A Lesson In Skepticism

A common theme when looking at pseudo-scientific claims is what is called anomaly hunting – this is where people look for anything unusual that they can use to support their existing beliefs without looking for other, usually more plausible, explanations.

When someone recently stumbled upon this while looking at the oceans on Google Earth….

What do you imagine they thought they stumped upon?

Evidence for Atlantis, of course! It is unlikely to be a natural formation with all those straight lines and box shapes. Maybe even if it is not Atlantis it is some old, undiscovered city?

95% of the time, when a conspiracy theorist, or pseudoscientist presents a claim that seems so initially compelling,it has such a mundane explanation lurking just below the surface.

I remember when i first heard the claim from moon hoax theorists that there were no stars in the pictures of the moon landing and by golly they were right! I still doubted their conclusions, but their evidence seemed so strong, undediable almost. Of course, as it turns out, the answer was so blindly simple and obvious that even an amateur photographer would laugh at this quality of this evidence, which, by by the way, constitutes one of their strongest points. In this case it had everything to do with exposure. When you are on a very white surface, and the guy you are photographing is wearing a very white astronaut suit, and you have a big star glaring down on all this white stuff without an atmopshere to dull it, you need a *very* short exposure time or else the picture would just turn all white and your picture would be ruined. The stars did not show up because they are relatively *very* faint objects. And this is the level of evidence they love to work with. This was one of the first lessons i had in skepticism at a young age. The contrast between the apprent strength of the evidence and the obviousness and ease with which an answer could be given by someone who just knew a tiny bit about the subject is still palpable to this day – almost instantly it went from a huge conundrum to a laughable point.

The conundrum provided by the above picture, the seemignly strong evidence for an old, hidden cizilization may seem strong. But the answer, as it usually is, is just as simple.

A couple of weeks ago the image in question got so much attention that Google had to make an official statement about it. It turns out you can find that pattern in many, many places in the oceans as seen on Google Earth. It is an artifact of data collection. It comes from the boats that Google uses to do sonar mapping of the ocean flear. The boats do a <drum roll> grid pattern.

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