5X5 Episode 89

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5X5 Episode 89
14th June 2010

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5X5 88 5X5 90
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
M: Mike Lacelle
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You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU 5x5. Mike is sitting in for Rebecca this week and we are talking about chemtrails. Have you ever noticed the clouds left behind jets criss-crossing the sky? These are so-called contrails or exhaust fumes and some people believe that they are actually part of an elaborate conspiracy to spread some kind of chemical or biological agent to the population.

E: Yeah, this conspiracy theory began to circulate around 1996. The United States Air Force was accused of spraying the population with mysterious substances from aircraft and these accusations were fuelled in part by the citation of a paper that was released that year by the Air Forces' Air University and the paper was titled "Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather by 2025". This paper was presented in response to a military directive to outline future strategic weather modifications. So, some folks ran with that as a conspiracy theory and one fella in particular by the name of William Thomas. He was the first reporter to attract some national attention regarding chemtrails. And he has been interviewed many times on the Art Bell radio show and he's written articles on the subject and has a web site devoted to it and he was the first and is the leading purveyor of the conspiracy theory concerning chemtrails.

B: So, what specifically are contrails and chemtrails, then? Contrails is short for "condensation trails". These are created from water vapour that are emitted from modern-day piston and jet engines at high altitude. This hot vapour can hold a lot of water because it's hot by its very nature – hot air can hold a lot of water. It quickly, however, mixes with the cold air that is around the plane at high altitude, which cools the vapour which cannot hold as much water so the water condenses out either into droplets of water or ice crystals, forming essentially a visible cloud. We have all blown our warm breath onto a relatively cool pane of glass. What happens? Our breath is cooled, forcing out some of the water droplets, which fogs up the glass. This is essentially what we are talking about. Contrails are highly variable depending on a multitude of variables, such as altitude, air temperature, saturation levels and many, many more. The word chemtrails is short for "chemical trails". They are allegedly trails of chemicals or biological agents left in the sky for a host of possible reasons. They supposedly look like contrails initially, but are said to be thicker and deposited in parallel lines, X shapes, tick-tack-toe shapes etc. They are also said to expand and coalesce, often lasting for unusually long times.

J: Chemtrails are thought to be caused for a lot of different reasons and some people even believe that there is more that one reason why they exist. But here are some of the more popular ones that I could find: there is weather modification, population control, an inoculation program for bio-warfare attack, geo-engineering, space weaponry, something to do with the New World Order, meaning that these people are going to be controlling the citizens of the United States or the world and a reduction of global warming.

M: And all the examples that you mention here are an example of the "incorrect cause" logical fallacy. The incorrect cause fallacy is pretty self-descriptive. It is when some assumes causal relationship between two observations where none exists. Incorrect cause also has many sub-categories: one popular example is the "Post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy, where one assumes that because an event happened before another, that it caused the other. In the case of chemtrails, some people are assuming the conspiracies Jay mentioned when all they are are contrails, like Bob explained.

S: Yes, so what the chemtrail conspiracy theorists are essentially doing is a bit of anomaly hunting. They are looking at the contrails in the sky and they're observing what they think to be anomalous features like them occurring in parallel or grid patterns or they're persisting longer than they think they should for whatever reason. But these features are not in any way directly tied to contrails being something other than what the standard explanation for them is. It's certainly not a feature that's known to be linked to chemical or biological warfare. So, essentially they're assuming that the details that they are seeing mean something that they don't. In their minds, that then becomes a feature of chemtrails. But essentially, they just looked at an anomaly, they made a false connection, and then they use a bit of circular reasoning to justify their conclusion. And of course, once they get inside the conspiracy theory, there is no way to logically get them out of it, because they see everything as evidence for the conspiracy they know is there. And no lack of evidence for the conspiracy they believe to exist or any evidence against it would be sufficient to get them out of it. If you believe there is this one world order that is willing to spray the skies with deadly chemicals to kill off large portions of the population and control those who are left, you're going to think that there is nothing that these people cannot do. And yet amazingly, these conspiracy theorists also believe that they can see through the conspiracy – that somehow, despite the awesome power of the Illuminati or whoever is spraying these chemtrails, they alone can see through it all and can see the chemtrails for what they are. And even some of them believe they have the power to undo it. You know, one site called "Educate Yourself" advises people to setup these "Orgone generators" to undo the effects of the chemtrails. This bit of pseudo-science that they think somehow will mitigate the effects. So, I'm not sure they reconcile in their mind the notion of an all-powerful world shadow government that they can so easily foil and see through.

J: From the skeptical angle, it's very unreasonable for them to believe in chemtrails for the sheer numbers of people that would have to be involved and to the magnitude of the secret that's being kept by that number of people is implausible.

S: Right; it becomes a grand conspiracy that collapses under its own weight.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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