I weep for humanity

Okay, a bit of hyperbole in this posting title. Still, I came across an honest-to-Zeus conspiracy theory web site today, and like a car wreck on the side of the highway, I couldn’t help but slow down and gawk. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have a strong interest in how people come “to know” things, in particular with how they learn to reason with evidence. This site – and the controversy – are a reminder of how reasoning can go astray.

Without further ado, the web site documenting the Chemtrails conspiracy. (This links to a specific page on a large web site – it’s a good pedagogical example of where “reasoning” can go astray).

First, a quick summary of the “controversy.” Proponents of the Chemtrail conspiracy believe that commercial jet liners are being used by the Government (both US and New World Order) to spew toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, causing those bright white trails one sees behind airplanes at altitude. The motivation appears to be some form of population control through selective poisoning, as well as weather control.

Oh, you thought those were merely water vapor trails resulting from hydrocarbon combustion? You poor fool, let us enlighten you.  </sarcasm>

So, how did I come across this? Totally by accident (although I’d heard of this group in the past). I was looking at postings a friend of a friend had made on Facebook, and noticed it was cross-posted to the Facebook group belonging to the site linked above. I was curious, and that’s when the can’t-look-away browsing started.

I could easily spend a few paragraphs writing “OMG can you believe these people?!?” comments – I had a really visceral reaction to perusing that site that made me physically ill. It’s like I have to purge that out of my system to feel well again. But there is no need to put you, dear reader, through that ordeal. Let me instead address what I thought were some of the more interesting aspects of the Chemtrails culture, again referencing the page I’ve linked to.

First this:

Since the writing of my series of articles exposing contrails, multiple professional airline pilots have contacted me and thanked me for my stance against the contrail deception

All of them told me personally that they have never seen trails come out of jet engines and that they appreciate my work exposing the disinformation about contrails. Every one of these pilots knew that contrails are so rare that most people will never see one in their lifetime, and if they do occur, they are at high altitudes that cannot be seen from the ground.

Each of these professional pilots have flown most of their lives and have always had a deep interest in aviation. Some of them fly mainstream commercial jets while others fly large jets for major parcel carriers.

We could go through the pedantic exercise of tagging and categorizing the logical and rhetorical fallacies here, but I just want to hit the highlights. First we have an appeal to authority – professionals who ought to know what they’re talking about are telling us that contrails (the common term for those visible exhaust trails) never come from a jet engine, or if they do they are so rare and at such extreme altitudes that most people will never observe one.

Next:

Those spreading disinformation about chemtrails would like nothing more than for you to believe that short, non-persistent plumes coming out of jets are harmless contrails. If they convince you of this, then you will ignore these plumes and allow them to spray you without objection, and this is exactly what they want. 

They will tell you that they’ve seen contrails since they were children. They will tell you that contrails are scientifically proven to contain water vapor. They will tell you anything necessary to make you believe short trails are harmless. This is exactly how disinformation works.

So, the simplest explanation (water vapor is a product of hydrocarbon combustion, which combined with freezing temperatures at high altitudes produces visible vapor and/or ice crystals) should not be believed! This is exactly what “they” want you to think!

Further down the page:

Numerous popular movies, cartoons, advertisements, music videos, and other media now show trails coming out of jets. When the disinformation target audience sees this on a regular basis, they simply conclude—either consciously or subconsciously—that this is normal, so when they see it in the sky, they simply ignore it. This process is called “Normalization” and is probably the most popular method of disinformation used against the public today.

You get the idea.

At various points on that web page we also see examples of the “Hegelian Dialectic.” I’m not even going to try to assess the accuracy of their use of that term – what strikes me most is that by presenting a fancy sounding phenomenon from philosophy (named after a famous philosopher, no less!) the authors continue to imply a sense of intellectual gravitas.

Here’s the real problem: the structure of this “argument” makes it impossible to argue against any of the claims. Why don’t we sample the contrails/chemtrails and analyze them? Seems simple enough. Oh, but who is going to actually conduct these studies? The “scientists?” They’re bought and paid for. Meanwhile, other disconnected facts are brought forth as evidence: traces of aluminum pollution (yes, little known fact, aircraft actually shed nanoparticles of aluminum, but in trace amounts) and mercury poisoning in the soils – must be those chemtrails!

Now, assume that a reasonable person stumbles across this site, a person who is somewhat distrustful of authority and the government in particular. Will this site just excite their confirmation bias? Likely. That, combined with the admonition to not believe the “naysayers” and “debunkers” (who are either naive, conformist, or paid propagandists.  No, really, read this) ensures a perfect echo chamber. If you dive into that web site you’ll see links to 911 conspiracies, using EMF for mind control, the works…

Carl Sagan popularized a method for refining our “baloney detectors.” (See a description here). It’s nothing new – again, most people who study logic, philosophy of science, and rhetoric have come across these. I wish – and hope – that these would become part of the warp and weft of K-12 education. It’s all too easy for otherwise reasonable people to stumble across these sites, pause and say “well, it could be true…”

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One thought on “I weep for humanity

  1. I really enjoyed reading this, concise and well argued. Followed.

    Your description struck a cord with me [Interested in how people learn in non-school settings]. Being a university student who has skipped almost every lecture for two to three years by studying through publicly available resources, I must say it is extremely rewarding and empowering. Knowing that you can learn anything, at any time, anywhere is a good feeling that is unique to our era. This has motivated me to apply the same rigorous learning style to other fields that I’m not enrolled such as cognitive science and philosophy to great affect.

    I look forward to future posts from you 🙂

    Like

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