Philip Plait (a.k.a. The Bad Astronomer) is an American astronomer and skeptic. His blog, Bad Astronomy is hosted by Discover Magazine. He formerly worked at the physics and astronomy department at Sonoma State University. In early 2007, he resigned from his job to write “Death From The Skies“. On August 4, 2008 he became President of the James Randi Educational Foundation. He served in that position until January 1, 2010, when he was succeeded by noted skeptic D. J. Grothe.
Plait grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. He received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Virginia in 1994 with a thesis on SN 1987A, which he studied with the Supernova Intensive Study (SINS). He first worked with the COBE satellite and then with the STIS on the Hubble Space Telescope for five years. He currently resides in Boulder, Colorado and writes full time, but often hosts special events and serves as an adviser and commentator in several capacities, including events focusing on skepticism.
Plait performed web-based public outreach for the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (renamed Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope upon launch in 2008) and other NASA-funded missions while at Sonoma State University from 2000 to 2007. Prior to that, during the 1990s, he was part of the Hubble Space Telescope team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, working largely on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.
Phil Plait has been featured on TV and on such websites as Space.com. He has also appeared on two Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episodes. On season 3 he argued against the Apollo moon landing hoax accusations and on season 7 against astrology. His work has also appeared in the Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook of Science and the Future and Astronomy magazine. He has a regular column in Night Sky magazine (an offshoot of Sky and Telescope) called “Straight Talk”, which has appeared since the magazine’s first issue.
Plait is also a frequent guest on the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show Are We Alone? hosted by Seth Shostak and Molly Bentley. He can be heard on many Are We Alone? installments debunking junk science and waxing poetic on the sublime nature of the universe.
His first book, “Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing ‘Hoax‘” deals with much the same subject matter as his website. His second book, “Death From The Skies“, details multiple ways astronomical events could wipe out life on Earth and was released in October 2008. Bad Astronomy was the first in a science book series on myths and misconceptions that includes Christopher Wanjek’s “Bad Medicine“.
The Bad Astronomy blog is dedicated to clearing up public misconceptions about astronomy and space science in movies, the news, print, and on the Internet. Plait also debunks several pseudoscientific theories related to space and astronomy, such as Planet X, Richard Hoagland’s theories, and most famously, the moon landing “hoax”. In March 2006, Science magazine’s NetWatch feature lauded Bad Astronomy. The blog was also a finalist for the 2006 Weblog Award (the “Bloggie”), in the “best topical weblog” category since the Bloggies, like many blog awards, do not have a specific science category. Plait used to write the occasional science article for The Huffington Post. However he claims that he was “embarrassed” by this and now criticizes them for their stance on anti-vaccination and New Age antiscience.
In early September 2005, the Bad Astronomy message boards were merged with the Universe Today message boards to form a more robust, combined site, titled BAUT forum, standing for the “Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Message Board.” On July 1, 2008, the Bad Astronomy blog became integrated with Discover Magazine.
On July 22, 2010, Discovery Channel released a short video on YouTube of an upcoming television series called Phil Plait’s “Bad Universe“. Plait later announced it was a three-part documentary series first airing in the United States August 29, 2010. Throughout the series, Phil is often heard using his favorite catchphrase, “Holy Haleakala!”