Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

I recently learned about the field of anomalistics, that is, the study of scientific anomalies. This is a little-known area of investigation that attempts to take an even-handed approach to extraordinary claims. I found a good explanation of the field at the web site Skeptical Investigations. In an article, “The Perspective of Anomalistics,” by the now-deceased Marcello Truzzi (sociologist at Eastern Michigan University), Truzzi explains that anomalistics has “two central features”:

  1. Anomalistics’ “concerns are purely scientific,” so “it deals only with empirical claims of the extraordinary,” rather than metaphysical or religious ideas. Thus “it insists on the testability of claims (including both verifiability and falsifiability), seeks parsimonious explanations, places the burden of proof on the claimant, and expects evidence of a claim to be commensurate with its degree of extraordinariness (anomalousness).”
  2. Anomalistics is interdisciplinary in that an anomaly “is not presumed to have its ultimate explanation in a particular branch of science” and that it “seeks an understanding of scientific adjudication across disciplines.”

Truzzi popularized and possibly coined the term “pseudo-skeptic,” which he described in an article, “On Pseudo-Skepticism” as:

Since “skepticism” properly refers to doubt rather than denial — nonbelief rather than belief — critics who take the negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves “skeptics” are actually pseudo-skeptics and have, I believed, gained a false advantage by usurping that label.

I encountered the field of anomalistics reading an article claiming that an aluminum gear was found in a 300-million-year-old coal deposit in Russia. The article referred to “anomaly researcher and biologist Valery Brier, who took microscopic samples of the aluminum for testing.” I hadn’t heard previously of the term “anomaly researcher,” so I looked into it and encountered the anomalistics field, which seems useful and interesting. The discovery was also discussed in an article on The Voice of Russia web site.

ARK — 24 January 2013

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In the popular mind, geological processes are extremely slow — the past was very much like the present, and the layers of soil, rock, and sediments that can be observed on cliffsides and in gorges were laid down very slowly, over thousands or millions of years. This concept of uniformitarianism is tied up in the popular imagination with evolution, which is also supposed to require eons of time to do its work.

Because geological uniformitarianism and evolutionism so conveniently prop one another up in so many people’s superficial beliefs about science, it’s not surprising that popular media don’t say much about catastrophism — the idea that geological processes can happen very quickly. Better not to complicate matters by revealing too many nuances and complexities.

Debris from Mt. St. Helens landslide

Unfortunately, then, it often falls to creationist groups to present evidence that geological processes can happen very slowly or very quickly and that it can be hard to tell the difference. As an example, I thought this article from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) was interesting: “Mt. St. Helens and Catastrophism,” by Steven A. Austin, Ph.D., chair of the geology department at ICR. ICR teams have studied the geological changes that occurred as a result of the Mt. St. Helens eruption. (The photo shown here is linked from the U.S. Forest Service web site about the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.)

Here is an interesting excerpt from Austin’s article:

Up to 400 feet thickness of strata have formed since 1980 at Mount St. Helens. These deposits accumulated from primary air blast, landslide, waves on the lake, pyroclastic flows, mudflows, air fall, and stream water. Perhaps the most surprising accumulations are the pyroclastic flow deposits amassed from ground-hugging, fluidized, turbulent slurries of fine volcanic debris, which moved at high velocities off the flank of the volcano as the eruption plume of debris over the volcano collapsed.

Austin adds that:

Conventionally, sedimentary laminae and beds are assumed to represent longer seasonal variations, or annual changes, as the layers accumulated very slowly. Mount St. Helens teaches us that the stratified layers commonly characterizing geological formations can form very rapidly by flow processes. Such features have been formed quickly underwater in laboratory sedimentation tanks, and it should not surprise us to see that they have formed in a natural catastrophe.

Austin’s article discusses rapid erosion that has occurred as a result of mudflows, including a 140-foot-deep canyon system. He also describes a mat of upright logs that has formed in spirit lake, which offer an alternative interpretation of petrified forests that have been found at other locations. Geological processes have also laid down a rapidly-form peat layer that resembles coal beds found in other locations.

AB — 16 February 2011

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