Mars seems to bring out the kooks. I was pointed to the bizarre Xenotech “research” site, which consists entirely of the delusional fantasies of Sir Charles W. Shults III, Scientist (yes, that’s what he calls himself). His research program? He gleans photographs from Mars probes for random shapes that look biological to him. Here, for instance, is the “clearest and most perfect trilobite” he has found in these pictures.


It’s a good thing he marked up that one photo with his imaginary lines—I’ve seen a lot of trilobites, and I wouldn’t have seen one in his rock if he hadn’t pulled out the crayon.

There’s more! He has a whole gallery of apophenia — it’s an amazing example of a hyperactive pattern detector.

Aquarius: Beware the nitrate levels in your tank, and do a filter change. Your guppies are pregnant. The air line to the little plastic treasure chest is at risk for getting clogged. Don’t overfee…what? It’s what? Aquarius, not aquarist?

Never mind.


  1. #1 Matt
    April 25, 2008

    Loving the horoscopes, PZ. Hilarious.

  2. #2 craig
    April 25, 2008

    I’m a trilobite fan and I cracked up when I saw this guys page.

  3. #3 Bart Mitchell
    April 25, 2008

    What a loon.

    The horoscopes are great PZ, but I would have used

    Moving all those bottles can be tough work. Remember, lift with your legs, not your back. And use a dolly where you can. Don’t pay any attention to derision the soft drink bearers, as you, the water bearer fill vending machines with the liquid of life.


  4. #4 J
    April 25, 2008

    Trilobite? Come on, that’s an old-school Colonial Viper.

  5. #5 Fire Ant
    April 25, 2008

    Wait, wait…..I think I see Snoopy and Charlie Brown in the other rock (oh wait, wrong Charles Schulz)….

  6. #6 craig
    April 25, 2008

    Just spotted at the bottom of the front page:
    “All my research is funded by a generous grant from Dr. Nelson Ying, Baron of Balquhain.”


  7. #7 Zaius
    April 25, 2008

    The fool! It’s clearly a Martian hand with the middle finger extended.

  8. #8 jeh
    April 25, 2008

    He doesn’t even include the Mars “rotini” pasta observed by Opportunity.

    Empirical evidence of the pasta-loving FSM!

  9. #9 Dennis N
    April 25, 2008

    Oh, that’s where I left my trilobite.

  10. #10 PZ Myers
    April 25, 2008

    If you want more horoscopes, someone’s going to have to cough up my £1,000,000 annual salary.

  11. #11 VWXYNot?
    April 25, 2008

    I don’t know about any other Aquarians out there, but I predict that I will be carrying beer, not water, later today.

    Happy Friday!

  12. #12 Ted D
    April 25, 2008

    Don’t pay any attention to derision the soft drink bearers, as you, the water bearer fill vending machines with the liquid of life.


  13. #13 Kitty
    April 25, 2008

    Perhaps you should apply for funding to:

    “Dr. Nelson Ying, Baron of Balquhain.” (#6)

  14. #14 Aquaria
    April 25, 2008

    I don’t know about any other Aquarians out there, but I predict that I will be carrying beer, not water, later today.

    Green tea for this one, who must work tonight. :::heavy sigh:::

    And y’all probably thought the sig name was about fish tanks. 😉

  15. #15 speedwell
    April 25, 2008

    If you want more horoscopes, someone’s going to have to cough up my 1,000,000 annual salary.

    Or we could cough up our own (which would be more fun, anyway) and bribe you a somewhat lesser amount to post them for us. I have… pocket change, once I pick the lint out of it… but we’ll manage, right?

  16. #16 Dennis N
    April 25, 2008

    This Ying guy doesn’t seem crazy on the face of it, but then again this Florida, which is batting about .120 right now, and should be yanked from the line-up soon. Puerto Rico can pinch-hit to round out the 50.

  17. #17 MicroZealous
    April 25, 2008

    “Charlie Flats” looks EXACTLY like Charlie Smith who lived next door to my aunt’s brother-in-law! Coincidence? Or Intelligent Design? I’m sure my theory will be expelled and surpressed.

  18. #18 ShavenYak
    April 25, 2008

    Phil ought to have a field day with this guy’s site.

  19. #19 Dawn
    April 25, 2008

    PZ says: “If you want more horoscopes, someone’s going to have to cough up my 1,000,000 annual salary.”

    I could manage it in Monopoly money, maybe…But YAY for the Aquarius horoscope. I can haz beer? I’ll settle for a hard lemonade after work.

  20. #20 adobedragon
    April 25, 2008

    Wow! I’m an Aquarius and my aquariums are both overdue for a water change. I imagine the nitrate levels are through the roof; good thing my fish are tough. No guppies though.

    Astrology works. *snerk* All hail PZ and his powers of prognostication.

  21. #21 Ericb
    April 25, 2008

    How big are all these “fossils”? I doubt that NASA’s current level technology could pick up this level of detail on rocks that would be roughly the size of the Earth forms of these cratures. So are these all giant “trilobites”?

  22. #22 Ericb
    April 25, 2008

    Sorry, I looked more closely at the site and saw the sized. Nevermind.

  23. #23 iain
    April 25, 2008

    The moniker ‘Sir Charles Shults III’ seems very strange. Charles Shults III sounds very American, and they don’t get knighthoods except very rarely honorary ones – and that doesn’t entitle them to be called ‘sir’ anything.
    I wonder where he got his knighthood, and for what (services to crankpottery)? Sounds bogus to me.

  24. #24 SEF
    April 25, 2008

    If you want more horoscopes, someone’s going to have to cough up my 1,000,000 annual salary.

    No more?! But you haven’t even covered the remaining zodiac signs which other astrologers skip over in ignorance or embarrassment (because they mess up the alleged 12 equalish divisions). Eg Ophiuchus – it being highly appropriate that there should be a snake connection to interfere with the imaginary perfection.

  25. #25 haelduksf
    April 25, 2008

    That site is pretty tame compared to

    Apparently it’s possible to ferret out the snakemen living among us using Photoshop’s “Solarize” filter.

  26. #26 DaveX
    April 25, 2008

    Go back to drawing Peanuts!

  27. #27 Lev
    April 25, 2008

    “That site is pretty tame compared to

    WTF? The most disturbing aspect is the numerous forum members who apparently agree.

  28. #28 Kitty
    April 25, 2008

    Try Googling Dr. Nelson Ying, Baron of Balquhain.
    This is just one of the sites.

    Apparently he can award ‘knighthoods’ to people he pays, which is where ‘Sir Charles Shults III’ comes from!

  29. #29 Dave Wolfenden
    April 25, 2008


  30. #30 Pierce R. Butler
    April 25, 2008

    Trilobites on Mars? So what?

    I’m a lot more concerned about the evidence that Blackwater already has a facility there…

  31. #31 Sili
    April 25, 2008


    Presumably from the same agensy as His Lordship the Viscount St. Austell-in-the-Moor Biggleswade-Brixham.

    And isn’t apophenia about seing connections where none be, e.g. conspiracy theories? This is more like Plait’s pareidolia, right?

  32. #32 Kampar
    April 25, 2008

    I think he screwed up – the Sol 507 Sea Biscuit classification looks exactly like a Trilobite to me …

  33. #33 demallien
    April 25, 2008

    The image is nevertheless intriguing. Do we have any geologists lurking that could explain how that sort of formation could arise? I for one am very intrigued (though experience tells me that the answer is probably going to have something to do with partial differential equations. Ripples always have something to do with PDEs).

  34. #34 yunshui
    April 25, 2008

    Baron Ying also sponsors his own science prize – also some good pictures of the (very smiley) man himself.

  35. Ah yes, Charles Shults. We’ve been dealing with him for years over at the Bad Astronomy discussion board. As you might expect, he and his followers are impenetrable to logic and evidence.

  36. #36 Kurt
    April 25, 2008

    Well, maybe someone should try to instigate a little battle between this guy and the YECs. After all, flood geology is not going to explain away fossils on Mars, now is it?

    On the other hand, the Expelled folks might have to make nice with Richard Dawkins, because this would seem to lend credence to the “alien intelligent designer” hypothesis. :)

  37. #37 Mark
    April 25, 2008

    While the “trilobites”, sea urchins and crinoids are a joke, some of the shells looked convincing enough for me to click on them. I give him credit for being honest enough to link to the original images, such as this one:

    After seeing that, its obvious that those rocks could look like anything. I just want a geologist to explain the rock formations to me. Is that a wind erosion process?

  38. #38 MikeB
    April 25, 2008

    Has sir Charles found any evidence of the Hallettestoneion Sea Zoria Dragon?

  39. #39 JimboB
    April 25, 2008

    Someone give Sir Charles a copy of Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”, stat!

  40. #40 AlanWCan
    April 25, 2008

    Looks awully similar to the old Richard Hoagland / enterprise mission site that used to get Phil Plait’s blood boiling.

  41. #41 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 25, 2008

    Sir Charles W. Shults III, Scientist

    Wile E Coyote, Super Genius

  42. #42 uudale
    April 25, 2008

    Martian sea biscuits, mmmmmm……..

    Are those anything like Cheddar Bay biscuits at Red Lobster?

  43. #43 eric taylor
    April 25, 2008

    i see jimmi hendrix’s guitar in that shape.

  44. #44 Holbach
    April 25, 2008

    You must have seen the photo from Mars of a small outcrop on the surface that many wackos say it is Bigfoot! Actually it is Ben Stein getting up after being pummelled by the reviews of Expunged!

  45. #45 Eamon Knight
    April 25, 2008

    Looks like someone has a padded cell with an Internet connection, a copy of Levi-Setti’s Atlas of the Trilobites — and absolutely nothing else to do, and no one to talk to.

  46. #46 Master Mahan
    April 25, 2008

    Aha! I found his biography page. Apparently he was knighted by a fossilized Queen Dejah Thoris of Barsoom.

  47. #47 JakeS
    April 25, 2008

    I ran across his (at least I think it is him…) site years ago after hearing him yammer on Coast to Coast AM back when I listened to that crap. The first thing I noticed was that all the “fossils” he saw were of earth creatures. The second was that he had the gaul to start assigning them all scientific names on the spot.

    Looking at this stuff reminds me of this site my brother is obsessing over that deals with pictures of landed UFOs spotted by…Google Earth! Why is it that seeing shell shapes in rocks or the devil’s face in world trade center smoke is significant, but seeing a duck in a cloud is not?

  48. #48 ice9
    April 25, 2008

    Apparently knighted by a chinese scots laird.

    But I did find this sentence on one of the interminable pages of rock snaps:

    “In my experience, if a rock has an anus, it is either a statue or a fossil.”

    That is not bad, not bad at all.


  49. #49 John Vreeland
    April 25, 2008

    This guy is like Ed “man as dumb as coal” Conrad.

  50. #50 themadlolscientist
    April 25, 2008

    I’m absolutely lovin’ the horrorscopes!

  51. #51 Somnolent Aphid
    April 25, 2008

    Proof that gd can put fossils wherever she wants to put em. Bet you they’re not more than 6,000 years old!

  52. #52 Nix
    April 25, 2008

    Come now, John. Ed Conrad is many things, but as smart as a good piece of coal he is not.

    (Perhaps he’s as smart as a Martian trilobite.)

  53. #53 possummomma
    April 25, 2008

    If you smoke enough ganja, you can make anything look like a triolobite. I am unimpressed. Now…had he found Hoffa’s grave or Elvis or Steve Irwin’s stingray…

  54. #54 Bride of Shrek
    April 25, 2008

    I stare at that rock and all I see is a big penis. Thats happening to me a lot lately.

  55. #55 Martin Hutton
    April 25, 2008

    Bride of Shrek (#54):
    Hmmm…Mr. Shrek falling down on his duties?

  56. #56 The Pale Scot
    April 25, 2008

    So Sgt. Shults had a son, that’s nice.

    Good to know he has kept up the family moto;


  57. #57 Alex
    April 26, 2008

    He is surprisingly interviewed on the Space Show at
    Normally a pretty sane place.

  58. #58 Hematite
    April 26, 2008

    Martin Hutton (#55)

    Maybe Mr Shrek keeps getting in the way of the computer?

  59. #59 blf
    April 27, 2008

    If you want more horoscopes, someone’s going to have to cough up my 1,000,000 annual salary.

    It has been telepathically wired to the swiss account in the name of the Trophy Wife?. In qatoloos.

    Chris Rowan (Highly Allochthonous here on SciBlogs) has previously observed that Trilobites Didn’t Go Extinct….

  60. #60 Jason
    April 28, 2008

    I love you for using the word “aquarist”. It validates my life in some mysterious way.

  61. #61 R2K
    April 30, 2008

    Why would life on Mars have to look like life on Earth?

    And why would it be so damned small? Dark matter, perhaps. 3 mm Urchins?

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