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Hoagland's Credentials

Table of Contents
What Color is Mars? The Green Planet? The Glass Worm
Face the Face City Slicker The White Bunny
Bizarre Image Analysis Say What? (Updated March 24, 2004) Hoagland's Credentials
NEW! (March 13, 2004) Some fallout: Hoagland discusses these pages on C2C
Links of Interest

Contents of this page

Introduction to Hoagland's Claimed Credentials

This page deals with a delicate topic: Hoagland's credentials. It's delicate for many reasons, but two are paramount. One is that I have debated many pseudoscientists in many venues, and in all of them, I have stuck with the issue of science. In many of these debates, I have been attacked personally, called such things as a disinformation agent, a government spook, a NASA lackey, and so on. Despite these and sometimes even more vicious attacks, I have never attacked the person who attacked me. So writing a page about someone's credentials is something I approach with some care.

The second reason is that in general, the issue of the person's background is important, but not critical. For example, some Planet X proponents brag that they have no education in science. They claim it allows them to think "outside the box" when in reality it only allows them to say blatantly incorrect things about even the most basic scientific facts. But even someone not educated in science can make valid observations.

But what if someone has a history of stretching the truth? In court, if a witness is known to have lied multiple times in the past, then their testimony is suspect. They are not necessarily lying this time, but it certainly is something to consider. So looking at credentials can be pertinent.

Credentials work the other way, too. A lot of people simply believe what I say because I have a PhD in astronomy. I am adamant on this site that people not simply believe what I say; they should find out what other evidence exists. But having an advanced degree in astronomy means I have a pretty good background in science, and that in general I do understand the basics of what I am talking about.

So if someone comes along and says they have a lot of impressive credentials, then people are more likely to believe what they say. This is the very reason I wrote this page. Hoagland makes a lot of claims about his credentials. At least some of these claims are true. As I show below (and as others have shown before me), not all of these claims are as true as others. Hoagland uses these claims to make him seem more legitimate; when he is introduced on the "Coast to Coast AM" radio show, for example, these credentials are trotted out. As you can see from reading this page, those should be taken with a substantially large grain of salt.

Was Hoagland the First to Think of Life in Europa's Ocean?

image of Europa Europa is a moon of Jupiter. It's roughly the same size as our own Moon. However, it's pretty different from what we're used to! When the Voyager probes took images of Europa, most astronomers were surprised to find that it looked like Europa was covered with a sheet of ice, with evidence that underneath that ice was liquid water! Years later, observations by the Galileo probe confirmed this. Most astronomers now have little doubt the ocean exists, though there is a lot of arguing about how deep it is, its composition, etc.

This result is very exciting, because biologists think life on Earth got started in liquid water, and most life needs liquid water to survive. An ocean of water on Europa has obvious implications...

If life exists on another planet or moon, then whoever thought of this idea first will get some credit for it. Anyone claiming they thought of it first could say this to help bolster their credibility. Enter Hoagland.

Hoagland has claimed that he was the first to think of the ocean under Europa's ice, and also that he was the first to think of the idea that there might be life there as well. In his own words:

Shortly after the first NASA unmanned Voyager mission to Jupiter, in March, 1979, Richard C. Hoagland published in Star & Sky magazine a radical new theory ...

Hoagland proposed that a planet-wide ocean still exists under the tens-of-miles-thick sulphur-tinged ice now completely covering Europa. Further, that in that extremely ancient ocean -- the only other planetary "near-by" liquid water that may have persisted from the beginnings of the solar system (other than on Earth)--

Life may have once originated ... an alien type of life that -- because of the present uniqueness of Europa in the entire solar system -- currently might still exist

Note the use of words like "Hoagland proposed", which strongly implies Hoagland is claiming credit for originating these ideas. He goes even further...

At the time, Hoagland's theory [emphasis mine] encountered overwhelming opposition from almost everyone at NASA...

Based on Hoagland's startling theory [emphasis mine], Clark [sic] two years later would create a sequel to his most famous work ("2010: Odyssey Two" -- after long claiming that such a follow-on was "impossible")...

In the acknowledgments to "2010," Clark would write:

"The fascinating idea that there might be life on Europa, beneath ice-covered oceans kept liquid by the same Jovian tidal forces that heat Io, was first proposed by Richard C. Hoagland in the magazine Star & Sky ('The Europa Enigma,' January, 1980). This quite brilliant concept has been taken seriously by a number of astronomers... and may provide one of the best motives for the projected GALILEO Mission..."

He also quotes an article in the Toronto Star, which says

In late 1979, a science writer in the United States named Richard Hoagland first broached the idea that there might be life under the ice there.

It can't get any clearer than that. These are all quotations from Hoagland's website. In that last one, for example, by not saying the article is wrong, Hoagland is saying he thought of life in Europa's ocean first. Incidentally, on that page, Hoagland bizarrely put up an email he got from the author of that article saying that Hoagland is in violation of copyright laws, and to remove the article. Hoagland laughs this off with the line, "Opps[sic]! I guess Jay [the author] doesn't want any more exposure" and keeps the copyrighted material on his site! Why would an author of an article write an angry letter to someone whom he supported in that very article?

So on Hoagland's own page he is claiming that he thought of the ocean first, and that he thought of life first. There really is no other way to interpret those statements, written on Hoagland's own website. He then quotes Arthur C. Clarke, who clearly says "was first proposed by Richard C. Hoagland". Nowhere on that page does Hoagland ever say Clarke gives him too much credit.

Then, on the Coast to Coast AM radio show (as quoted by Ralph Greenberg), Hoagland himself said:

ART BELL: Richard, you are I believe originally noted for your investigation into the monuments of Mars, and then, following that, artifacts that you have shown on the moon.

RICHARD HOAGLAND: Well actually, even before that, back in the 1980's I was looking very hard at a little moon of Jupiter called Europa, and when I was covering the Voyager story out at JPL in the Summer of 1980, actually the Spring of 1979 and the Winter of 1980, we flew this extraordinary spacecraft, NASA did, by Jupiter for the first time and encountered the four moons, you know, Io, Ganymede, Europa, Callisto, and Jupiter itself, and it was as part of that observation that I began work on essentially what turned out to be the first scientific paper [emphasis mine], which ultimately appeared in Star and Sky Magazine in the beginning of 1980, which was a prognostication, pulling all the data together, that there might be a global ocean under the ice cover that Voyager had revealed and that in that global ocean there actually might be some extant living life forms.

He says, from his own mouth, that he published the first scientific paper that there might be an ocean, and life in it.

So let me be clear:

This establishes that Hoagland says he was the first to propose an ocean under Europa's ice, and that there might be life there.

So, was he really the first? No, he wasn't. Hoagland's claims in this case are at best misleading.

First, while Star and Sky was a fine magazine, it was not a scientific journal. It was a popular magazine for amateur astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts. I have written for several magazines such as that myself, and writing for them is an entirely different matter than writing a scientific journal article. So right away, Hoagland claiming this is a "scientific paper" is a pretty big stretch of the truth.

Second, the idea of oceans on or in the moons of Jupiter had been around for many years before Hoagland published his article. John Lewis, a scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona published an article in 1971 about this in volume 15 of Icarus, a (scientific!) journal of planetary sciences. The article was entitled "Satellites of the Outer Planets: Their Physical and Chemical Nature". At the time, his arguments were based on somewhat incomplete data, but later he published a paper (with Guy Consolmagno) which appeared in 1976 in the book "JUPITER: Studies of the interior, atmosphere, magnetosphere, and satellites" (edited by T. Gehrels) which gives better details of the moons' interiors. This clearly establishes that Lewis thought of this ocean idea before Hoagland did.

Third, what about Hoagland's claim that he thought of life in those oceans first as well? Guess what-- he's wrong there too. As Dr. Ralph Greenberg says on his page about the history of the concept of life in Europa:

"On June 19th and 20th, 1979, the conference "Life in the Universe" took place at NASA's Ames Research Center. Benton Clark gave a lecture [titled] Sulfur: Fountainhead of Life in the Universe...

Clark then explained how sulfur could play the role of oxygen, and that deep-sea volcanic emissions could potentially provide all the necessary ingredients for a self-sustained ecosystem. In the final part of his lecture, Clark raised the possibility that life might exist in undersurface oceans [emphasis mine] on the icy satellites in our Solar System, including Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto in particular.

Greenberg goes on:

In his book Brother Astronomer - Adventures of a Vatican Scientist, published in 2000, Consolmagno gives an account of a conversation that he had with Carl Sagan just before he was to present his work on the models for oceans on the Galilean satellites at a conference about Jupiter in 1975. Consolmagno suggested to Sagan that such oceans might be places to look for life.

Note the dates: mid-1979, before Hoagland's paper, and 1975, long before. Hoagland might argue that he was writing his paper at the same time as the first conference, but Consolmagno still beat him by 5 years.

Greenberg still goes on:

"Those discoveries on Earth (black smokers), together with the theories of possible oceans on Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, inspired some individuals to already make the link in the late 1970s. One notable example is the physicist Gerald Feinberg, who came to this idea early in 1979, and realized that a theory that he had developed with the biochemist Robert Shapiro (presented in their book Life Beyond Earth, published in 1980) might explain how life could develop deep in those Galilean oceans...."

So, we see that Hoagland was neither the first to think of an ocean on Europa, nor was he the first to think of life there! So why does he continue to make these claims?

In the November/December 2000 issue of "Skeptical Inquirer" Gary Posner took Hoagland to task for this and other claims Hoagland had made. Posner in fact cites Greenberg, as I have done above. Bizarrely, ironically, Mike Bara, who commonly writes the articles on Hoagland's site, rebutted Posner by saying (about Greenberg):

He has continued to push the idea that Hoagland is claiming to be the first to propose a liquid water ocean there, when in fact this has never been Hoagland's claim

Oops! Maybe Bara didn't talk to Hoagland before writing that. Reread the quotation above from Hoagland on the "Coast to Coast AM" radio show where he did claim he was the first. Or read this press release by Hoagland, where he yet again clearly claims to have been the first to come up with all this:

Hoagland's 17-year-old detailed model of a liquid 'satellite-wide ocean under the icefields of Europa'...


In point of fact, this immensely significant research -- a proposal that a current liquid ocean, containing possibly highly exotic alien LIFE FORMS, might be confirmed by the Galileo mission -- was an original idea [emphasis mine], extensively researched and published 17 years before (in 1980) not by NASA, but by an independent space researcher, Richard C. Hoagland.

These sure sound like he's claiming to be the first to me.

So not only has Hoagland claimed to be the first to think of both the ocean and life in it, he has made this claim repeatedly. Obviously, Hoagland and Bara are making false claims.

Bara goes on trying to make the claim that Greenberg is trying to re-write history. Given that the history of these claims is in the journals, it's hard to rewrite that timeline, though it sure looks like Bara is the one trying to do it.

In fact, Bara's grasp on this situation is revealed quite clearly in a series of emails he exchanged with Dr. Greenberg. Greenberg emailed Bara trying to get him to correct the rebuttal Bara wrote, and to question why Bara would compare Greenberg (and Steven Squyres, an astronomer) with Goebbels and Hitler. Greenberg is polite but firm in the exchange, but Bara... well, read Greenberg's first email to Bara, and you can follow the exchange from there. It is extremely revealing. You can also read a fax Greenberg sent to Art Bell, and a later follow-up article.

The Pioneer Plaque

image of Pioneer probe In the 1970s, NASA was planning on launching probes to Jupiter and Saturn. These probes, called Pioneers 10 and 11, were unique in NASA's history: once they flew by their targets, they would continue on out of the solar system, and into interstellar space.

An idea came up: why not put something on the probes that signified that they came from Earth? In a million years, though the odds are extremely low, an alien civilization might find the probe. This would be the ultimate "message in a bottle"!

So who thought of this idea? Well, we know for a fact that none other than Carl Sagan was the one who got NASA to go with the idea. But who thought of it in the first place?

image of Pioneer plaque Enter Hoagland. He has repeatedly said that he was the one who came up with the idea. He met with reporter Eric Burgess, and the two of them approached Sagan and convinced him it was an important thing to do. Hoagland makes this claim on his website, quoting a book called "Murmurs of Earth" written in part by Carl Sagan and astronomer Frank Drake (the section Hoagland quotes is written by Drake).

But the quote from Drake doesn't say Hoagland thought of the idea, just that he was with Burgess when they introduced it to Sagan. In fact, Burgess himself said: "Hoagland was in tow with me -- and found Sagan... And I said, 'Hey, Carl, I've got an idea for you.' All Hoagland did was support me and say it's a good idea."

In his book "Monuments of Mars" Hoagland even says Burgess thought of it first, and that Hoagland had vague thoughts of something like it himself before. That's not really a good line of evidence, especially when Sagan, Burgess and Drake (who also helped design the plaque) have all said that Hoagland's involvement was minimal.

This is all documented in Gary Posner's article about Hoagland, The Face Behind the "Face" on Mars: A Skeptical Look at Richard C. Hoagland. Hoagland's claims of creating the plaque are cast in extreme doubt there. After the article was published, Mike Bara again wrote a rather vicious rebuttal on Hoagland's website. In it, he makes very nebulous claims, never once actually giving any evidence that Hoagland ever had much to do with creating or even coming up with the idea of the plaque. In the end, all Bara really claims is that Sagan froze Burgess and Hoagland out of the process of creating the actual plaque, which is simply an accusation with no evidence.

In the end, Hoagland (himself, and through Bara) has no evidence at all that he thought of the plaque, and there is evidence (through others involved in the process) that he was marginal at best in the process. Yet, again, he still makes the claim he first thought of it.

The Angstrom Medal

When Hoagland is introduced on "Coast to Coast AM", he is frequently said to have received the Angstrom Medal, referred to as a scientific medal. This is technically true, but the people who gave it to him, as it turns out, didn't have the authority to give it out. Also, they gave it to him for an idea of his which is easy to show to be meaningless.

Anders-Jonas Angstrom was an 18th century Swedish scientist who was one of the first to use spectroscopy in astronomy. He discovered the presence of hydrogen in the Sun, for example. He was so important to the field that his name is used by optical astronomers as a unit of length (1 Angstrom = 1 x 10-10 meters).

Some years after his death, friends and family of Angstrom donated money to Uppsala University in Sweden to establish a prize in his honor (this is a fairly common practice in science). The prize, given to young physicists at Uppsala University, consists of a small amount of money and a medal that is provided with permission from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The award committee is composed of scientists at Uppsala University.

So far, so good. However, there is another organization, called The Angstrom Foundation Aktiebolag (AFAB). This is a privately-owned foundation dedicated to preserving Angstrom's property and to use it to hold conferences and the like. This is a separate entity from Uppsala University. Remember, the University is the only place officially allowed to award the Angstrom Prize.

So guess who gave Hoagland the medal? Not Uppsala University, but the AFAB. According to amateur historian Alan Archer, who has done a bit of research on this issue, Hoagland's receipt of this medal was not official. In fact, the AFAB didn't even have permission from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to give it out! Archer spells it out quite clearly: "The Angstrom Foundation AB's use of the Angstrom memorial medal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as a component of the 1993 Angstrom Medal award to Richard C. Hoagland was an unauthorized use of the academy's medal."

Anders Marelius, head of the department of physics at Uppsala University, had this to say, as quoted by Peter Linde: "The Angstrom foundation is a private foundation without connections to Uppsala or any other university. The department of Physics in Uppsala, where two professors Angstrom have been active, has no links with the activities of Richard Hoagland. The department considers the Hoagland project as speculative and unscientific and rejects it entirely."

So it would seem that Hoagland has stretched the truth once again.

To be fair, there is some confusion over this. According to a press kit released by Hoagland,

The Angstrom Foundation was created in 1988 by L. J. Angstrom to further the family tradition of encouraging excellence in science. Its goals are to broaden awareness of significant multidisciplinary achievement in the international scientific community, and to invite collaborative problem- solving based on possible breakthroughs in fundamental knowledge. Prior to the creation of the Foundation, the medal was awarded by the University of Uppsala.

So who has the right to distribute the medal? Now I am not sure. However, as recently as June 2000, the Royal Academy still claims that the AFAB did not have the right to give Hoagland the medal. Even if they do have that right, even the head of the AFAB has admitted it was a mistake! Alan Archer and Lars-Jonas Angstrom, the founder of the AFAB, have exchanged many emails. In one reply by Lars-Jonas Angstrom, he says, "Obviously a mistake was made in awarding the medal to Mr Hoagland."

So we have here a very clear claim that even the people who gave him the reward now admit it was a mistake. Yet Hoagland, of course, still makes claims about his receiving it.


Over the years, in my dealings with pseudoscientists, I have noticed a tendency for them to inflate their credentials. Their personal motives for doing so are not clear, but what is clear is the effect of making the pseudoscientist seem more believable than perhaps they should be. In this case, it's clear that Hoagland has made, continues to make, and allows others to make claims that simply are not true. To recap:

  • Hoagland claims he was the first to think of the idea that there might be an ocean under Europa's surface, and that life might exist in that ocean. This claim is demonstrably false.
  • Hoagland claims he came up with the idea of the Pioneer plaque, he presented it to Sagan (along with Eric Burgess), and that without him it would never have happened. These claims are hearsay, as he has no evidence of it, just his word. But there is the word of at least three other people (Sagan, Drake, and Burgess himself) who say Hoagland's input on this was minimal at best.
  • Hoagland claims to have won the "prestigious" Angstrom medal. It is not clear that the people who gave it to him had the right to do so, and even if they did, they have later said that doing so was a mistake.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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