To Spite the Face

Researchers accuse ASU's THEMIS of fraud and cover-up on latest image of 'Face on Mars'

It is Laney and Hoagland's assertion that ASU's Gorelick "bamf'ed" or redirected Laney to the "real" Cydonia image in order to send up a red flag that THEMIS' information was being purposefully flawed. Hoagland admits it sounds bizarre, but asks, "If we're crazy -- or have consciously perpetrated a fraud here -- why bother? Who's ultimately going to listen to seriously ill people for long?"

And many people are still listening to Hoagland.

THEMIS officials contradict Hoagland's allegations. "There is no scientific validity to anything Hoagland says about this," claims Dr. Philip Christensen, the principal investigator at THEMIS. "Their image is completely fabricated. It takes about six steps on Photoshop to make our image look like theirs."

This original image from the 1976 Viking expedition exploded the controversy over life on Mars.
courtesy of NASA
This original image from the 1976 Viking expedition exploded the controversy over life on Mars.

Hoagland wants THEMIS to release the image exactly as it comes to them, with no processing. "If they have nothing to hide, why won't they show us the raw data?" Hoagland demands.

Christensen has a simple answer. "The reason we don't release the so-called raw-data' is that you can't read raw data. We give people as close to unaltered as humanly possible, short of saying, Here's a line of ones and zeroes.'"

But Hoagland believes ASU's Gorelick has a motive for the alleged image-swap. "Read between the lines. It's all code," he claims. Hoagland's basis for this belief is anomalous image dates, and a collection of numbers he feels to be significant indicators of a complex code. "The image is 333 pixels across and 1,947 pixels long. Those numbers have meaning -- they are very important.

"Forget what's in the image; look at the other things. It's a meta-message."

Realizing how cloak and dagger he sounds, Hoagland remarks, "When you're dealing with Spooksville, you have to be a little James Bond." Hoagland maintains that Gorelick logged more than 1,000 hours on The Enterprise Mission Web site during the controversy over the image. "Why would he do that?" Hoagland wants to know. "It's bizarre unless he is playing a very sophisticated game."

Gorelick himself (who goes by the handle "bamf" on Web chat rooms) says that the accusations are "totally false." Gorelick admits to frequenting both Hoagland's site and other Mars-related sites for personal interest reasons, but is less than happy with being characterized as a fraud and a liar. "I think it shows paranoid delusion," remarks Gorelick when asked whether he was sending secret messages to Hoagland and Laney. "Laney claims I was goading him into [analyzing the image]. But I wasn't even talking to him."

As far as Laney's image, Gorelick says, "My opinion is that Laney invented that image through intentional or unintentional manipulation," and believes Hoagland's crew is using him as a scapegoat in order to legitimize their cause. "Hoagland is getting good results with this sensationalism. He gets money, resources, and he's on the radio all the time."

Christensen echoes Gorelick's sentiment, saying, "Anything we do, that group is going to complain about it. You can't win."

But these protestations are not taken at face value by Hoagland's camp. "Why put this stuff out -- unless it's a cry for help? They want to get caught," says Hoagland.

Hoagland says ASU's Gorelick, and others like him, are unhappy with the fact that they cannot release complete data to the public -- and this "bamf'ed" image is his way of fighting back. "It only takes one white crow to prove that not all crows are black," Hoagland explains. "That's what I think [Gorelick] is trying to give us -- one white crow."

Gorelick laughs in response, "I actually like this part. He gives me more credit than I am probably worthy of -- that I could engineer such a thing."

In any case, Gorelick says that THEMIS is not bound by the federal Data Quality Act. "It's not a NASA Web site, it's an ASU Web site. And it's not a NASA image, it's an ASU image.

"Even if it were relevant, we would respond that Laney's data was incorrect and that the Web site has the correct image -- or more likely claim it's frivolous."

An answer on the filing is due on December 11. Hoagland is hopeful, saying, "If [Gorelick] sent Laney to a bamf to get another image, he has to admit what he did."

Either way, the response is unlikely to satisfy Hoagland. "If you begin to believe that the government can lie, why would they keep their grubby hands off of this?" Hoagland asks.

But THEMIS and her crew are not alarmed. Says Christensen, "[Hoagland] can go on and on for a long time -- but every now and again there's some interesting conjecture. The scientific community needs someone to keep them thinking on their toes."

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