The Sagan Signal and Atheists
NOTE: Much like our solar system, the world of secularism has a number of lesser personalities and organizations that, like planets and moons orbiting the sun, revolve around the “Big Guy” at the center. In this conversation, the “Big Guy” is The Center for Inquiry (CFI), and its main subsidiary, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).
Generously supported by some of the world’s richest philanthropists, and intellectually sustained by world-class scientists, the CFI maintains offices and investigative facilities around the globe as it carries out its mission of confronting regressive religious influences and debunking pseudoscientific claims.
The focus of today’s discussion is on Barry Karr, the Executive Director of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In a recent essay, Barry offered a gushing, full-throated tribute to the late Carl Sagan, one of the founders of the organization he directs. Following is a short excerpt:
“I remember the day he died. I heard it on the radio as I was driving to work that day, December 20, 1996. I had to pull over and cry.”
Barry’s love and admiration of Carl is much like my own, but that’s where the similarities end, because, while Barry subscribes to the corporate image of Carl that paints him as a mild-mannered conformist, I see him in an entirely different light. To me, Carl’s not the meek and mild reporter Clark Kent, he’s Superman. To mix metaphors, Barry’s Carl Sagan is a milk and cookies kind of guy. My Carl Sagan is red hot chili peppers:
But Barry and I have a bigger problem than dueling images. We were, and still are, on opposite sides of a formal 2018 CSI investigation of the Sagan Signal (see CFI Investigation tab), where I’m the applicant and Barry is the man in charge of the investigation. What started out as a run-of-the-mill inquiry turned into a full blown shit-show, when, after ten months, it became clear to Barry and his team that my claimed discovery of an alien Bible code could not be debunked. So what did Barry do? He shut down the investigation and then directed his team to do whatever it took to make sure that I didn’t win the $100,000 CSI Challenge!
So while Barry’s admiration for Carl may be genuine, it is also true that, as Executive Director of the CSI, his oversight of the Sagan Signal investigation involved a number of egregious and patently illegal violations of fundamental rules of skepticism, rules that Carl Sagan, a founding father of the CSI, espoused.
The world is about to learn the scandalous truth, that Barry got caught with his pants down! CSI investigators, working under his oversight, confirmed a discovery of potentially historic significance – and then covered it up! What you will learn about in today’s Molly/Don conversation is:
The Great Skeptic Conspiracy
In today’s conversation, Molly and I will bring transparency to a scientific process that had it’s beginning in the light and then drifted into darkness. It’s important to understand that the CSI investigation of the Sagan Signal wasn’t botched or mismanaged. Like all CSI investigations, it was executed with professional skill and meticulous attention to detail.
There are fewer crimes in science greater than the intentional obstruction of information. The free flow of observational data, hypotheses, speculations and investigative results are the lifeblood of the scientific method. To cut off or restrict that flow is like applying a tourniquet to the carotid artery that sends blood to the brain.
So my question to Barry Karr, and the overarching theme of this conversation, is:
BARRY: WHY HAVE DETAILS OF YOUR INVESTIGATION OF THE SAGAN SIGNAL NOT BEEN RELEASED?
Don: Okay, Molly, I sent you a copy of all the correspondence I have between myself and CFI personnel associated with its investigation of the Sagan Signal. Are you convinced that Barry’s investigation actually took place?
Molly: Of course! You have it in their own words. CFI not only investigated, but his investigative team exchanged emails with you on a regular basis.
Don: So why do you think Barry refused to release details of the investigation, or to acknowledge that it even took place?
Molly: I suppose it’s because he doesn’t want to pay you the prize money?
Don: That may be a small part of it, but I don’t think it’s the main reason. I would be more than happy to sign a legal waiver that denied me the $100,000 - if Barry would publicly acknowledge that the investigation occurred, and, even more important, release the official record.
Molly: So, what’s keeping him from doing it?
Don: Glad you asked, but I think it might be better if you asked Barry yourself.
Molly: I’ll do that.
Molly: Barry, I can only surmise that the reason you are suppressing news of your investigation of the Sagan Signal is because it confirms Carl Sagan’s claim that JC is the ET Singleton. In Don’s claim, he makes no mention of JC being an ET, but here is what Louis Hillman, one of your lead investigators, wrote to Don on March 20, 2019:
“Clearly, you believe that the grain-wine-oil sequence proves something, but I am not sure what. I see these possible claims:
Extraterrestrial beings with supernatural or paranormal powers visited Earth.
Either the extraterrestrial beings used their powers to make Jesus divine, or Jesus was an extraterrestrial being. (I am not totally clear on which of these you claim; I think it is the latter.)”
Molly: I find it striking that the “claims” Louis thinks Don was making are the same claims that Carl Sagan made. So let’s discuss a hypothetical: What if it had been Carl, not Don, who submitted the Sagan Signal to the CSI? Would you have accepted it for investigation?
Barry: No, because the Sagan Signal is not predictive. We do not investigate non-predictive Bible codes.
Molly: Here’s another quote from Louis:
“It is clear from your statement on your website . . . . . . . that you believed that IIG members were going to perform various statistical, linguistic, and religious-based analysis of the code. That’s not the way the Challenge works, and that is not what we do.”
Molly: If you knew at the beginning that Don’s claim failed to qualify on the grounds that the Sagan Signal is non-predictive, why did you wait ten months to tell him?
Barry: No response.
Molly: Barry, why don’t you just tell the world the truth? Why don’t you honor your Mission Statement?
CSI’s Mission Statement:
“The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry promotes science and scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues. It encourages the critical investigation of controversial or extraordinary claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community, the media, and the public.”
Barry: I have honored the CSI Mission Statement.
Molly: Don’t you think the Sagan Signal qualifies as a “controversial or extraordinary claim?”
Barry: No, because it’s not predictive.
Molly: On your website, you list the investigations you conducted since 2018. They are:
Rick Elizondo, March 31, 2022
Metaphysical Entities Pull Out, Jan. 15, 2021
Dice Man, Oct. 20, 2020
Top Physics, Sept. 15, 2020
Lightning Man, June 25, 2020
Dead or Alive, June 24, 2020
Salton Sea Curvature Test, June 7, 2018
Molly: Barry, not on the list is CSI’s 2018 investigation of Don’s alien Bible code claim. Why was it left out?
Barry: Because it never happened.
Molly: I have written evidence from your own office that it did happen. How can you deny that it happened?
Barry: I’m telling you, it never happened, end of conversation.
Don: In the previous dialogue, Barry kept telling Molly that the Sagan Signal had been disqualified because it wasn’t predictive. He’s wrong! In an email exchange between myself and CSI, the subject of predictivity came up at the very beginning, in January, 2018, when I received the following request:
“There is nothing in your letter that tells us what your specific claim is, but if it is similar to other “Bible Codes” that we have seen, then can we assume that you are finding words or phrases by entering in a specific algorithm to the text of the Bible? If so, then we would have to work out a protocol so that we can find a predictive value to that algorithm and to the text.” (Underline mine).
My response was immediate. I replied with the following:
“Unlike other Bible codes you may have come across, what I call the Newton Bible Code is unique in that it does not require an exotic intermediate process for extraction. The code is embedded in the surface text.”
“The specific test that I envision is a code identification process known as a linear cryptanalysis. It would establish predictive values by addressing such metrics as statistical probability analysis, sequence repetition analysis, and pattern recognition analysis. It would also, hopefully, factor in the compositional complexity of the Old Testament.”
“I look forward to moving ahead on this project. I thank you and others associated with IIG for your service to humanity.” (Underlines mine).
My “prediction” was that the sequences, when tested, would be proven to be an alien encrypted code - minus any algorithm. All code experts, without exception, agree that a code without an algorithm is a human impossibility. By Barry’s own definition, my claim was paranormal.
Barry asked me about predictivity and I responded. There was no follow-up notice, no letter of rejection, and no request for clarification or for additional information. Assuming that Barry was fully satisfied that I had met all the CSI requirements needed to trigger an official investigation, I sat back and waited.
That was the last I heard from Barry until ten months later, in November, when, out of the blue, I was notified that for me to qualify for the Challenge, my Bible code had to be “similar” to other Bible codes he had seen. In other words, it had to be algorithmic! Of course, had it been algorithmic, it would have been quickly debunked and Barry would have proudly posted the investigation on the CSI website.
In January, 2018, despite my clarity in explaining how the Sagan Signal was different, Barry went ahead with the investigation, evidently thinking that, surely, there had to be an algorithm. Not until ten months into the investigation, and after he had realized that I had won the Challenge, did Barry make his fateful decision to move the goalpost.
Don: In one email, a CSI investigator admitted that the Sagan Signal is “different from other Bible codes.” I suspect that he was referring to the fact that, after ten months, investigators couldn’t find an algorithm. Why? Because there isn’t one.
All human codes are generated by algorithms, which makes the debunking of phony Bible code claims formulaic. Simply find the algorithm, apply it to any large body of literature, and, bingo, there it is, a miraculous code. Case closed. But a code without an algorithm is a horse of a different color. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a code, it only means that it’s a code not created by humans.
In my claim I stated, very clearly, that I found an alien Bible code. Not until ten months into the investigation, in November, after Barry conceded that the sequences are a code, did he demand that, to win the prize, my code had to be predictive in the sense that it had to forecast, down to the exact day and hour, something like an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or a tsunami! With complete and utter disregard for the truth, Barry moved the goalpost, effectively making it impossible for me to win.
Now, back to our Molly/Barry conversation:
Molly: Barry, when you deny that there ever was a formal investigation of the Sagan Signal, I assume you say that based on the fact that it’s non-predictive.
Barry: Right, we do not investigate non-predictive Bible code claims.
Molly: One of your investigators, in an e-mail to Don, wrote:
“. . . our challenge is set up THIS way: You need to prove your claim in a controlled environment, in such a manner that beats ‘random chance’ by a considerable margin.”
Molly: As you know, a probability expert has calculated that the odds of the Sagan Signal being random are one in ten billion trillion. Don’t you think that qualifies as beating the odds?
Barry: Yes, of course, but beating the odds is not the only criteria our decision to accept or reject an application is based on. The Sagan Signal beats the odds, but it’s not predictive.
Molly: So why didn’t you tell Don that in January of 2018. Why did you wait ten months? And what were you doing during that ten months?
Barry: We had other investigations going on that we had to complete.
Molly: So you were too busy to send Don a simple rejection notice?
Barry: Okay, I admit we blew it. We should have let Don know, but didn’t. My bad.
Molly: But that doesn’t mesh with the facts. The truth, confirmed by CSI emails, is that towards the end of that ten month period, your investigators began asking Don specific questions related to their investigation. Why would they have done that if there was no investigation?
Barry: I don’t know. All I know is that there was no active investigation.
Molly: You realize, don’t you, that you’re contradicting yourself.
Molly: Barry, let’s talk more about algorithms. In January, 2018, Don received an email from CSI asked if he used an algorithm to generate the code. His answer was a clear and concise “No.” Isn’t it true that, over the next ten months, CSI investigators went to great lengths to find the algorithm they were sure he was using?
Barry: Don’s application was rejected at the beginning, so there was no follow-up. His case was closed before it ever got off the ground.
Molly: So how do you explain James Underdown’s comment to a fellow skeptic, who asked him specifically about the Sagan Signal more than a year after your investigation was completed? He said: “Anyone can find a code in a sufficiently large body of text.”
Barry: James was expressing his own opinion and doing it on his own time. His comment was never part of any official investigation.
Molly: Okay, let’s back up to November, 2018. Don received an email from one of your investigators, who, among other comments, stated the following:
“But let’s examine what I believe you ARE claiming: That God, Jesus or SOMEONE has constructed a “code” that you have cleverly found hidden in the Bible. Okay, let’s examine that. A code, by definition, is something that someone has constructed to hide information from another, correct? HOW is that “paranormal,” or “fringe-science? Our challenge is for someone to prove the existence of any sort of psychic, paranormal, or “fringe” science (that which seems to defy the laws of nature.) A code written by a human simply doesn’t qualify.”
Molly: Barry, this is a flat-out admission that you’re department, over a ten month period, was “examining” the Sagan Signal under the assumption that, if it was a code, it had to have been written by a human, and, if written by a human, there HAD to be an algorithm. Your team spent ten months looking for an algorithm that doesn’t exist. Why would you have sent Don an email like this in November, when you claim his application was denied the previous January?
Barry: I can’t answer that question, I’ll check with my attorney and get back to you.
Molly: Barry, as the sole executor of the investigation, you had the power to shut it down at the beginning, before it ever got off the ground, with a simple notification. But you didn’t. Isn’t it true that you were so certain that your team could find the algorithm that generated the code that you allowed the investigation to go forward?
Barry: I’ll say it again, there was no investigation!
Molly: Isn’t it true that you saw this as an opportunity to strike a blow against people like Don who think the Bible is unique in all of human literature? Isn’t that why you personally authorized the investigation?
Barry: I’ll say it again, there was no investigation!
Molly: Then why was your staff corresponding with Don ten months AFTER you claim Don’s application was terminated?
Barry: I don’t know, maybe it was just curiosity, unrelated to any investigation.
Molly: So it was a “non-investigative” investigation?
Barry: Yeah, something like that.
So, what happened? Here’s my take, and I’m pretty sure I’m right. The CSI Challenge is designed like a finely woven fishing net. When cast upon the open waters it lets mudsuckers, i.e., idiots with idiotic claims, in, while keeping marlin, i.e., serious thinkers with serious claims, out. The bait is a pile of money.
As captain of his mudsucker trawler, what keeps Barry awake at night is the remote possibility that a marlin might somehow make it through the filters, get caught in his net, and stay there well into an investigation. If that were to happen, Barry and the CSI would be left with two choices: either pay out the money, or cheat their way out of paying it.
Barry knows that extraordinary claims of a scientific nature, long considered unbelievable, do occasionally get confirmed, continental drift theory being a classic example.
I’m a serious thinker and the Sagan Signal is a serious claim that, incredibly, made its way through the CSI filters and into Barry’s net. On the assumption that it was a mudsucker, Barry and his team launched a full investigation, thinking that it would be a quick and easy takedown. Ten months later, Barry realized that what his team was examining wasn’t a mudsucker, it was a marlin.
Barry is a serious person working for a serious science-based organization that prides itself on being truthful and transparent, no funny-business allowed.
So the spotlight fell on Captain Barry. What would he do? Would he admit to the truth and pay out the money, or would he cheat?
Tragically, Barry chose the latter. He thought he could lie his way out of paying me the money by insisting, despite direct evidence that proves otherwise, that my claim never made it into the CSI net, and that there was no investigation.
Unfortunately for Captain Barry, his lying started ten months after the marlin was caught in his net and after his crew had carved up the big fish into fillets! By that time, everyone on his team knew the truth, that it was a marlin, not a mudsucker.
THE BIG LIE
To be a good liar, there are two rules: One, if you’re going to lie, make it a whopper, and, two, if you’re caught, keep repeating it. And then there’s a third rule: If you’re caught red-handed, and you have good lawyers, fight it in court until your opponent either runs out of money or gives up.
Call it the Trump strategy. Barry’s denial that CSI conducted an investigation of the Sagan Signal is the skeptic equivalent of Donald Trump’s Big Lie, and it looks like he may get away with it.
After reviewing the details, my attorneys assured me that I had a winning case. They had identified a specific law that Barry broke and had selected a specific jurisdiction where my case would be tried. But what I didn’t have was money, and the CSI maintains a stable of high profile pro bono attorneys. So, in the end, it was an easy decision. If I was going to plead my case, I would have to turn to the public and ask them to be the judge and jury.
This is what I have done, so now I rest my case. You decide.
Don: Okay Molly, with your help I think I’ve made my point. If I say any more, I’ll be accused of whining. See you in a couple weeks.
Molly: What are we going to talk about?
Don: The mind, consciousness, and a whole lot more. I think you’ll find it an interesting conversation.
“My own view is that it is far better to understand the Universe as it really is than to pretend to a Universe as we might wish it to be.” Billions & Billions
“In my life I’ve been totally in awe of maybe a handful of people, but nobody comes close to the presence – the being – that was Carl Sagan.”