Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mars -- Debunking the Debunkers

In any scientific investigation, it's always important to keep an open mind. Otherwise, the important details can sneak right by while you're too busy hollering that they don't exist.

I've been researching dugg reports of strange phenomena lately. Things like the woman, the canals, and the face on Mars.



Just about as often as there is a report of a strange phenomenon, there's another report that claims to debunk it. In reading these 'debunkings' I noticed that most of them use the same logical fallacy. It's called the 'argument from fallacy', and here's how it works:

If P, then Q.
P is a fallacious argument.
Therefore, Q is false.
And here's a further example from wikipedia:
Tom: "All cats are animals. Ginger is an animal. This means Ginger is a cat.".
Bill
: "Ah you just committed the affirming the consequent logical fallacy. Sorry, you are wrong, which means that Ginger is not a cat".Of course, Ginger could be a cat. We don't have enough data in either argument to know. And that's the important part, we don't have enough data.
The following highlights how this logical fallacy is used in regards to Mars observations.

The Canals on Mars
Initial Report: "Channels have been observed on Mars."

Second Report: The 'canals' may have been used by a higher civilization on Mars to move water.

And now, the argument by fallacy:

Argument by Fallacy: Because it is believed that there can't be water on Mars, the canals could not have carried water, therefore there can't be any canals.

What? The existence of a canal or channel is not predicated by the existence of water to put in it. But, water was later discovered on Mars as well as a network of geographic features that are popularly known as lava tubes.


The Lady on Mars
Recent reports highlighted a picture where a rock feature on Mars looks very much like the statue of a woman with an outstretched arm.
This was summarily debunked as well. How?

Initial Report: An interesting rock feature has been spotted on Mars. It looks remarkably like a woman.

Second Report:
The feature is a woman!

Argument by Fallacy: The feature couldn't possibly be a woman because it's only four inches tall, therefore, the feature can have nothing to do with the shape of a woman, and is simply a pareidolia, the tendency of humans to derive meaning from vague images.

Again, what!? Because somebody claims the feature is something it can't be, that means it's nothing at all?


And finally:The Face on Mars
We've all heard about this one since the '70s. How is it debunked? Here goes:

Initial Report: There's a geographic feature on Mars that looks like a face.

Second Report: Humans can see faces where there aren't any, for example, in clouds.

Argument by Fallacy: Humans can see faces where there aren't any, therefore, if humans see a face on Mars, there can't be one there.

Do any of these features imply something is going on on Mars? I don' know. The point is, neither does anybody else.


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