The Search for Intelligent Life at WUWT

January 18, 2013

Watts Up With That (WUWT) is, of course, one of the internet’s largest manufacturers of whole-cloth bullshit in regard to climate change.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
And, hey, I’ll be the first to say, I owe  WUWT proprietor Anthony Watts a big debt – his creepy, paranoid attempt to block my video about his work did wonders for my circulation, and went a long way to put this video series on the radar.

I don’t write a lot about Anthony here, because I seriously try to avoid inside-baseball squabbles, and because they’re boring, and don’t really contribute to understanding on climate. But this story is just too effin rich to ignore.

The other day Watts posted a fairly typical, for him, “science” item about signs of extraterrestrial life on a meteorite. Hilarity ensued.

Greg Laden’s Blog:

You may know the blog What’s Up With That. It is Anthony Watt’s anti-science blog, dedicated to climate change denialism.

A current post reports the finding of life forms from another planet, in a meteorite.

This looks to be a huge story, the first evidence of extraterrestrial life, if it holds up….

This is from a recent meteorite find in December 2012. A large fire ball was seen by a large number of people in Sri Lanka on December 29th 2012, during that episode a large meteorite disintegrated and fell to Earth in the village of Araganwila which is few miles away from the city of Polonnaruwa.

Look at what the electron microscope shows of a sample purported to be from the meteorite:

Then he shows a picture of a rock with a bunch of contemporary Earth Based diatoms stuck to it.

It is very fun to read the comments. I provided a comment that will not be printed because Watts never prints my comments, but I’ve screen captured it for you (it is below).

Phil Plait has reviewed the Alien Life in the Meteor story here, and as I said, it is not alien life come to earth in a meteor. It is (I guess) a fragment of a meteorite with fresh water diatoms stuck to it. There are fresh water diatoms stuck to your shoe, your car tires, your dog, everywhere. The silica bodies of these tiny algae are part of the dust, not as numerous perhaps as skin cells or, certain times of the year, pollen, or the loess blowing off the melting glaciers and such, but common. This is why real scientists grind down the meteorite, cross sectioning it, before looking at the sample.

As Phil points out, this report is by a “scientist” who has made many outrageous and incorrect claims about aliens, reported in a journal that is famous for printing bogus and incorrect science, the methods are obviously bogus and anyone who knew anything about, say, climate studies (where fresh water diatoms are used all the time as proxyindicators) would at least be suspicious, and would know how to check for veracity of the claim.

Anthony Watts, the anti-science global warming denailist, was not equipped to recognize this bogus science as bogus. We are not surprised.

Bad Astronomy:

The paper was published online on a site called The Journal of Cosmology. I’ll get back to that august publication in just a moment. The lead author is N. C. Wickramasinghe, and as soon as I saw his name alarm bells exploded in my head. Wickramasinghe is a proponent of the idea of panspermia: the notion that life originated in space and was brought to Earth via meteorites. It’s an interesting idea and not without some merits.

However, Wickramasinghe is fervent proponent of it. Like, really fervent. So much so that he attributes everything to life in space. He’s said that the flu comes from space. He’s said SARS comes from space. He’s claimed living cells found in the stratosphere come from space. (There is no evidence at all they do, and it’s far more likely they are terrestrial.) He’s said a weird red rain in India was from space (when it’s been shown conclusively that it isn’t). The list goes on and on. Wickramasinghe jumps on everything, with little or no evidence, and says it’s from outer space, so I think there’s a case to be made for a bias on his part.

Now, you might accuse me of using an ad hominem, an argument that cast aspersions on the person making the claim, and not attacking the claim itself. I’ll get to the claim in a moment, but sometimes an ad hominem is warranted! If Sylvia Brown claims she can predict someone’s future, you would be right to doubt her based on her past, since she has continually failed in every attempt to do so. If Jenny McCarthy claimed botox cures autism, again, you might be forgiven for doubting it based on her previous anti-vaccine and other false claims. You still need to examine the claims on their own merits, of course, but: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

So, to be polite about it, Wickramasinghe is something of a fringe scientist. Who would publish a paper by him?

Well, I don’t know, but Anthony Watts would publicize it.

The story was reposted on ClimateProgress. Watts called the Waahm-bulance.

Greg Laden’s Blog:

I know, right?

Anthony Watts, of the science-denialist Whats Up with That blog, has got his shorts in a knot because of a post I wrote indicating that he is a boob. He is upset because in a screen shot of him talking about a totally absurd pseudo-scientific claim that should have been rejected out of hand, I failed to include enough of the post to show that he was skeptical about the claim.

Let me be very very clear: This is not a claim to be skeptical about. This is a Teapot orbiting the Sun between Earth and Mars claim. A person who has reported debunked claims about alien life again and again, reporting in a fake scientific journal, has made an absurd claim. To understand the level of absurdity check out PZ Myers post, written after mine, which goes into more detail about the “journal.”

I did not need to show that Anthony Watts was skeptical because that wasn’t the point. The point was that it was funny that he was looking at this claim at all. But, fine, if he really needs me to include the snippet where he expresses his laughable skepticism, I can do that. Here, Watts says.

This looks to be a huge story, the first evidence of extraterrestrial life, if it holds up.

… thus indicating skepticism. I’m sorry I did not include that sentence in the … wait, wait, hold on a sec. Hey, I DID include that phase about “if it holds up” in the original post? But Watts is saying that I did not include any of his skeptical language. Who is this Anthony Watts guy, some kind of liar? Huh.


37 Responses to “The Search for Intelligent Life at WUWT”

  1. rayduray Says:

    What does a stupid propagandist like Anthony Watts say about this? Reality is transforming the text:


    Reality rules. Though not kindly or graciously.

  2. jasonpettitt Says:

    Bless 😀

  3. HarryWiggs Says:

    SETI, at WTFiUWT = BUPKUS. 🙂

  4. … and now Anthony Watts is threatening to sue.

    No doubt taking advice from Monckton and his successful court cases against Al Gore and John Abraham!

  5. g2-b31f1590b0e74a6d1af4639162aa7f3f Says:

    Hmmmm….. how much would lawyers be willing to pay Laden for a shot a cross-examining Watts under oath? (Talk about a fat, juicy target!)

  6. omnologos Says:

    Stupid story, stupider screenshot, stupidest reblogging ever. A sad day for Peter et al.

    • jasonpettitt Says:

      Oh. I thought it was good fun :/

      • omnologos Says:

        Laden being disingenuous, a liar or a stupid ignoramus is demonstrated by a simple observation.

        The expression “if it holds up” doesn’t express skepticism. Nobody who reports astrology, homeopathy or UFO sightings demonstrates skepticism by saying “if it holds up”.

        OTOH everybody who has learned skepticism from the likes of Randi, Shermer, Sagan (and Plait) knows that skepticism means saying “extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence” or an equivalent statement.

        That is exactly what appears in WUWT a line or two below the curiously cut screenshot by Laden.

        IOW as Laden must have known (unless he truly knows nothing of Randi, Sagan and the others), inclusion of a few inches more.would’ve invalidated his argument completely.

        I rest my case.

        • jasonpettitt Says:

          Wait, you have a case?

          “The expression “if it holds up” doesn’t express skepticism. ”


          Let me help. Aside from being obviously wrong, you’re more importantly missing the point. Which is this.

          Watts: ‘This looks to be a huge story…’
          Internet: ROFL

          That’s it.

          If anyone wanted an actual discussion about Watts’ poor standard of skepticism (skepticism being a thing which requires actual thinking, not just typing) and his abundance of cynicism and credulity, they’d pick on something less leftfield and more representative – anything he’s ever written about climate science for example. This isn’t hahaha Watts has posted something with a poor standard of methodological scepticism. That’s every post he’s ever done. This is Willard Watts has posted a Wattsism that offers light relief.

          And we’re having fun with it.

          Okay, Watts’ feelings got hurt, you want to defend him – fine. Yeah, we’re laughing at him rather than with him. Perhaps that’s mean, perhaps it’s not fair, perhaps it’s not productive dialogue. But lets be honest, Watts is a self publicist for whom dishing it out on a daily basis is bread and butter. I’ve about as much sympathy for Watts here as I do for Lance Armstrong. So tough.

  7. omnologos Says:

    It is really sad when not one person here is able to check for themselves what WUWT actually wrote. Even Romm has backtracked by now.

    You’re being manipulated by a fabricator called Greg Laden. If he really “did not need to show that Anthony Watts was skeptical because that wasn’t the point” he would not have carefully cut the screenshot to remove the point about extraordinary evidence.

    • jasonpettitt Says:

      “It is really sad when not one person here is able to check for themselves what WUWT actually wrote.”

      What makes you think I didn’t. And didn’t end up at exactly the same conclusion that everyone else has reached. That Watts is a boob.

      Here’s the things.

      There’s no onus on Laden or anyone to provide a physical clickable internet linky back to the source. It’s a convenience some like to offer, but the citation Laden provided was amply sufficient.

      There’s no requirement when reviewing material to provide a copy of the whole thing, just enough to be representative is fine. What laden posted was representative of the article. It wasn’t the whole article, Watts had some additional caveats for sure, but he also had a whole bunch of additional boob; overall Laden captured the ratio of boob to caveat well enough.

      So all in all, Watt’s protests are uttlerly baseless. Who’d have thunk.

      “Even Romm has backtracked by now.”

      Nope. Watts victoriously claimed that Romm backtracked, but that’s not the same thing as it actually happening in real life. Romm only posted a bog standard update so folks could munch popcorn and follow the ongoing spat. Here’s the link so folk can see for themselves.

  8. omnologos Says:

    The story in MSN

    Note the date, and their conclusion so far (“Unconfirmed”).

    Personally I think the original paper is bunk unworthy of any discussion, but the only crime of Watts (and Eschenbach) appears to have been unfamiliarity with Wickramasinghe, a name very well know among astronomy buffs and not for the “right” reasons so to speak.

  9. omnologos Says:

    Wickramasinghe’s dream has surfaced in the Huffington Post (next to anti-vaxx rants, presumably):

    Note how much down the page one has to scroll before finding Plait, whose contribution is quickly dispersed by a generose dose of false balance.

    No mention of “extraordinary claims…” there, nor of “before it can be taken seriously”.

    Can’t wait to see Laden’s post agains the HuffPo. Or maybe I can.

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