I had the privilege of speaking at the First Friday’s at the Castle in CIT Blackrock Castle this weekend. My talk was “Hoaxes and Hysteria in Astronomy”, where I took a sceptical look at Astrology, UFO’s and the Moon Landing “Hoax” conspiracy theory.

I first spoke about astrology. To understand why astrology is wrong, you need to understand how it originated, and how astronomical discoveries since the 1500’s have completely overturned the basis of the belief system. It also gave me the opportunity to present Phil Plait’s frequently posted diagram:

Then I gave a potted history of UFO’s and our culture’s fascination with all things extraterrestrial. Part of it featured Orson Welles’ infamous radio broadcast that panicked half of America in 1938. Here is the first piece of the radio show. Even now, over 70 years later, it still works as a monumental piece of broadcasting.

Orson Welles later described why he did it:


While a great many people claim to have seen UFO’s, there has never been any hard evidence provided. UFO reports have been plagued by problems of mistaken identity, delusion and hoaxes. One of the best hoaxes was crop circles: initiated by two drinking buddies in the south of England.

I then spoke about the widespread perception that the moon landings of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were a hoax and that NASA staged a cover-up of monumental proportions. There have been many rebuttals, most comprehensively done by the Mythbusters team.

Personally, I love Michell and Webb’s take on it.

At the end of the talk, I got around to my Baloney Detector Kit:

That last one, the “lone mavericks” suffering for their ideas, is particularly true. There have been far, far more wrong-headed lone mavericks” in history than the tiny number of people who have eventually been proven right.

Finally, if you have managed to read through to the end, here are some useful links should you wish to know more.

  1. BadAstronomy.com : Phil Plait waxes lyrical about his wonderment of the universe, while regularly debunking the widespread misinformation.
  2. Snopes.com : If you hear a strange tale or you get an email that sounds fishy, check this website out. It will give you some food for thought.
  3. Skepdic.com : The Skeptic’s Dictionary is a tremendous resource for people who want to understand the scientific view of modern delusions and weirdness.
  4. Randi.org : The James Randi Educational Foundation has been fighting baloney for years. There are plenty of resources there for budding sceptics.
  5. Skeptoid.com : Brian Dunning has created a comprehensive list of ten-minute podcasts debunking all sorts of strange ideas. You name it, it’s probably there.

We run regular “Skeptics in the Castle” meetings in Blackrock Castle, where experts are invited to talk about the reality behind modern misconceptions, fads and strange beliefs. Check out our website corkskeptics.org. We are also on Facebook and Twitter.