Welcome, Members of Parliament

Welcome, Members of Parliament. This blog is designed to act as a student forum for anyone enrolled in my classes at a Dallas-area proprietary college, former students, and/or others who find our conversations interesting. The Parliament will be moderated to ensure civility and relevance. The directions we take, the paths we follow, and the concerns we address are all up to you.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pseudoarchaeolgy Rides Again

It seems appropriate to post a new comment on a perennial issue in my classes, since another question about questionable "finds" came up last week.

My problems with what shows up on popular entertainment venues and "news" sources that actively seek out the sensational is that it all gets in the way of rational examination of evidence to help us understand the past.  In the previous post on the topic (from last Winter) I addressed giant skeletons and odd places for Minoans to show up. This time it was prompted by a similar story: crystal pyramids in the Bermuda Triangle. I'm afraid I popped of at the poor student who asked it, and for that I apologize deeply.  What threw me off my game, however, wasn't the question itself, but the source: Yahoo News.  No wonder I have high blood pressure.

So my first recommendation is to take that sucker off your RSS feed.  If you're using Yahoo for e-mail (not a good idea; expect to be hacked, repeatedly), ignore the "news." It's directed at the uninitiated, the innocent, and the gullible as far as I can tell.  Stick with reputable sources like the major news outlets that get fact-checked (even though it doesn't always seem to work). Unfortunately the priority in many online news sources is entertainment and sensationalism, rather than verifiable facts.

In answer to the question, however, no I hadn't heard about crystal pyramids in the Bermuda Triangle--but then I automatically tune out when anybody mentions "crystal" anything, pyramids (except in Egypt, Nubia, or Mesoamerica), or the so-called "Bermuda Triangle." I can't blame folks less innately skeptical than I for falling for it because of the way "evidence" is provided. But there isn't any, so fuggedaboutit. For a good argument about why, see the U. S. Navy's page on it (after all, military vessels have been implicated as evidence). Other good sources: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) page; Bermuda Triangle: Where Facts Disappear (Live Science); Bermuda Triangle: Behind the Intrigue (National Geographic).

I'm not quite sure where all the interest in "crystal" comes from--aside from the fact that the quartz crystals that most people seem to be talking about (although any mineral that forms crystals gets attention from somebody or other) are both hard (most rocks are) and pretty.  I have a nice conglomeration of quartz crystals that decorates a bookshelf and acts as a bookend, which I used to illustrate this post. If you want to see some really cool crystalline formations from a variety of minerals, go to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science downtown.

But pyramids made out of crystal?  On the seabed? Not likely.  Nevertheless, Yahoo's UK "answers" page (the answers are provided by anybody who replies, and the "best" one is chosen by people who read the site) says "The truth is that there are several crystal like Pyramids on the Sea Bed Floor and many speculations of what they are." In fact, however, there is no evidence of any of this--much less any speculation by anybody who knows what he/she is talking about. (For one thing, scientists talk about the seabed or the ocean floor, but not the Sea Bed Floor!) If you are tempted to think that building anything out of "crystal" would be possible, I advise getting hold of a good book on basic geology, and learning a bit about how these things form. And no, I don't have the time or energy to go into the whole crystal skull thing, either (and, by the way, the latest Indiana Jones movie was the worst of the bunch).

Whenever you come across something that sounds astonishing and about which myriad dubious claims are being made (those that sound a bit too amazing), check out Snopes other skeptically oriented sites. I'd send you to the Skeptic Forum, but they're more snarky than helpful. A better discussion is going on at [Skeptic], where you can learn about the origins of the story. And don't forget to carry your Baloney Detection Kit wherever you go.

Once again, I apologize for my spontaneous and rather impolite (!) response to last week's question. I'll try to behave myself in future.