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The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Lecture this Sunday at Caltech

Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? (cover)
Dr. Bradley Voytek
Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? A Neuroscientific View
of the Zombie Brain

with Dr. Bradley Voytek
Sun. Oct. 19, 2014 at 2 pm
Baxter Hall, Caltech

WITH THEIR ENDLESS WANDERING, lumbering gait, insatiable hunger, antisocial behavior, and apparently memory-less existence, zombies are the walking nightmares of our deepest fears. What do these characteristic behaviors reveal about the inner workings of the zombie mind? Could we diagnose zombism as a neurological condition by studying their behavior? In Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?, Dr. Bradley Voytek, a professor of computational cognitive science and neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, applies neuro-know-how to dissect the puzzle of what has happened to the zombie brain to make the undead act differently than their human prey. Combining tongue-in-cheek analysis with modern neuroscientific principles, Voytek shows how zombism can be understood in terms of current knowledge regarding how the brain works. Voytek draws on zombie popular culture and identifies a characteristic zombie behavior that can be explained using neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and brain-behavior relationships. Through this exploration he sheds light on fundamental neuroscientific questions such as: How does the brain function during sleeping and waking? What neural systems control movement? What is the nature of sensory perception? Order Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? from Amazon. A book signing will follow the lecture.

Followed by…
  • The Psychology of Magic (includes a magic show!)
    with Dr. Tony Barnhart
    Sunday, November 23, 2014 at 2 pm
  • Alan Turing: The Enigma
    with Dr. Andrew Hodges
    Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 2 pm

Read about
upcoming lectures

Buy past lectures on DVD

Weekly Highlights

INSIGHT at sheds light, offers critical perspective, and serves as a broadly accessible, evidence-based resource on mysteries of science, paranormal claims, and the wild, woolly, wonderful weirdness of the fringe. This week’s highlights are:

Tim Farley
Challenging Psychics is Deadly
Serious Business

Tim Farley relates that "Psychic" Sally Morgan is in the news again as her representatives were apparently caught on camera physically threatening a skeptic.

Read the Insight

Mike McRae
Science On the Edge of Life

Mike McRae considers the possibility that recent Near Death Experience research reveals the existence of conscious, supernatural awareness in patients during cardiac arrest.

Read the Insight

Donald Prothero
Signs of Hope—and Despair
—on Climate Change

Donald Prothero discusses some recent highs and lows in the battle over science and climate change.

Read the Insight

Sheldon Helms (left) with Chip Coffey (right)

Sheldon Helms (left) with Chip Coffey

Get the Skepticality App — the Official Podcast App of Skeptic Magazine and the Skeptics Society, so you can enjoy your science fix and engaging interviews on the go! Available for iOS, Android, and Windows 8 devices.

Sting Like a …

In this episode of Skepticality, Derek speaks with Sheldon Helms, a member of the Bay Area Skeptics, and one of the people involved in Operation Bumblebee, a scouting operation put together by Susan Gerbic to attend one of self-described psychic Chip Coffey’s big events. Sheldon provides some details about his involvement in the operation, and how two teams of skeptics worked to put together a fairly detailed event.

lecture poster

Get the MonsterTalk Podcast App (presented by Skeptic Magazine) and enjoy the science show about monsters on your handheld devices! Available for iOS, Android, and Windows 8 devices. Subscribe to MonsterTalk for free on iTunes. Follow the RSS feed.

Demon Purrsession: Tales of Demonically Possessed Cats

Can a domesticated cat be a monster? What if it can talk, fly, predict the future and grow to enormous size? Get ready for some of the strangest lore we’ve ever covered on MonsterTalk as we interview art historian Dr. Paul Koudounaris about demonically possessed cats.

Art historian Dr. Paul Koudounaris has written some books that will probably be of interest to MonsterTalk listeners. The Empire of Death is a book about the history of Charnel Houses and Ossuaries. In his more recent book, Heavenly Bodies, you will discover astonishing works of art formed by decorating human remains. On October 16th and October 18th, Dr. Koudounaris will be giving lectures in London on his research: On the 16th he’ll be covering art and death, and on the 18th he’ll be discussing demonically possessed cats.

About this week’s eSkeptic

Among the strangest of all bizarre pseudoscientific notions is the idea that ordinary contrails formed by high-flying aircraft are somehow a government conspiracy to spray us with toxic chemicals. In this week’s eSkeptic, Donald R. Prothero discusses how “chemtrail” conspiracy thinking fails the science literacy test.

Dr. Donald Prothero taught college geology and paleontology for 35 years, at Caltech, Columbia, and Occidental, Knox, Vassar, Glendale, Mt. San Antonio, and Pierce Colleges. He earned his B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa, College Award) from University of California Riverside in 1976, and his M.A. (1978), M.Phil. (1979), and Ph.D. (1982) in geological sciences from Columbia University. He is the author of over 35 books.

“Chemtrail” Fail
Are contrails really toxic chemicals
sprayed by a secret conspiracy?

by Donald R. Prothero

For the past few years, my Facebook page kept flagging strange websites that claimed that ordinary contrails formed by high-flying aircraft are “chemtrails,” a special kind of chemical sprayed on the unwitting population for reasons too bizarre and illogical to take seriously. For a long time, I’ve ignored such wild Internet bafflegab, but in recent years it has gotten more and more pervasive, and I’ve encountered people who believe it. There are whole shows about it on the once-scientific Discovery Channel, and the History Channel as well, both of whom seem to have sold their souls to commercialism. Now all they seem to broadcast is one pseudoscientific show after another. Soon there will be a low-budget Hollywood movie release, Poison Sky, that will further spread this idea. The chemtrail conspiracy mongers circulate their photos and videos among themselves, post hundreds of videos on YouTube, and on their own sites and forums. But with the way the Internet works as a giant echo chamber for weird ideas with no peer review, fact checking, or quality control, it is becoming ever more difficult to ignore them, so it’s time to debunk it.

The first few times I heard about “chemtrails” my reaction was: “This can’t be serious.” But the people who spread this are serious. They are generally people who have already accepted the conspiracy theory mindset, where everything that they don’t like or don’t understand is immediate proof of some nefarious government conspiracy. But there’s an even bigger factor at work here: gross science illiteracy. The first thing that pops in my mind reading their strange ideas is “Didn’t this person learn any science in school?” And my initial rebuttal is: “Do you even understand the first thing about our atmosphere? Do the math! Anything released at 30,000 feet will blow for miles away from where you see it, and has virtually no chance of settling straight down onto the people below. And it will be so diluted it would have no measurable amount of the chemical by the time it lands. That’s why crop-dusting planes fly barely 30 feet off the ground—so their dust won’t blow too far away from the crops!” As skeptic Kyle Hill describes it:

If the chemtrail conspiracy were true, millions of pilots would be needed to crop dust the American population. A typical crop duster might use seven ounces of agent diluted in seven gallons of water to cover one acre of land. Chemtrail “people dusters” would use a similar concentration to cover the entire United States, just to be safe. For 2.38 billion acres of land, the pilots would then need—for just one week of spraying—120 billion gallons of these cryptic chemicals. That’s around the same volume as is transported in all the world’s oil tankers in one year. And such an incredible amount of agent would need an incredible number of planes. Considering that a large air freighter like a Boeing 747 can carry around 250,000 pounds of cargo, at the very least, the government would need to schedule four million 747 flights to spread their chemicals each week—eighteen times more flights per day than in the entire US.

The entire chemtrail conspiracy idea is a relatively recent one, and an idea that would not have become so popular without the ability of the Internet to spread ideas, no matter how ludicrous. As this site shows, it was an idea that was simmering among conspiracy theorists in the 1990s when one person in particular, William Thomas, made it popular back in 1996. By 1997–1999, he was trying to spread his ideas through interviews and media coverage and early conspiracy Internet sites, and managed to get many believers to buy in to his bizarre fantasy. Then in 1999, he was featured on Art Bell’s radio show Coast to Coast, which was conspiracy central at the time. If you wanted a quick way to reach the mob of UFO fantasists, paranormal fanatics, and conspiracy theorists, Art Bell’s show was the place in the 1990s. (Today Alex Jones wears the mantle of conspiracy central). Soon the chemtrail meme exploded far beyond William Thomas or Art Bell, and became a widely accepted idea among the people who tune in to the paranormal or the conspiracy mindset.

What are “chemtrails”? Supposedly they are different from normal contrails produced by aircraft, and allegedly they contain some sort of evil chemical with which the government is trying to poison us. Normal contrails are something we do understand, because there has been lots of research on them. Most aircraft engines leave a plume of hot gaseous exhaust from the hydrocarbons in the fuel they burn, and in the subfreezing conditions of the upper troposphere or stratosphere, those hot gases immediately condense to form long vapor clouds behind the plane as it flies. Sometimes just the disruption of the high atmospheric gases by the tips of wings will cause contrails, even without the benefit of engine fumes. If there are high-altitudes winds or the jet stream is active, they disperse quickly, but often they remain stable for many minutes in quiet air. Contrails were observed almost as soon as aircraft were able to fly at that elevation, and they are well documented in videos and photos of World War II aircraft, long before any of the current governments that are allegedly conspiring to do this were even in power.

As RationalWiki describes it:

On days when cirrus cloud formation is occurring, there is more moisture in the upper atmosphere, and consequently, contrails may linger longer before evaporating. Since cirrus clouds often precede a general overcast or haze, the casual observer could easily assume that the contrails have caused the overcast, or become the overcast. The persistence of contrails varies with weather conditions: sometimes they dissipate almost immediately, but often they will persist for hours, with crossing trails sometimes forming gridlike patterns that stretch from horizon to horizon. The “chemtrails” label is usually applied to these longer contrails, with their very persistence put forward as “evidence” that they cannot be normal contrails.

Even Indy cars with their speeds exceeding 200 mph produce contrails, another thing which shatters the silly idea that they were first visible in the 1990s in the sky.

Once you delve into chemtrail fantasists’ bizarre websites, you get a wide spectrum of different kinds of misconceptions, misinterpretations, and outright falsehoods. The oddest is that people seem to think that contrails are some sort of new phenomenon, when as I just pointed out, we’ve been seeing them in the sky since planes have been flying at high altitudes. People apparently don’t remember seeing contrails when they were young, but that just testifies to the fallibility of human memory, because the photographic record of ordinary contrails goes back to before the 1930s. People don’t remember seeing contrails coming from their jetliner when they fly, but then they can’t look behind the plane in any commercial flight, so they can’t see the contrails—but they are there just the same.

Another confusion is the squishy definition of chemtrails, and how you can tell one from a regular contrail. Each “definition” gets modified and redefined as soon as the last one is explained, thus shifting the goalposts. Supposedly, contrails dissipate in minutes, while chemtrails linger for a while. Nope! The time a contrail lingers is dependent on what the upper-level winds are doing, not the chemical composition of the contrail. To prove this, we can find lots of films of contrails from World War II, and these contrails lingered for a very long time. Other definitions claim that contrails run parallel to one another, while “chemtrails” form “X” patterns or “grid” patterns. Once again, people forget how busy the skies above us are. In an area with a lot of plane traffic going in many directions, you’ll get every possible pattern of lines crossing one another. On the other hand, if you live in coastal Oregon or central California, most of the flights are north-south, so they tend to be more parallel.

Another claim is that they are spraying barium, or aluminum, or any other number of chemicals supposedly toxic to us. As this site demonstrates, none of these claims are true. More to the point, spraying them from 30,000 feet would be useless, since they would dissipate over a huge area and when they finally landed, they would be diluted into non-detectable, non-toxic amounts—and with the high-level winds, the odds are they’ll blow far away from where they are sprayed in the first place.

Then there are the claims that the Germans admit to doing it! This claim is easily debunked when you realize that the video footage that is used to support this claim deliberately mistranslates the German word Düppel (meaning “chaff”) to mean “chemtrail”. As this site shows, there are numerous video hoaxes about “chemtrails” all over the Internet, along with the normal footage of contrails that is misinterpreted. Apparently, hoaxing chemtrails is almost as popular as hoaxing ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot. There is also the claim that language about chemtrails got into a bill before Congress. The bill in question, HR2977, had a lot of UFO and chemtrail language originally inserted by a bunch of UFO enthusiasts, and then introduced in 2001 by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who repudiated their unauthorized changes in the bill, and the chemtrail language was dropped. (Bills introducing strange notions to Congress are not unusual for Kucinich).

The list of additional weird claims and debunked hoaxes related to chemtrails goes on and on, and are addressed by this website. But ultimately it boils down to this question: why would the government be secretly spraying us for years? How have they pulled it off without even one person coming forward? Here’s where the fantasies of the conspiracy mongers take off. Supposedly, they are poisoning us to make us more docile, or to keep us compliant, or to weaken us; or the chemtrails are a secret program to combat climate change; or even weirder notions. Conspiracy nuts never ask the tough questions: if the government really wanted to poison us, wouldn’t they just put it in the water? It’s actually a very real possibility, as terrorism and security experts well know. Spraying chemicals from 30,000 feet is worthless.

If such a huge conspiracy really existed, and every country in the world, every military and commercial aircraft in the world, and every atmospheric scientist in the world is part of the conspiracy, why has it not leaked by now? Like every other outlandish claim of conspiracy theories, they envision a world where clandestine top-secret organizations are constantly pulling the strings, and not once has anything leaked about them doing it, or anyone who knows of it come forward. This, despite the fact that we get constant revelations of actual secrets from the CIA and NSA and FBI and other organizations all the time; note that no chemtrails were exposed in the Wikileaks affair or by Edward Snowden. Nor has any other person come forward in an age where journalists are constantly digging for secret information. For such a level of secrecy to exist, there would have to be an unprecedented ability for all these organizations to cover up their tracks, when in fact we have tons of evidence to show that every secret organization is only as secretive as its weakest link. And the bigger the conspiracy, the more likely it is to be exposed—yet the chemtrails conspiracy involves the entire planet, and many governments and organizations who are bitter enemies and would love to expose the wrongdoing of their opponents. Again, from Kyle Hill:

The incognito infrastructure needed to conceal the chemtrail conspiracy would dwarf any other governmental agency. Millions of people—pilots, engineers, chemists, data analysts, and boots-on-the-ground hazmat teams—would need top-secret clearance for information that could never get out. If a chemtrail conspiracy were true, chances are you would run into a few involved in the cover up everyday. An effort to keep millions of mouths silent—to keep any information from pilots or participants out of the media—makes the NSA look like child’s play.

As well, in aviation weight is everything. Every last gram of weight in an aircraft beyond the essentials needed to fly comes with a big fuel penalty, so both manufacturers and also those who own and maintain commercial and military planes are extremely careful with adding any excess weight beyond what is needed to make the flight possible. For the airlines to agree to carry all these chemicals, there would be a huge dent on their razor-thin bottom lines to do so. This implies a huge amount of government funding to compensate, none of which has ever been documented. The military jealously guards their use of equipment and fuel, since every flight and aircraft is already phenomenally expensive, and they can’t afford to weigh down a military jet with unnecessary cargo.

In short, the chemtrail conspiracy thinking fails on the same grounds that the 9/11 Truther conspiracy fails: it assumes a level of competence and secret-keeping in a government that has never happened and never will happen. As Michael Shermer quips whenever a 9/11 Truther speaks, “You know how we know 9/11 was not orchestrated by the federal government? Because it worked.” END



  1. Peter H.. NZ says:

    Love the last 3 lines. Brilliant

  2. Dan Branstrom says:

    Those are excellent points about chemtrails.

    As a pilot of aircraft for over 40 years and a former flight instructor, let me point out that not only does every ounce of supposed chemicals carried reduce the amount of either regular payload or fuel that a plane can carry, but any equipment that would dispense such chemicals would have to be approved by the FAA, any maintenance on such equipment would have to be logged in the airplane’s logbook, and there would be Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) mechanics that would have to write the entry.

    There have been no A&P mechanics that have come forward to state that any such equipment is on board an aircraft, even disgruntled ones who don’t like their jobs with the airlines.

    Of course, the chemtrail fans claim that they are all threatened into silence by the government. I dare them to approach any A&P and ask about chemtrail equipment. After the A&P gets done laughing, they may take the time to straighten them out, but belief is stronger than facts or evidence.

    I’ve had chemtrail advocates point to the normal plumbing and configuration of a jet engine as being part of the dispersal equipment. Their lack of knowledge of aerodynamics, meteorology, chemistry, and physics is vast, and they use that ignorance in their reasoning.

    Someone has pointed out that barium in the form necessary to be dispensed is very corrosive. People with better knowledge of chemistry can verify that. On any aluminum aircraft, corrosion is the enemy, since parts are mechanically held together with rivets and there are microscopic spaces between pieces of aluminum where a corrosive liquid can congregate and destroy the aluminum. Many of the airplanes that have been used to fight fires with chemicals added to the water that is dropped (“borate bombers”) have to be rebuilt or retired because the corrosion has weakened the structure.

    Another problem that chemtrail believers face is the question of when and where the chemicals are loaded on the plane. They can’t be a part of aircraft fuel, because it is one of the most closely tested and logged quantities from the refinery to the aircraft of any fuel.

    As a pilot, I wouldn’t allow anything to go into my engine that wasn’t present to make it perform better, or that would damage my aircraft or engine. Any water could freeze at altitude or be a media for bacteria to grow in and both could clog the fuel system.

    Any competent pilot knows the basic systems that are on his aircraft, and is supposed to know where to find the procedures for their operation in the Pilot’s Operational Handbook or the manuals that cover the operation of the airplane. There have been no such manuals or procedures that anyone has produced for the internet. Of course, now that I’ve mentioned it, someone will gin one up.

    As I wrote above, belief is stronger than facts or evidence.

    • Klaus from Germany says:

      Here in Germany your words would be called “beneidenswert naiv”.

      In times the NSA takes over the Internet, believing e.g. Boeing could not be forced to install VERY secret equipment is, hm, at least “blauäugig”.

      (No, i don’t believe in chemtrails ,-)

  3. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    One solid way to show a grand conspiracy wouldn’t work is the same way to show a 100 foot ant couldn’t stand under its own weight: They don’t scale easily up to the purported size. It comes down to Logistics and Management.

    BTW: all jokes about government aside, when it comes to things as large as the Apollo program, Manhattan project or D-day … governments are about the only organizations which are capable of pulling them off.

    • Bob Pease says:

      Conspiracy believers need to define their beliefs as TROOTH

      if you don’t believe then you are either stupid, brainwashed,
      or being ZAPPED by secret agents of the CON

      Even though football sux , the correct reply is

      “Sounds like a good idea to me!!
      How about them Broncos !!”

      the Church of the Subgenius has far better and more fun
      CON theories!!

      Pope Bobby II
      69th Clench of the Stark Fist of Removal
      Reformed Church of the Subgenius

  4. Allen says:

    I’m going to perpetrate an enormous, evil act upon the people of the Earth. Even though this will be one of the biggest secrets in history, I’ll avoid doing it at night. I’ll do it during broad daylight so everyone can see. SMH.

  5. Joel Carlinsky says:

    There is a long history to the chemtrail nonsense. The US did a classified experiment in 1958 of spreading radioactive dust from aircraft over Northern New Mexico to test out the health effects of fallout in case of a nuclear war. At the time, Northern New Mexico was very sparsely inhabited, and most of the inhabitants were Navahos, who were considered expendable. That project was made public in Clinton’s first term and he apologized for it.
    In the Viet Nam war, the US tried to bog down Viet Cong supply trails by seeding clouds over North Viet Nam. That effort was unsuccessful. Another failure was an attempt by the US Navy to seed hurricanes to make them drop their moisture out at sea instead of hitting land. These well-publicised failures made the US willing to sign a treaty banning military uses of weather modification because they already had concluded it did not work, so they might as well agree not to use it.
    As a result of that treaty, the only existing classified weather modification program, a research project at China Lake, California, by the Office Of Naval Research, which was doing studies on using hydroscopic materials to try to trigger cloud formation, was declassified and shut down to comply with the treaty. There were no other classified research programs on weather modification at that time and there have been none since.
    And in the 1970s, there was a rumor among farmers in the Midwest that the government was cloudseeding on behalf of the banks to dry out the country and bankrupt the farmers so the banks could take their land. Some farmers actually shot at small private planes they suspected of seeding clouds.
    In the 1990s, these stories got conflated by an astroturf anti-environment group in Idaho called the Wise Use Movement, which was funded by the timber, mining, and cattle industries to create hostility towards environmentalists who were working to protect Wilderness Areas from destructive exploitation, into an absurd story that the US Government was controlled by “radical environmentalists” and there was some secret government plot spraying toxic chemicals from aircraft to kill off the excess population.
    The propaganda in western communities dominated by extractive industries was aimed at whipping up antagonism towards all environmental protection efforts by claiming that the protection of wilderness areas in response to lobbying by environmental activists of the small and woefully underfunded grass-roots groups struggling to preserve a few scraps of nature in a world gone mad with capitalist greed was evidence the Federal government was controlled by “radical environmentalists”. Accusing the “radical” environmentalists of wanting to exterminate the human race was a propaganda move to discredit the movement to protect a few wilderness areas from destruction.
    The story has mushroomed since with more elements being added every day. They now frequently include the HAARP project in Alaska, which is really a conspiracy, all right, It is a rip-off of $600,000,000 of taxpayers money by the Arco oil company, which owns the natural gas well at the site. The gas is burned to provide the electric power for the antenna array, and the Air Force involvement was facilitated by corrupt Air Force officers who were bribed with offers of cushy jobs with Arco when they retired from the Air Force. HAARP has nothing to do with weather control, as anyone familiar with the physics of the atmosphere would know.
    The conspiracy stories themselves are of no real interest. The really important question is why would any supposedly sane adult believe such stories when told about them. The psychology of the believers is a subject that needs to be explored in depth. The following hypothesis is the best I have been able to come up with so far. If anyone can suggest a better one, please let me know.
    Conspiracy theories about secret government plots are based on the common childhood experience, usually at around age 4 or 5, of wondering what Daddy and Mommy are doing in secret behind closed doors. They are most commonly found among people on the far right of the political spectrum because that is where the most sexually repressed people are usually found.
    The more sexually repressed segments of the population are especially prone to beliefs in secret conspiracies because at some deep level, they never did find out, at least not in a way they could accept, so they still think Big People are doing Something Bad in Secret. And there is no arguing with them because their beliefs in the “conspiracy” are not based on evidence seen as adults, but on a childhood experience they misunderstood at that age and later repressed.
    And that is all there is to the chemtrail nonsense.

    • yachtsick says:

      Nice writing. The language used points out that writer is heavily polishing governmental rod. Simply said – a cocksucker. It is a prerogative in this situation to make an effort to explain what these chemtrails are. Why a plane, flying at 12,000 ft altitude starts releasing white colored haze and after a few minutes stops. Simple observations with a binocular shows it is not coming out of engines. Moreover, just using you can notice that somehow the pilot turn off his SSR during releasing the haze and a few moments later turns it on again. Some smart pants could try to explain it.

  6. Joel Carlinsky says:

    To add a bit more to my previous comments:

    Real conspiracies do exist. But there is a difference between seeing one that is really there and seeing them everywhere without any evidence. The tendency to become convinced of a conspiracy without actual evidence is due to having, as a small child, not ever having found out, at least not in a manner one could process, what Daddy and Mommy were doing in the bedroom with the door closed.

    That childhood experience can cause one, years later, as an adult, to see everything in terms of Big People, doing Something Bad in Secret. The childhood experience gets projected onto other Big People who hold Great Power, usually the government, but also sometimes the Church, a hidden cabal of a distrusted minority group such as Jews or Muslims, or agents of a feared enemy nation.

    The distribution of conspiracy theories is not equal among the population. It is most common on the right of the political spectrum because that is where the most sexual repression is found, so that is where there are more adults who were never able to discover what Daddy and Mommy were doing, or rather, were never able, later, when they reached puberty and should have been able to figure it out, could not assimilate the information and admit that was something Daddy and Mommy would do.

    In recent years, as the feelings of helplessness in the face of authority figures with overwhelming power over the lives of helpless individuals has grown, more and more people are reverting to a childhood state of helplessness and dependency. And along with that revival of early feelings come the conviction that Big People are Up To Something Bad in Secret. One result of this reverting to childhood feelings of helplessness against these Big People is to see conspiracies by the Government everywhere.

    But in almost all cases, it is only the particular conspiracies of the usual populist conspiracy-theory movement that become popular enough for most people to believe them. There are any number of websites about HAARP, Chemtrails, and UFO cover-ups, but none on real, well-documented conspiracies like police cars that carry throw-down guns or FBI agents allowing gangsters like Whitey Bulgar to kill hundreds of people over decades in exchange for information on his competition.

    One might almost suspect the Conspiracy Theory Movement is a conspiracy to divert attention from some of the things that are really going on.

  7. Lee says:

    A friend believes this nonsense. His angle is that it is part of “geo-engineering” of weather. He points to “cloud seeding” as the reality all of us are aware of then suggests it has been scaled up. Of course all of Don’s logic still debunks this but since cloud seeding is a real thing he doesn’t listen. The other thing that conspiracy nuts do that drives me crazy is that they don’t consider the implications of their suggestions. In terms of the footage of the BBC talking head with WT7 clearly in the background while the ticker is announcing WT7 has fallen (ticker was live while talking head was on tape delay). I ask them if that means the BBC was in on the plot as they had advanced knowledge of the plan. The answer I get is “I don’t know” while at the same time expecting this “anomaly” to have some impact on me. Chemtrails are the same, no implications are considered.

  8. Uncle Don says:

    So what if “they would be diluted into non-detectable, non-toxic amounts”. I’ll bet the stuff is homeopathic. Therefore, the more dilute, the more effective. Yea, that’s the ticket. Better put my aluminum foil hat back on to deflect this stuff.

  9. Donald Prothero says:

    And in a delicious ironic twist, here’s a story about a guy who hoaxed the chemtrails and suckered the conspiracy nuts:

  10. Wayne Jett says:

    Dr. Prothero, you have not brought distinction to yourself by approaching this serious topic as if you are engaging in an intellectual lark. As a life-long academic, surely you know that the intellectuals who engage quite seriously in weather/climate modification technologies call their field “geoengineering,” not “chem-trails.” Yet you never use the word geoengineering; did you overlook this?

    If you search the records of the U. S. Patent Office relating to geoengineering, you will find 150-plus patents granted describing technologies for accomplishing weather/climate modifications on a very grand scale. One of the major approaches to accomplish their objectives is called Solar Radiation Management. This is done by techniques which spray micron-sized particulates of aluminum, strontium, barium into the stratosphere in aerosols designed to distribute the particulates in manners designed to accomplish specific outcomes.

    These numerous patents are owned primarily or entirely by blackbox defense contractors which commonly work for the USG in classified activities. Have you heard or read of a classified program called Operation Cloverleaf? If you are familiar with it, you probably know that capable inside officials have attempted to be whistleblowers on this topic and have lost their lives in the effort. Yes, airline mechanics have stepped forward to reveal what they know of the spraying systems put in commercial airliners on a limited basis. But most of the spraying is done by aircraft fully dedicated to the single purpose.

    You cite one website as a source for scientific debunking of “chemtrails,” and that authority is a young man in Santa Monica, CA, who describes his own credentials as having instruction as a pilot of a small aircraft and has flown solo in a flight of 400 miles. That gentlemen asks for anyone finding mistakes or errors in his observations to please share the correct information.

    My purpose is not to demean either that authority or you. But I encourage you and others to look more deeply into “geoengineering” and its intellectual proponents at Harvard and Stanford. The U. S. military undertook decades ago to “own the weather” as a weapon of war. NASA has described the same types of technology (micro-particulates of metals sprayed into the stratosphere) as “mechanical analogs of biological weapons of mass destruction.”

    Go to and closely study the real scientific evidence they have of what is being found in rainwater, groundwater, soils, snow, and in ultra-violet UV-B rays. The evidence is far too pervasive to be waved away by such cursory and uninformed remarks as I have seen in your remarks.

    Best wishes to you and all those who are at least looking into this subject.

  11. Wayne Jett says:

    Please allow me a further brief comment to ease the task of investigating further for those who have little time. Here is a video telling the facts of geoengineering in the U. S. by a friend of mine, Dane Wigington, a highly capable gentleman forced into this issue by his experiences in northern California. Let him explain further:

  12. Mle says:

    No whistleblowers have spoken out? False. Let me introduce you to Kristen Meghan, former bio-environmental engineer for the US military:

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Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

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Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

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The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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