2012.04.11 Hoax theories live on forever

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

It’s fun to check in at the New Scientist website from time to time to see what’s being discussed in the Last Word feature.

A reader asks a question and other people—experts and otherwise—try to answer.

A reader from Australia asks: It seems that people who describe themselves as happy are less likely to catch a cold than those who say they are unhappy. Even when happy people do succumb, they have fewer symptoms of illness. What is going on?

Someone from Molesworth, U.K., asks: When an arrow is fired from a bow I would expect from Newton’s third law of motion that there should be recoil pushing the bow backwards towards the archer. Yet references appear to contradict this, suggesting the bow wants to follow the arrow. Why?

An Irishman wants to know: How is it that a 62-year-old man with bad eyesight can skip across rocks with impunity?

The one that caught my attention this morning came from Liza in Shrivenham, Wiltshire, UK: Why can't one of our space telescopes, capable of seeing galaxies many light years away, be pointed at the site of the moon landings where one can assume there are some remnants from the visits.

Would this definitely prove to any skeptics that humans landed on the moon?

I forgot about the moon landing skeptics. I remember watching the landing in 1969. I was working as a dishwasher in a hotel up north and everybody gathered in the lobby to watch it live. 

To my recollection, no one doubted the authenticity. None of the guests said anything about that event actually being staged out west in the desert somewhere.

I know the skeptics exist, but I never bothered to look into why they think it’s a hoax. The waving flag, incorrect shadows, penetrating the Van Allen Belts of radiation, no exhaust flames when blasting off, a woman in Australia claims she saw a Coke bottle on the “Moon” during the TV broadcast.

 I suppose I knew it at one time, but I certainly forgot that Fox News twice broadcast an hour-long show in 2001 that set the leading skeptics loose. Fox claimed later that the percentage of disbelievers nearly doubled after the show was broadcast. They need an addition to their motto, something like: “Proudly spreading ignorance.”

A Gallup poll on the moon landing’s 40th anniversary actually showed about 6 percent of the population doubted the authenticity. That’s somewhat comforting. It’s a distinct minority. Maybe there are only about 18 million Apollo 11 skeptics in the country, so maybe you know one. Maybe every town has at least one.

Buzz Aldrin smacked one of the skeptic leaders in the face one day when he was being hounded to swear on a Bible that he walked on the moon.

Apollo 11 is only one chapter in the history of space hoax theories. The Soviets have their own. There are stories about lost cosmonauts, the real first person in space, failed moon landings and more.

By the way, answers to the Hubble question were furnished by several people: The telescope just doesn’t have the power to handle that job. However, NASA does have photos of the landing site taken years later by the Lunar Orbiter.

The problem here is obvious. If skeptics don’t believe that astronauts went to the moon, why would they ever believe photos taken by the liars at NASA? 

A couple responders suggest sending a few skeptics to the Moon to look for themselves, but how would they ever make it through the dreaded radiation belt?

It seems as though they might have better things to worry about, such as this query that remains unanswered: If we live for three score years and ten, and time seems to pass more quickly as we get older (perhaps even exponentially) ... what is the perceptual half way point in life expressed in years?

Wow, that’s an interesting one. If you live to 70, 35 years is the actual half-way point, but as we get older, time passes faster. A day in fifth grade might have taken forever; now, an entire week—even a year—zips by.

Hmmm, I think half way to 70 is actually about 47, except on the Moon, of course, where time passes much more slowly.

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