Sunday, November 27, 2022

#2593: John E. Brandenburg

a.k.a. Victor Norgarde (author alias)


John E. Brandenburg is a (legit) plasma physicist who went bonkers sometime in or before 2012, when he started ranting about aliens and ancient astronomy nonsense, including what he deemed to be evidence of a thermonuclear war on Mars in the distant past. His books (e.g. Life and Death on Mars: The New Mars Synthesis) quickly became popular in various New Age and woo groups. Brandenburg’s primary evidence for his claims is certain ratios between Xenon isotopes in Mars’s atmosphere, which he claims can only be due to nuclear weapons. That is not the case. His claim is dumb. Brandenburg’s findings have yet to pass peer review (pseudojournals like J. Cosmology don’t count). The ideas have provided him with ample space on various pseudoscience and conspiracy theory fora such as Coast to Coast AM, however.


Now, Brandenburg initially presented some rather mainstream – well-backed scientific – ideas about natural nuclear reactors on Mars (like there are on Earth). His take changed at some point around 2012, however – not only was Mars was the target of “an ancient planetary nuclear massacre” but the attacks “were targeted on sites of previously reported artifacts”. ‘Wait, what artefacts?’ you may ask. Oh, yes – it’s the fabulously silly Face on Mars claim – yes, that one: the go-to example of silly pareidolia for critical thinking teachers everywhere: yes, due to the human brain’s natural tendency to interpret things as faces, an eroded hill did, in fact, look somewhat face-like in low-resolution images – the illusion goes away at clearer images of higher resolution, but Brandenburg and his ilk don’t want to look at those. This is Richard Hoagland territory, and it pretty much entails widespread conspiracies about UFOS and government coverups. So Brandenburg endorses those, too. His defense of the Face of Mars hypothesis is absolutely wildly hilariously inept.


In later revolutions in Brandenburg’s descent down the rabbit hole, his ‘evidence’ suggests that there is a hostile alien civilization out there with plans to kill us all. He has apparently discovered a number of other alien artifact in NASA photos, too, including what he takes to bean ancient drone abandoned” on Mars’s surface.


Although the Mars nuclear war idea is Brandenburg’s most famous, he has written about other stuff, too. His 2014 book Cosmic Jesus: The Metaphysics of How the God of Israel Became the God of the Cosmos, for instance, discusses among other things “the relationship between GEM theory (Gravity-Electricity-Magnetism) and Gematria” (oh yes, it does) and how the Bible, through a “sophisticated mathematical allegory”, shows Jesus as the repairer of the effects of the collapse of the fifth dimension to subatomic size.”


Diagnosis: We suspect that since many people initially leaned toward the hypothesis, Brandenburg just decided “what the heck, I’ll just run with it” for fame and fun, though given his subsequent efforts it is hard to avoid concluding that he has, indeed, gone completely off the rails. Probably harmless, though.


Hat-tip: Rationalwiki; Pharyngula


  1. Reading the first three paragraphs of this entry I wondered, where is the Jeebus? He's missing here!

    But then, in the fourth paragraph, he arrives "in glory" and madness is completed. Hallelujah!

  2. Do you do right wing covid and vax denialists? Some cross pollination with creationist think tanks there. Discovery is promoting GBD. I have a list of aholes I'd like to give the attention they deserve.

    1. I try to. Have done some, but might not have a complete overview. Feel free to offer some names, and I'll look into them.