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General Astronomy >> Outreach

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frolinmod
Carpal Tunnel


Reged: 08/06/10

Loc: Southern California
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: amicus sidera]
      #4914799 - 11/14/11 12:03 AM

Quote:

This is unfortunate for the individuals asking these questions, and I believe that they are ill-served by the answers they are receiving from the vast majority of amateur astronomers.



If you enjoy being served large doses of "woo" with your astronomy, I freely admit you're somewhat less likely likely to get it from an amateur astronomer than from the public at large. How much less likely is debatable, hence the Cloudy Nights TOS.


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magic612
Post Laureate
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Reged: 09/30/08

Loc: S. of Chicago's light dome
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: frolinmod]
      #4915232 - 11/14/11 10:33 AM

Quote:

Over the years, I have had many of these rational, down-to-earth people ask me if, for example, I thought we went to the Moon, or if I believed in, or had seen, UFO's, or if I believed that a God had created the universe. Many did not phrase these in the form of a question, but as a statement of belief.




Certainly how a question is asked - or statement is made - determines my response. Body language and facial expressions can speak volumes as well. A sincere and earnest question is easier to discern from a facial expression than, for example, questions posted on an online forum. And I think many of us here are responding to the questions received from the "jokesters" or those looking to get a reaction from us.

Quote:

To be disingenuous with these individuals is to do them a disservice. If asked my considered, personal opinion, I give it, with the caveat that it is just that, my opinion. I do not recite facts and figures, or try to change their minds...




When asked for facts, I will offer them if I know them. When asked for an opinion, I will offer one. I am always respectful of others opinions, and preconceived ideas ("There's no way we put men on the Moon!"). But that doesn't mean I can't make reasoned, respectful arguments based on facts and evidence. ("We have pictures from the LRO of the footsteps on the Moon, look at how the dust is kicked up from the lunar rovers compared to Earth, etc.) I don't think it is a disservice to help people understand what we as amateur astronomers know to be true.

I think it is fair to say that the Moon landings and evidence / facts for them are not at all comparable to the once widespread practice of bloodletting to cure diseases, for example.

Quote:

However, and this is key: they are asking these opinions of a demographic (amateur astronomers), the majority of who, in my experience and opinion, maintain the scientific "party line" as if their lives depended upon it, per the following:

Demonstrably slanted and prejudicial views on subjects such as UFO's that they have not studied in depth;




I think it is important to distinguish how these subjects are brought up. For example, the question I cited in my post above was, "Have you ever seen a UFO?" My response is perhaps simplistic, "No," because it is true. It is not an opinion, that is factually true: I personally have not seen an object I cannot identify. This is not to say UFO's do not exist, or that I am talking about something I have not studied in-depth. It is saying, "I personally have not seen an object in the sky I could not identify as being a planet, satellite, airplane, or other recognizable phenomena." That may sound like, "The party line," but it is in fact predicated on the way the question was asked.

On the other hand, if asked, "Do you BELIEVE in UFO's or that aliens exist?" I would have a different response. I would certainly still offer than I had never seen one, as I have been able to identify things in the sky I have seen, but that the universe is so vast and large it is certainly possible that aliens exist and that they have spacecraft capable of reaching Earth. That could lead to a nice discussion about the vast distances in space, and our relatively paltry efforts so far at physically exploring the universe around us (Voyager just left the solar system not all that long ago).

How the question is asked makes a difference in how one responds.

Quote:

Disdain for so-called "conspiracy theories" whether or not they have researched them to determine what merit, if any, they might possess;




I am not sure what this refers to, as the suggestion is rather vague. There are, in fact, many conspiracy theories about the U.S. space program (particularly the Moon landings), many of which have been repeatedly debunked by solid scientific evidence, facts, photos, the astronauts who went there, etc. I have personally read up on this subject, knowing that I will get questions about it. I am not sure what good it does to enable believers of these theories, as they often only need the tiniest shreds of evidence to continue their belief, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I am not sure how it is a "party line" of some kind to offer up solid evidence that rejects many of the factually inaccurate conspiracy theories out there. "You can't see the stars in the sky of the Moon pictures, therefore we didn't go to the Moon!" is easily debunked by a simple explanation of how cameras actually work with respect to sunlight vs. the much dimmer starlight. Is that a "party line"? I don't think so, but perhaps you could share some of the conspiracy theories you think have merit that amateurs treat with disdain...?

I don't believe it is fair to ascribe "disdain" to facts being used to counter demonstrable conspiracy theories.

Quote:

A near-total rejection of anything and everything regarding Deity or a Creator.




I can only speak for myself in this situation, but as a believer of theistic evolution, I have no problem speaking with clarity about both God and science, as I see no inherent contradiction between the two.

Quote:

This is unfortunate for the individuals asking these questions, and I believe that they are ill-served by the answers they are receiving from the vast majority of amateur astronomers.




I don't think people are ill-served to be spoken to respectfully and with factual information. Part of what makes human existence so rich is that we can, and do, disagree about many things. I find I learn a lot by arguing (respectfully and civilly, of course) with others. As someone with a significant amount of knowledge that I work very hard to pass along to others about the night sky in an easy-to-understand way, I think it is important to distinguish between what is factually known, while - as you rightly point out - acknowledging what is unknown. And on the flip side, while genuine believers of conspiracy theories need some time and respect to discuss matters more fully, I'd suggest jokesters are actually well-served by being verbally slapped down with a simple, witty put down.

And I, for one, am not afraid to say, "I have no idea!" when I cannot answer a question. I did just that a few weeks ago when someone asked me how far away a star cluster was, and the distance eluded me.


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amicus sidera
Post Laureate
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Reged: 10/14/11

Loc: East of the Sun, West of the M...
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: magic612]
      #4915558 - 11/14/11 01:41 PM

Thank you, magic612, for your excellent, well-reasoned reply!

I am in complete agreement with you on almost all major points, and I applaud you for having the courage and perspicacity to have no fear of saying, "I have no idea". What I was trying to transmit in my post (and all, please forgive me if I have failed to do so) was my contention and opinion, born of direct experience, that there exists, to a greater or lesser degree, certain prejudicial attitudes among some, not all, amateur astronomers. I have been guilty of these attitudes myself in years past. "Disdain" would be the most accurate and succinct word to describe the attendant emotion/attitude. These attitudes pertain to discussion of certain types of anomalous phenomena, as well as beliefs that contradict current scientific dogma.

It was not until I started researching, both in written works and in the field, those things that exist at the fringes of knowledge and belief that I realized that in many cases I had been inaccurate in much of my knowlege and many of my assumptions regarding a given subject. While I am of the opinion that the vast majority of "fringe" literature is wholly without merit, there are some worthy and studied works regarding anomalous events that are quite enlightening.

As regards UFO's and related anomalies, one could do no better than to read the works of Hynek or Vallee, the former being a respected astronomer. Hynek's opinion of the subject changed considerably over the course of the years - one might be quite surprised at his later conclusions. Keel fits into this "worth reading"category also, although his style of writing and scarcity of references may cause some to view his work rather perjoratively. One thing to be realized from these works is that the phenomenon, by its very nature, may never be breached by science.

One could argue back and forth all day (if one was so inclined - I am not) as to whether the Moon landings ever took place, or if they took place in the manner put forth. Countless books and Internet essays have postulated both for and against the landings having occurred as NASA delineated. I have seen many studied as well as specious arguments coming from both camps, and have concluded that there are still many legitimate, unanswered questions remaining... hence, it appears to me that those who evince belief in the "authorized version" of events are just that - believers. They are entitled to that, certainly, but it is a belief nonetheless, no matter how reasoned and logical the basis for their belief appears to them to be. For a belief to be factual, it must be verifiable, and statements by NASA and astronauts, and opinions by scientists in general, amateur astronomers or the man in the street do not constitute verification. As is often said (and quite correctly) of the UFO subject, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof"... sending men to the Moon and back would certainly qualify as an extraordinary claim. Where the evidence of one's own eyes is lacking, one should be extremely reluctant to take such matters on faith.

As regards religious issues, in keeping with the TOS I will say very little, except that I can sympathize with one of the previous posters who was in effect being proselytized by a group with a differing belief system. However, the reverse analogy holds true, and we as amateur astronomers should be on our guard that we do not become proselytizers of our own beliefs, no matter how sincerely held.

To all reading this, I hope I have clarified my position, and further hope that no matter your beliefs, that you have clear, dark skies under which to reflect upon them, and a long line of eager eyes awaiting their turn at the eyepiece.


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Jason B
Proud father of 5!!
*****

Reged: 06/21/04

Loc: Mid-Michigan
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: amicus sidera]
      #4915580 - 11/14/11 01:57 PM

Hey guys,
I think we have done an outstanding job of keeping this thread TOS friendly. Thanks!

These situations can be tough and I am glad to see I am not alone!

Quote:

To all reading this, I hope I have clarified my position, and further hope that no matter your beliefs, that you have clear, dark skies under which to reflect upon them, and a long line of eager eyes awaiting their turn at the eyepiece.




I think this is a great way to look at things!


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magic612
Post Laureate
*****

Reged: 09/30/08

Loc: S. of Chicago's light dome
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: amicus sidera]
      #4915815 - 11/14/11 04:08 PM

Quote:

Thank you, magic612, for your excellent, well-reasoned reply!




Thank you, and I appreciate the constructive and civil dialogue.

Quote:

One could argue back and forth all day (if one was so inclined - I am not) as to whether the Moon landings ever took place... hence, it appears to me that those who evince belief in the "authorized version" of events are just that - believers. ... For a belief to be factual, it must be verifiable, and statements by NASA and astronauts, and opinions by scientists in general, amateur astronomers or the man in the street do not constitute verification. As is often said (and quite correctly) of the UFO subject, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof"... sending men to the Moon and back would certainly qualify as an extraordinary claim.




There are unanswered questions about many things that are still understood to real and/or true. But that does not negate that those things occurred or are real/true, either. I was not alive for the first Moon landing, and very young when we last set foot there. At the risk of taking the thread OT, there are several things that convince me of it's veracity, that are difficult to claim otherwise:

- We left mirrors on the surface, so that lasers could be pointed at the Moon to accurately measure its distance. If the mirrors are NOT there, how do we measure the laser? I am not inclined to believe so many scientists are "in" on such a "cover up."
- How does one explain how the dust looks from the lunar rovers while driving? Shouldn't it be possible for someone to replicate this using 1960's technology? Why has no one done so to date?
- The LRO has taken photos of the lunar landing sites. If this is a "cover up" to "prove" that we went when we didn't, I cannot fathom how thousands of government employees - past and present, at this point - have managed to keep this secret. If you can explain that one, I'm all ears.

At some point, yes, this comes down to believing others. I have never measured the speed of light myself, but I accept that scientists have done so, and done so accurately. Much of what we believe for distances in the universe, red-shift, size of the universe, etc., is predicated on this. Certainly, if the speed of light has been inaccurately measured all of these years, almost all of astronomy is wrong. But I tend to find it hard to believe that so many scientists could measure the speed of light and either A) be wrong or B) cover up the 'real' speed of light.

And so it goes with conspiracies. I hope that clears up why I am comfortable believing what I do about astronomy. My religious faith is another matter entirely, and not suitable for discussion here; again, theistic evolution is what "works" for me there.

Quote:

To all reading this, I hope I have clarified my position, and further hope that no matter your beliefs, that you have clear, dark skies under which to reflect upon them, and a long line of eager eyes awaiting their turn at the eyepiece.




To echo Jason, thanks for this and the same to you as well.


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astroRoy
professor emeritus


Reged: 07/09/11

Loc: Southern Oregon
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: magic612]
      #4915859 - 11/14/11 04:34 PM

Galliger said it about Hollywood. "It's like a bowl of granola, what ain't fruits and nuts is flakes." I figure the idea of outreach is to educate - even the granolians.

Roy


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StarGeazer
sage


Reged: 11/23/10

Loc: Cross Junction, VA, USA
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: astroRoy]
      #4917329 - 11/15/11 02:15 PM

Quote:

Galliger said it about Hollywood. "It's like a bowl of granola, what ain't fruits and nuts is flakes." I figure the idea of outreach is to educate - even the granolians.









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Skywatcher2011
member
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Reged: 10/02/11

Loc: Californa
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: StarGeazer]
      #4917993 - 11/15/11 10:01 PM

At the last outreach there was a guy who was really itching to get into a heated debate with me over the moon landings. He was quite literally laughing when he asked, "How do you know we really landed on the moon? How can anyone believe that?" I was in no mood to get into it and simply told him he should look at the entirety of the evidence. Its not ancient history, it happened in the last 40 years and most of the people involved in it are still alive. And in case ya didn't notice, the government ain't real good at keeping secrets. The moon landing deniers are essentially from the same camp as the 9/11 Truthers.

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StarStuff1
Post Laureate
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Reged: 04/01/07

Loc: South of the Mason-Dixon Line
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: Skywatcher2011]
      #4918317 - 11/16/11 02:56 AM

One of the most often questions I am asked at a public outreach session is "How do you know that object is so and so?". When I used to use my personal scope I would answer "Because I have had three decades of experience looking and finding that object."

Now I use the club's 12-in Meade LX200 with GoTo. I answer "Because this scope has a GPS and automatic computer locator to find these thisngs". People understand this much easier and faster.

If someone asks if we can see the flag on the Moon I tell them that it is pointed straight at the Earth and so is too small to see. Depending on their reaction I usually chuckle and explain the real reason.


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freestar8n
Post Laureate
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Reged: 10/12/07

Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: StarStuff1]
      #4918349 - 11/16/11 04:43 AM

I think this is an interesting thread and I have similar experiences, but one thing I didn't see mentioned here (unless I overlooked it) is the question, "How much did this cost?"

I get that question from kids and adults - and even when they don't ask I can tell they are wondering it.

The way I answer it, which I think would be accurate for the setups many, but not all people have is, "Cheaper than a boat." I am not a boating person - but I believe the typical cost is pretty high relative to a typical star party setup - so it is an accurate reply that doesn't give away too much info - and makes owning such a setup not seem unusually exorbitant.

Things could be worse in terms of questions. I know someone who gave a long talk on native american artefacts to an elementary school class, and at the end he asked if there were any questions. The first was, "Why are you bald?"

I do occasionally have religion-based questions and I just talk about - whatever you believe - it's cool to look at the stuff up there. One guy tried to tip me a $20 after that.

Frank


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desertstars

*****

Reged: 11/05/03

Loc: Tucson, AZ
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: freestar8n]
      #4918534 - 11/16/11 08:28 AM

That's a good point. I get the "How much does it cost?" question every single time I set up in public, whether it's a formal outreach event, or my driveway in view of dog walkers and neighbors. I usually respond first with what the basic rig I'm using (usually the SVP 8EQ) would cost. Some people are surprised it's not a lot more, other sort of choke and turn pale. At that point I explain the vast array of options for folks getting started. Those who are intimidated by the Newt's price generally raise an eyebrow when they learn they can buy a telescope as powerful as the one through which they just looked, but at a fraction of the price.

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MikeBOKC
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Reged: 05/10/10

Loc: Oklahoma City, OK
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: desertstars]
      #4918541 - 11/16/11 08:32 AM

I always answer the cost question with "this basic scope costs about $2800 and the eyepieces and other accessories probably about another $1500." More often than not the response is "wow, I would have expected it to cost a whole lot more." In several cases I found that they were asking specifically because they were considering entering the hobby (or in some cases gifting a scope to children) so it sometimes helps expand the hobby to discuss costs. Hard to realize soemtimes, but people unfamilar with astro gear often think it is extravagantly expensive, usually over-estimating the real cost by multiples.

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tedbnh
scholastic sledgehammer


Reged: 11/14/07

Loc: New Hampshire
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: MikeBOKC]
      #4951993 - 12/05/11 06:15 PM

I am in the market for a 6" Orion dob, just to be able to bring it out to sidewalk events. Even brand new, at $299 it's infinitely better than any of the junk people will buy by the thousands this year at Walmart etc. (I use a mount which tracks for sidewalk astronomy, just for the convenience but I love showing people how good the view is in a small dob for real cheap money these days.)

My 8" dob is also great but a little much to recommend to a beginner as a first scope.


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frolinmod
Carpal Tunnel


Reged: 08/06/10

Loc: Southern California
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: tedbnh]
      #4952290 - 12/05/11 09:26 PM

Quote:

I am in the market for a 6" Orion dob, just to be able to bring it out to sidewalk events. Even brand new, at $299 it's infinitely better than any of the junk people will buy by the thousands this year at Walmart etc.



So true. However, I'm not impressed with the very short focal length Orion 6" dobs. They might be good for very small children, but for any kid over 8 and certainly for any adult I'd go with a 6" F/8. Taller and so easier to look through.


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DarkSkys
professor emeritus
*****

Reged: 10/11/10

Loc: In the dark desert of Eastern ...
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: frolinmod]
      #4952569 - 12/06/11 01:05 AM

I've had a few people want to talk UFO's, I usualy tell them in my opinion it's I don't know, I have never seen one and the fact that I personaly Have never seen one, doesnt mean it isnt possible.

I usualy just clam up when someone goes on a religious tangent. I'm here to show people the wonders of the usniverse, not discuss theology.


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tedbnh
scholastic sledgehammer


Reged: 11/14/07

Loc: New Hampshire
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: frolinmod]
      #4953435 - 12/06/11 02:47 PM

Quote:

So true. However, I'm not impressed with the very short focal length Orion 6" dobs. They might be good for very small children, but for any kid over 8 and certainly for any adult I'd go with a 6" F/8. Taller and so easier to look through.




Sorry I should have been more clear, I was in fact referring to the Orion 6" F/8 dob (XT6, or XT6i if they want the Intelliscope option).

You are probably referring to the 4.5" Orion dob (XT4.5) and yes, that is way too short for most people.


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Joe Bergeron
Vendor - Space Art


Reged: 11/10/03

Loc: Upstate NY
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: Skywatcher2011]
      #4953710 - 12/06/11 06:20 PM

Let's see. The Moon is about 250,000 miles away, and a telescope might max out at around 300X. That means you're seeing the Moon as it would appear from a distance of about 800 miles. Next time ask them if they think they could see a flag that was 800 miles away.

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desertstars

*****

Reged: 11/05/03

Loc: Tucson, AZ
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: Joe Bergeron]
      #4953746 - 12/06/11 06:46 PM

Quote:

Let's see. The Moon is about 250,000 miles away, and a telescope might max out at around 300X. That means you're seeing the Moon as it would appear from a distance of about 800 miles. Next time ask them if they think they could see a flag that was 800 miles away.




That's a good response. I'll have to keep that one in mind.


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magic612
Post Laureate
*****

Reged: 09/30/08

Loc: S. of Chicago's light dome
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: desertstars]
      #4953844 - 12/06/11 07:48 PM

Quote:

Quote:

Let's see. The Moon is about 250,000 miles away, and a telescope might max out at around 300X. That means you're seeing the Moon as it would appear from a distance of about 800 miles. Next time ask them if they think they could see a flag that was 800 miles away.




That's a good response. I'll have to keep that one in mind.




I like that too. Even taken to a bit more of an extreme - 1000x - produces a result that they will comprehend quite readily, I'd imagine.


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Skylook123
Postmaster
*****

Reged: 04/30/05

Loc: Tucson, AZ
Re: Handling odd questions and conspiracy theorists new [Re: magic612]
      #4954182 - 12/06/11 11:10 PM

Nicely posed, Joe; a straightforward and easy to understand analogy that perfectly defines the condition.

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