Rugby 2012

The first lecture was very interesting and illustrated nicely the importance of peer review in science. It was entitled:

The Secret Rulers of the World – the Apollo Moon Landings, Conspiracy Theories and Physics as a “Candle in the Dark” by Anu Ojha, Director of the National Space Academy

In our technological society there are people that do not believe that the Moon landings took place. Anu started his talk by going through the history of space exploration. The space race started because of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Republic and the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 in 1957. Sputnik 1 was the first artificial satellite.

To further annoy the Americans the Soviet Republic put the first man in space four years later (April 12 1961).

Yuri Gagarin (9th March 1934 to 27th March 1968)

Because of this President Kennedy announced that the United States would put a man on the Moon before the end of 1969.

The Moon is 1000 times further from the Earth than the International Space station. Between 1968 and 1972 there were 9 lunar missions, 24 humans in space (12 landed), 6 successful landings and one failure. See http://ase.tufts.edu/cosmos/view_chapter.asp?id=5&page=4

The first image of the Earth taken from Apollo 8. “A beautiful oasis in the wasteland of space”.

The Apollo missions have been described as the supreme technological achievement of the last 1000 years. Unfortunately since 1969 conspiracy theories and urban myths have exploded (connected to politics and religion). Examples include: The American flags fluttered when placed on the Moon’s surface; no craters, slowed down footage (to give the impression of low gravity), no missions to the Moon in 39 years, Van-Allen belt radiation would have killed the astronauts as too much shielding would have been required and photographs show no stars.

There are of course logical reasons for all of the above. Conspiracists ignore perspective in photographs. The Saturn V rockets travelled too quickly through the radiation belts for the astronauts to be affected; short exposure of film prevents the stars being seen, flags fluttered due to simple harmonic motion and the Japanese have sent probes to the Moon which have spotted all the Apollo remnants. The Apollo missions came to an end because NASA was working on the reusable Space Shuttle. The biggest piece of evidence against all the conspiracy theories was that there were too many people to keep it secret. Why fake something more than once? The conspiracists should publish their theories in journals where they can be reviewed properly to see if they stand up. Conspiracists ignore the scientific principals and don’t use critical thinking. They ignore “Occam’s razor” that the simplest explanation is nearly always correct.

Anu continued with his talk by discussing the conspiracy theories about 9/11. The conspiracists say the World Trade Centre was designed to survive Earthquakes; burning fuel does not get hot enough to melt steel and the collapse looked like controlled demolition. In reality stress-strain curves show steel weakens greatly when the temperature increases.

Conspiracists distort, misrepresent, and proliferate their theories on the Internet with no peer review. Even renowned scientists can get it wrong: microfossils found on rock originally from Mars were believed to be evidence for life on Mars. William Shockley (1956 Nobel Prize winner for physics) was a believer in eugenics (that some races were genetically superior to others).

Why are conspiracy theories increasing and what can we do to stop them. It is vital that critical thinking skills are developed in a time increasingly dominated by non-peer review, the internet and hype. This is why physics education is so important.

Science and discovery must take precedence. At present we are finding out more about Saturn. Spacecraft have gone to investigate its moon Titan and found it has oceans and lakes of methane and a temperature o -200 degrees. Humanity must explore.

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