanted to be cutesy about showing how features on Mars can sometimes resemble Earth graphics. That staffer was unable to tell the crucial difference between a Mercedes Benz logo and a peace sign. We're supposed to trust received wisdom from someone with that sort of astounding ignorance?

Astronomy Picture of the Day?
http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap060925.html

They've made the usual folk psychology pitch for pareidolia as well, with the feature they are saying looks like a skull. Hey, sure it does from that computer-generated perspective -- if you think a skull has 3 eye sockets.

What they don't seem to realize (they actually get paid to have these flights of fancy?), is that this feature had been known to Mars anomalists since April of 1998, when a feature right below it was nicknamed The Trailer Park or The Coat Hanger. Not even the most enthusiastic "I see pictures all over the ground" anomalist ever claimed that the larger feature above the CoatHanger ever claimed it looked like a skull in the past eight years. And anyone who is familiar with the feature from previous images would know it is not the slightest bit skull-like anyway. What then does this tell us about the ability to get useful information from the ESA images, or their intepreters?

The ufology community should know better that to take claims at face value by people who are making statements outside their area of competence. It's easier to let Richard Hoagland be the straw man that everyone gets to beat up, while avoiding questions that should be at the heart of any discussion of the Face on Mars.

Carol Maltby

Paul Kimball said...

R. Lee:

I'm sure the world will survive.

:-)

Mac:

You wrote a book?

;-)

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

Carol:

I'm not an expert on the "Face on Mars", although I do find the possibility - however remote - that life existed on Mars at some point fascinating.

To me, the only way we'll know for sure is when we get there and take a look around for ourselves (and by "ourselves" I don't mean me, or you, of course). Even then, who knows? It might close the book, or it might open new ones.

Fortunately, in a move that even his enemies (i.e. most people in ufology) should hail, George Bush has put us on the path to getting there within what I hope is my lifetime.

About time!

Paul

The Odd Emperor said...

Sending people to Mars will undoubtedly open more books than it will close. That’s the very nature of exploration. As for Mr. Bush et-al. He’s been talking the talk but he’s hardly racing the US to Mars or anything. For the cost of a couple of Stealth Bombers we could be there in less than ten years. I think it’s really important we do that too.

Ms Lee; I find myself agreeing with you too. This IS the end! ;-)

Carol said...

It's a Catch-22 -- we don't officially believe there was ever any intelligent life on Mars, so we won't give the astronauts the archeological skills they would need to look for evidence of intelligent construction on Mars.

It's not as if we're sure we're going to find a wall of dusty tiles covering the Face, that managed to survive millennia of weathering. Or that astronauts would be encouraged to go mountain climbing with their little hammers when they need to be hyper-conservative about their safety.

Rockhounds will be running the manned missions, not archeologists.

BoudiccasSPEAR said...

You seem to dismiss the fact that most of the MARS photos have been tampered with. C'mon, you of all people should 'know' that. It doesn't take much to see the airbrushing apparent in most of the MARS photos. So, mock hoagland, and laugh up as much as you can on the FACE, but the fact of the matter is this:

Originally the face was plain as day! And then when people starting questioning it and considering it might be artificial, lo and behold, more pictures circulate, only this time, the face DOESN'T look like a face anymore.
Doesn't take a genius to figure out that there's something strange there.

Or does it?

Dustin said...

But even if people make it to Mars in our lifetimes, what kind of data are we going to get from them? Probably the same filtered data that we get from the space agencies today. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the only way to further science is if everyone, on all sides of any debate, shows all their data that led them to their respective conclusions. What I see in the Mars debates is a lot of people giving conclusions, on both sides, but not a lot of data, and it starts with the space agencies. Much like Carol alluded to, it's difficult, if not impossible, to draw solid conclusions when 3D graphics are put out without any of the supporting data.

Lesley said...

I knew I could find things to agree with Paul on. It just takes some looking.:-)

Carol said...

You seem to dismiss the fact that most of the MARS photos have been tampered with. C'mon, you of all people should 'know' that. It doesn't take much to see the airbrushing apparent in most of the MARS photos.

Would you like to substantiate that figure?
Malin's site says they have 212,000 MOC images, so "most" would have be over 106,000 images that had been tampered with. I don't think the combined efforts of every anomalist in the past 8 years could document all of that.

Or do you mean just in Cydonia? In which case, who has the database, and how many do they have listed as possibly tampered with, out of what total examined?

It's not that I trust Malin and NASA (I don't), or that I haven't personally confirmed what appeared to be suspicious images. It's just that I think we do better with meticulously documenting any irregularities, rather than indulging in hyperbole that can't be corroborated.

Mac said...

Originally the face was plain as day! And then when people starting questioning it and considering it might be artificial, lo and behold, more pictures circulate, only this time, the face DOESN'T look like a face anymore.

The Face hasn't changed one bit. I found it, and still find it, a fascinating mystery that just might tell us something about the role of intelligence in our solar system.

Do you *really* expect high-resolution views taken at different sun-angles to look just like the old Viking frames? Frankly, it wouldn't make any sense if they did.

No, the feature hasn't changed. Just our expectations. Fortunately some of us are still interested in learning more instead of endlessly crying "foul."

Paul Kimball said...

But even if people make it to Mars in our lifetimes, what kind of data are we going to get from them? Probably the same filtered data that we get from the space agencies today.

That assumes that the only people visiting Mars will be government agencies. I doubt it. While government will continue to have a role to play in space exploration, increasingly it will be the private sector, or public-private partnerships, that lead the way - just as was the case in the early days of European exploration. It will be impossible to control information when that happens.

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

Carol:

You wrote:

And in this case, if you cannot discuss what might be a massive eroded sculpture with the vocabulary and eye of a sculptor or archeologist, it's like standing in front of Michelangelo's David and only being able to talk about the quarry its marble came from.

Interesting point.

People have short attention spans these days, and very little appreciation for history, or for the breadth and scope of time. If there had been a civilization on Mars, oh, how about 10,000 years ago (a drop in the bucket of time), what would their structures look like? Considering the shape that Terran structures are in after the passage of significantly less time, we would expect them to be severely eroded, perhaps to the point of appearing as part of the overall landscape, although probably still retaining some features that could, from a distance, be seen as possibly artificial.

Until we get there, and conduct a proper survey, we just won't know for sure.

Paul

Carol said...

While it is fairly short, Lan Fleming's article "On Mounds, Mesas, and Martians" is what I usually recommend to people who are new to the controversy over the Face.

http://www.vgl.org/webfiles/mars/structcmp/structcmp.htm

I've never heard of an archeologist venturing a public opinion on the Face. Likely they've seen how self described "skeptics" treat those they don't agree with. Of course we all are skeptics about any number of things, everyone just draws the lines differently.

If you look down the page to the "comparisons" section, you'll see that he has included a good image of the feature the ESA writers are referring to as the "Skull." As you can see, it looks nothing like a skull. Even with a vivid imagination, the closest I can get with this one to a human head is to pretend that it is a profile picture of former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, with his nose pointing toward 10 o'clock.

http://www.margaretthatcher.org/images/essPhoto1970trim.gif

Paul Kimball said...

Carol:

"Wet Teddy" Heath?

Ewww... :-)

Paul

Carol said...

Scary, isn't it? ;)

I was hoping to find the Searle or Steadman caricature that showed him with the front of the Concorde as his nose. Just goes to show that anthropomorphising Martian features can lead to surprisingly strong emotional reactions!

Mac said...

Re. Fleming's essay: I got to walk amongst (and on top of) the grass-covered ruins of Native American earthworks in Collinsville, IL. Edifying experience.

Paul Kimball said...

Mac:

There are ruins in the Halifax area, only a hundred years old or so, that are already almost unrecognizable as being man-made. Makes you think...

Paul

Dustin said...

Paul said:

That assumes that the only people visiting Mars will be government agencies. I doubt it. While government will continue to have a role to play in space exploration, increasingly it will be the private sector, or public-private partnerships, that lead the way - just as was the case in the early days of European exploration. It will be impossible to control information when that happens.

And that's a wonderful point. I guess the "next generation" of Mars explorers will be astronauts, probably ex-air force and navy pilots, but hopefully beyond that we'll get a new breed of space explorer, with a different viewpoint on the universe.

jezzie said...

I don't know...with entrepreneurs like Richard Branson providing "space tourist" positions to the lowliest of us that can afford it, I don't see why future missions to Mars might not include an archaeologist here and there.

The more time goes by, the less I feel that government agencies will be involved, and if that's the case, we might actually get "civilians" to Mars sooner than expected.

At least...we can only hope.

Paul Kimball said...

Katie:

I concur. I think this is exactly what you'll hear Bob Zimmerman say in Halifax in two weeks, too (at least about the private sector).

Paul

BoudiccasSPEAR said...

It might take me 20-30-40 years, but I know something is there and I am going to try and prove it. As for whether or not the pics were tampered, as the daughter of a former NASA scientist, I have been told first hands that pictures were purposely 'cropped' and that there was an old method of 'smearing' a negative that I am sure any professional photographer will know what that means. I am not just speaking out of the side of my head. He told me this when I was a disinterested kid. And now I am a very interested adult and I believed my father wholeheartedly. I can say with 1000% certainty that NASA tampers with pictures.