Scientist states he has explanation(s) for sky noise but it only sounds sciencey

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I’ve been closely following the story of strange noises from the sky that flared up in January. I wrote about them on Doubtful News.

The noises are widespread, varied in type, sometimes able to be explained and sometimes known to be hoaxed. But, because this spate of anomalies (a Fortean Flap, if you will) is in the so-called apocalyptic year 2012, the phenomena has attracted the acute attention of conspiracy theorists, End Times believers, and people just concerned that something weird is happening with the planet.

“I don’t care if anybody gets it. I’m going as the Doppler Effect.”

Though the sky noises phenomena is fading away – the receiving frequency of these claims are lowering like the Doppler effect – reports are still trickling in.

Followers of sky sounds were excited by the news that an actual scientist who sounded like he knew what he was talking about described the causes of strange sounds.

Reposted all over the web as being from an “acclaimed”, “credentialed” and “renowned” professor, unfortunately, this article immediately raised a slew of red flags with me and others who are sensitive to what real science looks like and how not so established ideas try to dress themselves up in sciencey getups. A cursory look revealed that this piece has hallmarks of pseudoscience and creates far more confusion than clarity.

I’m going to walk through quotes from the article which is available here:

STRANGE SOUNDS IN SKY EXPLAINED BY SCIENTISTS on the Geochange journal site (run by Dr. Elchin Khalilov)

1. We have analyzed records of these sounds and found that most of their spectrum lies within the infrasound range, i.e. is not audible to humans.

Right at the start, Khalilov, the professor interviewed, is speaking in vague, sciencey terms. I am flooded with questions.

Which sounds is he talking about? There were many types – booms, roars, hums, mechanical, musical, whooshes.

How did he get the records of these sounds? From YouTube downloads like the rest of us? Who sent them to him? How were they analyzed? This whole section sounds vacuous. I don’t get any value out of it, only more questions.

2. There can be quite a lot of causes why those [acoustic gravity] waves are generated: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, storms, tsunamis, etc. However, the scale of the observed humming sound in terms of both the area covered and its power far exceeds those that can be generated by the above-mentioned phenomena.

Yes, acoustic gravity waves ARE generated from those events. But, I see we are now only talking about humming sounds here. So, we’ve now narrowed the “strange sky sounds” type but cut out all the other sounds. Did we even establish that these hums exist as something that needs an explanation? Some people disturbed by them say they can’t even be recorded. How did he get measurements of them and establish their “area and power”? Did he plot all the hum locations around the world? Can we see that? Are all the hums the same? At least some have been identified as industrial noise. How does that work into the data? Is the data set going to be published? Already, I have more questions than answers from this piece. In fact, I have NO answers, just claims that are missing a foundation.

3. In our opinion, the source of such powerful and immense manifestation of acoustic-gravity waves must be very large-scale energy processes.

“In your opinion”? Based on no evidence then? A lot is assumed here – that there is a single source causing the same hum, that it is caused by acoustic-gravity waves and not something else, that a powerful and immense event occurred.

4. Thus, the effects of powerful solar flares: the impact of shock waves in the solar wind, streams of corpuscles and bursts of electromagnetic radiation are the main causes of generation of acoustic-gravitation waves following increased solar activity.

We’ve had powerful solar flares before, how come a hum epidemic hasn’t occurred previously during a solar storm? And, there is a problem with assuming that those reporting a hum can hear the very low frequency (VLF) noise from an electromagnetic event. Scientists working at the poles don’t report hums. Some people do report aurora sounds and they can be recorded but they are nothing like this. Generation of acoustic gravitation waves have not been demonstrated to result from solar activity so I really do not understand why this is presented as fact. It is very much conjecture that has not been shown to be true.

5. Given the surge in solar activity as manifested itself[sic] in the higher number and energy of solar flares since mid-2011, we can assume that there is a high probability of impact of the substantial increase in solar activity on the generation of the unusual humming coming from the sky.

As I said, there have been episodes of increased and even larger solar activity before, like in 2003, and were widespread sounds reported then? (No, they weren’t.)

How did Khalilov get to the assumption that the increase in solar activity is causing the hum? There is no established connection to this at all. This is made up, complete speculation without data.

6. Meanwhile, the observed increase in solar activity is fully consistent with the forecast of the International Committee GEOCHANGE published in the Committee’s Report in June 2010.

Ah, this scenario he explains fits in with his ideas about a forecast made in this report by a committee in which he took part, under the auspices of an authority that sounds impressive.

Taking a little side track, I looked up this Geochange report which states:

On the basis of statistical data analysis for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, drift of the magnetic poles and other geological processes it has been demonstrated that the Earth’s geodynamic activity has been continuously increasing over the past 100 years, with this tendency substantially growing in recent decades. This is reflected in the number of casualties and the extent of economic damage caused by natural disasters. The global “energy spike” in endogenous and exogenous processes of the Earth started in the late 1990’s.

Where to start? This report has not been recognized by the scientific community as far as I can see. I can’t find it referenced anywhere but to sites that circle back to Mr. Khalilov. That is suspicious. It’s not coming up in Google Scholar except as a part of conference proceedings (run by his own org). That suggests it was NOT peer reviewed. I have not heard that these are conclusions that have been “demonstrated” to the satisfaction of anyone except perhaps the Committee itself and the people who attend the conferences sponsored by this organization.

But even I know and understand that the reason why “number of casualties and the extent of economic damage caused by natural disasters” is because we now record more earthquakes and more people live in hazardous areas. Actually, I’m going to question the “increased number of casualties” part also because it also could be a factor of better counting, which makes that deceptive.

I’d also call attention to the premier organization for collecting such data, the U.S. Geological Survey who say:

Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant.

As more and more seismographs are installed in the world, more earthquakes can be and have been located. However, the number of large earthquakes (magnitude 6.0 and greater) has stayed relatively constant.

I found this horrendous graph in the Geochange report:

From Geochange report

It only measures events from 1999 and throws a trendline through it. This is an awful representation of the data, unless you like cherry picking.

Returning from the tangent, I feel much worse about this whole presentation. Nothing is sounding reasonable. But, let’s finish up, back to the main article we go.

7. There is one more possible cause of these sounds and it may lie at the Earth’s core.

I’m confused. He said it was the solar activity. Now, it’s the core? And, only “one more possible cause”? Since when does scientific explanation limit itself that way? Both can be wrong ideas.

8. November 15, 2011 all ATROPATENA geophysical stations which record three-dimensional variations of the Earth’s gravitational field almost simultaneously registered a powerful gravitational impulse.

Is that like a sudden burst of gravity? Did people fall down, not able to get up? Did they weigh more for a moment? I’ve not heard of such a thing so I tried to find some information regarding the specific event and what would constitute or cause a “gravitational impulse”. Nothing came up. I fully understand why gravity varies across the surface of the earth but it doesn’t “pulse”. Would this be a behavior that we haven’t noticed before? That would be odd since we have various sensors around the earth that measure its conditions and this hasn’t been documented? This ATROPATENA project looks to have been going on for a number of years but there are no results from it. Again, no citations are coming up for it except those affiliated with Mr. Khalilov.

9. That huge energy release from the Earth’s core at the end of the last year was some kind of a start signal indicating the transition of the Earth’s internal energy into a new active phase.

How does he know that!? Where has this connection been established? Where is this explained? This is the first I’ve heard of such a thing and I am a geologist. Unless, I’m missing something really big here, this is unsupported speculation. I’m thinking Mr. Khalilov is confusing facts and opinion again.

10. Intensification of the energy processes in the Earth’s core can modulate the geomagnetic field which, through a chain of physical processes at the ionosphere – atmosphere boundary level, generates acoustic-gravity waves the audible range of which has been heard by people in the form of a frightening low-frequency sound in different parts of our planet.

No. I can’t swallow this. Too many sharp edges. I have not seen any information that connects the earth’s core to acoustic gravity waves or that these would be audible as a low frequency sound around the planet. It’s a chain of assumptions that sounds plausible to someone who may not be well-versed in how the atmosphere works. But, the connections made here are from imagination. They have not been established to be genuine.

11. There is no doubt that processes in the core rule the internal energy of our planet, therefore, we should expect by the end of 2012 a sharp rise in strong earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and extreme weather events with peak levels in 2013 – 2014.

NO DOUBT?! I’ve never heard a scientist worth his/her credentials ever say that. And, I don’t even know what “rule the internal energy” means. The way that sentence is phrased suggests that we should not doubt the expected sharp rise in events. I do doubt it, because a committee report that looks more like propaganda than peer-reviewed science is not going to be enough to convince me that our view of the earth is radically different and needs to be adjusted.

And, that’s the end. Thank goodness.

It is so easy for the casual reader to be fooled by the setup and delivery of these stories. I found this piece recirculated on conspiracy forums and on websites like “Signs of the Times”. Audiences for those sites seemed to like it because it was a “Professor” validating their views that the sounds were real and they could be explained. They didn’t take notice that “EXPLAINED BY SCIENTISTS” meant one with creative ideas but without a solid argument to support it. And, they apparently didn’t read the article or get what he was saying. I didn’t get it!

Visitors to Khalilov’s Wikipedia page might be impressed. I’m not so easily impressed by awards, memberships and chairing self-established organizations with fancy names. Lots of people with flawed ideas have credentials, including many PhDs. Just because you have accolades does not mean you are right about everything. Science works on community principles and the community has not endorsed this explanation or even its premises.

I didn’t even pick closely at many of the “facts” stated in this piece because I’m not a geophysicist or a climate specialist. But the numerous flubs, no supporting evidence and poorly constructed claims cause me to label this as worthless, even pseudoscientific. I’ll await any further information on research results that support such allegations. But for now, this is a clear case of “sounds sciencey” but not solid science. This is not the answer to the mysteries of the sky sounds.

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24 thoughts on “Scientist states he has explanation(s) for sky noise but it only sounds sciencey

  1. james

    Ok so after all that crap you fancy trying to actually explain it? Im from the UK and I have been hearing some wierd loud aircraft noises very loud and quickly sound far away and the very close… so if you would be so kind to shine some light as you are the scientist dude right?

    • idoubtit

      The right answer is: We don’t know. They probably are many different things. It’s not a simple answer like this prof makes it out to be.

      I’m not a “scientist dude”. I have a geoscience degree but NOT a dude, obviously.

      The fact that you call it crap makes me think you aren’t going to listen anyway.

  2. Bob Caron

    I read that article and I thought the same thing – something is not quite right there. After searching “Khalilov”, I wound up here. Very nice. Then I found your interview on The Token Skeptic. You’re brilliant, keep up the good work.

  3. I’ll do it, not problem. I just started to translate it, I will show it to you in a couple of hours may be (or after my lunch, here is 10 am yet hehe). Just one thing, there are some phrases in english that translating in spanish doesn’t make too much sense, that’s why I’m translating not just into spanish language but in the spanish sense of understanding. I hope there is not problem with that. Anyway thank you for your permission. I will keep translating. Cheers!

  4. Anonymous

    While I appreciate your attempt to debunk science, I’m not sure why you’re trying to refute many of the claims and observations Dr. Khalilov has made. He has a doctorate specializing in geodynamics, tectonics, and seismology (i.e., earthquakes and volcanic activity, relating to the Earth’s core); furthermore, he has conducted much research in this field and held positions with international organizations (like NATO, the International Academy of Science, the Russian Academy of Natural Science, World Organization for Scientific Cooperation, Global Network for the Forecasting of Earthquakes, and GEOCHANGE, an internal committee). His papers are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals; does it matter that a Google search doesn’t turn them up? I teach English in a large public research university, and I will tell you that 9 out of 10 academics is skeptical of Google Scholar as a source of reliable information. We would rather turn to JSTOR or Project Muse for articles that are most likely to have been peer reviewed. I suspect our views are mirrored in other research universities.

    I agree that many professionals flaunt their degrees and empty titles as proof of their critical worth; however, I do know that Khalilov has been required to supply the factual bases for his information and research in a manner digestible to the public. No one understands the need for evidence to back up a claim better than I; it’s what I teach my students everyday. But there are also concepts and incidents in the natural world that are backed by scientific precedent, so discussing them in a new context as possible explanations for unexplained phenomena is not “sciencey,” but rather, science–science is about inquiry, hypothesis, educated guesses, experiment, testing, revision. The point of scientific inquiry isn’t to provide a multitude of answers, but rather precisely to limit science in a way that is definitive until future research proves it otherwise. Neither a gravitational anomaly nor a shift in the energetic processes at the Earth’s core seems outlandish or unscientific, especially give the composition of the core and the delicate processes operating within and without the Earth.

    I’m not sure it’s logical or reasonable to try to debunk an argument because you “didn’t get it.” Here is a scientist, whether you want to call him that or not, who appears to have at least some of the knowledge and credentials to make a hypothesis (EDUCATED GUESS) as to the cause of unexplained atmospheric sounds. To me, it’s better than an explanation suggesting alien contact or dead people speaking from the sky. You criticize conspiracy theorists for appropriating his article and posting in on their sites (isn’t that the fate of much knowledge, to be appropriated by a particular group and then warped and twisted till it meets their purpose or ideology?), yet you have effectively done the same here–”debunking” him point-by-point, but not offering valid criticism of his observations except “I don’t get it,” since you, it would appear, are not “a geophysicist or a climate expert” like Khalilov claims to be. Just because you deny every point he makes doesn’t make your denials valid. Where are the facts against his claims? I would like to see a point-by-point invalidation of his claims so that I can understand why I should believe you over him.

    • idoubtit

      I am also a scientist and know enough to question the claims he makes. I have a degree in geology. Just because someone has a higher degree does not mean they are more “correct” than me. LOTS of people with PhDs are mistaken.

      I’m not impressed by letters or appointments. I’m questioning his position based on evidence. He has none that is convincing.

      Note that research for which these outlandish theories are based is NOT published in a reputable. It was presented in a report for a conference. The whole foundation is flimsy.

      He is making some extraordinary claims without adequate support for such. To go around believing whatever is said because someone is a self-stated authority is very dangerous. One will be led astray immediately.

  5. Anonymous

    I’ve always known that people like this were out there, making claims without going through the proper channels of scientific communication (peer-review), but I never look for it. I have to say, I appreciate that someone is taking the time to at least try and break down why these are nonsensical claims, whether or not it turns out to be a fruitful endeavor.

    Having said that, because a fair number of people seem to put a lot of stock in Khalilov’s credentials, as a theoretical petrologist/geophysicist I would like to make a few comments. Some of these are more or less restatements of what the founder of this blog has already pointed out, and some are what I believe is fair for the general public to expect from experts in fields they don’t understand.

    The biggest problem with these claims is simply that they are not peer-reviewed. If this had been published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, the Journal of Geophysical Research, Science, Nature, or a number of other reputable journals, then it would be reasonable for those without a background in physical science to lend credibility to these ideas. But such is not the case. And I can tell you that these claims are pure garbage; however, I’m not even going to try to explain what’s wrong with his arguments, and here’s why:

    The study of the interior of the planet is arguably the most quantitative and difficult branch of earth science. It relies almost entirely on thermodynamic calculations (backed by phenomenally difficult high-pressure experiments), seismic data, gravity data, inferences made from primitive meteorites, and other techniques that require a lot of background to even begin to understand. If you want to see for yourself, look up a book called Geodynamics by Turcotte and Schubert. This book covers a lot of what we know about the deep earth through geophysical data. If you do look at this book, it will be immediately obvious that no one without a very strong background in mathematics and physics will have any idea what the authors are saying. And if you really want to see the cutting edge of deep earth research, the numerical and thermodynamic models published in the last few years usually encompass years upon years of extremely complex work that even most professionals in the field sometimes have a hard time getting their minds around. I understand that there is more to Khalilov’s arguments than geophysics, but the point is the same.

    Do we expect non-scientists to be able to follow this work? Of course not. Do we fault them for not being able to follow it? Only if they are trying to make claims not having understood what they themselves are saying. And so again I say, look for what is peer-reviewed in a reputable journal. I don’t understand anything beyond the basics of climate change or quantum mechanics, but I don’t doubt that ideas reviewed by top professionals in their fields have at least some credibility. It doesn’t mean that something which is peer-reviewed is infallible; ideas, even some long standing ideas, are often disproved in later publications. But this is again done in a methodical and peer-reviewed manner.

    Lastly, the claims that the author of this post ought to be able to explain the sounds in question, simply because she is doubting an extremely doubtful set of claims, is just ridiculous. Almost every long-standing scientific problem has been attempted by at least a few, if not very many, scientists. They are still problems because no one has put forth a satisfactory argument.

    I never write these sorts of things, largely because the pessimist in me thinks that those who would stick up for an argument like this have already made up their minds about what they are going to believe anyway. I could go on and on, but I feel I’ve ranted enough as it is.

    • idoubtit

      Well, I appreciate that you commented.

      Thank you for pointing out how complicated earth systems are. Even with a degree, the specialized knowledge required for any sub-branch of a science is incredible.

      I suppose it really irks me to see people who are Graduates of Google Univ telling me I need to “open my eyes” or some such similar plea because I’m blind to the truth.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to add this valuable information.

  6. Anita

    I live in Manchester, England and have just been woken up by 2 episodes of the most wierdest and loudest sounds I have ever heard in my life. It started approx 4.30am and both noises lasted a good 30 seconds. I’m not the type to be paranoid but honestly these sounds were scary, not wind sounds and not the plane flying over sounds. It sounded like a huge grinding and rumbling noise like the type of noise you would get if you were roll a big concrete ball down the hill. I don’t know about hoaxes but I really heard this and I think that there is something more serious going on in this world that maybe scientist don’t want to face up to.

    • idoubtit

      The point is that it’s FAR more likely to be industrial or related to the surroundings rather than something the “scientists don’t want to face up to”. There are no sounds of the apocalypse, just lots of noises of civilization that we may not have noticed before. The modern world is a really noisy place.

      As I describe, the out of this world reasons that some are providing are scaring people but have no basis in fact. It’s unscientific speculation.

  7. Juise

    Thank you for this, that was the only article I have found that claimed to have figured out what was causing it, and I barely started reading it before becoming terribly disappointed that it was a bunch of sludge. /sigh

    So the reason I was looking it all up was that I heard these weird noises last January, which were amazingly creepy and gave me all sorts of goosebumps and even went so far as to give me an inkling of the 2012 fear, which I had not until then considered at all. I passed through it all, however, without the slightest idea that I wasn’t the only one who heard something strange, that it wasn’t isolated. I thought perhaps I had some neighbors a few houses down being extremely creepy and playing very loud, weird, chanty, chorus like music very late at night in the belief that the world really was about to end or something. That was just the only thing I could come up with. I had no idea what to make of it. It was so eerie though, like I didn’t just hear it, but felt it through my whole body.

    So last night I was looking up weird nocturnal bird noises on youtube trying to identify a bird I was hearing that I hadn’t heard before, (which I failed to do,) and was completely shocked when I clicked on a random “weird noise at night” video and heard a rather flat version of the strange noises I had heard that night. It didn’t have the same hair-raising felt-throughout-your-whole-body harmonics, but it was it, and to be honest, freaked me out all over again.

    I am SO curious as to what in the world could have caused these noises, and about the fact that nothing seems to have ever come out clearly about it. Interest seems to have died off when the sounds did, I guess. Am I the only one still wondering what in the world it was?

    Being a natural skeptic, I am both understanding and frustrated by all the dismissals. “Industrial noise” doesn’t come into it. Not only am I situated in a fairly rural area, but I am not daft! I know what a bloody train or plane sounds like. Seriously. I do. While I appreciate that many of the videos put up are obvious hoaxes, and some are explained by normal “modern world noise”, I don’t think *all* the other people were daft or mucking about either. If it were simply normal background noise produced by our civilized modern world, why would it suddenly alarm so many people?

    I’m not suggesting anything apocalyptic, but it was definitely something out of the ordinary, and I am still hoping to find an explanation.

    • idoubtit

      Thanks for commenting. This was a great contribution.

      I often have distortion of sounds from the houses around me or bounced off low cloud cover.

      Atmospheric noise is real but rare. Again, there is no reason to think it is apocalyptic or supernatural or some government conspiracy. And, the incidents seemed to have died down. There was a huge viral media component to these events.

  8. Tom

    Interesting subject. Personally I appreciate the different perspectives based on individual disciplines – fair and reasonable I would think, heavier on the side of academia, which is surely expected, in general – if and when a final explanation is presented, the odd’s would favor authorship from this corner. I would also think that some comments are simply thoughts, “thinking out loud”, a “sounding board” so as to speak. For this, I am grateful. It add’s insight at an informal level plus it provides a root basis for discussion – and the world continues to turn.

  9. I appreciate you perspective and apply similar perspectives in my personal life, daily.
    However, just looking at this from the perspective that ‘its anyone’s guess’, I think Dr. Khalilov has made a respectable guess. Don’t get me wrong here, I like your industrial bi-product ‘guess’ also.

    I have no doubt that your undergrad science degree has served you well, being a highly doubtful web-author, but this guy has wikipedia page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elchin_Khalilov

    I’m saying that you should gobble up opinions that aren’t peer reviewed, I’m saying this guy has very few peers that have succeeded him in his area, whatsoever.

    I would also encourage your readers to at least read his wiki bio before expecting praise as a fellow scientist. I have no doubt that I myself would wither intellectually in your circle of peers, but grouping yourself with his circle of peers as a skeptical scientist is frankly… Well, I mean. Just look at his awards and scientific achievements. Look at his contributions to scientific communities.

    You on the other hand, well. You’re “Well, nobody special, really”. I mean, I think you’re pretty darn special, but I don’t think you’ve ever worked in scientific research, as a career, have you? (No, really—have you?)

    I’m just saying, but then, who isn’t?

    As far as the sounds go, it’s just god. He’s telling you all to send me all your money.

  10. Okay, so, I have not seen a single link that works that leads to his interview. It’s a little bit as though the guy ‘vanished’. Perhaps your skepticism was right on, this time. I maintain the point I was trying to make earlier, but it still looks like you were right. . .

    So, really, without this guy, can we even confirm the sounds, at all? Until further notice, I’m filing this crap under hoax.

  11. John Doe

    Excellent article Ms. Sharon Hill. You methodically and fairly went through each of Dr. K’s claims and debunked them for the unsupported, spurious assumptions and speculations they were.

    Unfortunately, I feel that a look at some (not all) of the comments to this article only proves why your services are desperately needed. One comment suggested that because there are sounds, Dr. K’s wild guesses are more than you offer. That comment misses the point. It’s fine to wildly guess and speculate. It is not fine to do what Dr. K did, dress up wild guesses and speculation as “science.”

    Another comment says that because of the intercomplexities and dynamics here, Dr. K’s wild guesses and speculation can constitute science. Not a chance. Yes, sometimes jumps and assumptions need to be made. Scientifically, you simply state those explicitly and ask for faith. Dr. K did not do that. He presented guess and speculation as valid causation, as if what Dr. K was saying was fact and could not be disputed.

    Thank you for writing this clear, coherent article. And thank you for responding to off-the-mark comments that, even after reading your article (I’ll be generous and grant that assumption), still fall prey to the very phenomenon of unsupported claims and conjecture that you rightly attack.

    Please keep up the good work.

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