The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Springfield's Mars Man

A number of crazy people are from Springfield, in fact you may be visiting the blog of one right now. But I'm of the mostly harmless variety. As for Springfield's criminally insane, we all know that they go into politics. Yet some City of Homes nutcases have managed to distinquish themselves in other fields.

Take for example fringe media science figure Richard C. Hoagland. The Wikipedia has this to say about him:

Richard C. Hoagland (born April 25, 1945) is the operator of He appears on late-night talk radio to discuss his opinions on alleged US government cover-ups of alien civilizations and other space-related topics. At age 19, he was briefly the curator of a small science museum in Springfield Massachusetts, despite having no education or training for such a position. He claims to have worked as science advisor to CBS News, (specifically and directly to Walter Cronkite), during the Apollo Missions to the Moon, despite having no education or training in science.

His writings claim that advanced civilizations exist or once existed on the moon, Mars and on some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and that NASA and the United States government have conspired to keep these facts secret. His opinions have never been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Hoagland claims that he served as a curator of astronomy & space science at the Springfield Museum of Science, located at The Quadrangle in Springfield, Massachusetts, and that he was a consultant to CBS News during the Apollo program.

Hoagland co-produced with WTIC (AM) of Hartford CT, a radio program, A Night of Encounter, covering the July 14, 1965, Mariner 4 flyby of the planet Mars. The show was submitted, unsuccessfully, for consideration for a Peabody Award.

Hoagland has appeared often on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory as well as on CNN, the BBC, UFO Evidence & Conspiracy, and Mysteries in Space. Coast to Coast AM has given him the title of Science Adviser, despite his lack of science credentials.

In other words, this seems like a guy with some pretty outrageous claims to make and a distinct lack of evidence. No where is this more apparent than his claims involving life on Mars. Again from the Wikipedia:

Hoagland bases much of his argument on the image of the so-called Face on Mars that appears in a 1976 Viking Orbiter photograph taken of the Cydonia region on Mars.

He argues that this feature is an artificial structure built to resemble a face. According to Hoagland, this structure is part of a city built on Cydonia Planitia by extraterrestrial intelligences consisting of very large pyramids and mounds arranged in a geometrical pattern, with the ratios between measured angles roughly equaling mathematical constants like pi, e, the square root of 2, and most importantly the ratio between the surface area of a sphere and that of a tetrahedron inscribed within it, 2.720699.

To Hoagland, this is evidence that an advanced civilization existed on Mars and that NASA is suppressing the evidence for reasons explained in a Brookings Institution report entitled Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs, specifically on page 216 of the report which raised the question of whether evidence of extraterrestrial life found in the solar system should be withheld from the public. It is a possibility that such information would destabilize society.

Hoagland also speculates that the ancient Martians may have escaped to Earth and genetically engineered certain human populations, referencing the Mesopotamian myths of the Annunaki and the fallen angels of the Old Testament. The inference he draws, like Zacharia Sitchin et al, is that these human populations may be the genetically engineered children of ancient Martians.

On April 5, 1998, the Mars Global Surveyor probe sent back better images of the Cydonia region that indicated that the face was an irregularly shaped mountain. Hoagland contends these images were run through multiple filters that degraded the original image in quality, giving it a catbox appearance which obscures what is really on Mars.

When, on April 8, 2001, enhanced images showed that the feature was not symmetrical, he wrote that the face is actually half hominid (left side) and half feline (right side).

On September 21, 2006, several new 3D views derived from the high-resolution stereo camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. In response to their publication Hoagland remarked "Science is not about what you can see. It's about what you can measure,". Mike Bara, Hoagland's co-author, has accused the European Space Agency, which released that photo set, of fraud.

The image from the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, released in April 2007, was so detailed that even Hoagland appears to have abandoned his contention that the whole structure is a face.

Again, it seems like Hoagland is a guy who won't let the facts get in the way of his opinions. But what really interests me about Hoagland is the local connection and the claim that he was once a curator at the Springfield Science Museum at the Quadrangle.

Can that be verified in some way? I began poking around, and saw the claim repeated in article after article about Hoagland, but all of them seemed to be taking the claim at face value in that hall of mirrors way the media sometimes has of repeating the same information over and over again without anyone bothering to check whether it is actually true.

Then I stumbled upon this wonderful internet discussion group called The Bad Astronomy and Universe Forum, where scientific people gather to thrash out what is real and what is bullshit in the astronomical field. It turns out they were plenty skeptical on the subject of Springfield homeboy Hoagland, and specifically discussed and investigated his Quadrangle curator claim. Initial inquiries did not seem supportive:

Hoagland's bio refers to his serving as the "Former Curator of
Astronomy and Space Science at the Springfield Museum of Science,
Springfield, Mass." Well, I contacted the museum and asked them if
this was true. Their reply:

"Thank you for your inquiry about Richard Hoagland. I have been trying
to track down the information you requested. We have been unable to
find a personnel record on anyone of that name."

In fact, Hoagland may have worked there on an occaqsional basis as a
planetarium lecturer, but he was never a permanent employee - and
certainly not Curator.

That damning evidence however is then challenged by someone who claims to know first hand about Hoagland's Springfield experience:

This may cause massive gastric distress to some, but Hoagland really did work -- and worked hard -- for the Springfield Science Museum (c. 1964-68). It was there that the energetic young man experienced his first close encounter with Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Dr. Carl Sagan. However, I do not know if Hoagland was a paid employee or was a volunteer.

The various sections of this small science museum have their appointed curators, such as the Curator of Anthropology, the Curator of Mineralogy, the Curator of Natural Science, the Curator of Physical Science, and the Senior Curator, but no astronomy or planetarium curator. If Hoagland was truly a curator, he most likely would have been the Curator of Physical Science or, as he calls it, the "Curator of Astronomy & Space Science."

Hoagland was most noted for his planetarium shows.

Frank Korkosz (1903-87) was the director of the Springfield Science Museum from 1958 to 1974 and would have been Hoagland's boss.

So Hoagland may indeed have been involved with Springfield's Quadrangle Science Museum, but may be overblowing its importance. This forum participant seems to nail it:

The problem is that he inflates his resume, claims original credit for ideas not his own (plaque, Europa ice), and the ideas for which he deserves original credit (Mars "city", Pyramid connections, Mars junkyards, etc.) are raving works of hallucination, wishful thinking, numerology, and conspiracy. He's also abrasive and arrogant without the chops to back it up.

I'm just saying, we don't have to talk down what he did accomplish before he went completely off the deep end.

So the astronomy people pretty much arrived at this verdict - that Hoagland probably had something to do with the Springfield Science Museum, but it was no big deal and in any case does nothing to detract from the fact that he is essentially a raving lunatic.

The bad astronomy forum then came down to Earth to discuss the far more interesting subject of whether The Simpson's TV characters are from Springfield, Massachusetts. Alas, that mystery was settled for good a few years ago, and you can read all about it here.

Cyber Pit Stop

At UMass today I passed these students checking their email in the Graduate Research Center.

Visual Pun

At the UMass Library.

Today's Video


Anonymous said...

Don't be so mean to Hoagland, he's a harmless crank.

Anonymous said...

Hoagland is no crazier than obama and probably a lot more ethical

JW said...

Yo Tom!

Great investigative journalism on Hoagland! He's quite a piece of work - I'll bet he'd make for a great interview if he lives in the area - I doubt he shuns publicity.

Rich Sanderson said...

I was first hired by the Springfield Science Museum as a high school museum assistant to run the planetarium back in 1970, and I'm now the Curator of Physical Science at the Museum.

While I have never seen physical evidence that Richard Hoagland was a paid museum employee, I'm fairly positive that he was. During the 1970s, people at the museum who knew Hoagland commented about how talented he was at presenting planetarium shows. One story I heard was that people would show up at the museum and inquire about who was presenting the show that day and if it was Hoagland, they would attend. I have a tape recording of Hoagland speaking in the planetarium, and I must admit that he was very good.

Regarding his title, back in the early 70s, there was a "senior curator" (Earl Reed) but no other curatorial titles. Museum director Dr. Frank Korkosz may have conferred a title upon Hoagland as a reward for his hard work, or else Hoagland made up a title based on his duties. I've seen no evidence that he ever had anything to do with collections, however.

Regardless of Hoagland's eventual forays into fringe science, during his Springfield years, he seems to have focused entirely on pure science and science education. He had a productive relationship with NASA. He also seems to have had great creativity and nearly unlimited energy. His Mariner IV program at the museum brought a young Carl Sagan and other notables to Springfield and put us on the map as the only museum in the country offering live coverage of the first-ever close-up pictures of Mars (once and for all disproving the existance of canals!).

I've always wondered what made Richard Hoagland abandon what seemed to be a promising career as a science popularizer that might have propelled him to great notoriety, perhaps similar to that of Carl Sagan. Why did a dedicated astronomy educator suddenly embrace pseudoscience? I can't imagine a scientist jumping to pseudoscience just for the money. This would be a great subject for a psychoanalytical study.