Follow up to Brian Cox: Seven Questions and a Request
from David Orbell
Dear Professor Cox,
In the light of your recent claims that you delight in accepting difficult questions: "I would welcome that, I rarely...you don't get the chance to sit in the studio and take questions from people." (Brian Cox: Space, Time and Videotape BBCTV 2014) I would kindly ask you to reconsider addressing the questions I posed in my open letter sent to you last August.
I welcome your newly-found open mindedness with which you now claim to invite contrary viewpoints. In that same show you asked Professor Alice Roberts "Is there a balance then? You don't think we should have someone giving the opposing view?" And referring to a clip from your show (in which a question was put to James Burke from a 'difficult' audience member) you profess that "it’s good to watch something on television [when] you think I don't agree, [but] I see you’ve thought about it."
However, your reluctance to reply to my open letter demonstrates that your surprising new liberalism has its limits. And that your previous declaration "My opinion is that you are not allowed to have an opinion unless you know something about the subject you are talking about. Well, you can have an opinion but you do not have the right for it to be listened to" still holds firm. Brian Cox, Carpool YouTube (go to 21 mins 50 secs).
New content from your recent TV shows underlines the controversies contained in my previous letter and therefore your considered response is now all the more pertinent:
- In episode four of Human Universe you interviewed William Anders (Apollo 8) who stated: "The stars just exploded, I mean there was every star that you thought about was visible to the degree that it was very difficult to pick out constellations, and yet as I looked back over my shoulder the stars suddenly stopped, and there was this big black hole and that was the Moon and I must say that got the hair on the back of my neck standing up."
- In episode five of the same series you interviewed Charles Duke (Apollo 16) who told me that he "could not see stars" on his voyage to the Moon as "it was too bright." This is in fact Charles Duke’s official stance on the subject and is repeated during his numerous speaking engagements.
- In this video clip posted on YouTube, James Burke gave a guided tour of the Apollo CSM and pointed out that in order to confirm their course, the Apollo astronauts used star sightings which then had to be verified by the computer as being authentic. He recounted that on one occasion the astronauts had entered their star sighting – only to be ’told’ by the computer that it was a blob of urine.
It makes one wonder who is taking the p…? As a scientist, why did you not address these anomalies prior to broadcast?
Contradictions of this magnitude were also highlighted in my letter to you. The absence of any reply at all indicates that you are unable or perhaps unwilling, to explain these extraordinary opposing testimonies from these expert witnesses.
Further anomalies were brought to mind by your TV programmes. During your recent visit at the NASA vacuum facility (Human Universe: episode four) it was rather disappointing that instead of watching from outside the vacuum chamber, whilst replicating the feather and the hammer lunar vacuum experiment, you didn't seize the opportunity to test the Apollo A7L space suit. Imagine the lost headline "Brian Cox duplicates Apollo commander Dave Scott's Moon stunt!"
Not only would this have been great television for you, but had you also done a seven-hour 'EVA' duration test in the Apollo suit it might have supplied the missing link in the NASA film archives. It seems that nothing exists (in the public record at least) of Apollo astronauts testing the infallibility of their life support mechanisms in such a facility, prior to risking the rigours of a seven-hour period of extra-vehicular activity in the vacuum of space.
On second thoughts, your decision to stay outside the vacuum chamber was possibly quite wise. Bearing in mind that James Burke had also demonstrated the near impossibility of suiting up securely in the Apollo A7L without the aid of at least two technicians able to move freely around the ‘astronaut’. These conditions were in stark contrast to the impossibly restricted Apollo CSM & LM crew cabins and Burke had concluded their experiment with the chary and prescient comment: "and if you can do that in a spacecraft you've got good reason to go to the Moon."
You have stated that "In science, we have a well-defined process for deciding what is mainstream and what is controversial. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with how many people believe something to be true or not. It’s called 'peer-review.' Peer-review is a very simple and often brutal process by which any claim that is submitted for publication in a scientific journal is scrutinised by independent experts whose job it is to find the flaws."
Your comment actually blurs the distinction between peer pressure and peer review, and your outburst on Dr Brian Cox on faking the Moon landings shows the type of response produced by peer pressure when a controversial subject is raised within academe. This is your most successful YouTube video, with over 481,000 views. Does this mean that people are more interested in your opinion on this subject than any other you have published on YouTube? – or are they interested in seeing the effects of peer pressure on a scientist? And if peer pressure makes the topic of Apollo controversial and thus taboo, then that would make answering my questions difficult. But now ‘difficult’ is good you assure us!
As for peer review, some years ago the UK's leading research institution, The Royal Society, set up a 10-member working group to examine best practices in peer-review. Heading up the inquiry was Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, FRS, fellow of Kings College Cambridge (at that time Provost of King's College as well as biological secretary of the Royal Society). Sir Patrick considered that "peer review is an imperfect process."
NASA itself is not above manipulating the differences between media and peer review when it suits the agency. Doing “science by press release and press conference” as one scientist put it, when the flaws in the science are revealed, NASA hypocritically refuses to discuss the issues unless presented within the pages of scientific journals.
Now perhaps you might concede from these findings that peer review is not quite the omnipotent panacea in which you have such unflinching faith. However, I have every confidence that today peer review will validate the existence of Velcro during the Apollo epoch, despite the inexplicable gap in flight director Gerry Griffin’s awareness of one of Apollo's fundamental accessories.
Considerable interest is assured from your peers' conclusions regarding the likelihood of NASA allowing its Apollo ‘radiation workers’ to be exposed to cosmic particles:
"The surface of the Moon is baldly exposed to cosmic rays and solar flares. When cosmic rays hit the ground, they produce a dangerous spray of secondary particles right at your feet, and trigger little nuclear reactions that release yet more radiation in the form of neutrons. The lunar surface itself is radioactive!"
– Robert Naeye, PhD, NASA. Dr Robert Naeye is now Editor in Chief of Sky & Telescope, the world’s most respected and influential popular astronomy magazine.
With regard to the lunar surface, do you concede the inability that most physicists or peer reviewers would have in sharing your faith in photographic paper surviving for "millions of years" on the Moon's surface where extreme ultraviolet radiation, meteorite bombardment and other temperature 'stressed' surface conditions would be a severe impediment to the endurance of the Charles Duke’s family snapshot? 1 (Human Universe: episode five)
Professor Cox, The Open Letter to Brian Cox: Seven Questions and a Request has now been read by Apollo researchers all over the world. Fortified by your new found delight in receiving difficult questions and your claim that science is easy (Wheldon Lecture) your considered response to my previous seven questions, together with the contents of this letter, is again invited and will be much anticipated.
1. Additional information on the effects of articles exposed to the harsh realities of space can be found in this document.