Archive for the 'Conspiracy Theories' Category

The Horrors of Aerial Chemical Spraying

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Barbara Tomlinson (she of the cool satellite launch video, and the Spasms of Accommodations blog) forwarded this video to me:

It’s by YouTube user sanluisskywatch, who appears to be on a self-appointed mission to document and spread the word about the fact that the skies over San Luis Obispo are being intentionally sprayed with aluminum and barium:

Airplanes continue to dump toxic fallout over populated areas of the state- pilots are told its to help global warming, but it’s actually to weaken our immune systems, lower farm yields, and help their Ionospheric weapon (HAARP) to heat localized areas that have been sprayed to change the weather. The freakiest part is, the coup running our country into the ground decided to never tell the public, so we are all breathing barium and aluminum almost every day. Aluminum will give you early alzheimers, barium will weaken your immune system and increase likelyhood of usually easily preventable diseases.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he (she?) is also a 9/11 truther:

Stopping the sky from becoming all white, with halos around the sun. Also interested in ending the 9/11 cover-up, which is obvious, and just sad at this point. The media really look like jackasses.

Yup. The media really look like jackasses.

Seriously, though, I had two reactions to this: First, pity at what the world must look like to someone who believes this particular conspiracy theory. I mean, everywhere you look, there they are! Chemtrails! Wake up, people!

Second, my own version of the same fear. Not of chemtrails, but of the world my children will inhabit, in which scientific illiteracy is combined with pervasive networking, such that people like sanluisskywatch can organize with his (her) 137 subscribers (and counting) to spread the word.

Telegenic Blondes

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Jenny McCarthy believes that MMR vaccines’ preservatives caused her son to be autistic, and that her changing his diet cured him. She has written best-selling books in which she advances these claims, and appears in front of millions of TV viewers at every opportunity to make the case. And apparently a lot of parents believe her, such that vaccination rates have fallen in the US, and lots of babies (including those whose parents choose to vaccinate them, based on information obtained from more credible sources than former Playboy models and TV personalities) are at increased risk as a result.


It’s not that complicated. There’s this thing called science. And it has a specific process you go through to evaluate claims like this. And the scientists have done it. And Jenny McCarthy is wrong.

There was a decent op-ed by Michael Fumento in the LA Times this morning talking about this: The damage of the anti-vaccination movement. So go read that, even though it will probably make you angry. And if it doesn’t, I bet this will:


Anyway, if I’m going to subject you to telegenic blondes trying to indoctrinate you with their views about science, let’s close on a more positive note: ZOMGitsCriss on the evidence for evolution:

Daily Kos Poll of Self-Identified Republicans

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Clearly, I haven’t been doing enough to stir the pot of partisan name-calling lately. So here you go: The 2010 Comprehensive Daily Kos/Research 2000 Poll of Self-Identified Republicans.

Knock yourselves (or more likely, each other) out.

USA Today: Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

From USA Today: Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice?

In her book Mother Warriors, McCarthy, who declined to be interviewed for this story, says she learned about autism from “the university of Google.”

Explaining complex science – especially in the few minutes allotted on a TV program – is challenging, Carroll says. Audiences sympathize with McCarthy, who says she doesn’t need science because she observes her son, Evan, every day. “At home,” she writes, “Evan is my science.”

“How can you argue with that?” Carroll asks. “It’s her child. It’s her body. They win.”

This really gets to the heart of what worries me about what I’ve taken to calling “The Perception Engine.” We’ve entered an era in which the distance between a human mind and the confirming (or disconfirming) information that would support (or undercut) a pet theory is essentially zero. Just as previous generations amplified their muscle power with steam and the internal combustion engine, we’ve amplified our senses. How will we use this newfound power? Will there be a flowering of reason and understanding? Or will a thousand conspiracy theories bloom, as people give in to the lure of confirmation bias?

Both, it sounds like.

Conspiracies Everywhere!

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two is never sure. — Anonymous

I’m surrounded by conspiracies. There was an excellent Tank Riot podcast the other day: Conspiracies, Part 6, which was mostly about the JFK assassination and the Zapruder film in particular. One point that Viktor made (loosely paraphrased): In the olden days, when some public figure was assassinated we all read the news reports, which were mediated by a professional class of interpreters, and we more or less knew (or thought we knew) what time it was. With the Kennedy assassination, though, where we had a source of objective truth (the Zapruder film), it didn’t make things better; instead, it made things much, much worse, serving as the raw material for an endless parade of conspiracy theories.

Or Climategate (of course), which Kevin Drum had a nice item on today (Quote of the Day: Climate Denialism), where the eponymous quotation was of Al Gore (as interviewed by John Dickerson in Slate): “What in the Hell Do They Think Is Causing It?”

If the people that believed the moon landing was staged on a movie lot had access to unlimited money from large carbon polluters or some other special interest who wanted to confuse people into thinking that the moon landing didn’t take place, I’m sure we’d have a robust debate about it right now.

Or there were all those beautiful shots of what surely was an upper stage of a (Russian, presumably) rocket venting propellant over Norway:


…of which Phil Plait in his excellent Bad Astronomy blog had many interesting things to say (Awesomely bizarre light show freaks out Norway), but which prompted a set of blog comments the most memorable of which was this one by user Billy:

Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia all denny [sic] having launched a rocket at that time. Also, for it to be a rocket the spiral is too symmetric. To me this looks like a vortex of a very strong energy force. Perhaps a temporary black hole because of some thing happening to the earth’s magnetic field? I’m 99.9% sure this was not man made; at least not with anything that I know of…

To the above: NO WAY is that a rocket.

See? He’s 99.9% sure. He’s quantified his level of certainty. He’s being scientific.

Sigh. What began with the JFK assassination has picked up steam since we got the Internet. If you’re willing to ignore conflicting data and focus only on finding confirmation for your a priori opinions, Google is perfectly happy to let you enclose yourself in a snuggie of comforting factoids. Meanwhile, real engineers and scientists, people who have to make rockets go up and governments recognize the catastrophe that climate denialists would inflict on our descendants, people who measure their ideas not against what they want to believe, but against what actually is, labor on.

Update: Russia comes clean: Yeah, it was an upper-stage failure of a submarine-launched missile. So, what do you think the chances are that Billy is hard at work recalibrating his estimates in light of this anomalous data? Yup, I agree: Somewhere around 0.1%.

Mark Hoofnagle on Autism, Vaccines, and Conspiracy Theories

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

From Mark Hoofnagle, writing at the Denialism Blog: the autism/vaccines fraud.

It is obvious to me that no matter what the field, the problem is crankery – the defective thought processes that allow people to believe in nonsense, no matter what obstacles reality throws in their path. Every description of every crank in every field ultimately boils down to these same factors. Cranks believe in something contrary to observable reality. They will do anything to prove it. When reality gets in their way, they ignore, subvert, lie, cheat, or obfuscate to create confusion. And when it’s proven beyond all doubt they’re wrong? That’s when the conspiracies come out.

Koppelman on the Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy

Friday, December 5th, 2008

A nice item in Salon from Alex Koppelman: Why the stories about Obama’s birth certificate will never die.

Not surprisingly, almost all of the people who’ve been most prominent in pushing this story have a history of conspiracist thought. There’s Jerome Corsi, who’s best known as the co-author of the book that launched the Swift Boat vets; he’s a chief proponent of the claim that the government is secretly planning to form a “North American Union” with Canada and Mexico. Philip Berg, who filed the lawsuit that had until now drawn the most public attention, is a 9/11 Truther. Andy Martin, who’s credited with starting the myth that Obama is a Muslim and has been intimately involved in the birth certificate mess as well, was denied admission to the Illinois bar because of a psychiatric evaluation that showed he had “moderately severe character defect manifested by well-documented ideation with a paranoid flavor and a grandiose character.”

Good to know that won’t dry up for lack of material during the boring ol’ Obama administration.