#138 “Archaeologist” finds evidence of biblical...wait for it...Flood

I wouldn’t have even mentioned this ridiculous story if I’d only seen it on the always factual Christian News website. However, it wasn’t just on that beacon of science journalism. No. It was also posted here:

It’s also here, here, and here, among others.

OK. First I need to address the Christian News article. They start by stating, as most of the news outlets do, that the archaeologist, Robert Ballard, that made this “discovery” is the same one that found the remains of the Titanic. That’s great, but it doesn’t give him credibility for life. I just want to get that out of the way right at the top. Also, the article says that Ballard is a professor of oceanography, not archaeology. According to the University of Rhode Island website, where he teaches, Ballard has a B.S. In Physical Sciences and a Ph.D. In Geological Oceanography. He also runs the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography which is probably what has led some to call him an archaeologist.

According to the article, Ballard’s underwater archaeology team were exploring the deep waters of the Black Sea near Turkey to look for traces of ancient civilizations that date back to the times of Noah. This phrasing appears in the ABC News article linked above. It seems he actually received funding to look for evidence of people during the time of Noah. I’d like to see the terminology used on the funding applications.

Many of the articles written about this story repeat Ballard’s find of an ancient shoreline with cultural evidence that was radiocarbon dated to about 7,000 B.P. I have no doubt that the research is valid. I also have no trouble believing that the area could have been flooded, either slowly or catastrophically so, as a result of melting, retreating glaciers. There is evidence of massive glacial outflows of water across the northern hemisphere. 

Ballard states that one factor in his insistence that this find represents the biblical flood is in the size of the flood. His team is saying that the water poured in at 200 times the force of Niagara Falls. That’s easy to believe since glacial melting was likely naturally damned up around the steep hills and valleys of the area. It could have naturally released at any time and released a flood of epic, wait, biblical proportions. Crazy how science and geography work like that.

What I don’t appreciate is Ballard’s insistence that it proves the Bible true and is, in fact, the biblical flood that Noah had to deal with. I’m sure there were catastrophes during that time and that the survivors repeated the stories at length. I’m also sure that the stories were likely exaggerated and modified through time before they were finally written down. That’s just the nature of oral history.

The real story here is of an ancient shoreline with apparently cultural remains being discovered under the Black Sea. As of yet I can’t find a published journal article relating to the discovery. Is Ballard planning to do any real science or has he run out of Titanic  clout from 1985 and needs and ego boost? 

It’s frustrating that some people don’t think about the stories they read and just believe whatever is written. I’d like to think they could do a little research and find out that the science in a story like this is likely sound, but the interpretation is whacky. Unfortunately, even the big news sources were parroting this notion of a biblical flood and no one seemed to disagree with it. It can’t just be Fox News watchers agreeing with these articles. There is a wider audience and that is the scary part.

Thanks for reading, stay skeptical, and I’ll see you in the field.

#40 Live Blog During SGU24

At 5:00 pm PST the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast began a live, 24 hour, podcast.  They are in the “Skeptilair” one of the guy’s basement, and are attempting to increase skepticism and awareness of science around the world.  It is after 1:00 am PST.  We are over eight hours into this.  No one is sure why they started at 8 pm EST, where they are all from (except for Rebecca Watson who lives in England and flew here for the event).

For the most part I’m quite impressed with the event so far.  To even attempt an undertaking like this takes an extreme amount of patience and passion.  There have been some technical difficulties and I think that some people in Europe are having trouble with the feed.  However, everything seems to be running as well as can be expected.

In addition to the video and audio feed I’m following the discussion in a chat room and on Twitter (#sgu24).  It is amazing to me how mean some people can be.  Do the people in the chat room think that the panelists aren’t watching the chat?  Occasionally the discussion has slowed down a bit and a few times they probably weren’t discussing topics that are interesting to everyone.  That is no reason to say that you are bored or that a speaker is boring.  You wouldn’t do that in a lecture.  Why would you do it here?

I’m not sure how long I’m going to make it.  Luckily I don’t have to work tomorrow.  The drive and ambition of the Skeptics Guide Rouges are keeping me awake and making me want to be a part of this ground-breaking podcast.

Also, I’m looking forward to listening to Skeptics from around the world as we progress through this 24 hour event.  Right now they are talking to Richard Saunders and others from the Skeptic Zone, a skeptical podcast from Australia.  Keep it going guys.  I don’t think you realize the impact you are having on people around the world right now.  How many podcasts and blogs will be spawned by the excitement of the event and the contagious passion being exhibited by the Skeptical Rouges?  Time will tell.


Written in during hour 9 of the SGU 24 hour podcast event, from Sparks, NV


#28 Skeptical Believers: Are you just going for the cookies?

Every time I'm around a group of freethinkers or outright atheists the majority opinion is that people of all types are free to attend. That means atheists, agnostics, believers, you name it. I don't disagree with that part. If all we do is get together with like minded people and preach the gospel of atheism and science then we aren't really doing much for the community as a whole. However, there is something to be said about educating ourselves internally so we can be better advocates for reason and rationalism.

The more easy going and friendly part of the atheism/skeptical movement feel that it's OK that there are people out there that believe in a higher power of some type but that also identify as skeptics. Personally, I think the two are mutually exclusive. If you apply rational arguments to the god hypothesis then the entire argument breaks down before your eyes. Calling yourself a skeptic means that you apply rational thinking to ideas and concepts that are presented to you. I try to do this to every aspect of my life. At work some people know this type of thinking through the axiom, "Work smarter, not harder". This is a simple phrase that allows you to stop what you are doing, apply some critical thinking skills to a problem, and continue on in a more efficient manner. In other words, thinking skeptically.

So, why do otherwise rational people still hang on to archaic beliefs? I think it's because they feel a sense of community when they go to church. I'd be surprised if any of the believer-skeptics out there are going to those mega churches or to the really fundamentalist churches. They are likely going to small community churches where a few songs are sung, the preacher tells a story, and they all go socialize over coffee and cookies. As skeptics, we can, and do, provide this service to the community. There are local skeptics and freethinkers groups, Skeptics in the Pub meet ups, and local skeptical events such as celebrating Darwin's birthday. I have an idea for another community event that should take place on Sundays so we can provide an outlet for families that don't what to go to church but still want to do something constructive with that time. I'm devoting my next post to that idea.

So, if you are a believer that identifies as a skeptic, I ask you to step back and look at your position with the critical thinking skills that the community is trying to teach you. Does your belief really make sense? Or, are you just going to church for the friendship and heart warming stories? It's difficult to see the cherry-picking that the church does to keep people there when they cloak the scary bits of the bible in flowery "Jesus loves you" stories. Don't forget that the bible also condones stoning your children, beating your wife, and killing your enemies. Next time you are at church, look around. Are people really paying attention or are they checking their phones and watches and scolding their children? Are they just sitting there because they, and you, are just waiting for the cookies?

I welcome comments.

Written in the high desert northeast of Winnemucca, NV.

#25 Ethics of Paranormal Investigation

The first event this morning at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 is a panel with James Randi, Karen Stollznow, Ben Radford, Joe Nickell, and Banachek, and is being moderated by Julia Galef.

The panelists are discussing going undercover and using deception during their investigations. They all feel that some deception is necessary occasionally. Randi, with his Darwinesque beard, does not go undercover and uses agents, such as Banachek for Project Alpha, instead.

The crowd is much smaller than yesterday. Many people are likely still in bed after partying all night. Other academic conferences that I've been to had ethics panels in the morning of the second or third day. Is it because the subject has a tendency to be a little dry and no one will be there? Might have to investigate that. Back to ethics.

Banachek feels that you need to set rules ahead of time for the investigation you are doing otherwise you could be seen as just doing a con. That seems logical. A serious investigation or an under cover operation should be treated as a science experiment that utilizes the scientific method. Would a college IRB approve an undercover experiment into the paranormal?

When dealing with issues of confidentiality it depends on the person. Nickell feels that it's a judgement call. If the person you are investigating is public and has a public persona then he feels it is OK to publish about them. Banachek feels that psychics prefer their privacy and he tries to preserve that if he can. Ben Radford once kept pictures of the front of a family's house out of an article to give them privacy. In another case a family thought they had a ghost. He let them down by saying if you had a ghost, it's gone now. He didn't run in, guns blazing, saying that they are full of crap and that ghosts don't exist.

Joe Nickell related an interesting story about a local skeptics group. The group wanted him to go with them to a haunted house. He agreed but when they wanted to bring a reporter he objected. He said that it creates an adversarial environment where the group is now trying to debunk something and could be playing to the needs of the reporter. As in academic research, you still need to preserve the integrity of your research subjects and make sure that you don't intentionally humiliate them.

Radford discussed the "children never lie" phenomenon. Parents are reluctant to believe that their children could be responsible for alleged paranormal activity. Randi agrees and says that children constantly test their environment to see what they can get away with.

The main point of the ethics discussion centered around truth and honesty. The panelists all agreed that you need a set of rules before you set out so you know how to respond to any situation that comes up. They also agree that humiliating your subjects and demeaning them for their beliefs is something they try to avoid,

I wonder whether it is ethical to NOT tell people that ghosts don't exist or that they can't tell the future. Don't tell them in a way that is disrespectful but do tell them. I feel that people need to know and part of the point of the investigation is to challenge paranormal activity. Of course, I'm not a paranormal investigator so these are just my opinions.

Live blogged during TAM9 in Las Vegas, NV.

#24 Heros: Experiences at TAM9

The end of the first official conference day at this year’s The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 is here.  My fiance and I went down to the pool after dinner and are now relaxing and reflecting on the day in our hotel room before going to Penn Jillette’s Rock & Roll Doughnut and Bacon Party.  I know.  I have no idea what to expect.  But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Heros.  I’ve never really been one to idolize anyone.  When I see a celebrity or sports figure in the airport or out on the town I never rush over for an autograph or get all gushy about it.  They are people.  I might say something to someone because of the novelty of the event but that’s about where it ends.  Bragging about a celebrity siting doesn’t really do anything for me.  

The only time I get excited about seeing certain people is at conferences.  When I go to academic conferences I’m always trying to spot faces and names from papers and books I’ve read.  They are our celebrities.  Here at TAM I’m constantly seeing podcasters, bloggers, and authors that I follow and read.  I’ve heard some people say that they are in the midst of their heros but is that the right way to phrase it?  The more I think about it, the more I’m just not sure.

What is a hero?  Are people that are doing jobs that they signed up for (firefighters, police, military) heros?  Possibly.  It does take a different sort of person to choose that lifestyle.  What about the guy walking down the street that dies or injures himself saving someone from a burning car?  He didn’t ask to be a hero but to a lot of people, he is.  Don’t even get me started on sports figures.  If I had a physical talent and could get paid $1,000,000 a game for using it I’m sure I would.  Actually, I wouldn’t, but a lot of people would.

So, what about podcasters?  Bloggers? Authors?  Some people see them as heros too.  Personally, I see them as examples, as leaders, as positive influences, and as trailblazers in the skeptical and critical thinking movement (at least the ones I listen to and read).  I guess that is my definition of “hero”.  However, I still don’t like using that term.

“Hero” implies some sort of worship in this country.  People seem to idolize “heros” and follow their every move.  I want to watch and listen to my “heros” but I want to forge my own path, blaze my own trail, and make my mark in my own way.  I’m learning from their examples and taking notes.  I listen to the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe every week but I don’t want a poster of them in my house and I don’t want their autographs.  Well, I would get them to sign a book but that is different.  I collect non-fiction science related books and having author signatures makes them more personal.

Click pic for a larger version.Today we all watched a panel on the future of space exploration.  It was moderated by Dr. Phil Plait (Author of Death from the Skies).  On the panel were Bill Nye (The Science Guy), Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Nova’s Science Now), Dr. Pamela Gay (astronomer and co-host of Astronomy Cast), and Lawrence Krauss (theoretical astrophysicist and author).  It’s not even important what they were talking about.  To me, the take away lesson from watching and listening to the discussion was the passion they showed for the topic.  The panelists eloquently argued their points, were sometimes very animated, and kept the audience in a state of excitement the entire time.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people enthralled by a talk on space exploration.  The Twitter feed was going crazy.  There were 25 to 50 tweets per minute throughout the discussion.  Why?  Why was everyone so enthralled and engaged?  Passion.

You can present the best, most thought out, arguments to someone but if you don’t show that you believe what you are saying with conviction then you’re going to be a hard sell.  People respond to passionate displays.  People don’t respond to apathy and monotone speeches.  I might be getting off topic.  My point is that “heros” within the science community are those that get their point across to a wide audience and sometimes actually influence people and change minds.  That is what this is all about.  Present your case, let people evaluate it, make their own decisions, and come up with their own conclusions.  That is all you can do.  If you did it right then people will remember you and what you said when they are confronted with a decision that pertains to your discussion.  

The people I’ve seen today lead very different lives from each other but have the same passion for what they do.  Some of them are superstars here at TAM but are going back to a computer and a cubicle on Monday.  Many of the speakers and presenters have written books and have been on TV.  But, as I’ve said, they all have passion and they are all, likely, somebody’s hero, or whatever you want to call them, if only for the short time we are at TAM.


Written at South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada

#6 Learning While Earning

Several posts ago I mentioned that I listen to podcasts while I'm doing pretty much anything.  I really like to listen to them when I'm doing a survey.  Often, survey involves a lot of walking and not much talking, especially if it's windy.  Listening to podcasts and audio books are a great way to keep your mind sharp and focused so you can find the next Clovis point that will change archaeology forever!

The following is a list of the podcasts that I'm currently listening to.  Sometimes I include others.  Sometimes they stop having interesting topics and I stop listening.  Most of these, however, I've been listening to regularly for several years now.  The title links lead to iTunes where the shows can be downloaded. Oh, and, PODCASTS ARE FREE!!


The Archaeology Channel covers the week's archaeological news from around the country and the world.  The podcast is 10-15 minutes in length and provides a great overview of the week's headlines.  The website contains links and show notes.  Apparently they have a new video podcast too.  I'll have to check that out.

Naked Archaeology is produced by Cambridge University for the BBC.  The show host, Diana O'Carroll provides a 30 minute discussion of current archaeology in the news and of new archaeological techniques.  Check out the website.  There are other great spin-off shows from the parent show, The Naked Scientists.

Stone Pages Archaeo News is a 20-30 minute podcast put out on a somewhat irregular basis by Diego Meozzi and David Connolly of BAJR.  The podcast is certainly geared more towards the UK but does cover big stories from around the world.  They also have a new iPhone App that will show you news stories where you live.  Check out the website here.


The 365 Days of Astronomy podcast was started in 2009 to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy.  Incidentally, 2009 marks the 400 year anniversary of Galileo's discovery of the moons of Jupiter.  This confirmed without a doubt that the Earth was not special and caused the Catholic Church to admit they were wrong nearly 400 years after their mistake.  Better late than never!  The show is a daily 5-12 minute topic in astronomy read by and written by volunteers from around the world.  After 2009 ended, the show just kept on going and is still going strong.

60-Second Earth is a short podcast produced by Scientific American.  It comes out a couple of times a week, sometimes less.  Topics include Earth-related subjects, usually involving being Green.  No, Kermit is not the host.

60-Second Mind is also produced by Scientific American and has a similar frequency.  Topics include news items from the world of psychology and anything about the mind.

60-Second Science is a daily (M-F) podcast, also produced by Scientific American.  This one is great because you get a short bit about an extremely current scientific news item.

Are We Alone? is produced by the SETI people.  The show hosts are Seth Shostack and Molly Bentley.  They, along with a sizable crew, produce an hour long show every week about different science topics.  It's not all about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, however, the show topics usually tie in somehow.  It's a great show for general science topics in an entertaining format.

Astronomy Cast is a roughly 30 minute long program covering everything astronomy.  I've heard podcasts covering different astronomical missions such as the Kepler Mission (searching for extrasolar planets), celestial navigation, and every planet in the solar system, to name a few.  Fraser Cain of Universe Today and Dr. Pamela Gay bring a thought provoking facts based journey of the universe to your playlist at least once a month.

The Naked Scientists is the show that Naked Archaeology spun off from.  It is an hour long show that airs every week on BBC Radio.  The show host of Dr. Chris Smith of Cambridge University.  He hosts different segments throughout the show that illustrate scientific practices and current science news topics.  The knowledgable reporters that are part of the show ask great questions and interview prominent scientists in a wide variety of fields.  Plus, they all have really great British accents.  The accent just makes me want to believe them.

Nature Podcast is the podcast from the scientific journal, Nature.  This podcast highlights stories and papers reported on in the week's issue and the show hosts often interview the authors.  The show is about 30 minutes long and comes out once a week.  Sometimes there is a short "Nature Extra" that often includes extended interviews with study authors.

Originz is a podcast out of Australia by Paul Rex.  Paul reads stories of all types, usually relating to a science topic or something strange, and he does it in a soothing voice with well chosen light music.  I usually listen to podcasts on my iPhone at 2x speed but I like to slow this one down to normal speed to savor the peaceful sciencey goodness.  Since Paul got his house back together after the Australian floods a few months ago he is back to putting out roughly 70 minute-long podcasts every week.

Science Magazine is the podcast of the journal Science.  Produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, this weekly, 30-45 minute long, podcast presents stories from the week's issue.  The show host usually interviews two to three study authors from the current issue.  It's a great podcast for keeping up with a variety of science topics.

Science Talk is the "more or less" weekly podcast of Scientific American Magazine.  The host, Steve Mirsky, presents listeners with science topics from the magazine and often interviews study authors.  The end of the show often includes a "science or fiction" segment where you have to determine which of four stories is a fake.  It's a great way to test your critical thinking skills!


American Freethought is described on iTunes as "An atheist podcast".  The hosts, John Snider and David Driscoll, discuss current issues in the news relating to science and religion and often interview prominent figures in science and philosophy.  Check out the show's blog.

Geologic Podcast is not about geology.  In fact, it's not about anything specifically.  The host and creator of the show is George Hrab.  By day, George, or Geo, is a drummer in a Funk band in Pennsylvania called the Philadelphia Funk Authority.  Once a week, however, Geo puts out an hour or so long podcast with science and skeptical topics presented in the form of music and entertaining skits.  Geo is a multitalented entertainer and is well worth a listen.

The Humanist Hour.  I just started listening to this a couple of months ago so here is the description from iTunes: "A typical episode of the HH podcast features interviews, commentary, news and music.  Notable guests have included Sir Salman Rushdie, Prof. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, E. O. Wilson, Alan Dershowitz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Andy Rooney, Greg Graffin of Bad Religion, Holly Near, Dar Williams and Julia Sweeney.  The HH podcast is hosted and produced by American Humanist Association staffer Jessica Constantine."

The Skeptic Zone is a podcast from Australia for Science and Reason.  Show host Richard Saunders presents segments that include discussions of current topics in the news and interviews with prominent skeptics and scientists.

Skepticality, the official podcast of Skeptic Magazine is hosted by the great podcasters, Derek and Swoopy.  Their podcast aims to provide, "relevant, under reported current events, as well as in-depth discussions from a scientific, critical, skeptical, and humorous point of view."  Derek and Swoopy frequently interview the authors of books that you end up really wanting to read, as well as prominent skeptics and scientists.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is the first podcast that I ever listened to.  I was searching for "skeptic" in iTunes and this podcast came highly rated.  That was about four years ago and it led to other great podcasts on this list.  The format of the over one hour weekly show is the key to it's success.  The "panel of skeptics" is led by Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University.  He is joined by his brothers Jay and Bob, Even Bernstein, and Rebecca Watson.  Topics covered vary across all areas of science and skepticism.  They interview big name scientists and skeptics and answer listener email.  The Skeptics' Guide just hit 300 episodes and they show no signs of stopping.

The Skeptics' Guide 5x5 was a short podcast, 5-10 minutes, covering a single topic in science and skepticism.  They haven't put out an episode since the end of January this year, however, just a short glance at the description for an episode can give you great information on just about any topic.


Stuff You Missed In History Class is a 20-30 minute podcast put out a few times a week by the people at  Episodes are filled with informative banter about various topics in world history.


NPR 7am News Summary is just that.  It's put out at 7am EST so for those of us in the Pacific and Mountain time zones it's a great podcast to listen to on the way to the project area.  It only takes about 5 minutes and briefs you on the big stories from the previous day.

NPR Planet Money is for those of us that have trouble understanding all the complicated things associated with our Nation's economy.  If you don't know what a mortgage-backed security is then you should listen.  It's not dry and the hosts do a wonderful job at explaining complex concepts in user-friendly terms.

NPR Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me is the "NPR News Quiz".  It features a panel of three, phone-in callers, and a guest that answer questions from the week's news.  If I ever laugh out loud uncontrollably on a site, you'll know that I'm listening to Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me.


This American Life is an hour long radio show featuring, "first-person stories and short fiction pieces that are touching, funny, and surprising."  Actually, I've never met a CRM archaeologist that didn't know about the show.


Fat 2 Fit Radio features two hosts that provide information and insights into safe weight loss and healthy living.  I only recently started listening to this show because it was referred to by other podcasts.  So far I'm enjoying the format.  The hosts answer listener email and sometimes mention healthy recipes. 

Stuff Mom Never Told You is produced by the people at  It's mostly centered around female related topics but can be pretty informative for men too.  After all, we all get along better when we understand each other!

Stuff You Should Know is a crazy funny and educational podcast that is also produced by the people.  This one is hosted by Josh and Chuck and their interactions will make you laugh and make you think.  Other podcasts could take a lesson from these guys.


That is a pretty extensive list.  I'll admit that I sometimes skip podcasts because I can't listen to all of them and I get hopelessly behind.  That doesn't happen much during the field season since I listen whenever I can and, I listen at 2x speed.  That really helps.  I hope at least one person gets something out of this list and decides to educate themselves while working rather than letting their brain atrophy at work while they think about the bar after work.  If you don't see something you like, please, look around.  The iTunes interface isn't the only place to get podcasts either.  There are other places, including the show websites, where you can get MP3 files of the episodes.  You don't need an iDevice to listen, either.  Podcasts can be listened to on any device that can play an MP3, including the ability to burn the files to a CD.


#1 Blogging Archaeology

So I'm at the 76th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Sacramento and I'm listening to some interesting people give interesting papers but nothing is really blowing my socks off.  On Saturday afternoon, all of that changed.  I attended the "Blogging Archaeology" symposium and my outlook on archaeology and CRM instantly changed.  My goal has always been career oriented with the targeted path going from field tech to crew chief to field supervisor (or project archaeologist or whatever your region calls the lowest level of managing and writing) to principle investigator and/or company owner.  Now, however, I feel that it is equally important that I devote a large portion of my time to telling the public about the field I've chosen to spend the rest of my life in.

I've always enjoyed telling anyone that would listen about my love and passion for my job.  Even when I've had less-than-enjoyable bosses I've still gone home at the end of the day and said, "I did something good today."  I like that feeling and I wish everyone could experience it in their jobs.  Those of us that do feel that way should tell people about it and get others excited.  Enthusiasm is contagious.

We shouldn't stop at just boasting of our love for archaeology. No.  In fact, we should be talking about not only why we do what we do but how we do what we do and why it is important.  A few words from a presenter come to mind.  He commented that he would like to meet someone that saw archaeologists at work in the field, digging holes, looked it up online, and found a blog and all the answers to their questions.  I like that.

Often, the projects that we work on affect the public in various ways.  Even a gold mine on private land in nowhere Nevada affects the public.  They have a right to know, not where the project is, but what we are doing and what our findings are telling us about the history and prehistory of the area.  

So, what is this blog going to be about?  Well, mostly archaeology.  Specifically CRM archaeology.  I'll relate my experiences in the field regarding our methods and what we are finding.  I welcome all comments and suggestions.  I'll also talk about general science occaisionally, as well as astronomy and skepticism.  I'm a member of the Reno Skeptics and really enjoy talking to people about critical thinking and rational thought.

OK.  Let's see if I can keep this going.  Together we can make a change for the better!