Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Truth Behind the Ark

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: Unknown (6/5/10)

The show goes looking for the truth behind the Noah's Ark legend.  Many believe the remains of Noah's Ark lie on Mt. Ararat or Dura Pinar in Turkey.  Others say the boat-like Dura Pinar structure is merely natural geology -- science and faith remain divided.  History shows that the ark story is common to many cultures, with many names for the heroic boat builder.  The bible says the boat should be 450' long, and the commonly considered site is longer, though this is perhaps because of using Egyptian cubits rather than standard ones for measurements.  (Believers have "good" reasons for all the many inconsistencies.)  Supporters of the Dura Pinar site claim to have found petrified animal bones and rivets, but geologists remain sure that this evidence are merely a geological features.  Astronaut Jim Irwin was a believer in the ark; he didn't find it.  Believers claim that in extraordinary conditions, wood can be petrified in decades, rather than over centuries; scientists aren't buying it; the believers' petrified wood is merely plain old rock.

Believers claim that pre-flood trees grew to twice their current size, 5-600' long for a single-piece keel. There is no archeological evidence for this, and the largest prehistoric boat found in Europe from the same time is merely 100' x 15'.  The outside surface of the Biblical ark would be 150,000 square feet of timber.  Using period tools, researcher Goodburn takes 10 hours to make and join 2 small planks, and they're not very waterproof.  Supporters say Noah had more advanced technology.  (Again, there is no actual evidence of this -- and the Turkish government isn't allowing believers to dig in Dura Pinar.)  But the believers' supposed iron brackets are merely volcanic iron rocks, and the Iron Age came more than 2000 years later.  The show explains how iron, over time, infiltrates such a site; "It's a perfectly natural structure," a geologist says.  Water tank tests with a Biblically sized ark quickly flood and capsize the model.  Of course, believers have an explanation for this, too - claiming a set of standing stones nearby in Turkey acted as counter weights.  But the stones they cite as anchors are local, not from Mesopotamia (where Noah came from).

Additionally, there is no archeological evidence for a worldwide flood 2400 years before Christ, nor for meteor strikes or sub-surface aquifers that could flood the surface.  There is evidence, though, that the Black Sea was once a lake that was flooded by the sea 9400 years ago, during the thaw from the last ice age, which raised water levels planet wide.  Ancient Mesopotamian flood accounts tell of the hero building a round ship, like those used to transport animals in Iraq even today.  Most scholars believe that the ark story was always a myth, and science proves that a boat on that scale cold not have been built in ancient times.  But for believers, belief is enough, because they want everything in the bible to be literally true, and will explain away evidence to the contrary.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Truth Behind the Bermuda Triangle

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: Unknown (6/6/10)

This show dives into the deep and unleashes science and logic to uncover the truth behind the Bermuda Triangle - or so the opening claims. They go over the usual Triangle mythology, and present the usual raft of believers racking up big numbers for mysterious triangle disappearances.  Believers claim that no wreckage exists, and the disappearance may be caused by everything from UFOs to Atlantean death rays.  Joe Nickel believes that though there are mysteries, they have rational explanations.  The show examines the disappearance of Flight 19.  One expert blames electrically charged fog, and Bruce Gernon claims to have encountered it and experienced strange phenomena.  He believes that he saw the fabric of time itself.  He and meteorologist David Pares examine the account, and believe the fog may be caused by solar wind ionizing air and generating a charged cloud, which interferes with airplane instruments.  Pares thinks this same "fog" may have disrupted Flight 19, but skeptics point out there is no actual proof of the theory.  Gernon's flight to check out the theory experiences an electronic malfunction, which he writes off as a mechanical problem.

Other people believe that the missing ships and planes are merely lying on the bottom of the ocean.  They continue checking the many wrecks, looking for some of the famous ones.  Others believe that escaping methane may cause ships to sink by decreasing water density.  Model tests have shown that the Cyclops, a famous lost ship, could have been sunk by an event like this - and tests suggest perhaps methane could affect low-flying airplanes as well.  But such events would be as likely as being hit by a meteor.  The depths and currents in the area make it difficult to find any sunken vessel.  One of the original search team believes that Flight 19 simply got lost, went down, and broke up.  Many say that bad weather can explain many disappearances; others say rogue waves could be the cause.  But even when wrecks are found, it's hard to pin down exactly what they are, and thus the mysteries will likely continue for a long time.

This show is interesting for its experiments and use of models to check out various Triangle theories, including the ones mentioned in this review.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Truth Behind Crop Circles

National Geographic Channel - Original Broadcast Date: Unknown

Nat Geo's supernatural shows are generally more skeptical than other similar shows, and this one is no exception. After a bit of background - including the Doug & Dave story -- Skeptics and believers line up on either side of the crop circle phenomenon, and present their arguments. The "Julia Set" circle supposedly appeared near Stonehenge in broad daylight.  Professor Christopher French (at the University of London), who specializes in the psychology of the paranormal, believes that a desire to believe distorts the perceptions of believers.  He points out that the stories about the discovery of the circle are inconsistent, and tests show that task fixation - inattentional blindness -- can make people miss seemingly obvious objects or events.  They show an attention-testing video where people who are asked to concentrate on counting bouncing balls miss a pilot walking through the scene.  Other believers claim that the complex crop patterns cannot be made by humans.  (And clearly they've never seen a Wisconsin corn maze in the shape of the US, either.)  To see if this is true, a mathematician draws a complex pattern and challenges human circle makers led by John Lundberg to duplicate it.  The group does, and they do it on a night with only 4 hours of darkness.  (Lundberg, an artist, sees the crop cricle "researchers" as publicity agents for his art.)

Believers cite appearances of supernatural balls of light, orbs, that accompany circles.  The show recaps the 1996 John Wade orb circle creation hoax, which some still believe - and even claim it would be hard to replicate.  But the show recreates the fake video with software comparable to what hoaxer Wade used in just a couple of hours.  Next, the show tackles the claim that nitrate and radiation levels in crop circles are higher than in other places.  Testing the man-made circle vs. a supposed real one, a scientist finds no difference in either area.  He also mentions that trace radiation from natural and man-made sources is common, and fertilizers contain nitrates.  He concludes that all crop circles are likely made by people.  So, what about the "personal experiences" of the supernatural and sacred that people have in the circles?  One man describes the circles as "temporary temples." An experiment with crystals that subjects are told may cause strange sensations, 80+% report the expected experiences -- though the "crystals" are merely cut glass.  The power of suggestibility is strong, and people will often find what they are looking for. Certainly, with crop circles, this seems to be the case.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Paranatural - Chupacabra

National Geographic - Original Air Date:

NatGeo's new series looks at whether the blood-sucking chupacabra is myth, a real animal, or supernatural.  Texas ranchers and others are seeing a hairless doglike creature with a long snout and believe the thing is killing their small livestock.  The creature has been caught on film, and there are even a few carcasses to examine -- though this is not the monkey-like creature first reported to be the Chupacabra in Puerto Rico.  The show compares some good evidence, and even has a track comparison with the animal, dogs, and wolves.  It also has witness interviews, some seemingly more reliable than others.  Friend of Uncanny Radio Nick Redfern gives some background, and mentions a possible UFO connection - though he also posits it could be some form of large vampire bat, at least in the Puerto Rican cases.  He also suggests that escaped monkeys could have started the original "monster" -- and, indeed, the monkeys might fit the classic description.  Clearly the things in Texas are not monkeys, but Puerto Rico is also home to many wild dogs.

Forensic examination of a carcass rules out dogs and wolves, and a team sets out to catch a live specimen for examination.  The hunters come up short, but another carcass turns up and a piece is sent for DNA analysis.  The body is also taken for XRays.  DNA suggests that the animal is a hybrid of coyote and wolf, but the scientist is not sure why it lacks hair.  The scientist suggests that, in the case of this and other alleged monsters, people see what they want to see.  In reality, this animal is just a hybrid.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

American Paranormal - Haunted Prison

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 1/24/10

A group of researchers composed of scientists investigates Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the "most haunted" prisons in America.  Along the way, the show explains that most ghost hunting expeditions don't have the equipment to actually detect ghosts -- as no one knows what ghosts are made of; they are far more likely (with EMF detectors) to detect their own equipment.  The team also posits that ghosts, which are said to pass through walls, cannot be made of normal atoms, though they could be made of neutrinos, which can pass through normal matter.  Unfortunately, ghost hunters cannot detect neutrinos.  They then show, through experimentation, that people who believe in ghosts are more likely to report strange happenings in the prison; one group is told that the prison is haunted, the other that sightings seldom happen there.  The believers report far more strange feelings and experiences than the skeptics.

Another group of scientists posits that sound -- infrasound -- may contribute to people feeling that a place is haunted.  A 3D scan of the prison reveals that it seems ideal for magnifying low-frequency sounds.  Such sounds can contribute to eerie feelings people get.  Once again, they experiment on two groups, one in an area with infrasound, one without.  The people subjected to infrasound report far more uneasiness -- and even the scientist running the experiment reports feeling strange.  Infrasound works by vibrating body parts, including the eye and inner ear (which controls balance) though it cannot be heard -- it can even cause flashes of light and distorted vision.  The scientists are impressed with how strong the reactions are from both believers and skeptics in the infrasound area.  They conclude that sound can lead to sightings, especially in a place, like the prison, that will amplify them.  They note that though they now have some scientific theories about why ghosts are encountered, they have not disproved the existence of ghosts.

In the final part of the show, the team monitors the prison with a battery of scientific equipment, "a virtual ambush of cutting edge technology," including audio and video and heat sensors.  The next day, they return to see what the equipment found.  They find a strange sound at 3:15 am, and the thermal camera reveals a spectral blue glow on the ceiling: cold/moisture on a skylight -- rain on the roof, causing infrasound.  The researchers suggest that the physical environment of the prison is conducive to people seeing and hearing things, and even picking things up on camera and recorders.  Is this a "final" explanation for ghosts?  Maybe not, but it does confirm that people, and equipment, can be fooled by natural phenomena.