Below is the latest lunar example of inkblot sensationalism. Someone has found what looks like a man and his shadow on the moon. That seems pretty exciting, until you realize that it really looks more like a shadow and its shadow, not a man and his shadow.
Image Credit: Google Earth/Youtube.com
Another example of inkblot sensationalism is when a paranormal investigator posts a photo with a little white smudge or white blur, implying that is possible evidence of a ghost. Having just read the sensational story of the ghosts of flight 401, I would not at all exclude the possibility that a ghost might be photographed. But if you are going to claim to have evidence of a ghost, it had better be something more than just a blurry white smudge on your photo, as such smudges can be produced by fingerprints on a lens, insects flying near a lens, or a speck of dust floating in the air.
Laura Mersini-Houghton. Studying the cosmic background radiation (believed to be the faint afterglow of the Big Bang), Mersini-Houghton claimed to find 9 possible signs of evidence for another universe. At least one of these claimed “signs” was ridiculous: the non-observation of supersymmetry (as if a non-detection of anything could be evidence for another universe). Other items on Mersini-Houghton's list seemed to be just flimsy cases of looking for some unexplained anomaly, and claiming that as evidence for another universe. But some of the things mentioned by Mersini-Houghton were anomalies that had been named or suggested by other cosmologists: a large-scale “Dark Flow,” a “cold dark spot” in the cosmic background radiation, and a claimed linear feature of the cosmic background radiation called “the Axis of Evil.”
The idea of trying to find evidence for other universes by looking at features of the cosmic background radiation in our universe seems like a quixotic quest (I will avoid the less polite term “fool's errand.”) Even if we were to find a particularly striking feature in that radiation, it would merely tell us something about our universe or its history, rather than being an indication of some other universe. It should also be noted that the cosmic background radiation is essentially featureless, because it is uniform to 1 part in 100,000. The visual below illustrates the point.
Recent findings have not been kind to Mersini-Houghton's thesis. Using the latest and greatest observations from the Planck satellite, no less than 175 scientists co-wrote a paper last year concluding that there is no evidence for Dark Flow. They said flatly, “There is no detection of bulk flow.” You can read here a New Scientist story reporting on this paper. The story says, “The sharpest map yet made of light from the infant universe shows no evidence of 'dark flow.'"
Now there is a new scientific paper that casts doubt on other items on Mersini-Houghton's list. The paper is entitled “Planck CMB anomalies: astrophysical and cosmological secondary effects and the curse of masking.” The paper refers to a process called masking, whereby scientists subtract foreground signals to try to get at an underlying background signal. Imagine if you have planted a tape recorder in the home of a mobster who is unaware of eavesdropping devices in his house. Perhaps the mobster always turned on the radio while he was talking, so that no one could detect his words. You might then create some technique for subtracting the sound of the radio, to get at the background signals of the mobster's voice. That would be an example of masking. Scientists use similar techniques to “mask out” foreground signals to get at background signals such as the primordial cosmic background radiation, believed to come from the very early universe.