When "Science" Serves Suppression

In the September 2001 issue of "Discover," one of our readers, John True, had his letter published. His letter was in response to a June, 2001 short by Corey S. Powell, which detailed the usual "myths" about life on Mars and threw the Face on Mars into the pile of "myths" he sought to debunk. John's letter was well conceived and it should be viewed as progress that Discover actually printed it. Of course, even though John's major thrust was that "Science should investigate theories fairly by looking at the evidence and proposing ideas," this did not seem to sit well with Mr. Powell, who responded in print.

Normally, when dealing with people like Mr. Powell, it is not worth the bother to respond in kind. But his own response is fraught with scientific and philosophical fallacies that have permeated this debate for far too long. It's clear from his opening line that he simply does not get what the scientific method is or how it is supposed to work.

"In science, the burden of proof lies with those making extraordinary claims. Anyone believing the "face" is artificial therefore needs to produce powerful evidence that natural forces could not have produced such a formation; it is not up to researchers to prove a formation that looks like a hill really is a hill."

The statement about the burden of proof lying with "those making extraordinary claims," and the need for us to provide "powerful evidence" is fallacious on the Face of it. This notion, readily accepted and defended by the scientific establishment, comes from Carl Sagan's old mantra "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Of all of Carl's pernicious contributions to the cause of debunkery, this one is the worst. There is no rule in the scientific method which requires a claim that is in some way "extraordinary" be held to a different standard than any other idea. In fact, the proper application of the scientific method specifically prohibits biased standards like this. Falling back on this tired notion encourages the use of "t-shirt slogan science," rather than an open, honest exchange of ideas.

The second fallacious assumption in Powell's statement is the idea that our claim that Face may be artificial is in any way an "extraordinary" claim. In fact, 40 years ago, NASA’s own “Brookings’ Study” specifically predicted that NASA might find evidence of “alien ruins” elsewhere in the solar system in its future explorations. If NASA was willing to consider the possibility equally alongside all others, why isn't Powell?

The idea that all features in the solar system are produced by natural geologic processes is not an established fact, it is simply a bias. Far less than 1% of the solar system has actually been photographed at resolutions sufficient to determine artificiality. For all we know, there could be artificial ruins scattered all over the place. To assume that ruins are not commonplace based on such a limited amount of high resolution observation is a reflection of the preconceived notions of Mr. Powell [not NASA!], and not of any established fact or standard. So we reject the notion that claims of artificiality are in any way "extraordinary" in the first place.

And Powell goes on to insist we do the impossible -- prove a negative. Ever since the Salem Witch trials, when accused women were forced to prove they were "not" witches (with predictable results) this concept has been rejected in rational debate. He must know that we can no more "prove" (to his "extraordinary" standard, whatever it is) that "natural forces could not have produced" the Face than I can "prove" that I did not abduct Chandra Levy.

Likewise, his assertion that Face "looks like a hill" is not an established fact, but merely his opinion. And lest we remind you, NASA has claimed the same thing, comparing the Face to Middle Butte Mesa, a comparison which has not stood up well. Now, I'm willing to engage in an exchange of opinions, but for him to couch his in the guise of stipulated fact is not "science," any more than any other sweeping and unsupported statement is.

Powell goes on to finish by taking a shot at (presumably) us.

"Wild speculation based on a heavily processed and altered image is not science," he writes.

We agree. But since neither ourselves nor any of the other independent researchers has ever engaged in such an act, his statement is once again merely a reflection of his own biases, rather than a citation that has any basis in fact. First, as I have clearly established, Mr. Powell is hardly well versed on what does and does not constitute “science.” Second, we have never "altered" any image of the Face on Mars or any other object at Cydonia, so this claim is just plain false. And finally, the notion that a "heavily processed" image somehow creates false impressions -- the clear implication of his statement -- is just wrong and shows a very limited understanding of the enhancement process itself. Since virtually every prediction made by these "heavily processed" images has come true (see "The Face Gets a Face Lift"), the implication that enhancement somehow diminishes the value of the result is just silly. If that is the case -- why does NASA do enhancements?

When those who claim to practice or "defend" science lose sight of the fact that their own biases have crept into the process, then science is no longer an unbridled and impartial search for truth, but rather a sanctimonious defense of current dogmas that serve truth no better than did the Catholic Church in Galileo's time. Powell may well be a perfectly decent human being, but his attitudes about what “science” should and should not be are not based on the precepts of how rational debate is supposed to advance, but instead on his own (and the scientific community's pervasive) attitudes about what he is and is not willing to “believe.”

Truth is not served when such "non-science" is practiced, taught, or even discussed.